Were the people of Thamud punished with a wild punishment, earthquake, lightning or thunder?
A brief explanation of the dubiety
In verse 5 of Surah al-Haqqah, verse 17 of Surah al-Fussilat, verse 67 of Surah Hud, and verse 78 of Surah al-Araf, different content has been revealed regarding the manner in which the people of Thamud were punished, and every verse reveals the manner of punishment of these people in a different way from the other verses. Meanwhile, the event only took place once and the people of Thamud only suffered a divine punishment one time. Therefore, there lies a contradiction amongst the unification of time and different multiple accounts of the event.
A detailed explanation of the dubiety
The contradictory verses
The verse in which it is revealed that the people of Thamud were punished with a wild, unpredictable punishment is:
Verse 5 of Surah al-Haqqah, it has been revealed regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud:
«فَأَمَّا ثَمُودُ فَأُهْلِكُوا بِالطَّاغِيَةِ»
“As for Thamūd, they were destroyed by the Cry.”
In this verse, the punishment of the people of Thamud has been revealed as a wild, unpredictable punishment.
The verse in which it is revealed that the people of Thamud were punished with lightning is:
Verse 17 of Surah al-Fussilat, where it has been revealed regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud as follows:
«وَ أَمَّا ثَمُودُ فَهَدَيْنَاهُمْ فَاسْتَحَبُّوا الْعَمَى عَلَى الْهُدَى فَأَخَذَتْهُمْ صَاعِقَةُ الْعَذَابِ الْهُونِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ»
“As for [the people of] Thamud, We guided them, but they preferred blindness to guidance. So the bolt of a humiliating punishment seized them because of what they used to earn.”
In this verse, the punishment of the people of Thamud has been revealed as lightning.
Two verses in Surah al-Dhariyat, verses 43-44 reveal the same theme as the above:
«وَ فِي ثَمُودَ إِذْ قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَمَتَّعُوا حَتَّى حِينٍ (43) فَعَتَوْا عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِمْ فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَ هُمْ يَنْظُرُونَ (44)»
“And in Thamud, when they were told, ‘Enjoy for a while.’ Then they defied the command of their Lord; so the thunderbolt seized them as they looked on.”
The verse in which it is revealed that the people of Thamud were punished with thunder is:
Verses 66 and 67 of Surah Hud, it has been revealed regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud:
«فَلَمَّا جَاءَ أَمْرُنَا نَجَّيْنَا صَالِحاً وَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ بِرَحْمَةٍ مِنَّا وَ مِنْ خِزْيِ يَوْمِئِذٍ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ الْقَوِيُّ الْعَزِيزُ (66) وَ أَخَذَ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا الصَّيْحَةُ فَأَصْبَحُوا فِي دِيَارِهِمْ جَاثِمِينَ (67)»
“So when Our edict came, We delivered Salih and the faithful who were with him by a mercy from Us and from the [punishment and] disgrace of that day. Your Lord is indeed the All-Strong, the All-Mighty. The cry seized those who were wrongdoers, and they lay lifeless prostrate in their homes.”
In this verse, the punishment of the people of Thamud has been revealed as thunder.
Another place in Surah al-Qamar, verse 31 has been revealed in the same theme as the above:
«إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ صَيْحَةً وَاحِدَةً فَكَانُوا كَهَشِيمِ الْمُحْتَظِرِ»
“We sent against them a single blast, and they became like the dry sticks of a corral builder.”
The verse in which it is revealed that the people of Thamud were punished with an earthquake is:
Verses 77 and 78 of Surah al-Araf, it has been revealed regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud:
«فَعَقَرُوا النَّاقَةَ وَ عَتَوْا عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِمْ وَ قَالُوا يَا صَالِحُ ائْتِنَا بِمَا تَعِدُنَا إِنْ كُنْتَ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ (77) فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الرَّجْفَةُ فَأَصْبَحُوا فِي دَارِهِمْ جَاثِمِين (78)»
So they hamstrung the She-camel and defied the command of their Lord, and they said, ‘O Salih, bring us what you threaten us with, if you are one of the apostles.’ Thereupon the earthquake seized them, and they lay lifeless prostrate in their homes.
In this verse, the punishment of the people of Thamud has been revealed as an earthquake.
In verse 5 of Surah al-Haqqah, it has revealed that the punishment of the people of Thamud was a wild, unpredictable punishment («الطاغیه»), while in verse 17 of Surah al-Fussilat, the punishment has been revealed as a lightning bolt («صاعقه»). In verse 67 of Surah Hud, the punishment of these people has been revealed as thunder («صیحه»), and according to verse 78 of Surah al-Araf, the punishment of the people of Thamud has been revealed as an earthquake («الرجفه»).
Based on these verses, the Holy Qur’an reveals multiple, different accounts about the way that the people of Prophet Salih were punished, while this is not possible. Based on the appearance of these verses, those people were subject to the divine punishment once and perished as a result of it, but in several various ways in the different verses, and as a result, there appears to be a contradiction between the verses.
The punishment of the people of Thamud was made up of different elements and methods that have been mentioned in the verses, and these different elements are reconcilable with one another. The phrase «طاغیه» means wild or unpredictable, exceeds its limits, and is a description for the word ‘punishment’. This phrase is also a description for the lightning, thunder and the earthquake and is compatible with them as a type of punishment. In other words, this collection of occurrences are exactly the same as the wild, unpredictable punishment that wiped out the people of Thamud. Therefore, there is no controversy or contradiction between the mentioned verses.
