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Muhammad Asad   
And whenever some people among them asked [those who tried to restrain the Sabbath-breakers], "Why do you preach to people whom God is about to destroy or [at least] to chastise with suffering severe?" -the pious ones would answer, "In order to be free from blame before your Sustainer, and that these [transgressors, too,] might become conscious of Him."
The Clear Quran, Dr. Mustafa Khattab   
When some of ˹the righteous among˺ them questioned ˹their fellow Sabbath-keepers˺, “Why do you ˹bother to˺ warn those ˹Sabbath-breakers˺ who will either be destroyed or severely punished by Allah?” They replied, “Just to be free from your Lord’s blame, and so perhaps they may abstain.”
Safi Kaskas   
Whenever people among them asked [those who tried to restrain the people who broke the Sabbath], "Why do you preach to people whom God is about to destroy or [at least] to punish with severe suffering?" The pious ones would answer, "In order to be free from blame before your Lord and so that these [transgressors] might also become mindful of Him."

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Source Arabic and Literal tools
Arabic   
‏وَإِذْ قَالَتْ أُمَّةٌۭ مِّنْهُمْ لِمَ تَعِظُونَ قَوْمًا ۙ ٱللَّهُ مُهْلِكُهُمْ أَوْ مُعَذِّبُهُمْ عَذَابًۭا شَدِيدًۭا ۖ قَالُوا۟ مَعْذِرَةً إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ ‎
Transliteration (2021)   
wa-idh qālat ummatun min'hum lima taʿiẓūna qawman l-lahu muh'likuhum aw muʿadhibuhum ʿadhāban shadīdan qālū maʿdhiratan ilā rabbikum walaʿallahum yattaqūn
Word for Word
Dr. Shehnaz Shaikh, Ms. Kauser Katri, and more
  
And when said a community among them, "Why (do) you preach a people, (whom) Allah (is going to) destroy them or punish them (with) a punishment severe?" They said, "To be absolved before your Lord and that they may become righteous."

