It’s not You, it’s me

INsights 033, Friday 27th January 2023

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Assalamu-alaikum. Peace be upon you.

The phrase that’s widely known as the du’a of Yunus, or the supplication of Jonah, has been doing its rounds in my mind recently.

It comes up in the following passage in the Qur’an:

And remember the man with the whale, when he went off angrily, thinking We could not restrict him, but then he cried out in the deep darkness, ‘There is no god but You, how perfect You are, I have certainly done wrong.’

(Chapter 21, The Prophets, al-Anbiya, Verse 87)

 لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ

Laa ilaaha illaa anta, subhaanaka, innee kuntu minadh-dhalimeen

Jonah was sent to his people to invite them to worship God. He preached continuously but they were stubborn and very few of them heeded his words. Jonah became frustrated and, with imminent punishment expected to rain down from the heavens on his people, he abandoned them. 

Here are more details from the Qur’anic narrative as to how Jonah ended up in the belly of the whale and why he cried out to His Lord in the way that He did:

Jonah too was one of the messengers. He fled to the overloaded ship. They cast lots, he suffered defeat, and a great fish swallowed him, for he had committed blameworthy acts. If he had not been one of those who glorified God, he would have stayed in its belly until the Day when all are raised up.

(Chapter 37, Ranged in Rows, as-Saffat, Verses 139-144)

Elsewhere, in a direct message to the final messenger Muhammad, may God grant him blessings and peace, Jonah’s abandonment is used by God as an example of precisely what not to do when the going gets tough:

Wait patiently [Prophet] for your Lord’s judgement: do not be like the man in the whale who called out in distress; if his Lord’s grace had not reached him, he would have been left, abandoned and blameworthy, on the barren shore.

(Chapter 68, The Pen, al-Qalam, Verses 48-49)

A common cycle

What happened to Jonah happens to all of us in different ways...

There’s an important act of worship or service to God that we begin doing. We start off determined and hopeful. We expect results. 

But for a number of different reasons, things become difficult. We lose connection, or we face criticism, or our efforts don’t seem to be bringing about the benefits for which we were hoping. 

So we feel weakened, frustrated and maybe bitter or upset. We get lazier. We give up.

But eventually we realise that abandoning the task at hand hasn’t solved anything. It hasn’t made our problems go away.

In fact, maybe new difficulties arise that we interpret as a kind of warning or even punishment for our inaction. They might present as completely unforeseen circumstances or it’s just that we live with a gnawing sense of shame or dissatisfaction that just won’t go away. 

The realisation dawns upon us. We should never have given up on doing the right thing in the first place. We should have carried on doing our best. 

We feel guilty. We feel hopeless. 

It’s like being in total darkness, just as Jonah found himself in total darkness.

We want to find a way back but we don’t know where to start. 

It’s time for a comeback

Emerging from the darkness starts with the attitudes and emotions behind those powerful words:

‘There is no god but You, how perfect You are, I have certainly done wrong.’

Let’s break it down…

1. There is no god but You. 

I realise that You are the only one worthy of my complete devotion. 

Giving in to frustration or anger or apathy just means I end up serving myself or someone else or some other agenda, instead of serving You and You alone. 

However many times I’ve given up and felt there is no point, I know the truth deep down: You are the point! 

I must come back to You…

2. How perfect You are. 

I may have had thoughts about You that were inappropriate. 

I questioned your decree, your judgement and your wisdom. 

I couldn’t understand why You were making things so hard, until I realised that You weren’t. You just wanted me to rise to the challenge and help me develop total devotion to You. You didn’t put me in a situation that I couldn’t have handled. 

You are far removed from any imperfection, far removed from any inappropriate ascription or association that may have come to my mind. 

I need to maintain positive thoughts about You and look critically within myself…

3. I have certainly done wrong. 

I take full responsibility. I don’t blame You, I don’t blame anyone else for me losing my perspective, or losing my cool or going off track. No more complaints from me.

I see clearly now what I should have done. I’m sorry. 

So please forgive me, my Lord, and help me back into the light.

A happy ending

All three passages from the Qur’an that are quoted above continue as follows:

We answered him and saved him from distress: this is how We save the faithful.

(Chapter 21, The Prophets, al-Anbiya, Verse 88)

But We cast him out, sick, on to a barren shore, and made a gourd tree grow above him. We sent him to a hundred thousand people or more. They believed, so We let them enjoy life for some time.

(Chapter 37, Ranged in Rows, as-Saffat, Verses 145-148)

But his Lord chose him and made him one of the righteous.

(Chapter 68, The Pen, al-Qalam, Verse 50)

So Jonah made his comeback and it ended well for him and his people. 

How was he able to bounce back from his lowest point? 

Put simply, he took full responsibility for what had gone wrong.

It’s not You. It’s me.

Then came the rebound.

So if and when you find yourself at a low point in your relationship with your Lord…

  1. Take responsibility for your situation.
  2. Say and reflect on these powerful words.
  3. Feel the humility and commitment they imply.
  4. Follow them up with the right course of action.
  5. Be confident of things improving.

You’ll bounce back with His help. You’ll have your happy ending. Just like Jonah had his.


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Have a blessed fortnight. I'll see you in two Fridays, God willing.

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