37:51 One of them speaks thus “Behold, I had [on earth] a close companion.
See 7:8~84 and 11:69-83.
37:52 Who was wont to ask [me], ‘Why – art thou really one of those who believe it to be true.
As is evident from 7:83 and 11:81, that woman was Lot’s wife, who had chosen to stay behind (cf. note 66 on 7:83).
37:53 [That] after we have died and become mere dust and bones we shall, forsooth, be brought to judgment?'”
Lit., “you pass by them”, i.e., by the places where they lived (see 15:76 and the corresponding note 55).
37:54 [And] he adds “Would you like to look [and see him]?”
i.e., when he abandoned the mission with which he had been entrusted by God (see surah 21, note 83, which gives the first part of Jonah’s story), and thus, in the words of the Bible (The Book of Jonah i, 3 and 10), committed the sin of “fleeing from the presence of the Lord”. In its primary significance, the infinitive noun ibaq (derived from the verb abaqa) denotes “a slave’s running away from his master”; and Jonah is spoken of as having “fled like a runaway slave” because – although he was God’s message-bearer – he abandoned his task under the stress of violent anger. The subsequent mention of “the laden ship” alludes to the central, allegorical part of Jonah’s story. The ship ran into a storm and was about to founder; and the mariners “said every one to his fellow, Come and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us” (The Book of Jonah i, 7) – a procedure to which Jonah agreed.
37:55 And then he looks and sees that [companion of his] in the midst of the blazing fire.
Lit., “he cast lots [with the mariner], and was among the losers”. According to the Biblical account (The Book of Jonah i, 10-l5), Jonah told them that he had “fled from the presence of the Lord” and that it was because of this sin of his that they all were now in danger of drowning. “And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea, so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this tempest is upon you …. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.”
37:56 And says “By God! Verily, thou hast almost destroyed me [too, O my erstwhile companion].
In all the three instances where Jonah’s “great fish” is explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an (as alhut in the above verse and in 68:48, and an-nun in 21:87), it carries the definite article al. This may possibly be due to the fact that the legend of Jonah was and is so widely known that every reference to the allegory of “the great fish” is presumed to be self-explanatory. The inside of the fish that “swallowed” Jonah apparently symbolizes the deep darkness of spiritual distress of which 21:87 speaks: the distress at having “fled like a runaway slave” from his prophetic mission and, thus, “from the presence of the Lord”. Parenthetically, the story is meant to show that, since “man has been created weak” (4:28), even prophets are not immune against all the failings inherent in human nature.
37:57 For had it not been for my Sustainer’s favor, I would surely be [now] among those who are given over [to suffering]!
i.e., to remember God and to repent: see 21:87, which reveals in its very formulation the universal purport of Jonah’s story.
37:58 But then, [O my friends in paradise] is it [really] so that we are not to die
i.e., to shade and comfort him. Thus, rounding off the allegory of Jonah and the fish, the Qur’an points out in a figurative manner so characteristic of its style that God, who can cause a plant to grow out of the aridest and barren soil, can equally well cause a heart lost in darkness to come back to light and spiritual life.
37:59 [Again] beyond our previous death, and that we shall never [again] be made to suffer?
Cf. the reference to the people of Jonah in 10:98. For the Biblical version of this story, see The Book of Jonah iii.
37:60 Verily, this – this indeed – is the triumph supreme!”
Lit., “for a time”: i.e., for the duration of their natural lives (Razi; also Manar XI, 483).