Can I Feed Ten Poor Persons One Meal Each to Expiate for a Broken Promise?

Shafi'i Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick


I have broken promises to expiate for that have been delayed because I had confusion on how to facilitate them. Still, I can afford to pay for food to be given on my behalf and want to find a suitable Islamic organization. The problem is that the organizations I have seen don’t specify if they will feed two or one meal; I assume it will just be one meal.

I sent an inquiry to one organization, and they said, ” to feed 10 Poor people a day, whether it is two meals or one meal, that is a Fiqh question, and we do have a difference of opinion among the four Schools, and they are all valid ” I don’t follow a specific madhab and choose the option with most ease since I’m trying to ward off waswas. Is it permissible to feed one meal each? Must they be Muslim?


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, Amin.

First, one must understand the differences between promises and oaths. A promise must be kept, but there is no expiation for breaking it. Though not a prison, Muslims should generally adopt one School to avoid confusion and facilitate religious practice and learning; 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, ʿUmdat al-Salik]

An Oath is When you Say, ‘By Allah …’.  

A vow is when you say something sunna is now obligatory on you ‘for the sake of Allah’ or ‘due to Allah.’ If there is no mention of Allah in His name, 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 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 you have made.” [Quran, 17:34]

Expiation for Oaths

An expiation is obligatory for someone who swears and breaks an oath. If the swearer is entitled to expiate by property expenditure, it is permissible to do so before or after breaking the oath. But if it consists of fasting, he may only do so after breaking the oath. [Keller, Reliance of the Traveler]

The expiation consists of any one of the following:

  • to free a sound enslaved Muslim;
  • to feed ten Muslim people who are poor or short of money, each with 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 a grain. The Hanafi School permits giving its value in money.
  • or provide clothing of any kind for ten such persons, even if it consists of a wraparound or clothing previously washed, though not if ragged.

One must fast for three days if one cannot [afford] to do any of the above. It is better to fast them consecutively, though permissible to do so nonconsecutively. [ibid.]

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.