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1. Introduction: Prophet Yusuf (AS) was the son of Prophet Ya'qub (AS). In the Bible he is referred to as Joseph son of Jacob. The Holy Qur'an has mentioned his story in a beautiful chapter entitled "Surah Yusuf". Prophet Yusuf (AS) had 11 brothers. He was one of the youngest and possessed excellent character and manners. His father loved him dearly.
Prophet Yusuf (AS) once dreamt that eleven stars and the sun and moon were prostrating to him. He related the dream to his father. Prophet Ya'qub (AS) realised that the dream outlined his son's destiny and greatness and cautioned him not to tell his brothers about the dream.
His brothers were jealous of the favour that he enjoyed in their father's eyes and planned to somehow get rid of him. Whenever they took their goats out for grazing they would ask their father if Yusuf (AS) could accompany them. Prophet Ya'qub (AS) always refused, saying that the boy was too young. When Prophet Yusuf (AS) reached the age of 16, his brothers insisted that he was now old enough to accompany them. With reluctance, their father agreed to let them take him with them.
As soon as they were far enough from home, they began to plot about how to dispose of Prophet Yusuf (AS). Then, they came across a dry well. They removed Prophet Yusuf's (AS) shirt, and threw him into the well. Ignoring their young brother's pleas, they heartlessly left him to die of hunger.
On the way back, they slaughtered a goat and stained Prophet Yusuf's (AS) shirt with its blood. They arrived home weeping and told their father that while they were grazing their sheep, a wolf came and ate their brother. He did not believe their story and could do nothing but remain patient and wait for Allah to reunite him with his beloved son. Meanwhile a caravan of traders passing by the well stopped to draw some water. They were surprised to see Prophet Yusuf (AS) come up holding the bucket. They hid him with their merchandise and sold him to some slave traders for a few pieces of silver.
2. Prophet Yusuf (AS) in Egypt
Thus, Prophet Yusuf (AS) arrived in Egypt. At the slave market the buyers were all attracted by him, because he was a very handsome young man. News of this remarkable youth swept through the city. The Aziz (Governor of Egypt and Chief Officer of the King), whose name was Fotifaar, offered a price that none could match. He brought Prophet Yusuf (AS) home and told his wife Zuleikha that they would adopt him as their son.
Zuleikha, however, was so taken by Prophet Yusuf's (AS) beauty that she sought to have an illegal association with him. A Prophet of Allah could never be part of such an evil deed and Prophet Yusuf (AS) backed away from the advances of Zuleikha. As he raced for the door she ripped his shirt from behind. At the door they met the Aziz. On seeing her husband, Zuleikha tried to blame Yusuf (AS) by claiming that he had tried to lay a hand on her. Before the Aziz could vent his fury on Prophet Yusuf (AS), a baby spoke up from the cradle, and the Holy Qur'an says:
And a witness from her own household testified, "If his shirt is torn from the front, then she speaks the truth and he is of the liars. And if his shirt is torn from behind, then she lies and he is of the truthful ones. Surah Yusuf, 12:26,27
The shirt was, of course, torn from behind, and the Aziz was extremely angry with his wife for attempting such an act of indecency. The women of the city heard about Zuleikha's actions and began to gossip and make fun of her. To explain her attraction she decided to let them see Prophet Yusuf (AS) themselves.
She called forty of them to the palace for a meal. As soon as they all had a knife to cut some fruit, she called Prophet Yusuf (AS) into the room on some excuse. So dazzled were they by his beauty and presence, that they cut their fingers in their distraction and exclaimed, "This is not a human being - he must be an angel!" Zuleikha was furious with Prophet Yusuf (AS) because he had caused her to be ridiculed. In her anger and frustration, she caused him to be imprisoned on false charges of assault.
1. Prophet Yusuf (AS) in Prison
Due to continued pressure from his wife Zuleikha, the Aziz of Egypt decided to imprison Prophet Yusuf (AS), despite his innocence. The reason he gave was that people would forget the actions of his wife while Prophet Yusuf (AS) lay in prison, and her dignity would be restored.
On the same day that Prophet Yusuf (AS) was put into prison, two other men were also imprisoned. One used to serve the king wine, while the other was the royal cook. Both men had been accused of trying to poison the king. On the following day, the wine-server said to Prophet Yusuf (AS), "I saw in a dream that I was crushing grapes to make wine for the king". The cook said, "I dreamt that I was carrying some bread in a basket on my head and birds were pecking at the bread".
