How Does Making an Oath or Vow Differ from Simply Saying You’ll Do Something?


Hanafi

Answered by Sidi Wasim Shiliwala

Question: Firstly id like to ask what is the difference between simple saying that you’ll do something, and vowing to do something? For example, if someone says that they are doing 2 fasts, would this count? Also, if one is reading about vows and then he says “yes” aloud, would it count? Also if someone else swears an oath, would anything that you say at the time count? Also, if someone makes a vow in their head that they will drink some water, while looking at it, would looking at it cause it to count?

Answer: Walaikum As-salaam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,

May Allah reward you for your concern regarding the promises you keep with Him!

A Clarification on Oaths and Vows

Before answering your questions, we would be served well to first define the differences between promises, oaths, and vows. Alhamdulillah, Shaykh Faraz Khan has already done this, and his excellent explanation can be found here:

What is the Difference Between a Promise, an Oath, and a Vow?

For our purposes, we will quote his basic definitions of each term:
“A promise is simply a statement that one will do or refrain from something in the future. There is no expiation due for breaking it”
“An oath is a verbal statement conjoined with a phrase of swearing, such as ‘By Allah’ or ‘I swear by Allah.'”
“A vow is to verbally swear that if something happens, one will do some act of worship”
– Oaths and vows, unlike promises, must be verbally uttered.
– Broken oaths and vows, unlike broken promises, require an expiation (see below answers for details).

Your Specific Questions

1. What is the difference between simple saying that you’ll do something, and vowing to do something? For example, if someone says that they are doing 2 fasts, would this count? Also, if one is reading about vows and then he says “yes” aloud, would it count?

An oath or vow that requires an expiation if broken requires that one verbally utters a phrase of swearing (such as ‘by Allah’). So if someone simply says “I’m going to fast tomorrow,” they will not owe an expiation since they did not say an oath like “By Allah, I will fast tomorrow.” Similarly, simply reading an oath and saying “yes” does not make it a vow; rather, one would have to vocalize the swear itself: “By Allah, I will follow the command I just read.”

Keep in mind, though, that it is bad etiquette to break one’s promises, and sinful to make a promise the one knows they will break. So even if you do not swear but rather simply say “I’m going to fast tomorrow,” you should do what you can to fulfill this statement, as the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is to keep one’s word.

2. If someone else swears an oath, would anything that you say at the time count?

Unless you also swore out loud, you would not be bound by the oath of someone else, nor would anything you say affect their oath.

3. If someone makes a vow in their head that they will drink some water, while looking at it, would looking at it cause it to count?

If it is only mentioned in one’s head and not vocalized, then that vow would only count as a promise. Therefore, if one says in their head, “By Allah, I will drink water the next time I see it,” they will not owe an expiation if they see water and do not drink it.

Please keep in mind, though, that making frequent promises, vows, and oaths is not good etiquette. Swearing by Allah the Exalted is a weighty matter with serious effects. It should not be light upon our tongues.

For more information, see also the following related answers:

Does One Have to Do Expiation for Oaths Made When One Was Unaware of Their Ruling?

Expiation for a Broken Oath

Baarak Allahu Fikum,
-Wasim

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani