THE KING’S DREAM
In due course Yusuf AS was delivered from prison – but under the most unexpected circumstances.
The king of Egypt had a dream. This dream would become the main reason for Yusuf AS to come out of prison in full honour and dignity.
Perplexed as to its meaning, the king related it to his chiefs and advisors.
“Indeed, I have seen [in a dream] seven fat cows being eaten by seven [that were] lean, and seven green spikes [of grain] and others [that were] dry. O eminent ones, explain to me my vision, if you should interpret visions.” (Qur’an 12:43)
His high ranking officials were as puzzled as the king himself. They declared the chimera as a mixture of false dreams, adding that they were not qualified to interpret dreams. (Qur’an 12:44)
When the cupbearer who had been in prison with Yusuf AS heard about the king’s dream, he recalled the man who had correctly interpreted his own dream years earlier in prison. He volunteered to provide an interpretation of the dream and asked to be sent to see Yusuf AS.
He returned to the prison. He found the one he sought and addressed him with respect that he realized was due to him.
He narrated the dream to Yusuf AS and requested its meaning so he may return to the people of the court for them to know. (Qur’an 12:46) His words were understood as meaning so that the king and others might know Yusuf’s AS true worth and the error of keeping him unjustly imprisoned.
From the springs of wisdom and knowledge that Allah had granted him, Yusuf AS disclosed the meaning of the dream to the cupbearer.
“You will plant for seven years consecutively; and what you harvest leave in its spikes, except a little from which you will eat. Then will come after that seven difficult [years] which will consume what you saved for them, except a little from which you will store. Then will come after that a year in which the people will be given rain and in which they will press [olives and grapes].” (Qur’an 12:47-49)
YUSUF’S AS RISE TO POWER
The king was impressed with the interpretation. He ordered for Yusuf AS to be brought to him.
But Yusuf’s AS response to the king’s messenger who came to release him from prison was totally unexpected by the king. Yusuf AS refused to leave prison and insisted that the messenger return to the king and ask him about the case of the women who cut their hands. “Indeed, my Lord is Knowing of their plan,” he added (Qur’an 12:50)
To noble Yusuf AS, there were two considerations far more important than freedom. The first was that his integrity and innocence should be established beyond any doubt by clearing him of guilt in the matter of Zulaikha and her companions. Second, Yusuf AS needed an assurance that if he left prison he would not continue to be harassed by the highly-placed women of the city, and by Zulaikha in particular. If one or both of these conditions were not met, he preferred to remain in prison.
Yusuf AS respectfully demanded that the king investigate the affair of the women who cut their hands. The king became curious and summoned the wife of Al-Aziz and her associates for questioning.
The women’s response was immediate and spontaneous. They cleared him of all the evil charges against him previously.
They said, “Perfect is Allah ! We know about him no evil.” (Qur’an 12:51)
The wife of the minister then added her testimony. “Now the truth has become evident. It was I who sought to seduce him, and indeed, he is of the truthful. (Qur’an 12:51)
For the aristocratic Zulaikha, this public confession of her blameworthiness was no doubt the ultimate act of penance and abasement. Earlier she had defended herself in front of the other women. But during the intervening years, she had reflected upon her own actions and upon the absolutely unwavering integrity and purity of the man whose she had deliberately set out to ruin.
Yusuf’s AS request to the king to clear the matter of the women was so that his former master Al-Aziz will know that Yusuf AS was not a betrayer and that his Lord does not guide the scheming of betrayers. (Qur’an 12:52)
“And I do not acquit myself,” he continued. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an 12:53)
These words reveal the tremendous purity and integrity of Yusuf’s AS character. Although he was a prophet protected by Allah from Shaytan and his nafs, he did not hesitate to admit publicly that he too could be subject to temptation. And he pointed out an essential fact for all mankind to take note of: that the nafs always, without exception, incites or urges or commands us to do evil, unless Allah’s mercy intervenes.
Once his innocence was established, Yusuf AS appeared before the King. After hearing, Yusuf’s AS words the King became even more impressed and entrusted him to a position of high rank.