Both men saw that Prophet Yusuf (AS) was a noble and pious person and asked him if he could interpret their dreams. Prophet Yusuf (AS) took this opportunity to preach the religion of Allah to his prison-mates. He promised to tell them the meaning of their dreams and informed them that this was a special power given to him by Allah Before he did so, however, he explained to them how senseless it was to believe in various gods and explained to them about the Oneness of Allah and the Day of Resurrection.
Finally he said, "O my prison-mates! The man who dreamt that he was crushing grapes will soon be released from here and will go back to his previous post. The second one, who carried the bread on his head in the dream, will be executed and the birds will start to eat his brain." Prophet Yusuf (AS) thought of getting himself released from prison through the wine-server, and told him to remind the king of his innocence when he saw him. The dreams of both men came true just as he had foretold. One of the captives was released while the other was hanged. Unfortunately, the wine-server forgot all that Prophet Yusuf (AS) had told him to convey to the king.
2. Prophet Yusuf's (AS) Release From Prison
The Holy Qur'an says: The king dreamt that seven lean cows were eating seven fat ones and that there were seven green ears of corn and seven dry ones. He asked the nobles to tell him the meaning of his dream if they were able to. They replied, "It is a confused dream and we do not know the meaning of such dreams." Surah Yusuf, 12:43,44
The king was very concerned about the meaning of his dream and even though his wise men thought over it seriously, they could not make sense of it. The king's dream became a means of the liberation of Prophet Yusuf (AS) from prison. As soon as the wine-server heard about the dream he was reminded of his time in prison and remembered the powers of his cell-mate. He also remembered that Prophet Yusuf (AS) had asked him to tell the king of his innocence. He approached the king and got his permission to see Prophet Yusuf (AS).
Prophet Yusuf (AS) interpreted the dream by the power given to him by Allah . He said, "For seven years the crops will yield abundant food-grain for the people of Egypt. After that there will be a famine for seven years during which all the food-grain lying in the storehouses will be finished and people will starve. Therefore, the people should try to grow as much extra grain as possible so that it would stand them in good stead during the time of famine".
On hearing this very reasonable and sensible interpretation of his dream from the wine-server, the king was delighted. He ordered that Prophet Yusuf (AS) be brought before him so he could make good use of his wisdom in solving his problems. Although he had been in the dark dungeon for so long, Prophet Yusuf (AS) refused to leave the prison until he proved his innocence. He said to the courtiers, "I will not come out of the prison until the king makes enquiries about my case. Tell the king to ask the wives of the noble men about the time when they cut their fingers on seeing me".
The courtiers passed on this message to the king who called the concerned women to him for an explanation. They all confessed the truth and Zuleikha, the wife of the Aziz, also testified that Prophet Yusuf (AS) was innocent of any guilt. Thus, Prophet Yusuf (AS) was released from the prison with his dignity and honour restored.
1. Prophet Yusuf (AS) in the Royal Court
The Holy Qur'an says: The king ordered his men to bring Yusuf before him; he wanted to grant him a high office. The king said to him, "From now on you will be an honoured and trusted person amongst us." Yusuf said, "Put me in charge of the treasuries of the land, I know how to manage them." Surah Yusuf, 12:54,55
When the king met Prophet Yusuf (AS), he found him to be a wise and broad-minded man. In response to the request of Prophet Yusuf (AS) as related in the verse above, the king made him in charge of finance and food and ordered his ministers and officials to treat Prophet Yusuf's (AS) commands as his own.
Prophet Yusuf (AS) thus became the Aziz of Egypt and began his new duties without delay. He was determined that when the famine arrived, nobody should starve. The river Nile flooded its banks regularly to provide fertile soil for the growth of food grain and Prophet Yusuf (AS) was aware that the famine would be caused by the decrease of the water in this river. He decided to make a brief tour of Egypt to assess the best locations where intensive cultivation could be carried out.
He allocated extra money to the farmers in the most fertile areas of the Nile, so that they would be able to grow the maximum amount of grain. He also ordered the construction of huge storehouses (granaries), capable of storing several hundred tons of the surplus grain. During the first seven years, he supplied grain to the people according to their minimum needs, and stored the rest in the newly-built granaries. By the time the seven years were over, the granaries were full. The water level of the Nile fell tremendously and the country was hit by a severe drought. However, due to his foresight and planning, the country did not face a shortage of food.
