In the 21st Century, we live in a world where sadly, the essential ingredients of trustworthiness and honesty are no longer a part of the character of many people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Whilst the two qualities are inextricably entwined, for the purposes of this article trustworthiness, particularly fulfilling promises shall be the focus.
Being trustworthy implies being honest, fair in dealings and punctual, as well as honouring trusts and keeping promises and commitments. This is known as amanah in Arabic. The meaning of amanah is exactly trustworthiness, or, it is something or someone left to another to protect or keep. The opposite of amanah is betrayal or even treason. That is, to fail to keep the amanah in the way the person who left it expected and wanted it to be.
In Islam every believer is a brother or sister to the another; we are one body, one nation. The right hand must be able to trust the left hand. The commands and rules from Allah SWT are designed for our benefit and Islam holds people’s rights in high esteem. Furthermore, Islam encourages its believers to trust each other and to assume that the intentions of others are good. It is important to think positively about others unless proven otherwise because such feelings of certitude give individuals inner peace. However, sadly nowadays people are increasingly finding it difficult to trust others because broken promises, pledges and vows result in a loss of confidence in one another which is detrimental to society as a whole.
If we sit and ponder over how easy it is to say ‘I promise’ we soon realise that guarding those promises and living up to them is the difficult part of the equation. This is why a promise should only be made if we are absolutely sure that we can fulfil it. More often than not, we find excuses to explain away why we did not keep that promise, while the party to whom we made the promise awaits impatiently, in the belief and hope that we will fulfil it. As a result of breaking the promise we hurt our brother or sister beyond words and the fragile walls of trust and confidence begin to break down.
We also forget that a delayed promise is also a denied promise! When we say ‘Insha Allah’s, we drag the Name of Allah in vain, and make Allah a witness, to a promise we really did not intend to keep in the first place. We may also be so irresponsible and forgetful and be oblivious to the fact that fulfilling a promise is indeed a debt on us, which is witnessed by none other than Allah SWT!! Furthermore, shockingly these days we see more and more individuals who are not only careless about keeping promises but consider treason (betrayal of trust) to be clever and some people may even brag about their actions to others.
Both promises and covenants involve saying something about an issue to confirm that you will uphold the trust. Allah SWT praises the believers by promising them Paradise:
“Those who are faithfully true to their amanah (all the duties which Allah has ordained, honesty, moral responsibility and trusts, etc.) and to their covenants…these indeed are the inheritors. Who shall inherit Paradise. And dwell therein forever” (Quran 23:8, 23:10-11)
Allah SWT orders the believers to fulfil their covenant time and time again in the Quran:
“And fulfill (every) covenant. Verily! The covenant will be questioned about.” (17:34)
“And fulfill the Covenant of Allah (Bai’ah: pledge for Islam) when you have covenanted.” (16:91)
“O you who believe! Fulfill (your) obligations.” (5:1)
“O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do.” (61:2,3)
“Whoever fulfills his promise and guards (against evil), Surely Allâh loves those who guard (against evil).” [3:76]
“…Surely every promise shall be questioned about.” (17:39)
Furthermore there are a number of ahadith in which Prophet Muhammad (s) described those who go around breaking promises, as one having a characteristic of a Nifaaq (hypocrisy).
On the authority of Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (s) said:
“Four traits whoever possesses them is a Munaafiq (hypocrite) and whoever possesses some of them has an element of hypocrisy until he leaves it: the one who when he speaks he lies, when he promises he breaks his promise, when he disputes he transgresses and when he makes an agreement he violates it.” [Bukhaari, and Muslim]
Hypocrisy, involves deception, scheming and presenting an outward appearance of good while concealing its opposite.
In the Shari’a, hypocrisy is of two types:
a) Greater (An-Nifaaq Al-Akbar):
To present an outward appearance of belief in Allah, his Angels, his books, his messengers, the last day, etc. while concealing within that which negates all or some of that. This is the hypocrisy, which the Prophet (s) confronted during his life and the ones who Allah said in the Qur’an that they are in “the lowest depth of hell-fire”.
b) Lesser (An-Nifaaq Al-Asghar) or hypocrisy of action:
To present an outward appearance of good and good deeds while concealing within that which negates that. This form of hypocrisy is built on the things mentioned in the above hadith.
In another tradition Prophet Muhamed (s) has said:
“There are three signs of a hypocrite: when he talks he speaks untruth, when he makes a promise he does not keep it, and when he makes a contract he deceives, although he may be offering prayers, observing fast and calling himself a Mus1im.”
Fulfilling promises is essential for a person who wishes to live a social life; it is the basis for social happiness, development, and success. Islam so greatly condemns the violation of promises that it has made it illegal and unethical for its followers to violate their oaths even if they were made with tyrants and desolates.
Promises can be intentionally and unintentionally broken.
Intentional promises are those that are made by an individual knowing full well that he/she intends to break it. They are lies and lying is a punishable sin in Islam. Making promises to children, for example, and then not fulfilling them falls under this category. To no other group of individuals are broken promises more devastating, than to children. Children are like elephants, they almost never forget. If you promise a child something, they will remember that promise, even though they may not verbalise it to you. The promises themselves may seem silly or unimportant at the time but they do count on our record of evil deeds. Extreme caution should be taken when uttering a promise whether it is to an adult or a child. As the above verse says a liar falls under the pale of hypocrisy.
