Pledges (made to Allah) and intentions

Q449 :It is a practice that people make a solemn intention that they will do this or that if certain wishes of theirs are granted by Allah. Is this permissible in the first place? If so, how does it vary from asking Allah to fulfil for us certain favours, without making such a pledge? What sort of pledges are preferred?

A449 : A pledge of the type you describe is known in Islamic technology as "nathr". That is different from "Niyyah," which means intention. Nathr is a pledge. You express in words your resolve that you will fulfil or do something, such as fasting any number of days, or giving to the poor certain amount of money, or offering three hours of night worship, etc. Here you are committing yourself to doing any of these action upon the fulfilment of a certain wish you have in mind. Niyyah, as it is used in Arabic, is making up one's mind to do something, whether that is dependent on the fulfilment of something else or not. It has a much wider usage and it applies to everything. That is what is meant by the Hadith which states "actions are but by intentions." It means that the value of a certain action we do is determined by the intention behind it. If someone attends congregational prayer in the mosque regularly in order to give the neighbourhood a certain impression of himself, his action is not as another who attends congregational prayer less frequently but has no aim behind it other than obeying Allah and His messenger. There is another difference between a pledge, or nathr, and an intention, or niyyah. A pledge must be fulfilled once it is made. It becomes a debt owed to Allah by the person who has pledged it. If you do not fulfil it, you will be questioned by Allah about it. The reason is that you have volunteered such a pledge and this cannot be done in jest. Therefore, fulfilment is required as a duty. An intention is different in the sense that if you do not fulfil it, you are not held to account for that. If it is a good action that you have intended, you are awarded for carrying it out. If you do not do it, you lose that reward but you incur no sin. People make such pledges because they believe that by making them, they stand a better chance of having their wishes fulfilled. That is not true. Making a pledge to fast, or pray, or do whatever, does not get them any nearer to having their wishes fulfilled. Allah does not need our worship so that He fulfil our wishes if we offer more worship to Him. It is far better to pray Allah to grant us whatever wishes we want to be accomplished, provided that they are not sinful. We should remember that He can grant us whatever wish we may have. His bounty is without limits. When we implore Him confirming our obedience to Him and submission to His will, He answers our prayer. Then, when our wishes are fulfilled, we express our gratitude to Him by voluntarily doing what he likes us to do. We can prostrate ourselves before Him in gratitude, and that is known as a "sajdah of thanks," (or "Sajdae shukr") or we can give something to charity or fast, or do similar actions of worship.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )