Prophet Yunus (AS) was one of the 25 prophets Allah mentioned in the Quran. He is also known as Jonah. Surah Yunus is also the 10th surah of the Quran, and Allah revealed it to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the Makkan period of his mission. Surah Yunus is in the 11th Juz of the Quran. It contains 109 verses, covering the prophet alongside various other topics.
Yunus (AS) is a very famous prophet in Islam. As with all the other prophets, Allah sent him to his people for one reason. That was to call them to Islam and worship Allah alone. They were idolators and did not believe in God or worship him. However, as with most of the early prophets, his people were obstinate in their rejection of Allah. During his prophethood, something happened that earned him the nickname ‘Dhun-Nun,’ meaning the One of the Fish. Additionally, he is also famous for the dua he made to Allah in a time of immense distress.
Allah covered the story of Prophet Yunus (AS) in the Quran. We can also find in-depth explanations in Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir, and these are the primary sources we’ll focus on here. We will look at the story of this great prophet and investigate the lessons we can learn from it.
Yunus (AS) and the People of Nineveh
Nineveh was in town in the northern region of what is now Iraq. The people of Nineveh were undoubtedly disbelievers and idolators. Allah sent Yunus (AS) to them with the message of Islam. However, they were obstinately disobedient. They even argued that no harm had come to their forefathers while worshiping the idols. Hence, they laughed off the threats of Allah’s punishment.
The unusual thing with Prophet Yunus (AS) is that he became disheartened after seeing his people’s attitude. He saw that they had no intention of obeying Allah, and thus, he told them that he was leaving them alone. He also mentioned the threat of Allah’s punishment.
And [mention] the man of the fish [i.e., Jonah], when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him.(Quran 21:87)
Thus, the prophet departed the village. Soon, however, the signs of Allah’s punishment began to appear. The skies took on a fiery look, and the horizon was ominous. Then, the people began to remember the fate of disbelievers in the past. As mentioned in Ibn Kathir, they realized that a prophet never lies. Hence, they took the children and cattle and went into the desert. There, they separated mothers and children and then began to pray to Allah. They asked Him for forgiveness and pleaded for Allah’s mercy.
The Uniqueness of the People of Nineveh
Then has there not been a [single] city that believed so its faith benefited it except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in worldly life and gave them enjoyment [i.e., provision] for a time.(Quran 10:98)
The story of the people of Nineveh is a unique one, as Allah mentions in this verse of the Quran. Whenever Allah sent down punishment upon a nation, the people would suddenly realize how wrong they were, and they would repent for what they did. However, by then, it would be too late for them, and their destiny would play out. However, when the people of Nineveh did the same, Allah gave them another chance to become true believers.
Ibn Kathir described the uniqueness of these people in his Tafsir. He stated that there was no nation between that of Yunus (AS) and that of Musa (AS) that believed in Allah in its entirety. The people of Nineveh only believed after seeing some signs of Allah’s torment. Then, they turned to good and repented to Allah desperately for 40 nights. It was only after that that Allah removed their punishment and granted them relief.
Yunus (AS)’s Journey
The prophet, in the meantime, had turned away from his people. He went and boarded a small ship with a few passengers. Initially, everything onboard seemed calm. However, the ship soon started rocking from side to side with huge waves causing trouble for the craft. At one point, the passengers thought that the ship was sure to sink.
However, the passengers got together and discussed proceedings. After pondering over the events that were taking place, they quickly came to a conclusion. They would have to lighten their load to keep the ship afloat. To do this, they decided to cast lots. Each passenger on the ship would have their name on one of them. The one whose name would be on the chosen lot would have to be thrown overboard.
And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers. Mention] when he ran away to the laden ship. And he drew lots and was among the losers.(Quran 37:139-141)
Ibn Kathir elaborates further on this in his Tafsir. He states that the men drew lots of the people on board. However, the draw went against him. Initially, the people refused to throw him overboard since they knew that he was an honorable man. But they drew lots again, with the same result. When it happened for the third time, Yunus (AS) knew what it meant. He had abandoned Allah’s mission to preach to his people.
Now, it was his time to pay the price for the decision he took. Instead of letting the men throw him out (and they didn’t seem willing to do that, anyway), he took the plunge himself. He jumped off the ship into the water.
The Whale and Yunus AS
Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy. And had he not been of those who exalt Allah, He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected.(Quran 37:142-144)
In his Tafsir, Ibn Kathir narrates that Abdullah ‘ibn Mas’ud said a large fish came out of the oceans and swallowed Yunus (AS) whole after he threw himself into the sea. However, Allah had inspired this fish not to eat the prophet, break his bones, etc. The prophet wasn’t food for the fish. Instead, the fish was a prison for the prophet.
The whale went deep into the ocean with Yunus (AS) in its stomach. The Tafsir of Ibn Kathir states that the prophet even thought that he had died. However, he then moved his legs. Realizing that he was very much alive and understanding his predicament, he fell in prostration to Allah, saying to Allah that he was prostrating in a place where no other human had been.
No one knows how long he was in the whale’s belly for. However, the early scholars felt that it was for a duration between 3 and 40 days.
Yunus’s Amazing and Heartfelt Prayer
And he called out within the darknesses, “There is no deity except You; exalted, are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.” So We responded to him and saved him from the distress. And thus do We save the believers.(Quran 21:87-88)
Prophet Yunus uttered the following invocation to Allah repeatedly: “Laa ilaa haa illaa anta subhaanaka, innee kuntu min az-Zaalimeen.” This is now one of the most popular duas for Muslims after they commit a wrongdoing, and it was Yunus (AS) who showed the way to all future generations of Muslims with his actions and words.
