The Story of Yunus: Tafsir al-Sa’di

In his book of thematic tafsir, sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di detailed a number of the stories of the Prophets along with mentioning various benefits derived from each of them. He would compile the details as they appeared in various places in the Qur’an to provide a straight-forward narrative of each story, and then list some extracted benefits from the story. What follows is his brief explanation of the story of the Prophet Yunus:

قصة يونس صلى الله عليه وسلم وهو من أنبياء بني إسرائيل العظام، بعثه الله إلى أهل نينوى – من أرض الموصل – فدعاهم إلى الله تعالى فأبوا عليه، ثم كرر عليهم الدعوة فأبوا، فوعدهم العذاب وخرج من بين أظهرهم، ولم يصبر الصبر الذي ينبغي، ولكنه أَبَقَ مغاضبا لهم، وهم لما ذهب نبيهم ألقي في قلوبهم التوبة إلى الله والإنابة بعدما شاهدوا مقدمات العذاب، فكشف الله عنهم العذاب. ـ

This is the story of Yunus (ﷺ), who was one of the great prophets of the Banu Israa’eel. Allah sent him to the people of Nineveh – in the area of Mosul [Iraq] – and he called them to Allah but they refused his call. He then repeated his call to them but they refused, so he promised them an impending punishment and left from their midst, and he did not exercise the steadfast patience which he ought to have exercised. On the contrary, he fled from them while in a state of anger. But after their prophet had left them, repentance and returning to Allah were placed in their hearts after witnessing an approaching punishment, and so Allah removed the punishment from them.

والظاهر أن يونس علم انكشاف العذاب عنهم، واستمر في ذهابه عنهم، ولهذا قال تعالى: {وَذَا النُّونِ إِذْ ذَهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا} [الأنبياء: 87] وقال تعالى: {إِذْ أَبَقَ إِلَى الْفُلْكِ الْمَشْحُونِ} [الصافات: 140] ـ

It appears that Yunus knew that the punishment would be lifted from them but still decided to leave them. This is according to Allah’s statement:

وَذَا النُّونِ إِذ ذَّهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا

And mention Dhu’l-noon, when he went off in anger… [21:87]

as well as His statement:

إِذْ أَبَقَ إِلَى الْفُلْكِ الْمَشْحُونِ

Mention when he fled to the laden ship. [37:140]

فركب في سفينة موقرة من الركاب والأحمال، فلما توسطوا البحر شارفت على الغرق، ودار الأمر بين أن يبقوا جميعا فيها فيهلكوا، وبين أن يلقوا بعضهم بمقدار ما تخف السفينة فيسلم الباقون، فاختاروا الأخير لعدلهم وتوفيقهم، فاقترعوا فأصابت القرعة أناسا منهم، ومنهم يونس صلى الله عليه وسلم، ولهذا قال: {فَسَاهَمَ فَكَانَ مِنَ الْمُدْحَضِينَ} [الصافات: 141] أي: المغلوبين في القرعة، فألقوا فابتلعه حوت في البحر ابتلاعا، لم يكسر له عظما، ولم يمضغ له لحما. ـ

So he rode on a ship laden with passengers and cargo. When they reached the middle of the sea, the ship began to sink. Their options were either to all remain aboard the ship and perish, or to throw some of the passengers overboard in order to lighten the ship’s weight and thus save those who would remain aboard. Due to their justice and correct intuitions, they chose the latter of the two options, and so they drew straws to decide. Some of them drew the short straws, Yunus being one of them. That is why Allah said:

فَسَاهَمَ فَكَانَ مِنَ الْمُدْحَضِينَ

And he drew lots and was one of the losers [37:141]

meaning he was one of those who lost when drawing straws. So they threw him overboard and a whale in the sea swallowed him whole without breaking his bones or tearing his flesh.

فلما صار في جوف الحوت في تلك الظلمات نادى: {لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ} [الأنبياء: 87] فأمر الله الحوت أن تلقيه بالعراء، فخرج من بطنها كالفرخ الممعوط من البيضة في غاية الضعف والوهن، فلطف الله به، وأنبت عليه شجرة من يقطين، فأظلته بظلها الظليل حتى قوي واشتد، وأمره الله أن يرجع إلى قومه فيعلمهم ويدعوهم، فاستجاب له أهل بلده مائة ألف أو يزيدون، فآمنوا فمتعناهم إلى حين. ـ

Then while he was in the whale’s stomach enveloped in multiple levels of darkness, he cried out:

لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

Laa ilaaha illa anta, subhaanaka, inee kuntu min al-thaalimeen

There is no deity worthy of worship but You, Exalted are You, Indeed I have been one of the wrong-doers [21:87]

Allah then commanded the whale to spit him out onto a barren shore, so he left the whale’s stomach looking like a plucked chicken in paleness due to extreme weakness and feebleness. Then Allah showed kindness to him and caused a gourd vine to grow above him. It shaded him well until he regained and increases in his strength, and then Allah commanded him to return to his people in order to teach and call them. So the people of his city responded to him – one hundred thousand or more – and they believed and Allah gave them enjoyment for a time.

