This sūrah, revealed toward the end of the Makkan period of Islam and comprising 111 verses, takes its name from the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, whose life and mission it recounts. Unlike the accounts of other Messengers, different elements and aspects of which are related in different sūrahs, the life-history of Joseph, upon him be God’s peace, is narrated in this sūrah only, in full and in chronological order. This sūrah, which also tells us of the truth contained in dreams, presents many principles of how to serve Islam by relating the life-history of a Messenger who became the most renowned and respected figure in the country to which he had been sold as a slave.
- Alif. Lām. Rā. These are the Revelations of the Book clear in itself and clearly showing the truth.
- We send it down as a qur’ān (discourse) in Arabic so that you may reflect (on both its meaning and wording) and understand.1
- The Qur’ān – the word qur’ān literally means recitation, something to be recited, or a discourse – was revealed in Arabic. Being a universal religion, Islam addresses all people, regardless of differences in race, color, and language, and embraces whoever accepts it, whatever background or language a person has. But, naturally, it must have a language itself, and the language of Arabic was chosen. However, this in no way means that those who enter the fold of Islam from other languages must learn Arabic in order to be Muslims. Knowing a language is a scientific matter, and is different from speaking it or reading books written in it. The instructions in the Qur’an make it necessary for us to recite the Qur’ān; thus, it is imperative to learn the daily prayers in Arabic, for any translation cannot be taken as the actual recitation. And every Muslim had better be encouraged to be able to read (i.e. phonetically pronounce the words) the Qur’ān, and they can learn to read it within a month, which is one of the miraculous aspects of the Qur’ān. However, knowing Arabic to study and understand the Qur’ān is a scientific matter. Just as a native english speaker who speaks english does not necessarily know the grammar rules of english, or the english that is studied in schools as a branch of science, so, too, not every native Arabic speaker is thought to know Arabic well enough to understand the Qur’ān. Likewise, just as every one who knows english well is not expected to have learned physics or chemistry or medicine merely by reading books that were written in english, or even to be able to understand books about them written in english, so, too, someone who knows Arabic well does not necessarily know or understand the Qur’ān; understanding and knowing the Qur’ān is a scientific matter that involves many other sciences. Just as everyone cannot be a physicist, chemist or historian, and just as each branch of science requires special study, so, too, it is an obvious fact that there will be scholars of the Qur’ān who must instruct others in it.
God sent every Messenger with the language he and his people spoke. So, one of the pri- mary reasons why the Qur’ān was revealed in Arabic is that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, appeared among the Arabs, and the people to whom the Qur’ān first addressed itself were the Arabs. There must also be other reasons, some of which we can know, while others we cannot. One of these other reasons may be that Arabic is the most appropriate language in human realm for a Divine discourse. God calls people to reflect on the fact that the Qur’ān was revealed in Arabic, and its being in Arabic is an essential dimension of the Qur’ān.
- We are about to relate to you (O Messenger) the best of narratives (of the past) by Our revealing to you this Qur’ān. Before this, indeed you were unaware of it.2
- Sūrah Yūsuf ( Joseph) exhibits its beauty from the very beginning. We can understand why it is called the best of narratives in this way:
- Only the Qur’ān can tell these events in the best way. That is, it tells them most com- prehensively and concisely, and presents the full historical, psychological, moral and spiritual meaning of those events and how they unfolded.
- It cannot be told so beautifully in any book other than in this Arabic Qur’ān because of the unique beauties and felicities of the Qur’anic Arabic.
- The best of the narratives concerning the lives of the previous Messengers, which consoled the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and his com- panions in Makkah, and also enlightened their way, is the one that is presented in this sūrah.
- While almost all of the other narratives contain elements of destruction, all the per- sons involved in the events described in this sūrah come to understand their mistakes and find the truth in the end.
- While all other narratives are scattered throughout different sūrahs, the narrative in Sūrah Yūsuf is given in one sūrah in its entirety, and in greater detail.
- In this narrative, it is possible to find an anatomy of the character of humanity, with both its negative and positive aspects. We are also presented with how the complete process of the overall reformation of a country from within is possible. This process is one which will enlighten the ways of believers until Resurrection Day.
- The mission of Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, marks the appearance and first development in history of the descendents of Isaac, son of Abraham, upon them be peace. This mission opened the way for the children of Israel, descending from Jacob, Isaac’s son and Joseph’s father, upon them all be peace, to settle in egypt and rise to a leading position there. This history descends from Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, who stood at the starting point of their history, and then enters a new phase with Prophet Moses, rising to its zenith with David and Solomon, upon them all be peace.
- The spiritual beauty of Joseph, upon him be peace, reflected in his physical beauty and his representation of such important virtues as chastity and devotion to doing good, add to the beauty of the narrative of his life and mission.
