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When Nineveh Met Taif: Gems from Ilmfest

NinevehBoxIt was a sad day in Ninevah. The Prophet Yunus, peace be upon him, was leaving.

Angry, frustrated, and unable to continue what felt like a hopeless endeavor, he boarded the first ship out of town, leaving his homeland behind. He had tried and tried and tried– but no matter how hard he argued or how sincerely he reasoned, they were unwilling to see that reason. And he couldn’t see himself staying there anymore, so he left.

The ship left the shore, and as it sailed towards the open sea his homeland grew smaller in the distance. He looked towards its shore and he could see the land, the trees, the sky above the place where he had been born and brought up. He could also see clouds- dark, angry rolling clouds gathering above. A storm was brewing.

He thought the storm would be unleashed on his people, but it turns out that the people of Nineveh did something unusual when they saw the wrath of God coming- they actually repented. And Allah forgave them.

Wow. I know, right? All those other times people saw the wrath of God coming and thought, “Wow, those are some ominous-looking clouds. I bet it’s going to be a lovely drizzle! It’s not like God’s angry at us or anything…” but the people of Nineveh got it right. So that storm never hit them. It hit Prophet Yunus alaihis-salam instead.

Back on the boat, there was chaos. The ocean waves had grown into rolling hills, and the ship scaled their heights before racing down their depths and into the danger of capsizing. People began throwing their belongings over- their life’s possessions, their wares, their financial investments in the future- to save the reality of their present. It wasn’t enough. That’s when they threw Yunus AS over instead.

Man, first his own people rejected him. Now the people on the boat chucked him into the monstrous waves of a Wrath-level storm. It couldn’t get any worse. Or maybe it did, because that’s when an enormous whale swallowed Yunus AS and swam straight to the bottom of the ocean.

Beneath the darkness of the storm lay the darkness of the water. Within the darkness of the water swam the darkness within the whale. And in the darkness of the whale, Yunus AS thought he was dead.

He lay unmoving, unseeing, unsure of what-if anything- was to come. Then, in silence of the darkness he heard a tiny sound. He listened closer and realized he was hearing the pebbles on the ocean floor. They were making tasbih.

That is when Yunus (AS) understood he was still alive. Grateful, ashamed, humbled – he began to turn his body. He squeezed and pushed against the crushing insides of the whale until he was lying on his stomach. Then he strained, he pulled, he fought until his knees were bent beneath him, and pulled his hands around to his face. There, in the belly of the whale, in the darkness within the darkness within the darkness- Yunus AS made sujood.

He prayed.

There is no God but you Allah, and truly I am from among those who have sinned.

There is no God but you Allah, and truly I am from among those who have sinned.

There is no God but you Allah, and truly I am from among those who have sinned.

He made this dua over and over again, and he kept repeated it until the whale began to swim upwards, rising from the ocean’s darkness to the shore’s light, where he spat Yunus onto the shore.

Sunlight seared Yunus’s raw, acid-burned skin. He screamed, and then turned that scream into prayer- GAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaathere is no God but you Allah, and truly I am from among those who have sinned. There is no God but you Allah, and truly I am from among those who have sinned.

He kept praying until the pain subsided and the skin healed, and to make a long story short- it turns out the people that Yunus AS ran away from were looking for him. They wanted him to teach them the faith that they had earlier rejected. And here is where Nineveh meets Taif.

When the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad ﷺ was ten years into his mission, he was hit with terrible loss. His wife Khadija RA- who had been best friend, his wife, his first believer and his first supporter- died. In the same year, his Uncle Abu Talib- who had been his protector and friend- also died. And not only did he die- he died without accepting Islam or becoming a Muslim.

In this state of grief, Muhammadﷺ had a big problem.

The chiefs of the Quraysh controlled who could live or stay in Makkah, and getting the chief’s stamp was kind of like getting a visa or a greencard. No visa? No residence. Abu Talib had been stamping Muhammad’s SAW proverbial visa to this point, but when he died, his brother stood next in line to head the tribe of Bani Hashim.

You know Abu Talib’s younger brother don’t you? Abdul Uzza- aka- your jolly old uncle Abu Lahab?

Abu Lahab was one of the Prophet’s ﷺ most hateful opponents. Despite being related by blood, he was viciously opposed to his nephew’s mission. His wife put thorns outside the Prophet’sﷺ  door, and Abu Lahab himself dumped camel guts there. Because when cursing, rejecting, and disowning your own family members isn’t enough, the next logical step is guts.

Having lost his wife, his uncle, and his ability to stay in his hometown, the Prophet ﷺ went to Taif to see if the people there would be receptive to the message of Islam.

Contrary to pop-seerah, he didn’t just walk in and then get pelted out with stones on the same day. He was there for two weeks- talking, reasoning, calling people to the beauty of Islam and instead facing the ugliness of rejection.

“What, you? A messenger?” people spat in his direction.

He faced spite, arrogance, and verbal abuse. Finally, he was forced to leave the city, and on his way out, the children of Taif pelted him with stones until he bled all the way into his sandals.

In physical pain and emotional anguish, the Messenger of Allah slumped down against a palm tree outside a home at the outskirts of Taif, and covered in blood- he began to cry.

The owners of the home looked out their window and took pity on him, sending out a servant with a plate of grapes. The Prophet ﷺ accepted the grapes and before eating said, “Bismillah hir-Rahman nir-Raheem.”

Curious, the slave asked Muhammad ﷺ what his name was. Muhammad ﷺ introduced himself and asked the slave what his name was.   The slave’s name was Addas.

The Prophet ﷺ asked where he was from, as Addas was not a local name. Addas said he was from Nineveh.

“Nineveh?” The Prophet remarked, “You are of the people of Yunus.”

“What would you know about Yunus?” Addas challenged, surprised that a bleeding Arab would have anything to say about his Christian homeland.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “Yunus was a prophet, and I am a prophet, and the prophets are brothers.”

And there the story of Yunus intertwined with the story of Muhammad ﷺ, and Addas- a Christian slave- became the only person to embrace both the Prophet ﷺ and Islam in Taif that day.

And Allah is the Best of Planners.

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