Generally Accepted Translations of the Meaning
Muhammad Asad   
And whenever some people among them asked [those who tried to restrain the Sabbath-breakers], "Why do you preach to people whom God is about to destroy or [at least] to chastise with suffering severe?" -the pious ones would answer, "In order to be free from blame before your Sustainer, and that these [transgressors, too,] might become conscious of Him."
M. M. Pickthall   
And when a community among them said: Why preach ye to a folk whom Allah is about to destroy or punish with an awful doom, they said: In order to be free from guilt before your Lord, and that haply they may ward off (evil)
Yusuf Ali (Saudi Rev. 1985)   
When some of them said: "Why do ye preach to a people whom Allah will destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?"- said the preachers:" To discharge our duty to your Lord, and perchance they may fear Him."
The Clear Quran, Dr. Mustafa Khattab   
When some of ˹the righteous among˺ them questioned ˹their fellow Sabbath-keepers˺, “Why do you ˹bother to˺ warn those ˹Sabbath-breakers˺ who will either be destroyed or severely punished by Allah?” They replied, “Just to be free from your Lord’s blame, and so perhaps they may abstain.”
Safi Kaskas   
Whenever people among them asked [those who tried to restrain the people who broke the Sabbath], "Why do you preach to people whom God is about to destroy or [at least] to punish with severe suffering?" The pious ones would answer, "In order to be free from blame before your Lord and so that these [transgressors] might also become mindful of Him."
Wahiduddin Khan   
When some of them asked, Why do you admonish a people whom God is going to destroy or to afflict with a severe punishment? They answered, In order to be free from blame before your Lord, and that they may perhaps fear Him
Shakir   
And when a party of them said: Why do you admonish a with a severe chastisement? They said: To be free from blame before your Lord, and that haply they may guard (against evil)
Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar   
And mention when a community of them said: Why admonish a folk whom God is One Who Causes them to Perish or One Who Punishes them with a severe punishment. They said: To be free from guilt before your Lord and so that perhaps they will be Godfearing.
T.B.Irving   
Whenever a community among them said: "Why do you lecture a folk whom God will destroy anyhow, or [at least] punish them severely?" they said: "To gain absolution from your Lord, and so they may do their duty."
Abdul Hye   
And when a group among them said: “Why do you admonish a people whom Allah is about to destroy them or punish them with a severe punishment?” (The preachers) replied: “To offer an excuse to your Lord and that they may refrain from disobedience.”
The Study Quran   
And when a community among them said, “Why do you admonish a people whom God is about to destroy or punish with a severe punishment?” They said, “As an excuse before your Lord, and that haply they may be reverent.
Dr. Kamal Omar   
And when said a community among them: “Why do you preach to a nation - Allah is that Who destroys them or (is) a Giver of punishment unto them — a severe torment?” (The Preachers) said: “As an excuse towards your Nourisher-Sustainer and perchance they become obedient (to His Al-Kitab).”
M. Farook Malik   
Also remind them about the conversation among some of them, when some of them asked: "Why do you admonish a people whom Allah will destroy or sternly punish?" They replied: "To be able to offer an excuse before our Lord that we did discharge our duty, and also in the hope that they may refrain from His disobedience."
Talal A. Itani (new translation)   
And when a group of them said, 'Why do you counsel a people whom God will annihilate, or punish with a severe punishment?' They said, 'As an excuse to your Lord, and so that they may become righteous.'
Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali   
And as a (certain) nation of them said, "Why do you admonish a people whom Allah (is) causing to perish or tormenting with a strict torment?" They said, " (As) a (possible) excuse to your Lord, and that possibly they would be pious."
Muhammad Sarwar   
When a group of them questioned another group saying, "Why do you preach to those whom God has decided to destroy or punish by a severe torment?" they replied, "We preach to them for we are responsible in the sight of your Lord and so that perhaps they may have fear of God."
Muhammad Taqi Usmani   
When a group of them said, .Why do you exhort a people whom Allah is going to destroy or chastise with a severe punishment?. They said, .To absolve ourselves before your Lord, and in order that they may fear Allah
Shabbir Ahmed   
The kind-hearted among them kept reminding the violators. And others said, "Why do you preach a people whom Allah's Requital is going to destroy or punish them with a severe torment?" The counselors said, "In order to be free of guilt before your Lord that we failed to advise. And in the hope that they walk aright."
Dr. Munir Munshey   
And then a group among them said, "Why must you preach to these people when Allah is going to destroy them (anyway), or punish them with a severe torment?" (The righteous ones replied), "You must, in order to escape blame from your Lord. It is possible that they may (heed and) fear (Allah)."
Syed Vickar Ahamed   
When some of them said: "Why do you teach to a people whom Allah will destroy or come down with a terrible punishment?"— Said the teachers: "To fulfill our duty to your Lord, so that they may fear Him."
Umm Muhammad (Sahih International)   
And when a community among them said, "Why do you advise [or warn] a people whom Allah is [about] to destroy or to punish with a severe punishment?" they [the advisors] said, "To be absolved before your Lord and perhaps they may fear Him."
[The Monotheist Group] (2011 Edition)   
And a nation from amongst them said: "Why do you preach to a people whom God will destroy or punish a painful retribution" They said: "A plea to your Lord, and perhaps they may be aware."
Abdel Haleem   
how, when some of them asked [their preachers], ‘Why do you bother preaching to people God will destroy, or at least punish severely?’ [the preachers] answered, ‘In order to be free from your Lord’s blame, and so that they may perhaps take heed.’
Abdul Majid Daryabadi   
And recall what time a community of them said Why exhort ye a people whom Allah is going to destroy or chastise with a severe chastisenent They said: to justify us before your Lord, and that haply they may fear
Ahmed Ali   
When a Section of them said: "Why do you admonish a people whom God is about to destroy or to punish severely?" They replied: "To clear ourselves of blame before your Lord, and that they may fear God
Aisha Bewley   
When a group of them said, ´Why do you rebuke a people whom Allah is going to destroy or severely punish?´ they said, ´So that we have an excuse to present to your Lord, and so that hopefully they will gain taqwa.´
Ali Ünal   
And when a community of people among them asked (others who tried to restrain the Sabbath-breakers): "Why do you preach to a people whom God will destroy or punish with a severe punishment?" They said: "So as to have an excuse before your Lord and so that they might keep from such disobedience in reverence for God."
Ali Quli Qara'i   
When a group of them said, ‘Why do you advise a people whom Allah will destroy or punish with a severe punishment?’ They said, ‘As an excuse before your Lord, and [with the hope] that they may be Godwary.’
Hamid S. Aziz   
And when a community from amongst them said, "Why do you warn a people whom Allah would destroy, or punish with severe torment?" they said, "In order to do our duty to our Lord, that per chance (or possibly) they may fear (evil)."
Ali Bakhtiari Nejad   
And when a group of them said: why do you preach people whom God kills them or punishes them with a severe punishment? They said: as an apology to your Master and so that they may control themselves
A.L. Bilal Muhammad et al (2018)   
When some of them said, “Why do you advise a people who God will destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?” The advisers said, “To be absolved, fulfill your duty to your Lord, that they may be conscious.
Musharraf Hussain   
Another group from the Israelites said, “Why are you preaching to people, who Allah will destroy or punish?” They said, “It is a plea for clemency from your Lord,qand in the hope that they might be mindful of Allah.
Maududi   
And recall when a party of them said: ´Why do you admonish a people whom Allah is about to destroy or punish severely?´ They said: ´We admonish them in order to be able to offer an excuse before Your Lord, and in the hope that they will guard against disobedience.´
[The Monotheist Group] (2013 Edition)   
And a nation from among them said: "Why do you preach to a people whom God will destroy or punish a painful retribution?" They said: "A plea to your Lord, and perhaps they may be aware."
Mohammad Shafi   
And when a section of them said, "Why do you admonish a people whom Allah would destroy or give a severe punishment?" They said, "To be free of blame before your Lord! And, haply, they may fear Allah."