Directed and guided by Allah, Yusuf AS made a request of the king and asked to be appointed guardian of the storehouses of the land. His request was granted and thus Yusuf AS was made the chief minister of Egypt, bearing the title of Al-Aziz, the highest official in the land after the king. Yusuf AS proclaimed his Lord’s Message and established a just law base on Allah’s commands. In addition to this, he stored up the country’s grain during the first seven years of plenty, except that portion that the people ate.
The young boy betrayed and thrown into the well was now established as the chief minister of Egypt. His patience and perseverance, and above all his total submission to the will of Allah had already resulted in great reward. Yusuf AS knew however that the greatest reward for patience and righteousness would be in the hereafter.
YUSUF AS MEETS HIS BROTHERS
And the brothers of Yusuf came [seeking food], and they entered upon him; and he recognized them, but he was to them unknown. (Qur’an 12:58)
The time passed. During the first seven years of his administration, Yusuf AS set aside abundant stocks of grain as provision for the lean years that were ahead. Then came the drought and the barren years began. When the people became hungry, Yusuf AS distributed the stored-up grain to them.
The famine affected neighbouring lands as well. Yusuf AS gave grain to any needy person that came to him.
The nearby land of Palestine was also hit by famine and so was Yaakub’s AS family afflicted with hunger. They soon heard that the chief minister of Egypt was bartering food for goods. Accordingly, an aged Yaakub AS, dispatched his sons, Yusuf’s AS half-brothers, to Egypt to buy food. He kept home the son who was dearest to him from his remaining sons, Yusuf’s AS full brother, Binyamin.
When the brothers arrived in Egypt and were ushered in to see Yusuf AS, he recognised them immediately, but as they had not seen him since their separation at the well, they did not know him. How would they have known that the little brother that they had sold to the Egyptian caravan who had then been sold into slavery had now become the chief minister of Egypt?
Yusuf AS was eager for news of his beloved father, mother and younger brother. He spoke to his brothers in a way that they could not recognise him, inquiring the purpose of their visit. They replied that they had heard he sold grain. He asked if they were spies.
They denied emphatically. Yusuf AS then asked them where they lived. “In Canaan,” they replied, “and our father is a prophet of Allah. His name is Yaakub.”
Yusuf AS inquired about other siblings. “We were originally twelve brothers,” they replied, never suspecting to whom they were speaking. “But the younger, who was most loved by our father was killed. He had another brother, but our father did not send him with us, keeping him at home because he loves him so much.”
Concealing his concern about the welfare of his father and the household, Yusuf AS acted suspicious as to the truth of their story. He ordered for his brothers to be treated as official guests, and for them to be given as much as grain as they could carry.
Before they left on the return trip home, Yusuf AS made clear to them his terms for dealing with them in the future.
He ordered them to bring him a brother of theirs from their father, meaning the son to whom their father was most attached presently or they would not receive any grain from him nor be allowed to visit him in the future. They declared that they would attempt to bring their younger brother along.
Yusuf AS ordered his servants to secretly place his brothers’ goods that they had traded in for the grain, back into their saddlebags, so that they may see them upon their arrival home and perhaps come back to Egypt to return the goods.
THE BROTHERS RETURN TO YAAKUB AS
When they returned to their father, Yaakub AS, they explained to him that no more grain would be provided to them unless they travelled with their youngest brother, Binyamin. He had become very close to his father, especially after Yusuf’s AS disappearance. Remembering his previous loss, Yaakub AS did not want to part with his young son. Once again, the brothers promised to safeguard their youngest brother, and once again Yaakub AS felt his heart constrict with fear.
Yaakub AS was greatly troubled by their demand, for in truth he had never recovered from the pain of his sons’ earlier betrayal of his trust. Indeed, for all he knew, this might be merely another plot of theirs for getting rid of their half-brother. But as in the case of Yusuf AS, Yaakub AS was powerless. His sons must return to Egypt to bring more grain to feed their families, and if their story was true, they would not even be able to approach the ruler of Egypt unless his youngest son accompanied them. Thus he surrendered his will to whatever the All-Knowing might decree for him and his sons.
