Prophecies of Chastisement

[ BACK ] In case of wa`eed, i.e. a prophecy of death, destruction or doom, the fulfillment is conditional upon the subsequent behaviour of those against whom the warning is directed. The prophesied punishment may come to pass, or it may be mitigated or even set aside altogether, depending on their reaction. The Holy Quran has given three types of examples in this regard.

Those who do not heed the warning of the coming doom and destruction cannot escape the punishment. The Quran cites the instance of the prophet Salih who warned his people as follows: "This is the she-camel of God, a sign for you. So leave her alone to pasture in God's earth, and do her no harm; otherwise, a punishment shall afflict you" (7:73). However, their reaction was: "Then they hamstrung the she-camel and revolted against their Lord's commandment, and said: O Salih, bring us the punishment with which you threaten us, if you are a messenger [of God]. So the earthquake seized them, and they were motionless bodies in their houses" (7:77,78).

The second kind of people are those who, while not repenting fully upon hearing the warning, are frightened by it temporarily. In this case, even if they do not make their inner fear openly known, God will still grant them a period of respite to turn to Him, so that the punishment can be averted. If, however, they abuse this respite to continue their opposition to the Divine cause, God sends down His punishment upon them. A case in point is that of the Pharoah and his people who opposed Moses. Every time an affliction from God befell them, they would go to Moses and say: "O enchanter, call on your Lord for us, as He has made the covenant with you; we shall surely follow the guidance" (43:49); but then, "when We removed from them the chastisement, they broke the pledge" (43:50). When the punishment would again come, they would say: "Our Lord, remove from us the chastisement, for surely we are believers" (44:12). In reply God says: "We shall remove the chastisement a little, but you will surely return to doing evil" (44:15).

Finally, there are those who are so frightened by the prophecy of doom that they turn fully to repentance and seeking of forgiveness from God. Speaking of Jonah's nation, the Holy Quran says:

"And why was there not a town which believed, so that their belief should have profited them, except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the chastisement of disgrace in this world's life."


Classical commentators make the following observations about this case:

[1.] "Jonah told them that their time-limit was forty nights. They replied, If we see the omens of destruction we shall believe in you."

(Tafsir Kashshaf, p. 599)

[2.] "Jonah was sent to Nineveh from Mosal. The people of Nineveh denied him and persisted in this [denial]. Then Jonah promised them the punishment to befall in thirty, or some say forty, nights."

(Baidawi, vol. iv, p. 186)

[3.] "Jonah told them, Your time-limit is forty nights."

(Tafsir Kabir, vol. v, p. 42)

[4.] "It is related from Ibn Mas`ud and others that God sent Jonah to the people of Nineveh in the land of Mosal. They rejected him. He then promised them the coming of punishment within an appointed period, and left them angrily."

(Fath al-Bari, vol. vi, p. 325)

[5.]"After thirty-five days had elapsed, a terrifying, dark, smokey cloud appeared. It enveloped the city and turned surfaces black. So they put on sackcloth and went out into the field along with their women and children…and they manifested faith, repentance and humility. So God had mercy on them and removed their punishment from them. This happened on a Friday on the day of `Ashura [i.e., 10th Muharram].''

Another example of doom being averted from someone because of their turning to good deeds is recorded in a commentary of the Quran as follows:

"A washer of clothes passed by Jesus and a company of his disciples. Jesus said to them, Attend his funeral at mid-day today. However, he did not die. When the angel Gabriel appeared, Jesus asked him, Did you not give me the news of the death of this washer of clothes? He said, Yes, but afterwards he gave in charity three pieces of bread, and was therefore reprieved."

(Ruh al-Bayan, vol. i, p. 257)