Yunus Ibn Matta (referred to Jonah in English) was a Messenger of Allah sent to Nineveh, a city in northern Iraq with a population of over a hundred thousand. Prophet Yunus was seemingly an ordinary man who was born and raised amongst the fellow citizens of Nineveh.
The booming city of Nineveh had long forgotten the message of Allah and became a city filled with idol worshiping and sin. Allah decided to send Prophet Yunus, a man born amongst them, as a Messenger to guide them to His path—the path of light.
Prophet Yunus immediately set out to fulfill his Lord’s wish and invited his people to turn to Allah and shun idol worship. But the people of Nineveh rejected Yunus, just as many nations rejected the prophets and messengers before him. Yunus was not deterred; he continued to call them to the worship of Allah, reminding them of the terrible wrath of Allah that was directed at Ad, Thamud and the people of Nuh.
But they rejected this and said, “We and our forefathers have worshipped these gods for many years and no harm has come to us.”
Prophet Yunus wanted to help them and was persistent, he did not give up on his people; despite their ignorance and harsh words, he continued to warn them of Allah’s punishment.
“Let it happen”, the men laughed, and informed Yunus that they were not the least afraid of his empty threats. Prophet Yunus was disheartened; he gave up on his people. Without the permission of Allah, he decided to leave the city of Nineveh in hopes of finding a community far away that would accept him and enter the fold of Islam.
The calm skies over Nineveh soon turned red with anger preparing to spit out the wrath of Allah. Men, women and children gathered at the mountain tops watching the combat of the skies above them with hearts filled with fear.
They soon remembered Yunus’s warning of Allah’s punishment and feared the predicament of Ad, Thamud, and the people of Nuh. With new found faith, they fell on their knees; with their hands stretched out they began to beg for Allah’s forgiveness and mercy. Moved by this display of sincere repentance, Allah lifted His punishment, forgave his subjects and showered his blessings upon them. As the skies cleared, the people prayed for the safe return of their beloved Prophet Yunus, so that he could guide them through the path of Allah.
Meanwhile, Prophet Yunus, who had left Nineveh, had boarded a small passenger ship with the intention of travelling as far away from his people as possible. The ship travelled through the calm waters during the day; but as the night closed in, a storm raged on rocking the ship wildly to and fro. The crew and passengers began to fear for their lives as the sea water gradually began flooding into the deck, slowly sinking the ship.
As the tempest continued through the night, the Captain of ship ordered his men to throw out the luggages and all other excess load overboard to lighten the ship’s load. As instructed, the crew threw out the ship’s excess load; but, the ship continued to sink as it was still too heavy. The Captain was left with no choice—he had to sacrifice the life of one man if he wished to save the lives of his crew and passengers. As it was a common practise among men during those times, the Captain decided to draw lots to choose the passenger to be sacrificed.
The lots were cast and Prophet Yunus’s name was selected. The men knew that Yunus was a young, righteous, honest and a blessed man, so they refused to throw him out and agreed to draw lots again.
So the lots were cast, and Yunus’s name appeared again. The men refused to throw Yunus saying, “We are not going to get rid of Yunus. He is our blessing on the boat. He is the best man we have on the boat; we are not going to get rid of him.” So they drew lots for the third time, and Yunus’s named appeared yet again! The men were baffled, but Prophet Yunus knew that this was the verdict of Allah for he had left his people without his Lord’s consent. So Yunus jumped out of the ship into the dark, angry waves in the middle of ocean.
As Allah commanded, the largest whale in the ocean swallowed Yunus just as he hit the water. Yunus, who was unconscious, awoke to find himself enveloped by sheer darkness.
He believed he was in his grave; but as his senses awakened, he realised that he was not in his grave but was in fact in the stomach of a large fish.
Deep in the stomach of the whale, Prophet Yunus prostrated to Allah and said, “O Allah, I am prostrating to you in a place where no one has prostrated to you before, in the stomach of a fish.” He then called out to Allah, repeating, “None has the right to be worshipped but You. Glorified be You. Truly, I have been among the wrongdoers.” The creatures of the deep sea heard the invocations of Yunus, and gathered around the whale to join along in the celebration of the praises of Allah.
Allah, the Most-Merciful, was immensely moved by Yunus’s repentance. He commanded the whale to spit out His Messenger at the nearest shore. The whale obeyed Allah’s command and swam to the nearest shore and ejected Yunus. Yunus’s body was inflamed as a result of the acids in the whale’s stomach. He had no protection against the sun and wind so Allah commanded a tree to grow over Yunus to provide him with food and shade. Allah forgave him and informed him that if it were not for his sincere invocations, Yunus would continue to be in the stomach of the whale till the Day of Judgment.
When Yunus was completely recovered, he travelled back to Nineveh to complete his mission. Upon arriving at his hometown, Yunus was stunned—the entire population of Nineveh had accepted Islam and were awaiting his arrival. Together with his people, Yunus prostrated to his Lord and thanked him for all His blessings.
Yunus was the only Prophet whose entire community accepted Islam. Allah stated in the Holy Quran regarding the people of Yunus Ibn Matta: “Was there any town community that believed after seeing the punishment, and its Faith at that moment, saved it from the punishment? (the answer is none)—except the people of Yunus; 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.” [Surah Yunus Ayat 98]