What is the story of Hz. Yunus in the holy books like?

The Details of the Question

- In what other holy books is Hz. Yunus mentioned and his story narrated?  
- Is he called Yunus in the other books too?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Hz. Yunus is a prophet mentioned in the Quran.

The Hebrew word Yonah (dove) was transferred to Greek as Ionas, to Arabic as Yunus, to Western languages as Jonas and Jonah. The view that it was derived from the Arabic word ans meaning “to see” or from the root unsiyyah meaning “friendship” (Firuzabadi, VI, 53) is not accepted as true. (Mawhub b. Ahmad al-Jawaliki p. 644; Shahabuddin al-Hafaji, p. 244; Jeffery, p. 295-296)

Hz. Yunus in the other books

In the “Prophets” (Neviim) chapter of the Old Testament, in the book of Jonah, which is the fifth one of the writings about the prophets called “twelves”, the story of the Prophet Yunus is narrated.

Accordingly, Yunus is the son of Amittai of Gath Hepher in Galilee region belonging to Palestine Israel Kingdom and belongs to the tribe of Zebulun (II. Kings, 14/25; Jonah, 1/1). He lived during the reign Jeroboam II (793-753 BC), one of the kings of Israel, and told him about some incidents beforehand. (II. Kings, 14/25)

Yunus was sent to the people of Nineveh by God as a prophet to tell them that they would be destroyed after forty days if they did not stop their wickedness but he did not want to warn them (Dictionnaire encyclopedique, p. 581); thus, he did not obey the divine order and embarked a ship in Joppa (Jaffa) to go to Tarshish.

When a great storm broke up in the sea, the cargo was thrown into the sea; they drew lots in order to understand who was responsible for the storm and the name of Yunus was drawn. He told them that he was a Hebrew; he told them the truth about himself and wanted them to throw him into the sea.   

When Yunus was thrown overboard, a big fish swallowed him upon the order of Lord; Yunus stayed in the stomach of the fish for three days and nights. (Jonah, Chapter 1)

From inside the fish, Yunus prayed to Allah; Allah accepted his prayer and the fish vomited him onto dry land. (Jonah, Chapter 2)

Yunus, who was sent to Nineveh again, told people that divine penalty would hit them soon; then, he went out of the city and made himself a shelter to sit in to see what would happen on the day of penalty. However, the people of Nineveh believed in God, turned from their evil ways and prayed to Allah and fasted in order to be forgiven. Thereupon, God forgave them. (Jonah, Chapter 3)

This will of God offended Yunus and he said he wanted to die since he had tried to go to Tarshish before and he fell into a position of a liar in this incident; he begged God to take his life. God provided a plant called “kikayon” and made it grow up over him to give shade for him in order to save him from his distress but the plant withered the next morning. Yunus, who felt sorry for the plant and fainted due to the heat of the sun, wanted to die gain. God said to him, “You have been concerned about this kikayon plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120.000 people and also many animals?” (Jonah, 3/1-4/11)

Yunus was a Hebrew belonging to the Kingdom of Israel. Nineveh was an Assyrian city; the Kingdom of Israel and Assyrians were enemies. According to exegetes, Yunus felt disappointed and furious because the news he gave about the destruction of Nineveh did not take place and he thought it would be against his country that the city was not destroyed. The basic reason why Yunus avoided the duty of prophethood was probably his extreme patriotism. Yunus felt worried that the people of Nineveh would repent and that God would forgive them because Nineveh’s being forgiven would mean a decree for the Kingdom of Israel. (Jonah, 4/2, 11)

The story of Yunus as it is narrated in the Old Testament shows that the salvation plan of God included all humanity, not only Ibrahim’s descendants, that divine proclamation reached Assyrians too and that Sons of Israel rebelled against God despite so many prophets who were sent to them though the people of Nineveh believed based on the proclamation of only one prophet.  

