Prophet Jonah (Yunus) is “Yunus Ibnu Matta”. He is from the city of Ninawa, a city next to Mosul, in Iraq. Prophet Jonah is cited in the Qur’an. Jonah’s people used to worship idols. He called them to worship God, but they did not obey him. Jonah warned them that a major torture would befall them, if they did not believe.
Jonah left his city angry with his people. However he left before it was revealed to him to leave his city. While away, the torture approached the city. The people saw it. They made supplication to God and expressed true repentance. God lifted that torture from them.
As for Prophet Jonah, when leaving his people, he met people on a ship. When this ship went a certain distance in the sea, it stopped. The people said that this vessel was not moving due to the presence of a particular person. They said, “We are going to put the name of each person on an arrow, and throw them in the water. The arrow that floats has the name of the person who is causing our ship not to move.” They did this throwing three times and every time the arrow with the name of Prophet Jonah on it was the one that floated.
Prophet Jonah is Swallowed by a Whale
Then they all agreed to throw Prophet Jonah in the sea, and they did. A whale in that sea swallowed Prophet Jonah without chewing him. Prophet Jonah stayed in the stomach of the whale, praising God. He was in three darknesses: the darkness of the night, the darkness of the sea, and the darkness of the interior of that whale.
Prophet Jonah said, “O God, there is no God but You. You are clear of non-befitting attributes. I did injustice to myself by leaving my people before receiving permission from You.” Jonah’s statement is cited in verse 87 of Suratul-Ambiya’. Jonah’s deed was not blasphemy, a great sin, or a small sin with meanness. Like all the other Prophets of God, Jonah never committed any of these, both before and after Prophethood.
Had Jonah not been a pious Muslim, who worshipped God constantly, he would have remained inside the whale until the Day of Judgment. However he was a noble Prophet, and God rescued him from the whale. The correct worship has secrets and blessings, and the stories of the Prophets bring many lessons for the one who is pensive about them.
The whale released Prophet Jonah on land in part of Iraq. Prophet Jonah had become sick. God made a pumpkin grow. Prophet Jonah ate from that and shaded himself with the huge foliage of the plant. The pumpkin has many merits: it grows quickly, its leaves are wide and are good for shading, flies do not come near it, the fruit is nourishing, and it is edible whether cooked or raw.
Prophet Jonah became cured from his sickness and God ordered him to return to his people. They were 100,000 or more people and Jonah stayed among them, guiding and teaching them, as all the honorable Prophets did.
Prophet Muhammad said, “Do not give me merit above Prophet Jonah, the son of Matta”, as narrated by Muslim. Some scholars said that our Prophet said this before he received Revelation that he was the best of the Prophets. When it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad that he was the best of the Prophets, Prophet Muhammad then said about himself, “I am the best of the sons of Adam. I do not say this out of boasting and arrogance.”
Others said that the first saying of our Prophet means, “Do not give me merit above Jonah in a manner which degrades Prophet Jonah.” The Imam of al-Haramayn, al-Juwayniyy said, “Do not think that because Prophet Muhammad went up through the seven heavens and above, and Prophet Jonah went down in the sea of this Earth, that this means that Prophet Muhammad was closer to God, by distance, than Prophet Jonah, because God exists with being in a place.”