Therefore, the Messenger of Allah (s) prohibited men from breaking promises to their children. He said:
“And a man shall not make a promise to his child and not fulfill it.”
“Lies are of no use in either seriousness or jest. Also, it is not right for someone to promise something to his/her child/children and then fail to fulfil that promise.” (Related by Abu Dawood.)
Below is an extract by a Doctor illustrating the tragic events, which can occur if promises are broken:
“A sixteen year old boy who robbed every day was brought to me for treatment. I discovered that when the boy was seven or eight years old, his father had forced him to give his toy to an aristocrat’s daughter, for whom his father worked. That toy, to the boy, represented an ultimate dream for he had worked hard to get it. The boy’s father promised to buy a substitute toy but had unintentionally forgot. The hopeless boy sought revenge by stealing a piece of candy from his father’s pocket. A day later the boy broke into a house and stole some item. It was not difficult to treat the boy when he was brought to me. It is possible that the boy would have come to be a dangerous criminal if he was not properly treated. But now his chances of becoming a reasonable and self-confident individual are much greater.” (Dr. Alindi)
This illustrates that by keeping our promises to our children, we are also teaching them the importance of honour and commitment. By keeping our word to them, they will in turn learn to keep promises made to us and to their peers, inshaa Allah.
Unintentional promises are ones that you make in good faith. You plan to fulfil them but then you either forget to do it or lack the means to follow through with it. In this event, breaking these promises is not punishable as Allah SWT judges us by the intention we carry in our hearts. For example, you promise your sister you will buy her new clothing for doing well in exams but find that you cannot afford to do so when the time comes around to doing so. You have no choice but to break the promise. It is still, however, best to try your hardest to fulfil these promises because breaking one’s promise is despicable and contrary to the spirit of Islam.
Allah SWT says in the Quran: “And keep the promise; the promise is a responsibility.” (17:34)
Oaths to Allah – these are vows or oaths that you make directly to Allah Almighty. There are two types of these as well. The first being a ‘conditional oath’, which means that in times of distress or fear you make an oath to Allah. For example, you swear to Allah that if He heals you of a malady that you will fast every Monday for the rest of your life. And once the malady passes you might fulfil the oath or neglect it. The second is an ‘unconditional oath’ which means that you simply decide to do something for the sake of Allah. For example, you promise Allah to give a certain percentage of your salary each month to a special charity for two complete years. Again it is up to you whether or not you keep the oath. No one knows you made the oath but Allah right? Both of these types of oaths are obligations and must be fulfilled as they are considered to be acts of worship. Breaking a covenant made to Allah Almighty is very grave indeed.
In a narration, a group of Khawarij were captured during the time of Hajjaj, who reviewed their cases and sentenced them as he wished. When the last man was standing in front of Hajjaj waiting for his sentence, time for prayer arrived. Hajjaj heard the call for prayer and turned the prisoner over to a noble man and told him to bring him back in the morning. The noble man left the palace with the prisoner. As they were walking the prisoner said: “I am not one of the Khawarij. I ask Allah by His Mercy to prove my innocence, for I am an innocent hostage in their hands. I ask you to let me spend the night with my wife and children so I can leave my will with them. I promise that I will return before the roaster crows in the morning. After a moment of silence, the noble man agreed to the man’s insistence and permitted him to go home for the night. A short time later the noble man fell victim to his fear and imagined that he would be the subject of Hajjaj’s fury.
That night the man woke up terrified and was astonished to hear the prisoner, who he had given permission to go home, knocking at his door as he had promised. This noble man was overwhelmed with surprise and could not help but exclaim:
“Why have you come to my door’?
The prisoner replied: “He who recognizes Allah’s greatness and power, and makes Him a witness to his oath, must fulfil his promise.
The noble man proceeded with the prisoner to the palace of Hajjaj, and narrated to him the complete story. Hajjaj, who is known for his ruthlessness, was so moved by the man’s honesty that he allowed him to go free.
So in conclusion, we should commit ourselves to the noble character and behaviour of our Rasool (s) and his companions in every way in every aspect of our lives. This includes good conduct, remembrance, recitation of the Quran, honesty and truthfulness, being humble towards others, enjoining good and forbidding evil, feeling bad for one’s sins, giving sadaqah and seeking Allah SWTs forgiveness all the time. We must be aware that we cannot just take one part and abandon another part of the religion. As a final remark in relation to this article is that people should always remember that quite simply, broken promises hurt individuals and can erode relationships. Trustworthiness is too valuable of a characteristic to own. DON’T GIVE IT AWAY AND DON’T FORGET that keeping a promise, even if it seems SMALL, as the verses of the Quran show, is an adequate reason to gain the most bejewelled of all things; the love of Allah, Almighty.
May Allah SWT guide us all to the truth, help us to be just with one another, to be mindful of the vows and promises we make to one another and keep us on the Straight path. May Allah’s peace and blessing be upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s) and upon his family and companions and all those that follow him, and all praise is due to Allah. AMEEN.