A runaway slave

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

The Story of Prophet Yunus in the Qur’an is told only briefly in Surah al-Anbiya and Surah Saffat, although he is referred to elsewhere, such as al-Qalam. In brief, he was sent to a people whose unresponsiveness to him and his message led to him leaving them in frustration. In Saffat (37:139-140), the most high describes his departure by saying:

و إن يونس لمن المرسلين. إذ أبق إلى الفلك المشحون.
And Yunus was one of the Messengers; when he ran to the laden ship.”

In explaining the word ( أبق ), some exegetes gloss it as ( تباعد ) ‘to move away’; ( فزع ) ‘to flee’; or most commonly, ( هرب ) ‘to run away’. In my translation above, I rendered it simply as “ran”.

But the words given as estimates for ( أبق ) are simply that: an estimation of the approximate meaning. They do not allow us an understanding of the intricacy of this instance of word choice and usage in the Qur’an. ( أبق ) is not merely to flee; it is used for the ( آبق ), a slave who escapes and runs away from his master.

But as we know, Yunus is not technically a slave, not through birth nor through any other means. So why the usage of the specific term ( أبق )? It is, incidentally, used only this once in the entire book!

The application of the term with respect to him is justified, some exegetes say, because of his fleeing away from his people without the permission of his Lord. In this manner, his fleeing from his responsibility and the people he had been entrusted with is being compared to the slave who, instead of fulfilling his duties, runs away from his master.

Some say that the term ( أبق ) refers not only to a slave who runs away, but one who does so without the type of reason that might justify his departure, such as persecution or extremely difficult conditions. If this is correct, it adds a further nuance to the choice of the word ( أبق ), in describing the condition of the Prophet Yunus as one not warranting his flight.

The metaphoric usage of ( أبق ) thus demonstrates the relationship Yunus had with his master, and serves as a strict reminder to us as well. We, like Yunus, are servants of Allah and cannot flee from him nor his command.

This added insight into the hapax legomenon ( أبق ) demonstrates yet again the absolute brilliance of the language of the Qur’an; it manages to convey deep meaning and lessons to us even with the placing of a single word.

*This article was submitted by a guest writer, jazaahum Allaahu khayran. If you would like to submit an article to appear on Arabic Gems, please email it for review.


50 responses to “A runaway slave

  1. Asalaamu alikum wa rahmatullah,

    Jazak’allah khair for this beautiful reminder. The story of Yunus (AS) often neglected and the demonstration of the sublime nature of just a single word and all its facets is fascinating for a student of Arabic.

  2. Subhanallah. Jazahullah wa jazakillah khayran.

  3. Alhamdulillah! An excellent explanation 🙂

    Ya Haqq!

  4. SubhanAllah, one word adds so much understanding and context.

    JazakAllahu khayr

  5. We believe the prophets and messengers are infallible.So how could Prophet Yunus(alaihi salam) flee ?

  6. شكراً جريلاً
    I have learnt a new verb.

  7. Sobhanallah I found this blog through a friend and Im in love in it! I just dont know what to read first I love that explanation of Quranic words! Can I translate your blog, or some of it into polish?

  8. Excellent! Allah reward you and increase you in it!

  9. JazakAllah khayr for the excellent blog. I am starting the BA in Arabic at SOAS in September and was wondering if you have any nasiha you could offer. Do you know Mohamed Said? I met him at the open day and he is a really inspiring and charasmatic character!

  10. as-Salaamu Alaikum,

    In the Lisaan al-Arab says:

    الأَزهري: الإِباقُ هرَبُ العبد من سيده. قال الله تعالـى فـي يونس، علـيه السلام، حين نَدَّ فـي الأَرض مُغاضِباً لقومه: إذ أَبَقَ إِلـى الفُلْك الـمَشْحُون

    al-Azhari said: “al-Ibaaq (الإِباقُ) = running away of a slave from his master. Allah (swt) said: (as-Saffaat 139-140)”

    For Brother Ahmad: yes, this word is meaning “running away of a slave” but also in the Lisaan-ul Arab says, “without fear… because if he fears, he’ll turn back.” So Seyyidina Yunus, didn’t run due to NOT fear from Allah. Of course, he was fearing from Allah. But at the same time, he was angry to his people. Due to his angry, he went away from them. But this run was in fact meaning a run from his job & responsibility, so a run from Allah, his Master. But he was doing this, to mean to be far from his people. Therefore some translators says as a translation of this word; “being far” or etc.

