Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
I swore to Allah that I would read the Quran for at least 30 minutes every day to memorize the Holy Quran. When I finished my 12-hour work shift and came home, I started to read it. However, I struggled to keep my attention, and my eyes would close while I was in the middle of a verse. I would then start over again. I decided to allow myself to rest for a little while. But when I woke up the next day, this was completely unintentional. Have I broken my oath to Allah, and do I have to pay kaffara? Thank you.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, Amin.
First, you should determine whether you made an oath, vow, or promise, and handle the situation accordingly. Your description, however, 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 (kafara). [Misri, ‘Umda 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]
Expiation for Broken Oaths
Should you determine that you made an oath, and not a promise, the expiation consists of a choice of any one of the following:
(1) to free a sound enslaved Muslim;
(2) to feed ten people who are poor or short of money each (0.51 liters of grain)
(Though it is not a condition that it be grain, but rather the type of food payable for the zakat of ‘Eid al-Fitr, even if not grain (and the Hanafi school permits giving its value in money)):
(3) or provide clothing for ten such persons, even if it consists of a wraparound or clothing previously washed, though not if ragged.
If one cannot do the above, one must fast for three days. It is better to fast them consecutively, though permissible to do so nonconsecutively. [Nawawi, al-Majmu‘ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab]
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 has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.