Why does Allah make Oaths in the Qur’an?
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله وحده و الصلاة و السلام على من لا نبي بعده و على آله و أصحابه أجمعين
A comprehensive study of the meanings and significance of the Allah’s oaths in the Qur’an. It answers the misgivings and lies about Islam’s connection with pagan ideas based on these oaths. A careful study of the whole issue with reference to Qur’an, pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, Greek literature and with an appeal to reason.
Oath by Allah is a lengthy and a complicated topic especially if the reader, Muslim or otherwise, is not much familiar with Arabic. The matter becomes difficult to understand considering that Islam forbids the believers to take an oath on anything other than Allah whereas Allah takes oath of Himself and some of His creation:
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar:
Allah’s Messenger met ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab while the latter was going with a group of camel-riders, and he was swearing by his father. The Prophet said, “Lo! Allah forbids you to swear by your fathers, so whoever has to take an oath, he should swear by Allah or keep quiet.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 78, Number 641)
This article will, In-sha’Allah (God willing), clear this confusion of the Muslims, the confusion of non-Muslims that taking an oath is done for deities and hence Qur’an deifies the creation and any other confusion one may have relating to this topic.
Great thing in favour of Muslims is having great scholars throughout the Muslim history. We will be taking assistance from the explanations of Imam al-Razi and Imam Ibn al-Qayyim and analyzing the criticisms against their position on the topic.
2. Imam al-Razi’s explanations
Imam al-Razi has provided a number of reasons for the oath as follows:
a. Those who are unable to grasp the idea of oath of Allah argue that taking an oath is against the majesty of Allah. Imam al-Razi provides the background to the issue before the reasoning, The Qur’an has been revealed in Arabic and it was/is a custom of the Arabs to take an oath to prove a claim and hence Allah using the established literary style of Arabic should not be a surprise to anyone.
It should be noted that the Qur’an is for people to understand and if the language used is something that the people cannot comprehend then the book fails to fulfill the purpose.
b. The oath by Allah is only for emphasis, attention and approval. Oath brings emphasis to the matter but oath itself is not the point of emphasis. For example when Allah says in the Qur’an says ‘By the time. Indeed, mankind is in loss. Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience, the emphasis is on the loss of mankind and the ways to counter that loss instead of “the time”.
c. Imam al-Razi states that when the pagans used to be defeated with logic of the Qur’an, they blamed it on the debating powers of Messenger of Allah –on him be the peace and blessings of Allah. Since the Messenger of Allah–on him be the peace and blessings of Allah- was neither loud nor excessive talkative person, the beautiful and melodious recitation was blamed as the debating power behind the argument. To prove this claim of theirs wrong, oath is taken by Allah at numerous places. The importance of oath in Arab culture is significant. We will discuss that more below. The Arabs used to be afraid of false oaths and used to believe that various kinds of problems and bad omen arise as a result. For example they believed that if an oath of food item was taken, then evil and dangers upon livelihood would arise if the oath was false. Therefore, if the disbelievers around the Messenger of Allah –on him be the peace and blessings of Allah- believed that he had made-up the Qur’an and that he was the one making the oaths and not Allah, then much evil and disaster would have come the way of the Messenger of Allah –on him be the peace and blessings of Allah. This is a way of Allah to refute the disbelievers in their own logic.
d. Another important point to note about oaths of Allah is that they are not free from evidences; rather they are evidences presented as oaths. The sentence never ends at the oath. The evidence is provided right after the oath. We will discuss this point in detail below.
e. The starting of a sentence with an oath attracts the attention of the listener. The listener becomes attentive that something important is going to be mentioned.
f. Many times, if not always, a rigid mind is unwilling to listen and accept anything. It serves the purpose of what we may say in English as ‘If it comes from the heart, it goes straight to the heart’.
There has been criticism against the explanations provided by Imam al-Razi. One criticism is that he has replied to the issue through a variety of different unrelated points hoping that one of the points fired would reach the target. This appears to be an unreasonable argument. Having more than one answer to a question does not make the argument false. Even the Qur’anic verses have more than a few explanations. At times, the immediate context is taken into account such as when the verse was revealed while the message remains for all times.
Regarding ‘point c’ stated above, it is argued that the essence of the Qur’an teaches fear of Allah and therefore such fears of personal or collective loss are against the Qur’anic teaching of ‘fear of Allah’. To answer this criticism, we would stress that the fear of torment is in actuality the fear of Allah itself. Torment for breaking of oaths or lying against an oath is feared to be from Allah and hence this criticism also renders void. One may refer to the story in Qur’an 18:32-43 for reference.
