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Last Updated: 2009/11/22
Summary of question
What is the story of Salih’s she-camel in the Quran and the controversy that exists surrounding its death?
question
The verse 65 of chapter Hud, verse 157 of chapter Shu’ara (the Poets) and the closing verse of chapter al-Shams consider all of the Samood tribe as slaughterers or murderers of Salih’s camel which was known to be his miracle also. However, in the verse 29 of chapter al-Qamar, the murder has been attributed to one individual among them. Please let me know the reason behind this controversy?
Concise answer

One of the methods used by the Quran through its verses is the use of ijmal and tafsil (brevity and detail). There are three verses among the verses concerning the event of the death of Salih’s she-camel. The verses attribute the killing to the entire Samood tribe. There is another verse which says that the camel was hamstrung by the arrogant ones and there is yet another verse which says that the camel was slain by only one individual. It can be said that, apart from these two verses, the Quran has spoken of the killing of Salih’s she-camel in a non-detailed manner. In other words, the Quran has not provided the details and specific in the first three verses whereas the murderer has been specifically introduced in the two other verses. The verse which ascribes the killing to some arrogant and haughty people refers to a group of people who worked out the plot and provided financial and political support. The other verse refers to the individual who carried out the plot. The other verses which ascribe the killing to Samood tribe or to all the unbelievers refer to the fact that whoever is complicit in an act is considered as an accomplice in that act irrespective of whether that act is good or bad in nature. There are narrations and sayings from the infallibles especially Imam Ali (AS) in sermon 201 of Nahjul Balaghah that confirm this understanding.

Detailed Answer

The verses concerning the killing of Salih’s she-camel can be divided on two categories:

The first category includes verses that ascribe the killing of the camel to a group of people not to a particular individual. These verses are the verse 77 of chapter al-Araf, verse 65 of chapter Hud, verse 157 of chapter Shu’ara and verse 14 of chapter al-Shams.

The second category includes a verse which has been used in the singular form and that the killing has been attributed to one individual. This verse is the verse 29 of chapter al-Qamar.

Also, the verses of the first category can be divided into two subsets:

1- Verses in which the pronouns – considering the previous verses – seem to refer to Samood tribe. These verses are:

A) Verse 65 of chapter Hud (keeping in view verse 64 of the same chapter, the pronoun in verse 65 refers to “people”.[1]

B) The verse 157 of chapter Shu’ara (keeping in view the verse 141 of the same chapter, the pronoun in the verse 157 refers to “Samood”.[2]

C) The verse 14 of chapter al-Shams (keeping in view the verse 11 of the same chapter, the pronoun in the verse 14 refers to “Samood”.[3]

It must be noted that in these three verses, the word “people” or “Samood” does not include all the people of Samood tribe because according to the verse 75 of chapter al-Araf and verse 158 chapter Shuara, there were some people in Samood tribe who believed in Salih. As verse 66 of chapter Hud says these people or at least some of them who were steadfast in their beliefs were saved from divine punishments along with Salih himself since they did not take part in slaying the she-camel.

2. There is another verse referring only to a group of the people of Samood. It is the verse 77 of chapter Al-Araf in which the action, considering the verse 76 of the same chapter, has been attributed to a group of people from Samood tribe.[4]

Consistency presuppositions

An initial glance at the above five verses might make us believe that they are not apparently in harmony or congruous with each other because three of the verses indicate that the camel was slain by all the people of Samood, one verse indicates that it was killed by an arrogant group of people and another verse indicates that it was hamstrung by only one individual. However, if we compare the verses closely and carefully, we will come to know that there is no incongruity between them. Before demonstrating the congruity among the verses, we need to deal with two points as the presuppositions:

1. One of the methods used in every language and which, in fact, emanates from the synthetic nature of the language is the method of “ijmal” and “tafsil” (brevity and detail). To explain it further, all of us have experienced that a writer or a speaker explains something either briefly or in details. Ijmal is when he does not provide the details sufficing to general description. Tafsil is when he gives the details and specifics. When it comes to the motives of the individual as to why he adopts one of the two methods, it is discussed and dealt with in the science of rhetoric. What is important is the application, functions and the widespread use of this technique among the speakers of the language.

2. An accepted religious principle – which some have interpreted as “school relationship” [5] – is when a person consents to an act of crime, God considers him an accomplice to that crime. It has been stated in a tradition from the Holy Prophet (S) that if a person, who is present at a time when an action is being done, is not complicit to it, he has not taken part in it but if he is complicit, it is as though he has taken part in it.[6]

To further explain this saying of the Holy Prophet (S) we can benefit from the sayings of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (AS). When Allah gave him (and the Muslim army) victory over the enemy at the Battle of Jamal one of his comrades said on that occasion, "I wish my brother so-and-so had been present and he too would have seen what success and victory Allah had given you," whereupon Amir al-mu'minin said:

"Did your brother hold me friend?"

