Prophets of Allah – Jonah: An illustration of God’s mercy and a lesson for mankind


    “And We did raise among every people a Messenger”

    Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam

    Jonahas, known as Yunus [يُونُس] in the Holy Quran, was a Prophet of Allah. The Bible states that he was a Prophet sent to the people of Nineveh (2 Kings 14:25).

    When we study the Holy Quran and the mention of Prophet Jonahas, we see that his story is truly an illustration of Divine mercy. Jonahas has been mentioned in the Holy Quran in various places. He is known as Dhun-Nun (the man of the fish) (21:88) and has been called “Sahib al-Hut” (Companion of the Fish) in the Holy Quran (68:49).

    Jonahas, the son of Amittai, was born in Gath-hepher, in the tribe of Zebulun. He lived during the reign of either Jeroboam II or Jehoahaz around 850 BC. Jonahas was a prophet with a significant mission to the people of Nineveh. (Five Volume Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 892)

    At first, the people of Nineveh did not believe in his call. Like all Prophets, Jonahas was opposed by his people, and he prophesied that a divine punishment would befall them. However, they were saved after sincerely repenting before Allah.

    The Holy Prophetsa remembers Jonahas

    Most, if not all Muslims, are aware of the story of the Holy Prophet’ssa journey to Taif, which is located forty miles southeast of Mecca. The Holy Prophetsa spent ten days preaching there; however, the city’s leaders ignored his message and asked him to leave. In fact, the people of the city attacked the Holy Prophetsa with rocks to force him away. Seeking refuge in an orchard three miles away from Taif, a Christian slave named Addas presented a tray of grapes to the Holy Prophet. When the Holy Prophet asked him about his origin, Addas replied that he was from Nineveh. In response, the Holy Prophetsa mentioned that Jonah, the son of Amittai, also belonged to Nineveh, emphasising that he was a revered and prophetic figure, much like himself. (Sirat Ibn Hisham Biography of the Prophet, Al-Falah Foundation, p. 80)

    The Holy Prophetsa and Jonahas bore a great resemblance. The people of Nineveh, at first, opposed Jonahas and rejected his call. However, after facing the threat of Divine punishment, they repented and were ultimately saved. The Holy Quran also makes mention of this in Surah Yunus (10:99). In a somewhat similar manner, the disbelievers of Mecca resisted and opposed the Holy Prophetsa; however, upon the fall of Mecca, they submitted. Eventually, they all embraced the Prophet’s mission and received Divine grace.

    Surah Yunus

    Chapter ten of the Holy Quran is named Surah Yunus. It is named after the Prophet Jonahas, Yunus, as it revolves around a specific incident from his life. The naming of Surahs after Prophets or objects is purposeful, indicating that the contents of those Surahs are relevant to the individuals or subjects they are named after. (Five Volume Commentary, Vol.3, p. 1209)

    Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh has stated:

    “Surah Yunus talks about a people who were entirely saved from a punishment whose threat they had received. And the following Surah Hud talks about such peoples who were totally destroyed because of their disbelief.” (The Holy Quran, Urdu translation by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh, p. 331)

    “Sura X [10] is named after Yunus, and tells of a town which came to believe in the one God and therefore its fate of ‘chastisement and degradation in the present life’ was averted.” (The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, Leiden E.J. Brill, 1986, Vol. 11, pp. 347-348)

    Jonah was sent to 100,000 people

    Jonahas has been mentioned by name in various places in the Holy Quran.

    The Holy Quran states that he was sent as a messenger to 100,000 people or more and that his people believed in his divine message and mission:

    وَاَرۡسَلۡنٰہُ اِلٰي مِائَةِ اَلۡفٍ اَوۡ يَزِيۡدُوۡنَ فَاٰمَنُوۡا فَمَتَّعۡنٰہُمۡ اِلٰي حِيۡنٍ

    “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.” (Surah al-Saffat, Ch.37: V. 148-149)

    The people of Jonah’sas time greatly benefitted from the warning of Divine punishment. They promptly repented and believed in Jonahas, avoiding the threatened punishment. Their case is highlighted in the Holy Quran as an example for disbelievers of all prophets.

    ‘And the fish swallowed him’

    A sign often narrated when remembering the people of Nineveh, is the sign of Jonahas and the whale.

    The Bible states that Jonahas prophesied the destruction of his people within a period of 40 days:

    “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” (Jonah, 3:4)

    The people to whom Jonahas preached repented, humbled themselves before God, and were consequently saved from the impending punishment.

    The Holy Quran records that Prophet Jonahas attempted to travel on a boat. The boat faced a storm and was, as a result, thrown overboard, after which a fish swallowed him.

