The Qasam (Oath)
Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips
Taken from Usool At-Tafseer The Methodology of Qur'anic Interpretation, pp. 254- 257
The oath (qasam) in Arabic, as in English, is used to emphasize in the mind of the reader or listener the importance or truthfulness of the idea which follows it in the sentence. In English, the most common format is "by God," wherein "by" represents the phrase "as surely as I believe in." However, Arabic linguists have traditionally divided the format of the oath into three basic parts:
- the verb: "I swear by;"
- the person, thing, or event by which the oath is taken;
- the person, thing, or event on which the oath is taken. (Mabaahith fee 'Uloom al-Qur'aan, p. 300.)
The phrase "I swear by" (aqsimu bi) is often reduced to the particle "by" ("bi"), and "ta" and "wa" are often used in place of "bi". These particles are then joined to the person or thing by which the oath is taken. Hence the oath, "I swear by Allah," may be expressed in Arabic as, "Aqsimu bil-laah," "tal-laah," or "wal-laah." Occasionally both the verb, the particle, and the person or thing by which the oath is taken are all deleted, leaving only the person, thing, or event on which the oath is taken, prefixed with la, a particle of emphasis. An example of this type of deletion can be found in the verse,
Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil, - then that will be a determining factor in all affairs.
This verse should read, "[By Allah,] you will certainly be tested." In the Qur'aan, the vast majority of oaths are made by created things; for example,
By the Sun and his (glorious) splendour; By the Moon as she follows him;
However, there are exactly seven places where oaths are made by Allah. (Al-Itqaan, vol. 4, p. 46) Allah commands the Prophet (peace be upon him) to swear by Allah in three of those places, as in the following example:
The Unbelievers think that they will not be raised up (for Judgment). Say: "Yea, By my Lord, Ye shall surely be raised up: then shall ye be told (the truth) of all that ye did. And that is easy for God."
In the remaining four instances, Allah swears by Himself, as in the following example:
But no, by the Lord, they can have no (real) Faith, until they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their souls no resistance against Thy decisions, but accept them with the fullest conviction.
Allah, being the creator of all things may swear by whatever he wishes; however, man is not allowed to swear by anything but Allah. The reason being that oaths are taken by the things which one holds in the highest of esteem and only Allah should be revered in this manner. Hence, oaths by the stars, by one's father's grave or even by the Prophet (peace be upon him) or by the Ka'bah are all forbidden and considered shirk (associating partners with Allah). The Righteous Caliph and close companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Umar ibn al-Khattab, reported that Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said,
"Whoever swear by other than Allah has associated a partner with Allah." (Collected by Aboo Daawood (Sunan Abu Dawud, vol. 2, p. 923, no. 3245) and at-Tirmithee and authenticated by al-Albaanee in Saheeh Sunan Abee Daawood, vol. 2, p. 627, no. 2787.
Occasionally in the Qur'aan, the very thing or event on which an oath is taken may be deleted. Deletion in this case may be due to the clarity of the context and the implication of the oath itself; for example, the oaths:
I do call to witness the Resurrection Day; And I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit: (Eschew Evil).
And the verse following them:
Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones?
indicate that the missing events on which the oaths were taken are, "you will be resurrected and judged." This type of deletion in Arabic is used to dramatically increase the effect of the passage, much in the same way that warnings are orally expressed in English; for example, "You had better stop doing that, or else!"
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