In addition, the story was interpreted as follows metaphorically:

The prophet Yunus symbolizes Sons of Israel. The rejection by Yunus to fulfill the divine order means that Israel did not believe in Jesus Christ and led to his crucifixion by the pagans. That Yunus was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish symbolizes Sons of Israel’s life in exile and dispersion to various places. However, the fact that Yunus did not die in the stomach of the fish is a sign that Sons of Israel could not be assimilated by other nations. Just as the fish took Yunus to the Palestinian coast so too would nations take Sons Israel to the coast of their own country. His coming alive from the depths of the dead was like the burial of Hz. Isa (Jesus Christ) and his resurrection three days later. (NDB, p. 408)

Hz. Isa accepts the Prophet Yunus stayed in the stomach of the fish for three days and nights and that the people of Nineveh repented thanks to the guidance of Yunus. (Matthew, 12/39-41; Luke, 11/29-32)

A big fish, not a whale, is mentioned in the story of Yunus in the Old Testament. The general view is that this can be a big shark (lamia canis carcharias); human bodies were sometimes found in the stomachs of such big fish. (NDB, p. 409)

According to those who do not regard this narration in the Old Testament as true, it is a tale (Augusti, Renan, Müller), a symbolic story (Palmer, Krahmer) or legend (Eichhorn); it was taken from the mythology of Greek Hesione (Rosenmüller) or Babylonian Oannes (Baur). (DB, III/2, p. 1608)

According to Jewish narrations, the most successful one among the students of the Prophet Elijah was the Prophet Yunus. Elijah appointed him to anoint Yehu as the king and to inform the people of Jerusalem that they would be destroyed but when the people of Jerusalem repented, the destruction did not take place. Therefore, Sons of Israel regard Yunus as a false prophet since the news he gave them did not take place.  

As a matter of fact, when he was appointed to give the news of destruction to the people of Nineveh, he said, “I am sure that the idolaters there will repent and they will be forgiven; thus, it will be said among the idolaters that I am a false prophet.” When he went to Jaffa to set off for Nineveh, he could not find a ship in the port.  

However, God sent a storm to test him and a ship that left the port returned. Yunus embarked that ship. After a voyage of one day, a storm broke out again; the people of different nations on the ship started to pray to their own deities. When the storm did not cease, the captain asked Yunus what nationality he was. When he found out that Yunus was a Hebrew, he said, “the God of Hebrews is very strong. Pray to him so that he will save us as he saved the Jews in the Red Sea.” However, Yunus said that he was the cause of the misfortune and wanted them to throw him into the sea.

First, the heavy things on the ship were thrown, but the storm did not stop; this time, Yunus was thrown into the sea. A big fish swallowed Yunus and he remained in the stomach of the fish for a while; the eyes of the fish served as windows. Then, the fish took him to a shore where he could be seen.

Meanwhile, Yunus forgot to pray to God; then, God sent another very big fish; this fish wanted Yunus. Then, Yunus prayed to God to save him and his prayer was accepted; then, the fish took Yunus to the shore.

Yunus immediately went to Nineveh and informed the people that the disaster was close. The voice of Yunus was very strong and was heard in every part of the city; the people who heard it decided to give up the wicked way. The Assyrian King Osnappar was also among those who repented. The king descended from his throne, took off his crown, poured some ash on his head and rolled on the ground. They fasted for three days and prayed to God in tears; Then, God forgave them.

Yunus asked God to forgive him. God said, "You acted respectfully toward my glory, you went to the sea (because Yunus wanted the trust of people in God not to harm; therefore, he embarked the ship to avoid being a liar); therefore, I treated you with mercy; I saved you from the underworld."

Yunus could not forget the troublesome time he spent in the stomach of the fish for a long time and its traces remained on him. As a matter of fact, his garment melted from the excessive heat in the stomach of the fish, he lost his hair, and the insects battered him. In order to protect Yunus, Allah created the kikayon plant. When Yunus got up in the morning, he found a large, 270-leaf plant, each leaf of which was bigger than a hand span, protecting him from the sun.

However, when the plant dried, Yunus, who was attacked by insects again, cried and wanted to die. God gave him a lesson, showing him that it was natural for Him to forgive the people of Nineveh who believed since Yunus felt sorry for the plant to wither though he had not done anything for the plant to grow. Then, Yunus prostrated. However, when the people of Nineveh deviated from the true path again after forty days and they began to sin more than before, the penalty they were informed about was sent and they were all buried in the ground. Due to the severe troubles Yunus suffered, God saved Yunus from death and allowed him to enter Paradise while he was still alive. His wife was also a very religious woman. (Ginzberg, VI, 54-59)

The grave of Yunus is probably in Gath Hepher, where he was born. (DB, III/2, p. 1605)

Hz. Yunus in the Quran

Some information is given about Yunus in the Quran. He is mentioned as

- Yunus (an-Nisa, 4/163; al-An‘am, 6/86; Yunus, 10/98; as-Saaffat, 37/139),
- Dhun-nun (al-Anbiya, 21/87)
- “Sahibul-Hut” (al-Qalam, 68/48). It is stated that

- inspiration was sent to him (an-Nisa, 4/163),
- was among those who were given favor above the nations (al-An‘am, 6/86),
- was among the righteous people (al-Qalam, 68/50)
- and was a prophet.

