Prophet Yunus [Jonah] (Peace be upon him)

So also was Jonah (Yunus) among those sent (by us).

When he ran away (like slave from captivity) to the ship (fully) laden

He (agreed to) cast lots, and he was condemned:

Then the big Fish did swallow him, and he had done acts worthy of blame.

Had it not been that he (repented and) glorified Allah,

He would certainly have remained inside the Fish till the Day of Resurrection. (as-Saffat, 139-144)

 

THE PROPHET FROM NINEVEH

Nineveh was a city in Mosul. Assyrians grabbed this city from Children of Israel and made it their capital city. 

The Prophet Yunus, who was born in Nineveh, was sent as a prophet to the people of this nation.1 He was 30 years old when he became a prophet.

The Prophet Yunus is also known as Ibn Matta (Son of Matta). According to a narration, Matta was his father's name but according to another narration, it was his mother's name. He is mentioned as Zannun2 and Sahib al-Hut3 in the Quran because he was swallowed by a fish. Both terms means owner of the fish. 

Nineveh was one of the richest and biggest provinces during the time of Hz. Yunus. Its population was more than 100.000.(*)

The abundance of sustenance and extreme wealth caused the people of this city to commit sins and perversion. The people of Nineveh were in heresy in terms of belief. They worshipped idols and did not believe in Allah.4

 

THE PROPHET YUNUS ABANDONS HIS NATION

After being given the duty of prophethood, the Prophet Yunus called the people of Nineveh to the truth for 33 years but they did not obey him. They insisted on committing sins and polytheism. Only two people followed him at the end of 33 years; the others remained in heresy.5

The Prophet Yunus started to lose his hope and belief about his nation that they would follow the right path.  

The Prophet Yunus got very angry with his nation and felt very frustrated and bored because they did not obey him. When he felt very bored and frustrated one day, he decided to leave Nineveh. While leaving the city, he told the people that a big wrath would hit them soon.

The Prophet Yunus made this decision without getting permission from Allah and left the city without His permission.6 As a matter of fact, he was a loyal slave and an honorable prophet of Allah. It was not fit for a prophet to leave the place where he stayed without the permission of his Lord.7

In fact, this leaving did not originate from escaping from a duty or rebelling against the being who gave him this duty.8 He left his nation, who did not obey the divine call, as a result of his anger. However, it was regarded as a big mistake for a prophet.

 

INVOCATION IN THE STOMACH OF THE FISH

After leaving Nineveh, the Prophet Yunus went to the seaside and embarked a ship that was about to set off.9

The ship that Hz. Yunus embarked set off. It stopped after sailing for a while. It could not move forward or backward. The people on the ship tried everything but could not move the ship. They were stuck in the middle of the sea. The storm that broke out all of a sudden was about to make the ship sink. Everybody was scared. They were in a state of panic. They attributed it to ill omen and said,                     

"There is a big sinner among us. The ship will not move if he does not leave the ship."

How were they going to find the sinner among them? Various suggestions were put forward. Finally, they agreed to draw lots. The person whose name was going to be drawn was going to be thrown out of the ship.10

They drew lots as they decided. The name of the Prophet Yunus was drawn.11

The people on the ship were surprised. When Hz. Yunus embarked the ship, he had introduced himself to the people on the ship. The people on the ship talked among themselves:

"He is a righteous person. He cannot be the sinner. It was probably a coincidence."

They drew lots again. The name of Yunus was drawn again. The Prophet Yunus realized his mistake. While he was trying to take off his clothes in order to jump into the sea, some people stopped him. They drew lots again. The result was the same. It became certain that the person who needed to leave the ship was the Prophet Yunus.

When the Prophet Yunus was about to thrown into the sea, it was midnight. The sea was moving with storms. The Prophet Yunus jumped into the sea and struggled against the fierce waves. Then, he was swallowed by a big fish.12

While entering the stomach of the fish, the Prophet Yunus thought it was his end. However, when he realized that he did not die in the stomach of the fish, he took refuge in Allah.  

The Prophet Yunus mentioned Allah's name and glorified Him throughout his life. He started to glorify Him more enthusiastically after he was thrown into the sea. For, all of the material causes for his salvation disappeared. The night, the sea and the fish acted together against him. The being to save him needed to be dominant over the night, the sea and the fish. A being that could not be dominant over all of them would not be able to save him.    

In that case, the Prophet Yunus saw clearly and felt fully that there was nobody else except Allah Almighty to apply to take refuge and no other place to go. Having these feelings, he started to confess his mistake. He took refuge in Allah, glorified Him and prayed Him:

La ilaha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu mina’z-zalimin.

