If you want Jannah, stop saying 'Wallah'

by Musa Cerantonio

03/11/1435  /  29/08/2014

Once while living in Egypt I met a brother who was of good character, educated in the Shari'ah and sincere, however he had the habit of constantly saying 'wallāhi' which is essentially an oath which one makes in God's Name. I advised the brother to stop saying it so much and explained the reasoning why it is not good to do so. He agreed with what I said and was thankful, and then commented on what I had just said by responding "Wallāhi you are right!" The humour of it was not lost on him as soon as he realised that he had just repeated the same word that I had advised him not to say, and for the next few minutes we laughed about the irony of it all, but this experience shows that for many there exists a serious problem that is sometimes ignored despite the serious danger that it poses to many believers. I hope to elucidate the reality of this word and its implications on those who constantly use it.

The meaning of wallāhi

The word wallāhi is comprised of 2 parts, the suffix wa- and Allāh. The suffix wa- can be used in 2 different ways, it can mean 'and' or it can mean 'by'. The way in which the context is understood is by looking at the ending of the word that follows it, if it ends with an i then it the wa- means 'by', if it ends with a u or an a then the wa- means 'and'. For example if I say wallāhu a'lam (وَاللهُ أَعلَمُ) then it means 'and Allah is more knowing' as the wa- here is identified as meaning 'and' since the word following it (Allah) ends with a u. If the word following wa- ends with an i, such as in wallāhi (وَاللهِ) then it means 'by Allah'. Due to the rules of spoken Arabic, if a word appears at the end of a sentence then the last vowel is not spoken and this is why it is common to hear a person saying 'wallāh' in which the last vowel is not said, even though it is included in the written language. Therefore it is incorrect to say 'wallah' in the middle of a sentence while speaking in Arabic, rather if it is in the middle of a sentence one should say 'wallāhi', however in many Arabic dialects today this is not observed and it is entirely common to hear the term being used incorrectly, however the meaning and intention of the word is still understood.

The phrase wallāhi is what is called in Arabic a qasam which means 'oath'. It is understood that when one makes an oath that a person is stating that what they are saying or have said is true and they wish to assure that they are not lying by invoking someone or something sacred to them to show that they are sincere. As Muslims we only make oaths by Allah and to make an oath by other than Allah is an act of disbelief. In the example of saying wallāhi a person is stating that what they are saying is true by Allah, and the implication of this is that they will not lie about this thing due to their belief and love of Allah, and that if they are lying then they are disrespecting Allah or showing a lack of belief in Him. Therefore it acts as a strong assurance that the person is not lying, as no person would want to risk lying in Allah's Name due to the punishment that one would face in the Hereafter for doing so. Therefore the implication of saying wallāhi is that the person truly believes in Allah, as one who does not believe in Allah would not make such an oath, and even if they did none would take it seriously as they do not believe in a consequence of doing so due to their disbelief in Allah.

The consequence of making a false oath

One who makes a deliberate oath in Allah's Name which is not true has sinned and must make an expiation for this in order to be forgiven. This is described in the following verse of the Qur'an:

لَا يُؤَاخِذُكُمُ اللَّهُ بِاللَّغْوِ فِي أَيْمَانِكُمْ وَلَٰكِن يُؤَاخِذُكُم بِمَا عَقَّدتُّمُ الْأَيْمَانَ ۖ فَكَفَّارَتُهُ إِطْعَامُ عَشَرَةِ مَسَاكِينَ مِنْ أَوْسَطِ مَا تُطْعِمُونَ أَهْلِيكُمْ أَوْ كِسْوَتُهُمْ أَوْ تَحْرِيرُ رَقَبَةٍ ۖ فَمَن لَّمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ كَفَّارَةُ أَيْمَانِكُمْ إِذَا حَلَفْتُمْ ۚ وَاحْفَظُوا أَيْمَانَكُمْ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

"Allah will not impose blame upon you for what is unintentional in your oaths, but He will impose blame upon you for breaking deliberate oaths. Its expiation is to feed ten needy people from the average of that which you feed your own families, or clothing them, or freeing a slave. Whoever cannot find to do so - then they are to fast for three days. That is the expiation for oaths when you have sworn, so be careful with your oaths. Thus Allah makes clear to you His verses that you may be grateful." [5:89]

In this verse Allah explains what one is to do if they break an oath or make a false oath, and that is to first either feed 10 needy/poor people, clothe 10 needy/poor people or to free a slave. If we are to estimate the average cost of these then we could say that feeding 10 people with an average meal would come to about $15 each, meaning that for 10 people the amount would be $150. To clothe them the price would definitely be higher, and the cost of a slave would be much higher yet, therefore out of these options the minimum amount that one would expect to pay would be somewhere around $150 for a broken oath. (For comparison, 150 Australian dollars as of today equates to approx. 3.5 grams of gold, 140 US dollars, 100 Euro or 85 British pounds). Keep this in mind, every time a person breaks an oath intentionally it costs them at least $150! There is a common misconception that if one breaks an oath that they are only required to fast for 3 days, however as explained in the verse above this is only for those who cannot afford to pay the expiation, meaning that if one can afford to pay for any of the 3 options available then fasting is not allowed and they must pay to feed 10 needy people, clothe 10 needy people or to free a slave.

Some may argue however that this expiation (most commonly called kaffārat al-yamīn in Arabic) is only for intentional oaths and not for unintended oaths, therefore if someone says wallāhi by accident then they do not have to pay for the expiation as it was unintentional. This may be true if what was said was truly unintentional, however this does not at all change the fact that some people often say wallāhi up to 10 times in less than 5 minutes, and how many of those times would be judged as being intentional or not when the person is heedlessly using the term as if it were a punctuation mark rather than an oath in the Name of their Lord!

