There is none worthy of worship except You, Glory to You, Indeed, I have been of the transgressors.’ – “Laa illaa haa illaa anta subhaanaka, inni kuntu min az-Zaalimeen.”

This heartfelt dua uttered by Prophet Yunus (AS) when he was in abject difficulty is now synonymous with any Muslim who has transgressed or committed a wrongdoing and wishes to repent and ask Allah for forgiveness. Prophet Yunus (AS) showed the way to all future generations of Muslims with his fervent dua (supplication) in these words. There are several hadiths (i.e., in Tirmidhi) about this dua in the authentic sunnah. A hadith states that if a person offers supplication to Allah with the words of Prophet Yunus (AS), Allah will answer his prayer. (Sunan Al Tirmidhi 3505)

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instructed people to make this dua at the time of distress. ‘Uthman (RA) narrated that he told them the first part of the dua, but a Bedouin interrupted them. The companions were upset that they did not hear the full dua. Later, they asked the Prophet (PBUH) once again, and he stated that it was the dua of Yunus (AS) when he was in the belly of the whale. (Ahmad Vol 1, P170 – quoted by Imam Tirmidhi & Nasai)

Prophet Yunus (AS) is mentioned in three Surahs (or Chapters) of the Noble Quran. These three Surahs are:

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  • Surah Yunus (10:98)
  • Surah Al-Anbiya (21:87-88)
  • Surah As-Saffat (37:139-148)

Prophet Yunus (AS) is also known as Jonah or ‘Dhun-Nun’ – ‘The One of the Fish’ and he was one of the twenty-five Prophets that Allah has mentioned in the Holy Quran. Surah Yunus is the 10th Surah of the Quran, and Allah revealed it to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during the Makkan period of his mission. However, the most detailed account of the life of Prophet Yunus is in Surah As-Saffat where the description of the events of his life are given in brief, yet they are vivid.

Allah sent Prophet Yunus (AS) to his people with the same message of Islamic monotheism that the other Prophets before him had taught. It is believed that his people lived in Nineveh, a town in modern Iraq.

Prophet Yunus’ (AS) people had lapsed into idolatry and did not believe in God nor in worshiping Him alone (Tawhid). Just like other communities before them, they had started leading decadent lives and were obstinate in their rejection of Allah. They abhorred any interference in their idol worship and argued that their forefathers had set a precedent in idolatry, hence they would continue to follow them. Like generations of yore, they mocked and laughed off the threats of Allah’s punishment.

Ibn Kathir says, “The inhabitants of the town of Nineveh, a town in the area of Mosul (in Northern Iraq) were idolaters who lived a shameless life. Prophet Jonah (PBUH) was sent to teach them the worship of Allah. The people disliked his interference in their way of worship, so they argued. ‘We and our forefathers have worshiped these gods for many years and no harm has come to us.’”  (Ibn Kathir, Surah Anbiya 21:87)

Prophet Yunus (AS) became disheartened after seeing his people’s attitude. He mentioned the threat of Allah’s punishment to them, but it was to no avail. Try as he might to convince them of the foolishness of idolatry and of the goodness of Allah’s laws, they ignored him. He warned them that if they continued with their foolishness, Allah’s punishment would soon follow. Instead of fearing Allah, they told Prophet Yunus (AS) that they were not afraid of his threats. He realized they had no intention of obeying Allah, and thus, thinking they were beyond salvation, he decided to abandon them and leave them to face Allah’s retribution.

“And [mention] the man of the fish [i.e., Jonah], when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him.” [Quran, 21:87]

Feeling disheartened, Prophet Yunus (AS) departed from his town and people. Soon, the signs of Allah’s punishment began to appear to his people. The skies took on a fiery ominous hue. Then, the people began to remember the fate of disbelievers in the past. They realized that a Prophet never lies. They collectively prayed and implored Allah for forgiveness and pleaded for His mercy. It was a momentous hour, filled with sincere repentance.

Ibn Kathir says, “Hardly had he left the city when the skies began to change color and looked as if they were on fire. The people were filled with fear by this sight. They recalled the destruction of the people of ‘Ad, Thamud and Noah. Was theirs to be a similar fate? Slowly faith penetrated their hearts. They all gathered on the mountain and started to beseech Allah for His mercy and forgiveness.” (Ibn Kathir, Surah Anbiya 87:88)

In times past, Allah sent down punishment upon a nation, when they were deliberately insolent and refused to accept the Prophets’ messages. Allah gave them respite for a time and a chance to repent. When they still persisted in their ways without repentance, Allah chastised them by punishing them. However, unlike the other communities before them, the people of Nineveh repented before it was too late and Allah gave them another chance to become true believers.

