Answered by Ustadh Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: In the Prophet Yunus’s story we learn that Prophet Yunus abandoned his people in anger when they didn’t listen to him. Did he know before hand that by doing this he would face Allah’s anger? Is this a blasphemous question?
Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate,
As salamu alaikum,
Thank you for your question. The prophet Yunus (or Jonah, may Allah peace be upon him) was sent by Allah Most High to call his people towards Allah’s worship. When they rejected Allah’s message, he left them in a state of anger, expecting divine punishment to overtake them. Fleeing by sea, he was cast overboard, and swallowed by a giant whale/fish. Then, he was divinely inspired to say a beautiful prayer, and Allah ordered the fish to release Yunus onto the seashore. [Quran 21:87*]
The strongest opinion is that Yunus was angered for the sake of Allah alone, and felt that he was free to leave his people. He did not realize untill he was swallowed by the fish that leaving, though not sinful, was not the optimal choice, and that it would have been better to wait for Allah’s permission.
His being swallowed was not a punishment, rather a trial that prophets go through to raise their rank. Still, he felt that by choosing the suboptimal course of action, he wronged himself, and so he proclaimed Allah’s oneness and perfection, and humbly admitted his own humanness.
It is part of the Islamic belief that prophets do not purposely commit sins [al-Bayjuri, Hashiya Jawarah al-Tawheed]. This includes: 1) ingratitude or displeasure with Allah’s decree, 2) fleeing from and disobeying the command of Allah, or 3) deeming Allah incapable of punishing whomever He wills.
Some opinions exist in the vast corpus of tafsir literature which seem to ascribe these sins to Yunus. However, Imam Razi in his tafsir analyzed each of these claims and demonstrated how they are not sound from an interpretative perspective, nor from the aspect of Islamic belief regarding the sinlessness of prophets. [al-Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir]
To believe and say that any prophet committed a sin is divergent from mainstream Islamic belief and a great disrespect, to say the least. However, one should refrain from throwing around the charge of blasphemy without proper knowledge, wisdom and authority. And Allah knows best.
* In the Qur’an, Allah Most High says:
“… and [recount the story of] the Companion of the Fish [Yunus, or Jonah, peace be upon him]- when he left [his people] in a state of anger [after they rejected him]. So he was thinking that We would not reproach him. Then, [when the giant whale/fish swallowed him] he cried out from under layers of darkness that, “There is no god except You! Glory be to You, beyond any imperfection! Indeed it was I who was of those who did wrong!” [Qur’an 21:87]
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani
The Removal of Shaytan’s Portion from the Prophet’s Heart