Who is the prophet jocab? Who is the prophet joseph? What are the stories of prophet jacob and prophet joseph?
The prophet who burned with love and longing to become a pillar of patience
JACOB -peace be upon him- and The prophet who rose from slavery and the dungeon
to become the king of hearts JOSEPH -peace be upon him-
Jacob (as) was the son of Isaac (as) and a prophet to the people of the land of Canaan. Reports suggest he may have been born in either Madyan or Damascus. He was born moments after his twin Esau, and was named Jacob (as), meaning ‘the one who follows’. His name also means saffatullah, ‘the person purified by Allah’. Jacob’s (as) nickname is Israel, which means ‘the servant of Allah (jj)’.
Jacob (as) is the patriarch of a many prophets. Moses (as), Aaron (as), David (as), Solomon (as), Zachariah (as), John (as) and Jesus (as) are his direct descendants. This has to do with a prayer made by his father Isaac (as), who asked Allah to raise ‘prophets and kings’ from his lineage.
Allah gave each prophet a wish He would accept under all circumstances. Every prophet used that wish up in this life, except for Prophet Muhammed (saw) who has saved it for the hereafter, to intercede for his nation and rescue them from punishment.
As an adolescent, Jacob (as) was sent to stay with his maternal uncle, who had two daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob (as) served his uncle for seven years, at the end of which he married the elder daughter, Leah. After another seven years of service, he also married Rachel. The law that Jacob (as) adhered to allowed men to marry two sisters at the same time.
When giving his daughters’ hands in marriage to Jacob (as), the uncle also gave each of them maids, Zulfa and Balha, to help them in their chores. He also gave Jacob (as) two concubines.
Jacob (as) had six sons from Leah, two from the concubines and two from Rachel. With Rachel, Jacob (as) did not have any children for a while. Rachel then prayed to the Lord and fell pregnant with Joseph (as). Soon after him, Benjamin was born. However, forty days later, Rachel passed away.
Jacob (as) was made a prophet in the same year Joseph (as) was born. He began calling people to believe in Allah’s Oneness. Many people in Canaan accepted the call.
In the Qur’an, the Almighty says:
“We gave him Isaac and Jacob, and each of them We made a prophet. And We gave them of Our mercy, and a reputation of high honor.” (Maryam, 19: 49-50)
“And remember Our servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; those of strength and vision. We certainly chose them for an exclusive quality: remembrance of the home of the hereafter. And to Us, they are among the chosen and outstanding.” (Sad, 38: 45-47)
The Prophet (saw) also offers these words to describe their virtue:
“The noble son of a noble father, a noble grandfather and a noble great grandfather. That is Joseph, the son of Jacob, the grandson of Isaac and the great grandson of Abraham.” (Al-Bukhari, Anbiya, 19; Tafsir, 12/1)
Joseph (as) was different to his brothers in every possible way. From an early age, his father loved and doted on him more than the rest of his sons. Jacob (as) simply saw himself in Joseph (as). He therefore always kept him by his side and held him in higher regard than the others.
Each heart is unique regarding the things it is fond of. It is attracted to different things, depending on the good or bad tendencies inside it. However, essentially, every being is attracted to itself. That determines attraction towards other beings. In other words, a being is attracted to another, when it perceives the other as sharing the same qualities as itself. This is what it means to see oneself in another; it is to see in that other, one’s own reflection. People of the same kind draw one another together. Love is nothing but two people finding themselves in each other. This unity and sameness is the condition of pulling or being pulled into love. In that sense, a sinner is attracted to sin, whereas a pious is drawn to spirituality. This law of attraction displays itself with all its splendor in both the material and spiritual worlds, in both good and evil.
Joseph’s (as) Story: The Most Beautiful of All
The Qur’an describes the story of Joseph (as) as ahsan’ul-qasas, the most beautiful story ever told. It recounts it in the chapter that takes its name from Joseph (as). A verse in it says:
“In Joseph and his brothers, there are certainly signs for those who ask.” (Yusuf, 12: 7)
As is understood by those words of Allah, the story of Joseph (as) abounds in lessons and wisdom. In no other book has the story ever been told more beautifully and eloquently than in the Qur’an. At the end of the chapter, it is made clear these are true events told from the unseen, or ghayb, and that, in no way, are they fabricated.
In terms of the wisdoms it contains, this is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable of all the Qur’an’s stories. Scholars have tried to extract those wisdoms by listing the incredible stages of Joseph’s (as) life:
Joseph (as) showed enormous patience to endure the troubles that began, when he was just a child.
Despite his brothers mistreating him and even plotting his murder, Joseph (as) was magnanimous. When they reunited years later, he forgave them all.
The story sheds light on prophets, the righteous, angels, devils, humans, jinn, animals, kings, lands, merchants, scholars, the ignorant, men and women, as well as a number of their tricks.
The story also tells us of tawhid, law, the interpretation of dreams, politics, society and offers many tips on making the world a better place.
It speaks of the eternal happiness that awaits at the end of ordeals and hardship.
Joseph (as), in fact, became the king of Egypt at the age of thirty.
In the end, he ended up marrying Zulaykha, who regained her beauty and youth through his prayer.
Jacob (as) also regained his sight, which had been blinded from the tears he had shed for being separated from Joseph (as).
Joseph (as) forgave the brothers that had once tried to kill him; and they repented and became righteous people in their own right.
Jacob (as) and his entire family ended up migrating from Canaan to Egypt.
The dream Joseph (as) had seen as a child came true.
Egypt’s ruler Rayyan handed over all the duties of state to Joseph (as) and became Muslim.
Joseph (as) made the most beautiful prayer to date. (Yusuf, 12: 101) 
Undoubtedly, the best stories come from lived experiences. They become beautiful, when they are told eloquently through vivid imagery that throws light on the eternal beauties they contain. True beauty is always beyond imagination; and a story, or anything for that matter, is important, only to the extent it reflects a ray of it.
The story of Joseph (as) is a truth conveyed from the ‘unseen’, a forgotten phase of history. It was revealed to symbolize a prelude to the Mohammedan beauty that was to set hold. It is especially this feature that makes it ‘the most beautiful of all stories’.
Ubayy ibn Kab (ra) narrates that the Prophet (saw) once said:
“Teach your family and slaves the story of Joseph! For whoever does, will die easy, and will no longer feel the urge to be jealous of anyone!” (Zamakhshari, Kashshaf, III, 98)
Joseph (as) suffered from the jealousy of his brothers, was thrown in a well, and later, in a dungeon. However, as a result of his taqwa, Allah (jj) sent Jibril (as) to console him. He gave Joseph (as) the strength to endure it, which ultimately delivered him to power, honor and kingship. When he did become king, the ordeals of his own past enabled him to treat the poor and neglected with even greater compassion.
It must be borne in mind that whoever continues to recite chapter Yusuf and reflect on its profound meanings, will receive a share of Joseph’s (as) joy. The chapter contains more wisdoms than one can count. It offers insight into prophethood, interpretation of dreams, governance, staying calm and brave when faced with trouble, being patient during ordeal and forgiving when one can punish. It also gives clues into the mysteries of separation, love and attraction; as well as the ploys of women. There are also pointers to interpreting signs, both in dreams as well as in the Qur’an.
The chapter also touches on heirship to prophets and the secrets to becoming an envoy, or caliph of Allah on earth. In addition, it speaks about physical and nonphysical forces such as the heart, soul and spirit. In contrast to Joseph (as), Zulaykha represents nafs’ul-ammarah, the soul that commands evil. Once she becomes Muslim, her now refined soul finds peace, where it is content (rida) with the will of Allah. After that, her spirit is reunited with the spirit of Joseph (as). They become one. Nevertheless, it would never have been, if it were not for the maturity she gained from the troubles she faced on the road, which, ultimately and always, leads to the Lord.
It is narrated that chapter Yusuf was revealed, after a group of Jewish scholars came to Mecca’s pagan leaders and told them to, “Ask Muhammed to tell you why Jacob and his family left Canaan for Egypt, and what the story was with Joseph!”
The pagans did, the chapter was sent. (Alusi, Tafsir, XII, 170)
The chapter was revealed in Mecca at a tough time for the Prophet (saw) and his companions. The Prophet’s (saw) wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu Talib had both passed away. Especially after the death of Abu Talib, who was the Prophet’s (saw) guardian, the pagans had stepped up the pressure on Muslims.
That year would be referred to as the ‘year of grief’, and Allah revealed the story of Joseph (as) to console the believers. The story ends with the message that victory is all too near for those patiently walk the path of Allah.
Chapter Yusuf begins with the declaration:
“Alif, Lam, Ra. These are the verses of the clear Book. We have indeed sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an that you might understand.” (Yusuf, 12: 1-2)
The expression ‘an Arabic Qur’an’ suggests Arabic is the most perfect of all languages. The Qur’an is a divine masterpiece of art, as its meanings, expressions and choice of words are all from Allah. It is a miracle, which no other being will be able to replicate until the end of time.
By revealing the Qur’an in Arabic, Allah (jj) has granted the language a distinctive honor. However, the Qur’an came in Arabic also to prevent its first recipients from citing excuses, such as they did not understand it. The divine revelation had to come in a language that people spoke. As universal as it may be, any movement has to begin somewhere, somehow; and for it to set hold, its message has to be grasped by the people given the task of instigating it.
The next verse reads:
“We tell you the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Qur’an. And before it, you were among the unaware.” (Yusuf, 12: 3)
This is the first chapter revealed to the Prophet (saw) as a story. Its wording is concise, while its meanings are vast and deep. For the piercing eye, it contains many fine points and subtle wisdoms.
Of all Jacob’s (as) sons, Joseph (as) was the most handsome. He was equally beautiful in terms of his lineage. Not only had he come from three generations of prophets, he was also to become a prophet himself. On top of that, Joseph (as) was also to be graced with the foresight to interpret dreams and govern the land; as well as the skill to deal with famine and do what is best for the people. Joseph (as) was a beautiful man on all fronts; and he would even make the most beautiful of all prayers:
“Make me die as a Muslim and join me with the righteous” (Yusuf, 12: 101) That made Joseph (as) the first man to wish to reunite with the Lord through death.
In this story, Joseph (as) also represents the heart, Jacob (as) the spirit, while his eleven brothers symbolize the emotions of the ego. The Qur’an’s expression contains a lot more subtleties like this. However, spotting them out requires foresight.
Joseph’s (as) Dream
The Qur’an says:
“And when Joseph said to his father, ‘Father, I have seen a dream of eleven stars, the sun and the moon. I saw them all prostrating to me.” (Yusuf, 12: 4)
The eleven stars Joseph (as) had seen in his dream were his brothers. The sun was his father Jacob (as), while the moon was his aunt Leah. His mother Rachel had already passed away.
The reason as to why Joseph (as) saw his brothers in the image of stars has to do with how siblings act as guiding stars, either to good or bad, in a person’s life. The stars are mentioned before both the sun and the moon to indicate that, after his separation, Joseph (as) would first reunite with his brothers before his father and aunt.
When he saw the dream, Joseph (as) was seven years old.
A Jew once came to the Prophet (saw) and asked:
“Tell me…which stars did Joseph seen in his dream?”
For a moment, the Prophet (saw) paused. Jibril (as) then came to inform him of the stars. He then said to the Jew:
“If I were to tell you, will you become Muslim?”