"O Lord!There is no god but Thou: Glory to Thee: I was indeed wrong."13

Allah Almighty accepted this sincere repentance of Hz. Yunus. He ordered the fish to approach the coast and throw Yunus out of its stomach.  

The fish carrying Hz. Yunus in his stomach approached the coast and threw him out of its stomach. It was a place near Nusaybin or Mosul.14

The salvation of Hz. Yunus was due to his continuous glorification of Allah Almighty during his life and his sincere invocation in the stomach of the fish. The following is stated in the Quran:

"Had it not been that he (repented and) glorified Allah, he would certainly have remained inside the Fish till the Day of Resurrection.”15

Hz. Yunus was exhausted and ill. The days he spent under abnormal circumstances in the stomach of the fish made him very weak. 

He needed protection. He felt as if he had been born again.16

Allah Almighty caused to grow over him a spreading plant of the gourd (yaqtin) kind that would provide him shade and protect him from insects like flies. It had wide leaves and grew up quickly.17 The Prophet Yunus relaxed a bit in the shade of that tree, which protected him from the scorching sun. He also ate from the fruit of the tree and got strong. He became well soon.  

The soundest narration about the tree mentioned as yaqtin tree in the Quran is that it is gourd or pumpkin. In Arabic, yaqtin means gourd or pumpkin. 

When the Messenger of Allah was asked why he liked yaqtin, he said, "Because it is the tree of my brother Yunus." This indicates that it is yaqtin. This hadith interprets that verse.18

 

THE NATION THAT WAS SAVED FROM DESTRUCTION

After Hz. Yunus left his nation, the signs of the wrath he had mentioned appeared. The area was covered by black clouds and fumes. Terrible sounds like the sound of the wind that destroyed the nation of Ad were being heard.  

The people understood that what the Prophet Yunus said was right and that they made a big mistake by not obeying him. They were looking for Hz. Yunus in regret. They wanted to believe in him and follow him in order to be saved from the wrath that would hit them. However, they could not find Yunus. Their fear and panic increased. They started to gather near a desert outside the city, cry and pray Allah. They asked one another to forgive them. They paid their debts to their creditors.

Allah Almighty accepted this sincere repentance of the nation of Yunus. He moved the wrath away with His mercy.19

It is narrated that the nation of Yunus prayed as follows when they saw the approaching wrath:

"O Lord! Our sins are big. However, you are bigger. Do what fits you not what fits us.”

The day they prayed was Friday, the 10th of the month of Muharram. It was day of Ashura.20

Verse 98 of the chapter of Yunus indicates that Allah will accept the prayers of the people who take refuge in Allah when they are in a difficult position and when they are victims.

In fact, prayers need to be said by humans all the time and it is useful in both the world and the hereafter. However, during times of misfortunes, hearts become more sensible and man feels his weakness and despair more. He believes heartily that no power except Allah can help him. In such a mood, sincerity is in the foreground and those prayers are more likely to be accepted.  

This incident is narrated as follows: in the Quran:

"Why was there not a single township (among those We warned), which believed― so its Faith should have profited it, except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the Penalty of Ignominy in the life of the Present and permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while.”21

Thus, throughout history, the only nation whose wrath was moved away was the nation of Hz. Yunus; they got rid of heedlessness and repented just before the wrath to destroy them was going to hit them.

 

THE PROPHET YUNUS RETURNS TO HIS NATION

The Prophet Yunus stayed for a while near the coast where he was saved from the stomach of the fish under the tree of yaqtin and got well. After that, he returned to his nation.

When he arrived in Nineveh, he found his nation waiting for him. All of them had repented before he came. They were ready for the orders to be given to them by the Prophet Yunus.

Hz Yunus became very happy when he saw his nation like that and he started his duty of guidance again.  

The people of Nineveh obeyed Hz. Yunus as he was alive. They obeyed the orders and prohibitions of Allah. After the death of the Prophet Yunus, they started to deviate and move away from the true religion.

Thereupon, Allah Almighty allowed the city of Nineveh to be occupied by the enemy. Thus, the state of Assyrians was eliminated.22

 

CAN MAN LIVE IN THE STOMACH OF A FISH?

There are several exemplary aspects in the story of the Prophet Yunus. However, it might seem incredible for a man to be swallowed by a fish and to be able to come out of that fish alive. The incident we will narrate below will shed light on the issue.

l) An interesting incident took place off the Falkland Islands in the ocean in 1891.  

