Proper Use of Different Oath Formulas
The experts in Arabic language have made it clear that no two words are exactly synonymous. Each word, among a group of synonyms, conveys a signification peculiar and confined to it alone. The scholars of Arabic language have discovered that the synonymous words used in the Qur’ān too have different shades of meaning that can only be detected by a keen analyst. The word riyāḥ, for example, has been used for winds, in the context of benefits, and the use of word rīḥ (singular of riyāḥ) with reference to its harm. Similarly, the Qur’ān uses amṭār the plural form of maṭar (rain) in context of punishment. Application of different words for swearing oaths in different places is a similar practice. I will point out some of the particularities of different expressions of oath.
I have mentioned in the eighteenth section that some kinds of swearing oaths injure the honor of the oath-taker and harm his dignity. The Qur’ān has indicated this fact by employing specific words for the oaths of the hypocrites, who obviously belittled themselves by opting for taking an oath in every petty affair. An honorable man would not go for it at similar occasions. We see that in Sūrah al-Barā’ah (Q. 9) oaths of the hypocrites have been referred to seven times. No word other than ḥalf has been used in any of these instances in consideration of the untruth and meanness of the hypocrites. The word ḥalf has not been used in the Qur’ān for swearing an oath except in places where it denotes meanness and untruth of the person swearing the oath. Besides, the general use of the word in Arabic too implies this signification. Nābighah, intending to adulate Nu‘mān b. Mundhar and express humility before him, says:
I swore an oath (ḥalaftu) and have not left you with a chance to doubt me. Indeed, a man finds no way to cheat God.
By using the word ḥalf for an oath, he has brilliantly articulated his submission. This verse indeed is the finest expression of humility and lowliness. Nābighah is known for being the most eloquent man when he is awed by someone. It is usually said that the best poet is Imru’ al-Qays when riding, A‘shā when jubilant, ‘Antarah when enraged and Nābighah when awed by someone.
If you have appreciated this particular signification of the word, then it would be easy for you to understand its importance in the religion. You will then avoid using the word ḥalf while referring to God’s oaths. Many Muslim commentators and the translators of the Torah frequently use the expression “ḥalafa Allāh bikadhā” (God swore by this and that). It should be avoided.
For an understanding of the particular significations of other oath formulas, you should refer to the seventh section of this book. A careful reading of the section will allow you infer such particular significations of these formulas from the discussion on their meanings and different aspects. Here, the discussion revolves around the fact that oaths are sometimes undesirable and at other occasions they are desirable. So is the employment of different oath formulas. The Qur’ān has condemned taking an oath where they are to be avoided. It does not prohibit the practice absolutely. The Qur’ān has guided us how to know where taking an oath is desirable and where it is not. This has been accomplished by using specific words of oaths. This exhibits the excellence of the sharī‘ah of Islam which contains explanation and detail of the law referred to in the following verse of the Qur’ān:
We have sent down to you the Book to explain everything and as guidance and a mercy and glad tidings to those who submit. (Q 16:89)
(Translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)
. Nābighah, Dīwān, 17.