وفي هذه القصة عتاب الله ليونس صلى الله عليه وسلم اللطيف، وحبسه في بطن الحوت؛ ليكون كفارة وآية عظيمة وكرامة ليونس، ومن نعمة الله عليه أنه استجاب له هذا العدد الكثير من قومه، فكثرة أتباع الأنبياء من جملة فضائلهم. ـ

• This story mentions Allah’s reprimand of Yunus (ﷺ) and confining him to the stomach of the whale in order that this would be an expiation as well as a great sign and a miracle for Yunus. And one of Allah’s great blessings to Yunus is that this great number of his people responded to him, for the quantity of followers for the prophets is part of their overall virtues.

وفيها استعمال القرعة عند الاشتباه في مسائل الاستحقاق والحرمان إذا لم يكن مرجح سواها، وفي عمل أهل السفينة هذا العمل دليل على القاعدة المشهورة أنه يرتكب أخف الضررين لدفع الضرر الذي هو أكبر منه، ولا ريب أن إلقاء بعضهم وإن كان فيه ضرر، فعطب الجميع إذا لم يلق أحد أعظم. ـ

• This story also indicates the permissibility of drawing straws in similar situations of distribution or deprivation when there is no other way to come to a decision. And in this action of the ship’s passengers there is a proof for the well-known principle that one must take the lesser of two harmful matters in order to repel a greater harm. And there is no doubt that throwing some of the passengers overboard is better – even though this involves some harm – since all of them would perish if they did not throw any of them overboard.

وفيها أن العبد إذا كانت له مقدمة خاصة مع ربه وقد تعرف إلى ربه في حال الرخاء، أن الله يشكر له ذلك، ويعرفه في حال الشدة بكشفها بالكلية أو تخفيفها، ولهذا قال في قصة يونس: {فَلَوْلَا أَنَّهُ كَانَ مِنَ الْمُسَبِّحِينَ – لَلَبِثَ فِي بَطْنِهِ إِلَى يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ} [الصافات: 143 – 144] ـ

• This story also shows the fact that if the slave has a beginning of devotion to his Lord and knows his Lord in times of ease, then Allah appreciates that and will know him in times of difficulty by lifting those difficulties entirely or by lightening them. That is why Allah said in the story of Yunus:

فَلَوْلَا أَنَّهُ كَانَ مِنَ الْمُسَبِّحِينَ * لَلَبِثَ فِي بَطْنِهِ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ

And had he not been of those who exalt Allah * He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected. [37:143-144]

وفيها ما قاله النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: «دعوة أخي ذي النون ما دعا بها مكروب إلا فرج الله عنه: {لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ} [الأنبياء: 87] » . ـ

• This story also shows what the Prophet (ﷺ) said: The supplication of my brother Dhu’l-Noon – no one supplicates with it against any disliked thing except that Allah gives him joy by it:

لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

Laa ilaaha illa anta, subhaanaka, inee kuntu min al-thaalimeen

There is no deity worthy of worship but You, Exalted are You, Indeed I have been one of the wrong-doers [21:87]

وفيها أن الإيمان ينجي من الأهوال والشدائد لقوله تعالى: {وَكَذَلِكَ نُنْجِي الْمُؤْمِنِينَ} [الأنبياء: 88] أي: إذا وقعوا فيها لإيمانهم. ـ

• And this story contains the fact that eemaan saves one from terrifying events and difficulties, as Allah said:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُنجِي الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

And thus do We save the believers. [21:88]

meaning, when they exercise their eemaan in the face of those difficulties.

[Taysir al-Lateef al-Manaan pg. 338-341]

See also: “Except the people of Yunus”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: A Runaway Slave

See also: Consideration is given to the completeness of the conclusion, not the defects of the beginning

See also: The story of ‘Eesaa, his mother, Zakariyyah and Yahya – Imam al-Sa’di

See also: Benefits from the story of Moosaa and al-Khadr: Imam al-Sa’di

See also: Benefits from the Story of the Mother of Moosaa: Imam al-Sa’di

See also: “Those of determination among the messengers”: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

2 thoughts on “The Story of Yunus: Tafsir al-Sa’di

  1. Pingback: A Runaway Slave: Tafsir al-Shawkani & al-Qurtubi | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: “Except the people of Yunus”: Tafsir al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

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