While it is true and only natural that Qur’an uses oaths because they were part of the regular Arabic expression of that time, it may also be highlighted that similar use of the oaths was customary in culture and literature of other traditions as well.
A thing to note here is that Arabs even before Islam honoured honesty and sticking to oaths. An example of this is the title of Prophet Muhammad –on him be the peace and blessings of Allah- i.e. al-Sadiq (the Truthful) which he had received from the Arabs before he started to receive the revelation.
3. Imam Ibn al-Qayyim’s explanation
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim does not directly refer to the explanation provided by Imam al-Razi. However, the way he addresses the subject leaves no room for questions and criticism. His explanation itself covers issues and points others may have. Some people rely solely on Imam Ibn al-Qayyim’s reasoning and explanation on this topic while criticizing Imam al-Razi’s explanation assuming that they contradict each other and former opinion being stronger than the latter. We have addressed the criticism on Imam al-Razi’s view point and will present both the views in such a way that they do not conflict and contradict each other while both remaining relevant to our topic.
According to Imam Ibn al-Qayyim, oaths taken by Allah have only one base and that is the ‘attributes of Allah’. When Allah takes the oath of ‘the star when it descends’ or of ‘Al-Tariq (the Knocker)’ or any other creation of His, the base behind them is the greatness of Allah. Therefore it is evident that when Allah takes an oath of something, He does so of His own greatness and not of the created thing.
Similarly, when Allah takes an oath of the sun or the moon, for example, He mentions them as His signs in the Qur’an:
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding [Qur’an 3:190].
By the sun and its brightness. And [by] the moon when it follows it [Qur’an 91:1-2].
… He wrapped the night over the day that follows it quickly. The sun, the moon and the stars have all been tamed by His command… [Qur’an 7:54].
Allah mentions some of His created things as evidence of His existence and of monotheism and asks the readers of the Qur’an to ponder over these signs from Him. Then, when Allah takes an oath of these created things, He is simply taking an oath of Himself, His qualities, and His greatness. These signs of Allah confirm the Oneness of Allah as Allah states in the Qur’an 21:22:
Had there been within the heavens and earth gods besides Allah, they both would have been ruined. So exalted is Allah, Lord of the Throne, above what they describe.
Qur’an 91:1-2 is perhaps one of the best examples to prove this point. Allah swears by the sun and the moon. The swearing by the moon has a condition ‘By the moon when…’ which is a point to ponder upon not just for laymen but for scientists as well. If someone still has the courage to ridicule himself and argue that since moon was a pagan god, the Qur’an encourages pagan beliefs, then they need to look at the verse again and think deeply. If the moon was a god, then the condition of whenwould not have been applied. A deity is a deity no matter what the condition. However, the conditional oath is evidence against the deification of moon. The Qur’an provides us with an excellent lesson in the story of Ibrahim –peace be upon him.
Thus did We show Ibrahim the realm of the heavens and the earth that he be one of those who have Faith and certainty. When the night covered him over with darkness he saw a star. He said: “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said: “I like not that those who set.” When he saw the moon rising up he said: “This is my lord.” but when it set, he said: “Unless my Lord guides me, I shall surely be among the erring people.” When he saw thesun rising up he said: “This is my lord, This is greater.” But when it set, he said: “O my people! I am indeed free from all that you join as partners in worship with Allah. Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth, inclining towards truth, and I am not of those who associate others with Allah. [Qur’an 6:75-]
In that debate, Ibrahim –peace be upon him- clarified to his people that these celestial bodies do not serve as deities and cannot be worshipped as partners with Allah the Almighty. Indeed these bodies are created things, fashioned, controlled, managed and made to serve. They appear sometimes and disappear at others, going out of sight from our world. However, Allah the Almighty does not lose sight of anything, and nothing can be hidden from Him. He is without end, everlasting without disappearance. There is no other deity but Allah.
Ibrahim –peace be upon him- made clear to them, first that the celestial bodies are unworthy of worship and second that they are among the signs of Allah. Almighty Allah commanded:
And from among His Signs are the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. Prostrate not to the sun nor to the moon, but prostrate to Allah Who created them if you really worship Him [Qur’an 41:37].
