What Is the Right Expiation for Breaking the Oath?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question

I took an oath but then broke it. In order to pay kaffara I had to pay 10 poor people however I do not know 10 poor people so I donated food for 10 people 1.5 kilos each of pasta and baked beans and 10 kilos of rice to a trusted food bank will this suffice?

Answer

No, donating to an average, non-Muslim-owned food bank would appear to be an insufficient method of lifting the duty to expiate (kaffara) for a broken oath because there is no guarantee that the recipient will be Muslim.

What you have described as donating a variety of imperishable goods to a food bank would, in principle, be a valid fulfillment of the duty to expiate for your broken oath, on the condition that

(a) the amount distributed to each individual poor person is no less than the monetary equivalent of approximately two kilograms of wheat, and

(b) the recipient is a Muslim. Failing that, or when unsure, you should err on the side of caution.

The reason why this would be deemed permissible is that the monetary equivalent of the specifically legislated amount of food suffices, that is to say, in any form of wealth. This is normally going to be around the two-pound (GBP) mark. Hence, a can of beans, a packet of pasta, and one kilogram of rice, if greater than approximately two pounds at current market value, would be a valid fulfillment of the expiation, even without a specific intention.

The Expiation for a Broken Oath

The expiation (kaffara) for a broken oath is to feed ten poor persons two full meals each, or to provide them with the legal, monetary equivalent of that, or to clothe them in something of decent quality that covers most of their body. The monetary equivalent which is sought is that which equates to the market price of approximately two kilograms of wheat. Lower weight values have also been calculated by scholars of the recent past.

A person is deemed to be poor and an eligible recipient if they do not possess the zakatable minimum (nisab), in any form of wealth, beyond their immediate needs and debts. If a person is too poor themselves to expiate in accordance with any of the prescribed methods listed, they should fast for three consecutive days. If they do this, the expiation would be lifted from them, even if they subsequently become wealthy. But given the sensitivity and the fact that it is a dispensation with associated conditions, you should first check with a jurist if it is applicable to you in your current circumstances or not.

Allah Most High says, “The penalty for a broken oath is to feed ten poor people from what you normally feed your own family, or to clothe them, or to free a bondsperson. But if none of this is affordable, then you must fast for three days. This is the penalty for breaking your oaths. So be mindful of your oaths.” [Quran, 5:89]

The number “ten” is very important here. So you cannot give the monetary equivalent, if that is the option chosen, to a single person all at once. However, you can give it to him over a period of ten days. If you cannot find somebody to give the expiation to, there are many Muslim charities that can do this on your behalf. But you should ensure that the charity chosen has a proven track record of correct dispersion of such funds.

A Note on Definition and Verbalisation

Finally, please note that what counts in order for an oath to be enacted is a verbal utterance, and not merely thinking of the issue in the heart or mind. Similarly, an oath is defined as a statement wherein the Divine Name of Allah Most High is conjoined to it for emphasis and to indicate seriousness, such as, “By Allah, I shall do such and such.”

Further, it isn’t necessary that Arabic is used for the Name of Allah Most High; rather what would be considered is the language spoken and the words used. Generally, it is best to watch over the tongue and to be wary of how and when we use oaths in order not to desecrate the sanctity of the Divine Name in that which is worldly, fleeting, and trivial.  [‘Ala al-Din ‘Abidin, al-Hadiyya al-‘Ala’iyya; Abu’l Haj, al-Minhaj al-Wajiz fi Fiqh al-Ayman wa al-Nudhur]

Please also see:
What is the Difference Between a Promise, an Oath, and a Vow?
What Are the Words Which Make an Oath Binding?
Is Expiation Required for Each Instance You Break an Oath?

And Allah Most High knows best.
Wassalam,

[Ustadh] Tabraze Azam
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Tabraze Azam holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Leicester, where he also served as the President of the Islamic Society. He memorized the entire Qur’an in his hometown of Ipswich at the tender age of sixteen, and has since studied the Islamic Sciences in traditional settings in the UK, Jordan, and Turkey. He is currently pursuing advanced studies in Jordan, where he is presently based with his family.