Jonah. Flying Above the Fray.
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Surah Yunus contains a profound message for our times (fyi: Yunus is the same as Jonah, which means dove in Hebrew). Several central ideas area contained in this Quranic chapter:
1) God created the heavens and the earth with nuance and diversity, and this reality is what makes creation a beautiful thing. The word "ikhtilaf" is specifically used. This is a fascination to me as we often hear of this term within the context of legal and theological opinions, and depending on whom you ask, "ikhtilaf" is either a good thing or a bad thing. But in the opening of Surah Yunus, ikhtilaf an unequivocal good. The Study Quran translates it as "variance," but I think, to use modern parlance, the words "nuance," "diversity," "variety," better convey the points I will attempt to make.
"Surely in the variety of night and day and whatsoever God has created in the heavens and earth are signs for a people who are reverent." 10: 6
2) The Prophet's message, especially those early Makkan years, was received much like the messages of Moses and Noah in relation to their people and their time--with disbelief and opposition. The Prophet (ﷺ) was asked to "prove himself" and the veracity of his teachings (the Quran in particular). People hurled insults at the beloved (ﷺ) all the time. Insults are contextually based...according to time, place, ideologies, and values. In his time, it was "sorcerer." Hold on to that thought. Anyhow, the Quran says that the disbelieving Makkans stood on the ground of conjecture only, and that the Prophet didn't owe them a single explanation--the heaven and the earth and the signs of God's creation really ought to be enough for those who actually listen.
So hold on to those points: nuance, diversity, living your truth, ignoring insults, conjecture, ideology. I promise to circle back.
3) Surah Yunus also discusses what it means to be a khalifah (representative of God on earth) and promises that God alone will judge among communities and set right all wrongs. It is also fascinating to note that linguistically, the word "khalifah" is related to the word "ikhtilaf." In other words, to maintain harmony here on earth we must recognize the underlying nuance, diversity and beauty of the created order. Nuance and diversity are godly. To be God's representative--which in Quranic terms--is always seen as a state of humility and service--is our purpose. And when we stray from this fitna ensues.
4) By 10: 57, Surah Yunus offers a way to handle the fitnas of this world: "O humans! There has come to you an exhortation from your Lord and a cure for what lies within the breasts, a guidance and a mercy."
*Exhortation" here is mauidha, which comes from the root "audhu" which is what we say when we take refuge from the shaytan. Many of you might also think of the word المعوذتان mauidhatan which refers to those last three surahs--surah ikhlas, falaq and nas. This connection is important.
5) In short...the Prophet's time was not much different than our own. The Makkans might have been crass idolators, but human nature hasn't changed. Today people make their race, their culture, their deen, their political views, their lifestyle habits, their wokeness, their whatever--their idols. And in doing so, they forget "ikhtilaf." They ignore the cosmological signs of diversity and nuance. They hurl insults (maybe not sorcerer), but other words that basically say "you aren't real." "You aren't enough." Or "you are wrong." Liberals do this. Conservatives do this. Muslims do this, too, in many, many ways. All are the result of group think. The Makkans were invested in serious group-think--their status and priveledges depended on it. Again, not so different from today's world in a variety of contexts. And as we might observe, group-think often leads to the fury of the mob.
Well, Surah Yunus has advice for that, too.
6) Seek refuge. Pray, contemplate. Know your own truth and know that that IS enough.
According to Quranic spirituality--if you are serving God and living your truth (in taqwa), then you don't owe nobody nothing. No explanation. No proof. And certainly no capitulation to group-think. All you have to do is to maintain your taqwa and seek refuge.
You can even just recite the المعوذتان over and over again. For what do those surahs protect you from? The same damn thing:
Insincerity and idolatry--aka ideology (surah ikhlas)
sorcery and harm --which today is equivalent to cancel culture and mob mentality and gossip (surah falaq)
and fitna and whispering in general from all types of people (surah an-nas)
Surah Yunus ends by comparing the Prophet's experience to that of (Moses and Noah). The people of Moses and Noah also rejected their messengers (at first). And later, both communities often failed to uphold the message they then eventually came to embrace. Same with the Islamic community. But what about Yunus. What is the Quran saying about this model?
I know this is a big jump, but I do not think it is a coincidence that Yunus is named after a bird, a dove no less. Doves are universal archetypes for peace and serenity.
May we all be birds and find birds of the feather than can support us in our nuance, diversity and avoidance of fitna of all kinds. Not necessarily birds of the flock...but birds of peace and serenity and an ability to stay above group think, whispering, fitna, insincerity, gossip, and the desire to prove ourselves. If you are living the deen to the best of your ability--in taqwa and in contemplation--in awareness of ikhtilaf--then ignore the haters and seek refuge in God alone. As 10: 105 says, "And set thy face toward the religion as a hanif, and be not among the idolators."
All else is fuel for the fire.
Jonah was clearly a hanif. Sure, he made mistakes, but he kept setting things right. May we follow that sunnah and stay above the fray. Birds of independent and contemplative thought. Birds of taqwa.
Finally, if you are having a rough time and need protection from fitnas and the fray, then try this lovely formula that includes a dua from Yunus. May it be of benefit. Ameen.