From this we can establish that the things over which Allah takes an oath are basically evidences of His Oneness, Unity and Greatness. Allah has taken an oath of Himself only. Wherever He has taken an oath of any of His creation, it is in a way an oath of His own self because they are from His signs as explained above. Furthermore we see that in the Qur’an after oaths are made evidences are presented and signs are mentioned. Examples below:
By the dawn. And (by) ten nights. And (by) the even (number) and the odd. And (by) the night when it passes. Is there (not) in (all) that an oath (sufficient) for one of perception? [Qur’an 89:1-5]
And He has subjected for you the night and day and the sun and moon, and the stars are subjected by His command. Indeed in that are signsfor a people who reason. [Qur’an 16:12]
Eat [there from] and pasture your livestock. Indeed, in that are signsfor those of intelligence. [Qur’an 20:54]
… and several more verses.
4. Do oaths taken of creation indicate inclination towards Arab paganism?
This is a question that is asked by non-Muslims. They feel that since the pagan Arabs worshipped the sun and the moon, therefore, when the Qur’an makes oath of the sun and the moon, it is continuing upon Arab paganism. Although this question has been answered in the explanation provided above, we shall take a look into pre Islamic Arab poetry to understand the kind of oaths the pagan Arabs used to make along with Greek and Hebrew literature to understand the different types of oaths taken by non-Arab nations.
a. Oaths in Hebrew
We find many passages in the Bible where God makes an oath on Himself:
‘and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD…’ [Genesis 22:16]
There are numerous other references but the verse used gives the clear picture. It lets us know that taking an oath by God of Himself is the way of Allah and not just limited to the Arabic language. In another place in the Bible, God is said to have sworn on His own hand (Ezekiel 36:7) in these words “I swear with uplifted hand”.
In the Qur’an, Allah makes an oath on Himself or Allah mentions others’ oaths on Him using the words “Wallah”, “Tallah”, “Nazar”, “Illayh”, “Yameen”, “Qasm”, “Half” etc. even though their original meanings may not that be of oaths or of swearing for all of these but the context of the book i.e. Qur’an and that of historical Arabic usage makes them as such. This can be explained by the example of shaking hands after agreeing upon something. Shaking hands in itself is just two hands meeting but they signify an oath made, agreeing upon something etc. The same is the case with Hebrew language and culture. In Psalm 144:8, the word used for oaths is“right hands”:
“…whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands (oaths) are deceitful”.
In Genesis 21: 23, we find that Ibrahim –peace be upon him- swore to two peoplewhile making God a witness. InDeuteronomy 32: 40, we find a swearing being done while pointing to heaven and swearing is being done in front of an altar in 2 Chronicles 6:22. In Matthew 23, Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- condemns the teachers of the law and Pharisees for their saying that some things in the temple should be sworn and not the whole temple and some things in the altar are to be sworn upon and not the whole altar. Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- instead of forbidding them to take on oath of any of these clarifies to them that taking an oath on temple and the altar include taking an oath on everything on and inside them. He also then mentions that taking an oath on the heaven is equivalent to taking an oath on heaven and everything inside it including the Lord’s Throne and God Himself.
The above mentioned Biblical references could be difficult for Jews and Christians to explain as well but if they take the wider context and understand them in Islamic sense as explained here, they would find complete harmony with logic, literature and history. These quotations from the Bible confirm the explanation of Imam al-Razi (point c quoted above) about the Arabic culture. We have extended the explanation linking it to Hebrew language as well. Below we will further confirm this understanding from Greek literature as well.
b. Oaths in Ancient Greek literature
In ancient Greek literature of Demosthenes and Polyeidos, we find similar examples as quoted above (in Hebrew) and below (in Arabic). Ancient Greeks were free thinking people and had been following the system of democracy in most of their history. When the father of Alexander the Great Philip II of Macedon tried to establish kingdom and abolish democracy, Demosthenes provided stiff resistance. In fact he was the leader of the resistance. When his resistance failed, he addressed the people as follows:
O people of Athens! The time when you had put your lives at stake for the safety and security of Greece you were not in the falsehood. For this, the lives of your predecessors area great example and surely they were not in the wrong. Those predecessors of yours who showed great valour at the incident of Marathon, who had their necks cut in the battle of Salamis, who gained martyrdom in the battlefield at Plataea, they were not in the wrong. I swear by those brave menwho put their lives in danger at the incident of Marathon, I swear by those martyrs who were a part of the naval wars of Salamis and Artemis, I swear by those who fought bravely the enemy in the battlefield at Plataea! O listeners! The people of Athens did not respect just those who came back victorious but also honoured the dead bodies of those who fought bravely and had their neck cut off.
