Feeding the rich from a votive offe...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Feeding the rich from a votive offering


no. 625 for the year 2008 which includes the following:
A man made a vow and said, "If my son recovers from his illness, I will feed the congregants attending Friday Prayer at this mosque." Is it permissible for the rich to partake of this food? Is it permissible for the rich to eat from the offering of a person who says, "If my son recovers from his illness, I will sacrifice a sheep on the day of 'Eid ul-Adha."? I would like an answer based on Hanafi jurisprudence.


The vow is a sanctioned act of worship. It is invalid in Hanafi jurisprudence except if intended as an act of worship to gain the pleasure of Allah and is similar in kind to another obligatory act of worship. For this reason, it is permissible in Hanafi jurisprudence for a person to vow to give sadaqah [charity] since it is similar in kind to the obligatory act of worship of zakat. And since it is impermissible to give zakat to the rich, it is likewise impermissible to pledge to give them sadaqah. Pledging to give the object of one's vow to the rich, exclusively or inclusively, is tantamount to directing the vow to other than Allah which is impermissible. Furthermore, it would not be an act intended exclusively to gain the pleasure of Allah and is not similar in kind to another obligatory act of worship.

The luminary Al-Haskafi stated in Al-Dur Al-Mukhtar that a person who makes an unrestricted or conditional vow similar in kind to an obligatory act of worship (apart from ablution or shrouding the dead [which are not acts of worship per se]) is obliged to fulfill it if the event upon which the vow was made contingent occurs. This is because of the report which states, 'Whoever pledges to make a vow and states it, must fulfill his vow.' This includes vows to fast, pray, give sadaqah, make endowments, i'tikaf [spiritual retreat], manumit a slave, or perform hajj (even if on foot). The obligation here is based on the fact that they are all similar in kind to acts of worship performed for the sake of gaining the pleasure of Allah and are similar in kind to obligatory acts of worship such as manumitting a slave in expiation, going for hajj on foot for a resident of Makkah (for a person who is capable of it), the length of sitting back after the last testification of faith which is similar to i'tikaf or endowing a mosque for the benefit of Muslims (this is primarily the duty of a Muslim leader that must be executed from the Muslim Common Fund; otherwise, it is a duty upon Muslims). It is not obligatory for a Muslim to fulfill a vow which is not similar in kind to an obligatory act of worship such as visiting the sick, joining a funeral procession or entering a mosque (even if it were the Prophet's Mosque or Masjid al-Aqsa) since it is not similar in kind to an obligatory act of worship intended exclusively to Allah.

This is the criteria for making vows as mentioned in Al-Durar. Al-Haskafi said that in addition to the above, the book Zawaher Al-Jawaher mentions that a vow must not comprise an impossible task such as fasting or making i'tikaf on a past day since the vow would then be invalid. In Al-Qunya, it is mentioned that vowing to give sadaqah to the rich is invalid unless it is made to a wayfarer. In reference to the statement in Al-Qunya on this issue, Ibn Nujaim mentions that it is valid to give a sadaqah to a wayfarer since he is from among the legal recipients of zakat. It is invalid for a person to pledge to host the rich for the sake of Allah upon the return of an absent loved one.

Ibn 'Abdin wrote in Rad Al-Muhtar 'ala Al-Dur Al-Mukhtar (4/41) that the reason behind the invalidity of giving a sadaqah to a rich person may be that it is not an act of worship and it is impossible to consider it as such. This is because to a rich person a dinar is a gift, while to a poor person, a gift is a sadaqah. Al-Tahtawi said in his commentary on Al-Dur Al-Mukhtar that the reason for its invalidity is because it is not similar in kind to an obligatory act of worship and its validity to a wayfarer is due to him being one of the legal recipients of zakat. Fatawa Hindiyyah, mentions the invalidity of pledging to give out a dinar as a sadaqah to a rich person except if he were a wayfarer.

