Stories of the Prophets

Prophet Yunus (AS)

Seasons came and went, and again the memory of Allah faded from the hearts and minds of humankind. Communities lapsed to their old traditions of their forefathers and became disbelievers and idol worshippers.

Against this backdrop, a Messenger was sent to the community of disbelievers. However, this is a unique story which had never occurred before or since. Allah chastised this particular Messenger with a curious punishment which is stranger than fiction.

Yunus ibn Matta (Jonah) AS preached to a community in Iraq which scholars identify as the town of Niniveh. According to the Qur’an, it had a population of around 100,000 people: And We sent him to [his people of] a hundred thousand or more. (Qur’an 37:147) Yunus AS was a direct descendant of Yaqub AS and was also referred to in the Qur’an by the name of Dhan-Nun.

His people were idolators and led decadent and shameless lives. As with his brothers in prophethood before him, Yunus AS attempted to instil monotheistic belief and to promote good behaviour. He was met with resistance, and received similar reactions and accusations as that of the previous Messengers and Prophets.

He preached day and night but to no avail. The community clung on to their licentious lifestyles. They resisted the path of the truth and the efforts of Yunus AS bore little fruit.

As time dragged on, Yunus AS became discouraged and enraged by the dismal results. All Prophets and Messengers are granted one supplication of their choice which Allah will fulfill, and when Yunus AS finally had enough of his community, he prayed for their destruction, and warned them of the impending torture of Allah.

However, Yunus AS made one error in judgment for which he later paid a heavy personal price. He took it upon himself to leave the town in anger, without waiting for Allah’s command. He assumed that the townspeople were beyond salvation and thus abandoned them to face Allah’s retribution. In doing so, he incurred Allah’s displeasure.

This may have seemed like an innocuous oversight for most of us, but it was a terrible mistake for a man of Yunus’ AS stature. Unlike ordinary human beings, Prophets and Messengers are compelled to display the highest possible levels of human piety and obedience to Allah. Therefore, whenever Prophets and Messengers disobeyed, their mistakes were amplified, and their chastisement was swift and often severe.


Accounts of the previous Prophets and Messengers had a common thread, which was that only a handful of people followed the teachings of the Messengers sent to their midst, while the rest of them were destroyed by some catastrophe or other.

In this case, however, something peculiar occurred. Allah sowed into the hearts of the disbelievers the fear of Him. The abrupt departure of Yunus AS made his community realize that it was a portent of their own doom. Suddenly, every man, woman and child understood the gravity of their actions and became regretful of their treatment of their Messenger.

Discarding their normal clothing, they donned hairclothes as part of their repentance, went outside the valley and unanimously prayed, beseeched and begged Allah for mercy and forgiveness. This was a momentous occasion and must have been extremely moving to watch, for never before had the hearts of a people collectively become united in such penitence.

This in itself was a trial and lesson for Yunus AS, for having left them before his mission had been completed. Allah demonstrated that while all efforts may have been made by Yunus AS, it was ultimately Allah who could open the hearts of the people to His guidance, with or without the intervention of a Messenger.

Allah shows through this story that when it comes to guiding others, it is not the ability of the person that reaps the results. If we want to propagate Islam, we must learn the correct manner and give thanks to Allah that He selected us. We should deal with others with mercy and compassion, and leave the result to Allah. The spreading of the faith has nothing to do with our own intellect or eloquence. Instead, we do our best, and perform our duties in the way demonstrated by Prophets and Messengers and instructed in Qur’an and sunnah.

All the guidance is from Allah, and Prophets, Messengers and spreaders of Islam are merely instruments. This distinction is crucial and prevents us from being self congratulatory for any success. After all, Allah is able to make the entire human race worship Him if He so willed it. This is an often repeated theme in the Quran – “And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed – all of them entirely.” (Qur’an 10:99) However, He has given human beings the faculty of choice, as a test to sift out those that are the best in deeds.

Hence, upon these townspeople, Allah bestowed His mercy and removed the punishment that was to have befallen them. Allah said: “Then has there not been a [single] city that believed so its faith benefited it except the people of Yunus? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in worldly life and gave them enjoyment for a time.” (Qur’an 10:98)

This turning of hearts was unprecedented in human history and is the only incident of its kind ever reported.


Meanwhile, Yunus AS boarded a ship in order to leave his community far behind. Some reports mention that the ship was already loaded to capacity, but the passengers, recognizing the marks of piety on him, persuaded the captain to squeeze Yunus AS in.

They set sail peacefully. However, a storm suddenly erupted and the sea became choppy. Wave after wave of saltwater crashed in upon them. One pious person in the boat mentioned that this was not an ordinary storm, for its sudden manifestation and ferocity were abnormal. According to the traditions of the time, this was an indication that the boat carried a sinner in their midst. There was an extra passenger who was not meant to be there.

The boat was tossed around in the open waters and the force of the pounding waves was threatening to break the hull and drown them all. The passengers unloaded all the excess cargo, but this was not sufficient for the boat to stay afloat. It was apparent that this condition no longer had any connection to the weight onboard, but something more ominous.

The only solution was to throw the sinning passenger overboard, but which one was he?

The passengers and crew consulted with each other, and decided to draw lots to decide who the matter. The first round was against Yunus AS. Given his appearance of piety, the passengers thought there was a mistake, so they drew lots a second time. Again, the odds were against him. This process was repeated a third time, but Yunus AS was still the clear loser.