[Reference: Demosthenes, On the Crown. The specific passage quoted above is 18:208 but the whole book is filled with such oaths].
Please note that we have taken the text from a book with a different translation (not available on the internet) and provided the online book reference in the link and therefore slight translations may vary but the core is the same; oaths also do not change from one translation to another.
The passage quoted above from Demosthenes is a perfect example of what Imam al-Razi explains. What Imam al-al-Razi describes as Arab culture can also be found in Greek culture. What Demosthenes does in his speech is that by taking the oath or swearing upon the things he swore upon, he gains the attention of the people and delivers a fiery speech. This is the same as ‘What comes from the heart goes straight to the heart’ mentioned before.
Over the years people started losing this poetic culture of theirs. Just like Arabs have lost this culture of theirs or reduced to an almost non-existent level, the Greeks also lost this culture of poetry and oratory. For those who argue that Demosthenes actually deified those whom he calls‘martyrs’, then we must mention that not all those whom he makes an oath of were what he calls ‘martyrs’. He also swears by those who did not die in battlefield. The oath of Polyeidos is an example for us. Polyeidos was a war hero poet who had performed such amazing feats in the battle of Marathon that he was given a crown by the people. However, some jealous of him spread the rumor that he was actually a traitor. As a response Polyeidos wrote a poem of which part is quoted below:
No. I swear by the crown of my head, what I gained at the event of Marathon, none of those jealous of me can say that I hold something in my heart against my nation. [Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. I, II & III]
We can reach the conclusion that Arabic culture and Greek culture in terms of poetry, bravery and oaths were a lot similar and these passages indicate that their making an oath on certain things did not elevate the status of the thing to the level of God in their view.
c. Oaths and Arabic poetry
This section further proves that the swearing upon the sun and the moon by Allah is not a continuation of Arab paganism.
Poetry and literature were some of the most beloved things to the Arabs; not just the elite but also the common folk expressed their feelings and a whole lot more. We have, to our avail, a treasure of pre Islamic Arabic poetry but we are only concerned about the oaths that they used to make. It is incorrect to state that they used to make an oath of only the things they used to worship. Apart from swearing upon Allah, they used to swear upon their own lives, horses, battlefields etc. Their example was similar to the ancient Israeli examples quoted in ‘oaths in Hebrew’ section above.
Abu al-Arbaan in eulogy of Hatim al-Tai states:
قد علموا والقدور تعلمه
ومستهل الغرار مطرد
People know and the cooking dishes are a witness and the shining knives [Reference].
Rita Bint Abbas says in her poetry:
لعمري وما عمري عليَّ بهين
لنعم الفتى أرديتم آل خثعما
I swear by my life and my life is not an ordinary thing! O Aale Khasham you have killed a splendid youth [Reference].
حلفت له بالراقصات إلى منى
اذا محرم خلفتہ بعد محرم
For him,I swore by my she camels who dance their way to Mina while there is movement of Hajis there [Reference].
There are countless other examples where we find oaths made on numerous petty things clearly showing that ancient Arabs did not necessarily made oaths on things they considered Holy. Perhaps the following swearing by Hajras upon killing his father’s murderer is one of the most convincing evidences available in Arabic poetry:
وفرسي وأذنيه ، ورمحي ونصليه ، وسيفي وغراريه ، لا يترك الرجل قاتل أبيه وهو ينظر إليه
I swear by the horse, and its ears, I swear by the spear and its sharp edge, I swear by my sword and its point that man cannot spare his killer upon seeing him [Reference].
Hajras swore upon all those things as proof and witness. His meaning is that he being an expert in horse riding, swordsmanship, archery and defense cannot let go of the murderer of his father.
5. Subjects of oaths as witnesses
The Arabic words used for oaths mostly start with “wa”, “ba”, “ta” which carry the message of relationship and companionship. Closer inspection of these oaths indicate that the one who makes an oath, for his claim sets up as witness the thing on which an oath is being made. For example, if Allah makes an oath of the sun, then the sun is a witness of what Allah has claimed. From Qur’an 24:24, 36:35, 41:22 etc., we learn that tongue, hands, feet, ears, eyes and skin would testify on the Day of Judgment.
