Yunus Ibn Matta (referred to Jonah in English) was a Messenger of Allah sent to Nineveh, a city in northern Iraq with a population of over a hundred thousand. Prophet Yunus was seemingly an ordinary man who was born and raised amongst the fellow citizens of Nineveh.
The booming city of Nineveh had long forgotten the message of Allah and became a city filled with idol worshiping and sin. Allah decided to send Prophet Yunus, a man born amongst them, as a Messenger to guide them to His path—the path of light.
Prophet Yunus immediately set out to fulfill his Lord’s wish and invited his people to turn to Allah and shun idol worship. But the people of Nineveh rejected Yunus, just as many nations rejected the prophets and messengers before him. Yunus was not deterred; he continued to call them to the worship of Allah, reminding them of the terrible wrath of Allah that was directed at Ad, Thamud and the people of Nuh.
But they rejected this and said, “We and our forefathers have worshipped these gods for many years and no harm has come to us.”
Prophet Yunus wanted to help them and was persistent, he did not give up on his people; despite their ignorance and harsh words, he continued to warn them of Allah’s punishment.
“Let it happen”, the men laughed, and informed Yunus that they were not the least afraid of his empty threats. Prophet Yunus was disheartened; he gave up on his people. Without the permission of Allah, he decided to leave the city of Nineveh in hopes of finding a community far away that would accept him and enter the fold of Islam.
The calm skies over Nineveh soon turned red with anger preparing to spit out the wrath of Allah. Men, women and children gathered at the mountain tops watching the combat of the skies above them with hearts filled with fear.
They soon remembered Yunus’s warning of Allah’s punishment and feared the predicament of Ad, Thamud, and the people of Nuh. With new found faith, they fell on their knees; with their hands stretched out they began to beg for Allah’s forgiveness and mercy. Moved by this display of sincere repentance, Allah lifted His punishment, forgave his subjects and showered his blessings upon them. As the skies cleared, the people prayed for the safe return of their beloved Prophet Yunus, so that he could guide them through the path of Allah.
Meanwhile, Prophet Yunus, who had left Nineveh, had boarded a small passenger ship with the intention of travelling as far away from his people as possible. The ship travelled through the calm waters during the day; but as the night closed in, a storm raged on rocking the ship wildly to and fro. The crew and passengers began to fear for their lives as the sea water gradually began flooding into the deck, slowly sinking the ship.
As the tempest continued through the night, the Captain of ship ordered his men to throw out the luggages and all other excess load overboard to lighten the ship’s load. As instructed, the crew threw out the ship’s excess load; but, the ship continued to sink as it was still too heavy. The Captain was left with no choice—he had to sacrifice the life of one man if he wished to save the lives of his crew and passengers. As it was a common practise among men during those times, the Captain decided to draw lots to choose the passenger to be sacrificed.
The lots were cast and Prophet Yunus’s name was selected. The men knew that Yunus was a young, righteous, honest and a blessed man, so they refused to throw him out and agreed to draw lots again.
So the lots were cast, and Yunus’s name appeared again. The men refused to throw Yunus saying, “We are not going to get rid of Yunus. He is our blessing on the boat. He is the best man we have on the boat; we are not going to get rid of him.” So they drew lots for the third time, and Yunus’s named appeared yet again! The men were baffled, but Prophet Yunus knew that this was the verdict of Allah for he had left his people without his Lord’s consent. So Yunus jumped out of the ship into the dark, angry waves in the middle of ocean.
As Allah commanded, the largest whale in the ocean swallowed Yunus just as he hit the water. Yunus, who was unconscious, awoke to find himself enveloped by sheer darkness.
He believed he was in his grave; but as his senses awakened, he realised that he was not in his grave but was in fact in the stomach of a large fish.
Deep in the stomach of the whale, Prophet Yunus prostrated to Allah and said, “O Allah, I am prostrating to you in a place where no one has prostrated to you before, in the stomach of a fish.” He then called out to Allah, repeating, “None has the right to be worshipped but You. Glorified be You. Truly, I have been among the wrongdoers.” The creatures of the deep sea heard the invocations of Yunus, and gathered around the whale to join along in the celebration of the praises of Allah.
Allah, the Most-Merciful, was immensely moved by Yunus’s repentance. He commanded the whale to spit out His Messenger at the nearest shore. The whale obeyed Allah’s command and swam to the nearest shore and ejected Yunus. Yunus’s body was inflamed as a result of the acids in the whale’s stomach. He had no protection against the sun and wind so Allah commanded a tree to grow over Yunus to provide him with food and shade. Allah forgave him and informed him that if it were not for his sincere invocations, Yunus would continue to be in the stomach of the whale till the Day of Judgment.