Ibn Kathir describes the uniqueness of these people in his Tafsir. He stated that there was no nation between that of Yunus (AS) and that of Musa (AS) that believed in Allah in its entirety. The people of Nineveh only believed after seeing some signs of Allah’s impending torment. They then repented to Allah fervently and it was only after that that Allah removed their punishment and granted them relief.

‘Was there any town community that believed after seeing the punishment, and its Faith at that moment, saved it from the punishment – except the people of Jonah; 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.’ (Quran10:98 )

“Was there any town community that believed after seeing the punishment, and its Faith at that moment, saved it from the punishment,” and the answer is none. Ibn Kathir said, “And they only believed because they feared that the torment from which their Messenger warned them, might strike them. They actually witnessed its signs. So they cried to Allah and asked for help. They engaged in humility in invoking Him. They brought their children and cattle and asked Allah to lift the torment from which their Prophet had warned them.” (Ibn Kathir, Surah Yunus 98)

In interpreting this Ayah, Qatadah said: “No town has denied the truth and then believed when they saw the scourge, and then their belief benefited them, with the exception of the people of Yunus.” (Ibn Kathir, Surah Yunus 98)

Meanwhile, despondent and dejected, Prophet Yunus (AS) boarded a small ship with a few passengers. To begin with, the journey was calm. However, the ship soon encountered a raging storm causing the ship to sway dangerously. At one point, the ferocity of the storm was such that it seemed like the ship would surely sink.

The passengers and crew pondered their situation and quickly came to a conclusion. They decided to lighten their load to keep the ship afloat. Initially they decided to throw some goods overboard to alleviate the weight. Later, in order to make a decision as to who or what to dispose of, they decided to cast lots. The passengers’ names would be written and whoever’s name would be drawn or chosen would have to be thrown overboard.

“And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers. Mention when he ran away to the laden ship. And he drew lots and was among the losers.” [Quran 37:139-141]

Ibn Kathir says, “The captain directed, ‘We will make lots with all of the travelers’ names. The one whose name is drawn will be thrown into the sea.’ Prophet Yunus (AS) knew this was one of the seamen’s traditions when facing a tempest. It was a strange polytheistic tradition, but it was practiced at that time. Prophet Yunus’ (AS) affliction and crisis began.” (Ibn Kathir, Surah Anbiya 187-188)

Ibn Kathir elaborates further on this in his Tafsir. When the men drew lots of the people on board, Prophet Yunus’ (AS) name came up again and again. Initially, the people refused to throw him overboard into the turbulent sea, since they knew that he was a righteous and honorable man. Therefore, they decided to draw lots a second time and a third time. Unfortunately for Prophet Yunus, his name came up repeatedly.

Prophet Yunus (AS) realized he had abandoned Allah’s mission to preach to his people. Hence, this was the price he was probably paying for the decision he took. Instead of letting the men throw him out (and they did not seem willing to do that), he took the matter in his hands and jumped off the ship into the water himself.

‘Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy. And had he not been of those who exalt Allah, He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected.’ [Quran 37:142-144]

Ibn Kathir states that Abdullah ibn Mas’ud said a large fish or whale came out of the ocean and swallowed Yunus (AS) whole after he threw himself into the sea.

Ibn Kathir said, “Then Allah commanded a large fish from the Green Sea (i.e., Mediterranean Sea) to cleave the oceans and come and swallow Prophet Yunus, (AS). He threw himself overboard, and the fish swallowed him and took him away, traveling through all the seas with him. When Prophet Yunus had (AS) stayed for some time in the fish’s belly, he thought that he had died; then he moved his head and legs and arms, and saw that he was alive. He prayed in the belly of the fish, and one of the things he said in his main prayer was, ‘O Lord, I have taken as a place of worship to You a place which no other person has reached.’” (Ibn Kathir, Surah Saffat 142)

To be continued, inshâ’Allah, in Part 2…


Stories of the Prophets, 2000, Darul-Ishaat, Karachi

Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Second Edition (English), September 2000, Darussalam Publishers

Sajida Fakhri

Sajida Fakhri has two Bachelor’s degrees (Education and Teaching) and a Master’s degree in English. She has done over 28 years teaching experience and has a keen interest in writing Islamic articles and giving lectures. She is currently teaching English at a leading university in Saudi Arabia.

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