Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
Years ago, I said something to the effect of “oh Allah, I promise I’ll pray all the Sunna” and “I promise I won’t keep a diary” I meant all the supererogatory prayers connected to the five daily prayers.
I don’t think I knew what a vow was at the time, and I don’t think I intended one. But I don’t remember the exact words. Is this a promise, oath, or vow? What happens if I don’t fulfill it?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, Amin.
Your description best matches that of a promise, and Allah knows best.
The fundamental differences between oaths, vows, and intentions/promises are as follows, and Allah knows best:
What Are the Differences between Oaths, Vows, and Promises?
An oath is a solemn statement to do, or refrain from something, or that something is true, so if things turn out otherwise, the swearer must make an expiation (kaffara). [Misri, ‘Umdat Al-Salik]
An oath is when you say, “By Allah (Wallahi)…”.
A vow is when you say some recommended act of worship (Sunna) is now obligatory on you ‘for the sake of Allah’ or ‘due to Allah.’ Vows are often suspended on the occurrence of something. For example, “if Allah cures my son, I will fast for twenty days.”
Please Note: If there is no mention of Allah with His names, it usually cannot become an oath or vow.
In a promise, one says to oneself or someone else, promising to do something. There is no penalty or anything else for breaking a promise.
That said, one should keep one’s word as a point of honor and for fear that one will be asked about it on the Day of Judgment. “And be true to every promise, for verily you will be called to account for every promise which you have made.” [Quran, 17:34]
I pray this is of benefit.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others. He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town. Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.