When Yunus was completely recovered, he travelled back to Nineveh to complete his mission. Upon arriving at his hometown, Yunus was stunned—the entire population of Nineveh had accepted Islam and were awaiting his arrival. Together with his people, Yunus prostrated to his Lord and thanked him for all His blessings.
Yunus was the only Prophet whose entire community accepted Islam. Allah stated in the Holy Quran regarding the people of Yunus Ibn Matta: “Was there any town community that believed after seeing the punishment, and its Faith at that moment, saved it from the punishment? (the answer is none)—except the people of Yunus; when they believed, We removed from them the torment of disgrace in the life of the present world, and permitted them to enjoy for a while.” [Surah Yunus Ayat 98]
Allah said in Soorah Yunus:
“Was there any town that believed [after seeing the punishment] and its faith [at the time] saved it [from the punishment], except the people of Yunus (Jonah). When they believed, We removed from them the torment of disgrace in the life of this world, and permitted them to enjoy for a time.” (Qur’an 10:98)
And in Soorah al-Anbiyâ’:
“And remember Dhun-Noon [Yunus] when he went off in anger, and imagined that We shall not punish him. But he cried through the darkness [saying], ‘There is none worthy of worship except You. Glory be to You, truly I have been among the wrong doers.’ So We answered his call and delivered him from distress, and thus do We deliver the believers.” (Qur’an 21:87-88)
And in Soorah as-Sâffat:
“And Yunus was also one of the Messengers, when he ran to the laden ship. He [agreed to] cast lots and he was among the losers. Then a whale swallowed him as he had done an act worthy of blame. Had he not been of those who glorify Allah, he would have indeed remained inside its belly till the Day of Resurrection. But We cast him forth on the bare shore while he was sick. And We caused a plant of gourd to grow over him. And We sent him to a hundred thousand or more, and they believed. So We gave them enjoyment for a while.” (Qur’an 37:139-148)
And in Soorah al-Qalam:
“So wait with patience for the decision of your Lord and do not be like the companion of the fish [Yunus], when he cried out [to Us] when he was in deep sorrow. Were it not for the Grace of his Lord reaching him, he would indeed have been [left in the fish, but We forgave him]. So he was cast out onto the barren shore while he was to be blamed. Then is Lord chose him and made him of the righteous.” (Qur’an 68 :48-50)
The Qur’anic exegetes said that Allah sent Yunus (peace be upon him) to the people of Ninevah in the land of Mosul. He invited them to the worship of Allah, but they belied him and became firm upon their disbelief. When this situation continued for a long time, he left them and promised them that the punishment will inflict them after three days.
Ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him), Mujâhid, Qatâdah and many others said that when he left them and his people became sure of the punishment befalling them, Allah guided them to repentance of their sins. They regretted the way they dealt with their Prophet. They wore special clothes and took their cattle in order to separate the elder from their calves. Then they started imploring Allah for His Mercy while lowering themselves. Everybody cried, including the men, women, sons, daughters and mothers. It was a special moment.
Allah with His mercy and kindness removed from them their punishment, which was going to befall them. For this reason, Allah said, “Was there any town that believed [after seeing the punishment] and its faith [at that moment] saved it [from the punishment].” (Qur’an 10:98)
This shows that never in human history has it happened that a town, with all its inhabitants, believed in their Prophet.
In this context, Allah said, “And We never sent to any town a warner except the wealthy among them said, ‘We disbelieve in what you have been sent with.’” (Qur’an 34:34)
Then Allah said regarding the people of Yunus (peace be upon him), where all of them believed:
“Except the people of Yunus when they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in the life of the world and We gave them the enjoyment for a life time.” (Qur’an 10:98)
The Qur’anic exegetes differed as to whether this belief will benefit them in the Hereafter, thus saving them from the punishment there as it saved them from the punishment of this world. However, the most apparent opinion seems to be that, yes, it will save them from the punishment in the Hereafter. And Allah knows best. This deduction is on the basis of what Allah said, “….when they believed” and also: “And We sent him to a hundred thousand or more, and they believed, so We gave them enjoyment for a time.” (Qur’an 37:147-148)
So this enjoyment given to them in this world does not necessitate that their punishment in the Hereafter will not be raised. And Allah knows best.
