The Qur’an calls it The Most Beautiful Story. Surah Yusuf is the surah of the Qur’an which is entirely dedicated to one theme. The entire surah is wholly dedicated to the story and no where in the surah is there any digression. There is definitely a hidden wisdom behind this fact considering every other surah with more than 10 ayah has multiple themes and stories. The account of the life of Prophet Yusuf (as) in the Qur’an is one of the most detailed and uniquely fascinating stories of all. It illustrates the qualities, which are the prerequisites for success in this life and in the hereafter, whilst demonstrating the blameworthy characteristics in man which lead to his downfall and failure. As Ibn Kathir mentioned in his book, Stories of the Prophets, it is a story,
“involving both human weaknesses such as jealousy, hatred, pride, passion, deception, intrigue, cruelty, terror as well as noble qualities such as patience, loyalty, bravery, nobility and compassion”.
Prophet Yusuf (as) came from a line of prophets. He was the son of Prophet Ya’qub (as). Ya’qub (as) grandfather was Prophet Ishaq (as), who was the son of Prophet Ibrahim (as). Thus, it came as no surprise to his father when it became apparent that Yusuf (as) was destined to receive divine revelation.
The story of Yusuf (as) begins with the glad tidings of his prophethood. Following that a series of tragic events and tribulations follow which finally culminate in success and glory when Yusuf (as) becomes ruler of Egypt. The story starts with his dream about himself and ends with his interpretation of that very dream.
Yusuf (as) as a child was the most beloved son of his father, Prophet Ya’qub (as). Yusuf (as) dreamt that 11 stars, the sun, and the moon were all doing sajdah to him. He went and told his father about this dream right away. Upon hearing about the dream, Ya’qub (as) realized that this was in fact a sign from Allah (swt) and a strong indication of Yusuf (as) future status of prophet. Ya’qub (as) warned young Yusuf (as) about jealousy of others and advised him not to tell his dream to his brothers out of fear they would envy his status. His brothers were already quite fed up and annoyed of him because of Ya’qub (as) treating him with favoritism.
Yusuf (as) had another full brother by the name of Binyamin. His other brothers minus Binyamin felt that Yusuf (as) was depriving them of their fathers love. The didn’t care that it was because of Yusuf (as) praiseworthy behavior and character which endowed this great love and affection from Yaqub (as). His brothers devised an evil plot to remove Yusuf (as) from this position.
After much scheming and conspiring, Yusuf (as) brothers came up with an evil plan to banish and exile Yusuf (as) to a far away land away from them. They were a very shrewd and cunning group of brothers. They invited Yusuf (as) to go out with them and then threw him down a well and left him there. The brothers returned to Ya’qub (as) in a state of fake sorrow and told him that a pack of wolves had eaten Yusuf (as). As proof, they showed Ya’qub (as) Yusuf (as) shirt which they soaked in sheep’s blood to make their story believable. Upon hearing this string of lies, Ya’qub (as) knew his sons were lying, and his response to his sons is in Surah Yusuf where he says,
“He said, ‘Nay, but yourselves have made up a tale. So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it is Allah (Alone) Whose help can be sought against that which you assert’.” [
Surah Yusuf, Ayah 18
Facing such a great loss, Prophet Ya’qub (as) response was one that the ummah can learn from. Ya’qub (as) did not give up and lose hope in Allah (swt), nor was he angry with Allah (swt) for his loss. Instead, he remained patient and seeked refuge in the help of the Best of Planners, Allah (swt). Allah (swt) says,
“And Allah was the All-Knower of what they did.”
Surah Yusuf, Ayah 19
Allah (swt) was fully aware of the events that were unfolding and could’ve stopped the evil brothers. However, Allah (swt) and His infinite foresight and wisdom decreed otherwise. Allah (swt) let the evil brothers have a brief sense of relief, in exchange for Yusuf (as) immense success and authority over an entire country.