He said: "Yes,"

Then the Commander of the Faithful said:

In that case he was with us. Rather in this army of ours even those persons were also present who are still in the loins of men and wombs of women. Shortly, time will bring them out and faith will get strength through them.[7]

As per a hadith from Imam Reza (AS), if a person is killed in the East and another person in the West is complicit to his death, God considers him an accessory or partner in the death of that person.[8] This hadith is reaffirmed by a saying of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (AS) who said that the oppressor, helper and complicit are accomplices to the act of oppression.[9]

In order to demonstrate harmony and congruity of the verse 77 of chapter al-Araf, which ascribes the death of the camel to a group of arrogant people and the verse 29 of chapter al-Qamar, which states that the camel was slaughtered by an individual, with the other three verses which ascribe the death to Samood people, we can benefit from point number 1 in the answer. Thus, we must say that the first three verses introduce the killer of the camel in a general and inconspicuous manner sufficing only to saying that the camel was killed among these people. As for the other two verses, they provide the specifics and details into the incident. Now we should try to understand these two verses in relation to each other.

There are different possibilities and explanations in connection with these two verses. The closest explanation is that a group of arrogant people, as stated in the verse 77 of chapter Al-Araf, are the ones who worked out a plan to kill the camel. The individual who has been introduced in the verse 29 of chapter al-Qamar is the final executer of the plan and the direct killer of the camel. We can get this possibility confirmed through verse 48 of chapter Al-Naml. The verse indicates that ‘there were in the city nine men of a family (or nine groups of people), who made mischief in the land, and would not reform’. Given the fact that Salih had forbidden people to hurt the camel and he had threatened that if they hurt her, they would face terrible punishment, it looks logical that the decision was made collectively by the mischievous people and that the action could not have taken by a single individual. In fact, the killing was supported and pushed for by a number of people. Thus it seems that this probability is more acceptable and plausible and we can say that there were nine groups of people who – given their power and influence – played this role and they lured an individual among them to carry out the plan. Hence, the verse 77 of chapter Al-Araf refers to the mischievous people who worked out the plan and the verse 29 of chapter of Al-Qamar refers to the executer i.e. the man who slew the camel.

The last step to understand these three verses which indicate that the camel was slain by disbelievers is to comprehend point 2. It is reaffirmed by a saying from the Commander of Faithful, Ali (AS) about Samood tribe. Referring to the killing of Salih’s camel, the Imam says: “O' people, certainly, what gathers people together (in categories) is (their) agreement (to good or bad) and (their) disagreement, for only one individual killed the camel of Thamud (Samood) but Allah held all of them in punishment because all of them joined him by their acquiescing in their consenting to it.”[10]

Some commentators have also stressed saying that although the camel was slain by one person, the other people also consented to the act of crime as they did not stop him from doing so, so they have a share of the punishments both in this world and in the hereafter.[11]

Today also, we have legal rules under “Abetting” according to which the accessories or accomplices are punishable by the law.

 


[1] And, O my people! this will be (as) Allah's she-camel… ("... و یا قوم هذه ناقة الله".)

[2]  Samood gave the lie to the messengers ("... کذبت ثمود المرسلین".)

[3]  Samood gave the lie (to the truth) in their inordinacy, ("کذبت ثمود بطغویها...".)

[4] The Arrogant party said.. ("قال الذین استکبروا...".)

[5] Tafsir Namunah, vol.9, Tehran, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah,  1374 (1995)

[6] Wasail al-Shi’ah, vol.16, p. 138, hadith 21178.

[7] Nahjul Balaghah, sermon 12.

[8] Wasail al-Shi’ah, ibid, p. 138- 139, hadith 21180.

[9]  Ibid, p. 139-140, hadith 21182.

[10] Nahjul Balagha, sermon 201.

[11] Majma’ul Bayan fi Tafsir al-Quran, vol.5, p. 265, Tehran, Naser Khosro Publications, 1372 (1993); Al-Mizan fi Tafsir Al-Quran, vol.15,p. 433 translated by Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Musavi Hamedani, Qom, Islamic Publications Office of  Society of Teachers of the Islamic Seminary of Qom, 1374 (1995) and Tafsir Namunah ibid.

 

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