Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan
Question: My question is that, if you did not know what an oath was, or that it requires expiation, you just thought of it as another way of swearing/ promising, and you broke many oaths, but then realised the importance and expiation, would you still have to do expiation?
Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.
One would still have to do expiation, as ignorance of a ruling is normally not deemed an excuse. However, one should consult a scholar with the specifics — what exactly was said, the wording used, etc. — to confirm if and how much expiation is necessary. There are types of oaths that require no expiation (for details, see below).
An oath is a verbal statement conjoined with a phrase of swearing, such as “By Allah” or “I swear by Allah.”
There are three types of oaths:
(1) The Engulfing Oath (yamin ghamus), which is to swear by Allah that one did or did not do something in the past, while deliberately lying about it. This is a major sin, so enormous that no expiation is due, since expiation is not enough to lift the sin. Rather, one must make sincere repentance and seek Allah’s forgiveness.
(2) The Enacted Oath (yamin mun`aqida), which is to swear to do or not do something in the future. If one breaks this type of oath, expiation is due.
The expiation is to feed ten poor persons (2 meals each), or to clothe them (1 garment each), or to give them the equivalent monetary value. If one is unable to do that, one must fast three consecutive days.
(3) The Mistaken Oath (yamin laghw), which is to swear about something in the past, thinking that it is as such, while in reality it is not as such. No expiation is due, and we hope that Allah will not take the person to account for it.
A vow is to verbally swear that if something happens, one will do some act of worship, like praying, fasting, giving charity and the like. If that thing does take place, then it is mandatory (wajib) for him to fulfill the vow by doing that act of worship.
[Maydani/Quduri, Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab]
And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani