Pledge: An obligation that must be honored

Q448 :My wife made a pledge to God that she would fast for four days if I get a job in Saudi Arabia. Last year, her wish was granted and I began my job here in the Kingdom. Recently, she sent me a letter saying that because she is unwell she cannot fast those four days and asking me to do the fasting myself. She also says that she could not fast in the last part of Ramadan because of her sickness. Could you please explain whether this is permissible.

A448 : A pledge is a commitment which a person makes freely to do something if a certain matter that he desires is fulfilled. Such a pledge becomes an obligation which must be fulfilled. However, the Prophet says that when a person makes a pledge to God to do something that pleases God, such as fasting or praying or giving something to charity, then he must fulfill his pledge, because by not doing so he incurs God's displeasure and earns a punishment. The majority of scholars are of the view that it is not advisable to make a pledge, particularly when a person thinks that by making such a pledge, he is likely to hasten the accomplishment of what he desires. It is as if he is saying to God: "Please, God, fulfill this thing which I desire and I will do this or that for you." Needless to say, such an attitude is unacceptable, because God does not need our worship or our charity. It is better to supplicate to God, praying him to fulfill whatever we desire, because our supplication is an acknowledgment of His Lordship and a recognition that we are in need of His grace. If we couple our supplication with voluntarily doing something that pleases God, such as donating to charity or helping a good cause, then we increase our chances of having our supplication answered. Those scholars who feel that making a pledge is appropriate argue that the most rewarding act of worship is that which is obligatory. When you offer your obligatory prayer, you earn more reward than what you receive for praying voluntarily. That is because with obligatory prayer you are rewarded for praying and for fulfilling the obligation God has imposed on you. So, when you commit yourself to doing something that pleases God, [you make it obligatory upon yourself without correlating it to the fulfillment of a desire] you are to be rewarded for that. Whichever view you take, scholars are unanimous that when you make a pledge, you must fulfill it. There is no escape. Indeed, in the Qur'an, God praises believers as those "who fulfill their pledges." Once a commitment is made to God, then it must be fulfilled. Going back on it is a grave sin. Moreover, it is the person who has made that pledge or commitment who is required to fulfill it. This makes it clear that in the case of your wife, it is she who is required to fast those four days. Unless she has committed herself to fasting them at a particular time, then she may choose the time which is most suitable for her. As long as she intends fully to honor her pledge at the earliest opportunity, there is no harm in delaying its fulfillment to a suitable time. But it is always better to fulfill a pledge as soon as it is due, because one cannot tell whether he will be able to fulfill it later or not. What we have established so far is that your wife must do the fasting, and it is not acceptable that you fast on her behalf. It was not you who made that pledge, and if you do fast, you will be rewarded for fasting but the pledge remains unfulfilled and your wife will still have to honor that pledge. If she is unwell, then she may delay fasting until she has recovered. Suppose that a person makes a pledge to fast a certain number of days and then he falls victim to some disease which is considered to be incurable. Doctors tell him that he would not be able to fast on any future date. In this case, he is still required to fulfill his pledge, but the fasting may be substituted by the normal compensation God has laid down. That is to feed a poor person two meals for every day of fasting which he cannot do. He may feed one such person for the required number of days or as many persons for one day, or he may have any number of permutation, as long as the feeding is for the same number of days he did not fast.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )