Encouragement and Intimidation in the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir

Allah concludes surah al-An’aam by saying:

إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

Your Lord is certainly swift in punishment, and He is certainly forgiving and merciful. [6:165]

After commenting on the immediate meaning of this ayah, al-haafidh ibn Kathir took this opportunity to highlight a larger stylistic feature of the Qur’an:

وقوله : ( إن ربك سريع العقاب وإنه لغفور رحيم ) ترهيب وترغيب ، أن حسابه وعقابه سريع ممن عصاه وخالف رسله ( وإنه لغفور رحيم ) لمن والاه واتبع رسله فيما جاءوا به من خير وطلب . ـ

This statement contains both incitement through intimidation and incitement through encouragement: that Allah’s reckoning and punishment is swift for those who disobey Him and oppose His messengers

وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

and He is certainly forgiving and merciful

to those who align themselves with Him and follow His Messenger in the goodness and  that they have brought and what they command.

وكثيرا ما يقرن تعالى في القرآن بين هاتين الصفتين ، كما قال تعالى : وقوله : ( نبئ عبادي أني أنا الغفور الرحيم وأن عذابي هو العذاب الأليم ) [ الحجر : 49 ، 50 ] ، وقوله : ( وإن ربك لذو مغفرة للناس على ظلمهم وإن ربك لشديد العقاب ) [ الرعد : 6 ] وغير ذلك من الآيات المشتملة على الترغيب والترهيب ، فتارة يدعو عباده إليه بالرغبة وصفة الجنة والترغيب فيما لديه ، وتارة يدعوهم إليه بالرهبة وذكر النار وأنكالها وعذابها والقيامة وأهوالها ، وتارة بهذا وبهذا لينجع في كل بحسبه . جعلنا الله ممن أطاعه فيما أمر ، وترك ما عنه نهى وزجر ، وصدقه فيما أخبر ، إنه قريب مجيب سميع الدعاء ، جواد كريم وهاب . ـ

Allah frequently pairs these two qualities and mentions them in conjunction throughout the Qur’an. Take for instance His statement:

نَبِّئْ عِبَادِي أَنِّي أَنَا الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ * وَأَنَّ عَذَابِي هُوَ الْعَذَابُ الْأَلِيمُ

Inform My servants that it is I who am the Forgiving, the Merciful. * And that it is My punishment which is the painful punishment.  [15:49-50]

and His statement:

وَإِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَذُو مَغْفِرَةٍ لِّلنَّاسِ عَلَىٰ ظُلْمِهِمْ ۖ وَإِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَشَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ

And indeed, your Lord is full of forgiveness for the people despite their wrongdoing, and indeed, your Lord is severe in penalty. [13:6]

as well as other ayaat that contain both encouragement and intimidation.

  • Sometimes Allah calls His slaves to Him by enticing them with descriptions of al-Jannah and motivating them by mentioning His rewards and bounties.
  • At other times He calls them to Him by inciting fear through mentioning the Hellfire and its chastening and punishment or the Day of Resurrection and its terrors.
  • At other times, He employs both of these methods together so that each may be of use in its appropriate place

May Allah make us among those who obey Him in what He has commanded us, leave what He has forbidden and warned us against, and affirm and believe what He has told us. He is certainly near and responsive and hears our calls; giving, generous and bounteous.

وقد قال الإمام أحمد : حدثنا عبد الرحمن ، حدثنا زهير ، عن العلاء ، عن أبيه ، عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال : ” لو يعلم المؤمن ما عند الله من العقوبة ما طمع بالجنة أحد ، ولو يعلم الكافر ما عند الله من الرحمة ما قنط من الجنة أحد ، خلق الله مائة رحمة فوضع واحدة بين خلقه يتراحمون بها ، وعند الله تسعة وتسعون ” ورواه الترمذي ، عن قتيبة ، عن عبد العزيز الدراوردي ، عن العلاء به . وقال : حسن صحيح . ورواه مسلم عن يحيى بن يحيى وقتيبة وعلي بن حجر ، ثلاثتهم عن إسماعيل بن جعفر ، عن العلاء . ـ

Imam Ahmad relayed … that the Prophet said:

Were the believer to know the punishment that Allah has with Him, not a single one would have a hope of attaining al-Jannah. And were the disbeliever to know the mercy that Allah has with Him, not a single one would be without hope of attaining al-Jannah. Allah created 100 mercies and then placed one of them among His creation so that they would be merciful to one another, while 99 parts are with Allah.

This was also reported by al-Tirmidhi and Muslim.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 3/376 with some slight abridgement]

And in surah al-A’raaf (7:167), Allah mentions a similar phrase, and ibn Kathir reiterated these points by writing:

وقوله : ( إن ربك لسريع العقاب ) أي : لمن عصاه وخالف [ أمره و ] شرعه ، ( وإنه لغفور رحيم ) أي : لمن تاب إليه وأناب . وهذا من باب قرن الرحمة مع العقوبة ، لئلا يحصل اليأس ، فيقرن [ الله ] تعالى بين الترغيب والترهيب كثيرا ; لتبقى النفوس بين الرجاء والخوف . ـ

إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَسَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ

Your Lord is certainly swift in punishment …

that is, to those who disobey Him and contravene His commandments and legislation.

وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

… and He is certainly forgiving and merciful

that is, to those who repent to Him and turn back to Him in servitude.

This is an example of pairing mercy alongside the mention of punishment so that people would not lose hope. Allah frequently mentions encouragement and frightening in conjunction in order to keep the souls balanced between hope and fear.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 3/498]

See also: How the Qur’an Uses Contrasting Pairs and Repetition: Tafsir ibn Kathir

See also: How The Qur’an Describes Itself: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: Guidance for Interpreting the Qur’an in Surah Aal ‘Imran: Tafsir ibn Kathir

3 thoughts on “Encouragement and Intimidation in the Qur’an: Tafsir ibn Kathir

  1. Pingback: How the Qur’an Uses Contrasting Pairs and Repetition: Tafsir ibn Kathir | Tulayhah

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