“Sure, I will”, said the Jew.
Thereupon, the Prophet (saw) named the stars as, “Jarayan, Tariq, Zayyal, Qabis, Amudan, Falik, Misbah, Daruh, Fara, Wasab and Dhalkafitayn. Joseph saw these stars, the sun and the moon, descend from the skies and prostrate to him.”
The Jew exclaimed, “By Allah, those are exactly their names!” (Bursevi, Ruhu’l-Beyan, v. IV, p. 212-213)
Three Types of Dreams
- Images that come from the soul (hadith’un-nafs), where the person relives the activities he engaged in or thoughts that kept him occupied during the day, like dreaming of a person you love. Dreams of this kind are products of the imagination.
- Images that come from the devil, like nightmares or hotchpotch dreams that distress and confuse a person. These dreams have no basis or meaning.
- Images that come from Allah as good news or signs of things to come. Here, the angel of dreams reflects to the person an image from the Protected Tablet (lawh-i mahfuz) in heaven. These are called true dreams (ruya-i sadiqah). Only these kinds of lucid dreams should be taken seriously.
True dreams are mirrors from the Protected Tablet that shine a light onto the future.
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“As the time draws near, a dream a believer sees will almost always be true (they will take place in the way he sees them). A believer’s dream is one-forty-sixth of prophethood. And nothing that comes from prophethood can ever be a lie.” (Al-Bukhari, Tabir, 26; Muslim, Ruya, 6)
So, the Qur’an continues:
“Jacob said, ‘Son, do not tell your brothers about your dream, as they may contrive a plan against you. For, Satan is man’s clear enemy. Your Lord will choose you, teach you the interpretation of events and complete His favor upon you and upon the family of Jacob, as He completed it upon your fathers before, Abraham and Isaac. Your Lord is indeed Knowing and Wise.” (Yusuf, 12: 5-6)
As soon as Joseph (as) explained his dream, Jacob (as) knew that his son was destined to attain a high and honorable rank in both this life and the next. So, he strictly told him not to explain the dream to his brothers, in case they became jealous and tried to do something bad. This shows that abstaining from doing things that may make other people jealous is as important as avoiding jealousy itself.
In fact, the Prophet (saw) has said:
“See to your needs in private…for every person of means, is envied.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, I, 34)
Jealousy: The Fire that Kills the Heart
Jacob’s (as) sons Judah, Reuben and Simeon could not understand their father’s special love and affection towards Joseph (as). They were jealous and said:
“Our father loves Joseph and his brother more than us, even though we are a strong group. He must be in clear error! So, kill Joseph or cast him out to another land. Then your father will indulge only in you, and by then you will become a righteous people.” (Yusuf, 12: 8-9)
After realizing that Joseph (as) was to later become a prophet, Jacob (as) began loving him more. Nevertheless, the other sons noticed this; and each day, they become more jealous, to the point where they devised a plot to get rid of Joseph (as). In a sense, the troubles were brought about by Jacob (as) going too far in love. God is jami‘ al-azdad; He unites all opposing attributes in His being. One of His names is ar Raqib. It means He always keeps an eye over us. However, it also means He is absolutely supreme. So, it is He who deserves the most love. Excessive love of another brings separation, simply because loving Allah (jj) allows no partners.
Jacob (as) had seen the light of prophethood on Joseph (as), which made him dote over him more. This made his other sons jealous. There came a day, where they could not take it anymore, and decided to do something about it.
Perhaps most importantly, this verse tells us to hide our love in our hearts, so that it does not lead to jealousy. Love is best kept a secret.
A heart that does not walk on the path of Allah becomes dark and makes the person do evil.
The Qur’an says:
“Only by the remembrance of Allah are hearts assured.” (Al-Rad, 13: 28)
Dhikr is where remembering Allah (jj) turns into awareness inside the heart. This is the true dhikr, and is the only way to protect the heart from evil. The heart is the house of Allah, the space for divine love. Without dhikr, it falls prey to the ego, which darkens and ultimately kills it.
The Prophet (saw) states:
“Faith and jealousy never unite in a single heart.” (Muslim, Imarat, 130, 131/1891). Another hadith says that jealous people will be among those thrown into hellfire without trial.
All sins stem from conceit, greed and jealousy. The Prophet (saw) gives an idea of just how bad jealousy is:
“There are three things; and they are the source of all sins. Refrain from them under all circumstances. Conceit, which kept Satan from prostrating to Adam; greed which made Adam reach for the forbidden tree in paradise; and jealousy, which pitted Adam’s two sons against one another and left one of them dead.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, 1, 101)
Jealousy is to rebel against divine will. To be jealous of someone is to want that person to be deprived of something, only because one does not have it himself. However, being envious is something else. To envy is to wish something both for oneself as well as for others. Islam has therefore commended envy, but condemned jealousy.
Jealousy does more damage to oneself than it does to others. It is like throwing a stone at someone, only for it to do a U-turn and take your eye out. Jealousy brings nothing but anger, and worse still, humiliation. In fact, the brothers’ jealousy of Joseph (as) only came back to bite them.
The Almighty has forbidden believers from being jealous:
“Or are they jealous of people for what Allah has given them of His bounty?” (Al-Nisa, 4: 54)
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“Avoid jealousy, for it consumes all good deeds, like fire consumes wood.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 44/4903; Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 22)
Due to Jacob’s (as) excessive love for Joseph (as), Allah decided to test him with separation. For a father, a child can be a cause for great trial. Despite earlier having prayed for the total annihilation of all disbelievers, even Noah (as) could not bear to watch his son drown in the rising waters, and prayed:
“My Lord, indeed my son is of my family…” (Hud, 11: 45)
To which, the Almighty responded:
“Noah! No way is he of your family, he is rather among those who did all except for good!” (Hud, 11: 46)
The Sinister Plan
For a while, the brothers discussed the best way to get rid of Joseph (as). Then, one of them proposed:
“Do not kill Joseph but throw him into the bottom of the well. Some travelers will pick him up. That is the way to go, if you are up to it!” (Yusuf, 12: 10)
It was Judah who came up with that idea and convinced the others; and Judah was supposedly the most compassionate among them! It says a lot about just how jealous they were. It also shows that jealousy makes an enemy appear as a friend. It is best to avoid these people as much as possible.
Only those who keep their hearts alive are truly upright. To the opposite are hearts that have forgotten Allah. They have come under the spell of the ego and burned to crisp in the flames of lust. This has made the heart rock hard, which makes the body too stiff to worship. Hearts of this kind have turned into wood and deserve nothing else than to burn. We seek refuge in Allah (jj) from being infected with this condition.
Allah the Almighty says:
“Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah! Those are in clear error.” (Al-Zumar, 39: 22)
With the sinister plan in the back of their minds, they eventually approached their father:
“They said, ‘Father, why do you not place Joseph in our care, when we are so genuine towards him? Send him with us tomorrow, so that he may eat and play. We can surely keep an eye out on him!” (Yusuf, 12: 11-12)
Trouble Comes from Between the Lips
“Jacob said, ‘It worries me that you may take him and a wolf may maul him, when you are unaware!” (Yusuf, 12: 13)
It is narrated that Jacob (as) had once seen a dream, where he was on a hilltop, while Joseph (as) was on a field. Then suddenly, ten wolves appeared and mauled Joseph (as). It was for that reason that Jacob (as) told his sons about his fears that a wolf might attack him. However, unaware, he had also given his sons an excuse to cover up their crime.
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“Trouble comes from between the lips.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, I, 110)
“At times, things cross my mind, which I keep to myself out of fear that I might be tried because of them.” (Bursevi, Ruhu’l-Beyan, IV, 222)
One should never give clues to the enemy.
Until then, Joseph (as)’s brothers had not thought of the idea of a wolf. However, now, they had an alibi to revise their plan.
Ibnu’s-Sikkit, who had his tongue cut off, said:
“A slip of the tongue can be more disastrous than a slip of the foot. If you slip and fall, you will get up and recover; but if your tongue slips, you may lose your head.”
Despite the dream he had seen, Jacob (as) handed Joseph (as) over to his brothers. It just goes to prove that:
“If something is destined to be, the foresight turns blind!”
A person who says ‘I will never commit so-and-so mistake’ leaves the gates wide open to the devil, who drops everything and pesters the person, until he commits that mistake. (Suyuti, al-Jamiu’s-Saghir, I, 110)
We must, therefore, never talk big, and seek refuge in the Lord at all times.
Joseph’s (as) brothers did not have a lot of respect for their father; so they brushed aside the warning:
“They said, ‘What losers we must be if a wolf would dare eat him, despite how strong a clan we are!’” (Yusuf, 12: 14)
“So they took him out and agreed to throw him into the bottom of the well. But We inspired him, ‘A day will come when you will inform them of what they have done, while they have no clue of your identity.” (Yusuf, 12: 15)
Most interpreters of the Qur’an say the expression ‘We inspired him’ suggests that was the actual moment Joseph (as) was made a prophet.
Following his sons’ repeated pleas to take Joseph (as) on a picnic, Jacob (as) complied. Just so that his heart rested easy, they walked out of home carrying their little brother on their shoulders. However, once they were completely out of sight, they threw him to the ground and yelled:
“Tell us, liar! Where are the stars you saw bow to you? Call them and see if they come to your rescue!”
They then started beating Joseph (as). To whichever of his brothers Joseph ran to for mercy, he received a greater belting and abuse. He felt completely helpless and began to cry:
“Dad”, he said. “How quickly have your sons forgotten the promise they gave you! Not even the child of a slave deserves what they are dishing out to your son! If only you could see”
It is reported that, at the point, Reuben grabbed Joseph (as) and forcefully threw him to the ground. He then sat on his chest and tried to kill him. Levi, on the other hand, wanted to break his neck. Joseph (as) looked at Judah, the most compassionate of them all, and begged him to:
“Fear Allah and stop them from trying to kill me!”
Judah relented and called out to the others, “Do not kill him! You all promised me you would not!”
“Yes, we did”, they responded.
Judah then said, “You would be better off by just throwing him in a well!”
Joseph (as) is Thrown in a Well
The rest of them yielded and dragged Joseph (as) to the edge of a well.
This well was somewhere in Jordan and was first dug up by Shaddad, the tyrant king of Aad, during his development of the region. It had a narrow mouth but a wide a pit.
Joseph (as) was crying and clutching onto the clothes of his brothers, as they pushed and shoved him around. They tied a rope around his feet and hanged him down the well waist up. They also tied his hands so he could not hold on to anything as he dropped. They then removed his shirt and smeared it in the blood of a sheep they slaughtered, to take it back to their father as proof.
Joseph (as) pleaded them to return his shirt. “It will be my shroud if I die or my cover if I survive!” he said. Nevertheless, they held onto it.
They hanged him down further and finally cut the rope, hoping he would fall to death. However, there was some water at the bottom; and Joseph (as) made a smooth landing on a rock right beside it. He stood and called out to his brothers one last time with the hope they would feel bad and take him out.
“What…he is not dead!” they exclaimed and picked up stones to pelt him. However, again, Judah intervened.
At that moment, the Almighty ordered Jibril (as) to go to Joseph (as).
Jibril (as) made his way inside the well, sat Joseph (as) up on a rock and fed him with food from paradise. Afterwards, he dressed him in Abraham’s (as) shirt.