There are several Hadith about this dua in the authentic sunnah. It was said that no Muslim would pray to Allah using these words, but His Lord would answer the prayer. Another Hadith states that if a person offers supplication to Allah in the words of Yunus (AS), Allah would answer the prayer.
A long Hadith states the virtues of the dua that Yunus (AS) made. The crux of it is that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) called upon the people and told them to make dua at the time of distress. Uthman (RA) narrated that he told them the first part of the dua. However, a Bedouin interrupted them. The companions were upset that they didn’t hear the full dua. Later, they asked the Prophet (PBUH) once again, and he stated that it was the dua of Yunus (AS) when he was in the belly of the whale.
All the creatures in the sea, hearing this dua, began to sing Allah’s praises after hearing them from the whale’s stomach. Even the whale realized what was happening and knew that it had swallowed a prophet of Allah.
Allah Hears Yunus’s (AS) Invocation
He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected. But We threw him onto the open shore while he was ill. And We caused to grow over him a gourd vine.(Quran 37:144-146)
Allah saw Yunus (AS) repenting sincerely. He knew that the prophet truly regretted his actions and realized he had committed a mistake by going against Allah’s commands. Hence, He granted him forgiveness and let him survive. Allah even stated that if Yunus (AS) didn’t pray, he would have remained in the belly of the whale until the Day of Judgment. However, because of his heartfelt prayer, he was only in it for a short period.
The whale heard Allah’s command and went to the shore. There, it released the prophet on the ‘naked shore.’ According to Ibn Abbas (RA), this refers to a place without any vegetation and buildings. However, due to being in the belly of the whale for a long time, Yunus (AS) was extremely weak, and he collapsed at the shore due to the weakness.
The companions of the Prophet (PBUH) stated that the ‘gourd vine’ referred to in this surah is squash. They said that squash had many benefits. Among them was that it grows quickly and offers shade since it is large. This was very important considering the precarious situation Yunus (AS) was in. Additionally, one can eat this vegetable cooked or uncooked and with or without the peel. Hence, it was the ideal thing for Yunus (AS) since he had no means to survive except for this miracle from Allah.
Yunus (AS) Returns To His People
And We sent him to [his people of] a hundred thousand or more. And they believed, so We gave them enjoyment [of life] for a time.(Quran 37:147-148)
Allah forgave the prophet, and he eventually regained his strength. Then, he made his way back to his land. There, he realized what had happened while he was away. All the people showed up to welcome him, and they had now accepted the message of Allah. They were believers, no more engaging in idolatry as they used to in the past. Thus, not only did Allah forgive Yunus (AS) for his transgression, but He also made his task easy for him. The Prophet (PBUH) stated in a famous Hadith recorded in Sahih Bukhari that he is not better than Yunus ibn Matta, i.e., Prophet Yunus (AS).
Lessons from Yunus’s (AS) Story
There are a number of valuable lessons that we can learn from the story of Prophet Yunus (AS). We must understand the in-depth reasoning behind these lessons and implement the understanding in our lives.
Anyone Can Fall Into Sin
Sometimes, pious people may think that they are so righteous that they won’t commit sins. Alternatively, people looking at them may feel that way. They may think that a pious person is like a saint, always doing good and never faltering. However, pious people are human beings as well, just as Yunus (AS). Hence, even the most righteous of humans can make mistakes. What is important is how they act in the face of adversity in such situations.
Dealing With Anger
Allah describes in Surah al-Anbiya how Prophet Yunus (AS) “went off in anger.” That Allah focused on this aspect of the incident shows just how important it is to control one’s anger. We must always think with a cool mind and avoid making decisions with haste. Moreover, we must never make a quick decision when we are angry. It will only cause us to regret it in the future. We are human, and this is one of the human weaknesses. Hence, Allah reminds us that this is something we should keep in control.
We Must Always Pray To Allah
Yunus (AS) was in the most hopeless of predicaments. Yet, he didn’t lose hope. First, he looked back at his actions and understood where he had made a mistake. Then, he tried to rectify that mistake by praying to Allah. Not only did he pray to Him, but he used a beautiful invocation that would go on to become a staple among the Muslims. It was a truly beautiful way of asking Allah for forgiveness by admitting one’s shortcomings.
Allah Is the Most Merciful
Sometimes, people give up hope after sinning, which is a very wrong thing to do. We must always remember that Allah is the Most Merciful, and He can forgive us if we turn to Him in repentance. Even the prophet of Allah did so after committing a huge mistake. However, Allah was still the Most Merciful and forgave his sin. Then, He also saved him from the harsh predicament that he was facing.
Engaging in Remembrance
Allah said that if Prophet Yunus (AS) hadn’t repented and glorified Allah, he would have remained in the belly of the whale until the Day of Resurrection. Hence, this shows us the importance of always remembering Allah. We must be mindful of Him at all times. This helps us to keep away from sin and also get close to Him. Getting close to Allah should be one of the top aims for all Muslims.
Importance of Patience
Prophet Yunus (AS) stayed in the belly of the whale for what could have been several days. During this period, it’s likely that he would have suffered. It would have been especially tough on him mentally. However, he kept himself focused on remembrance of Allah and repentance. He remained patient until Allah decided his fate. Sure enough, Allah commanded the fish to throw him out and then enabled him to live with the miraculous growth of the gourd vine. We must always have the patience for Allah’s Decree.