Both the parties in an oath are present at the moment; swearing upon something and making an oath is always in front of others because the person is afraid to be proven as a liar in front of others. In Qur’an 3:81-82, we learn of the oath of the Prophets where Allah mentions Himself as the witness. Since in human oaths, there are witnesses, we find that in the oaths of Allah, there are witnesses as well i.e. the things upon which Allah has sworn. If every religion considers a false testimony as something disliked, then why would someone be surprised at Allah making an oath and having witnesses to it? Swearing, making oaths and witnesses are such an important things in Islam that even punishments are dependent upon them and one can even escape punishment based on them [Refer Surah Noor – chapter 24].
An argument against this logic may arise here which could be that these are human level issues and do not suit the majesty of Allah Almighty. However, this is no valid an argument because the Qur’an is meant for mankind and therefore explaining matters to the people in their way serves the purpose of understanding and guidance. Since the Creator of the heavens and the earth know the minute details of each and everything through His infinite knowledge, He could have mentioned details about matters which no one in the universe could have been able to understand. That would not have served the purpose of guidance of mankind. People denying God could have even argued, just for the sake of argument, against the majesty of Allah arguing that the details mentioned are mere gibberish and therefore if the Qur’an uses human logic to explain something to the humans, then that should not be surprising to anyone.
Having witnesses to the oath does not leave any chance for mankind and the Jinn to argue on the day of Judgment. Not a single person on the Day of Judgment would be in a position to argue about the decision made regarding him/her.
Pondering upon the arguments presented in this section leads us to many conclusions and one of them is the justification of the punishment in the Hereafter.
Oaths elevate the status of the subject
The things or beings upon which Allah has made an oath have not been deified by Allah, as explained above and to be further explained below, but given special respect and status by Allah. Something being a witness of the oath of Allah while also being one of His signs carries a special status. This is a respect for the sign of Allah that Allah has given Himself to the thing. Allah gives this special respect to the Messenger of Allah -–on him be the peace and blessings of Allah- as stated in Qur’an 15:72:
By your life, [O Muhammad], indeed they were, in their intoxication, wandering blindly.
However, not always the thing or being on which Allah makes an oath is elevated in status as Allah mentions inQur’an 56:75-76:
Then I swear by the setting of the stars, And indeed, it is an oath – if you could know – [most] great.
In this is a great evidence and a great witness. The important thing here is that the oath has been declared as ‘most great’ and not the thing upon which oath is made.
6. Missionary arguments
The topic has been covered in such a way that it answers all the queries beforehand. Even though Christian missionaries are aware that such oaths are made by Allah even in the Bible, they tend to forget it and raise questions. For example, Sam Shamoun in one of his attacks on the Qur’an makes fun of the oaths and in another of his article accepts that God making an oath of Himself is acceptable. It is a surprise that for such people attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity, they have to mock Islam. This is not how it should be. If they truly want to bring Muslims to Christianity, they should present their religion to the Muslims instead of making useless and brainless fun of their religion. This only portrays the defects that they know to be present in their religion.
The missionaries also raise questions about the oaths on the sun and the moon of which they are most concerned. Alhamdulillah (All praise be to Allah), this has been clarified in the article. However, the only valid point they may bring up is that since making an oath on other than Allah is forbidden (according to Hadith quoted in the first section), then this proves that oaths are only made of those who are being praised. One may argue that since Allah forbids oaths on anything other than Himself while He swears by Himself and also on His created things, He raises the created things to His own level. Apparently, this is a reasonable argument but a closer study of the Qur’an informs us that the Qur’an has used the same word sometimes for Allah and sometimes for the human being. In this case, the context is important as the meaning depends on it. For example, when the word “Salah” is used for a person it means ‘Prayer’ and when used for Allah, it means ‘Mercy’. Likewise when ‘Shakara’ is used for a person, it means ‘being thankful’ and when used by Allah refers to ‘recognition of our good deeds’ by Allah.
Considering the above mentioned verses of the Qur’an where Allah mentions the oath subjects as His signs and the overall context that Allah is the One and Only God of the heavens and the earth, we find no issue with this point raised. Even though missionaries have not raised such a question, we have clarified the matter for the readers. We can conclude this section with verse 44 of chapter 17 of the Qur’an:
The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving.
The same missionary embarrasses himself with another silly claim against the Qur’an. He claims that apart from the sun and the moon, five planets had been discovered around the time of pagan Arabs,totaling to seven, which they all worshipped. He then claims that the circumambulating the Ka’aba was done seven times due to this reason. This could have been a valid answer if the Bible agreed to it and so did the Qur’an. The Qur’an greatly surpasses the knowledge available to people at the time of its revelation and even now up till the Day of Judgment. Qur’an mentions 11 stars or planets in 12:4; it mentions the Tariq and a lot more. If anything had to do with Arab paganism, then the oaths would have been restricted to only the five stars claimed to have been worshipped by the pagan Arabs. As for the pilgrimage ritual, the original way followed and taught by Prophet Ibrahim –peace be upon him-had lost its essence and had been modified significantly which Islam had corrected. The link provided before and this oneare a must see for further expansion on the topic.