Hasan Basri says:
“Joseph (as) was twelve when thrown in the well. It would be another forty years before he would reunite with his father.”
The well was terrifying, with snakes, scorpions and other bugs crawling around. However, they were all ordered to stay put inside their holes.
Joseph (as) prayed:
“O, the Witness who is never absent, the Near who is never far, the Victorious who is never defeated! Deliver me out of this distress into comfort! Open me a door out!”
It is narrated that Joseph (as) remained in the well for three days. Other reports suggest it was only an hour.
Jibril (as) had taught Joseph (as) the following prayer:
“You who removes all kinds of distress, responds to every prayer, mends every broken bone and makes all hardships easy! The friend of the forlorn and the companion for the lonely! My Lord…there are no gods other than You… and You are free of all deficiency! I ask You for relief out of this distress, a door out of this trouble! My Lord…fix Your love in my heart so firm that it no longer feels any stress and calls out no other name than Yours! Protect me, my Lord…the Most Merciful of all!”
After being thrown in the well, Joseph (as) began to do dhikr to remember Allah (jj). The angels heard his beautiful voice and asked Allah’s permission to listen to him. Allah stated:
“Were you not the ones who had previously said:
‘Will You place upon earth one who causes corruption and sheds blood, when we are here to declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ (Al-Baqarah, 2: 30). After reminding them of that time, Allah gave the angels permission.
The heart is drawn to spirituality, while the ego, along with all its sensations, is attracted to animality. If man is left to his own, the ego claims victory and the body reigns over the spirit. That is the condition of sinners.
Nevertheless, acquiring good morals through remembering Allah (dhikr) and attending the circles of the righteous (sohbah), make the heart and the spirit reign supreme. This allows them to seize and guide the ego, and along with it, the body. This is the condition of the pious.
Because prophets are reinforced with revelation and saints with inspiration, they face troubles with patience and see them as means to take their hearts closer to the Lord.
The Almighty afflicted both Jacob (as) and Joseph (as) with great grief so that, despite the pain, they would keep patient and strengthen their attachment to Him. They took it as a means to turn to the Lord at all times and reach greater spiritual ranks by cutting all ties with passing interests. Such great ranks are attained only at the end of grueling hardship.
Thus, one of the reasons why Joseph (as) stayed in prison for twelve years was so that he could reach spiritual maturity through solitude (halwah), self-discipline (riyazah) and self-struggle (mujahadah). Had he remained with his father, he would not have been able to achieve any of that. This wisdom underlies the fact that all prophets have spent some time alone, away from their homelands.
After all was said and done, Joseph’s (as) brothers made their way home, shedding crocodile tears. The Qur’an describes the scene as:
“And they came to their father at night, weeping. They said, ‘Father, we went racing each other and left Joseph to mind our possessions. That is when a wolf ate him. But you would not believe us, even if we were telling the truth.” (Yusuf, 12: 16-17)
Once, a woman came crying to Qadi Shurayh, after having a fight with her husband. Shabi, who was there at the time, commented:
“Judge…I suspect this woman is innocent. Look at the way she is weeping!”
“Shabi”, said Qadi Shurayh. “Joseph’s (as) brothers had also come home crying, despite being guilty. One cannot use tears as evidence. Only facts!”
The brothers had brought a little piece of evidence of their own to try to fool their father:
“And they brought forward his shirt with false blood. Jacob said, ‘It seems your souls have enticed you to something. Patience is best from here on in. And Allah is the One to help against what you describe!” (Yusuf, 12: 18)
It is said that Jacob (as) rubbed the bloodied shirt on his face, and said, as he wept:
“I have never heard of a wolf so kind! It has devoured my son without damaging his shirt!”
Jacob’s (as) grief over Joseph (as) has become legendary; and our own Yunus Emre gives voice to it:
I was a Jacob, who kept to himself
With only the Lord’s name on my mouth
But then I lost Joseph in the land of Canaan
And now I cry and cry for my Joseph
They took Joseph and bloodied him red
The wolves devoured him, they turned and said
Who knows to his shirt what they did
And now I cry and cry for my Joseph
Jacob (as) cried but he had no other choice than to be patient. He did without complaining to anyone about his distress:
“He said, ‘I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you do not.’” (Yusuf, 12: 86)
The Prophet (saw) once asked Jibril (as):
“How much was Jacob’s (as) longing for Joseph?”
He replied, “As much as that of seventy mothers who had lost their children.”
“Then how much are his rewards?” asked the Prophet (saw).
“As great as the rewards of seventy martyrs”, replied Jibril (as), “…for he did not think bad of Allah even for a moment.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Mansur, IV, 570).
This is what the Qur’an describes as sabrun jamil, beautiful patience. It is to face troubles and distress with fortitude and resignation, without whining, groaning or complaining. Patience withers if a person complains to others about Allah.
The Sale of Joseph (as)
While Jacob (as) remained beautifully patient, Joseph (as) was waiting in the well with similar trust and resignation. Then:
“There came a company of travelers. They sent a man to get some water and he let down his bucket. He said, ‘Good news! There is a boy here!’ And they took him as merchandise; and Allah knew what they did. And they sold him for a cheap price – a few dirhams – and were content with whatever they could get.” (Yusuf, 12: 19-20)
As captivated as they were by Joseph’s (as) beauty, the travelers sold him at a cheap price. They wanted to quickly get him out of their hands, fearing someone from his family may turn up to claim the boy.
The great sheikh, Muhyiddin ibn Arabi says:
“When the Almighty wants to execute the mystery:
‘And the command of Allah is a destiny bound to happen’ (Al-Ahzab, 33: 38), He does so by making a person commit a blunder.”
Joseph (as) had once looked at himself in the mirror and thought, “If I were a slave, there would be no guessing as to how much money I would fetch!”
Because of his momentary vanity, Allah had Joseph (as) sold as a slave but at a very small value.
The Prophet (saw) was once on the way home when a group of children cut him off and playfully exclaimed, “We will not let you pass unless you give us something like you give Hasan and Hussein!”
So, the Prophet (saw) smiled at Bilal (as) and said, “Go home and bring back whatever you can find for my ransom!”
Bilal (as) soon returned with eight walnuts. And the Prophet (saw) handed them to the children and joked,
“My brother Joseph (as) was sold at a bargain. And I have gone for just eight walnuts!”
What is important is inner beauty, not outer. Outer beauty perishes, while a beautiful heart and morals are everlasting. The Prophet (saw) has said:
“Allah does not look are your bodies or faces. He looks at your hearts.” (Muslim, Birr, 22; Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 9)
Hagar was in fact given to Sarah as a slave. However, she gave birth to Ismail (as), from whose lineage came the Prophet (saw).
The body is of no great importance. It is only a cover for the spirit. It is through his spirit that man is either graced or disgraced. A person with a clean heart and good deeds is honored in the sight of Allah (jj). His pretty face or lavish wealth carry no weight, whatsoever.
A person enslaved by desire is really selling himself cheap! We need to spare a moment to think about the danger that awaits those who sell their hearts and spirits to their lust. Man must be aware of honor he carries and be wary of the shackles of his ego. The Almighty declares:
“Have you seen the one who takes his own desire as god? And how could you be responsible for him?” (Al-Furqan, 25: 43)
The Qur’an continues:
“And the man from Egypt who bought him, said to his wife, ‘Make his stay comfortable. Perhaps he will benefit us, or we will adopt him as a son.’ And We established Joseph in the land so that We might teach him the interpretation of events. And Allah is predominant over His affair, but most people do not know.” (Yusuf, 12: 21)
Scholars of the Qur’an tell us that the slave trader who bought Joseph (as) ended up selling him to Egypt’s minister of finance. The minister had sensed that Joseph (as) was an intelligent and capable young boy, who could later be useful in state affairs. In addition, he had no children of his own, and thought he could perhaps adopt him.
The fact that Joseph (as) was sold to a man of high social standing suggests that, this time round, he was traded for a high price. It is said that the slave trader auctioned Joseph (as) for three straight days; and the auction ended, after the minister agreed to pay his weight in gold, silver, pearls, silk and musk.
Allah has declared:
“Son of Adam! You wish for something…and I wish for something. Only that which I want happens. If you surrender to My will, I will grant you your wish. However, if you try and challenge My will, I will turn your wish upside down. And in the end, My command will still prevail.”
In the Qur’an, Allah praises knowledge and denounces ignorance.
The Prophet (saw) was asked, “Which action has greater virtue?”
“Knowing Allah”, he replied.
The companions then rephrased the question. “Which action raises one’s rank?” they inquired.
The Prophet (saw) once again said, “Knowing Allah.”
“What is the reason, Messenger of Allah, that you tell us about knowledge when we ask you about action?” asked the companions.
“Little action taken with knowledge of Allah takes you a long way”, the Prophet (saw) answered. “But without knowledge, not so…even if you were to do a lot!” (Al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, IV, 688)
Sufis say that perfecting knowledge is superior to perfecting deeds. Nevertheless, at the same time, an error in knowledge is a lot more dangerous than an error in deeds; as one cannot properly offer any deed without having a sound faith.
For that reason, prophets have prayed to Allah to increase their knowledge. The angels honored and prostrated to Adam (as) only because of the names he had been taught. Solomon (as) achieved his great kingdom through foresight and administrative genius; while Joseph (as) rose from being a prisoner to a king, through his mastery of the art of interpreting.
Joseph (as) and Zulaykha
The Qur’an says:
“And when Joseph reached maturity, We gave him judgment and knowledge. And that is how We reward the doers of good.” (Yusuf, 12: 22)
Joseph (as) had grown to become a strikingly handsome young man. The lady of the house, Zulaykha started developing different feelings towards him. There came a day, when it all unraveled:
“And the lady of the house shut the doors and said, ‘Come to me.’
He said, ‘I seek refuge in Allah. He is my Master, who has made my stay comfortable. And wrongdoers will never succeed!’
She was certainly determined to seduce him, and he, too, would have inclined had he not seen the proof of his Lord. It was to keep him away from evil and immorality. He was indeed of Our chosen servants.” (Yusuf, 12: 23-24)
Zulaykha had three things the ego desires the most: fortune, fame and sensuality. She was young and beautiful; and had a charm that could have had many men chase after her. Now, she had the door locked tight. In a moment of secrecy and privacy that stirs the most hidden desires, she tried to seduce Joseph (as).
“Come to me (hayta lak)”, she said, to try and fulfil her evil desire. The call would have melted the steeliest willpower; and Joseph (as) found himself in a spot of bother, which Allah alludes to with the words:
“He, too, would have inclined to her, had he not seen the proof of His Lord.” One of the hardest things a man could ever do in life is to say ‘no’ to a young, beautiful and wealthy woman, especially if she makes an advance in private.
To resist the temptation, Joseph (as) wore a spiritual armor by genuinely seeking refuge in Allah with the words ‘maadh’Allah’. He was then shown the ‘proof’ and given an insight into how wicked it would have been to follow temptation. With that, he was placed under divine protection.
The only way to refuse the call of temptation that invites man to sin is to seek help from the One, who has an infinite power to protect.
Some interpretations of the Qur’an offer the following to explain what is meant by the word ‘proof’ (burhan):
As Zulaykha was trying to seduce him, Joseph (as) heard a voice, saying ‘don’t do it!’ However, he did not pay it any attention. The call was repeated two more times and suddenly, the image of Jacob (as) appeared before him. It was only then that Joseph (as) came to his senses and turned back.
