Was Jonah Cast on the Desert Shore?
Ansar Al 'Adl
The allegation is as follows:
Was Jonah cast on the desert shore or was he not? "Then We cast him on a desert shore while he was sick" [37:145] "Had not Grace from his Lord reached him, he would indeed have been cast off on the naked shore while he was reprobate." [68:49]
Verses in question:
37:145 But We cast him forth on the naked shore while he was sick
68:49 Had not a Grace from his Lord reached him, he would indeed have been cast off on the naked shore, while he was to be blamed/disgraced.
1. It is very clear from the ahadith and the tafsir, that Prophet Jonah (Yunus) was saved by Allah, and released from the belly of the whale, upon the shore. Verse 68:49 is not disputing this fact at all. In reality, when one examines the verse more carefully, it becomes evident that the claim of verse 68:49 is that had Allah not been merciful and forgiven Jonah, he would have been blamed and disgraced for his mistake. This interpretation has been emphasized very clearly in several commentaries on this verse. Muhammad Asad writes:
"[And remember:] had not grace from his Sustainer reached him, he would indeed have been cast forth upon that barren shore in a state of disgrace" Lit., "while he was still blameworthy", i.e., burdened with sin and unredeemed by repentance: implying that but for God's grace he would have died as a sinner.
Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhab al-Turayri comments on the verse by saying:
The pertinent phrase at the end of the verse is wa huwa madhmum. It means 'while in a state of disgrace' or 'while in a state of sinfulness'.
The verse mentions the state that Jonah (peace be upon him) would have been in when he was cast off had it not been for the mercy off Allah. The verse is not saying that he was not cast off at all, but that he was not in disgrace when he was cast off.
Indeed, Allah says immediately thereafter: Thus did his Lord choose him and make him of the Company of
the Righteous. [Surah al-Qalam: 50]
The same interpretation is emphasized by Al-Qurtubi in Al-Jaami` le Ahkaam al-Qur'an:
(he would indeed have been thrown on the upon the barren shore, disgraced), that is to say that if he had not been blessed by his Lords favor he would then have been thrown in disgrace, however, he was thrown in a state of illness, not in a state of disgrace.
Ar-Raazi writes the same thing, in his Tafsir Al-kabir:
Had it not been for this [mentioned] favor [of his Lord], he would have been thrown on the naked shore with the attribute of disgrace. However, due to this favor [of his Lord], though the "throwing on the barren shore" was still there, yet it was without the attribute of disgrace. Thus, when the attribute of disgrace was not there, then he [Jonah] was not thrown on the barren shore in disgrace.
Ibn al-Jawzî writes in his commentary on the Qur'an [Zâd al-Masîr (8/369)]:
The meaning of the verse is that he was cast off without being in a state of disgrace, and this was on account of Allah's grace on him due to his repentance and Allah's mercy.
A more detailed list of quotes on this subject, is found in this article.
2. Ibn al-Jawzî then goes on to explain that Ibn Jurayj had an entirely different interpretation for the verse. Ibn Jurayj interpreted "al-`urâ'" (the naked shore) in this verse to mean the place of gathering on the Day of Resurrection. Therefore, he saw the verse as negating Jonah's being cast forth from the whale on the Day of Resurrection. Ibn Jurayj, consequently, understood the verse to mean that had it not been for the grace of Allah, Jonah (peace be upon him) would have remained in the whale until the Day of Resurrection and then been cast off in a blameworthy state.
The interpretation of Ibn Jurayj is not an attempt to avoid any supposed contradiction between this verse and verse 145 of Surah al-Saaffat (chapter 37). Rather, it is derived from verses 143-144 of Surah al-Saaffat:
37:143-144. And had he not been one of those who glorify (Allah), He would have tarried in its belly till the day when they are raised.
Al-Qurtubî makes this clear, saying:
It has been claimed that the meaning is: Had it not been for the grace of Allah, He would have remained in the belly of the whale until the Day of Resurrection and then been cast off on the plain of the Resurrection in disgrace. This is derived from Allah's words 'And had he not been one of those who glorify (Allah), He would have tarried in its belly till the day when they are raised'. [Tafsîr al-Qurtubî]
Al-Alûsî [Rûh al-Ma`ânî (29/34)] also points this out and then astutely observes:
The far-fetched nature of this interpretation cannot go unnoticed.
Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî comments on the interpretations:
The opinion of the majority of commentators - and not that of Ibn Jurayj - is the most likely one and the one that is apparent from the Arabic language.
The opinion of the majority of commentators being referred to here, is that which was explained in the first portion of this article.
3. Another point to note is that of the arabic language. The verb being used in verse 68:49 and 37:145 for "cast off" is actually being used in two different implications. In verse 37:145, it implies the initiation of an action, while in verse 68:49, it implies the continuation of an action.
Moiz Amjad provides the following explanation:
Verbs in the classical Arabic language were used in varying shades of their meanings. Sometimes the verb may be used to imply only the beginning or the initiation of the action (relating to that verb), sometimes it may be used to imply the completion of the action (in that verb) and sometimes, it maybe used to imply the continuity or the perpetuation of the action (in that verb)...
If the above explanation is fully understood, it would then not be difficult to understand that the verb "nabadha" in the two referred verses is actually used in two slightly different implications. In the first verse (Al-Saaffaat 37: 145), the verb implies the initiation or the beginning of the action in that verb, while in the second verse (Al-Qalam 68: 49), it implies the continuity or the perpetuation or the permanence of the action. Thus, keeping this explanation in mind, the the second verse should actually have been translated in a slightly different manner. In my opinion, a more accurate translation of the second verse would be:
Had it not been for the favor of his Lord upon him, he would indeed have been left thrown away upon the barren shore, disgraced.
N. J. Dawood, who seems to be well aware of this usage of the verbs in the classical Arabic language, has translated Al-Saaffaat 37: 145 in the following words:
We threw him, gravely ill, upon a desolate shore.
and then has very accurately translated Al-Qalam 68: 49 as:
Had his Lord not bestowed on him His grace, he would have been abandoned in the open to be blamed by all.
This, in my opinion, is the correct translation of Al-Qalam 68: 49.
From the above explanation, we understand that the distinction between 68:49 and 37:145 is that the former states that he did not remain abandoned upon the desert, while the latter sates that he was cast on the desrt and recovered from his poor condition.
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