While attacking Islam, the missionaries forget that they are skating on thin ice. They must not throw rocks at solid mountains while sitting in glass houses. It is believed and accepted by all groups of Christians that the Bible has been written by men who were inspired by God. This means that some mortal men noted down in their own way of theological understanding the oaths. They glorified God by restricting His swearing to Himself alone whereas the author of the Qur’an, Allah Himself, glorified Himself through literary means, intellectual means as well as scientific means. This way, the Qur’an remained true to monotheism and reached the climax of literary excellence.
7. Statement of Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- from Sermon on the Mount
We have mentioned some statements attributed to Prophet Jesus –peace be upon him- regarding taking of oaths on temple or altar above. Along with that, we shall discuss the lecture attributed to him on the mount without discussing the authenticity of the statement. The passage in Matthew 5 reads as follows:
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath,but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’;anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
The passage is quiet interesting to read. Pondering over the emphasized part gives us the proper and clear understanding of the text. In the entire passage, we find that Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- goes against the law of the Torah and encourages some other teachings whereas his mission was not to break the law (Matthew 5:17). This can be problematic but if we read all of it in context, we find the answers. From Matthew 5:1-2, we get the understanding that the sermon of Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- was only for the disciples:
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
While Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- personally speaks to only the disciples, he mentions some advice which contradicts the Torah and before giving the advice he strictly mentions that he has not been sent to break the law but to uphold it (Matthew 5:17). The reason being that among other advice, he tells his disciples to offer the other cheek if slapped instead of following the law of an eye for an eye. This may appear to be against the Torah but it should be noted that the law does not make it compulsory to follow the eye for eye principle. Even the Qur’an mentions this law but mentions that forgiving is better. Similarly Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- teaches his close students (and not the general public as they may take it as a new law) the higher moral values of forgiving. Continuing with these high moral values, he explains the matter of making oaths as well. Let us ponder over the emphasized part of the sermon related to the oath:
Do not break your oath / fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made: This shows that oaths previously used to be made and most probably the disciples would have made some oaths which they were told to obey. He states it in a way that he does not appear to be breaking the law to introduce a new law but rather to instill in them higher moral values.
Swearing by heaven, God’s throne, earth, Jerusalem or the head: When Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- starts his saying about keeping and fulfilling of old oaths, he changes the matter with a ‘but I tell you’ to indicate that oaths are to be kept but he would inform of a better thing and that is to not make an oath at all. He then mentions the things upon which people used to make oaths namely, God’s throne, Jerusalem, their heads etc. as he himself had informed the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and as also mentioned in the ‘Hebrew oaths’ section above. In high passion, a person may make an oath which he may find very difficult to fulfill and hence adhering to honesty and integrity and sound moral values without the need of making oaths not only makes things easy for the person but also enables him to earn more reward and stay away from sin.
Simply say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’: Here again Prophet Eisa (Jesus) –peace be upon him- guides them to higher moral values but this time also guides them to personality and character building. A person who swears a lot to make his word appear to be true can be taken as suspicious. Here the disciples are simply taught the formula of honesty as the saying goes “Always speak the truth so you never have to swear for anything”.
8. Summary and Conclusion
From above we can safely conclude that oaths taken by Allah do not deify the things on which the oath is taken; they are the signs of Allah and there He takes an oath on His own greatness. The purposes of the oaths taken are plenty as stated above, among them the major ones being:
– To demonstrate the greatness of Allah
– Oaths present an argument and points to ponder upon
– The oaths are in fact evidences
– The real purpose of an oath is reasoning
– Respect for the thing on which oath is made is only when it is Allah or/and His signs
– They set witnesses to the argument claimed by Allah
– To bring to attention the matter to be presented
– To make aware of the seriousness of the argument
– Pagan Arabs did not just make oaths on things they worshipped and at times even made oaths on totally small and insignificant things such as quoted above.
– Ancient Greek and Hebrew culture was the same as Arab culture
– Prophet Eisa’ (Jesus) –peace be upon him- teachings as per the New Testament are in complete harmony with Islamic teachings.
And Allah knows the best!