The Qur'an uses words with precision and subtlety, and often the text yields its full meaning only after a careful re-reading of it. For example, an impatient Jonah (alaihis salam) shakes the dust of Nineveh off his feet and, boarding a ship, departs. Verse in, Surah As-Saffaat, 37:140 reads: ‘When he fled to a laden ship.’ The Arabic word used for 'fled' is abaqa, which is specifically used for a runaway slave. Jonah (alaihis salam) of course is no slave. But then he is one - a slave of Allah. This one word imparts a whole new meaning to the incident. Being in the service of Allah, Jonah (alaihis salam) ought not to have decided on his own to quit prophesying; he should have waited for God's command. His 'running away' is thus not simply a physical act that may be reported as a historical event; it is an act fraught with moral implications.
In 622 AD, Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his followers emigrated from Makkah to Madinah. Madinah (literally, 'city'- short for 'city of the Prophet') was formerly known as Yathrib. In the Qur'an, the city is invariably called 'Madinah' - except once, in Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:13, where it is called 'Yathrib'. The verse reports how, at a time of crisis, a certain group of people deserted the ranks of Muslims, appealing to their compatriots ('O people of Yathrib!') to give up Islam for lost. The use of 'Yathrib' instead of 'Madinah' graphically portrays the mentality of the deserters: they were convinced that Islam was about to be wiped out and that the city would no longer be the 'city of the Prophet' but would revert to its pagan status, becoming once again 'Yathrib' (Islahi V: 200).
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