To exemplify this I will quote examples of commonly heard phrases which are said by people without realising that their oaths are most likely intentional -

Person A - "Can you go to the store to buy some milk?"

Person B - "Wallah I can't, I'm too tired"

In this case the person is making an oath that they do mean and did not accidentally say, however what they are saying is untrue. To say that one cannot do a thing means that it is not possible, and they are swearing by Allah that it is not possible, even though it is entirely possible but they are making an excuse to not do it due to their laziness. Such an oath is not to be made, and unless they truly did say wallāhi by accident then they have just cost themselves $150.

Another example - 

Person A - "I want to give you this gift"

Person B - "Wallah I won't take it, but thank you for the intention"

Person A - "Wallah you will take it, I insist that you take it!"

In this case both people have sworn about a future event, this is something that really should not be done unless a matter is absolutely certain (meaning that Allah has stated that it will happen) as none of us knows the future, and so making an oath about a future event is one of the most dangerous things that a person can do. In this instance both have made statements which contradict each other and have made oaths regarding them, meaning that regardless of what happens (whether he takes the gift or not) one of them has broken their oath and has just lost $150 in doing so.

The need to be more careful in our oaths is rather urgent, and it is upsetting to see some Muslims using oaths as if they had no meaning and this happens when oaths are not taken seriously and they become something thrown around casually and act as nothing more than figures of speech. This practice is common in some cultures and many of you may relate to this, hearing people use these oaths constantly without understanding the danger of doing so. I have encountered some sittings where I had heard the term used no less than 100 times, and when advising the people to stop using the term so freely they were almost unable to do so, as using the term without thinking had become a second nature to them. On one occasion I used the example of the $150 to get those present to think twice about what they were saying, and by the end of the night it seemed that some were about to go bankrupt simply because they could not control their tongues! This is why we must stop using such words as the danger of broken oaths is great, let alone the sin of broken oaths that have not been expiated for on the Day of Judgment.

The reward for those who avoid making oaths

If I mention the Companion of the Prophet named Saʿīd bin Zayd I would not expect many people to know who he was. He is not as well known as Abu Bakr, ʿUmar, Bilāl or Ibn ʿAbbās, however what may come as a surprise is that Saʿīd is one of the 10 Companions who were promised Paradise during their lifetimes. This is surprising for many as Saʿīd is not known for any particular role that he played as a leader nor did he stand out in many ways compared to the other Companions, rather he lived like the rest did, he prayed, he fasted, he fought, however there is one instance that to me makes him stand out from the other Companions and since he is one of those promised Paradise we should pay extra attention to all this man did which made him so beloved by Allah.

One one occasion Saʿīd had been wronged by someone and so Saʿīd had been summoned to the court to bear witness against the man who had wronged him. Saʿīd was certain of what had occurred and was ready to testify, however before accepting Saʿīd's testimony the judge asked him to make an oath by Allah's Name and this caused Saʿīd to be overcome with the fear of making such an oath, not because he was uncertain of what he had to say but rather because of the Greatness of the One in Whose Name he would be making the oath! Saʿīd knew that such an oath is not like any other, and he was unable to bring himself to say such a thing and decided to withdraw his complaint and to leave without making the oath. Thus was the taqwā of Saʿīd bin Zayd, the man who was promised Paradise, he was not one who would make oaths constantly nor would he speak without fully contemplating that which he would say. He knew that if he were to make an oath in Allah's Name that what he said had to be 100% true and without any possibility of error, and knowing that the danger of breaking such an oath is severe, he decided rather than risking making such an oath (even though he was sure of what he was saying!) he preferred to leave making the oath and to pardon the man who had wronged him.

The action of Saʿīd, of preferring to forgive someone who had wronged him rather than making an oath in Allah's Name, shows that those who fear Allah and are mindful of what they say are less likely to say wallāhi and they will in fact try to not say it. When we look at the speech of the Prophet of Allah and the Companions we see that they very rarely used this word compared to how some use it today. Yes, the Prophet of Allah used these terms on occasion, making oaths by Allah's Name, however he is a man who spoke not from his own desires but rather from what was revealed to him by His Lord and even then he did not use such oaths as much as some do today! The Companions certainly did not make such oaths constantly and this is why the act of saying wallāhi to the point that people don't even realise that they are making an oath is clearly not from the Sunnah of the Prophet and is something that must be avoided. I once had a Somali Muslim tell me that in their family when growing up if one of the children was heard saying wallāhi that their father would tell them off and even beat them if they were heard saying it often. The father knew that allowing them to constantly say it would lead to them using it recklessly as many other Somalis would, and to this day none of the children say wallāhi unless you ask them to do so in times where it is suitable. If I compare this to others who say the word so often that they are surely bound to use it even when lying then we must agree that the family who avoids it is the one more likely to avoid sin and their example is the better one to follow. Therefore educating ourselves and constantly reminding others of the danger of making oaths so freely is a must and I hope that writing this piece will contribute to having others stop saying wallāhi so much, leading them into sin.

So understand, it is not forbidden to say wallāhi when one needs to do so and one is certain that they are telling the truth, however one gains nothing by saying it, whereas saying wallāhi when one should not do so earns one a sin which may lead them to the Fire. So avoid using this term, you are better off not using it at all than using it recklessly, and I pray that Allah rewards those who are mindful of their oaths the same reward as Saʿīd bin Zayd, and that He guides those who recklessly make oaths to be able to abandon doing so.