Jonah and Job

Surah 37 (Al-Saffat/Those arranged in ranks): 142

139. And truly Jonah was among the message bearers.

140. Behold he fled to the full-laden ship,

141 And then cast lots and was amongst those rejected.

142. Then the fish swallowed him, for he was blameworthy,

143. And had he not been among those who glorify,

144. He would have tarried in its belly until the Day they are resurrected.


The Book of Job is thought by some to be the earliest book of the Bible, having, like the stories of Adam and Noah, a Sumerian origin, bearing similarities with the poem Ludlul Bel Nimeqi (The Poem of the righteous Sufferer . It consists almost entirely upon a series of poetic exchange between Job and four companions, in which they ponder at length the nature of undeserved suffering. The four people with whom Job converses, seek to persuade him that a series of recent misfortunes that have befallen him must have been the result of some sin that he had committed, for God would not be unjust. Job denies having committed any sin, but continues to keep faith in God, whilst accepting that he is incapable of understanding God’s purpose. These exchanges are preceded by a short introductory narrative, probably a later addition, in which it is imagined by the author that God had accepted a challenge by Satan to take away the blessings He has given to a righteous man to discover if such a person would still keep his faith if it no longer rewarded him. It was as part of this testing of Job’s faith that God had blighted him with economic ruin, the illness and death of his children, and the scorn of his neighbours and his wife. After Job had kept his faith, God restored to Job twice the wealth that he had earlier lost.


References to the story of Job appear in the Qur’an twice, at {21.83-84} and {38.41-44} where the essence of the original story is effectively reversed so that it becomes an account merely of God removing suffering from a righteous man, and restoring his family to him, when He was called upon so to do, without mention of how this suffering and separation had come about.


In the Surah 38 passage, two of the four verses defy interpretation. {38.42}’s ‘Strike with thy foot, this is cool water wherewith to wash and to drink’, may suggest that God created for Job a miraculous spring, as he had for Moses 〈22.〉 and Mary 〈25.〉 although here the need for water is not explained. Less pleasantly, the Job allusion ends on a violent note, with God instructing him to:

{38.44} … take with thy hand a bundle of rushes and strike therewith, and break not thine oath.

Truly we found him to be steadfast.

What and excellent servant!

Truly he turned oft unto God’.

Whom it is that Job is told to beat, and why he had previously sworn that he would do so, is not explained, but it is generally, and not unreasonably, supposed that this must have been Job’s wife, who in the biblical account had, joined his companions in doubting that the curses sent from God could have been undeserved by him. For the Qur’an, the significance of this passage appears to be that an oath to take revenge, once made to God, must be fulfilled and may not be later set aside. It also carries the regrettable element of divine approval for a man’s right to physically chastise his wife for her lack of loyalty, see also 〈59.〉



In the Book of Jonah, its eponymous prophet is told by God to preach to the people of Ninevah, but instead of accepting this mission seeks to escape by sea. During the course of the voyage, God creates a storm which leads the other sailors, upon realising that Jonah is fleeing God, throw him overboard. Then, in the story’s best-known detail, Jonah is swallowed whole by a large fish and three days later disgorged onto a beach. When Jonah does eventually succumb to God’s will and preaches to the people of Nineveh, its king and people repent of their wickedness and God spares the city. However, Jonah becomes angry at this turn of events since the lack of any punishment for Nineveh seems to have denied his warning any value. The biblical story ends with Jonah addressed by God on the subject of mercy, using, to illustrate his point, Jonah’s sadness at the death of a gourd plant.

The Quranic account of the Bible’s most unwilling and rebellious prophet is summarised in {37.139-148}, and alluded to fleetingly at {10.98-99}, {21.87-88} and {68.48.50}, the latter two of these passages referring to him anonymously as ‘the man/companion of the fish.’ For the Qur’an, the ‘people of Jonah’, {10.98}, who repented their wickedness and were spared, represent a unique departure from the otherwise unrelenting motif of peoples who fail to repent and suffer punishment as a result.

Job and Jonah also appear together in lists of prophets at {4.163}, and {6.84-86}.