- It was impossible for God’s Messenger, Muhammad, upon him be peace and bless-
ings, who was unlettered, to know of Joseph’s life, especially in the particular detail recounted in the Qur’ān. So, among the histories of the lives and missions of the Mes- sengers, the completeness and perfection of the narrative in this sūrah is among the greatest proofs of Muhammad’s Messengership.
- When Joseph said to his father: “O my father! I saw in a dream eleven stars,3 as well as the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrating themselves before me.”4
- The original word for “stars”– kawkab – also means “planets.” From this, we may conclude that if the earth is included, there are actually twelve planets, although as yet, only nine or ten of them have been discovered. In the dream, Joseph is symbolized by the earth, which, due to the significance it possesses as the habitat for humankind, is the “spiritual” center of the solar system. It is explicitly stated in the Qur’ān several times that whatever there is in the heavens and the earth, including the sun and the moon, has been made subservient to God’s laws for the benefit of human beings (sūrah, 13: 33; sūrah,16: 12; sūrah, 31: 20).
- While you sleep with your eyes closed, your ears deaf, your tongue silent, and your arms and legs at rest, how do you travel, meet people, and do many things in a few minutes, or even seconds? When you get up in the morning, you feel deeply influenced by that few seconds’ adventure. Although Freud and his followers attribute dreams to the workings of the subconscious mind, to thoughts and desires, or impulses and past experiences, how can this explain dreams that inform of a future event with which one has had no contact or even thought about?
When we sleep, our spirit enters the world of ideal forms or symbols where, to some extent, past, present, and future are combined, without completely breaking its connection to the body. It continues this connection through a cord. As a result, it may experience a past event or witness a future one. However, since things in that world exist in ideal forms or symbols, the spirit usually receives symbols that require interpretation. For example, clear water in that world may correspond to knowledge in this world. The metaphors, similes, and parables found in the Qur’ān and the Prophetic sayingsmay provide significant keys to interpreting dreams. However, some dreams are so clear that no interpretation is needed.
Dreams are of three kinds. Two are included in the category of “jumbled dreams” (the Qur’ānic expression in 12: 44). In these dreams, either the imagination gives form to the deviations of a bad temper, or the mind remembers an exciting event which happened some time ago, and produces it in a new and different form; and the dreams that a person has in such moods are “jumbled ones,” as will be mentioned in verses 43–44, 47–49 of this sūrah. Despite being jumbled, some of these dreams may also have some significant meaning, but they need to be interpreted.
The other type of dream has nothing to do with the subconscious self. Such dreams carry important messages: either they are glad tidings from God, which encourage us to do good things and guide us, or warnings concerning the evils we have done or will do. Those dreams, which we call true dreams, are very clear and unforgettable. In an authenticated narration, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, says that true dreams are one of the forty-six aspects of Prophethood. (That is, since God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, had true dreams in the initial six months of his twenty-three years of
Prophethood, true dreams are a type of Divine inspiration.) This means that true dreams contain elements of truth.
Several scientific or technological discoveries were first seen in dreams. elias Howe, while trying to figure out how to thread a sewing machine, dreamed that he was being held pris- oner by a tribe who were thrusting spears at him. Puzzled and in mortal fear, he suddenly saw holes at the top end of his captors’ spears. He woke up and made a little “spear,” with a hole at the sharp end of the needle, and thus made sewing by machine possible. Niels Bohr, who was studying atomic structures, dreamed of planets connected to the sun with threads that were spinning around it. When he woke up, he conceived of a resemblance between what he had dreamed and atomic structures.
- He ( Jacob) said: “O my son! Do not relate your dream to your brothers, lest (out of envy) they devise a scheme against you. For Satan is a manifest enemy to humankind (and can incite them to do such a thing).
- “So will your Lord choose you and impart to you some knowledge of the inner meaning of all happenings (including dreams),5 and complete His favor upon you and upon the family of Jacob, as He completed it formerly upon your fore- fathers, Abraham and Isaac.6 Surely, your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.7
- every thing and event has a substantial inner meaning in the general context of the universe. Nothing exists or happens by chance. every thing and event is a knot or weft in the general fabric of things and events. Moreover, God has an ultimate purpose for the existence of every thing and every happening, so no thing and no event is meaningless. each bears messages for conscious beings – humankind, angels, and jinn. Although all the Prophets, and even some distinguished saintly people, can have knowledge of the meaning and messages of events and what they are intended for, the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, has a special place among them.