The famine also extended to the lands of Palestine and Kanaan where Prophet Ya'qub (AS) lived with his sons. One day he called them and said, "My sons! We are in great distress due to the famine. You may go to the Aziz of Egypt whose reputation as a kind and just person has spread everywhere in the country. Leave Binyameen with me for company so that I may not be lonely." As commanded by their father, the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (AS) set off for Egypt to purchase grain and bring it back to Kanaan.
2. Prophet Yusuf's (AS) Brothers in Egypt
When his brothers arrived in Egypt, Prophet Yusuf (AS) was very pleased to see them. They did not recognise him at all, never expecting that he was alive. Prophet Yusuf (AS) was disappointed not to see his full brother, Binyameen, and asked his brothers to tell him about themselves.
They introduced themselves and told him about their father and mother. Prophet Yusuf (AS) was relieved to hear that Prophet Ya'qub (AS) was alive, and he welcomed his brothers sincerely. He provided them with enough wheat for their needs and had their money put back in their bags secretly. He also asked them to bring their other brother the next time as proof that they were speaking the truth about their family. The Holy Qur'an narrates this episode in the following words:
Yusuf's brothers came to him and when they entered his court, he recognised them. They did not know him. And when he gave them the provisions, he said, "Next time, bring me your other brother from your father. As you can see, I give each of you a certain amount of grain, I am a polite host. If you do not bring him, do not come to us for we shall not give you any more grain. Surah Yusuf, 12:58- 60
On their return home, the brothers related their experiences to their father, praising the generosity and hospitality of Prophet Yusuf (AS). When they opened their bags they were delighted to see that their money had been returned. Soon they were out of grain and were impatient to go back to Egypt to get more. However, they could not go back without Binyameen, so they tried to convince their father to let him come with them. Prophet Ya'qub (AS) refused to let them take Binyameen, saying that they would do the same thing with him as they did with Prophet Yusuf (AS).
After repeated promises the brothers finally convinced him that they would sincerely look after Binyameen, so he let him accompany them to Egypt. When they reached Egypt, the brothers proceeded to the court of Prophet Yusuf (AS) and presented their brother Binyameen to him. Prophet Yusuf (AS) was extremely happy to see his younger brother and invited all of them to dine with him. Later he gave them all accommodation at his own house, and asked Binyameen to sleep in his room. During the night, Prophet Yusuf (AS) revealed his identity to Binyameen.
He explained how he had been raised from a lowly slave to a position of great power by the Grace of Allah. However, he asked Binyameen not to tell their brothers anything of their conversation.
1. Prophet Yusuf's (AS) Plan to Detain Binyameen
After they had received their requirement of wheat, the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (AS) began to prepare for their journey home. Meanwhile, according to the command of Allah, Prophet Yusuf (AS) put into action a plan to detain his full brother Binyameen. He ordered his men to put a gold cup belonging to the king in Binyameen's baggage. The Holy Qur'an describes the incident in the following words:
When he (Yusuf) had furnished them with provisions, (someone) placed the (king's) drinking cup in his brother's baggage. Then someone shouted, "People of the caravan, you are most surely thieves." Surah Yusuf, 12:70
The brothers of Prophet Yusuf (AS) had not gone very far when they were stopped and accused of stealing. They denied this, and said that if anyone of them was found guilty of theft, he could be held as a slave by Prophet Yusuf (AS). The caravan was searched, and the cup was found in the bag of Binyameen.
When the brothers were brought before Prophet Yusuf (AS), he said, "According to your own words, we will now detain Binyameen with us." They replied, "O Aziz of Egypt! Our father is old and weak. You may detain any of us, but not Binyameen." However, Prophet Yusuf (AS) said that he could not detain anyone who was not guilty. The brothers had no choice but to leave for Kanaan. The eldest brother, Yahuda, refused to return without Binyameen. He remained behind in Egypt, rather than face his father.
2. The Reunion of the family of Prophet Ya'qub (AS)
When the brothers returned to Kanaan and told Prophet Ya'qub (AS) what had happened, he was heartbroken. He had already lost his eyesight crying for his beloved son Prophet Yusuf (AS), and this second loss was almost too much for him to bear. He now recalled the memory of his lost sons and wept.
He asked his sons to immediately return to Egypt to look for both Prophet Yusuf (AS) and Binyameen. According to their father's instructions, the brothers came to the Aziz of Egypt for the third time, and pleaded for the release of Binyameen as well as some grain for food.
