Is there an expiation for breaking vows? What is it?
All perfect praise be to Allaah Almighty, and peace and blessings upon the Messenger of Allaah, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and his family and companions.
Muslim scholars have stated that there are seven categories of vows:
1) A vow of Lajaj (vow of anger): This means every vow that comes in the form of an oath made to urge for something to be done or to stop something from being done, without the person intending to make a vow or do a righteous act that draws him closer to Allaah, the Exalted. This kind of vow is governed by the same rulings of an oath. If the person fails to fulfill it, he is obliged to offer expiation like that of breaking an oath.
2) A vow to do an act of obedience and righteousness: for example, one may say, "I make a vow to Allaah, the Exalted, that I will fast such and such days or spend such and such in charity if He Blesses my patient with recovery from his illness." It is incumbent on the person to fulfill this vow. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "Whoever vowed to do an act of obedience to Allaah, the Exalted, should do it." [Al-Bukhari, Abu Daawood, An-Nasa‘i, At-Tirmithi and Ibn Majah]
3) A non-specific vow: it is when one makes a vow to Allaah, the Exalted, without specifying what he is vowing to do (saying, "I make a vow to Allaah"). According to most of the scholars, this type of vow requires the person to offer expiation like that of breaking an oath. ‘Uqbah ibn ‘Amir reported that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "The expiation of a vow when it is not specified is that of an oath." [At-Tirmithi]
4) A vow to commit a sin: it is impermissible to fulfill such a vow according to the consensus of scholars. An example of that type of vow is when one makes a vow to drink alcohol or harm a Muslim. In this case, it is incumbent on the person to offer expiation for breaking an oath. This opinion was attributed to Ibn Mas‘ood, Ibn ‘Abbas, Jabir, and ‘Imran ibn Husayn and it is the opinion adopted by the Hanafi school of Fiqh. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "A vow to do an act of disobedience to Allaah, the Exalted, must not be fulfilled and its expiation is the same as that of breaking an oath." [Ahmad and Abu Daawood] [Al-Albani: authentic]
5) A vow to do something permissible such as wearing a garment or riding a mount. In this case, the person has the choice either to fulfill the vow or refrain from fulfilling it, in which case, he has to offer expiation like that of breaking an oath.
6) A vow to do something obligatory such as performing the five obligatory prayers. Such a vow is not binding because a vow is a commitment and one cannot commit himself to what is already obligatory on him.
7) A vow to do something that is impossible: such as making a vow to fast the day before. This vow is not considered a valid binding vow and it is not incumbent on the person to do anything concerning it.
As we have mentioned, the expiation for breaking a vow is the same as that of breaking an oath. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: "The expiation for the (breach of) a vow is the same as that of the (breach of an oath)." [Muslim]
The expiation for breaking an oath is to free a slave, feed ten needy people, or clothe them. If one cannot afford any of the aforesaid options, he should fast three days.
Allaah Knows best.
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