    If I’m wrong, please disregard of my sayings & correct me. BarakAllahu feekum & bikum.

    Allah knows the best.

    wa’s Salaamu Alaikum

  11. Maasha’Allaah! Very beautiful blog.

    I was wondering if you knew somewhere I can purchase Al-Lisaanul Arab?

  12. as-Salaamu 3alaikum,

    Dear Reader,

    I didn’t purchase Lisaan-ul Arab (because -maybe there’s but- i didn’t see in my country, Turkey and even there’s, I’m sure should be very expensive). So I’m using a program from CD, it’s name: al-Maktaba alfiyya li’s Sunnah al-Nabawiyya. Maybe there’s but I didn’t see it over internet. But i found better than this CD, al-Maktaba al-Shaamilah DVD including many dictionaries and books beside Lisaan-ul Arab. It’s downloadable on (3.32 Gb):


    for more books & updates:



    Allah ma3akum
    wassalamu 3alaikum

  13. Wa ‘alaykum salam warahmatullaah,

    Jazakallaah khayr, those links are beneficial.

  14. hello .
    i live in a foreign country and i need to read arabic gems, how can i do ?please help .

  15. JazakaAllahu khayr for this post.

    Ameen to the duas.

  16. Mashallah. That was amazing. This comes at a perfect time for me as I prepare for Ramadan Inshallah. I needed this little bit of spiritual encouragement as I’m going through a bit of a tough time right now.

    Please everyone, make dua for me and my family, Inshallah.

    May Allah reward the author for spreading this valuable knowledge.


  17. Some Polite Criticism

    Assalaamu alaikum wa rahmatullaah

    Jazaakallaahu khayraa for some very interesting insight into just one word from the noble language of the Glorious Qur’aan.

    May I kindly suggest the following:

    Please consider changing the title of your article to something that is more befitting to describe the noble Prophet and Messenger of Allaah, Yoonus – sallallaahu alaiyhi wa sallam.

    Allaah mentions that He-Azza wa Jall-preferred Yoonus-sallallaahu alayhi wasallam over all the creatures of his time – as in sooratu l-an’aam [6:86].

    And – as we know- Yoonus -sallallaahu alayhi waslaam – repented from his mistake, returned to his Rabb Allaah Azza wa Jall, glorified and declared Allaah All-Pure and High – using words reflecting his submission and utter humility to Allaah Ta’aalaa.

    And Allaah accepted his repentance.

    So I hope your title could reflect some of these points above [even remind readers of the virtues of our Prophet Yoonus-sallallaahu alayhi wasallam – with a follow-up article?]

    Wa l-Laahu Ta’aalaa ‘A’lam.
    Wassalaamu alaikum

  18. I wish you a very happy and peaceful Eid. May Allah accept our good deeds, forgive our transgressions and help us become better muslims & better human beings.

    Eid Mubarak 🙂

  19. Beautiful post.
    I support your translating it as just ran, which leaves space for the mind to understand it in different ways, just as it happens with reading Quran in Arabic.

  20. If I use a word like ابق in every day speech will people think that I’m weird? lol

  21. assalamu’alaykum.

    a greet from indonesia, brother.

    nice writing.


  22. Loga'Abdullah

    Just a short comment, I have posted some resources on learning arabic here, in case others are interested: http://loga-abdullah.blogspot.com/2009/03/learning-arabic.html

  23. Excellent post.

    I support your translating. Keep it up

  24. I chanced upon your blog and found it very informative, so, I would like to have a little chit-chat on your blogging interests. And we are coming up with an online tutorials site – htttp://www.learnarabiconline.com
    . Looking forward to hearing from you. Please contact me.

  25. I rarely do not comment on blogs but yours I had to stop and say Great article!!

  26. A good and interesting interpretation and analysis. Like many things, there are particular nuances and subtleties in the interpretation and that is why we still need people like you. Good job.

