Question # 64: Is making vows permitted in Islam? Like if I say, I will pray 100 rakah nawafil, if such and such happens or I will quit smoking, if such and such happens.
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: A vow is an action on the part of a Muslim obliging himself/herself to do something that is not obligatory, whether he/she intends to do it straight away or makes his/her doing it conditional upon something else. Since a vow is considered an act of worship that should never be meant to seek the pleasure of anyone other than Allah (سبحانه و تعالى).
Vows are mentioned in the Qur’an in approving terms. However, the kind of vow that is praised is the vow to do acts of worship that are not connected to anything – i.e., not conditional upon anything – which makes a man force himself to do acts of worship, whereas the vows that are made in return for something are discouraged, whereby a person makes his doing an act of worship conditional upon attaining something or warding off something, and if that does not happen, he does not do the act of worship. Some people ignorantly believe that making a vow, guarantees that they will get whatever they made the vow for.
Vows to do acts of worship and in obedience to Allah are permissible, whereas vows to do acts of kufar and in disobedience to Allah as well as that goes against a shar’i text (of the Qur’an or Sunnah) are forbidden.
Long Answer: Linguistically, to take a vow, in Arabic, means to obligate oneself solemnly to do something. However, according to Islamic jurisprudence, a vow is a voluntary obligation taken by a competent, legally accountable person upon himself to do something seeking the pleasure of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى). A vow is considered an act of worship that should never be meant to seek the pleasure of anyone other than Allah (سبحانه و تعالى). (‘Summary of Islamic Jurisprudence’ by Salih Al-Fawzans) Whoever makes a vow to other than Allah, such as Prophet, an angel or a Wali, has committed an act of Shirk… (Fatawa Islamiyah, The Permanent Committee)
Al-Isfahaani (may Allah have mercy on him) says, in his book Mufradaat Alfaaz al-Qur’an [states]: “Al-Nadhr (vow) [means] when you oblige yourself to do something that is not obligatory because of something that you want to happen. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: ‘[Maryam said:] I have vowed a fast unto the Most Beneficent (Allah)…’ (Soorah Maryam, 19:26)”
So a vow is the action, on the part of a person who is adult and of sound mind (mukallaf), of obliging himself to do something that is not obligatory, whether he intends to do it straight away or makes his doing it conditional upon something else.
Vows are mentioned in the Qur’an in approving terms. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “Verily, the abraar (pious, who fear Allah and avoid evil), shall drink a cup (of wine) mixed with water from a spring in Paradise called Kaafoor, a spring wherefrom the slaves of Allah will drink, causing it to gush forth abundantly. They (are those who) fulfil their vows, and they fear a Day whose evil will be widespreading.” (Soorah al-Insan, 76:5-7). So Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) makes their fear of the horrors of the Day of Resurrection and their fulfilment of their vows some of the reasons for their salvation and admittance to Paradise.
[On the other hand,] numerous ahadith have been reported from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) discouraging vows and describing them as makrooh. Abu Hurayrah (رضي الله عنه) said: “The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: ‘Do not make vows, for vows do not change qadar (the divine decree) in the slightest, but they make the stingy person give something up’.” (Reported by Muslim)
One might ask, how is it that those who fulfil their vows are praised, [at the same time]… making vows is discouraged? The answer is that the kind of vow that is praised is the vow to do acts of worship that are not connected to anything – i.e., not conditional upon anything – which makes a man force himself to do acts of worship and prevent himself from being lazy, or in thanksgiving for some blessing. The kinds of vow which are discouraged are of different types, including vows that are made in return for something, whereby a person makes his doing an act of worship conditional upon attaining something or warding off something, and if that does not happen, he does not do the act of worship. [Conditional vow]… is discouraged [because the person who made the vow]:
- …would be doing the act of worship reluctantly, because it has become something he cannot avoid or get out of; or
- …makes the act of worship conditional upon his getting what he wants, his vow becomes a kind of exchange or barter which corrupts his intention; if the sick person is not cured, he will not give the charity which he vowed to give if the sick person was healed. This is miserliness, because the miser will not give anything except for something in return in this life (as opposed to the Hereafter), and what he gains is more than what he gives.
Some people ignorantly believe that making a vow, guarantees that they will get whatever they made the vow for, or that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) will make it happen for them because of the vow. Another ignorant belief is the idea that making a vow can change qadaa’ (the divine decree), or that it can bring them some immediate benefit or ward off some harm. So vows were discouraged lest ignorant people believe such things, and as a warning of the danger that such attitudes present to sound belief.
Broadly, the following are the two types of vows:
- Permissible Vows (to do acts of worship and obedience to Allah)
This includes every vow which involves a promise to do some kind of act of worship, such as praying, fasting, performing ‘Umrah or Hajj, upholding family ties, doing I’tikaaf, enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil… Or he may make a vow of doing some act of worship conditional upon something that will benefit him if it happens…
- Forbidden Vows
- To do acts of kufar and disobedience to Allah
The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Whoever vows to do some act of worship and obedience to Allah, then let him do it, and whoever vows to do some sin, let him not do it” (Reported by al-Bukhari). This is every vow which involves disobedience to Allah, such as vows to bring oil, candles or money to graves or shrines (mashhads), or to visit tombs and shrines of shirk. This is in some ways like making vows to idols. It is also forbidden to fulfil vows which promise to do some sin, like committing zinaa (adultery, fornication), drinking alcohol, stealing, taking orphans’ property, denying someone’s rights, or cutting family ties by cutting a certain relative off or not entering his house for no shar’i reason.
- That goes against a shar’i text (of the Qur’an or Sunnah)
If a Muslim makes a vow then it becomes clear to him that this vow of his goes against a clear, saheeh text that contains some command or prohibition, then he must refrain from fulfilling his vow, and offer kafaarat yameen (expiation) for it. The evidence for this hadith from Ziyaad ibn Jubayr, who said: “I was with Ibn ‘Umar and a man asked him, ‘I made a vow to fast every Tuesday or Wednesday as long as I live, and it so happens that this day is Yawm al-Nahr (the Day of Sacrifice, i.e., the first day of Eid al-Adha).’ He said, ‘Allah has commanded us to fulfil vows and we are forbidden to fast on Yawm al-Nahr.’ He repeated this to him, and said no more and no less.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari) (Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid)
It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) that “while the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was delivering a sermon, he saw a man standing, so he asked about that man. They (the people) said, ‘It is Abu Isra’il who has vowed that he will stand and never sit down, that he will never come in the shade nor speak to anybody, and that he will fast.’ The Prophet said, ‘Order him to speak, let him come in the shade, and made him sit down, but let him complete his fast.”‘
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.