The Story of Joseph (Yusuf)
Imam Ibn Kathir Ad-Dimashqi
eBook: Stories of the Prophets
This is the most detailed and fascinating story in the Quran, involving both human weaknesses such as jealousy, hatred, pride, passion, deception, intrigue, cruelty, and terror as well as noble qualities such as patience, loyalty, bravery, nobility, and compassion.
It is related that among the reasons for its revelation is that the Jews asked the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to tell them about Joseph (pbuh) who was one of their old prophets. His story had been distorted in parts and marred in others with interpolation and exclusions. Therefore it was revealed in the Book of Allah (Quran), complete in its minute and careful details.
Allah the Almighty declared: We relate unto you (Muhammad) the best of stories through Our Revelations unto you, of this Quran. And before this (i.e. before the coming of Divine Inspiration to you), you were among those who knew nothing about it. [Ch 12:3 Quran]
Almighty Allah also decreed: thus We relate to you (O Muhammad) some information of what happened before, And indeed We have give you from Us a Reminder (this Quran). Whoever turns away from it (this Quran--i.e. does not believe in it, nor acts on its orders), verily they will bear a heavy burden (of sins) on the Day of Resurrection. They will abide in that (state in the Fire of Hell), and evil indeed will it be that load for them on the Day of Resurrection. [Ch 20:99-101]
The story of Joseph (pbuh) moves in a stream from beginning to end; its substance and form are equally coherent. It inspires you with a feeling for the depth of Allah's power and supremacy and the execution of His rulings despite the challenge of human intervention. And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not. [Ch 12:21]
This is what the story of Joseph (pbuh), confirms categorically, for it ends with comfort and marvels.
Joseph lived all his life confronting schemes made by the people closest to him. His brothers plotted to kill him, but they amended it to exiling him. This happened to him while he was a boy. He was sold into the slave market in Egypt, where he was bought for a nominal sum. Then he fell victim to the attempted seduction by a great man's wife who, when her wish was foiled, sent him to prison, where he remained for some time. In spite of all of this, he at length approached close to the Egyptian throne and became the king's chief minister. He then began his call to Allah from the position of the ruling authority.
Allah's plans were carried out, and the matter ended. This is the substance (theme) of the story. As for the form (style) in which it is presented, it is a landmark of wonder.
The story is presented in a sequence of episodes. It gives you scene after scene and the transition is inspiring, informative, and stirring to the imagination. There are also artistic loopholes, which leave it to the imagination of the reader to complete the sense, as well as the depth of the picture, the like of which no human artist can bring forth.
The story begins with a dream and ends with its interpretation. As the sun appeared over the horizon, bathing the earth in its morning glory, Joseph (pbuh), son of the Prophet Jacob (pbuh) awoke from his sleep, delighted by a pleasant dream he had had. Filled with excitement he ran to his father and related it.
"O my father! Verily, I saw (in a dream) eleven stars and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves to me." [Ch 12:4]
His father's face lit up. He foresaw that Joseph would be one through whom the prophecy of his grandfather, Prophet Abraham (pbuh), would be fulfilled, in that his offspring would keep the light of Abraham's house alive and spread Allah's message to mankind.
Therefore, it was narrated that Allah's Messenger Muhammad (pbuh) was asked: "Who is the most honorable amongst the people?" He replied: "The most God-fearing." The people said: "We do not want to ask you about this." He said: "The most honorable person is Joseph Allah's prophet, the son of Allah's prophet, the son of the faithful friend of Allah (Abraham)." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
However, the father was well aware of the jealousy of Joseph's brothers, so he warned him against telling his dream to his brothers. "O my son! Relate not your vision to your brothers, lest they arrange a plot against you. Verily! Satan is to man an open enemy! Thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of dreams (an other things) and perfect His Favor on you and on the offspring of Jacob, as He perfected it on your fathers, Abraham, and Isaac aforetime! Verily! your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise." [Ch 12:5-6]
Joseph heeded his father's warning. He did not tell his brothers what he had seen. It is well known that they hatred him so much that it was difficult for him to feel secure telling them what was in his heart and in his dreams.
Joseph was eighteen years old, very handsome and robust, with a gentle temperament. He was respectful, kind and considerate. His brother Benjamin was equally pleasant. Both were from one mother, Rachel. Because of their refined qualities, the father loved the two more than his other children, and would not let them out of his sight. To protect them, he kept them busy with work in the house garden.
The scene of Jacob and his son closes. Another opens on Joseph's brothers plotting against him. "Truly, Joseph and his brother (Benjamin) are loved more by our father than we, but we are Usbah (a strong group). Really our father is in a plain error. Kill Joseph or cast him out to some other land, so that the favor of your father may be give to you alone, and after that you will be righteous folk (by intending repentance before committing the sin)."
One from among them said: "Kill not Joseph, but if you must do something, throw him down to the bottom of a well, he will be picked up by some caravan of travelers." [Ch 12:8-10)
The pages of the Old Testament say that Joseph told them his dream, whereas the Quran does not say that happened. Had it been so, the brothers would have said so themselves. The Old Testament claims they had lost their own rights by him, and so they would kill him. Indeed Joseph kept his father's order and did not tell his brothers about his vision.
In spite of this, his brothers sat down to conspire against him. One of them asked: "Why does our father love Joseph more than us?"
Another answered: "Perhaps because of his beauty."
A third said: "Joseph and his brother occupied our father's heart."
The first complained: "Our father has gone all astray."
One of them suggested a solution to the matter; kill Joseph.
"Where should we kill him?"
"We should banish him away from these grounds."
"We will send him to a distant land."
"Why should we not kill him and have rest so that the favor of your father may be give to you alone?"
However, Judah (Yahudh), the eldest and most intelligent among them, said: "There is no need to kill him when all you want is to get rid of him. Look here, let us throw him into a well and he will be picked up by a passing caravan. They will take him with them to a distant land. He will disappear from your father's sight and our purpose will be served with his exile. Then after that we shall repent for our crime and become good people once again."
The discussion continued on the idea of dropping Joseph into a well, as it was seen as the safest solution. The plan to kill him was defeated; kidnap into a distant land was approved. It was the cleverest of ideas.
Their next movement opened the scene between them and their father Jacob (pbuh): They said: "O our father! Why do you not trust us with Joseph, when we are indeed his well wishers? Send him with us tomorrow to enjoy himself and play, and verily we will take care of him."
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