But eventually he (Jonah) called out in the veils of darkness... (Al-Anbiyā’ 21:87)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūratu’l-Anbiyā’ (The Prophets)

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فَنَادَىٰ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَن لَّا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
But eventually he (Jonah) called out in the veils of darkness: “There is no deity but You, All-Glorified are You (in that You are absolutely above having any defects). Surely I have been one of the wrongdoers (who have wronged themselves).” (Al-Anbiyā’ 21:87)

First of all, we should mention a point concerning Prophet Jonah, peace be upon him: According to several traditions of the Prophet, since Jonah’s people did not believe in him, when signs of the kind of disaster which had destroyed former nations appeared, Jonah left the town where he lived without receiving any apparent command from God. Since this behavior is considered a lapse and mistake for those near-stationed to God like Prophet Jonah, Divine Destiny judged that he would be thrown into the sea, and Jonah was swallowed by a dolphin or whale. At a time when the physical means and causes were neither thinkable nor useful for salvation, Jonah became acutely aware of the omnipresence of God, Who is the Creator of causes, with a deeper Prophetic perception. Then he turned to God from the bottom of his heart and began invoking. The Qur’ān informs us about Jonah’s invocation at that particular time and place:

“He called out in the veils of darkness: ‘Lā ilāha illā Anta’ (There is no deity but You); ‘Subhānaka’ (‘All-Glorified are You’ [in that You are absolutely above having any defects. You have neither partners nor equals nor peers in Your Essence, Attributes, and Actions. And there is none to be worshipped and sought except You. Everything happens or does not but by Your permission. Whatever You will to be, it is, and whatever You will not to be, it is not. So I have been thrown into the sea because You willed it; therefore, I can be saved only by Your Will!]); ‘Innī kuntu mina’z-zālimīn’ (Surely I have been one of the wrongdoers).” This heartfelt supplication is both an acknowledgement of a mistake and repentance for it.

In fact, every Prophet repented his lapses in a way befitting him and in accordance with what was required of his circumstances and conditions. For example, Prophet Adam invoked, saying: “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and do not have mercy on us, we will surely be among those who have lost!” (Al-A‘rāf 7:23). Similarly, Prophet Moses said in supplication: “My Lord! Indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me” (Al-Qasas 28:16). As for Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, I do not know of a particular supplication with the same meaning, yet he used similar words in the supplication that he taught to Abū Bakr, which is: “My Lord! I have wronged myself much and no one can forgive sins except You. So forgive me and have mercy on me, for surely You are the All-Forgiving, the All-Compassionate.”[1]

If we turn back to the verse, first of all, we recognize the announcement of God’s Greatness, absolute Oneness, and Majesty: “There is no deity but You.” Prophet Jonah declared this with the full consciousness that all the physical means and causes for salvation would be of no use at such a moment. This is very important. Actually, almost everyone, unavoidably, turns toward God directly when the means and causes are totally dysfunctional. Thus, the invocation, “All-Glorified are You. Surely I have been one of the wrongdoers!” has the meaning that was given here.

This invocation of Prophet Jonah is both an acknowledgement of one’s nothingness and a turning to God pronouncing one’s wrongdoing and attracting His compassion. In fact, one of the most effective ways of calling for and drawing God’s compassion and forgiveness is one’s confession of one’s faults or sins. This is also the way of the Prophets.

There is another point to mention here concerning the pronouncement, “There is no deity but You!” Bediüzzaman Said Nursi points out that this pronouncement relates to our future. That is, from the point of view of the principle of acting in accordance or compliance with what is required by the circumstances, through the pronouncement of, “There is no deity but You!”, Prophet Jonah emphasized that it was only God Who would rescue him to the shore of safety. In other words, he asked for something related to the future. Proceeding from here, we can point to the fact that as it was only God Who would save Prophet Jonah, it is also only God Who will save us from every kind of darkness surrounding us. Since the Divine name God (Allāh) encompasses all other Names such as the Lord (Rabb), the Creator (Khāliq), and the Provider (Razzāq), “There is no deity but You!” is a declaration of all dimensions of Divine Unity. That is, it carries the meanings: There is no Lord but You; there is no Creator but You; there is no Savior but You; there is no Provider but You. Prophet Jonah declared all dimensions of God’s Unity, but in accordance with his particular circumstances, he said, “There is no deity but You,” not “but God.” In the general circumstances in which we find ourselves, we had better say, “Lā ilāha illa’llāh” (There is no deity but God).

In the verse, “God is the guardian of those who believe, bringing them out from all kinds of darkness into the light” (Al-Baqarah 2:257), it is stressed that there are many kinds of veils of darkness. Therefore, if Prophet Jonah, upon him be peace, was thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish at night, we can deduce that he remained in many kinds or behind many veils of darkness. One of these darknesses was the blur or uneasiness which his lapse caused to arise in his heart. His embarrassment coming from his lapse, the darkness of the belly of the fish, the darkness of the sea, and the darkness of night were other veils of darkness which surrounded him.

As a noble, illustrious Prophet of God who believed in His absolute Oneness and the sole Source of refuge, Jonah, upon him be peace, was not one who turned to God with glorification only when he was in the belly of the fish. He always turned to God with glorifications. His invocation, “All Glorified You are,” which showed his deep relationship with God, meant: “My Lord! I take refuge in You acknowledging and declaring the right of Your Divinity and the actions due to or required by Your Wisdom. And I proclaim my helplessness in the face of the majesty of Your Divinity.”

The acknowledgement of, “Surely I have been one of the wrongdoers,” is the proclamation of the Prophets regarding their lapses or minor faults which they see as a great crime or wrongdoing. This acknowledgement implied: “I am in this state, and it is evident to You!” It was like the following saying of a poet: “I have many needs, and You have knowledge and understanding! My silence is such that it is the speech itself.”

In conclusion, it is evident what response would come to that invocation which a chosen servant of God said in a style peculiar to the chosen: “We saved him (Jonah) from distress” (Al-Anbiyā’ 21:88).

O God! Save us from distress and wretchedness, as You saved him from distress, for the sake of him whom You sent as a mercy for all the worlds! And bestow blessings on him and on his Family altogether!

[1] Bukhārī, Adhan, 149; Tawhīd, 9; Daawah, 16; Muslim, Dhikr, 47–48; Ibn Mājah, Du‘ā’, 2; Tirmidhī, Daawah, 96; Nasāī, Sahw, 59.