Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, also known as Jonah (English) is one of the prominent Prophets sent by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. As we believe there have been more than 124,000 Prophets, who were sent by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى to this world for the guidance of the people but only 25 of them are mentioned in the Quran by name; Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ being one of them. So, that makes him one of the most noticeable Prophets. His name is mentioned in the Quran in many verses as Yunus, whereas on a few occasions, he is also mentioned with the name Dhun-Nun (ذُو ٱلنُّوْن), which means “The One of the Fish”.
We can find the reference of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in 14 verses of the Quran in 6 different Surah. The 10th Surah of the Quran is also named Surah Yunus. Apart from being mentioned in the Quran, Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is also mentioned in various Hadiths.
Early Life of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ
There is no reference found in the Quran about the birth and early life of the Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. However, in a Hadith, his name is Yunus Ibn Matta, so his father’s name is believed to be Matta. He was sent to the ancient nation known as Assyrians (present-day Iraq).
Assyrian was quite a famous nation of ancient history. Their Capital city was known as Nineveh. Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was sent to the people of Nineveh to preach them to come to the right path of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. The people of Nineveh were highly distracted and were following the wrong ways in their lives. Per the Islamic traditions, the timeline of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ dates back to 800 BC, though not particularly narrated in the Quran or Hadith. Some believe that it was most probably somewhere between 864 and 784 BC.
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in Quran
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ is mentioned in the Quran as a Messenger of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. He was a Prophet and Messenger, as narrated in the 139th Verse of Surah As-Saffat:
And Jonah was indeed one of the messengers
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in Hadith
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ once said that no one should say that he is better than Yunus. Hadith Number 2377 of Sahih Muslim quotes it:
The son of the uncle of your Prophet (ﷺ), i. e. Ibn Abbas, reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: It is not meet for a servant that he should say: I am better than Yunus b. Matta (and this Matta) is the name of his father.
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ And His People
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was sent to the people of Nineveh, who were badly misguided at that time. They were following the Idolatry and were far away from the right path. So, the Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was sent to them for their guidance.
He urged the people of Nineveh to turn back to the right path and worship only the Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. But they did not accept it and kept following their wrongdoings and Idolatry. They said we have been following this way of worship for generations, and no harm has ever been done to us. Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ warned them that if they did not turn to the right path, they would have to face the punishment. In response, they said we are not worried about your threats, so let it be, we are not afraid.
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Leaves His People
When Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ saw the behavior of his people, he was much disappointed. He was foreseeing that the people of Nineveh will be punished by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. So he told them that if you don’t stop the wrong way of worship, you will be punished by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى and that I will leave this place.
87th verse of Surah Al-Anbya narrates his pursuit:
And ˹remember˺ when the Man of the Whale stormed off ˹from his city˺ in a rage, thinking We would not restrain him. Then in the ˹veils of˺ darkness he cried out, “There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except You. Glory be to You! I have certainly done wrong.”
It is evident from this verse that the act of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ of leaving his people without completing his mission was disliked by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
The People of Nineveh Realize Their Mistake
While Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ left the city of Nineveh, the signs of punishment by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى started appearing in the sky. The people got afraid of this upcoming punishment. They started crying to Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى for His mercy. They thought that they would be destroyed and face the same fate as of the people of Prophet Nuh عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ.
They gathered on the mountain and collectively prayed for mercy and forgiveness. Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى accepted their appeal and the torment was averted. So, they changed their way of life and started worshiping the only one Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. This is narrated in the 98th verse of Surah Yunus in the Quran:
If only there had been a society which believed ˹before seeing the torment˺ and, therefore, benefited from its belief, like the people of Jonah. When they believed, We lifted from them the torment of disgrace in this world and allowed them enjoyment for a while.
So, the people of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ were forgiven. They realized their mistake and prayed for the return of their Prophet.
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in Trouble
After leaving his people, Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ boarded a ship. The ship was already overloaded. Meanwhile, with the will of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, a strong cyclone started, and the ship was in danger of drowning. Per the traditions of the sailors of that time, the ship’s crew thought they should throw one of the passengers into the sea to calm it down.
So, the Captain decided to make lots with all the passengers. Accordingly, the lot was drawn with the name of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ appearing in it. The Captain realized that Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was someone most respectable person, so he decided to repeat the draw. Again the same name appeared. They repeated it for the third time and the name of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ again appeared. So, eventually, he was forced to jump into the sea.
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in the Stomach of the Fish
As the Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ jumped into the sea, a big fish (believed to be a Whale) suddenly appeared and swallowed him whole. All this happened with the will and command of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. He was deeply grieved and instantly repented to Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى seeking His mercy. He repeatedly cried and recited the following invocation, as narrated in the 87th verse of Surah Al Anbya:
أَن لَّآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّآ أَنتَ سُبْحَـٰنَكَ إِنِّى كُنتُ مِنَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ
This invocation is so powerful that every Muslim recites it in a time of difficulty.
The Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ kept on reciting this invocation while in the stomach of the fish. The fish and every sea creature around it heard his voice. They all started to recite this invocation in their language.
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Forgiven
So, the invocation of the Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was accepted by the Allah Almighty, and the fish took him to the surface of the sea and eventually threw him out on a remote island. Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى forgave him, and he came out of the stomach of the fish after around 45 days, per some traditions.
His skin was inflamed with so many days spent in the fish’s stomach. So, with the command of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى he was covered by a plant till such time he was well. This incident is summarized in verses 139 to 148 of Surah Al Saffat:
And Jonah was indeed one of the messengers.
Remember˺ when he fled to the overloaded ship.
Then ˹to save it from sinking,˺ he drew straws ˹with other passengers˺. He lost ˹and was thrown overboard
Then the whale engulfed him while he was blameworthy
Had he not ˹constantly˺ glorified ˹Allah˺
he would have certainly remained in its belly until the Day of Resurrection.
But We cast him onto the open ˹shore˺, ˹totally˺ worn out
and caused a squash plant to grow over him.
We ˹later˺ sent him ˹back˺ to ˹his city of˺ at least one hundred thousand people,
who then believed ˹in him˺, so We allowed them enjoyment for a while
As mentioned in these verses, it was only possible for the Prophet to come out of the stomach of the fish with the will and command of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى. Otherwise, he would have been in there forever. That is the power of invocation and mercy of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Returns to His People
Once he came out of his illness, Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ managed to return to Nineveh to meet his people. The people of Nineveh were already praying for his return. So, when he reached among them, they were so happy and arranged a collective thanksgiving prayer for the blessings and mercy of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
The message from the story of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ can be summarized as under.
- The Prophets are not allowed to leave their people without completing the mission.
- Whoever deviates from the right path will have to face the consequences.
- Repentance and invocation are the only remedies to get out of difficult times.
- One should keep on appealing for the mercy of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى so He will forgive all our mistakes.
So, the invocation of Prophet Yunus عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, as referred to above, is one of the most powerful duas we should recite to come out of the difficulties.