The principle of oath keeping is considered one of the highest virtues in Islam. The teachings of the Holy Quran and the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT) regard oath keeping as a fundamental requirement of faith (1); where neglecting one’s oath has been considered alongside irreligiousness and faithlessness. (2)

This principle does not pertain solely to relations between members of the religious community; they are responsible to observe this faith-oriented, yet humanistic rule also in respect to non-Muslims whether they be friends or enemies. As evident in the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP), history shows us the many oaths the Prophet made and kept with the pagans, Christians of Najran, and other Arab tribes.

Islamic teachings about observing one’s oath are innumerous. The following account is the order of Imam Ali (PBUH) to his commander in Egypt.

The letter, which is known as “the Malik Ashtar letter of oath” is an example of the glorious thoughts and ideas of Amir al-Mu’minin (PBUH). The points made in this letter are said with such detail and depth that one can say, they can accommodate the responsibility of all mankind towards the creator, whether it be as a person in any society, as a leader who carries out laws of the Islam, or as a person who lives under an Islamic government.  

Although Imam Ali (PBUH) has addressed Malik Ashtar in the letter, the concepts can be applied to every human being across the world, past and present. Let us now review parts of the letter.

“If you made an oath with an enemy, or showed him mercy, keep your oath and put your life as a guarantee to it.

Preserving one’s oath and promise is a divine principle strongly accepted by all mankind.  For pagans, just as Muslims, the observing of oath was also very important, for they had experienced the horrible consequences of breaking oaths. Therefore, never break your oaths and never betray your vows, and don’t betray your enemy whom you have made an oath with. For, no one shows arrogance towards Allah (SWT) except the miserable ignorant.  

The Almighty has designated His oath as a guarantee, and from His blessings has made its observance a responsibility on all his servants. An Oath and an allegiance is a safe haven so people can be reassured to its persistence, and for all to choose as a haven. Trickery and betrayal is not permissible in any oath. Never make an oath with unclear content, and once emphasis and strong statements have been made, do not use vague and two-sided phrases [to make it irrelevant.]

Beware the difficulty of an oath and your pledge to Allah (SWT) that you have made does not entice you to void it through wrong means. For your patience during the hardships of an oath and pledge to Allah (SWT) for which you have hopes for its outcome is better than the betrayal and disloyalty that you fear its consequences. The same disloyalty that will incite one’s divine responsibility to such that he/she will be unable to answer for in this world or the hereafter. (3)

(The above is a selection taken from “The Principles of Ruling from the vision of Imam Ali (PBUH)” by Late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Fadhil Lankarani (with minor changes))

The Principle of Oath Keeping

The Roshd Website offers condolences to all Muslims, especially you dear friend, upon 21st of the Month of Ramadan, the anniversary of the martyrdom of the symbol of justice and courage, the father of the nation and the commander of the believers, Amir al-Mu’minin, Ali ibn Abi Talib (PBUH), and commemorates the Nights of Qadr.  

Footnotes:

1. The Holy Quran (23:8) Those who are faithfully true to their Amanat (all the duties which Allah has ordained, honesty, moral responsibility and trusts etc.) and to their covenants;

2. The Waram Collection, vol. 2, pg. 226

3- “And if you enter into a bond between you and [an enemy of yours] your enemy, or bind him under your obligation, then fulfill your covenant of fidelity, guard your obligation with honesty, and make yourself a shield other than what you have given, for there is nothing of God’s obligations that is more severe than people’s assembly. With the dispersion of their desires and the dispersion of their opinions regarding the valorization of fulfillment of covenants, the polytheists have adhered to that among themselves, not to the Muslims, because of the consequences of treachery upon them, so do not betray your covenant, do not betray your covenant, and do not betray your enemy, for only an ignorant and wretched person dares against God, and God has made his covenant and his covenant. A security which He has spread among His servants by His mercy – and a sanctuary in whose protection they can dwell and roam in its vicinity. There is no deceit, no quarreling, no deceit in it, and do not [complicate] a contract in which defects are permissible, and do not rely on the melody of [a statement] a statement after confirmation and authentication. And do not be led by the distress of a matter in which you are bound by God’s covenant to demand its annulment unjustly, for your patience in the distress of a matter whose relief you hope for and the virtue of its outcome is better than treachery whose consequences you fear, and to be surrounded by a request from God in which you do not [resign] in which you will receive neither your world nor your hereafter. (Nahj al-Balagha, excerpts from letter number 53)

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