With the permission of Allah (jj), Jacob (as) had offered spiritual help (istianah) to his son and stopped him from being seduced by Zulaykha.
This serves as an example of the types of spiritual help istianah, istighathah and rabita.
Ali ibn Hasan narrates that there was an idol in the room, which Zulaykha had covered with a cloth before she made her advances. Joseph (as) asked her why, to which she replied, “I just felt ashamed that it would see me engage in illicit passion.”
Joseph (as) then said, “I have more right to feel ashamed from My Lord, who created me in the most beautiful form, than you do from a piece of rock!”
After seeing the ‘proof’, Joseph (as) felt horrified and ran to the door. Zulaykha chased him:
“And they both raced to the door. She tore his shirt from the back, and they found her husband at the door.
She said, ‘How else could you punish a person who intended evil for your wife, other than with prison or something more painful?’” (Yusuf, 12: 25)
The minister had heard the commotion and stormed in.
“What on earth is going on?” he asked.
Zulaykha now added slander to her list of sins. “This young man just tried to rape me!”, she screamed.
The minister looked at Joseph (as) in dismay and said, “For all that I have done for you, is this how you repay me?”
Joseph (as) suddenly found himself in another difficult situation. He tried explaining what had really happened. He had someone to help:
“Joseph said, ‘It was she who tried to seduce me!’
And a witness from her family testified. She said ‘If his shirt is torn from the front, then she has told the truth, and he is lying. But if his shirt is torn from the back, then she has lied, and he tells the truth.” (Yusuf, 12: 26-27)
Joseph (as) prayed to the Lord to provide him with clear evidence of his innocence. Zulaykha’s baby, who was three or four months old at the time, miraculously spoke and testified that Joseph (as) was not the one to be blamed.
“So when her husband saw his shirt torn from the back, he said, ‘For sure, this is just another plot of you women. And how great your plots are! Joseph, forget this ever happened. And, my wife, ask forgiveness, for you have surely sinned!” (Yusuf, 12: 28-29)
However, soon, the word was out on the streets:
“And women in the city said, ‘The minister’s wife is seeking to seduce her slave boy. Passion has blinded her. She has surely lost the plot!” (Yusuf, 12: 30)
The Women Cut Their Hands
It did not take long for Zulaykha to find out she was being mocked by the city’s women, including her own friends. So, she decided to invite them over:
“So when she heard of their gossip, she called them over. She prepared for them a banquet and gave each one of them a knife. She then told Joseph to ‘Come out!’
And when they saw him, they watched him in awe, as they sliced their hands and said, ‘Perfect is Allah! This cannot be a man! He must be none other than a noble angel!” (Yusuf, 12: 31)
The verse refers to the feast or banquet with word ‘muttekeen’, which literally means ‘cushions to lean on’. Egypt’s high society of the time would enjoy these feasts leaning back and slouching on cozy cushions, as wealthy and conceited people do. Eating while leaning back has therefore been forbidden. The Prophet (saw) has said:
“I do not eat while leaning back.” (Al-Bukhari, Atimah, 13)
Aisha (rha) compares the beauty of Joseph (as) with the Prophet’s (as) own:
“Had the folk of Egypt heard of his beauty
On Joseph, they would not have spent a cent
If the friends of Zulaykha had seen his face
Their knives would have gone in their hearts.”
However, the Prophet (saw) would constantly pray for an inner beauty. Even when looking at the mirror, he would lay emphasis on the importance of morals, praying:
“My Lord…give me a beauty of morals just like the beauty you have given my appearance!”
“My Lord…take me to the most beautiful of morals! And only You can take me there!” (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, X, 456)
Zulaykha snapped after seeing her friends mesmerized by Joseph (as):
“She said, ‘This is the one you blame me about! I certainly did try to seduce him but he firmly refused. But if he continues to refuse my orders, I will make sure he is imprisoned and humiliated!’” (Yusuf, 12: 32)
Joseph (as) had now become known throughout the city. He could no longer walk the streets without women trying to court him. He feared their ploys and prayed to Allah to protect him. He knew that women driven by lust could come up with tricks the devils could not think of.
“He said, ‘My Lord, I would prefer prison over what they invite me to! And if You do not avert their games from me, I just might yield and join the ignorant!’” (Yusuf, 12: 33)
Sufis have said:
“It is impossible to keep guard against the dangers of the ego by making compromises and giving the ego what it wants. The only way is to seek refuge in Allah (jj) and fulfil His commands. This was what saved Joseph (as).”
“So his Lord responded and averted their plans from him. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.” (Yusuf, 12: 34)
No heart, not even those of prophets, is safe without Allah’s protection. Man is created in such a way that he can never be sure of the traps of the world, the murmurs of the ego or the whispers of the devil. This is verified by the fact that Joseph (as) was able to hold himself back only after he saw a ‘proof from His Lord’, which acted as a barrier between him and sin.
So, as the servants of Allah, we must always be wary of what our egos may get up to and know that we have no power to put up a fight, unless through Allah’s protection.
Joseph’s (as) prayer was accepted, and:
“Then, despite seeing the proofs, they decided it would be proper to imprison him for some time.” (Yusuf, 12: 35)
Joseph (as) was shackled from his feet and made to wear a coarse woolen cardigan. As he approached the door of the dungeon, he bowed his head and said ‘in the name of Allah’, before entering. All the inmates turned their heads and Joseph (as) began to cry. Jibril (as) came and asked why.
He answered, “It is because there is no proper space to pray here”. Jibril (as) then said:
“Pray wherever you wish. Allah has made 40 yards inside the dungeon clean for you.”
“And two young men entered the prison with him.
One of them said, ‘I dreamt that I was pressing wine.’ The other said, “And, I dreamt that I was carrying some bread on my head and the birds were eating from it. Tell us what they mean. We see that you are a good man!’
Joseph said, ‘I will interpret your dreams before you receive your next meal. That is from what my Lord has taught me. I have left the religion of a people who do not believe in Allah, and who deny the life after!” (Yusuf, 12: 36-37)
As for how these two young men ended up in prison, it is said that some of Egypt’s nobles had devised a plan to kill the king Rayyan and replace him with one of their own. So, they bribed the two men. One of them was the king’s cook, while the other was his cupbearer. They were to carry out the plan by lacing the king’s meal and drink with poison.
The cook did his part but the cupbearer felt bad and changed his mind at the very last second. So, when the table was set and the king reached out for the plate, the cupbearer shouted:
“Do not touch the food, my king! It is poisoned!”
When the cook heard that, he also called out, “Do not touch the drink, my king! It is also poisoned!”
The king then ordered the cupbearer to drink from the cup. He drunk from it without hesitation. He then turned to the cook, commanding him to eat the food. The cook resisted. It was then fed to an animal, which died instantly.
In the end, both were thrown into prison to await their verdict. That was when they saw the dreams. (Al-Qurtubi, al-Jami’, IX, 189)
Before proceeding to interpret the dreams, Joseph (as) first wanted to invite his two cellmates to tawhid; and let them know that his knowledge had been given to him by Allah and that the people of Egypt were on the wrong path.
The lesson to take here is that even in the most difficult circumstances, a believer must never neglect the duty of encouraging people to the good and discouraging them from evil.
The following three verses detail Joseph’s (as) call:
“And I follow the religion of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And it was not for us to associate any partners with Allah. This is the favor of Allah upon us and upon the people, but most people are not grateful. So, my cellmates, are separate lords better or Allah, the One, the Prevailing? What you worship beside Him are nothing but names you and your fathers have given, without Allah having given you any authority to do so! Judgment is Allah’s alone. He has commanded that you worship only Him. That is the correct religion, but most people just do not know!” (Yusuf, 12: 38-40)
Joseph (as) Interprets Dreams
After explaining tawhid to his fellow inmates, Joseph (as) informed them:
“So, my two cellmates. One of you, will return serving drinks to his master. But as for the other, he will be crucified, and the birds will eat off his head. That is the way things are destined to be about the things you ask!” (Yusuf, 12: 41)
“And he said to the one who he knew would be set free, ‘Mention my name next to your master.’ But Satan made the man forget, and Joseph remained in prison several years.” (Yusuf, 12: 42)
The events unfolded exactly how Joseph (as) had told them. The cupbearer was released and he resumed his old job, while the cook was hanged.
Some interpreters of the Qur’an say that the Almighty was not pleased with Joseph (as) asking for help from someone else, when he told the cupbearer to put in good word for him ‘next to his master.’ It was a momentary blunder. Because of it, Joseph (as) remained in prison for another seven years, on top of the five he was serving. So, he his term increased to a total of twelve years.
It is reported that even after their release, the inmates would visit Joseph (as) and have long conversations him, as would the prison guard. One day he said to Joseph (as), “I love you more than all of my friends.”
Joseph (as) responded, “I seek refuge in Allah from your love.”
“Why?” asked the guard.
“My father loved me and my brothers threw me inside a well. Zulaykha loved me and they threw me in prison. And if you love me, who knows where I might end up next!”
Malik ibn Dinar narrates that when Joseph (as) asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him next to the king, Allah revealed:
“You, Joseph, have relied on someone other than Me. And I will now extend your term in prison!”
Joseph (as) then began to weep and said, “My Lord! My heart has become heavy from all the grief and sorrow. You will never, ever hear me say such words again!”
Hasan Basri would cry every time he read that and wonder, “What will then become of us, who run to others for help every time we are in trouble?”
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“May Allah have mercy on my brother Joseph. Had he not asked the cupbearer to mention his name next to his master, he would not have stayed in prison an extra seven years after the five.” (Bursevi, Ruhu’l-Beyan, IV, 264)
However, Allah the Almighty puts prophets and saints through grief, not as a punishment, but as a gift.
The Prophet (saw) has stated:
“When Allah loves a servant, He pours and pours trouble on him!” (Ali al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-Ummal, III, 334/6811)
Abu Said al-Khudri (ra) visited the Prophet (saw) during his final illness, and personally witnessed the pain he was going through. He recounts:
“I placed my hand and I could feel his fever through the quilt.
‘You have very high fever, Messenger of Allah’, I said.
‘Prophets are like that’, he said. ‘We are given troubles in spades but also rewards in equal measure.’
‘Messenger of Allah’, I asked. ‘Who are the people who endure the most trouble?’
‘Prophets’, he said.
‘After them?’ I asked.
‘The righteous’, he replied, before adding:
‘Some among them are trialed with such great poverty that they have nothing except for cloak to cover up with. But they celebrate trouble, just as you celebrate wealth!’” (Ibn Majah, Fitan, 23)
The King’s Dream
What followed was:
“And one day, the king said:
‘I saw a dream, where seven lean cows ate seven fat ones. And then there were seven green spikes of grain and others that were dry. My men, explain what my vision means, if you can interpret it!’
They said, ‘It sounds like a mixture of false images. And besides, we know nothing about interpreting dreams!’
But then the freed cellmate remembered, and said, ‘If you give me permission, I will come back with its interpretation!”
