Why have Two Different Punishments been Mentioned for the People of Aad in the Quran?
Brief description of the dubiety
In some verses of the Holy Quran such as: Surah Fussilat, verse 13: Surah al-Haqqah, verse 6; Surah al-Dhariyat, verse 41; and Surah al-Qamar, verse 19, it refers to the punishment of the people of Aad, but the contents of these verses are different to one another. One group of verses mention the punishment of the people of Aad as a thunderbolt similar to the people of Thamood, while other verses mention it as a cold and forbearing wind. Mentioning two kinds of punishments keeping in mind that this [punishment] occurred only once appears to be contradictory.
Detailed description of the dubiety
Verse which mentions that the people of Aad and Thamood were punished with thunderbolts
Verse 13 of Surah Fussilat states: “But if they turn away, say, ‘I warn you of a thunderbolt, like the thunderbolt of Aad and Thamood.’” In this verse, it mentions that the people of Aad and Thamood were punished with thunderbolts.
Verses which mention that the people of Aad were punished by an icy and forbearing wind
In verse 16 of Surah Fussilat is says: “So We unleashed upon them an icy gale during ill-fated days, in order that We might make them taste a humiliating punishment in the life of this world. Yet the punishment of the hereafter will be surely more disgraceful, and they will not be helped.” In this verse, their punishment has been mentioned as an icy and forbearing gale. There are other verses similar to this as well, for example in Surah al-Haqqah, verse 6 it says: “And as for Aad, they were destroyed by a fierce icy gale.” Surah al-Qamar, verse 19 says: “Indeed We unleashed upon them an icy gale on an incessantly ill-fated day.” Finally, in Surah al-Dhariyat, verse 41 we read: “And in Aad when We unleashed upon them a barren wind.”
In one verse it is mentioned that the people of Aad were punished by a thunderbolt like the people of Thamood; however, in other verses it mentions that they were punished by an icy and forbearing gale. As thunderbolts and icy gales are two different phenomena, these two groups of verses appear to be contradictory and incompatible with one another.
A summarized response
The word saiqah (صاعقه) (thunderbolt) has two different definitions and according to these two definitions, there is no contradiction between the verses. One definition is more general than the other, which is that saiqah is something that is destructive, and thunderbolts are included in this definition, and thus there is no contradiction between saiqah (according to this definition) and an icy gale. In the first verse, a general description of the punishment of the people of Aad has been mentioned, while in the subsequent verses, a specific punishment has been described.
A detailed response
Assessment of the literal meaning of saiqah
With due attention to the Arabic dictionaries, saiqah has two definitions:
- Punishment and anything that causes destruction;
- A loud noise from the sky which causes fire, destruction and death. The first definition is a general definition and includes different forms of destruction including wind and storms. The second definition is also included in the first definition.  In conclusion, with the help of these definitions, it can be proven that there is no contradiction between the verses.
Assessment of the contradiction between the verses based on the former definition
With due attention to the first definition of saiqah, the verse 13 of Surah Fussilat only refers to the punishment of the people of Aad, but it leaves the actual form of punishment unmentioned. The translation of this verse according to the former definition of saiqah would be: “But if they turn away, say: ‘I warn you of a punishment like the punishment of Aad and Thamood.’” On the other hand, in verse 16 of Surah Fussilat, and verse 6 of Surah al-Haqqah, verse 41 of Surah al-Dhariyat, and verse 19 of Surah al-Qamar, the Quran says that the people of Aad were punished by a forbearing and icy gale. With due attention that verse 13 of Surah Fussilat only mentions the annihilation and chastisement of the people of Aad, there is no contradiction between these verses because the forbearing and icy gale mentioned in the other verses of discussion mentions the actual form of punishment. In reality, when it mentions in verse 16 of Surah Fussilat – ‘reehan sarsara’ - «ریحا صرصرا» or “a furious wind,” it is mentioning the kind of penalty and destruction that saiqah denotes. 
There is a car accident on one of the main roads in a city which attracts a lot of attention from the pedestrians. Someone standing far from the scene of the accident quickly comes closer and asks what happened from the people who saw it happen. Each person either speaks generally or specifically. Someone says, “It was a terrible accident,” while another one replies that: “Two cars crashed really badly.” Two separate wordings have been used for one occurrence, the former using the word ‘accident’ which could refer to a car crash or a gas pipe exploding, but the latter used the specific word ‘crashed.’ Two different wordings have also been used in the verses regarding the punishment of the people of Aad. In one group of verses, the general word saiqah has been used and only mentions that the people were punished; but in the second group of verses, the specific term ‘reehan sarsara’ has been used and this refers to the fact that the punishment of these people was in the form of a long suffering and icy gale.
Assessment of the contradiction between the verses based on the latter definition
Before assessing the contradiction based on the latter definition which mentions that ‘saiqah’ refers to thunder and lightning, it requires a preliminary analysis, and through this it will be explained how there is no contradiction.
Preliminary (contradiction is based upon incompatibility between two reports)
One can only say that there is a contradiction between something when there are several different reports regarding one specific event. In reality, a contradiction does not necessarily mean incompatibility, such that the existence of one leads to the negation of the other. For example, the two sentences: ‘the weather is cold outside’ and ‘the weather is hot outside’ are contradictory and incompatible because the first sentence negates the second one, because if the weather is cold, it negates that which is mentioned in the second sentence which is that the weather is hot. The same is true in reverse. Only one of these two sentences can be correct, otherwise they are incompatible as is. In such situations, the reports are contradictory; however if one report does not negate the other one and they are compatible, then a person cannot say that they are contradictory. For example, if there is an accident between two cars on the motorway causing a fire and two people lose their lives, then the news of this incident may be reported in different manners, but that does not mean that they are conflicting to one another. One journalist writes: “Today, there was a tragic accident on the motorway,” while the television anchor says: “Today, two of our compatriots lost their lives in a car crash.” Another journalist writes: “The fire that broke out in a car took the lives of two people.” Each of these reports mentions a part of the incident that happened, but do not mention the entire story. In one report, it only mentions the tragic nature of the accident, and in the two other reports, it mentions the specificities of the accident; one mentions an accident, and the other says that the cars caught on fire. There is no contradiction between the reports because none of the reports negate the other and they are all compatible with one another.
Punishment of the people of Aad from different angles
According to the preliminary mentioned above, it is clear that there is no contradiction between the verses. Verse 13 of Surah Fussilat which mentions ‘saiqah’ is compatible with verse 16 of the same chapter. Each of these verses mentions a part of the punishment of the people of Aad. In reality, their punishment was made up of two parts and there were thunderbolts along with an icy gale which destroyed them. Referring to one part of an incident in different verses is natural and has no problem. None of the verses mention that the only punishment of the people of Aad was thunderbolts or a furious wind,, rather, it mentions that there were thunderbolts and icy gales. Therefore, these verses are not contradictory to one another and are all compatible.
On Friday, a storm along with severe thunder and lightning shook a province. The television news crew announce: “A storm moving at 120km/h caused a widespread power outage in the whole city.” The people of the province who were involved in this incident said, “Some elderly people and children died due to the formidable sound of the thunder.” Each of these reports mention only a part of the incident. Also, neither of the reports mention that only that which they reported happened. Therefore, these reports are not contradictory, but rather one can use these reports to understand that during the incident on Friday, there was both a storm and thunder and lightning. The verses regarding the punishment of the people of Aad are also compatible in the same manner and are not contradictory to one another in any way.
- Taj al-Arus min Jawahir al-Qamus, Volume 13, Page 269
- Tafseer Nemunah, Volume 20, Page 239