Tanya Khan: A New Version of Love in the Whale’s Belly

June 2, 2021

The Story Of Yunus (Jonah)

Prophet Yunus, as believed by Muslims, was swallowed whole by a whale. On the surface, this seems very whimsical and imagined– but every story in the Quran has a greater meaning behind the whimsy. Yunus is trapped in a dark place, feeling like there’s no way out, completely worn down.

This is how I felt when I painted on the canvas. The details on the whale, the nukta on the nün, sketching the circle to hold the essence of the calligraphy– the Whale, the Quranic verse, the silver leaf– all capture the storm of emotions and that’s why it’s not yet finished.

Every time I feel like I am inside the belly of the whale, I pick up my brushes, layout my paint, my epoxy, my silver leaf, my everything.

I pour it out onto the canvas. I need this painting because, with every stroke, I feel the presence of God, and I know, I just know. I know, I’ll be okay.

“He is the One Who enables you to travel through land and sea. And it so happens that you are on ships, sailing with a favorable wind, to the passengers’ delight. Suddenly, the ships are overcome by a gale wind, and those on board are overwhelmed by waves from every side, and they assume they are doomed. They cry out to Allah ˹alone˺ in sincere devotion, ‘If You save us from this, we will certainly be grateful.’” – Quran 10:22


Certainly, there are more forms than the single definition, be they abstract or unconventional, shoved down our throats. ‘Love is meant to be between two people– a boy and a girl. They’ll get married, have kids, and the goal is for them to stay together forever.’

That’s not the type of love I wanted to capture in this calligraphy.

I believe that when someone else is a part of your love story, there’s too much room for error— too many things could go wrong. But when the conversation revolves around loving yourself, the simplicity is beautiful.

You just want to see yourself in this stage of your life like you once did many years ago as a young child— rekindling an old love, per se.

Quarantine was a very trying time in my life, as it was for many people, and I don’t think I would have been able to get through it if I didn’t learn the art of loving myself.

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