In the name of Allāh , We praise Him, seek His help and ask for His forgiveness. Whoever Allāh guides none can misguide, and whoever He allows to fall astray, none can guide them aright. We bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allāh Alone, and we bear witness that Muhammad is His slave-servant and the seal of His Messengers.
According to recorded history, Prophet Yūnus (Bible: Jonah), the son of Matta, was sent by Allāh to warn the inhabitants of a town called Nineveh. Nineveh was a very ancient town which is now no longer on the map. Its site is believed to be marked by the two mounds on the left bank of the river Tigris, opposite the city of present day Mosul (Iraq) on the right bank, about 230 miles north-north-west of the city of Baghdad.
Nineveh was a very old Sumerian town, perhaps older than 3500 B.C. It became the capital of the famous Assyrian Empire. The first Assyrian Empire under Shalmaneser I, about 1300 B.C., became the supreme power in Western Asia. The second Assyrian Empire arose about 745 B.C., and Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) beautified the town with many Public Works. It was destroyed by the Scythians (so-called Medes) in 612 B.C. If according to biblical records the date of Jonah were assumed to be about 800 B.C., it would be between the First and the Second Assyrian Empire; when the city was nearly destroyed for its sins, but on account of its repentance was given a new lease of glorious life in the Second Empire.
Allāh says in the Qur`ān, sūrah Yūnus, Chapter 10, verse 98:
❝Why was there not a single township (among those We warned) which believed so its Faith should have profited it except the people of Yūnus? When they believed We removed from them the Penalty of Ignominy in the life of the present world, and permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while.❞
The inhabitants of the town of Nineveh were idolaters, who lived a life of disobedience and transgression. Prophet Yūnus was sent to guide them to the worship of the One Lord Who Created them, and to warn them of the impending Wrath of the Lord if they disobeyed him. The people disliked, denied and rebuked his interference in the way of worship of the idols which they had followed from their ancestors.
Try as he might to convince them of the foolishness of idolatry and of the goodness of Allāh’s Laws, they not only rejected Prophet Yūnus and His Mission, but made him a constant target of their revile, and abuse, and jest.
For a long period of time the Noble Prophet Yūnus strove to guide them to the Truth, and in all sincerity towards them, warned them that if they kept on with their foolishness and idolatry, Allāh’s punishment would soon follow. Instead of heeding the good guidance of their best well-wisher, and fearing their Lord and Creator Allāh , they told Prophet Yūnus that they absolutely rejected the Message and the Mission he was sent with, and were not afraid of his empty threats which he had posed to them for a long time. They constantly mocked at the Noble Prophet Yūnus and his Mission, and even challenged him to hasten and bring upon them the torment of the Lord which the Prophet Yūnus had time and time again warned was not far from the rebellious disbelievers.
At long last, when the inhabitants absolutely rejected and reviled and abused and mocked the Noble Prophet Yūnus and his Noble Mission, and there was left no hope in his heart, that these people would ever turn to guidance and the fear and worship of Allāh .
In an utter state of helplessness and desperation and anger and haste, the Noble Prophet Yūnus got absolutely disheartened and decided to leave the rebellious disbelievers to their misery and leave the township of Nineveh before the inevitable scourge of the Lord befell them.
Allāh says in the Qur`ān, sūrah Al-Anbiyā, Chapter 21, verse 87,
❝And remember Zun-nun (Prophet Yūnus ) when he departed in wrath: he imagined that We had no power over him!❞
Hardly had he left the city, when the skies began to change color and looked as if they were on fire; exactly as had been foretold to them by their Prophet Yūnus ! The inhabitants of Nineveh were filled with fear by this sight. They recalled the destruction of the previous generation of people of ‘Ad, and Thamud and Noah, as warned by their departed Prophet Yūnus .
Was theirs to be a similar fate?
Slowly faith penetrated their hearts. They all gathered on the mountain and started to sincerely implore and beseech the One Lord Creator, to which their departed Prophet had spent a lifetime calling towards, for His Mercy and His Forgiveness. The mountains echoed with their cries. It was a momentous hour, filled with sincere repentance.
The Lord Most Merciful removed His wrath and showered His blessings and His mercy upon them once again. When the threatening storm was lifted, they prayed for the return of their departed well-wisher and Prophet, Yūnus so that he could guide them to the Straight Path.
Meanwhile, Prophet Yūnus had boarded a small ship in the company of other passengers. It sailed all day in calm waters with a good wind blowing at the sails. When night came, the sea suddenly changed. A horrible storm blew as if it were going to split the ship into pieces. The waves looked wild. They rose up as high as mountains then plunged down like valleys, tossing the ship and sweeping over the deck.