The tenth chapter of the Quran is called Yunus.

It is stated in that chapter that the only nation that was saved from the penalty because they believed when they were informed about the penalty was the nation of Yunus. (Yunus, 10/98)

According to the Quran,

- Yunus was among the messengers of Allah (as-Saaffat, 37/139),
- he departed from his nation in wrath when they did not believe in him (al-Anbiya, 21/87),
- he embarked a ship that was fully (as-Saaffat, 37/140),
- he lost when lots were drawn and a big fish swallowed him. (as-Saaffat, 37/141-142)

If Yunus had not been a person who glorified Allah, he could have stayed in the stomach of the fish until the Day of Resurrection. However, he said, “There is no god but thou: glory to thee: I was indeed wrong.” (al-Anbiya, 21/87-88; as-Saaffat, 37/143-144) Then, his prayer was accepted and with the mercy of Allah (al-Qalam 68/49), he was thrown out of the stomach of the fish onto the shore in a state of sickness and a spreading plant of the gourd kind was created next to him to provide shade. (as-Saaffat, 37/145-146; al-Qalam, 68/49-50) Then, he was sent as a prophet to 100.000 or more people. (as-Saaffat, 37/147)

The nation of Yunus believed and was saved from the penalty that would be sent to them; they were allowed to enjoy their life for a while. (Yunus, 10/98; as-Saaffat, 37/148)

Hz. Yunus in hadiths

Hz. Yunus is mentioned in hadiths too.

“It is not appropriate for anybody to say, ‘I am better than Yunus b. Matta.’” In the hadith above, Yunus is attributed to his father Matta. Another hadith about him is as follows:

“Anyone who says he is better than Yunus b. Matta is regarded to have told a lie.” (Bukhari, Anbiya, 24, 35, Tawhid, 50; Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 33)

According to another hadith, when the Messenger of Allah arrived the Harsha hill between Makkah and Madinah, he said, “It is as if I can see the Prophet Yunus (Jonah) on a red camel, wearing a woolen cloak and holding the reins of his camel, woven from palm fibers, passing through this valley, reciting talbiyah supplication.” (Musnad, I, 216; Muslim, Iman, 268, 269; Ibn Majah, Manasik, 4)

According to some Islamic resources, Yunus is from the tribe of Yaqub’s (Jacob’s) son Bunyamin (Benjamin). The narration that Matta is the mother of Yunus and that only Isa and Yunus among the prophets are called together with the names of their mothers (Tha’labi, p. 406; Ibnul-Athir, I, 360) is not true.

Some resources mention the name of the mother of Yunus as Sadaqa. (Muhammad b. Abdullah al-Kisai, p. 396; Zaynuddin Ibnul-Wardi, I, 28)

The Prophet Yunus is from Nineveh and his nation is an idolatrous nation. (Tha’labi, p. 407)

According to Ibn Qutayba (Maarif, p. 52), Hz. Yunus was sent as a prophet to his nation after the Prophet Alyasa (Elisha) (in some resources Ilyas (Elijah)), and according to Maqdisi (al-Bad wat-Tarikh, III, 110) after Hz. Sulayman (Solomon).

According to a narration reported from Hz. Ali, Yunus, who received revelation when he was thirty years old, served as a prophet for thirty-three years but only two people believed in him. (Tha’labi, p. 408)

When Yunus despaired of his nation, he prayed against them but he was told that he acted very hastily. He was ordered to proclaim the divine message to them for forty more days. He was told they would be punished if they did not believe. Thereupon, Yunus started to proclaim the divine message again; he told his nation on the thirty-seventh day that they would be punished three days later and the sign of it would be the change of their colors. Yunus left his nation on the fortieth day but his nation repented and believed when they saw the clouds of wrath. Thereupon, Allah forgave them.

