Fiqh of Promises

Salam.  I compiled these notes from the ‘Mawsuah’ volume 44 a while back.  As always those who are firmly grounded in Hanafi fiqh please send in any corrections.  Note: Please read carefully, the article is not saying it is ok to break promises, as some might misunderstand not fully reading it.  We ask Allah (Most High) to help us in keeping all of our promises.  Wassalam

-A promise can be for something which is unlawful, compulsory, permissible or recommended.

If the promise relates to that which is unlawful there is agreement amongst the scholars that it is not permitted to fulfill this promise. [Al-Adhkar of al-Nawawi with its commentary al-Futuhat al-Rabbaniyyah (6/258), Ahkam al-Quran of al-Jassas (3/442)]

The scholars have mentioned that the one who promises to carry out an act which is not permitted or is a sin, it is unlawful for him to fulfill any part of it. Such as someone promising another alcohol or the like. Therefore it is not correct to say that everyone who breaks a promise is sinful or blameworthy, rather in this scenario breaking the promise is an act of obedience and obligatory.  [Ahkam al-Quran of al-Jassas (3/442)]

As for one who promises something which in the shariah is compulsory, such as promising to fulfill something which is a duty upon them, then it is compulsory to keep that promise.  [Ahkam al-Quran of al-Jassas (3/442) Al-Futuhat al-Rabbaniyyah (6/258)]

If someone promises something which is permissible or recommended then they should fulfill their promise as this is from the signs of good character and characteristics of a believer.

The legal ruling for the above however is as follows: Fulfilling such a promise is not compulsory (wajib), except when the promise is linked to a condition, in which case it will become necessary to fulfill the promise. This is the position of the Hanafi’s, as Ibn Nujaim mentions quoting from the Qunyah that it is not necessary to fulfill a promise except if it is linked to a condition  [Al-Ashbah wal-Nazair of Ibn Nujaim p.344]

This is also mentioned in article 84 of the Majallah al-Ahkam al-Adaliyyah that: Promises in the form linked to conditions are necessary to fulfill

An example of this is: Zayd says to Amr: Pay off my loan from your wealth, and Amr promises to do so. Later Amr refuses to pay off Zayds loan as promised, then it is not incumbent on Amr to do so despite his making the promise.

As for the scenario that:  Sell this thing to so and so, and if he does not give the money for it I will give it, and then the purchaser does not give the money, then it is necessary for the one who made the promise to pay the price of the item as promised.  [Sharh al-Majallah of Ali Haydar (1/77)]

The basis of this ruling according to the Hanafi’s is that: A person informing another that they will do a thing in the future, if that thing is not already compulsory upon them, then it does not become necessary for them to fulfill it by making a promise to do so. As promises do not make acts where one has a choice to so something into one which becomes necessary on one to do so.  The reasoning of the Hanafi’s (in simple terms) is that when the promised is attached to a condition it is strengthened and thus becomes binding. [They also mention criteria for which conditions are valid- refer to Sharh al-Majallah (1/233,238,239) of al-Atasi and Rad al-Muhtar (4/22) of Ibn Abidin]

As for the scholars of the Hanafi schools interpretation of the verse of the Quran: ‘O you who believe, why do you say that which you do not do’. [Al-Saff:2]

They explain it as referring to a person making a promise whilst secretly in his mind not having an intention of fulfilling it. They also understand this verse to refer to a person who claims pious actions for himself which in reality he does not possess.  [Ahkam al-Quran (3/442) of al-Jassas]

As for the narration: “The signs of a hypocrite are three:…If he makes a promise he breaks it…”.

They have understood it to refer to a person who deliberately lies at the time of making a promise and has no intention of fulfilling it, as opposed to someone who finds him self in a situation where they cannot fulfill it.  [Mirqat al-Mafatih (1/106) of Mulla Ali al-Qari, Hashiyah al-Hamawi ala al-Ashbah wal-Nazair (2/110)]

The Hanafi scholars further added that breaking a promise in unlawful if a person makes it whilst secretly having no intention to fulfill it. As for if a person makes a promise and has the intention to fulfill it but is not able to then there is no sin attached. [Hashiyah al-Hamawi ala al-Ashbah (2/110)]

Most of the fuqaha have stated that the one who makes a promise should say the words: ‘Insha-Allah’, due to the Quranic verse and because the one making a promise does not know if he will be able to fulfill it or not. Therefore if he says ‘Inshallah’ and links his promise to the Will of Allah (the Exalted) he excuses himself in the scenario of being unable to fulfill it.  Imam al-Jassas from the Hanafi’s added that a promise which is made without mentioning ‘Inshallah’ is Makruh (disliked).  [Ahkam al-Quran (3/442) of al-Jassas]

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