And he said, ‘Joseph, man of truth! Explain what it means for seven fat cows to be eaten by seven lean ones. Also, seven green spikes and others that are dry! Tell me, so I may return to the people, and perhaps they will know about you!” (Yusuf, 12: 43-46)
With his God-given knowledge, Joseph (as) offered an interpretation:
‘You should plant for seven years consecutively. What you harvest, leave in its spikes, except a little to eat from. There will then come seven hard years, which will consume what you will have saved, except the little that you will have stored. A year will then follow in which the people will be given rain, and they will press olives and grapes.” (Yusuf, 12: 47-49)
The king felt rejoiced, and wished to reward Joseph (as):
“And the king said, ‘Bring him to me!’
But when the messenger came, Joseph said, ‘Return to your master and ask him what the case was with the women who cut their hands. My Lord well knows what they contrived.” (Yusuf, 12: 50)
It was out of politeness that Joseph (as) did not give Zulaykha’s name. He was also wary that she might get up to another trick, if she felt Joseph (as) was publically blaming her.
The king gathered the women in question and asked:
“What were you thinking when you sought to seduce Joseph?’
They said, ‘Perfect is Allah! We know no evil of him.’
And the minister’s wife said, ‘Now that the truth is out in the open, let it be known that it was me who tried to seduce him. But, all along, he remained true!’.” (Yusuf, 12: 51)
Joseph (as) then said that the only reason she wanted the women to confess was:
“So that the minister will know that I did not betray him behind his back and that Allah does not fulfil the plan of betrayers.” (Yusuf, 12: 52)
Allah the Almighty declares:
“Indeed, Allah does not like traitors” (Al-Anfal, 8: 58)
No betrayal is worse than to betray Allah (jj) and His Messenger (saw). The Qur’an warns in this regard:
“O you who have believed! Do not betray Allah and the Messenger, or your trusts, when you well know of the consequence.” (Al-Anfal, 8: 27)
The story below lays bare how those betray Allah’s command by violating the rights of others, really betray no one but themselves. Treachery only comes back to bite the treacherous.
The Story of Darwan
It is told that a generous man from Yemen had some land near Sanaa, where he grew grapes, dates and various other crops. At harvest time, he would set aside a lot of the produce for the poor. On his deathbed, he asked his sons to continue his practice. However, greed got the better of his sons; and they said to one another:
“We have a large family but little to take care of them with. We need to stop giving stuff to the poor. So, from now on, let’s collect the harvest before they come around asking!”
Nevertheless, because of their malice, Allah burned their land overnight to crisp. The lush green garden was no longer recognizable. When they turned up in early in the morning, the stingy sons were left stunned, and even wondered whether they had come to the wrong place.
However, all along, it was their father’s generosity and the prayer of the poor and the weak that had made their produce so abundant. The gardens were of benefit to every needy person in the town. But, the sons thought too much of it, without having the least idea that without charity, their gardens would be nothing. Neglect had blinded their hearts.
It is for that reason that Allah has declared:
“Do not be of the neglectful!” (Al-Araf, 7: 205).
This is known as the story of the people of Darwan and the Qur’an recounts it as follows:
“We have tested them just as We tested the folk of the garden, when they swore to cut its fruit in the early morning, without sparing any. So your Lord sent down an affliction on the garden, while they were asleep. And it became as though it had already been reaped!
They woke each other up in the morning, saying, ‘Go on, get out early to cut the fruit!’ So they set out, and said to one another in low voices, ‘No poor is going to enter the garden today!’ And they walked in determination, assuming they were able men.” (Al-Qalam, 68: 17-25)
Nevertheless, once they got there, they realized the outcome of their greed and betrayal, and burnt with remorse. The Qur’an explains:
“But when they saw it, they said, ‘We have lost! Or more like, we have been deprived!’
The most moderate of them said, ‘Did I not tell you to be thankful?’
They said, ‘High is our Lord! We have wronged ourselves!’ Then they confronted and blamed one another. They said, ‘Shame on us, for having transgressed! But perhaps our Lord will give us something better in its place. We now only desire Him!” (Al-Qalam, 68: 26-32)
How beautifully does Allah (jj) inform us of the bitter end of those who resort to trickery, just to deprive the poor of their right! Allah can see through every intention in the heart. His glory encompasses everything.
Allah the Almighty ends the story with an important warning:
“Such is the punishment! And the punishment of the hereafter is greater, if only they knew.” (Al-Qalam, 68: 33)
Joseph’s (as) Foresight
Joseph (as) did not wish to leave prison until the circumstances of his imprisonment became clear, and both the king and the public knew he was an innocent man, who had been wrongly jailed. By keeping his composure and using his intelligence, he also prevented the women responsible for his imprisonment, from stirring up more trouble. Only after it was proven that he was the victim of slander and lies did he agree to step out of the dungeon.
This is a prudent example for all Muslims, who should take special care to avoid places, as well as situations that might give others the wrong impression. If this has already happened, he must make an effort to clear his name.
Scholars have strongly advised Muslims against going to such places.
Umar (ra) has said:
“Whoever heads to suspicious places will become a suspect himself.”
Just as Joseph (as) was meticulous to clear misconceptions about him, the Prophet (saw) was also sensitive to prevent others from getting the wrong idea. His wife, Safiya bint Huyay (rha) recounts the below incident:
“The Messenger of Allah (saw) had retreated to the mosque in the last ten days of Ramadan. I visited him one night to talk to him about something. Afterwards, he got up to walk me back home. As we were heading back, we were seen by two men, companions from Medina, who quickly wanted to walk away.
‘Slow down’, the Messenger (saw) called out to them. ‘It is Safiya next to me!’
They said, ‘Messenger of Allah! How could we even assume that a prophet of Allah could get up to anything improper?’
‘Still’, said the Messenger (saw). ‘The devil flows inside a person like blood…and I was worried he might cast doubt in your hearts.’” (Al-Bukhari, Itikaf, 11; Muslim, Salam, 23-25)
However, as necessary as it is to keep away from situations that may cause suspicion, it is also important to avoid being suspicious. The Almighty cautions:
“And do not pursue things of which you have no knowledge. The hearing, the sight and the heart will all be held in trial for it.” (Al-Isra, 17: 36)
Joseph (as) had now fully proven his innocence. But he still sought refuge from his ego and humbly said:
“And I do not acquit myself. For, the ego constantly commands evil, except to those on which my Lord has mercy. My Lord is truly Forgiving and Merciful.” (Yusuf, 12: 53)
Elsewhere in the Qur’an, the Almighty states:
“And without the favor and mercy of Allah, not one of you would ever be pure. But Allah purifies whom He wills. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” (Al-Nur, 24: 21)
A true servant must therefore seek protection from the swagger of his ego, by repenting and praying to return to the Almighty with a clean slate.
Allah Turns a Slave into a King
The king had noticed that Joseph (as) was an amazingly intelligent man, who could provide great service to the state:
“And the king said, ‘Bring him to me! I will appoint him exclusively for myself.’ And when he spoke to him, he said, ‘You now have a rank by my side, and are trusted.” (Yusuf, 12: 54)
As he was walking out, Joseph (as) wrote the following on the prison door:
“This is the home of trouble, the grave for the living. As the gates are shut from behind you, enemies laugh and grief takes hold.”
He then took a bath, wore his new clothes and prayed for the inmates inside:
“My Lord…make the hearts of the righteous lean towards them and do not keep them in the dark from news of their loved ones!”
And when he entered the king’s court, he said:
“My Lord! I expect the good that comes from You more than the good that will come from here. I seek refuge in Your glory and power from its evil!”
By then, the minister, who had bought Joseph (as) as a child, had passed away. The king of the time was a noble and virtuous man from a family who had originally immigrated from Arabia and ruled Egypt for four centuries. He spoke many languages; and instantly admired Joseph (as) for the fact that he spoke more languages than him. He wanted to hear the interpretation of his dream directly from Joseph’s (as) mouth. So, Joseph (as) repeated the interpretation. The king admired the depth and eloquence of Joseph’s (as) words and asked for the right precaution to take.
“During the fertile years”, Joseph (as) explained, “you must try and produce more and stock up on the crops. That way you will not only be able to look after the people, you will also export the surplus goods and increase the treasury’s revenue.”
“But who will manage all that?” asked the king.
Joseph (as) thereupon said:
“Appoint me over the storehouses of the land. I can surely and wisely guard them.” (Yusuf, 12: 55)
This shows that it is permissible for one to request an administrative position if he has the skill and power to uphold justice and divine law. But it is impermissible for Muslims to vie with each other over such positions.
Abu Musa al-Ashari (ra) explains:
“I was in the presence of the Messenger of Allah (saw) along with two of my cousins. One of them asked for an administrative position, and soon, the other made a similar request.
The Prophet (saw) replied:
“By Allah, we do not appoint people who strive for positions!” (Al-Bukhari, Ahkam, 7; Muslim, Imarah, 15)
What those words teach us is that people in power must give jobs to those who are competent; and take into account, not their personal desires or ambitions, but their qualifications.
The verse of the Qur’an that quotes Joseph’s (as) request for the position also indicates that at times when there is no other option, it is necessary to take power from the hands of non-Muslims, if that remains the only way in which one can reinstate Allah’s command and allow for good to prevail over evil. But this is a heavy burden that comes with enormous responsibility. Yet, Joseph (as) had all the competence in the world required to shoulder the task. And he took on the job as treasurer, as there was no person more skillful than him to reform the land and its people for the better.
Allah the Almighty declares:
“And thus We established Joseph in the land to settle wherever he willed. We touch with Our mercy whom We will, and We do not lose the rewards of those who do good. And the reward of the hereafter is far better, for those who believe and fear Allah” (Yusuf, 12: 56-57)
The king handed over even his own authority to Joseph (as). Because of his trust and respect towards a prophet, Allah blessed him with faith. The king wholeheartedly accepted the religion of tawhid in the presence of Joseph (as). Many others followed him. After all, Joseph (as) had not merely been sent to them as a treasurer in tough times. Above anything, he was a prophet to guide them to the true path.
It should be remembered that generosity is a means for eternal happiness. Even if it kindness comes from a nonbeliever, a Muslim should make the most of the opportunity to invite him to tawhid. It is hoped that such genuine moments can also serve as means for salvation.
As the effective ruler of Egypt, Joseph (as) immediately placed great emphasis on agriculture. He increased production and stocked up the surplus produce. When the years of famine struck, he used the produce both for the needs of his people, as well as for export, through which he generated revenue for the treasury. People far and wide began making their way to Egypt to buy food.
Marriage to Zulaykha
By this time, Zulaykha had lost everything she had. Her love for Joseph (as) had made her blind and frail. She looked like an old woman, even though she was still young. She eventually retired into a derelict home on a road Joseph (as) often used. There, she had time to reflect on and figure out why things had gone wrong for her. In a moment of regret and anger, she faced the idol she had worshipped and said:
“Shame on us both! You have shown no mercy to me, despite all that I have gone through! You have not deigned to help me out of my frail body and blind sight! Like a fool, I have worshipped you to this day! However, it all ends here! From now on, I believe in the Lord of Joseph!”
She then began worshipping Allah (jj) day and night.
One day, Joseph (as) happened to pass by the home of Zulaykha on horseback, accompanied by his entourage. Zulaykha immediately stepped outside and said, out loud:
“I exalt the Power that turns sinful kings into slaves and pious slaves into kings!”
The wind had delivered her words to Joseph (as). He rode his horse to Zulaykha. He could not recognize her. He asked if she needed any help. Zulaykha said only Joseph (as) could help her. It was at that moment that Joseph (as) realized who she was. Zulaykha asked him to pray that she be given her sight and beauty back. She then asked for one more thing: for Joseph (as) to marry her.
