BismAllah Ar Rehman Ar Raheem:
Prophet Yunus (or Jonah) is mentioned in three Surahs (or Chapters) of the Noble Quran. These three Surahs are:
- Surah Yunus (Chapter 10:98)
- Surah Al-Anbiya (Chapter 21:87-88)
- Surah As-Saffat (Chapter 37:139-148)
Although Surah Yunus takes its title after V.10:98 where the name of Prophet Yunus is mentioned, the most detailed account of the life of Prophet Yunus is in Surah As-Saffat where the description of the events of his life are brief, yet vivid. Within Verses 139 to 148 of Surah As-Saffat, all relevant information concerning Prophet Yunus are stated. Many readers have not followed it well enough probably because of the rapid style of the narration. But if one concentrates a little, the brief and successive verses from 139 to 148 connect amazingly well without any confusion.
We will discuss the mention of Prophet Yunus in all three Surahs. It will then be easy for the reader to know how systematically the information on Prophet Yunus in Surah Yunus and Surah Al-Anbiya are in conformity with the more detailed description in Surah As-Saffat.
Surah As-Saffat, Verses 139 to 148 quoted as follows:
"And lo! Jonah verily was of those sent (to warn) (37:139)
When he fled unto the laden ship, (37:140)
And then drew lots and was of those rejected; (37:141)
And the fish swallowed him while he was blameworthy; (37:142)
And had he not been one of those who glorify (Allah) (37:143)
He would have tarried in its belly till the day when they are raised; (37:144)
Then We cast him on a desert shore while he was sick; (37:145)
And We caused a tree of gourd to grow above him; (37:146)
And We sent him to a hundred thousand (folk) or more (37:147)
And they believed, therefor We gave them comfort for a while." (37:148)
Prophet Jonah was one of the messengers of Allah sent to warn and inform the community of the Truth.
As in Verse 37:140 .... إِذْ أَبَقَ إِلَى الْفُلْكِ الْمَشْحُونِ
'Idh 'Abaqa 'Ilaá Al-Fulki Al-Mashĥūni (transliteration)
"When he fled unto the laden ship," (translation)
The word abaqa (أَبَقَ ) in Arabic is used for flight or escape of a slave from his master's house.
Therefore, here is how we could interpret Verses 37:140-142:
Prophet Yunus at first avoided (or fled) from the responsibility of his mission entrusted to him by Allah. He fled onto a ship. The vessel in which he boarded after fleeing was overloaded with too many people. To avoid overloading and to lessen the number of people on board, they apparently had a system for rejecting passengers by 'lucky draws,' similar to a lottery. The name of Prophet Yunus came in the lot, thus he was a rejected passenger of the ship and was thrown overboard into the sea and was swallowed by a big fish. This affliction was caused to Prophet Yunus because he had abandoned his mission without the permission of his Master, Almighty Allah. The evidence or confirmation for this interpretation is the word abaqa in Verse 37:140, and also word mulim in Verse 37:142 .... فَالْتَقَمَهُ الْحُوتُ وَهُوَ مُلِيمٌ -- Fāltaqamahu Al-Ĥūtu Wa Huwa Mulīmun. (transliteration). "And the fish swallowed him while he was blameworthy;" (translation). Mulim (مُلِيمٌ ) means a person who is blameworthy because of his own mistake, whether or not others blame him.
Now let's look at the next Verses, 37:143-144 of Surah As-Saffat: Prophet Yunus was not heedless of Allah, but he was of those who constantly remembered, loved and glorified Allah. Thus Allah says that if Yunus was not among those who glorified Allah, he would have stayed in the belly of the fish as a punishment until the Day of Judgment. This does not mean that the fish would have lived till the Day of Resurrection and that Prophet Yunus would have remained alive in its belly till then. But it simply means that as a penalty, Allah would not rescue him and he would have died after being swallowed by the fish, to be raised on the Day of Resurrection. This aspect is also elucidated in Surah Al-Anbiya, Verses 21:87-88, quoted as follows:
Surah Al-Anbiya, Verses 21:87-88:
"And (mention) Dhu'n-Nun, when he went off in anger and deemed that We had no power over him, but he cried out in the darkness, saying: There is no God save Thee. Be Thou Glorified! Lo! I have been a wrong-doer. Then we heard his prayer and saved him from the anguish. Thus we save believers." (21:87-88 -- Surah Al-Anbiya). These two verses of Surah Anbiya connect with Verses 37:142-144. of Surah As-Saffat. Dhu'n Nun is another name for Prophet Yunus. Crying out in darkness refers to his repentance inside the belly of the big fish. The cry of Prophet Yunus expressing remorse and repentance that reads in Verses 21:87-88: "La ilaha illa anta subhana ini kunto minaz zalimeen" translated as "There is no God save Thee. Be Thou Glorified! Lo! I have been a wrong-doer." This is a very famous and widely recited Quranic supplication also known as Ayat-e-Karima .. a supplication or dua for repentance.
Coming back to Surah As-Saffat, Verses 37:145-146 in continuation: When Prophet Yunus acknowledged his fault, repented and glorified Allah as a sincere believer, he was helped by Allah. The fish spat him out on the beach by Allah's will. The beach was apparently a barren place with no shade, no vegetation and no food. Allah caused a gourd tree to grow to provide Yunus with shade and food. Gourd is basically a green fruit but can also be eaten as a vegetable.
Next Verses of Surah As-Saffat, 37:147-148 "And We sent him to a hundred thousand (folk) or more And they believed, therefor We gave them comfort for a while." -- The mention of "a hundred thousand people or more" does not mean that Allah had any doubt about their number, but it means that a casual observer would have estimated the population to be more than a hundred thousand people in any case. Probably it was the same place where Prophet Yunus returned after he had previously left. When Prophet Yunus returned to his people after being forgiven by Allah, the community of his people believed in the message he conveyed to them from Allah and thus they became believers (followers of Monotheism or Tawheed). For that reason Allah mentions that He "gave them comfort for a while." This also indicates the temporary nature of earthly life where every comfort or every affliction is temporary, for a while.
To further understand Verses 37:147-148 of Surah As-Saffat, one should keep in view Verse 98 of Surah Yunus.
Surah Yunus, Verse 10:98:
"If only there had been a community (of all those that were destroyed of old) that believed and profited by its belief as did the folk of Jonah! When they believed We drew off from them the torment of disgrace in the life of the world and gave them comfort for a while." (10:98) Surah Yunus. The fact that the community of Prophet Yunus became believers is also confirmed in this Verse.
Finally .. here is an interesting piece of reading. Concerning the topic of Prophet Yunus being swallowed by a fish, critics have expressed doubts claiming that it's impossible for a man to come out alive from the belly of a fish. But during the end of the 19th century, an event took place near the sea-shores of England which belies this claim. In August, 1891, some fishermen went to the high sea to hunt whales in a ship called 'Star of the East.' There they tried to catch a huge fish which was about 20 feet long, 5 or 6 feet wide. It weighed more than a hundred tons. During the struggle, the whale swallowed a fisherman named James Bartley, which was witnessed by his colleagues. Next day the same fish was found dead on the sea. The fishermen hauled it up on board and when they cut open its belly, James Bartley came out alive. He had remained in the fish's belly for full 15 hours. Bartley was sick and had to be hospitalized but he survived. When such a thing, though rare but certainly possible in normal circumstances, should it be impossible under extra-ordinary circumstances as a miracle of Almighty God? The answer is, NO, not at all.
Read the true story. It's not an urban legend as some Western skeptics claim, only with the view to refute the incident of Prophet Yunus (Jonah).
Swallowed by the whale - James Bartley - true story