Controversial or status undetermined works
Ahmed Raza Khan (Barelvi)   
When a group among them said, 'Why do you admonish those whom Allah is to kill or to chastise with a severe torment'. They said, 'as an excuse before your Lord, and that haply they may fear'.
Rashad Khalifa   
Recall that a group of them said, "Why should you preach to people whom GOD will surely annihilate or punish severely?" They answered, "Apologize to your Lord," that they might be saved.
Hasan Al-Fatih Qaribullah   
And when some asked: 'Why do you admonish a nation whom Allah will destroy or sternly punish? ' They replied: '(Seeking) a pardon from your Lord, and in order that they may be cautious.
Maulana Muhammad Ali   
And when a party of them said: Why preach you to a people whom Allah would destroy or whom He would chastise with a severe chastisement? They said: To be free from blame before your Lord, and that haply they may guard against evil
Muhammad Ahmed & Samira   
And when a nation from them said: "Why/for what (do) you preach/advise/warn a nation God (is) making them die/destroying them or torturing them, a strong (severe) torture." They said: "An apology/excuse to your Lord and maybe/perhaps they fear and obey."
Bijan Moeinian   
When some of them [who were not violating the Sabbath but were "respecting" the freedom of choice of those who were breaking the law] asked [those who had assumed their God ordained responsibility to invite people to the righteousness and forbid them from wrongdoings]: "Why do you [do not mind your business and] bother to preach the people whom God is going to destroy or severely punish?" The preachers said: "In order to accomplish our God assigned duty and hoping that they may come to their senses [in the last moments] and respect the Lord."
Faridul Haque   
And when a group among them said, "Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is going to destroy or mete out a severe punishment?" They said, "To have an excuse before your Lord, and that perhaps they may fear."
Sher Ali   
And when a party among them said to another party, `Why do you admonish a people whom ALLAH is going to destroy or punish with a severe punishment?' They said, `In order to be absolved from blame before your Lord and that they may turn to righteousness.
Dr. Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri   
And when a section of them said (to those who were performing the duty of preaching—da‘wa): ‘Why do you advise a people whom Allah is about to destroy or afflict with severe torment?’ they replied: ‘In order to submit (our) excuse before your Lord, and (also) because they may become righteous and Godwary.
Amatul Rahman Omar   
And (ask them what happened to those people) when a section from amongst them said (to another section), `Why do you admonish a people whom Allah is going to destroy completely, or whom He is going to punish with a severe punishment?' They answered, `We do it so that it may serve as an excuse (to be absolved from blame) before your Lord and that they may become secure (against the punishment).
Muhsin Khan & Muhammad al-Hilali   
And when a community among them said: "Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment?" (The preachers) said: "In order to be free from guilt before your Lord (Allah), and perhaps they may fear Allah."

