YUSUF’S AS FIRST ORDEAL – TAKEN TO EGYPT
Meanwhile, the young Yusuf AS remained in the bottom of the well. While terrified and shocked at his horrendous betrayal by his brothers and greatly pained for his father’s grief, a divine revelation came to Yusuf AS in the well.
“You will surely inform them [someday] about this affair of theirs while they do not perceive [your identity].” (Qur’an 12:15)
Allah comforted him that he should not be frightened. Because there will soon be a relief and he will be out of that hardship. He will also tell his brothers about this action of theirs and he will at that time a powerful person and they need and fearful from him, would not realise that it is him.
It is reported that Yusuf AS stayed in the well for three days and three nights. Then, at a time decreed by Allah, there came a company of travellers in an Egyptian caravan. They sent their drawer of water to the well and he let down his pail. Catching hold of the rope, Yusuf AS was pulled out. The man called his companions to help him draw the child from the well and all were amazed at the sight of this an extraordinarily handsome boy. (Qur’an 12:19)
The treacherous brothers appeared and demanded payment for Yusuf AS. They sold him for a small price, for a few dirhams and they showed little regard for him. (Qur’an 12:20). It is said that they followed behind him, saying to those who had bought him from them, “Make sure he does not escape” – that is until they had safely reached Egypt with him.
The men of the caravan took Yusuf AS to Egypt expecting to sell him for a handsome price. The slave markets of Egypt were teeming with people, some buying, and some selling, others just watching the proceedings. The beautiful boy attracted many onlookers, and bidding for him was swift. He was finally bought by one who recognised his value, a man of power and prestige referred to in the Qur’an as Al-Aziz. It is said that he was a high‑ranking official in charge of the Egyptian treasury.
Yusuf’s AS master brought his newly-acquired slave boy to his home in Memphis, the capital city of Egypt.
“Make his residence comfortable,” he said to his wife. “Perhaps he will benefit us, or we will adopt him as a son.” (Quran 12:21)
And Allah Most High adds,
“And thus, We established Yusuf in the land that We might teach him the interpretation of events. And Allah is predominant over His affair, but most of the people do not know.” (Quran 12:21)
YUSUF’S AS SECOND ORDEAL – A TEST & TEMPTATION
The brothers of Yusuf AS believed they had matters under control when they put their brother in the well, but in reality, the matter was out of their hands. Allah is the One in control of all affairs. Allah was decisive in His action, and His plan was carried out despite the treachery, jealousy and pride of others. Yusuf AS found himself in the decision making centre of Egypt with a man who seemed kind and somehow aware of Yusuf’s AS special qualities. While longing for his father and younger brother, Yusuf AS was well taken care of, and lived in luxurious surroundings. Yusuf AS grew into adulthood both physically and spiritually, trained and guided by his Lord, who said,
And when Yusuf AS reached maturity, We gave him judgment and knowledge. And thus We reward the doers of good. (Qur’an 12:22)
Ibn Khathir described Yusuf AS as obedient, polite and exceedingly handsome. Prophet Muhammad SAW also described Yusuf AS, and called him “The embodiment of half of all beauty”. As Yusuf AS grew, Allah gave him wisdom and good judgement, and Minister Al-Aziz recognised these qualities in his loyal servant and therefore put him in charge of all household affairs.
Yusuf’s AS master, it is said, was not only childless but may also have been impotent as well. Consequently, his wife, to whom tradition gives the name Zulaikha, although most beautiful and desirable, remained a virgin.
Disappointed in her husband, perhaps her eyes had been fixed for some time on the incredibly handsome youth who lived in her home. And one day, unable to contain herself any longer, she maneuvered Yusuf AS into an empty room. Quickly she closed doors.
“Come, you.” (Qur’an 12:23) she ordered him as one orders a slave.
“[I seek] the refuge of Allah,” he exclaimed, horrified. His first though was of Al-Aziz, who had taken him in and treated him with honour and kindness. “Indeed, he is my master, who has made good my residence. Indeed, wrongdoers will not succeed.” (Qur’an 12:23)
Yusuf AS drove any thoughts of sleeping with the wife of his master from his mind, sought refuge with Allah and attempted to remove himself from the complicated situation. Perhaps Yusuf AS had been resisting her advances for many years. A rich beautiful woman from the highest echelons of Egyptian society would not stoop immediately to such behaviour. Her beauty, status and wealth meant that most men or boys would succumb to her desires easily. Yusuf AS however was no ordinary man, and when he immediately turned to Allah for help, Allah rescued him.
Yusuf AS turned to flee from Zulaikha. Yusuf’s AS refusal only increased her passion.
They both raced to the door and as Zulaikha reached out for Yusuf AS, she tore his shirt from the back. Then, without warning, they found her husband at the door. (Qur’an 12:25)
Frantically Zulaikha tried to clear herself of blame. “What is the recompense of one who intended evil to your wife except that he be imprisoned or a painful punishment?” (Qur’an 12:25), she demanded of her husband, blatantly lying and suggesting that Yusuf AS be put in prison.
“It was she who sought to seduce me,” Yusuf AS boldly claimed his innocence. (Qur’an 12:26)
The betrayed husband did not know whom to believe. Although Zulaikha was his wife, he knew her state of mind. At the same time, Yusuf’s AS integrity and noble character were also known to him. Which of the two was telling the truth?
A witness from the household testified, pointing to the evidence of Yusuf’s AS truthfulness.
