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"The story of the fish began when Mr. George Wehbi, a Christian Lebanese, was practicing his fishing hobby, in Dakar, Senegal (the capital of West Africa). He caught many fish. When he went home his wife saw among them a strange fish about 50cm in length, with some Arabic writing on it. He took it to Sheikh al-Zein, who read clearly what was written in a natural way, that could not be done by a human being, but rather a Godly creation which the fish was born with. He read: "God's Servant" on its belly and "Muhammad" near its head, and "His Messenger" on its tail." (Plate 1)

Wadi as Salam, Najaf, Iraq.

Wadi as Salam, 
Najaf, Iraq.

Khutba Gahe Imam 'Ali (a) at Masjid Kufa, Iraq.

Khutba Gahe Imam 'Ali (a) at Masjid Kufa, Iraq.

Jannatul Baqi

Jannatul Baqi

Husayn (A) at the Euphrates- An artist's impression.

Husayn ('a) at the Euphrates- An artist's impression.

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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Published on 1st Rajab, 1424.

Of Fish, Prophets and Miracles

by Zaynab El-Fatah & S. Abidin.
Acknowledgements to M. al-Zahra and Al-Zahra Muslim Association


"The story of the fish began when Mr. George Wehbi, a Christian Lebanese, was practicing his fishing hobby, in Dakar, Senegal (the capital of West Africa). He caught many fish. When he went home his wife saw among them a strange fish about 50cm in length, with some Arabic writing on it. He took it to Sheikh al-Zein, who read clearly what was written in a natural way, that could not be done by a human being, but rather a Godly creation which the fish was born with. He read: "God's Servant" on its belly and "Muhammad" near its head, and "His Messenger" on its tail."

And Allah (swt) says in al Qur'an:

"We will show them Our signs in all the regions of the earth and in their own souls, 
until they clearly see that this is the truth... "
(Surat Fusilat 41: 53)

Iraq is a topical subject of which we are all too familiar, with our Holy sites trampled by uninvited disbelievers. Kufa in Southern Iraq to any Shi'a, is equally as well known and talked about, especially every year over the Ashura commemorations in the blessed month of Muharram.

Many of the Prophets are buried in Wadi as Salam (the Valley of Peace) near the shrine of Imam 'Ali ('a) in Najaf, a neighbouring city to Kufa and the history of other Prophets resides in Iraq as well as in other Arabian lands. The Prophets link those who have "gone astray" with us as it says in al-Fatihah as it was handed down to the Holy Prophet of Islam:

1. In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
2. (all) praise is (only) God's, the Lord of the Worlds,
3. The Beneficent, the Merciful,
4. Master of the Day of Judgement
5. Thee (alone) worship we and of Thee (only) we seek help
6. Guide us (O' Lord) on the Right path, 
7. The Path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy bounties, not (the path) of those inflicted with Thy wrath, nor (of those) gone astray. 

Most of us know that the revelations were given to Prophets' Musa (Moses), 'Isa (Jesus) and Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be upon them all. So what is different for us as Muslims to learn about the Prophets' whom we all revere and the last revelation, which is the Qur'an and the topic of fish.

There is a story found in Shamsi's (1994) "The Prophets of Islam: Biographical Sketches according to al Qur'an" about one of those revered Prophets whose name was Prophet Yunus ('a) (Jonah). Prophet Yunus ('a) lived in Northern Iraq in a time after Prophet al-Yasa ('a) and before Prophet Uzair ('a). For those who are less familiar, the larger picture is after Prophet Ayub ('a) (Job) to the Christians and before Zakariya ('a) and Yahya ('a) or John the Baptist to the Christians.

In the aforementioned book, it says:

Yunus son of Amittai in the clan of Judah was appointed prophet by Allah towards the people of Ninewah (North Western Iraq). The people were very head strong and obstinate. They refused to listen to his teachings. He got disgusted and disappointed with the lack of progress with the people. He prayed to Allah to punish the people for defying him, and decided to take the river ferry to go to another territory.

While crossing the river, great swells engulfed the ferry. When it appeared that the boat would sink with the next swell, the captain of the boat addressed the passengers and said that there must be someone amongst them who had run away from his master. He should give himself up and come forward so that he may be tossed overboard to save the rest. No one moved for a while. When the next swell struck the boat and it was evident that the end was near they decided to toss a coin and it fell for Yunus so he was thrown in the river. The storm subsided immediately and all on board the ferry were saved.

As for Yunus a large fish swallowed him and carried him to the banks of the river where he was ejected onto dry land. His skin was eroded from the digestive juices of the fish. He suffered great pain and disappointment because of the flies and the sun. He sought forgiveness from Allah from having abandoned his mission. Allah made a plant come up by his side and he convalesced under its shadow by the river bank, and reflected over the extra ordinary experience. 

In the meantime his people had realised their error. They repented for their sin and ventured out in search of Yunus. They found him and rejoiced seeing him alive. They took him back and promised to live by his teachings. He lived among his people to a long and ripe age. When he died he was buried near the same place where the great fish had ejected him. Many devout followers started to build their homes in this location and it soon developed into a bustling city. The city of Kufa is located at the same historic site and the grave of Yunus is located on the bank of the river.