Joseph (as) fulfilled her first two wishes. He prayed and Allah gave back Zulaykha her beauty and eyesight. However, on the third wish, Joseph (as) dropped his head and began to ponder. Not long after, Jibril (as) arrived to say:
“Your Lord has sent His blessings and ordered you not to refuse her! Marry her, for she is your wife both in this world and the next!”
On that order, Joseph (as) married Zulaykha.
Joseph (as) later raised his hands to the sky and prayed:
“My Lord, the Most Compassionate of all, who has blessed me with all this! An eternal praise and thanks to You!
My Lord! I ask You to complete Your grace, show me the face of my father Jacob and light up his vision by showing mine to him! I further ask You to open up the roads that will reunite me with my brothers! My Lord…You are the Acceptor of prayers and have power over all things!”
The Brothers Arrive in Egypt to a Plan
Meanwhile, the famine had also gripped Canaan. Jacob (as) sent all his sons, except for Benjamin, to Egypt to buy some provisions.
The Qur’an recounts what followed:
“And the brothers of Joseph came, seeking food. They entered his court. He recognized them, but they had no idea who he was. And when he stocked them up with their supplies, he said:
‘Bring me that brother of yours you have left behind with your father! Can’t you see that I give full measure and that I am the best of suppliers? Unless you bring him to me, there will be no more stock for you, and do not even think about coming back!” (Yusuf, 12: 58-60)
There was a reason as to why Joseph (as) asked them to next time bring their younger brother. Because of the famine and the limited stock, the provisions were sold only per head. That mean that the person wishing to buy provisions had to personally be there. So, when they also asked for a share for their father and brother, Joseph (as) exempted the father due to his age and gave them his share just for that one time. However, he told them that next time, if they wanted to buy stock for his brother, they had to bring him along. Of course, beyond all that, he also wished to unite with Benjamin and see how he was doing.
The brothers said:
“We will try to convince his father to release him. We will do everything we can!’
Joseph said to his servants, ‘Put their own stock, which they brought for barter, back in their bags, so they will see it when they return and have incentive to come back!’
So, when they returned, they said, ‘Father, we have been denied from asking for further stock, unless you send our brother with us. Rest assured, we will protect him!’
But he said, ‘Do you expect me to trust you with him, as I trusted you with his brother before? But Allah is the best guardian, and He is the most merciful of the merciful.” (Yusuf, 12: 61-64)
When Jacob said, “But Allah is the best guardian, and He is the most merciful of the merciful”, the Almighty declared:
“By My Honor and Glory, since you rely only on Me, I will soon reunite you with both your sons!”
What is understood here is that a believer must trust and rely only on Allah (jj), not mortals. Every other being needs protection. The Almighty does not. However, while relying on Allah, it is also take the necessary measures and precautions.
The sons were doing everything they could to convince Jacob (as) to let Benjamin go with them to Egypt. But it was to no avail, until:
“When they opened their baggage, they found their merchandise had been returned to them. They said, ‘Look, father, what more could we want? Our merchandise has been returned. Let us go. We will obtain supplies for our family, protect our brother and increase our stock by a camel’s load! It is easy business!” (Yusuf, 12: 65)
Jacob (as) eventually yielded and agreed to send Benjamin.
“Jacob said, ‘But I will not send him with you until you promise by Allah that you will bring him back to me, unless you should be surrounded by enemies!’
When they gave their promise, he said, ‘Allah is witness over what we say!’
And he said, ‘Sons, do not enter from one gate but enter from different gates. I have no power at all to spare you from the decree of Allah. The decision is only for Allah. I have relied on Him, and so should others looking for reliance!” (Yusuf, 12: 66-67)
Jacob (as) had told his sons to enter Egypt through different gates, as their appearance and clothes stood them out from the crowd and also because last time they were in the country, they had received favors like no one else. He was therefore worried that people with bad intentions may plot against them. All eyes in the city would be on these striking men from a foreign land, and Jacob (as) was concerned for his sons’ wellbeing.
Our Prophet (saw) has in fact said:
“The evil eye (nazar) is a fact.” (Al-Bukhari, Tibb, 36)
“The evil eye puts a man in a grave, and camel inside a saucepan.” (Al-Suyuti, al-Jami’ al-Saghir, II, 60)
For that reason, one must never look with neglect or throw a gaze with bad intention. In turn, people who do not constantly seek refuge in Allah (jj) can never be secure from evil looks.
Ibn Abbas (ra) narrates the following:
“The Messenger of Allah (saw) used to say the following prayer to ask for the protection of his grandsons Hasan and Huseyn:
‘I seek refuge in the perfect names of Allah from all kinds of devils, poisonous animals and every eye that touches.’
He would then add:
“This is the prayer your forefather Abraham would say for the protection of his sons Ismail and Isaac.’” (Al-Bukhari, Anbiya, 10; Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 20)
If one sees something he likes, he should say the following to make sure that his gaze does not have an ill effect:
“Only what Allah wills, happens; and all power is exclusively His.”
He should further pray:
“May Allah (jj) bless you with it!”
The sons took their father’s advices on board, and once again, set out towards Egypt.
The Qur’an recounts:
“And they entered the city in the way their father had ordered them. But it did not avail them against Allah, apart from appeasing the soul of Jacob. And he surely had knowledge of what We had taught him, while most people do not know.” (Yusuf, 12: 68)
I am Your Brother Joseph!
“And when they entered the court of Joseph, he pulled his brother towards him and said, ‘I am Joseph, your brother, so do not grieve over the things they have done!” (Yusuf, 12: 69)
It has been narrated that Joseph (as) had a dinner prepared for his brothers. They sat around the table in pairs, which left Benjamin by himself. He became tearful and remarked:
“My brother Joseph would have sat with me, if he was still alive.”
So, Joseph (as) sat Benjamin next to him on his own table. After dinner, the brothers were sent to guesthouses, again, in pairs. Once again, Benjamin was left by himself. Joseph (as) then said:
“He is the odd one out. So, he can stay with me!”
Benjamin spent the night at Joseph’s (as) house. That evening, Joseph (as) asked him:
“Would you accept me in place of your deceased brother?”
“Who could ask for a better brother!” Benjamin said. “But you are not the son of Jacob and Rachel.” Joseph (as) began to cry and hugged Benjamin. He then came out with the truth.
“I am your brother Joseph! Do not worry about the things they have done to us!”
In telling Benjamin not to worry about what their brothers had done to them in the past, Joseph (as) suggests that Allah will never allow the jealous and their plots to succeed. Evidently, they had done many bad things to Joseph (as) but, in the end, things did not turn out as they had planned. Allah had now reunited Joseph (as) with his brother and He was about to bring him back to together with his father.
Benjamin Held Back
After revealing Benjamin his real identity, Joseph (as) went on to say:
“I am now going to keep you back. We both know how much our father grieves over my absence. I know that keeping you back here is only going to increase it. However, this is something we have to do, to reunite with him sooner than later. I have a plan.”
“So, when he had stocked up their supplies, he put the golden measuring cup in the bag of his brother.
Then an announcer called out, ‘Stop you thieves!’ And as they approached, they said, ‘What is it you are missing?’
They said, ‘We are missing the measure of the king! There is a camel load of rewards for he who brings it back. And I am up for the reward!’
They said, ‘We assure you by Allah that we have not come to your land to cause trouble. And we are certainly not thieves!’
The accusers said, ‘Then what is the compensation if you are lying?’
The brothers said, ‘If it turns out it anyone’s bag, then the thief himself is the compensation! That is how we punish the criminal!” (Yusuf, 12: 70-75)
In Jacob’s (as) law, a thief was punished by serving the person he stole from, for a year, as a slave. But under the law of Egypt, a thief would be caned and made to pay the owner twice the value of the goods he stole. Joseph (as) knew this. To keep Benjamin back, he therefore asked them what a fitting punishment would be.
“So he searched their bags before the bag of his brother. And he then extracted the cup from his brother’s bag. That was our plan for Joseph. He could not have otherwise held his brother according to the religion of the king. It was only that Allah had willed it. We raise in degrees whom We will, and above every person of knowledge, there is one who knows more.” (Yusuf, 12: 76)
So, under Allah’s command, Joseph (as) had come up with a beautifully prudent plan to hold Benjamin back. It is narrated that he first opened up to Benjamin about the plan and got his approval.
In doing so, Joseph’s (as) motivation was not to exact revenge from his brothers. He had long personally forgiven them for what they had done. Nevertheless, their crime had another element. In plotting to murder Joseph (as), the brothers had also violated the law of Allah. So, Joseph (as) also wanted them to receive divine forgiveness. For that reason, before revealing his identity, he called his brothers ‘thieves’, to get them to feel genuine remorse. However, he was not talking about the golden cup that they had never stolen to begin with. Joseph (as) was rather referring to how, years ago, they had cunningly stolen him from his father. That way, he guided them towards repenting for all the sins they had committed. To add fire to their remorse, he held Benjamin back. That way, they could hark back on what they had done to Joseph (as). Its effects would show the next time they were to return to Egypt. They would come back as different men, with softened hearts and clear thoughts.
This incident therefore proved to be a divine blessing in disguise.
Moreover, in keeping Benjamin back, Joseph (as) did not use force or misuse his powers, which someone else in his position could well have done. He did it within law and avoided any behavior that would give an impression of tyranny.
In doing so, Joseph (as) had at the same time paved by the way for the law of Jacob (as) to take hold in Egypt.
When the Almighty wants something, He creates the means for it to happen. While teaching Joseph (as) the method by which he could detain Benjamin, Allah, at the same time, ensured that the brothers did not have the slightest clue as to what was going on and also made them judge the matter in the exact way Joseph (as) had wanted. Joseph (as) was thereby able to resolve the matter without violating the law of the land and in a way, the brothers had no other option than to accept.
It should also be remembered that before leaving Canaan, they had promised their father that they would not surrender Benjamin unless ‘they were surrounded and they run out of all options’. Now, they were truly left with no other choice than to leave him behind. Thus, Joseph’s (as) plan had also relieved them of moral responsibility, due to the oath they had given their father.
Once the cup turned up in Benjamin’s bag, they retorted:
“‘If he is a thief, then he is a thief just like his brother before!’
But Joseph kept quiet and did not reveal anything to them, except to say:
‘You are worse in position, and Allah well knows what you allege.” (Yusuf, 12: 77)
Instead of questioning the accusations and looking for ways to defend Benjamin, the brothers let slip the animosity they still felt towards Joseph (as), despite all the years that had passed.
There are a number of reports about the incident for which his brothers accused Joseph (as) of theft:
Joseph’s (as) maternal grandfather was a pagan. So, Joseph’s (as) mother hoped to put an end to that by asking her son to steal the idol and break it. Joseph (as) did just that.
Joseph (as) had once taken food from the table and given it to the poor. It is also said that he took them either a live lamb or chicken.
Joseph (as) was much loved by his paternal aunt and he spent a couple of years during his early childhood with her. However, as Joseph (as) started getting older, Jacob (as) wanted his son to come back home. The aunt could not bear to be separated. So, she tied a belt around Joseph’s (as) waist, which was left to her from her father Isaac (as). She then announced that the belt had gone missing. After a quick search, it was found around Joseph’s (as) waist. Under law, he ended up staying with his aunt for a bit more.