To the brothers’ amazement, they found that the goods they paid for the grain had been secretly returned to them.
The strangeness of his sons’ treatment by the Egyptian nobleman now became another source of uneasiness. But the aged prophet’s understanding was governed both by patience and by wisdom. Reading the signs, he readily understood that the matter had been decreed by Allah and that his responsibility was to accept the destiny ordained for himself and his sons. However, for his own peace of mind, he bound them by a solemn pledge – that they were to promise in the name of Allah to bring their youngest brother back to him unless they were surrounded by enemies and killed. When they gave their word, Yaakub AS said,
“Allah, over what we say, is Witness.” (Qur’an 12:66)
Although Yaakub AS was particularly close to his youngest two sons, he loved all his sons dearly. They were strong, handsome, capable men, and Yaakub AS was afraid that some harm might befall them on yet another trip to Egypt. To minimise the risks, he made his sons promise to enter the city by different gates. (Qur’an 12:67)
THE BROTHERS’ SECOND JOURNEY TO EGYPT
As their father had advised, the brothers entered the city through different gates. And soon again they were in the presence of the Al-Aziz.
We can imagine Yusuf’s AS feelings at seeing his beloved younger brother after a separation of so many years. It is reported that Yusuf AS then paired off the ten brothers two by two for eating and sleeping. Then, since the youngest, Binyamin was without a partner, Yusuf AS paired him with himself.
Yusuf AS secretly revealed his identity to Binyamin and advised him not to grieve over what they had done in the past or might do in the future.
Then, in keeping with his custom, Yusuf AS ordered that one load of grain be given to each of the eleven men. Afterwards, he put a golden cup or bowl used for measuring grain as well as for drinking, into his beloved brother Binyamin’s bag.
The eleven brothers set out for home with their load. Along the way, they were summoned back by officials of the minister, saying that the king’s measuring cup was missing.
The brothers were astonished and defended themselves asserting that they were not thieves and had no knowledge of the missing cup.
The officials asked, “What is your punishment for one who steals?” The brothers replied that in the religion of their great-grandfather Ibrahim AS, the one who steals is taken as a slave. Yusuf AS did not want his brother punished under the laws of Egypt but wanted the opportunity to keep his brother with him while the others returned to their father Yaakub AS. The bags were searched, and the golden cup was found amongst Binyamin’s possessions.
The brothers were profoundly shocked and bewildered by the evidence before them. Yet although they did not have the means to disprove it, neither did they make the slightest attempt to defend Binyamin’s honour or deny the accusation, which they certainly knew to be false. They joined forces in the accusations against him, possibly out of eagerness to clear themselves of suspicion.
Thus they failed both Binyamin and their father, with them whom they had taken a sacred by Allah to do all in their power to protect their youngest brother and bring him safely home. As they had sold Yusuf AS in the past for a paltry price, they now sold Binyamin for a load of grain.
Hearing his brothers’ accusation, Yusuf AS kept it all within himself, including all that he had observed of their selfishness and greed. (Qur’an 12:77)
Now recalling their solemn promise to their father, the brothers began to reflect on the difficulty of their situation. They were deeply troubled about how they would face him with such news, which would add so greatly to his grief over the loss of Yusuf AS, whom he had never ceased to mourn, that it might kill him.
They pleased to the Al-Aziz and spoke about his old age and weakness and his great love Binyamin. They also repeated that Binyamin’s brother had been lost in the past, and since their father was already broken-hearted on that account, they would probably die when he heard this news. They begged him to take one of them in Binyamin’s place. (Qur’an 12:78)
Yusuf AS remained adamant. The brothers realised that they had reached a dead end. There was nothing further to be hoped for from the Al-Aziz unless they complied with his demand.
Yusuf’s AS scheme and actions were carried out under a divine plan for his brothers and father. Yusuf’s AS primary objective was their repentance and reform. If he had revealed himself to them at once, there might have been no repentance but merely more envy and resentment. The desired lesson and effect was therefore to be produced through suspense, drama and mystery, letting the brothers feel the threat of being denied grain to feed their families and of encountering unknown troubles in Egypt.