While Prophet Yusuf (as) is sitting in the well, a caravan came to rest at the well and discovered this young handsome man at the bottom of the well. The caravan merchants rescued Yusuf (as) and took him as a slave to Egypt and had him sold to the chief minister of Egypt. The chief minister soon realized that Yusuf (as) was special and had great wisdom and potential. As a result, he ordered his wife, Zulaikha to be kind and hospitable to Yusuf (as) and provide him with a comfortable life. His journey to Egypt is narrated in Surah Yusuf when Allah (swt) says,
“Thus did We establish Yusuf in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of events. And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not.”
Surah Yusuf, Ayah 21
Allah (swt) had a plan all along to take Yusuf (as) out of his homeland in Shaam (area of Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon) and bring him to Egypt for a great destiny ahead. Allah (swt) also allowed Yusuf (as) brothers to commit evil acts which also tie into Allah’s (swt) greater plan.
Once Zulaikha starts taking care of Yusuf (as), she can’t help but notice his striking looks and beauty. Allah (swt) had blessed Yusuf (as) with exceptional attractiveness which was a test for him. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) even said about Yusuf (as), “He was given half of all beauty.” As a result Zulaikha attempts to seduce Yusuf (as). Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an when the women of Egypt saw Yusuf (as) they said,
“How perfect is Allah! No man is this! This is none other than a noble angel!”
Surah Yusuf, Ayah 31
Yusuf (as) was again tested when he was thrown into prison because of false accusations. Allah (swt) designed this and willed for Yusuf (as) to be in prison because of the lustful women. In prison, Yusuf (as) continues his prophetic mission of calling people to the truth and invites his fellow prisoners to the truth. He spent some years (possibly 9) in prison for a crime that he was falsely accused of committing. Then all of a sudden, the King of Egypt (Note: Qur’an refers to ruler of Egypt as King and not Pharaoh) saw a horrifying dream which made him fear for his kingdom. The King needed an interpretation of his dream but none of the interpreters offered a sound interpretation. It was then that a servant in the palace remembered Yusuf (as) and his ability to interpret dreams. So, the King’s officials narrated the dream to Yusuf (as) while he was still in prison and his interpretation was that Egypt would experience 7 fertile years, followed by 7 years of severe drought. Yusuf (as) advised the officials that during these difficult years of the drought, careful allocation and distribution of resources need to be implemented. He mentions that after these 14 years, fertility would return to Egypt.
When the interpretation reached the King, he felt convinced and recognized Yusuf (as) virtues and wisdom. He ordered the swift release of Yusuf (as). However, Yusuf (as) refused to leave prison unless his name was cleared and innocence declared. The king then investigated the allegations against Yusuf (as) by Zulaikha and found them to be untrue. Allah (swt) says,
“And the king said: ‘Bring him to me that I may attach him to my person.’ Then, when he spoke to him, he said: ‘Verily, this day, you are with us high in rank and fully trusted.”
Surah Yusuf, Ayah 54
Yusuf (as) then requested the King to appoint him as the minister of finance of Egypt so that he could properly manage and allocate the resources. Thus, Yusuf (as) was now in a position of power after years of perseverance in the face of difficult tests.
During the years of fertility, Ya’qub (as) sent 10 of his sons, except Binyamin, to Egypt to purchase food and other necessities. Yusuf (as) heard about the 10 brothers who had come from a far away land and did not speak the language of the Egyptians. When they requested to Yusuf (as) to purchase their needs, Yusuf (as) immediately recognized them, however they didn’t recognize him. Yusuf (as) received them very warmly and supplied them with their needs. He asked them where they had come from and they explained, “We are eleven brothers, the children of a noble prophet. The youngest is at home tending to the needs of our aging father.” Upon hearing this, Yusuf (as) eyes filled with tears and his longing for home swelled up in his heart as well his longing for his beloved father and caring brother Binyamin. He then asked them, “Are you truthful people?”
The rest of the story shall be published in tomorrow’s post! Stay tuned!