Prophet Yusuf (AS) reminded them of how badly they had treated their brother Yusuf, and caused separation between him and his father. The brothers were amazed to hear their secret from the Aziz, who now spoke in the language of the people of Kanaan. They asked him, "Are you Yusuf?"
He replied, "Yes, I am Yusuf, and this is my brother. Allah has been gracious to me. One who is pious and patient against hardships is always rewarded by Allah for his virtues." On hearing this, the brothers hung their heads in shame and asked him for his forgiveness. He said, "You need not be frightened of me. Allah may forgive you your sins. Now take my shirt and cover my father's face with it, so that he may regain his lost sight. Then return to me with all your family."
The Holy Qur'an says: When the caravan had left the town (from Egypt), their father (in Kanaan) said, "I smell Yusuf's fragrance. I hope you will not think that I am weak in judgement (due to my love for him). They said, "By Allah ! You are still making the same old error. When someone brought him the glad news, Yusuf's shirt was placed on his face and his eyesight was restored. He said, "Did I not tell you that I know about Allah that which you do not know?" Surah Yusuf, 12:94-96
After getting his eyesight back and hearing the good news of his son, Prophet Ya'qub (AS) decided to proceed to Egypt immediately. Prophet Yusuf (AS) was delighted to meet them and embraced his father and mother. As a token of their gratitude to Allah at this reunion, his parents and brothers prostrated themselves on the ground.
Thus Allah made true the dream of Prophet Yusuf (AS), when he had seen eleven stars and the sun and the moon in prostration in front of him. After many trials, Allah raised him from the position of a slave to the highest rank in the land. At the request of his son, Prophet Ya'qub (AS) settled in Egypt with his family, and their clan came to be known as the Bani Israa'il.
Prophet Ya'qub (AS) lived in Egypt for 17 years and died at the age of 147. Prophet Yusuf (AS) breathed his last some years later at the age of 110 years, and his kingdom passed into the hands of rulers whose titles were Fir'aun.
Moral Lessons from the Story of Prophet Yusuf (AS)
Allah says the following about the story of Prophet Yusuf (AS) in the Holy Qur'an: We narrate unto you (O Muhammad) the most excellent of the stories (by which) We have revealed unto you this Qur'an; though before this you were of the unaware ones (of its details). Surah Yusuf, 12:3
Indeed, the adventures and experiences of Prophet Yusuf (AS), and his conduct throughout his life, provide us with a wealth of lessons and morals. Some things we may learn from his life are:
1. The belief in the presence of Allah makes a man's troubles easier for him to bear, and as long as he keeps himself away from sins despite temptations, he will ultimately be successful. Prophet Yusuf (AS) taught us this by his cheerful conduct throughout his enslavement and imprisonment.
2. In all difficulties and hardships one should seek only Allah's protection. Prophet Yusuf (AS) showed his faith by seeking refuge from Allah when faced with the evil intentions of Zuleikha. He was thus saved from committing a terrible sin.
3. One should always remain attached to religion and should take every opportunity to persuade others towards the right path. Prophet Yusuf (AS) did not forsake his duty even when in the prison, where he preached against idol worship before interpreting the dreams of his cell-mates.
4. Patience in the face of hardship is the best of qualities and results in reward from Allah in this life and the hereafter. Prophet Yusuf (AS) remained calm and resigned to the Will of Allah, despite being abandoned in the well by his brothers. He also bore the shame of being sold as a slave patiently. He also accepted his false imprisonment. In return for his forbearance, Allah raised his position till it was the highest in Egypt.
5. It is important to act in such a manner as to preserve your honour and dignity, and these qualities must always be safeguarded. Prophet Yusuf (AS) taught us this valuable lesson when he refused to accept his freedom from prison until his innocence was proved to the people. Thus when he was finally released, he knew he could come in front of the people with his head held high and without any blemish on his record.
6. Above all, this story teaches us that we should forgive and forget the past. When Prophet Yusuf's (AS) brothers came to him in Egypt, they were in a pitiable condition and would have been helpless against his great power. If he had wished, Prophet Yusuf (AS) could have severely punished them for the heartless treatment they had given him. Instead he forgave their errors and treated them well.
We have listed only a few lessons above, and there is a lot more that one can learn and understand from the story of Prophet Yusuf (AS).