It took place on a whaler. The ship was returning from a very good fishing trip, the holds of the ship crammed with fish. The people on the ship saw a very big whale off the shore of Falkland Islands; they had never seen such a big whale before. The crew wanted to do their best to catch this fish. They were running about the deck with great enthusiasm. However, when they approached the whale so near as to see the sea birds on its back, a surging wave threw James Bartley, one of the crew on the ship, into the sea. They put two dinghies on the sea immediately but the search was in vain. They lost hope of his life.  

The hunting of the whale lasted several hours, but eventually they dragged it on board by spearing it. The crew started to cut it with knives as sharp as razors. Suddenly one of the crew pointed to an abnormal bulge in the stomach of some whales. This bulge might have been ambergris, which was sound in the stomach of some whales. It might have made all of them very rich.

When the knives started to cut the swollen stomach open, excitement increased and suddenly cries of astonishment rose. For, the swelling was nothing other than James Bartley, who disappeared hours ago in the sea. Bartley was still alive though his body had become white due to the digestive juice of the whale's stomach.

Bartley regained consciousness after one and a half day. He was taken to the coast for treatment immediately. The people made fun of the crew when they told the incident about Bartley. However, when Bartley was examined, the doctors determined definitely that he had been exposed the digestive juice of the whale's stomach. After that, James Bartley was a person of distinction who was known as the hero of the most awesome sea adventure and this incident was announced to the whole world by the American author Kate Smith.

James Bartley remained in the stomach of the whale about a day. The time period Hz. Yunus remained in the stomach of the fish is one day according to a narration The following information is given in verse 144 of the chapter of as-Saffat in "Asbab an-Nuzul":

"There are a few narrations about how long Hz. Yunus remained in the stomach of the fish. It is narrated that he remained there three or forty days. It is also narrated that he was swallowed in the morning and was thrown out in the evening. Allah knows it best. The last view is more reasonable."

Whales have amazing features in terms of size. For example, an adult whale is 13 meters long and weighs more than 40 tons. Only the liver of such a whale weighs half a ton; and its heart is about 150 kilos. This whale can take up to one ton of food in its stomach; a man's weight is not even one tenth of it. As a matter of fact, a three-meter long shark was extracted out of the stomach of a whale that was caught. If we take into consideration that some whales can be 25 meters long and can weigh more than 100 tons, the reasonability of the incident will be understood better.

Captain Jacques Cousteau made a special underwater research about the fish that swallowed the Prophet Yunus and obtained very interesting results.  

This research of Cousteau's was broadcast on world televisions as "The Fish That Swallowed The Prophet Jonah".  According to this research, it is not difficult for a grouper, which is a fish that can weigh up to 500 kilos, to swallow a man. For, these fish have an extremely interesting mouth-throat-stomach structure and can swallow fish that are almost equal to their own height and weight.

Jonah being swallowed by a fish and coming out of the dark realm alive is not difficult for the power of our Lord.

Yes, our Lord, who keep billions of babies in the wombs of their mothers for 9 months and take them out to the light after feeding them in the  dark and narrow realm, can keep a prophet in the stomach of a fish, which is at His disposal, and take it out to the light so that His servants will take lessons from it.

We need to know how to take lessons from incidents and surrender to that sublime power.23

2) A woman called Zinnet Uğur from Balçıklı village of Özalp township of Van drank water from the canal in the village one night when she was twenty years old. She felt that something went into her stomach but she did not give much importance to it. Apparently, she swallowed a young snake. This snake lived for 15 years in the lady's stomach. Zinnet said she had a swelling in her stomach and that she heard some sounds coming from her stomach; she was examined by doctors but it was in vain. Finally, in January 1984 in Van Hospital, Dr. Cemalettin Karaağaç, an anesthesiologist, managed to take the snake out of her stomach through her mouth. The snake was seventy centimeters long. This woman had eight children while the snake was in her stomach.24

 

LESSONS TO BE TAKEN FROM THE STORY OF THE PROPHET YUNUS

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi explains a lesson to be taken by the people living today from the incident of Hz. Yunus being saved from the stomach of the fish as follows: 

Now we are in a situation one hundred times more awesome than that in which Hz. Yunus (Jonah) first found himself. Our night is the future. When we look upon our future with the eye of neglect, it is a hundred times darker and more fearful than his night. Our sea is this spinning globe. Each wave of this sea bears on it thousands of corpses, and is thus a thousand times more frightening than his sea. Our fish is the caprice of our soul which strives to shake and destroy the foundation of our eternal life. This fish is a thousand times more maleficent than his. For his fish could destroy a hundred-year lifespan, whereas ours seeks to destroy a life lasting hundreds of millions of years. This being our true state, we should in imitation of Yunus (pbuh) avert ourselves from all causes and take refuge directly in the Causer of Causes, that is, our Sustainer. We should say:

La ilaha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu mina’z-zalimin. (O Lord! There is no god but You, Glory be unto You! Indeed I was among the wrongdoers.)