“If his shirt is torn from the front, then she has told the truth, and he is of the liars. But if his shirt is torn from the back, then she has lied, and he is of the truthful.” (Qur’an 12:26-27)
Yusuf AS was a prophet, and a descendent of prophets, so his Lord saved him from committing indecency and protected him from the evil plot of a woman. Yusuf AS is one of those who will be shaded by Allah on the Day of Judgement. Prophet Muhammad SAW explained that the heat of the Day of Judgment would be fierce, and people will be mingling with fear as they wait to be judged by Allah. There will be however, certain categories of people shaded from this brutal heat. One of them is a man who resisted the temptations of a beautiful, desirable woman by seeking refuge with Allah. (Bukhari)
The proof was unmistakeable. Yusuf’s AS master was a wise, just man. He did not attempt to defend or exonerate Zulaikha simply because she was wife. Rather, his interest was in determining the truth. When he saw the shirt was torn from the back, he said to his wife, “Indeed, it is of the women’s plan. Indeed, your plan is great. (Qur’an 12:28)
And he turned to his young slave and asked him to keep the matter quiet and pass over it as if it had not happened. And again addressing Zulaikha, he said,
“And, [my wife], ask forgiveness for your sin. Indeed, you were of the sinful.” (Qur’an 12:29)
This episode was just the beginning of bigger issues about to happen in Yusuf’s AS life.
THE WOMEN’S MEETING WITH YUSUF AS
Word of what had taken place between the beautiful, aristocratic wife of the Minister and Yusuf AS soon leaked out and spread among the noblewomen of the city. The news was spreading and the women asked themselves how she could desire a slave and put her reputation in jeopardy.
This talk soon reached Zulaikha’s ears. Because she was an experienced woman, skilled in dealing with the politics of the capital city, she was not one to be put down by the gossip of her peers. However, she was not one to submit to it in silence. Consequently, a subtle plan for teaching the women a lesson sprung in her mind.
She invited them to a banquet of great luxury at her palace. And when the women were in their places, she gave them each a knife. (Qur’an 12:31) for cutting the variety of fruits she had set before them.
She then called Yusuf AS to come before them. As her slave, Yusuf AS had no choice but to obey.
They looked up, saw his beauty and forgot that they had knives in their hands. The women were so entranced by his shape and form that they cut clear through their own flesh. They described Yusuf AS as a noble angel. The wife of Al-Aziz, confident and haughty said to her guests triumphantly,
“That is the one about whom you blamed me. And I certainly sought to seduce him, but he firmly refused;”, and changing to a menacing tone, she added, “and if he will not do what I order him, he will surely be imprisoned and will be of those debased.” (Qur’an 12:32)
Yusuf AS stood before the wealthiest, most elegant ladies of the capital in all the purity of his innocent young manhood, with a face more beautiful than any in this world. And he called upon his Creator,
“My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and [thus] be of the ignorant.” (Qur’an 12:33), stating that that prison was preferable to the environment in the palace, filled with lust and greed, and with unlawful beauty and seduction. Without Allah’s help against their scheming he might gradually lose his sense of right and wrong and be seduced.
Therefore, his Lord Allah answered his invocation.
YUSUF’S AS THIRD ORDEAL – FROM PALACE TO PRISON
Although convinced of Yusuf’s AS innocence, Al-Aziz, chief minister of Egypt put Yusuf AS in prison. He could see no other way of safeguarding the reputation of his name and position.
It is evident from Qur’anic accounts that Yusuf AS was by now a prophet, receiving revelations and inspirations from Allah. He now began to carry out his divinely appointed mission inside the prison walls.
Imprisoned with Yusuf AS, were two men who recognised his piety and righteousness. At some point, each of them had a dream which was felt to be of significance. They reported their dreams to Yusuf AS, certain that he would be able to interpret them correctly.
One man, cupbearer to the king, saw a dream in which he was pressing wine, the other, a baker, saw a dream in which birds were eating bread from his head. Yusuf AS said, “I will inform you of the meaning of these dreams before your next meal is served”. And to assure his listeners that he would not give the interpretation from himself, he added, “That is from what my Lord has taught me.” (Qur’an 12:37)
By his words, Yusuf AS assured his two listeners that he would do what they had requested of him within a given time frame. But before doing so, he put before them the outlines of the pure faith of his fathers in an attempt to make them examine their own beliefs.
He did this by explaining to them what he believed and what he did not, referring to the fact that he and his forefathers had steadfastly rejected the ascribing of any partner to Allah. (Qur’an 12:38)
Yusuf AS carefully and wisely informed his companions that false gods have no substance and explaining the Omnipotence of Allah (Qur’an 12:37-40), trying with evidences and arguments granted him by his Lord, to turn them away from idolatry and shirk. When he had fulfilled his duty of calling them to the way of Allah, he gave them the interpretations of their dreams.
To the cupbearer who dreamt he was pressing wine, Yusuf AS said that he would pour wine for his master. As for the baker who dreamt of birds eating bread from his head, Yusuf AS said that he would be crucified and birds shall eat from his head. And to convince the man that his fate was unchangeable and sealed, and that he must now come to terms with it and prepare for the meeting with is Lord, he added, “The matter has been decreed about which you both inquire.” (Qur’an 12:41)
Yusuf AS approached the companion whom he supposed would be saved and asked him to mention him to his master, who perhaps may already be familiar with Yusuf AS due to the wide publicity of the affair of the women. He hoped the master, the king, would look into his case, see his oppression and free him.
In due course the cupbearer was released from prison, as Yusuf AS had foretold. But as Allah had willed, Shaytan caused the cupbearer to forget Yusuf’s AS request to mention him to the king, and hence Yusuf AS remained in prison for a few more years. (Qur’an 12:42)
Acknowledgement: Most of the information for this work has been obtained from:
“A History of the Prophets of Islam”, Volume I, by Suzanne Haneef
“Stories of the Prophets”, by Ibn Kathir (Translation by Rashad Ahmad Azami)