What is the definition of promise in Islam? Consider two examples:
My wife asked me when I am going to finish my Ph.D. I told her Insha Allah by end of 2001. When I have not finished by then, she says I have broken my promise. I told her that she cannot consider it as a promise as it is only my target/estimation. But she insists that I have broken a promise. Is she right?
I have told my son he can play on the computer with certain conditions. However later on, I feel I need to change/put another condition. My son argued that I cannot do that as I will be breaking my previous promise, unless he agrees to the change. Is he right?
Jazakallahu khairan kathira.
“Promise’ is not defined by the Shari`ah. The Shari`ah has only directed us to fulfill – in letter and spirit – all that we call ‘promise’. As a principle, however, a promise is a commitment to do something.
It is quite obvious that the first of the two stated situations clearly does not constitute a promise on your part. It may, under certain circumstances, be considered as a case of incorrect estimation on your part, but it cannot be considered as a broken promise. However, had you, for instance, said: ‘If my PhD is not completed by the end of the year 2001, then I shall withdraw from the program’, this could indeed have been considered as a promise. Nevertheless, merely announcing one’s estimation about the happening of an incident, can under no circumstances be considered as a ‘promise’.
The second situation may or may not, depending upon the circumstances, be considered as breaking a promise. Suppose you had made a commitment with your child to allow him to play games on the computer, if he would study for two hours. Now, at the end of the day, when your child starts playing his games, you stop him from doing so and add another condition to your previous commitment. This would clearly be ‘breaking’ your promise. However, if at the end of the day, you allow the child to play on the computer, but add another condition which shall be effective for future only, then that cannot be considered as breaking your promise.
Hope this helps.