Non-Muslim and/or Orientalist works
Arthur John Arberry   
And when a certain nation of them said, 'Why do you admonish a people God is about to destroy or to chastise with a terrible chastisement?' They said, 'As an excuse to your Lord; and haply they will be godfearing.
George Sale   
And when a party among them said to another party, 'Why do you admonish a people whom God is going to destroy or punish with a severe punishment?' They said, 'In order to be absolved from blame before your Lord and that they may turn to righteousness.
Edward Henry Palmer   
And when a nation from amongst them said, 'Why do ye warn a people whom God would destroy, or punish with severe torment?' they said, 'As an excuse to your Lord, that haply they may fear.
John Medows Rodwell   
And when some of them said, why warn ye those whom God would destroy or chastise with terrible chastisement? they said, For our own excuse with your Lord; and that they may fear Him
N J Dawood (2014)   
And when one of their tribe said: ‘Why do you admonish a people for whom God has ordained destruction and grievous torment?‘ they replied: ‘To be blameless in the sight of your Lord, and that they may fear God.‘

New, Partial, or In Progress Translations
Linda “iLHam” Barto   
Some of them said, “Why do you preach to people whom Allah will destroy or punish with a terrible punishment?” (The preachers) said, “So we will have no blame before your Lord. Perhaps they will become righteous.”
Irving & Mohamed Hegab   
Whenever a community among them said: "Why do you lecture a folk whom Allah (God) will destroy anyhow, or [at least] punish them severely?" they said: "To gain absolution from your Lord, and so they may do their duty."
Sayyid Qutb   
When some among them asked: “Why do you preach to people whom God is certain to destroy, or at least to punish severely?” [others] replied: “So that we may be free from blame in the sight of your Lord, and that they may become God- fearing.”
Ahmed Hulusi   
And when a community among them said, “Why do you give advice to people who Allah will destroy or punish with a severe suffering?”... They said, “To be absolved from our responsibility in the sight of our Rabb; and so that perhaps they may protect themselves.”
Sayyed Abbas Sadr-Ameli   
And (remember) when a group of them said: 'Why do you admonish a people whom Allah will destroy or punish with a severe punishment? ' They said: ' In order to have an excuse before your Lord, and that they may keep from evil'
Al-muntakhab fi tafsir al-Qur‘an al-Karim   
Those indifferent among the people of Mussa, said to those concerned: "why waste your breath admonishing people destined to suffer annihilation or condemnation!". "This said the concerned, "is only to discharge the duty imposed by Allah, your Creator, toward these people, they might hope fully open their hearts' ears and be dutiful to Him"
Mir Aneesuddin   
And when a community from among them said, "Why do you admonish a people whom Allah would destroy or whom He would punish with a severe punishment?" They said, "(We admonish them so that) we may be free from blame (when we go back) to your Fosterer, (that we did our duty), and that they may guard (against evil)."

Obsolete and/or older editions
Yusuf Ali (Orig. 1938)   
When some of them said: "Why do ye preach to a people whom God will destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?"- said the preachers:" To discharge our duty to your Lord, and perchance they may fear Him."
OLD Literal Word for Word   
And when said a community among them, "Why (do) you preach a people, (whom) Allah (is going to) destroy them or punish them (with) a punishment severe?" They said, "To be absolved before your Lord and that they may become righteous.
OLD Transliteration   
Wa-ith qalat ommatun minhum lima taAAithoona qawman Allahu muhlikuhum aw muAAaththibuhum AAathaban shadeedan qaloo maAAthiratan ila rabbikum walaAAallahum yattaqoona