The ruling of swearing by other than God?
What is the ruling of swearing by other than God? Is al-taraji with the Prophet Muhammad, his family, the Kaaba, or the Quran such as a person saying, “By the Prophet do this,” or “By Sayyidna al-Hussein and his worth with you,” when the intention is to convey hope and not an oath, considered associating partners with God? Some people are surprised to find that if these kinds of things are said they are told, “This is forbidden, this is associating partners with God, say, ‘There is no god but God.’”
Islam came and the people of the Jahiliyah were swearing by their gods as a form of worship and aggrandizement for them similarly to God, may He be exalted over all partners that they associated with Him. As the Quran says, Yet of mankind are some who take unto themselves (objects of worship which they set as) rivals to Allah, loving them with a love like (that which is the due) of Allah (only) - those who believe are stauncher in their love for Allah - Oh, that those who do evil had but known, (on the day) when they behold the doom, that power belongeth wholly to Allah, and that Allah is severe in punishment! [2:165]. The Prophet forbade this in order to protect the oneness of God (tawhid) when he said, “Whoever swears by other than God has committed disbelief or polytheism.” This means that they have said something that akin to what the polytheists do, not that they have left the religion, may God protect us. The scholars are agreed that one who swears by other than God is not a disbeliever unless thy aggrandize that by which they have sworn similarly to the aggrandizement of God. In this instance, their disbelief would be due to the aggrandizement, and not the swearing alone.
The Prophet also forbade swearing by one’s forefathers as was done in the Jahiliyah out of pride for them, to sanctify them, and to put their lineage before the brotherhood of Islam and differentiating their friends and enemies on that basis. He said, “God forbids you to swear by your forefathers. Whoever swears should swear by God or remain silent.” He clarified the rational for this ruling in another hadith when he said, “People who a prideful of their forefathers who have died should desist. They are but coals of the hellfire, or they are more degraded in the eyes of God than the dung beetle who rolls feces around with its nose. God has removed from you the coarseness (‘ubiyah) of the Jahiliyah. Now there is naught but the pious believer and the sorrowful one without morals. All of humanity are the sons of Adam, and Adam was created from dust.” As it says in the Quran And when ye have completed your devotions, then remember Allah as ye remember your fathers or with a more lively remembrance [2:200]. The commentators said, “The people of the Jahiliyah would stand during the season and one of them would say, ‘My father used to feed and carry goods,’ they had no remembrance except for of the actions of their forefathers.”
As for swearing by that which has been aggrandized in the legal tradition, like the Prophet, Islam, and the Kaa’ba, there is no likeness whatsoever to the oaths of the polytheists. Those scholars who forbade it did so only out of consideration of the apparent meaning of the general command of the Prophet to not swear by other than God. Those scholars who permitted, like Imam Ahmad in one of his positions, it did so considering the fact that the Prophet is one of the essential integrals of the testimony of faith whithout which it is not complete, and because there is no chance for a similarity to God, rather aggrandizement of him is aggrandizement of God and the apparent generality of the prohibition of swearing by other than God is not meant definitively due to their consensus concerning the permissibility of swearing by God’s characteristics, so it is a general prohibition by which something particular is meant.
Ibn al-Mundhir said, “The people of knowledge have differed concerning the meaning of the prohibition of swearing by other than God. One group of them said that it is particularly related to the oaths sworn by the people of the Jahiliyah aggrandizing other than God like Alat, al-‘Uzza, and their forefathers. Someone who swears by one of these oaths is committing a sin although there are no expiations to be paid. As for that which results in the aggrandizement of God such as someone saying, by the Prophet, Islam, the pilgrimage, the lesser pilgrimage, the sacrifice, charity, freeing slaves, and similar things by which the aggrandizement of God and drawing near to him is intended, these are not included in the prohibition. Included amongst those who held this position is Abu ‘Ubayd and a number of people that we met. They supported the position with that which is narrated according to the Companions of the Prophet that they would hold someone to an oath made on freeing a slave, sacrifice, or charity even though they perceived the prohibition mentioned. This indicates that they did not understand it to be general, for if it were general they would have forbidden these oaths and not held people to them.”
As for mentioning the Prophet or other than him out of hope of affirmation of a point in a way in which an actual oath is not meant, this is not included in the prohibition at all. This is something that is permitted and concerning which there is no objection since it has been related in the speech of the Prophet and his Companions. According to Abu Hurayrah a man came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of God, which act of charity is greatest in reward?” He replied, “By your father tell him it is to give charity while you are healthy, have limited funds, fear poverty, and wish that your property were remain.” And the hadith of the man from Najd who asked the Prophet about Islam the end of which says, “The Messenger of God said, ‘He will be successful, by his father, if he is honest,’” or, “He will enter Paradise, by his father, if he is honest.”
According to Abu Hurayrah a man came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of God, inform me of all people who has the most right over me concerning keeping good company.” The Prophet said, “Yes by your father, I will tell you: your mother.” Abu al-‘Ushara’ related that his father said, “O Messenger of God, is zakat only in al-halq or al-lubbah? He replied, “By your father, if you stabbed it in the thigh it would count.”
It has been narrated that the Prophet was brought food comprised of meat and bread. He said, “Pass me the foreleg.” So he was passed the foreleg and he ate it. Then he said, “Pass me the foreleg.” So he was passed the foreleg and he ate it. Then he said, “Pass me the foreleg.” Someone said, “O Messenger of God, there are only two forelegs.” He said, “By your father, if you had remained silent you would have kept passing me forelegs as long as I asked for them.”
And it came in the story of the amputee who stole a necklace from Asma’ bint ‘Umays when Abu Bakr said, “By your father, your night is not the night of a thief.” It has been established in the authentic collections that Abu Bakr’s wife told him, “No, by the light of my eyes, she is now three times more that what she was before.” Referring to the food of their guests.
Imam al-Nawawi said, “This is not an oath, rather it is a phrase from Arab custom that entered their speech without intending an actual oath. The prohibition only refers to those who intend actual oaths because of the aggrandizement of that which is sweared by and the comparison with God. That is the satisfactory answer.”
Al-Hafidh ibn Hajar related the position of al-Baydawi concerning this matter saying, “Al-Baydawi said, ‘This phrase is one of those that are added to speech merely for purposes of repetition or affirmation. Oaths are not intended by this phrase. Just like the form of address is added merely for the purposes of particularization without intending address.”
Based on this using the Prophet, his family, or others for the purposes of affirming speech as in the question wherein actual oaths is a legally permitted matter in which there is nothing wrong due to its being mentioned in the speech of the Prophet and his Companions as well as the people’s custom adopting it in a way that is not counter to the legal tradition. It is not forbidden or an act of associating partners with God and Muslims do not need to make allegations about God without knowledge.
The Quran says, And speak not, concerning that which your own tongues qualify (as clean or unclean), the falsehood: "This is lawful, and this is forbidden," so that ye invent a lie against Allah. Lo! those who invent a lie against Allah will not succeed [16:116]. It is not permitted for intelligent people to accuse their brothers of disbelief and polytheism and thereby enter into the warning in the Prophet’s saying, “If a man judges his brother to be a disbeliever, one of them is.”