Yunus is also known as Zunnun since he had emerged from the stomach of the fish (Shamsi, 1994, p61,62).

Another text "Qisaasul Anbiyaa" discuses the story of Prophet Yunus slightly differently and mentions the below Qur'an quotes:

"87. And (remember) Jonah (Zunnun) ie - (Yunus) when went he in anger, and imagined he that never would We straighten him then he cried out from the darkness: 'There is no God but Thou (O' my Lord)!, Glory be to Thee, verily I was of the unjust ones!'
88. Then responded We unto him and delivered him from the grief, thus do we deliver the believers."

(Surat al-Anbiya: 87-88)

So we have established that the city of Kufa, known well to Shi'a historians, was founded around the event of the fish and the 'companion of the fish'. 

"139. And verily Jonah was (one) of the Apostles. 
140. When he fled unto a ship fully laden, 
141. And they drew lots and he was of those who was cast off.
142. And the fish swallowed him while he was blamed.
143. So if it were not that he was of those who glorify Us,
144. He would certainly have been detained in its belly to the Day (of Resurrection) when they shall be raised;
145. And We cast him forth on the naked shore and he was sick.
146. And caused We to grow (to give shade) over him a plant of Gourd 
147. And we sent him unto a hundred thousand (people) or (even) more were they.
148. And believed they so we gave them provision till a time."
(Surat al Saffat: 139-148)

We take this one step further and ask what else do the Shi'a historians tell us about Kufa apart from what is relevant for Ashurra

There is a quote in another text called "Kitab al Irshad: The Book of Guidance" by Shaikh al Mufid, where they report (the Scholars- ahlal-atar) that:

The waters of the Euphrates overflowed and grew so big that the people of Kufa became anxious about drowning. They resorted to the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him). He rode out on the mule of the Apostle of God (may God bless him and his family), and the people went with him until he reached the banks of the Euphrates. He, peace be upon him, dismounted and performed the ritual ablution and prayed alone, by himself while the people watched him. Then he called on God with prayers which most of them heard. He went toward the Euphrates, leaning on a stick which was in his hand. He struck the surface of the water with it and said: "Abate, with God's permission and His will".

The waters sank so that the fish at the bottom (of the flood) appeared. Many of them greeted him with the title of the Commander of the Faithful. However, some kinds of fish did not speak. They were eels, a scaleless fish (marmaliq) and mudfish (zumar). The people were amazed at that and they asked for the reason that the ones that spoke spoke and the ones who were silent were silent. He said: "God made those fish which were ritually pure speak to me and he kept those silent towards me which were forbidden, impure and worse." (p263)

So for those people nowadays standing on the banks of the great Furat as did Imam 'Ali ('a) and Imam al Hussayn ('a) and al Abbas ('a) who was martyred there, as Prophet Yunus was delivered there by the great Fish, they would have to ask if they have the right to stand on such pure soil that not only unites a true Christian with a true Muslim but a true Jew with a true Christian and a true Muslim.

The great Imam 'Ali (a) held office as the Caliph in the Holy city of Kufa until his demise during Ramadhan in the year 40 A.H. and his remains are somewhere known only to his sons ('a).

Hadith 1: Abbad b. Ya'qub al-Rawajini related: Hayyan b. 'Ali al-Anazi told us: A retainer of 'Ali b. Abi Talib told me:

When death was close to the Commander of the Faithful he said to al-Hasan and al-Husayn, peace be on them:

"When I die, you two put me on my bier. Then take me out and carry (me) in the back of the bier. You two will protect the front of it. Then bring me to al-Ghariyyayn. You will see a white rock shining with light. Dig there and you will find a shield and bury me at it."

When he died we took him out and began to carry him on the back of the bier while we guarded the front of it. We began to hear a rustling and whistling of the wind until we came to al-Ghariyyayn. Behold! There was a white rock whose light was shining. We dug there and behold, there was a shield on which was written: 

"This is one of the things which Noah has stored for 'Ali b. Abi Talib."

We buried him there and then went away. We were happy at God's mark of honour to the Commander of the Faithful. A group of the Shi'a followed us but they had not witnessed the prayer performed for him. We told them about what had happened and about God's mark of honour to the Commander of the Faithful.

Then they said: "We would like to see what you have seen of his affair." 

"Traces of the place have been removed according to his bequest," we told them. 

They kept coming back and forth to us and they told us that they had dug but could not find anything (Shaykh al-Mufid, 1981, p16,17).

Hadith 2: Mohammad b. Zakariyya reported: Abd Allah b. Mohammad told us on the authority of Ibn A'isha, who said: Abd Allah b. Hazim told me: 

We went out from Kufa one day with (Harun) al-Rashid to hunt. We came to the region of al-Ghariyyayn and al-Thawiyya. Then we saw some gazelle. We sent the falcons and dogs after them. They raced after them for an hour but then the gazelle took refuge in a hill. They stopped chasing them; the falcons flew down to the ground and the dogs came back. Al-Rashid was amazed at that. Then the gazelles came down from the hill, and the falcons and the dogs descended towards them. The gazelle returned to the hill, and the falcons and the dogs came away from them. That happened three times. 

