Qur'an Contradiction:

Good News About Painful Torture?

Sura 84:20-24 states (in the translation by Arthur J. Arberry) :

Then what ails them, that they believe not,
and when the Koran is recited to them they do not bow?
Nay, but the unbelievers are crying lies,
and God knows very well what they are secreting.
So give them good tidings of a painful chastisement.

The translations by Muhammad Sarwar and by Hilali & Khan render the last term more correctly as "a painful torment". A transliteration of the Arabic of Verse 24 is:

Fa-bashshirhum bi-‘Adhaabin ’aliimin

The meaning of "adhab" is "torture". The infinitive verb "adhaba" is translated in the Arabic / English dictionary as follows and in order: to torment, to torture, to put in extreme pain ... "'Aliim" means painful, "bash'shirhum" is from the verb "bashshara" and means to give or announce good or cheerful news.

The announcement of torture is certainly not good news. It is not cheerful news but a horrible threat.

This wrong use of the word bashir in the context of suffering is a semantic contradiction in the Qur'an.

That this is indeed a very inappropriate term to use can be seen from the following fact: Most Muslims seem to be so embarrassed by it that they hide the exact meaning in their English translations:

Pickthall Yusuf Ali Shakir Sher Ali Khalifa
84:24 So give them tidings of a painful doom, So announce to them a Penalty Grievous, So announce to them a painful punishment So give them tidings of a painful punishment. Promise them painful retribution.
Sarwar Irving Hilali & Khan Palmer Arberry
84:24 tell them that they will all suffer a painful torment Give them news of painful torment, So announce to them a painful torment. So give them the glad tidings of grievous woe! So give them good tidings of a painful chastisement.

So far, I have found only non-Muslim scholars of Arabic, like Arberry and Palmer, giving a correct translation in this verse.

This is, however, not the only verse in the Qur'an giving "cheerful news about a painful torture". We shall quote the other passages according to the translation of A. J. Arberry:

3:21 4:138 9:3 9:34 31:7 45:7-8
Those who disbelieve in the signs of God and slay the Prophets without right, and slay such men ad bid to do justice - do thou give them the good tidings of a painful chastisement Give thou good tidings to the hypocrites that for them awaits a painful chastisement. ... And give thou good tidings to the unbelievers of a painful chastisement; ... Those who treasure up gold and silver, and do not spend them in the way of God - give them the good tidings of a painful chastisement, And when Our signs are recited to such a man he turns away, waxing proud, as though he heard them not, and in his ears were heaviness: so give him good tidings of a painful chastisement. Woe to every guilty impostor who hears the signs of God being recited to him, then perseveres in waxing proud, as if he has not heard them; so give him the good tidings of a painful chastisement.

Only once in these passages Yusuf Ali's pen slipped. He was seemingly not on guard when translating Sura 4:138 correctly as

To the Hypocrites give the glad tidings that there is for them (but) a grievous penalty;-

This word appears more than a hundred times in the Qur'an and - whether as verb or noun - Yusuf Ali nearly always translates it as "Glad Tidings". Some examples are:

But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. ... (2:25)

Verily, We have sent thee in truth as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner: but of thee no question shall be asked of the Companions of the Blazing Fire. (2:119)

... and We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things, a Guide, a Mercy, and Glad Tidings to Muslims. (16:89)

Say, the Holy Spirit has brought the revelation from thy Lord in Truth, in order to strengthen those who believe, and as a Guide and Glad Tidings to Muslims. (16:102)

So have We made the (Qur'an) easy in thine own tongue, that with it thou mayest give Glad Tidings to the righteous, and warnings to people given to contention. (19:97)

And before this, was the Book of Moses as a guide and a mercy: And this Book confirms (it) in the Arabic tongue; to admonish the unjust, and as Glad Tidings to those who do right. (46:12)

This should be sufficient to establish the meaning "glad tidings" for bashir/bushra.

Conclusion: The passages 3:21, 4:138, 9:3, 9:34, 31:7, 45:8, and 84:24 announcing "good news of painful torment" contain a semantic / linguistic contradiction.

I welcome feedback to this article.

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