Jonah : biography
Jonah or Jonas ( ‘ or ‘; Greek/Latin: Ionas) is the name given in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh/Old Testament) to a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BC, the eponymous central character in the Book of Jonah, famous for being swallowed by a fish or a whale, depending on translation. The Biblical story of Jonah is also repeated, with a few notable differences, in the Qur’an.
Jonah in Islam
Jonah (Yunus in Arabic) is highly important in Islam as a prophet who was faithful to God and delivered His messages. In Islam, Jonah is also called Dhul-Nun (Arabic: ذو النون; meaning The One of the Whale). Chapter 10 of the Qur’an is named Jonah, although in this chapter only verse 98 refers to him directly. It is said in Muslim tradition that Jonah came from the tribe of Benjamin and that his father was Amittai.Encyclopedia of Islam, Yunus, pg. 348 Jonah is the only one of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible to be mentioned by name in the Qur’an.
Jonah’s Qur’anic narrative is extremely similar to the Hebrew Bible story. The Qur’an describes Jonah as a righteous preacher of the message of God but a messenger who, one day, fled from his mission because of its overwhelming difficulty. The Qur’an says that Jonah made it onto a ship but, because of the powerfully stormy weather, the men aboard the ship suggested casting lots to throw off the individual responsible for this supposed ‘bad luck’. When the lots were cast, Jonah’s name came out, and he was thrown into the open ocean that night. A gigantic fish came and swallowed him, and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish repenting and glorifying God to the maximum. As the Qur’an says:
God forgave Jonah out of His mercy and kindness for the man, and because he knew that Jonah was, at heart, one of the best of men. Therefore, the fish cast Jonah out onto dry land, with Jonah in a state of sickness. Thus, God caused a plant to grow where Jonah was lying to provide shade and comfort for him. After Jonah got up, fresh and well, God told him to go back and preach at his land. As the Qur’an says:
Jonah is also mentioned in a few incidents during the lifetime of Muhammad. In some instances, Jonah’s name is spoken of with praise and reverence by Muhammad. According to historical narrations about Muhammad’s life, after ten years of receiving revelations, Muhammad went to the city of Ta’if to see if its leaders would allow him to preach his message from there rather than Mecca, but he was cast from the city by the people. He took shelter in the garden of Utbah and Shaybah, two members of the Quraysh tribe. They sent their servant, Addas, to serve him grapes for sustenance. Muhammad asked Addas where he was from and the servant replied Nineveh. "The town of Jonah the just, son of Amittai!" Muhammad exclaimed. Addas was shocked because he knew that the pagan Arabs had no knowledge of the prophet Jonah. He then asked how Muhammad knew of this man. "We are brothers" Muhammad replied. "Jonah was a Prophet of God and I, too, am a Prophet of God." Addas immediately accepted Islam and kissed the hands and feet of Muhammad.Summarized from the book of story of Muhammad by Ibn Hisham Volume 1 pg.419-421
In one of the sayings of Muhammad, in the collection of Imam Bukhari, it says that Muhammad said "One should not say that I am better than Jonah". This is understood by both mainstream Muslims and historians to have been stated by Muhammad to emphasize upon the notion of equality between all the prophets and the law of making no distinction between any of the messengers. The Arab tribes, of the time, may have begun to exalt Muhammad above Jonah because of the recent revelation Muhammad received, which recounted the story of Jonah’s fleeing from his mission. Thus, Muhammad, by saying this, clearly made it a point to the Arabs to not make any distinction between the great apostles of God.