1. Proving a contradiction stops the impossibility of both versions of accounts being right.
In the case of one event having many different versions of accounts, there is only one instance in which these accounts can be cited as contradictory and that is when there is no possibility of reconciliation between the accounts of an event. In reality, ‘contradictory’ refers to the impossibility of reconciliation; in other words, the existence of one does not negate the existence of another. For example, the two sentences, “the weather is cold right now” and “the weather is warm right now” are contradictory and cannot be reconciled with each other. Therefore sentence one “the weather is cold right now” negates the weather being warm- thus nullifying what has been said in the second sentence; and similarly, the second sentence “the weather is warm right now” negates the weather being cold- i.e. the first sentence. Only one of these sentences can be correct and there is no possibility of reconciliation between the two. In these kinds of instances, the accounts are contradictory.
However, if an account does not negate another account and there is a possibility of reconciliation between the accounts, then they cannot be called contradictory. For example, there is a car accident in which two cars hit each other, a fire breaks out and the two drivers both lose their lives. The news of this event spreads using different words. One news reporter writes, “There was a terrible accident on the road today.” A news anchor says, “Today, two neighbors lost their lives in a car accident.” Another news reporter reports the event this way, “A fire in the car took the lives of two people today.” All of the reports contain part of the event but do not express all of the details. In one account, only the terribleness of the event has been indicated; but in the other two reports, details of the accident have been mentioned, except in one account where it indicated that the two cars crashed, and in the last one, the fire engulfing the cars has been mentioned. There is no contradiction between the reports, and therefore none of these reports negate the other and there is a possibility for reconciliation between the two reports.
2. Analysing the word «طاغیه» (wild; unpredictable) regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud:
In verse 5 of Surah al-Haqqah, Allah, regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud, mentions:
«فَأَمَّا ثَمُودُ فَأُهْلِكُوا بِالطَّاغِيَةِ»
“As for Thamud, they were destroyed by the cry.”
The word «طغی» in its lexical form means to ‘exceed the limit’. In the dictionaries, it has been expressed as: «كل شيء يجاوز القدر فقد طَغَى» -Everything that exceeds its limit, has overflowed.  Therefore, «طاغیه» means something that overflows and is unruly.
Analysis of the relationship between the wild punishment, lightning, thunder and earthquake in regards to the punishment of the people of Thamud
According to the second premise, in verse 5 of Surah al-Haqqah, Allah has expressed the phrase «الطاغیه», meaning exceeding the limit; it is only one description of the descriptions used for the punishment of the people of Thamud. In reality, the phrase «الطاغیه» does not describe the type, nor the characteristics of the punishment; rather it has only been expressed that it is a hard adjective and that the punishment exceeded the limits. Applicability of this overflowing punishment has been revealed in verse 17 of Surah al-Fussilat as ‘lightning’, in verse 67 of Surah Hud as ‘thunder’, and in verse 78 of Surah al-Araf as an ‘earthquake’. 
Additionally, there is no contradiction between the phrases ‘lightning’, ‘thunder’ and ‘earthquake’. Keeping in mind that the verses regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud, ‘lightning’, ‘a frightful sound’, and an ‘earthquake’ – all occurred at the same time; thus these verses do not negate one another. This is because none of the verses restrict the punishment of the people of Thamud to one of the three phrases. Therefore, every verse reveals a part of the event and the punishment that came upon the people of Thamud. In other words, ‘lightning’, ‘thunder’, and ‘earthquake’ were multiple occurrences that happened within moments of each other, and all of them together, formed the punishment of the people of Thamud.
It is natural for these three occurrences to occur at the same time and in most cases, lightning is accompanied by thunder and frightful sounds. Sometimes, the lightning and thunder are even accompanied by an earthquake. When lightning strikes the ground, it can create a shaking of the ground and as a result, cause an earthquake.  
An example of common use
On Friday, a storm, accompanied by extreme lightning and thunder, overwhelmed an area. At the same time of this storm, a powerful earthquake caused the earth to shake in this area. News of this event spread using different phrases. The president called the incident that took place on Friday ‘disastrous’. A newspaper wrote: “An earthquake caused the loss of life and financial damage.” It is announced on the television: “A storm, with the top speed of 120 km/h, caused power outages in a large part of the city.” The people of that city who were in the midst of the storm said, “The frightful sound of the lightning caused the death of the elderly and the children.” Each of these accounts only revealed a part of the occurrences. Additionally, none of the reports restrict that which was mentioned in the others. Therefore, upon encountering these reports and bearing in mind the possibility of reconciliation between the reports, there is no possibility of contradiction between them. On the contrary, the collection of the reports would be used to paint a full picture of the occurrences that took place on Friday. Similarly, the verses regarding the punishment of the people of Thamud can be reconciled and have no contradiction with one another.
- Kitāb al-ʿAyn, volume 4, page 435
- Bargirifteh az Tafsīr al-Mīzān, volume 19, page 654
- Bargirifteh az Tafsīr Nemuneh, volume 6, page 240; volume 20, page 244; volume 24, page 438
- Bargirifteh az Tafsīr al-Mīzān, volume 8, page 230; volume 18, page 572