The eldest brother took charge and reminded the rest of their oath to their father and that they had previously failed concerning Yusuf AS. He offered to remain in Egypt whilst the others returned to Canaan with Binyamin.
THE BROTHERS’ SECOND RETURN TO YAAKUB AS
Nine brothers now home with their loads of grain – and with heavy troubled hearts.
When they put the whole matter in front of their father, the aged, weakened prophet did not collapse or die in front of their eyes, as they had feared. Instead, he responded to their news with the same words he had spoken when they had brought him the false tale of Yusuf’s AS death.
“Rather, your souls have enticed you to something, so patience is most fitting. Perhaps Allah will bring them to me all together. Indeed it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise.” (Qur’an 12:83)
Yaakub AS had firm faith that Allah’s will was working in some strange, mysterious fashion and that it was toward some good end.
Nonetheless, the pain of separation and the strangeness of the situation worked upon the bereaved father’s heart. He was overcome with grief and wept uncontrollably. This time he had lost not one son, but two more. He remembered Yusuf AS, and wept until he became ill and lost his sight. (Qur’an 12:84) The brothers were concerned about his pain and sorrow and questioned his constant grief.
Despite the fact that it was they who had brought this trouble upon their old father, the nine sons were anything but sympathetic as they listened to his broken-hearted murmuring.
They reproached him, “By Allah, you will not cease remembering Yusuf until you become fatally ill or become of those who perish.” (Qur’an 12:85)
He said, “I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you do not know. (Qur’an 12:86)
He addressed his sons and asked them to go and seek information about Yusuf AS and Binyamin. Overlooking their lack of sympathy and support, he tried, despite his own grief to give them comfort in their uneasy and troubled state.
“O my sons, go and find out about Yusuf and his brother and despair not of relief from Allah. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (Qur’an 12:87)
THE THIRD JOURNEY TO EGYPT
The nine brothers now returned once more to Egypt. They stood before the Al-Aziz, Yusuf AS. This time their pride broken, their dignity stripped away.
They begged him to release their brother Binyamin, who stood by Yusuf’s AS side. When the brothers appealed to Yusuf AS and described the sufferings of their family, he began to weep. The command came to him now to make himself known to them, actualising what had been revealed to him years earlier when they had abandoned him 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)
The brothers fell back in astonishment at hearing Yusuf AS mentioned by the virtual ruler of Egypt. Then, it is reported, they saw on his forehead, now that he had removed his coronet, a mark which they recognized as belonging to Yusuf AS. Even then, they could hardly believe the evidence of their eyes.
“Are you indeed Yusuf?” (Qur’an 12:90), they asked in utter amazement.
He said “I am Yusuf, and this is my brother. Allah has certainly favoured us. Indeed, he who fears Allah and is patient, then indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good.” (Qur’an 12:90)
Imagine the deep shame and humiliation the brothers must have felt at that moment. When Allah had tested them, they had listened to Shaytan, allowing envy and enmity to dominate their lives. While they had tried to destroy Yusuf AS when he was vulnerable and weak, even to the point of contemplating murder, he had repaid their evil by generosity and kindness. While they had hated and envied him, he had showed them utter nobility of heart.
They said, “By Allah, certainly has Allah preferred you over us, and indeed, we have been sinners.” (Qur’an 12:91)
Gentle and forbearing, Yusuf AS had no desire to take revenge on his brothers by even so much as a hint of reproach.
He said, “No blame will there be upon you today. Allah will forgive you; and He is the most merciful of the merciful.”(Qur’an 12:92)
Yusuf AS immediately made plans to reunite his family. He requested the brothers return to their father and cast an old shirt of his over their father’s face. This, he said, would cause him to become clear sighted. He added, “And bring me your family, all together.” (Qur’an 12:93)
And so the brothers set out again for home.
THE REUNION OF YAAKUB AS AND YUSUF AS
When the caravan departed Egypt, Yaakub’s AS premonitions and intimations from Allah became very strong and he began to feel the scent of Yusuf AS. His family members showed him no pity or sympathy and dismissed the aged prophet has being deranged.