When Yunus (peace be upon him) left his people in anger, he went and boarded a ship. However, after this ship set sail, it started swaying severely with them due to the huge waves. It was to such an extent, that according to many exegetes, it was on the verge of sinking.
The passengers on board gathered and discussed the action to be taken. They decided to cast lots, with the name of all the travellers and whoever’s name is withdrawn will be thrown overboard, thus lightening their loads.
When they drew the lots, the name of Yunus (peace be upon him) came out. However, the people did not want to throw him overboard (because of what they knew of him). So they repeated the draw a second time and again his name was drawn. He volunteered to throw himself, to which they refused. Again, they repeated the lots a third time and once again his name came. This was because it was already decreed for him by Allah to be overthrown for the great reason that He wanted. And so he was thrown into the sea.
The All-High said: “And verily Yunus was among the messengers. When he ran to the laden ship, he [agreed to] cast lots and he was among the losers. Then the whale swallowed him as he did an act worthy of blame.” (Qur’an 37:139-142)
So when his name was drawn a third time, he was thrown in the sea. Then Allah sent a huge whale to swallow him up. Allah ordered the whale not to eat his flesh or his bones and that there he was not the food for the whale. So the whale took him and went around and around in the sea with him. It is said that that whale was in fact swallowed by another larger whale.
When settled down, in the belly of the whale, Yunus (peace be upon him) thought that he was dead. He tried to move his limbs and they moved and thus knew he was alive. So he prostrated to Allah and said, “O’ my Lord, I have taken as a place of prayer where nobody else has ever worshipped You.”
When Allah made that whale go around and around in the depth of the sea, Yunus (peace be upon him) heard the glorification of the All-Merciful by the two whales therein. He even heard the pebbles glorifying Allah. At that, he started glorifying Allah himself, which is recorded in the Qur’an as:
“And remember Dhun-Noon [Yunus] when he went off in anger and imagined that We shall not punish him, then he called out in the darkness, ‘There is no God worthy of worship except You. Glory be to You, verily I was among the wrong doers.’ So We responded to his call, and rescued him from distress, thus do We rescue the believers.” (Qur’an 21:87-88)
“Then he called out in the darkness” means, according to Ibn Mas’ood, Ibn Abbâs, Ibn Maymoon, Ibn Jubayr and others, the darkness of being inside the whale, the darkness of the sea and the darkness of the night. Sâlim ibn Abi Ja’d said that the whale was swallowed by a larger whale and thus the darkness increased from that of one whale to two along with the darkness of the sea.
“Had he not been of those who glorify Allah, he would have surely stayed in its belly until the Day of Resurrection.” (Qur’an 37:143-144). It is said that it means had he not glorified Allah therein, and said what he said, and confessed his sins accompanied with repentance, he would have remained therein till the Day of Resurrection and been resurrected from the belly of the whale.
To some others: “Had he not been….” Is referring to the period before the whale swallowed him. And, “Of those who glorify Allah” means being obedient to Allah and among those who remembered Him and offered prayers frequently.
This opinion is supported by a hadith reported by Imam Ahmad on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbâs (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“O’ young boy, I will teach you some words. Guard the duties of Allah and Allah will guard you. Also, guard the duties of Allah and you will find Him beside you. When you remember know Allah in good times, He will remember you when you are in hardship.” (Ahmad, vol 1 p.293 and Tirmidhi, chapter 59 and he rated it as hasan saheeh)
Ibn Jareer reported in his book of Tafseer on the authority of Anas ibn Mâlik (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“When Yunus, the Prophet, was in the belly of the whale, he said, ‘O’ Allah, there is none worthy of worship except You, You are glorified. Indeed I was among the wrongdoers.’ This prayer appeared from beneath the Throne. The angels asked, ‘O’ Lord, we hear a very weak and familiar voice coming from a strange land.’ Allah said, ‘Don’t you know who it is?’ They replied, ‘No, our Lord, who is he?’ Allah said, ‘It is My slave Yunus.’ The angels said, ‘Is it your slave Yunus from whom accepted prayers and deeds used to ascend to You?’ They said, ‘O’ Lord, why don’t You bestow Your Mercy upon him for what he did during the times of comfort and thus free him from this trial?’ So Allah said, ‘Yes.’ He then ordered the whale and it threw him out on the shore.”
Allah said, “So We cast him upon the bare shore.” The Arabic word Ara (translated as ‘bare shore’) means a barren land where there are no trees or plants. “…and in a state of sickness” means that he was very weak in terms of bodily strength.