Yunus AS understood that this was the decree of Allah. “And indeed, Yunus was among the messengers. [Mention] when he ran away to the laden ship. And he drew lots and was among the losers. (Qur’an 37:139-141)

He was thrown into the churning waters. Anyone who has been caught in a rough sea will know the feeling of helplessness when tossed about by the huge waves, with limited mobility and even ability to see and breathe. Violent waves can bring disorientation and debilitating seasickness, powerful currents can jettison one uncontrollably off course, and the cold water can cause hypothermia and the cramping of the muscles. One can drown in minutes, even with a life jacket and swimming experience.


Now a bizarre sequence of events unfolded. At the command of Allah, a huge whale came and swallowed him. “Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy.(Qur’an 37:142) Miraculously, Yunus AS was not pulverized, but remained whole, for the whale was not allowed by Allah to scratch his flesh or even break his bones. When he came to, he realized that he was still intact and alive. He fell in prostration and said “Oh my Lord! I have made a place of prayer where nobody else has even worshipped you.”

Thus began the oddest aquatic journey in mankind’s history. The whale descended into the depth of the sea. Imprisoned in its belly, Yunus AS could hear voices, which Allah revealed to him was the sound of the marine life, and even the pebbles at the base of the sea, glorifying Him.

Yunus AS was immersed in layer upon layer of suffocating darkness – that of the belly of the whale, the darkness of the sea and the darkness of the night. One can only imagine the nauseating stench Yunus AS had to bear with every breath he drew within the confines of the whale’s digestive cavity. Allah only knows whether and what he ate and drank during this time. But what could he have done? Even if he escaped from the whale, he would have drowned immediately.

Visualise yourself, where any screams for help would be entombed into eternal silence by the currents of the deep. Even with all the modern technology, submarines and tracking equipment available today, rescue under such conditions would be impossible. How does a normal person hold on to life, hope and sanity under such surreal and terrifying circumstances?

Yet, such was the mettle and faith of Yunus AS. One of his distinct qualities was that he used to make copious amount of tasbih to Allah. He realized that he had erred and in doing so, had provoked the anger of Allah. Therefore made the famous supplication of “la ila ha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntum minaz-zalimin”:

Allah says: “And [mention] the man of the fish, when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him. And he called out within the darknesses, “There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.” (Qur’an 21:87)

Yunus AS repeated this humble supplication countless times over the course of the next three days and nights, and repented for his disobedience. According to hadith, if one makes this supplication to Allah, He will accept the prayer, and if one asks Him with that Name, He will grant the supplication. It is noted that there is no name of Allah mentioned in the supplication, but rather, it is contained in the all encompassing word “You”, a concise description which broadly denotes the omnipotence of Allah to the negation of all else. It is also reported in a separate hadith that no Muslim will make any supplication with this supplication about any topic, but that Allah will accept it from him.

However, as etiquette, we cannot make this prayer and demand immediate results from Allah in the manner we want. Rather, we have to be patient and wait for the reward from Allah. Unfortunately, human beings have the tendency to follow their own desires even when it comes to making supplications.

It is said that a reason that Allah accepted the dua of Yunus AS was because he was constantly engaged in zikr day and night, which is a hint to us on increasing the effectiveness of our dua.

Also, ponder on the complete humility of the language in the supplication. Yunus AS admitted full responsibility and accountability for his wrongdoing, going against our arrogant human impulses to blame others and make excuses whenever we make mistakes.


Allah accepted the supplication of Yunus AS. The Qur’an says: “And had he not been of those who exalt Allah, he would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected.” (Qur’an 37:143-144) It is postulated that had Yunus AS not glorified Allah and confessed his sins with repentance, he would have stayed in the belly of the whale until the Day of Judgment, and would have been resurrected from there.

Allah is ever merciful and pardoned him: So We responded to him and saved him from the distress. And thus do We save the believers. (Qur’an 21:88) Note the criteria that only believers will be saved in this world and the hereafter. Thus forgiven, Yunus AS was reinstated into the ranks of the righteous.

Allah also released Yunus AS from his underwater prison: But We threw him onto the open shore while he was ill. And We caused to grow over him a gourd vine. (Qur’an 37:145-146).

Calamities and trials do not mean one is a sinner. On the contrary, they can elevate us. Calamities teach sincerity, manner and patience. Underlying all this, one has to remember that the only one who can lift such calamity is Allah. He can rescue us from every situation and every impossible circumstance no matter how tightly we have been backed into a corner. The same way that we should never underestimate the power of Allah to place us in surprising and unpleasant conditions, we should not underestimate His ability to grant us relief.

By the command of Allah, the whale regurgitated Yunus AS and unceremoniously dumped him onto the beach. Weakened, in agony and with his skin burned from the digestive acids of the whale’s belly, Allah allowed Yunus’ AS rehabilitation to begin. A gourd vine, which leaves were soft to the touch and possessed medicinal qualities, wrapped him protectively, provided cool shade and healed him. Abu Hurairah RA reported that wild goats were brought to him, from which he drank their milk and slowly regained his health.

It is reported that his community flourished and remained believers, until once again, through the passage of time, corruption set in and detracted the following generations from the belief in Allah.

Of Yunus AS, it is reported that the Prophet SAW said: “Nobody should give me preference over Yunus ibn Matta.”

Source: Muslim Footsteps

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