Jonah (as) was a prophet of Allah who lived in 9th Century B.C. His story has been detailed in the Holy Qur’an where he is called Yunus (as) and in the Jewish Old Testament where he is called Yona, as well as the Bible in the ‘Book of Jonah’.
Hazrat Yunus (as) lived the city of Nineveh in Mesopotamia at the time of the rule of King Jeroboam II. Allah gave Hazrat Yunus (as) the task to tell the people of Nineveh to amend their ways and save themselves from being punished by Allah. Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city which dates back to 5000 B.C.E. It was one of superpower cities of its time, a major cultural, political and trading centre of its region. For Hazrat Yunus (as) to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh would have been similar to that of a modern prophet doing the same in New York or Paris today. This was no small task and required huge courage and belief. The Qur’an describes Hazrat Yunus (as) as a just and pious prophet who was ultimately successful in persuading the people of Nineveh to repent.
The Old Testament described the story of Hazrat Yunus (as). It states that when Allah told Hazrat Yunus (as) about his task of preaching to his people, Hazrat Yunus (as) fled from the city of Nineveh and went against what Allah had commanded him to do as he felt the people of Nineveh were not going to listen to his message.
“Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.
The Old Testament then goes on to describe after fleeing Nineveh, on his travels from Jaffa to Tunisia via ship, a huge storm appeared and the sailors reluctantly threw Hazrat Yunus (as) overboard where he was swallowed by a fish.
So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Whilst in the belly of the big fish, Hazrat Yunus (as) prayed to God and returned to Nineveh to complete his mission.
‘Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
This described that the people of Nineveh finally accepted Hazrat Yunus’ (as) message and the whole nation all came together as one to seek forgiveness from their Lord. The King commanded his people to stop their wrongdoings so that their punishment from Allah would be averted. He said to his people:
“All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.”
The Holy Qur’an Account
The Holy Qur’an tells us that Hazrat Yunus (as) did not go against Allah’s command and flee the city of Nineveh. According to the Quran, divine Prophets are sinless and incapable of disobeying God’s command in the way in which Hazrat Yunus (as) was represented to have done in the Bible. Prophets are an example of what other people should follow and disobedience to God is therefore the last thing of which a Prophet is capable.
It is therefore, not possible that Hazrat Yunus (as) would have even thought of fleeing from the presence of the Omnipresent God. Hazrat Yunus (as) was not angry with Allah, rather he was angry with his people because they had stubbornly rejected Allah’s Divine Message that he had gone to deliver to them. So Hazrat Yunus (as) fled from his people, not from Allah.
The story of Hazrat Yunus (as) is mentioned in six places in the Holy Qur’an. In Chapter 37, verses 140-149, Allah says:
And surely Jonah also was one of the Messengers, when he fled to the laden ship; and he cast lots with the crew of the ship and was of the losers. And the fish swallowed him while he was blaming himself. And had he not been of those who glorify God, he would have surely tarried in its belly till the Day of Resurrection. Then We cast him on a bare tract of land, and he was sick; and We caused a plant of gourd to grow over him. And We sent him as a Messenger to a hundred thousand people or more, and they believed; so We gave them provision for a while.
Another differing point between the Old Testament account and the Quranic account is which type of fish swallowed Hazrat Yunus (as). The Biblical account often narrates a whale. Certain whales do exist in the Mediterranean sea. However both the Holy Qur’an and the Biblical version mention a ‘big fish’. There is no exact confirmation what kind of big fish actually swallowed Hazrat Yunus (as) but it would need to be large enough to swallow a man whole and allow him to breathe for 3 days. The Holy Qur’an also refers to Hazrat Yunus (as) as the ‘Man of the Fish’ in Chapter 68:
‘So be thou steadfast carrying out the command of thy Lord, and be not like the Man of the Fish when he called to his Lord and was full of grief’
‘Had not a favour from his Lord reached him, he would have surely been cast upon a bare tract of land, while he would have been blamed by his people.’
‘But his Lord chose him and made him one of the righteous.’
Moral of the story
The story of Hazrat Yunus (as) teaches us some very important lessons.
We should always have faith in Allah and trust his decisions
Hazrat Yunus (as), when sent to the powerful city of Nineveh, was faced with the daunting task of preaching to a city of great size and stature. Hazrat Yunus (as) did indeed deliver Allah’s message to them, however when he saw that rather than listening to Allah’s warning, the people of Nineveh merely ignored the message and mocked Hazrat Yunus (as), he lost hope that the people of Nineveh would ever understand Allah’s message.
Allah is the only power we should turn to whenever we face any trouble
When Hazrat Yunus (as) was thrown overboard and into the belly of the big fish, he realised that he was wrong in having lost hope. Immediately, Hazrat Yunus (as) turned to Allah for help. He prayed so fervently and admitted his mistake, Allah saved him and allowed him to return to Nineveh again to continue delivering the message of Allah. Hazrat Yunus (as) prayer is told to us by Allah in the following verse and one which we should recite regularly.
‘And remember Dha’l-Nun, when he went away in anger, and he thought that We would have never caused him distress and he cried out in depths of darkness, saying ‘There is no God but Thou, Holy art Thou. I have indeed been of the wrongdoers.’ (21:88)
Seeking repentance, doing Istighfar can save us from our own wrongdoings
Not only did Hazrat Yunus (as) seek forgiveness, but when he returned to Nineveh to deliver Allah’s message again, the people of Nineveh recognised their wrongdoing and sought forgiveness from Allah and asked for their punishment to be averted. The young, the old, the rich, the poor, the children, they all removed their fancy clothing and put on simple clothing made of sack-cloth. The King of Nineveh himself, upon hearing the warning given by Hazrat Yunus (as), removed his royal robes and sat down in the dust. The King told his people not to eat or drink, but to give up their evil ways. The people of Nineveh gathered on a mountaintop and called to God urgently for forgiveness so that Allah may turn to them with love and mercy and save the nation from doom.
Allah accepted their prayers and saved the nation. Nineveh continued to flourish until it was attacked and destroyed by the Persians in 612 B.C.E Furthermore, Allah was pleased with their repentance, even though belated, that he highlighted the people of Nineveh as an example to the disbelievers in the Holy Qur’an.
‘Why was there no other people, save the people of Jonah, who should have believed so that their belief would have profited them? When they believed, we removed from them the punishment of disgrace in the present life, and We gave them provision for a while.’ (10:99)
The story of Hazrat Yunus (as) is similar to that of the Holy Prophet (saw) and the people of Mecca. Initially, the Meccans also rejected the message of the Holy Prophet (saw) and opposed him greatly but after Mecca was conquered, the Meccans submitted to the Holy Prophet (saw), believed in him and saved themselves from divine punishment. The Meccans became the inheritors of the Holy Prophet’s (saw) message and true believers.
Final resting place of Hazrat Yunus (as)
The final resting place of Hazrat Yunus (as) is not confirmed. Some say Palestinians claim that his sanctuary is at Halhul, just north of Hebron whilst the Lebanese claim his grave to be near Sarafand. Another possible location is near the city of Mosul in Iraq. Mosul is not far from the ancient city of Nineveh where Hazrat Yunus (as) was sent with his mission.
Written by Mashel Chaudhry
The Holy Quran Five Volume Commentary in English – 2018 Edition