Then Harun al-Rashid said: "Hurry and bring me whomever you meet." 
We brought him an old man (Shaykh) of the Banu Asad. Harun asked him: "Tell me what this hill is." 
"I will tell you, if you grant me a pledge of security," he replied.
"You may have the compact of God and His guarantee that I will not be roused against you and harm you," said Harun.
"My father reported to me from his father," said the old man, "that they used to say that in this hill was the grave of 'Ali b. Abi Talib, and that God has made it a sanctuary (haram) so that whatever seeks refuge there will be safe." 

Harun got down and called for water. Then he made ritual ablutions and performed the prayer at the hill. He rolled in the ground there and began to weep. Then we left.

My mind could not accept that. Some days later I made the pilgrimage to Mecca. I saw there Yasir, one of al-Rashid's men. He used to sit with us. When we had made the tawaf (circumambulation of the Ka'ba), the conversation went on until he said:
Al-Rashid said to me one night when we had come from Mecca and stopped at Kufa: "Tell 'Isa b. J'afar to come riding with me."

I rode with them until we came to al-Ghariyyayn. 'Isa threw himself down and slept but al-Rashid went to the hill and prayed there. Whenever he performed the two rak'as, he called out, wept and rolled in the ground of the hill. Then he said: 

"O cousin, I know your outstanding merit (fadl), and your precedence (in Islam). By God, you have sat in my majlis (council) while I was there and you were what you were: but your descendents are harming me and revolting against me."

After this he stood and prayed two ra'kas, then he began speaking again calling out and weeping until it was daybreak. Then he said: "Yasir, wake 'Isa." I woke him and he said to him: "'Isa, wake up and pray at the grave of your cousin."
"What cousin of mine is this?" asked 'Isa.
"This is the grave of 'Ali b. Abi Talib," he replied.

Then 'Isa made his ritual ablutions and stood up to pray. He did not stop doing that until the dawn arose. Then I said: 

"O Commander of the Faithful morning has come." 

So we rode off and returned to Kufa (Shaykh al-Mufid, 1981, p16,17).

Reflecting upon this, we are all aware that despite the destruction of the holy Shrines at Jannatul Baqi where Lady Fatimah ('a) was buried, that no-one but her husband, Imam 'Ali ('a), and her sons ('a) actually knew exactly where she ('a) was really buried. 

These simple facts help the hearts of the Shi'as in this era from excessive grief over the destruction of the holy shrines, as the Holy Ones ('a) would have already known what was going to happen in the future to those shrines. The holy ground in Iraq, where Imam 'Ali ('a) is actually buried, is not known to anyone in this day and age, alhamdulillah. So despite having unwelcomed occupiers in Iraq, it can do our religion no harm. 

Our Imam 'Ali ('a) ensured that the great Islam was spread throughout the world as he was commanded to do by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny) and it is not surprising that in this age, we still find the secrets that were taught by the Holy Infallibles ('a) in the most unlikely places and far away from Iraq. Places where the fish and the wise men can still communicate. In fact the war in Iraq, with the media coverage, has begun to help tie in lost fragments, confused traditions, that are all making their way back to their origins. The religion of mankind has a revival of a very real nature for those who care to notice.

And Allah (swt) says in al Qur'an:

"48. So, wait thou patiently for the judgement of thy Lord! Be not thou like unto the companion of the fish! 
When cried he when he was confined.
49. Had not a bounty from his Lord reached him he certainly would have been cast off on the naked shore while in disgrace.
50. Then chose him his Lord and made him of the righteous ones."
(Surat al Qalam:48-50)

And may Allah (swt) rain down His blessings upon Mohammad and the family of Mohammad.


al-Mufid, Shaykh (1981) Kitab al Irshad: The Book of Guidance, Balagha & Muhammadi Trust, London, England.

bin Kathir, Imam Abi al-Fidaa Isma'il (1999) Qissasul Anbiyaa: Stories of the Prophets, Adam Publishers and Distributors, Delhi, India, p187 citing al Qur'an Surahs al-Anbiyaa, al-Saffat and al-Qalam.

Pooya Ahmed Ali English translation of al Qur'an

Shamsi, Syed Muhammad Hussain (1994) The Prophets of Islam: Biographical Sketches according to al Qur'an, AlHuda Foundation, Englewood, NJ, p.61,62 citing al Quran Surahs Nisaa', An'am, Yunus, Anmbiya, Sa'ffat, Qalam.

Plate 1 - Fish caught in Dakar, Senegal.


Authors: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah and Hj S. Abidin
Photographer: Unknown
Illustration: IFSA Yahoo Group
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Production: Hj S. Abidin
Published Date:
1st Rajab, 1424.
Modification Date: 25th January,2009/ 28th Muharram, 1430
Publication ID: 04fishMiracles. Of Fish, Prophets and Miracles
Copyright: Victory News Magazine, 2010


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