The brothers arrived home and they cast the shirt over Yaakub’s AS face and he became clear sighted. He cried out, “Did I not tell you that I know from Allah that which you do not know?” (Qur’an 12:96)
The brothers expressed their remorse and sorry for what they had done.
The noble prophet assured his sons that he would ask for forgiveness for them from Allah. Life Yusuf AS, he uttered no reproach, vented no anger and held no grudge in his heart against his ten sons for all the suffering they had caused him and their two younger brothers. More than that, he comforted and assured them of Allah’s unfailing forgiveness, saying, “Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Qur’an 12:98)
The patriarch then departed with numerous family members from Palestine towards Egypt. It is reported that when Yaakub’s AS family neared Egypt, Yusuf AS went out to receive his parents with honour, accompanied by many people, possibly including the king and the royal retinue.
And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration. (Qur’an 12:100
Then Yusuf AS said, “O my father, this is the explanation of my vision of before. My Lord has made it reality. And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from bedouin life after Satan had induced [estrangement] between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise. (Qur’an 12:100)
Then Yusuf AS recited one the most beautiful prayers recorded in the Qur’an, saying,
“My Lord, You have given me [something] of sovereignty and taught me of the interpretation of dreams. Creator of the heavens and earth, You are my protector in this world and in the Hereafter. Cause me to die a Muslim and join me with the righteous.” (Qur’an 12:101)
At this point the best of stories comes to an end. The heart of the story of Yusuf AS is patience in the face of adversity and sorrow. Yusuf AS faced every trial with patience and complete trust in Allah. His father Yaakub AS bore his grief and misery with patience and submission.
We may assume from another verse in the Qur’an, (2:132-33) that perhaps after repentance, Yusuf’s AS brothers became better men, sincere in faith, and that continued in Allah’s worship and carried the message of His Oneness to the idol-worshipping Egyptians.
It is reported that when death approached Yaakub AS, he made Yusuf AS his heir, having him promise that he would take his body back to Palestine for burial, which Yusuf AS dutifully fulfilled, burying his father with Ibrahim AS and Ishaq AS in the cave that Ibrahim AS had bought for the purpose in Hebron.
Yusuf AS is said to have been the father of two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and that he lived for 120 years.
Yusuf’s AS high rank with Allah is made clear by the fact that Prophet Muhammad SAW met him in the third heaven during this Ascension to the heavens. (Bukhari)
May Allah’s boundless peace and blessings be upon Yusuf AS, and upon his honoured and distinguished forefathers, Ibrahim, Ishaq and Yaakub for all eternity.
TIME OUT FOR REFLECTION
Yusuf’s AS story is loaded with powerful, unmistakable symbolism. The ten brothers are unwilling to admit the Allah-given superiority of their half-brother’s nature over their own. Out of envy and readiness to follow Shaytan’s promptings, they conspire to reduce him to the lowest of the low. But Allah who has granted Yusuf AS a noble nature and chosen him as a prophet, too him out of the depth of degradation and raised him to the height of honour, power, authority and usefulness. And in the end, the brothers had no choice but to admit his superiority and their own sinfulness.
Yusuf’s AS story is a striking lesson in forgiveness and generosity. His kind behaviour towards his brother without a word of reproach makes him the model of forgiveness, forbearance and generosity of all times.
From the Zulaikha affair, we learn that prohibited deeds and sins can be resisted if there is sufficient fear of Allah and strong will. And from Zulaikha, we learn the lesson of taking honest responsibility and facing the consequences of ones mistakes without lying or making excuses.
And the central message of the story, in the words of Yusuf AS himself, “Indeed my Lord is subtle in what He wills” (Qur’an 12:100), that is in the unfathomable and often mysterious workings of the divine Will.
Allah’s wisdom and knowledge are so all-embracing and yet subtle that only He knows the interconnection of events and people within His divine plan.
And the ultimate important lesson of Yusuf’s AS story is summed up in Yaakub’s AS words, repeated twice over, “Patience is most befitting” (Qur’an 12:18, 83) in relation to the working of the divine Will.
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)
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