  27. هل هذه المدونة مهجورة ؟؟؟؟

  28. Hello! Thank you for providing this great site! Several of the links to Arabic-learning websites don’t work, but many of them do still. I don’t know if this has already been drawn to your attention (it probably has, and I’m sorry if it’s already on the list of links and I didn’t notice it), but this is a keyboard that allows the user to type in Arabic based on similar-sounding letters. It’s not set up like the actual Arabic keyboard, but it’s been very helpful to me. I’m currently learning the language, and it has made it easy to type words and sentences because of the similarities to the English sounds. So here’s the website: http://www.lexilogos.com/keyboard/arabic.htm. Also, I was happy to see ArabicPod.net on the list! It’s a fun podcast. Thanks again for your website as well as for all the links! I favorited your blog.


  29. aslamo alikom ,i apriciate your effert, actually my writing skills and my thoughts does not match but i try to explain,yoonus alayh salam run to save him self from that azaab,He didnot realise that Allah will save him ,this is my thinking ,i am researching on that .because Allah says he dont think that WEcan save him ,actually how can a nabi think like that ,it means when tha azaab will happen he think that we cant save him so he try to save himself,so he ran and try to get a boat ,can i explain my point

  30. Hey, is this blog still alive? I hope you will return soon to add more valuable Arabic learning content to it.

  31. I agree with Arabic Alphabet. This was a great blog but there haven’t been any additions in over a year.

    Please start a new blog or return to blogging again, if it isn’t a hardship, Inshallah.

  32. Assalamou 3laykum

    Interesting blog and way to study! Yes incha’Allah, more ones.
    I study arab actually, to dig in the Holy Qur’an than, thought to try to understand even each letter.

    أَبَقَ =>
    A. أَ = I/Me, the actor, subject, the prophet Yunus -as-
    B. بَ = transportation/carrying.
    C. ق = universal intelligence

    In the verb to run and to flee, there is a meaning of “departure”.
    The first verb express the way to do: departure+quickly.
    The second express the reason and the way: “fear of something+departure+quickly”.

    Seeing the hypothesis offered by each letter, the sens would be: conscienceness carried by…

    A synthesis for now could be:
    Yunus -as- leave/abandon something and then he took the boat.
    أَبَقَ represent more the fact that he took a boat (or any way he took), and not the intention added to the verb أَبَقَ this supposed intention like to flee or disobey.
    Maybe there is more an isolated action أَبَقَ with a specific and particular meaning. Allah is the All-Expert

    Le salut soit sur vous

  33. al-Salaamu ‘alaykum,

    I will return to posting very soon in shaa’ Allaah. For the last couple of years I have been extremely busy with other things, but now that they are calming down, this is one of my priorities bi idhnillaah.

  34. سورة طه
    بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ
    [20.131] وَلَا تَمُدَّنَّ عَيْنَيْكَ إِلَى مَا مَتَّعْنَا بِهِ أَزْوَاجًا مِّنْهُمْ زَهْرَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنيَا لِنَفْتِنَهُمْ فِيهِ وَرِزْقُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى
    Le salut soit sur vous.
    Many questions appear, few answers come. This topic could be developped.
    وَرِزْقُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى
    The word ABaQA seems to be a secure transport!
    Indeed, The Decision of Allah Al Malik go through the time in dunîâ, till the last day, in a secure are traveling His Sign.

    Wait for your science,

  35. Pingback: Divine - Linguistic Miracle of Qur'an Gems! at Forums.IslamicAwakening.Com

  36. Pingback: Divine - Linguistic Miracle of Qur'an Gems! - Page 4

  37. Masya Allah. It’s a good blog.

  38. It would be good to see you back arabicgems! 🙂

  39. Pingback: A runaway slave (via Arabic Gems ~ جواهر العربية) | quranreciter

  40. I never heard of that story before 🙂

  41. Abi Muhammad Al-Afghani

    Where is the owner of this blog? The Arabic Gems. Hope he or she is fine and healthy. We have not seen update for a long time. If the blog is moved elsewhere, please provide the link. Thank you!

  42. I really enjoy reading your blog and this post is in the same line.

    Jazakumullahu kheyran.

  43. yes, and i’m agree with you.ud83dude09nand it’s better to pass each of them in separate semester not all in one! Click http://link.mx/hool08200

  44. I really enjoy this blog. I hope to see it continue for a long time to come. Blessings.

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