وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّتِي نَقَضَتْ غَزْلَهَا مِنْ بَعْدِ قُوَّةٍ أَنْكَاثًا
Do not be like the one who unravels her yarn, disintegrating it into pieces after she has spun it strongly
(Sūrat an-Nahl, No. 16, Āyat 92)
When Bibi Zaynab (a) was taken prisoner along with Imam al-Sajjad (a) and the womenfolk and children to Kufa, she addressed the people there and said: O people of Kufa, O people who deceive, forsake and contrive, do you weep? May Allah not stop your tears and may your chests burn incessantly with the fire of grief and sorrow. Your example is that of a woman who unravels her yarn, disintegrating it into pieces after she spun it strongly. You make your oaths to be means of deceit between yourselves. (The Story of Karbala, Ali Nazari Munfarid)
The above verse refers to a woman in the era of Jahiliyya who sat in the mornings till noon with her slaves to spin thread. Then in the afternoons she would order her slaves to unravel the thread. She became known as ‘the foolish one’. The reproach in the verse is to people who make firm promises, strengthening their stance and position in society. Their promises have effect on others in society. Then they undo their efforts by taking their promises lightly and breaking them. The people of Kufa had promised Imam Husayn (a) assistance, but betrayed him when he sent his messenger to them and when he himself came to Iraq. Bibi Zaynab (a) thus compares them to the woman who unravels her own efforts, annulling her actions.
The making of promises and maintaining them creates roots on which the foundation of a society rests. For society to prosper, the members of the society have to be bound together with ties of trust and mutual reliance. They have to have confidence in the words of each other. When these promises are broken or are taken lightly, society becomes scattered and separate. The members become like the beads of a broken necklace with nothing to bind them together. That is why Islam emphasizes the keeping of promises, a factor which attracted many of the early Muslims to Islam. It showed the integrity of Islam. Imam Ali (a) says in his letter to Malik al-Ashtar says:
Never break your promise with your enemy, never forsake the protection or support that you have offered to him, never go back upon your words, and never violate the terms of the treaty. You must even risk your life to fulfill the promises given and the terms settled because of all the obligations laid by Almighty Allah upon man (in respect to other men) there is none so important as to keep one’s promises when made. (Nahjul Balagha, letter no.53)
The negative consequences of breaking promises not only weaken the faith and trust of people in society, it also deters others from entering the fold of Islam. The mistrust it creates acts as a repellant to others, and gives Islam and Muslims a bad name.
Use this verse to remind you of the importance of a promise you make. Breaking your word can have grave consequences.
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīre Namune;
Imam Ali (a), Nahjul Balagha