A Point on Promises in the Qur’an: Tafsir al-Shawkaani, al-Qurtubi & al-Baghawi

Allah says in surah al-Baqarah:

الشَّيْطَانُ يَعِدُكُمُ الْفَقْرَ وَيَأْمُرُكُم بِالْفَحْشَاءِ ۖ وَاللَّهُ يَعِدُكُم مَّغْفِرَةً مِّنْهُ وَفَضْلًا ۗ وَاللَّهُ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

The shaytaan promises you poverty and commands you to commit immoralities, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is rich and all-knowing. [2:268]

In part of his commentary on this ayah, Imam al-Shawkaani wrote:

الوعد في كلام العرب إذا أطلق فهو في الخير ، وإذا قيد فقد يقيد تارة بالخير وتارة بالشر . ومنه قوله تعالى : النار وعدها الله الذين كفروا [ الحج : 72 ] ومنه أيضا ما في هذه الآية من تقييد وعد الشيطان بالفقروتقييد وعد الله سبحانه بالمغفرة ، والفضل . ـ

In the Arabic language, al-Wa’d – a promise – on its own is only used to refer to something good, but if what has been promised is specified in some way then the specification could sometimes be something good and other times be something bad.

An example of the this is Allah’s statement:

النَّارُ وَعَدَهَا اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا

It is the fire which Allah has promised for those who disbelieve [22:72]

This is also the case in this ayah [i.e. 2:268] as it has specified that the shaytaan’s promise is for poverty and it has specified that Allah’s promise is for forgiveness and bounty.

[Fath al-Qadeer 1/187]

al-Qurtubi, from whom al-Shawkaani drew heavily in his tafsir, also addressed this by saying:

الوعد في كلام العرب إذا أطلق فهو في الخير ، وإذا قيد بالموعود ما هو فقد يقدر بالخير وبالشر كالبشارة . فهذه الآية مما يقيد فيها الوعد بالمعنيين جميعا

In the Arabic language, al-wa’d – a promise – if mentioned on its own refers to something good. But if the promise is further specified by mentioning what has been promised, then then that determines whether the promise is referring to something good or bad. And this is also true for the word bishaarah – glad tidings. So this ayah is an example of where the word is specified and is used with both meanings together.

[Jami’ al-Ahkam al-Qur’an 3/299]

Imam al-Baghawi further adds the following commentary on the same ayah:

يقال وعدته خيرا ووعدته شرا قال الله تعالى في الخير ” وعدكم الله مغانم كثيرة “ ( 20 – الفتح ) وقال في الشر ” النار وعدها الله الذين كفروا “ ( 72 – الحج ) فإذا لم يذكر الخير والشر قلت في الخير : وعدته وفي الشر أوعدته

One could say

وعدته خيرا

I promised him good

or

وعدته شرا

I promised him evil

Both are acceptable.

Allah uses this when speaking about good in His statement:

وَعَدَكُمُ اللَّـهُ مَغَانِمَ كَثِيرَةً

Allah has promised you much booty [48:20]

and when speaking about evil in His statement:

النَّارُ وَعَدَهَا اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا

It is the fire which Allah has promised for those who disbelieve [22:72]

But if neither good nor evil are mentioned, then to indicate good you would say

وعدته

I promised him [good]

and to indicate evil you would say:

أوعدته

I threatened him [with evil]

[Ma’alim al-Tanzil 1/334]

See also: The Death of the Scholars: Tafsir al-Baghawi & al-Qurtubi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.