We can learn about patience and sincerity through calamities and hardships. Although we may feel distressed and lost, we should never underestimate Allah s.w.t’s power to put us in a better situation and bring us relief. Allah s.w.t. is the only one whom we seek forgiveness and help from and He is the one who grants the prayers of His servants. Thus, we should never feel hopeless and instead, we should always pray and turn to Him in any situation.
The Quran offers us guidance. We can learn from the stories of the Prophets and the previous communities. They offer us life lessons on how to face and respond to the gifts and challenges in this life as faithful servants of Allah s.w.t. to achieve the best outcome in this world and the next.
Amongst many is the story of Prophet Yunus a.s. As mentioned in the Quran:
وَإِنَّ يُونُسَ لَمِنَ ٱلْمُرْسَلِينَ. إِذْ أَبَقَ إِلَى ٱلْفُلْكِ ٱلْمَشْحُونِ. فَسَاهَمَ فَكَانَ مِنَ ٱلْمُدْحَضِينَ. فَٱلْتَقَمَهُ ٱلْحُوتُ وَهُوَ مُلِيمٌ. فَلَوْلَآ أَنَّهُۥ كَانَ مِنَ ٱلْمُسَبِّحِينَ. لَلَبِثَ فِى بَطْنِهِۦٓ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ يُبْعَثُونَ. فَنَبَذْنَـٰهُ بِٱلْعَرَآءِ وَهُوَ سَقِيمٌ. وَأَنۢبَتْنَا عَلَيْهِ شَجَرَةً مِّن يَقْطِينٍ. وَأَرْسَلْنَـٰهُ إِلَىٰ مِا۟ئَةِ أَلْفٍ أَوْ يَزِيدُونَ. فَـَٔامَنُوا۟ فَمَتَّعْنَـٰهُمْ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ
And Jonah (Yunus) was indeed one of the messengers. (Remember) when he fled to the overloaded ship. Then (to save it from sinking,) he drew straws (with other passengers). He lost (and was thrown overboard). Then the whale engulfed him while he was reproaching his own self. Had he not (constantly) glorified (Allah). he would have certainly remained in its belly until the Day of Resurrection. But We cast him onto the open (shore), (totally) worn out. and caused a squash plant to grow over him. We (later) sent him (back) to (his city of) at least one hundred thousand people, They believed, so We let them live out their lives.
(Surah As-Saffat, 37:139-148)
The story tells us of Prophet Yunus a.s. tried to call his community to the truth. After many attempts, they still refused to listen. Prophet Yunus a.s. was a human being; he got so angry that he left them to fare for themselves. He knew that their actions would lead to their own destruction.
The ship that Prophet Yunus a.s. took was later caught in a storm and left to face the harshness of the sea. After throwing items from the overloaded ship, there was still excess weight to get rid of in order to stay afloat. The people onboard then decided to draw lots. Prophet Yunus a.s. lost and was thrown overboard to save the ship from sinking.
There is no way a person can survive in the middle of the sea with nothing to hold on to. It was then that Allah s.w.t. sent a whale that swallowed Prophet Yunus a.s. As much as the Prophet managed to avert the unforgiving sea, he was then stuck in the belly of the whale.
The Tafsir of Jalalain explains verse 142 that the Prophet a.s. did not have permission from his Lord to leave his community. Even with all the rejection and false claims he received, it was his responsibility to continue guiding his community to the truth and to their own wellbeing. This explains his predicament.
While in the whale’s belly, cramped within the lifeless void of darkness, Prophet Yunus a.s. reflected on the error in his ways and prayed to Allah s.w.t:
وَذَا النُّونِ إِذ ذَّهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا فَظَنَّ أَن لَّن نَّقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ فَنَادَىٰ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَن لَّا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِين. فَٱسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُۥ وَنَجَّيْنَـٰهُ مِنَ ٱلْغَمِّ ۚ وَكَذَٰلِكَ نُـۨجِى ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“And (remember) when the Man of the Whale stormed off (from his city) in a rage, thinking We would not restrain him. Then in the (veils of) darkness, he cried out, “There is no god (worthy of worship) except You. Glory be to You! I have certainly done wrong.” So We answered his prayer and rescued him from anguish. And so do We save the believers.”
(Surah Al-Anbiyaa’, 21:87-88)
It was through this prayer of repentance that Allah s.w.t. paved the path of hope for Prophet Yunus a.s. as he was released from the whale’s belly and cast back out to sea. He later found himself on the shores by the will of Allah s.w.t. and worn out from the rigours of his experience. As the Prophet was healing, Allah allowed a gourd tree to grow over him that provided shade and shelter from harmful insects.
The Quran later tells us that Prophet Yunus a.s. was sent to a community. Scholars differ on whether he was sent to the same community that he left from or a different community entirely. The Quran only clearly says that it was a city of at least 100,000 people. They later believed in his call to the truth and virtue.
The supplication prayed by Prophet Yunus a.s. in the belly of the whale offers us guidance on how to repent sincerely to Allah s.w.t. It describes the power of Allah s.w.t. and that no one is able to forgive except Him, while also containing the confession of a wrongdoer in repentance:
لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
La ilaha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu minaz-zalimin
“There is none worthy of worship except You, Glory to You, Indeed, I have been of the transgressors.”
Part of the manners in walking the path of repentance, as seen in this supplication, is to recognise the exaltedness of Allah s.w.t, The One True God. We praise Him due to His majesty and His love for us. It is to redirect our purpose in life and realise our true being.
The other part of this supplication teaches us to admit our mistakes and the error in our ways. It also means that we learn to accept the reality: when we are deciding to repent from our mistakes with faith and virtue, we are completely in need of His forgiveness and Mercy.
When the walls of reality are closing in on us and all the doors seem shut, just like the narrow and utter darkness of the whale’s belly, this is a Dua to recite with the intention to find a way out and realign ourselves in the path.
May Allah s.w.t. guide us in all corners of our lives, give us the strength to amend our ways and bless us with His love and mercy.
And Allah knows best.