In the book Al-Bahr al-Ra`ik Sharh Kinz al-Daqa`iq, Ibn Nujaym cited al-Sheikh Qasim who mentioned in Sharh Al-Durar that vows made by the majority of the general public, according to what is witnessed, are invalid. Instances of such vows include a person who has an absent or ill loved one or has a pressing need, approaching [the grave of] a pious person and places a sheet over his head, and says, 'O my such-and-such a master! If my absent loved one is returned to me, or if my ill is healed or if my need is fulfilled, then for you is so much gold or silver or water or food, or wax or oil.' Scholars are unanimous on the invalidity of such a vow on account of a number of reasons which include:

  •  It is a vow made to person. This is impermissible because a vow is an act of worship and worship must not be directed to Allah's creation.
  •  It is a vow made to a deceased and a dead person is incapable of possessing anything.
  •  A person makes a vow to a deceased believing that he, apart from Allah, has power to fulfill his need. Such a belief is tantamount to kufr [disbelief] except if he says, 'O Allah! I hereby pledge that if You heal my ill, return my absent loved one, or fulfill my need, I will feed the poor at the door of Sayyidah Nafisah, or the poor who are at the door of Imam Shafi'i or Imam Layth or buy mats for their mosques, or oil to light them, or give dirhams to those who worship inside," and so forth of other things in which there is a benefit for the poor and the offering is made to Allah. Mentioning the name of the sheikh after whom the mosque or area is named is for the purpose of designating the recipients of the vow who are present in the environs of the place or mosque. It is for this reason that vows made in this manner are permissible.
  •  The object of a vow is distributed among the poor and accordingly, it is impermissible to distribute it among the rich, a person of noble rank or birth (due to his rank or family name) or a scholar (due to his knowledge) unless he is poor. There is nothing in Islamic law to substantiate giving the object of the vow to the rich.
  • Based on the above and on the opinion of Hanafi scholars, a vow is invalid if it is distributed to both the poor and rich from among the congregants of a mosque since it is impermissible to feed the rich from it. However, Hanafis maintain two opinions regarding redressing an invalid vow by distributing it to the poor:
  •  Some Hanafi scholars have maintained the invalidity of rectifying such a vow since it is primarily impermissible to give the rich from the object of the vow. Ibn 'Abdin mentiones in Tanqih Al-Fatawa Al-Hamidiyya that a question was posited to him about a man who was heard to have said that if he takes his daughter from her grandfather, he pledges to contribute a certain sum of money to the kitchens of the governor. The question revolved around whether he is to fulfill his vow if he does take his daughter from her grandfather. Ibn 'Abdin answered that such a vow is invalid since it cannot be directed to a person [and it is therefore non-binding]. A case cannot be filed against him concerning the vow nor can a judge adjudicate in favor of its fulfillment even if some scholars do maintain its validity as mentioned in Al-Khayriyyah and elsewhere.
  •  Others scholars maintained that it is possible to rectify an [invalid] vow by distributing it to the poor instead of the rich. Commenting on Ibn 'Abdin's words, the luminary al-Rafi'i said that it is valid for a person to vow to give sadaqh though it is invalid to give it to the rich since it would be comparable to making a vow to pray two cycles of prayer without making ablution.

This manner of rectifying an invalid vow best suits the goal of the Law Maker, especially since giving the object of the vow to the poor is the convention and because it is better to fulfill one's words than to neglect them. This is the opinion chosen for fatwa regarding the question of feeding the congregants present in the mosque on Friday. Since the issuer of the vow made a general statement and did not stipulate the rich, the opinion on redressing the vow is strengthened by the fact that the statement either denoted specificity or was a general statement that was intended [exclusively] as specific (i.e. it excluded giving the object of the vow to the rich who are its unlawful recipients and intended the poor from among the congregants; it is prohibited upon the rich to eat from it).

Making a vow to slaughter a sacrificial animal
Scholars are unanimous that a person, rich or poor, must fulfill his vow to offer a sacrificial animal. According to Hanafi jurisprudence, it is obligatory to make a sacrifice during hajj. Therefore, a person who vows to do this must offer two animals, one in fulfillment of his vow and the other in fulfillment of this obligatory act of worship. He is to do this except if he made his vow during the Days of Nahr by which he wanted to make known his intention of fulfilling the obligatory sacrifice. Ibn 'Abdin mentions in his commentary on Rad Al-Muhtar 'ala Al-Dur Al-Mukhtar and in Udhiyyat Al-Bada`i', that a person who makes this vow before the days of Nahr must undisputedly slaughter two animals since his words cannot be construed as a declaration of an obligatory act.
In brief, vowing to slaughter a sacrificial animal is valid. But the person making the vow must sacrifice an animal other than the one he will slaughter for the obligatory act of worship associated with the hajj except if he wants to announce his intention to make this obligatory act of worship and if he makes the announcement during the days of Nahr.
It is impermissible for the rich or the person who makes the sacrifice to eat from it. This is the opinion of Shafi'i scholars, because it is intended as a sadaqah as expressed by the words of Ibn Nujaym.

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