After reading a story or a nonfiction book we develop a perspective of its idea and try to read and interpret between the lines based on our background and experience. Therefore, when we read the same book at different stages in our life we always end up with more questions and thoughts than the previous time we read it. The story of Prophet Yunus or Jonah peace be upon him is one that I have been thinking about a lot, lately.
Prophet Yunus’s story is about a man who after many years of unfruitful hard work of preaching lost hope. He left his town and the people he lived with for so many years seeking peace of mind. He quitted his job before accomplishing his goal. He felt desperate and left angry of the people who mocked him and his message, mistakenly thinking there is no hope of being with them anymore.
When he saw a small boat ready to sail, he asked if he can go with them. Maybe he knew the boat’s destination or maybe not. But humans are known of not taking their best decisions when they are angry.
وَذَا النُّونِ إِذ ذَّهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا [الأنبياء، 87]ـ
And [mention] the man of the fish, when he went off in anger [21, 87]
Just when Yunus peace be upon him thought he is far away from his troubles, and when the boat was in the middle of the sea, a strong storm hit the sea. The angrier the sea was the more confident the sailors were about what action they should take to save the lives of people on board. Even after throwing people’s belongings to lighten the boat, the sailors feared the worst. As a last resort to save the boat from sinking, the sailors decided that they still need to lighten the boat even more by throwing someone overboard. So they decided to cast lots. Everyone on board was asked to pick a stick and the one with the short stick would be thrown of the boat*.
Try to imagine yourself on this boat and that you are going to pick one of these sticks. Can you imagine the fear and state of mind one would have at that moment? How will you react if you are the one with the short stick? What would you do? To make things even worse, casting lots was repeated three times and every time Yunus ends up with the short stick.
Yunus voluntary jumped of the boat and started his new journey in the middle of the angry sea. Swimming in the sea is one thing but swimming through the high waves is another thing. People usually are drawn in the sea not because they can’t swim but because after a while they get tired. When swimmers get tired they surrender to the sea.
Yunus could have been drawn in the sea or he could have been saved by another boat or even reached the shore by himself. But God had a message and a lesson he wanted to teach us via his prophet. Just when he thought he hit rock bottom and before he surrendered to the sea, Yunus was saved by a miracle unknown to humans before. He was swallowed unharmed by a big fish or maybe better known as a whale.
Use your five senses to imagine a life inside the whale’s stomach. The feeling of being cramped with dead creatures, the fishy stinky smell, the taste of saltiness. But the most terrifying senses were of course the horrifying sound of whales (here is a sample) in the total darkness. Actually, there are even more senses than these basic five. Being in a place where you could never imagine being in and losing your sense of direction, balance, and time is even an extraordinary dilemma no one is prepared for.
But what distinguishes great men from the rest is how they react to extraordinary situations. Even in the darknesses of the sea (the bottom of the sea, inside the whale, and the darkness of night) and in the most unknown situation Yunus didn’t question God’s will. He didn’t ask God why He did that to him or why He left him alone in such a place. What Yunus peace be upon him said is a lesson that we need to learn.
فَنَادَىٰ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَن لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ [الأنبياء، 87]ـ
And he called out within the darknesses, "There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers." [21, 87]
When God heard Yunus’ prayer He commanded the whale to eject Yunus onto the shore. Yunus’ prayer saved his life.
فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَنَجَّيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْغَمِّ ۚ وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُنجِي الْمُؤْمِنِينَ [الأنبياء، 88]ـ
So We responded to him and saved him from the distress. And thus do We save the believers. [21, 88]
Not only Yunus’ life was spared but his people believed in his message. He eventually realized his triumph.
فَلَوْلَا كَانَتْ قَرْيَةٌ آمَنَتْ فَنَفَعَهَا إِيمَانُهَا إِلَّا قَوْمَ يُونُسَ لَمَّا آمَنُوا كَشَفْنَا عَنْهُمْ عَذَابَ الْخِزْيِ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَتَّعْنَاهُمْ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ [يونس، 98]ـ
Then has there not been a [single] city that believed so its faith benefited it except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in worldly life and gave them enjoyment for a time. [10, 98]
The story of Yunus has great lessons to be learned. When you think you hit rock bottom, know for sure that things could get even worse. When you think that you are in the worst situation and there is no way out, know for sure that there is always a way out. How else one could save his life after being swallowed by a whale? Whatever problems you are facing always be sure that your saver is none but Allah. Randomness doesn’t exist in Allah’s creation and will:
إِنَّا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَاهُ بِقَدَرٍ [القمر، 49]ـ
Indeed, all things We created with predestination. [54, 49]
Be resilient. Being resilient means developing an ability to recover from or adjust to hardship. In another word being stress-resistance. I once read that highly resilient people have three features in common, they are optimistic, religious and have role models. Read the stories of the prophets and make them your role models. Their stories are always an inspiration to the mankind.
* Drawing sticks was used as an example only. I am not sure of the method used to cast lots in this case.