The whole allegation is a slander. Despite the years that had since passed, the brothers still felt anger towards Joseph (as). Their reaction simply showed how difficult it was to clean a heart afflicted with jealousy and hatred. (Al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, XVIII, 147)
It has also been said that when they were accused with theft, they deep down remembered how they had stolen Joseph (as). Out of instinct, they tried reversing the blame on him, to justify the crime they had committed at the time.
However, the brothers made one last plea:
“They said, ‘Minister! His father is an old man, so take one of us in place of him. We see you are a kind man!’
He said, ‘I seek refuge in Allah from taking anybody else in place of he, who has been caught with our possession! I would be a tyrant, if I did!” (Yusuf, 12: 78-79)
Tyranny comes in many forms. Just as it is tyranny to overrule Allah’s command and judge to the contrary, it is also tyranny to want or condone tyranny itself. Infringing on the rights of others is tyranny against the other, while engaging in sins that merit punishment in the hereafter is tyranny against the self.
A victim of tyranny should repent and ask Allah for a way out.
Sahl ibn Abdullah al-Tustari says:
“When Allah loves a servant, He opens a gate to repentance by making his sins appear big in his eyes. This gate opens up to the garden of divine love. When Allah is angered by a servant, He makes his sins appear little in his eyes and corrects him with troubles. That is because a person who thinks little of his sins can no longer take advices on board and runs the risk of falling into eternal loss.”
Joseph’s (as) brother began thinking long and hard about what to do and how they would explain what had just happened to their father. The Qur’an sheds light on their dilemma:
“So when they gave up hope on getting him back, they discussed the matter in private.
The eldest of them said, ‘You well know you gave an oath to your father that you would protect him, and you have already failed in your duty to Joseph? So, I will never leave this land until either my father allows me or Allah decides for me, and He is the best of judges. But you return to your father and say, ‘Your son has been stolen, and we can only testify for what we know! And we do not know what is going on beyond it. If you doubt us, ask the people of the city we were in and the caravan in which we came. We promise you that we are telling the truth.” (Yusuf, 12: 80-82)
They made their way back home and told their father just that.
An Ordeal that Led to Bliss
“Jacob said, ‘It sounds more like your souls have enticed you to something! It is now best that I keep patient. Perhaps, Allah will bring them to me all together. It is He who, is the Knowing and the Wise.” (Yusuf, 12: 83)
Jacob (as) was reluctant to believe them as they had lied to him before. So, he remarked:
“No, it appears as though you have once again let yourselves down and devised a plot. How could the minister otherwise know that under our law, a thief is held captive?”
“And he turned away from them and said, ‘Oh, my sorrow over Joseph!’. And his eyes became white from grief, and he kept it all inside.” (Yusuf, 12: 84)
At the time, Jacob (as) was the best human being alive. He had barely slept since the day he lost Joseph (as). He shed so many tears that he eventually became blind. It is said that one reason for that, was to prevent him from seeing his other sons, which would add to the grief he already had.
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“Allah the Almighty has declared, ‘If I have taken away a person’s two most precious possessions (eyes) and he has responded to that with patience, I will not settle for any other reward for him than paradise.” (Al-Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 58/24000)
Bukhari relays a similar hadith:
“If I test a servant with two of his beloveds, and he responds with patience, I will reward him with paradise.” (Al-Bukhari, Marda, 7)
Jacob (as) had cried for forty years. Regarding his blindness, some scholars have said:
Allah made Jacob (as) blind, so he could fix his gaze not on Joseph’s (as) external image but on the divine beauty that had manifested in him. The Lord’s light of beauty had reflected on Joseph (as) and that was why Jacob (as) loved him more than he loved his other sons. However, because he had unwillingly come close to blurring that distinction, Allah separated him from Joseph (as) and took away his sight, which had become fixed on Joseph’s (as) appearance.
This shows that unless man is able to close his eyes to the way the world appears, he will never be able to see the divine beauty within.
Never Despair of Allah’s Mercy
“They said, ‘By Allah, you are not going to stop remembering Joseph until you become fatally ill or perish! He said, ‘I only complain of my suffering and grief to Allah. And I know from Allah that which you do not know.” (Yusuf, 12: 85-86)
Jacob (as) then turned to his sons and said:
“Sons, go and find out about Joseph and his brother; and do not despair of relief from Allah! No one despairs of Allah’s relief except disbelievers.” (Yusuf, 12: 87)
This verse gives us a very important message. No matter what the circumstances may be, a person must never despair and always keep hope in Allah (jj). As the Qur’an says, only disbelievers despair of Allah’s mercy.
The Prophet (saw) has also said:
“A sinner who does not despair of Allah is closer to Allah than a worshipper who does.” (Suyuti, Jamiu’s-Saghir, II, 68)
To despair is to fail to understand the meanings of the Lord’s names ‘Merciful’ and ‘Compassionate’. It is to be unable to grasp the power of divine mercy. Even the Pharaoh kept hope in Allah’s mercy during his final breath.
Allaht the Almighty also states:
لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللّٰهِ
“Do not despair of the mercy of Allah!” (Al-Zumar, 39: 53)
With that on his mind, Jacob (as) sent a letter, with his sons, to the treasurer and effective ruler of Egypt, without knowing the man was actually Joseph (as). It read:
“In the Name of Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate,
From Israel Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, to the Ruler of Egypt,
Our family has gone through a lot. My grandfather Abraham was thrown into fire by Nimrod. He kept patient and Allah guided him to a way out. My father Isaac was tested through hardship. He kept patient and Allah rewarded him. As for me, I lost my son Joseph. My eyes have become blind from the tears I have shed for him. It has bent my back. I took consolation from my youngest son, who you now hold captive. Know that our family does not raise thieves. If you return him to me, so be it. But if you do not, I will curse you so heavily that it will affect your seven generations to come!”
When he received the letter, Joseph (as) broke down and cried. He penned the following reply:
“In the Name of Allah, the Merciful and the Compassionate,
From the Treasurer of Egypt to Israel Jacob,
I have received your letter. I have read and fully understood your words. You speak of your pious fathers and how they kept patient in the face of tribulation. Take a leaf out of their book and remain patient just as they did!”
Jacob (as) had the letter read to him. His immediate response was:
“By Allah, a king could not have said these words. These are the words of a prophet. And this man has got to be Joseph!”
He sent his sons to Egypt, once again, to inquire about the matter.
“So when they entered the court of Joseph, they said:
‘Minister! Trouble has touched us and our family, and we have come with goods poor in quality. But still, we ask you to give us full measure and be charitable. Allah surely rewards the charitable.
He said, ‘Do you recall what you did to Joseph and his brother at a time when you were ignorant?” (Yusuf, 12: 88-89)
It is reported that the brothers who had thrown Joseph (as) in a well, used to also physically and verbally abuse Benjamin.
A Legendary Act of Forgiveness
“They said, ‘Are you really Joseph?’
He said, ‘I am Joseph, and this is my brother. Allah has certainly favored us. Allah never loses the rewards of those fear Him, keep patient and do good!
They said, ‘Allah has certainly preferred you over us. And we sure have been sinners!’
Joseph said, ‘No blame on you today. Allah will forgive you; and He is the most merciful of the merciful.” (Yusuf, 12: 90-92)
Those verses also point to the most beautiful method of conduct, which is to respond to evil with good. This teaches the foe a lesson, softens his heart, and often makes him let go of his hostility. It also wins over those with neutral feelings, and increases love between friends.
The Qur’an elaborates it beautifully:
“And the good and bad deed are not equal. Repel evil by that which is better; and you will find that your enemy has become a devoted friend.” (Fussilat, 41: 34)
This calls to mind a splendid episode from the Prophet’s (saw) life:
Abu Sufyan used to be a friend of the Prophet (saw) before the call began. However, afterward, he turned into one of his staunchest enemies. Abu Sufyan would write satires about him, to which the Prophet’s (saw) poet Hassan ibn Thabit would duly respond. However, years down the line, he came to regret all that he had done. He traveled to Medina, but when he was there, the Prophet (saw) did not even look at his face. Abu Sufyan was terribly saddened. He apologized with the words Ali (ra) taught him, which he himself had learnt from the Qur’an: “Allah has certainly preferred you to us.”
The Prophet (saw) of mercy also responded with the Qur’an, saying, “There will be no blame on you today. May Allah forgive you…He is the most Merciful of the merciful.” He forgave Abu Sufyan, as well as others who had done things as bad, if not worse.
Nevertheless, after Abu Sufyan became Muslim, he was unable to look at the Prophet (saw) in the face because of the shame he still felt. (Waqidi, Maghazi, II, 810-811; Ibn Hisham, Sirah, IV, 20-24; Ibn Abdilbarr, al-Isti’ab, IV, 1674)
When the Prophet (saw), sent as a mercy to the worlds, eventually conquered Mecca and set foot inside the Kaaba precinct, he found that the locals had packed the area, anxiously waiting how they would be dealt with.
The Prophet (saw) called out:
“People of Quraysh! The inhabitants of Mecca! What do you say? How do you think I will deal with you?”
“We only expect good and kindness from you”, they said. “You will do what is best. You are a noble and generous brother and cousin. And now that you have power, treat us with mercy!”
The Prophet (saw) thereupon said:
“Ours is like the situation of Joseph and his brothers. I speak to you in the words of Joseph: There will be no blame on you today. May Allah forgive you; for He is the most Merciful of the merciful. Return home, you are all free!”
The compassionate Prophet (saw) forgave the Meccans and set them all free, despite the fact that they had now fallen into his hands and he had a perfect chance to take revenge for all they had done to the believers. The Meccans have hence been called tulaqa, the liberated. (Ibn Hisham, Sirah, IV, 32; Waqidi, Maghazi, II, 835; Ibn Saad, Tabaqat, II, 142-143)
This, at the same time, is an instance of the manifestation of Allah’s name Sattar, the Concealer of faults.
Ziya Pasha’s poem gives voice to the final encounter between Joseph (as) and his brothers:
There comes day when God makes the tyrants say
Allah has chosen you over us as He may
The Shirt Sent to Jacob (as)
Joseph (as) treated his brothers to feasts day and night. This made them feel uncomfortable, knowing what they had done to him. So, they sent a message to Joseph (as) asking him to, “Please, stop treating us so kindly. It is only adding to our embarrassment!”
Joseph (as) replied:
“Until now, the Egyptians looked at me in the same way they did when I first arrived here and said, ‘Praise to Allah, for giving him such a high rank, when he was just a slave sold for twenty pennies!’. Now, thanks to you, I have gained honor, for they now know that I am not only your brother, but a grandson of a great prophet like Abraham.”
Joseph (as) did not say those words to boast; but rather, to put the minds of his brothers at rest and reduce the embarrassment they felt. It went to show just how deeply merciful and generous he was.
Joseph (as) then held out his shirt and told his brothers to:
“Take my shirt, and cast it over the face of my father. He will then be able to see. And come back with your family, all together.” (Yusuf, 12: 93)
“And when the caravan departed from Egypt, their father said, ‘I would say I can surely smell Joseph if you did not think I had become weak in the mind. They said, ‘By Allah, you are still in your same old error.” (Yusuf, 12: 94-95)
Jacob (as) Regains His Vision
“And when the bearer of good tidings arrived, Jacob cast the shirt over his face, and he was able to see. He said, ‘Did I not tell you that I know from Allah that which you do not know?’” (Yusuf, 12: 96)
The bearer of the good news was Judah. It is narrated that he said, “It was me who sent my father into grief by taking the bloodied shirt to him. So, it should be me to deliver the news that will give him the greatest joy”, and eagerly walked barefoot and bareheaded all the way from Egypt to Canaan.