When Yunus saw that his nation was forgiven though he expected that they would be destroyed, he fell into the position of a liar; therefore, he got furious, left that place and embarked a ship.  When the ship he embarked faced the risk of sinking, Yunus was thrown overboard and was swallowed by a fish. Yunus prayed to Allah in the darkness and was taken to the shore; a plant provided shade for him on the shore. When he recovered, he was sent to Nineveh again. According to the narrations, Yunus remained in the stomach of the fish for three, seven, twenty or forty days. (Tha’labi, p. 408-411)

According to another narration, Yunus advised the people of Nineveh to believe in Allah and to refrain from evil for forty days but his nation did not obey him. God Almighty asked Yunus to leave the city. When the penalty was sent to them after Yunus left, they repented and Allah forgave them. Yunus got angry and said, “O Allah! They denied me but you have pardoned them. I will not return to them again.” Then, he embarked a ship. When a storm broke out, Yunus was thrown overboard. He was swallowed by a fish that is said to have come from India. Yunus remained in the stomach of the fish for three, or forty days. Upon the order of Allah, the fish vomited him out like a featherless chick that could not stand, see and walk on the bank of the River Tigris. Allah created a plant with four branches for him. Jibril (Gabriel) came and rubbed his hand over the body of Yunus. A female gazelle came to give him milk.  

When Yunus woke up from his forty-day sleep, he became sorry seeing that the plant withered and the gazelle left. Thereupon, God Almighty said that he became sorry for the plant that withered but that he did not feel pity for 100.000 people. Afterwards, Yunus rejoined his wife and children, whom he had lost, and returned to his homeland. He continued the duty of proclaiming the divine message until he died. (Muhammad b. Abdullah al-Kisai, p. 296-301)

Hz. Yunus in Islamic resources

There are various interpretations about whether Yunus became a prophet before or after he was swallowed by the fish and with whom he got angry when he left furiously.  

“And remember Dhun-nun, when he departed in wrath: He imagined that We had no power over him...” (al-Anbiya, 21/87)

The verse above was interpreted differently by tafsir scholars.

According to an explanation, Yunus was asked to act as an envoy and go to the king who took nine and a half tribes of Sons of Israel captive to ask him to release the captives but he did not accept this duty. Yunus, who was blamed by his tribe, left his homeland by getting angry with both the king who gave him this duty and his tribe. He embarked a ship; when a storm broke out, he was thrown overboard and was swallowed by a fish. Then, he was taken to the shore, recovered there and was sent again.  

“But We cast him forth on the naked shore in a state of sickness, And We caused to grow, over him, a spreading plant of the gourd kind. And We sent him (on a mission) to a hundred thousand (men) or more.” (as-Saaffat, 37/145-147)

The verse above shows that he was given the duty of prophethood after he was swallowed by the fish. (Fakhruddin ar-Razi, XXII, 212-213)

According to another narration, Jibril wanted Yunus to go to Nineveh at once and to warn the people, telling them that the penalty was near. Yunus started to look for a mount to go there. When Jibril told him to hurry, he got angry and left; then, he embarked a ship. (Fakhruddin ar-Razi, XXII, 213; Tabari, Tarikh, I, 375)

According to another explanation, the fish swallowed Yunus after his proclamation mission in Nineveh. As a matter of fact, he told the people that a penalty would be sent to them if they did not believe. However, when Allah forgave them thanks to their repentance, Yunus fell into the position of a liar and he left that place due to his fury. (Fakhruddin ar-Razi, XXII, 213)

Some writers state that he felt offended because his Lord made him fall into the position of a liar while others state that he got furious because his nation did not believe. (Fakhruddin ar-Razi, XXII, 214-215; Tabari, Tarikh, I, 376)

Maqdisi states that Yunus warned the people of Nineveh about the penalty to come and left, that Allah forgave them because they repented, that He asked Yunus to return to his nation but that Yunus, who was unaware of the repentance of his nation, feared that he would be killed and hence left that place by getting furious and that he was punished by being thrown overboard from the ship he embarked and by remaining for a while in the stomach of the fish that swallowed him. (al-Bad wat-Tarikh, III, 110-113)

“So wait with patience for the Command of thy Lord, and be not like the Companion of the Fish,- when he cried out in agony.” (al-Qalam 68/48) In the verse above in the Quran, the act of Yunus is blamed and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is asked not to become furious easily. (see Diyanet İslam Ansiklopedisi, Yunus item)

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