Behind the ship, a large whale was splitting the water and opening its mouth. A command had been issued from Almighty Allāh to one of the greatest whales of the sea to surface. The whale hurried to the surface of the sea and followed the ship as it had been commanded.
The tempest continued and the captain of the ship asked the crew to lighten the ship’s heavy load. They threw their baggage overboard, but this was not enough. Their safety lay in reducing the weight further, so they decided among themselves to lighten their load by removing one person at a time, until their ship reached the point of safety.
The captain of the ship, as was the norm at those times, decided to cast lots in the name of all the passengers. The one whose name would be drawn will be thrown into the sea to enable them to lighten the load of the ship. Prophet Yūnus knew this was one of the seamen’s traditions when facing a tempest. Thus began the severe trial and affliction of the Noble Prophet Yūnus for leaving the inhabitants of the city he was sent to, by the Lord without waiting for the precise permission and Command of His Lord.
The lot was drawn, and the name of Prophet Yūnus appeared. Since they knew him to be the most honorable among them, they did not wish to throw him into the angry sea. Therefore, they decided to draw a second lot and as Allāh would have Willed, again Prophet Yūnus’ name was drawn! They gave him a final chance and drew a third lot. But as Allāh would have Willed, the name of Prophet Yūnus was drawn again for the third time!
The matter was over, and it was decided that Prophet Yūnus should be thrown into the raging sea. As commanded and guided by Allāh , the whale which had been following the ship at Allāh’s Command found Yūnus floating on the waves before it, and it swallowed Yūnus into its furious stomach! The whale dived to the bottom of the sea, the sea that ran to the abyss of darkness.
Three layers of darkness enveloped Prophet Yūnus , one above the other; the darkness of the whale’s stomach, the darkness of the bottom of the sea, and the darkness of the night. Yūnus imaged himself to be dead, but his senses became alert when he found he could move. He knew that he was alive and imprisoned in the midst of darkness, and his heart was moved by the Remembrance of Allāh .
Allāh says in the Qur`ān, sūrah Al-Anbiyā, Chatper 21, verse 87,
❝…. But he (Prophet Yūnus ) cried through the depths of darkness “There is no god but Thou: Glory to Thee: I was indeed wrong!❞
Yūnus continued imploring his Lord and Creator, constantly repeating the above beautiful invocation.
Allāh says in the Qur`ān, sūrah Al-Anbiyā, Chatper 21, verse 88,
❝So We listened to him (Prophet Yūnus ) and delivered him from distress: and thus do We deliver those who have faith.❞
The Lord Most Merciful accepted the sincere repentance His beloved slave-servant and Prophet made from the darkness of the whale’s stomach from the depths of the ocean, and the Lord inspired the whale to surface and eject Yūnus onto an island at the farthest side of the ocean.
Prophet Yūnus’ body was inflamed because of the acids inside the whale’s stomach. He was severely ill, and when the sun rose, its rays burned his inflamed body so that he was on the verge of screaming in severe pain. However, he endured the pain with patience befitting only the Noble Prophets of Allāh , and continued to repeat his invocation to Allāh .
Almighty Allāh caused a gourd plant vine to grow to considerable length over him for protection. Then Allāh , the Exalted, caused Yūnus to recover from his illness and forgave him his error. Allāh made it known that had it not been for Yūnus’ sincere repentance and his invocations to Him, he would have stayed in the whale’s stomach till the Day of Judgment!
Allāh says in the Qur`ān, sūrah al-Ṣaffāt (The Ranged Ones), Chapter 37, verses 139-148,
❝So also was Yūnus among those sent (by us).
When he ran away 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 Allāh
He would certainly have remained inside the Fish till the Day of Resurrection!
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.
And they believed; so We permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while.❞
Gradually Prophet Yūnus regained his strength, and found his way to his people and his hometown, Nineveh. He was pleasantly surprised to notice the change that had taken place amongst the inhabitants there. The entire population turned out to welcome their beloved well-wisher and Prophet. They recounted to Yūnus , in detail, what had transpired after his departure, how the warnings given by Prophet Yūnus of their impending scourge were gathered in the skies above them, how they all turned to the Lord of the Worlds and implored for His Mercy and His Forgiveness and how the Lord turned towards them in Mercy and turned the scourge away from them, and how they had now left their unlawful and idolatrous ways and turned to the worship of their One and Only Lord Who Created.
Prophet Yūnus lived amongst the people of Nineveh, guided them to the worship and obedience of the One and Only Lord, Who Created, until he met with his inevitable appointment of death.
Whatever written of Truth and benefit is only due to Allāh’s Assistance and Guidance, and whatever of error is of me alone. Allāh Alone Knows Best and He is the Only Source of Strength.