    “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 gourd plant to grow over him.” (Surah al-Saffat, Ch.37: V. 141-147)

    It was at this moment that Prophet Jonahas prayed to Allah:

    لَّاۤ اِلٰہَ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡتَ سُبۡحٰنَکَ ٭ۖ اِنِّيۡ کُنۡتُ مِنَ الظّٰلِمِيۡنَ

    “‘There is no God but Thou, Holy art Thou. I have indeed been of the wrongdoers.’” (Surah Al-Anbiya’, Ch.21: V.88)

    In light of this prayer, the Holy Prophetsa is reported to have said that the supplication of Dhun-Nun, Prophet Jonahas, while in the belly of the whale, was: “There is no God but Thou, Holy art Thou. I have indeed been of the wrongdoers.” Therefore, whenever a Muslim supplicates with this prayer, Allah responds to him without fail. (Jami‘ at-Tirmidhi, Hadith 3505)

    Prophet Jonahas remained in the belly of the whale before being ejected from it after his supplication.

    It was this sign Jesusas referred to, as recorded in the Bible:

    “Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Mathew, 12: 38-40)

    Explaining the incident of Prophet Jonahas, the Promised Messiahas writes:

    “Why was the punishment which was about to visit his people averted? It is written in Durr-e-Manthur as well as in other books, and in the Book of Jonahas, that divine punishment was destined to overtake them, but, having seen signs of the approaching doom, they repented and turned to their Creator Who forgave them and their punishment was averted. Jonahas, for his part, awaited the chastisement to visit on the appointed day, and went about asking people for the news. He enquired of a farmer about Nineveh. The man replied that all was well. At this Jonah was rather deeply dismayed and said:

    لن ارجع الي قومي کذابا

    “‘I shall never return to my people as a liar.’ In the presence of this precedent, and a very strong Qur’anic testimony, it is against the spirit of righteousness to raise objections against any of my prophecies which were basically conditional. It is not the wont of a righteous person to blurt out opinions without forethought and be ever ready to reject.

    “The story of Prophet Jonahas is indeed painful and piteous, and, at the same time, has a moral to convey. It is recorded in the books, read it carefully. It goes on to tell us that Jonahas was thrown into the river and ended up in the belly of a fish. Only then was penitence accepted.” (Lecture Ludhiana, p. 42)

    Jonah’sas story: an illustration of Divine mercy

    When we delve into the history of religion and explore the stories of different prophets sent to their respective people, the incident of Jonahas emerges as a powerful reminder of Allah’s great mercy. The sincere repentance of the people of Nineveh brought immense pleasure to Allah, leading to the reversal of their impending punishment.

    “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.” (Surah Yunus, Ch.10: V.99)

    This verse offers a glimpse into the mercy of Allah. God Almighty emphasises the exceptional nature of the people of Jonahas, who, by turning to God, were saved from divine punishment. The verse highlights the absence of any other people comparable to them in their sincere repentance and deliverance.

    The Messiah and Mahdi on Prophet Jonahas, prayer and God’s mercy

    Alluding to the nature of God’s mercy, the Promised Messiahas said:

    “The varying manifestation of God’s nature is also a mercy. In the case of the people of Jonah, on whom be peace, God sent down the categorical revelation, but when they began to weep and wail, their punishment was averted and God turned to them with mercy. Hence, there is a distinct delight that is experienced in the varying manifestations of God’s nature, but only those people can enjoy it who weep before Him and beseech Him with humility and meekness. I am often astounded to see that people will flatter other human beings like themselves but do not turn to God in the same way.” (Malfuzat [2022], Vol. 1, pp. 218-219)

    Further, Hazrat Ahmadas states:

    “Prayer is a powerful shield that leads to success. The people of Jonah, on whom be peace, were saved from impending punishment on account of their weeping and prayers. In my understanding, the word muhawatat means ‘anger’. The Arabic word hoot means ‘fish’ and the word noon in Arabic is used for both ‘anger’ and ‘fish’. In short, Jonahas was overwhelmed by a state of anger. The fact of the matter is that when the punishment had been averted, thoughts of objection and complaint arose in his mind in that the prophecy made by him and his prayer had gone to waste. He was also upset that what he had foretold did not come to pass. All these thoughts constituted his state of anger. The lesson we learn from this is that Allah can alter the decree of fate, and that weeping and wailing and charity can reduce a verdict of punishment to nothing; hence the principle of giving charity. These are the ways to please Allah. In the science of the interpretation of dreams, wealth is represented by one’s liver. This is why giving alms is equivalent to giving away one’s life, as it were. When a person gives charity, they exhibit an immense degree of sincerity and steadfastness. However, the fact of the matter is that mere words are of no use until they are supported by practice. The reason charity is called ‘sadaqah’ in Arabic is because it is the hallmark of the Truthful (Sadiqin). In the life account of Jonahas, Durr-e-Manthur has recorded that Jonahas said to Allah Almighty: ‘I always knew that if anyone came before You, You would have mercy.’ As God states:

    ايں مشت خاک را گر نہ بخشم چہ کنم

    “If I do not forgive this handful of dust then what am I to do?” (Malfuzat [English], Vol.1, pp. 243-244)

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