When Is Breaking Promises Permissible?

MV: Breaking a promise is a sign of the hypocrite (Munafiq) and The Qur’an states, “The hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire: no helper wilt thou find for them.” – (Qur’an 4:145). Many other ayyahs in the Quran state that the hypocrites are the worst enemy of Islam. One way a Muslim can be a hypocrite is breaking a promise, but many times it can be difficult for some Muslims to remember the promise or any other reason, so when can our sins be forgiven for breaking a promise?

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear questioner, we are greatly pleased to receive your question, which shows the confidence you place in us. May Allah reward you abundantly for your interest in knowing the teachings of Islam.

Undoubtedly keeping promises and keeping one’s word are attributes of a believer, and breaking promises is one of the attributes of a hypocrite. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said: “There are four (characteristics), whoever has them is a hypocrite, and whoever has one of the four has a characteristic of hypocrisy unless he gives it up: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise he breaks it; what he makes a pledge he betrays it; and when he disputes he resorts to foul language.” (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim)

In his response to the question, Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer and author, states the following:

“The believer who makes promises to people and breaks his promise may have an excuse or he may not. If he has an excuse, then there is no sin on him, but if he does not have an excuse then he is a sinner.
As far as we know, there is no text that makes any exception regarding the prohibition of breaking promises, but it may be that promises are broken in situations where the believer is excused. For example:

1-Forgetting

Allah has forgiven us for forgetfulness whereby obligatory actions are omitted or impermissible actions are committed. Allah says, “Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error” (Al-Baqarah: 286) And Allah has said: “Yes.” (Reported by Muslim)

According to another version, Allah said: “I will do that.” (Reported by Muslim)

Thus, whoever makes a promise to someone then forgets the promise or forgets to do it at the time stated, there is no sin on him.

2-Being forced

Being forced is one of the impediments that make it permissible for a Muslim to break his promise, such as one who is detained or is prevented from fulfilling his promise, or who is threatened with a painful punishment.

Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah has forgiven my ummah for their mistakes, what they forget and what they are forced to do.”

3- Promising to do something haram or to not do something obligatory

Whoever promises someone that he will do something haram for him, or that he will not do something that is obligatory, it is not permissible for him to fulfill that promise. This may be supported by the Hadith of `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), which is also known as the Hadith of Barirah (narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) had promised Barirah’s former masters that the wala’ of Barirah [the right to inherit from her when she dies, which is the right of the one who sets a slave free] would belong to them even though `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) was the one who was going to set Barirah free. But she did not keep this promise because they had gone against the Shari`ah and they knew that the right of wala’ belonged to the one who set the slave free, so how could `A’ishah set her free and then the wala’ of Barirah belong to them?

Imam Al-Shafi`i said: When news of that reached them, the one who had stipulated a condition that was contrary to the ruling of Allah and His Messenger was a sinner, and there are penalties and discipline for the sinner. One of the ways in which the sinners are disciplined is that their conditions are rendered null and void so as to deter them and others from doing likewise. This is one of the best forms of discipline.

4-Something unforeseen happening

If something unforeseen happens to the one who made the promise, such as sickness, the death of a relative, or the breakdown of his means of transportation, et cetera, there are many excuses, which all come under the heading of the verse “Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope” (Al-Baqarah: 286)”

Excerpted with modifications from http://www.islam-qa.com

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to write back!

May Allah guide you to the straight path, and guide you to that which pleases Him. Ameen.

Allah Almighty knows best.

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4 thoughts on “When Is Breaking Promises Permissible?

  1. Saad,

    Please forgive my long absence my friend. I do wish we would have had the opportunity to meet while I was in New York City last month.

    Here’s my question — why does the Qur’an refer to Allah as makara? If Allah is a deceiver, how can he expect those who follow him to be honest?

    Thanks for interacting with me Saad!

  2. Brother I’m in need of help. I am totally lost. I don’t know what to do or say how to live etc. If someone promises you to never leave you……….romantically are they still required to keep that promise. I know divorce is allowed in Islam but Allah the Almighty says it is the most hated thing he hates that is halal……….

  3. Everything in Islam depends on whether Mohammed really received revelation, and that the revelation was really sent from God. Can you really put your trust in the testimony of one man?? No different than Will Smith (Mormonism). The prophecies of the Jewish Tanach (Old Testament)were written over a time of 1200 years and many were fulfilled with the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Messiah. Consider Isiah’s prophecy “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and His name shall be called Emmanuel(Emmanuel means God with us). Any person sincerely seeking God needs to study the fulfillment of the Old Testament scripture through the events of Christ. Google it! “He who seeks me with all His heart shall find me”

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