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5 Surprising Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Jonah’s Story

Perhaps every Muslim, Christian and Jewish kid knows about the story of the man and the whale. Yet how many of us have really thought deeply about this miraculous story?

In most of our minds, it’s more like a fairy tale than a real event with which we can relate our own thoughts and emotions.

Immerse yourself a little deeper into the world of the Man of the Whale by pondering on the following five points.

1. Prophet Yunus (Jonah) Cursed and Walked away from More Than a Hundred Thousand People (37:147)

This event took place a long time ago, perhaps somewhere between the era of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) and that of Prophet David (peace be upon him). A city that contained a population of a hundred thousand at that time must have been a huge metropolis.

Prophet Yunus promised his people, the Ninevites, that they will be destroyed by Allah for their disbelief, and then he left the city. Imagine the scale of the catastrophe that would have struck the city if his curse had come true. Also imagine the scale of the blessing these people incurred when they all became believers and his followers. What a surprise it must have been for the Prophet when he went back!

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2. The Belly of the Whale wasn’t Exactly a Cosy Chamber of Worship

What’s inside the belly of a whale? Hydrochloric acid for one thing. Imagine being dipped into HCl. Then there are the gastric juices that dissolve protein, and methane gas.

It’s hard enough to be stuck alone in a dark chamber, but it’s almost unbearable to be suffocating in a whale’s stomach. When the whale finally spat Jonah out onto the shore, he was too ill to walk back home. For me, these details make the story more heart-touching and relatable.

The prayer that Prophet Jonah made was the plea of someone stuck in a very painful situation. He set an example for us to follow if we ourselves are ever stuck in a desperate and painful situation, when all hope seems to be lost, and when that situation was brought about by our own mistakes. (Keep reading to know more about this dua.)

3. A Gourd or Squash Plant Helped Prophet Yunus Recover his Health (37:146)

Why a gourd plant? That’s the first question I asked myself after I learned this the first time. I searched about properties of gourd, and here’s what I found out:

  1. The fruit is a very nutrition-rich food, no matter which exact variety of gourd it is. It contains both carbohydrates and proteins; and it’s also high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  2. It has a very high water content.
  3. It reduces inflammation.
  4. It’s alkaline.
  5. Despite being alkaline, it is rich in Vitamin C, a vitamin known to fight infections and boost immunity.

In short, it was the perfect cure for an ill man who had just come out of a whale’s stomach.

4. The Dua of Yunus is a Means of Having your Prayers Accepted

The dua that Prophet Yunus made when inside the whale’s belly is an easy three-part dua, but with profound depth of meaning:

لَّا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ

“There is no God but You.”


“Glory be to You.”

إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

“I was wrong.”

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said about this dua:

No Muslim man supplicates with it for anything, ever, except Allah responds to him. (At-Tirmidhi 3505)


Well, here are a few things about the meaning of this dua to help you find the answer.

“There is no God but You.”

Nouman Ali Khan explains in this lecture that the word “ilah” has several meanings, the most obvious being one who deserves worship. Other meanings of the word include:

  • Someone whom you turn to when you’re in a desperate situation.
  • Someone whom you need and can’t do without.
  • And someone whom you love so much that you can’t ever be happy without him.

Therefore, “laa ilaha illa anta” can be translated as: “There is no one worthy of worship and adoration, no one I need in this lonely darkness, and no one whom I can turn to, except You.”

In other words, you are renewing your declaration of faith, and at the same time you’re expressing your neediness and adoration to Allah.

 “Glory be to You.”

The phrase “Subhan-Allah” is actually a statement of negation – negation of Allah’s having any defects or flaws. In other words, it means Allah is perfect. Allah had caused Prophet Yunus to land in such a painful situation. Prophet Yunus is acknowledging that Allah didn’t oppress him or wrong him by putting him there. (Ibn Taymiyyah, 52)

 “I was wrong.”

This is the completion of the previous statement. It is an acknowledgement of one’s own imperfection in contrast with Allah’s perfection. It is like saying: “The fault is entirely my own. I did wrong and this is the consequence.” This acknowledgement of one’s fault is also an indirect plea for forgiveness.

5.  Nineveh was the Only Town which Believed in its Prophet in its Entirety

They were searching for him frantically by the time he reappeared, believing that, since their prophet had abandoned them, they were already doomed. So, a hundred thousand plus people of the city moved out to a vast plain and started praying to Allah and crying, all of them turned believers!

Allah says:

If only a single town had believed and benefited from its belief! Only Jonah’s people did so, and when they believed, We relieved them of the punishment of disgrace in the life of this world, and let them enjoy life for a time. (10:98)

Allah Almighty turned the Prophet’s mistake into the greatest blessing for his people.

The next time you’re apprehensive about another person’s mistakes affecting you adversely, think of Prophet Jonah and his people.


Tafsir ibn Kathir

Ibn Taymiyyah, The Relief from Distress: An Explanation to the du’a of Yunus. Trans. Abu Rumaysah. Daar us Sunnah Publishers, Birmigham: 2006.