“And We caused to grow over him a marrow plant.” Some scholars said that there was a wisdom in the marrow plant growing over his body. The explained it by saying that its leaves are very soft, plentiful, provide shadow and flies do not come to it. Also, its fruits can be eaten from its emergence on the tree right up till it ripens, both in cooked or uncooked form, and even with its skin and seeds. It also contains benefits for the brain and other parts of the body.
Ibn Jareer reported on the authority of Sa’d ibn Abi Waqâs (may Allah be pleased with him) a hadith. He said, “I heard the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) say:
‘If a supplication is made by the Name of Allah, it will be answered and if something is asked it will granted, this is the supplication made by Yunus.’ I said, ‘O Messsenger of Allah, is this supplication special to Yunus only or can any Muslim supplicate with it?’ The Prophet said, ‘It was special in the case of Yunus, however, it is also general for all Muslims if they supplicate with it. Didn’t you hear the saying of Allah, ‘Then he called out in the darkness, ‘There is none worthy of worship except You, Glory be to You, verily i was among the wrong doers.’ So We repsonded to his call, and rescued him from distress, thus do We rescue the believers.'” (Qur’an 21:87-88)
In another report from Sa’d ibn Abi Waqâs, the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“Whoever supplicates using the supplication of Yunus will be answered.”
Imam Ahmad also reported a similar hadith, again on the authority of Sa’d ibn Abi Waqâs (may Allah be pleased with him). In that, he said, “I passed by ‘Uthmân ibn Affân (may Allah be pleased with him) while he was in the mosque and I offered my greeting. He turned his eyes and he did not respond. So I went to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattâb (may Allah be pleased with him) and said, ‘O’ ‘Ameer al-Mu’mineen! Has any new thing happened in Islam?’ He said, ‘No, why do you ask that?’ I said, ‘No reason except that I just now passed by ‘Uthmân in the mosque. I greeted him, but he turned his eyes and he did not repsond.’ ‘Umar then sent someone to ask ‘Uthmân to come to him. When he came, ‘Umar asked him, ‘What prevented you from replying to the greeting of your brother?’ ‘Uthmân said, ‘I did not do such a thing (i.e. I do not recall not responding to the greeting).’ Sa’d said, ‘But just now you did it (i.e. you did not respond to my greeting).’ ‘Uthmân swore that he did and I swore that he did not. Then ‘Uthmân remembered the incident and said, ‘Yes (I recall now), I seek forgiveness from Allah and repent to Him. You just now passed by me while I was speaking to myself the words I heard from the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him). Whenever I recalled those words,my eyes and heart becaome covered.’ Sa’d said, ‘I will remind you about them. The Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) began to mention to us concerning the first prayer when a bedouin came and made the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) busy with something else. Then later when when the Prophet stood up, I followed him. When I feared that the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) might reach his house and enter it before I catch him up, I stamped my feet hard on the ground in order to draw his attention. The Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) turned and said, ‘Who is there? Is it Abu Ishâq?’ I said, ‘Yes O’ Messenger of Allah!’ He said, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘Nothing except that when you began to mention to us the first supplication, a bedouin came, thus distracting you.’ The Prophet said,
‘Yes, it was the supplication of Yunus when he was in the belly of the whale. He said, ‘There is none worthy of worship except You. Glory be to You, verily I was among the wrongdoers.’ There is no Muslim who makes a supplication with this concerning any matter except that Allah will answer his supplication.'” (Ahmad, vol 1 p.170. Imam Tirmidhi and Nasa’i also reported this hadith)
Allah said: “And Yunus was among the Messengers.” (Qur’an 37:139)
Allah mentioned him along with the other noble Prophets in the two Soorahs, an-Nisa and al-An’am.
Imam Ahmad reported on the authority of ‘Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“It is not befitting for anybody to say that I am better than Yunus.” (Imam Bukhari also reported this through Sufiyan ath-Thawri)
Imams Bukhari and Muslim reported on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) the story of the Muslim who slapped a Jew when he said:
“By He Who has chosen Moosa (peace be upon him) upon all the worlds.”
Imam Bukhari said at the end of this hadith: :I do not say that anyone is better than Yunus.”
This narration strengthens the previous one where it is saying that it is not befitting anybody to think that he (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) was better than Yunus.
As regards the narration wherein the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Do not prefer me over other Prophets, not even over Yunus.”
This hadith is by the way of humbleness of the Prophet (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him), wherein we see his respect for other Prophets. May blessings and peace be upon them all.