Human beings take oaths to add credibility to the statements they make. Oaths fill the gaps left by a deficiency or lack of evidence. Usually the entities used for taking oaths are those that are considered sacred and exalted or those that are held very dear.
The Qur’aan also uses oaths in its text. Many Soorahs start with some kind of oaths and some of them come within the text itself. We cannot, however, interpret the oaths of the Qur’aan from the same perspective as we do in the case of human oaths. Firstly, nothing is exalted or sacred to Allaah SWT. He is the Most Exalted and the Most Holy. Secondly, His word is ultimate. It does not require any support. However, people may not be able to grasp the meaning or the reality of Allaah’s words. They may need props to help them understand the message from the Words of Allaah. That is the sole purpose of the oaths in the Qur’aan.
The entities or items used in the Qur’aanic oaths are not necessarily selected because they have some special significance in their own nature. Mostly, they are ordinary things found around us on the earth or in the universe, such as sun, moon, stars, earth, sky, night, day, dawn, brightness of the day, darkness of the night, time, angels, winds, the human conscience, etc. They are items or entities for people to reflect upon to understand the rationale for the point being made, and are selected only because they afford the best points of reflection for that purpose. So, the use of any items for an oath in the Qur’aan signifies that there is some logical relationship between the item in the oath and the statement that follows the oath or the theme being clarified. If we reflect and contemplate on the item used for the oath, it will provide us with the rational evidence or support for the guidance being imparted by the statement that follows the oath or the theme of the verses or of the soorah containing the oath.
This role of oaths in the Qur’aan is quite evident to the people who reflect on the Qur’aan, but it has also been explicitly mentioned in the Qur’aan itself. In Soorah Al-Fajr, after a series of oaths (the dawn, ten nights, odd and even, and the night when it is about to depart), Allaah SWT says: “Is there not a strong evidence in them for the wise?” A clear example demonstrating “If you reflect and contemplate on the item used for the oath, it will provide you with the rational evidence for the statement that follows it” is provided by Soorah Yaa-seen. It says, “By the Qur-aan full of wisdom, you indeed are from the messengers.” It implies that if people reflect on the wisdom, beauty and sublimity of the Qur-aan, they will realize that it cannot be a human product and must have been revealed by Allaah, providing evidence that Muĥammad (ŜA‘WS) is the Messenger of Allaah. Another clear example is Al-Inshiqaaq 84:16-19 where Allaah SWT has used alternation of day and night and phases of moon to illustrate our gradual journey to our end.
If we understand this point of oaths, then it should also become clear to us that wherever a series of oaths is used, every item in the series must be consistent in providing the support for the same message or theme. Different oaths in the series cannot be giving different messages or dealing with different issues. In some cases, oaths are taken by using attributes of the items of oath instead of explicitly using the names of the entities of oath; such as النّٰزِعٰتِ (Those that pull out), الۡمُرۡسَلٰت (Those that are let loose) each of the items or entities of oaths must be interpreted or specified by using the same principle that all oaths in the series are consistently providing the support or evidence for the singular intended message or theme.
In a few places Allaah SWT has taken an oath by Himself. The purpose in such cases is to present witness from His own Absolute Knowledge and His own Infinite Authority for the matter being discussed. Sometimes the Prophet has taken an oath by Allaah for the same purpose.