And we should understand with full certainty that it is only He who can repel from us the harm of the future, this world, and caprice of our souls, united against us because of our neglect and misguidance. For the future is subject to His command, the world to His jurisdiction, and our soul to His direction. What cause is there other than the Creator of the Heavens and Earth who can know the most subtle and secret thoughts of our heart; who can lighten the future for us by establishing the Hereafter; who can save us from the myriad overwhelming waves of the world? No, outside that Necessarily Existent One, there is nothing that can in any way give aid and effect salvation except by His consent and command. This being the case, considering that as a result of his supplication, the whale became for Jonah a vehicle, or a submarine, and the sea, a peaceable plain; and the night became gently lit for him by the moon, so too, we should make the same supplication:

La ilaha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu mina’z-zalimin. (O Lord! There is no god but You, Glory be unto You! Indeed I was among the wrongdoers.)

With the sentence "There is no god but You", we draw the gaze of mercy upon our future; with the word "Glory be unto You!", we draw it upon our world; and with the phrase "Indeed I was among the wrongdoers," we draw it upon our soul. Thus, our future is illumined with the light of belief and the moonlike luminosity of the Quran, and the awe and terror of the night are transformed into tranquility and joy. Then too, embarking on the ship of the truth of Islam, fashioned in the dockyard of the Most Wise Quran, we may pass safely over the sea of this earthly abode, which through the alternation of life and death is boarded by corpses unnumbered, borne on the waves of the years and centuries, and cast into nothingness. Once aboard that ship we may reach the shore of salvation and fulfill our life's duty. The tempest and surging of the sea will appear a series of pleasing images on a screen, and instead of inspiring terror and dread, will delight, caress and illumine the reflective and the meditative gaze. By virtue of the mystery of the Quran, and the effect of that Criterion of Truth and Falsehood, our soul will ride no longer us, but instead become our mount. As we ride it, it will be for us a powerful means for the attainment of life everlasting.”25

 

FOOTNOTES

1 as-Saffat, 139; an-Ni­sa, 163; A. C. Pa­şa, ibid, I/36; Ö. N. Bil­men, ibid, III/1432.

2 al-An­bi­ya, 87; al-An’am, 86.

3 al-Qa­lam, 48

(*) Ubay b. Ka’b narrates:  "I asked the Prophet (pbuh) about the word 'more' in the hadith 'We sent him (Yunus) as a prophet to one hundred thousand people or more.' The Messenger of Allah said, “20 thousand.” (Tir­midhi, Q. Taf­sir; Ibn Kathir).

4 Taj­rid trnsl., IX/151.

5 ibid, IX/151.

6 al-An­bi­ya, 87.

7 Mu­ham­med Ham­di Ya­zır, ibid, V/4072.

8 The conveyors of the true cause need to be patient, calm and determined. Hz. Yu­nus struggled against his nation for 33 years with those characteristics. However, that only two people believed in him caused him to make a mistake by leaving Nineveh. The real reason for Hz. Yu­nus's mistake was his leaving Nineveh without the permission from Allah. It was impatience and hurry in a sense. It was not fit for a prophet to do so. Allah addressed Hz. Muhammad as follows telling him not to act like Hz. Yunus even if he was under difficult conditions: “O Mu­ham­mad! So wait with patience for the command of thy Lord, and be not like the Companion of the Fish”

9 as-Saffat, 140; A.C. Pa­şa, ibid, I/36.

10 H. Bas­ri Çan­tay, ibid, II, 804, note: 88.

11 A. C. Pa­şa, ibid, I, 36.

12 as-Saffat, 142.

13 al-An­bi­ya, 87.

14 M. Veh­bi ibid, XII, 4749.

15 as-Saffat, 143-144.

16 as-Saffat, 145.

17 as-Saffat, 146; al-Qa­lam, 48-50.

18 M. Veh­bi ibid, XII, 4749.

19 Yu­nus, 98.

20 M. Veh­bi, ibid, VI, 2266; Bil­men ibid, III, 1433.

21 Yunus, 98.

22 Bil­men, ibid, III, 1433.

23 Zafer Magazine, issue: 85, January 1984.

24 Mil­liyet 8 January 1984.

25 Lem’alar.

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