This was the shirt Jibril (as) had brought to Abraham (as) just as he was about to be thrown into the fire.
Rumi offers the below commentary:
“It was only Jacob (as) who saw the extraordinariness in the face of Joseph (as). The brothers were unable to see that light. Their hearts were far removed from what was required to see Joseph in the way he really was.
When Jacob (as) saw his own qualities in Joseph (as), his heart inclined towards him.
For Jacob (as), Joseph (as) had a certain pull. That is why he was able to smell his shirt from a long distance. However, the brother, who brought the shirt all the way from Egypt, was unable to smell it.
That is because the shirt was nothing but a trust in his hands. He was only tasked with delivering to shirt to Jacob (as). To him, the shirt was like an exquisite concubine in the hands of a slave trader. The concubine is not meant for the trader. She is meant for the buyer.
Many a scholar has no share of wisdom. He has committed every knowledge to memory but has been unable to commit himself to the Lord.”
Jacob (as) regained his eyesight through Joseph’s (as) shirt. That serves as an instance of seeking Allah’s help (istia’nah) and grace (tabarruk) through belongings.
The Qur’an says:
“They said, ‘Father! Ask that we are forgiven for our sins, for we surely have been sinners!’
He said, ‘I will soon ask forgiveness for you from my Lord. It is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Yusuf, 12: 97-98)
Jacob (as) says he soon will ask for their forgiveness to suggest that a guilty person must first be forgiven by the victim. He delayed praying for them until he knew for sure that Joseph (as) had forgiven them.
Some scholars have interpreted Jacob’s (as) conduct here as an indication that it is better to leave praying and repenting to the most suitable time.
In fact, Muharib ibn Dassar narrates:
Umar (ra) once arrived at the mosque at dawn and overheard someone pray:
“My Lord! You have invited me and I have attended your invitation. You have commanded and I have obeyed. Forgive me at this time of dawn!”
Umar (ra) listened in more closely and realized the voice belonged to Abdullah ibn Masud (ra). When he asked him why he had chosen this time, Ibn Masud (ra) explained:
“Jacob (as) had delayed praying for their sons to be forgiven, until the break of day. Allah the Almighty has praised those repent at this time. (Al Imran, 3: 17).” (Tabari, Tafsir, XIII, 85)
The Prophet (saw) is reported to have said:
“Our Lord descends on the world’s skies each night and calls out, ‘Isn’t there anyone asking, so I can give him what he wants? Isn’t there a repentant so that I can forgive him?’” (Muslim, Musafirin, 168-170)
It is stated in another hadith:
“Jacob (as) delayed repenting for his sons to the night that joins Thursday to Friday.” (Al-Tirmidhi, Daawat, 114)
Reunion and the Dream Come True
The king, as well as the public, had joined Joseph (as) and lined the streets to welcome Jacob (as) and his family. When they entered the city, Jacob (as) and Joseph (as), along with the rest, dismounted their horses, and the two prophets embraced each other.
The Almighty states:
“And when they entered upon Joseph, he embraced his parents and said, ‘Enter Egypt, Allah willing, safe and secure.” (Yusuf, 12: 99)
Great rewards always follow great troubles and matching feats of patience.
After finally reuniting with his son, Jacob (as) thanked the Lord and raised his hands to pray:
“My Lord! Forgive me for weeping over Joseph, for my lack of patience towards his separation and what my sons have done to their siblings!”
Jacob (as) was now immersed in a state of gratitude and contentment.
“Joseph raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him.
And he said, ‘Father! This is the explanation of the vision I had before. My Lord has made it a reality. He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you here from the wilderness, after Satan caused trouble between me and my brothers. My Lord is truly Subtle in what He wills. He is the Knowing, the Wise” (Yusuf, 12: 100)
Joseph (as) had now seen that the Almighty had completed his blessings on him. At that instant, it then dawned upon him all the more clearly that the world was not a place to settle in, everything on it was fleeting and that perfection was always followed by demise. So, he wholeheartedly thanked the Lord and prayed:
“My Lord! You have given me sovereignty and taught me the interpretation of dreams. Creator of the heavens and earth! You are my protector in this world and in the hereafter. Make me die a Muslim and join me with the righteous!” (Yusuf, 12: 101)
It should be noted that in his prayer, Joseph (as) also displays an approach that should serve as an example to all believers. Before anything, to forgive the men who had tried to kill him, when it was well within his means to take revenge, represents the peak of maturity, magnanimity and moral perfection. He always credited Allah for raising him from being a slave to a ruler, and never for once attributed success to himself. He interpreted and came up with excuses for even the worst of his siblings’ behavior, even pointing the blame at the devil, and did not rub their crime in their faces. And that last prayer goes to show the affinity he always had with the Lord, and how his heart and soul were governed by the concern of ‘the final breath’. His prayer also serves as a vivid example in highlighting the importance of one of the most central pillars of the Sufi way: to keep company with the righteous.
Reports say that Jacob (as) lived in Egypt with his son Joseph (as) for another twenty-four years before passing away. In line with his will, he was buried next to his father Isaac (as) in Damascus. Joseph (as) lived another twenty-three years after that. His corpse was placed in a marble coffin and buried in the banks of the Nile. Because the people of Egypt loved him so much, they wanted him to be buried in their land. Moses (as) would later take his corpse out of Egypt during the exodus and rebury him next to Jacob (as).
Peace be upon them…
The Prophet (saw) has said:
“Death is a gift to the believer.” (Daylami, Musnad, IV, 338)
That is because death saves man his greatest enemy, the ego.
The Final Verses of Chapter Yusuf
The pagans of Mecca had gotten ideas from the Jews and posed a series of questions to the Prophet (saw). The Almighty revealed the final verses of the chapter in response.
By informing mankind of this story and similar news of the unseen, Allah has proven that His Prophet’s (saw) call is true and that the Qur’an is indeed is His word. But despite all the proofs, the pagans continued resisting the Prophet (saw) who worked day and night to guide them without asking for anything in return. And to console the Prophet (saw), the Almighty assured:
“This is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you. You were not with them when they conspired their plan. And most of the people do not believe, even though you strive for it and do not ask for any payment. This is only a reminder to the worlds.” (Yusuf, 12: 102-104)
Besides, the pagans’ denial was not just reserved to the Prophet (saw) and the divine message revealed to him. It was broader than that:
“And how many a sign within the heavens and earth do they pass over, and just turn away. And most of them do not believe in Allah except by associating others with Him.” (Yusuf, 12: 105-106)
That is to say, even if they do not entirely reject the existence of Allah, they do not believe in Allah without ascribing partners to him, whether secretly or openly.
“Or are they sure that there will not come an overwhelming punishment from Allah or that the hour will not suddenly come upon them, at a moment when they least expect? Say, ‘This is my way. I invite to Allah with insight, both myself and those who follow me. Exalted is Allah! And I am not of those who associate others with Him.’” (Yusuf, 12: 107-108)
This verse shows that inviting others to the religion is permissible and beneficial only if it proceeds on certain lines. One cannot make the call blindly, for false and trivial pursuits or personal gratification. One has to do it prudently and with a genuine intent of seeking only the pleasure of the Lord. He must be aware of the weight carried by each word he says and, at the same time, observe the rules of etiquette. Otherwise, religion and religiosity are reduced to hollow names and empty slogans.
“And We have not sent messengers before you except that they were men, from among the residents of cities, to whom We revealed. So have they not traveled the earth and observed what became of those before them? The home of the hereafter is best for those who fear Allah. Will you not reason?” (Yusuf, 12: 109)
This verse was revealed after the pagans protested, “Why could not Allah have just sent an angel as a prophet instead?”
“It went on until the messengers despaired and were certain that they had been denied. That is when Our victory arrived and We saved whoever We willed. The criminals can never repel our punishment.” (Yusuf, 12: 110)
And Allah (jj) ends the chapter by reemphasizing the importance of the Qur’an and its stories for mankind:
“There is certainly a lesson in their stories for those of understanding. No way is the Qur’an fabricated! It is rather a confirmation of what has happened before it, a detailed explanation of all things, and a guidance and mercy for people who believe.” (Yusuf, 12: 111)
Without a doubt, the Glorious Allah (jj) has spoken the truth.
. Most of the reports regarding this story are taken from Ismail Hakkı Bursevi’s interpretation of the Qur’an, Ruhu’l Beyan.
. See, al-Bukhari, Da’awat, 1.
. Ahsanu’l qasas means the most beautiful story, in terms of both content and the style in which it is told. Qasas is the plural of qissah, which originally means a lead that is worth pursuing. Therefore, a story is a qissah only if it carries message that is worth being told and heard.
. See, Yusuf, 12: 102.
. See, Yusuf, 12: 111.
. See, al-Qurtubi, al-Jami’, IX, 120.
. Scholars of hadith have said that this refers to the Day of Judgment, as well as the period right before the break of dawn, where dreams tend to be more lucid.
. That a true dream is one-forty-sixth of prophethood also has another meaning. The Prophet’s (saw) duty lasted 23 years, and the first six months of it consisted of lucid dreams. Six months are exactly one-forty-sixth of 23 years. For more on the nature of dreams, see Osman Nuri Topbas, Îmândan İhsâna Tasavvuf, p. 389-395.
. Jesus (as) and John (as) became prophets before they reached puberty. The Almighty prepared many others like them from an early age and opened them the gates of prophethood. Similarly, the Almighty opens the gates of sainthood to many at an early age. An example is Sahl ibn Abdullah at Tustari. This shows that reaching puberty or the age of forty is not a condition of becoming a prophet or saint. Nevertheless, as part of God’s law, most prophets were entrusted with the duty at the age of forty, which marks the pinnacle of maturity.
. Previous prophets and their nations were not allowed to perform ritual prayer wherever they wished. They could only pray in designated areas. However, as a privilege given exclusively to the Prophet (saw), Muslims have been allowed to pray anywhere that is clean; as for them, the entire earth has been rendered a ‘mosque’. The Prophet (saw) has in fact said, “The earth has been cleansed and made a mosque for me.” (Al-Bukhari, Tayammum, 1)
. It is also said that the words quoted in the 52nd and 53rd verses of chapter Yusuf belong to Zulaykha. In that case, they could be understood as, “I am not, in any way, trying to claim innocence. I admit to what I did, only so Joseph knows that whatever I did to him, I did it in his presence. I never tried to do anything behind his back. What is done is done, and that was all there is to it.” By making that admission, Zulaykha not only cleared Joseph of all blame, she also hinted at her own belief in God.
. See, Sayyid Ali al-Hamadani, Zahirat al-Mulk, prepared by Necdet Yılmaz, Istanbul, 2003, p. 118-119.
. Reference to chapter Yusuf, 12: 91.
. Allah the Almighty transcends space and time. Therefore, the expression that He “…descends on the earth’s skies each night” is a metaphor, to suggest that God gets closer to people spiritually, in a way we cannot possibly understand.