- As in the Bible, the Qur’ān shows that the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, understood the meaning of the dream with all its deeper implications, with the eleven stars symbolizing his brothers, and the sun and the moon his parents. But the Bible relates that the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, assumed that Joseph’s dream was the outcome of wishful think- ing and rebuked Joseph, upon him be peace, for having had such a dream (Genesis, 37: 10). Moreover, there are other serious differences between the account of the Prophet Joseph’s life in the Qur’ān and that of the Bible.
It is unfortunate that the Bible contains many such grave accusations against the Prophets; some are even worse than the one given above. For example, see: Genesis, 19: 30–38; 27; 32: 25–31; II Samuel 11; and I Kings 11. If the Qur’ān had not been revealed, we could not be sure whether the other Prophets really had been sincere, devout, and thankful servants of God. So, all the previous Prophets, the Books which were sent through some of them, and the religion they brought, are greatly indebted to the Qur’ān, to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and to the Islam he brought.
- The verse concluding with God’s being All-Knowing and All-Wise shows that this
sūrah is based mainly on these two Names and that the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, was favored with them. He was a particularly wise, knowledgeable Prophet.
- Assuredly, in (this account of ) Joseph and his brothers there are many signs (messages) for seekers of truth.
- When they (the brothers addressing one another) said: “Joseph and his brother are indeed more loved by our father than we are,8 even though we are a powerful band (of greater use to him). Surely, our father is manifestly mistaken.”
- As a matter of fact, the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, did not discriminate in show- ing his sons love, but as he discerned the potential in Joseph, upon him be peace, and what kind of mission he was destined for, he, therefore, paid greater attention to him.
- (One of them said:) “Kill Joseph, or cast him out in some distant land so that your father’s attention should turn only to you, and after that you may again become righteous people.”
- Another of them, putting forward his view, said: “Do not kill Joseph, but rather, cast him into the depth of the well (that you know of ), that some caravan may pick him up – (do that) if you are seriously intending to take action.”
- They said (having agreed on this) to their father: “Our father! Why will you not trust Joseph with us, while we are his sincere well-wishers?
- “Let him go out with us tomorrow, that he may enjoy himself and play; surely we will take good care of him.”
- He ( Jacob) said: “Indeed, it grieves me that you should take him with you, and I fear lest a wolf should devour him while you are inattentive of him.”
- They said: “If a wolf should devour him when we are so strong a company, then we should surely be lost!”
- And so they went away with him, and decided to put Joseph in the depth of the well9 (which they did). We revealed to him: “You will most certainly remind them of this deed of theirs while they are unaware (neither knowing nor under- standing all that has transpired).”
9. While reflecting on the reasons for which the Qur’ān was sent down in Arabic, we should also be mindful of the fact that, more than any other language, the pronunciation of the words in Arabic is in accord with their meaning. In other words, the pronunciation of the words and the conjugation of the verbs call to mind the meaning. For example, in the Qur’ānic statement, O earth, swallow up your waters! (11: 44), the word translated as “swallow” is ebli‘ī, a word associated with the act of swallowing. Similarly, the word here translated as “depth,” ghay”ābah, calls to mind a disappearance in depth by its sound; and the word translated as “well,” jubb, calls to mind the sound made when one falls into a well.
It is possible to find many other examples of this linguistic feature in the Qur’ān.16. And at nightfall they returned to their father, weeping.
- They said: “Our father! We went off racing with one another, and left Joseph behind by our things, then a wolf devoured him. But we know that you will not believe us, even though we speak the truth.”
- They had brought his shirt back with false blood on it. Jacob said: “Rather, your (evil-commanding) souls have tempted you to do something evil. So (the proper recourse for me is), a becoming patience (a patience that endures without complaint).10 God it is Whose help is sought against (the situation) that you have described.”11
- It is worth noting that Jacob, upon him be peace, as a Prophet of God, never complained to or of God when he had apparently lost Joseph. He did not shout, nor did he chide his sons, but only hinted that he did not believe them. He reacted with utmost serenity, and referred the matter to God in perfect reliance on Him as the true helper of His servants.
Both being Messengers raised among the same community, the attitudes of Jacob and Moses, upon them be peace, are worth noting. As mentioned before (7: 150), Moses, upon him be peace, having received the Tablets and learned that his people had adopted a calf to worship, returned to his people, full of wrath and sorrow, and rebuked them, saying: evil is the course you have followed after me! Have you forsaken your Lord’s commandment so hastily to hasten your destruction? (7: 150). And then he threw down the Tablets, and laid hold of his brother’s head, dragging him toward himself. The great difference between these two attitudes should be sought in the “misfortune” each faced. It appeared as if the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, had lost his son. It was God who gave him this son as a gift, and it was God Who could take him back. What a father should do in such a case is to show the proper patience, which the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, did in the best way. By contrast, Moses, upon him be peace, faced apostasy after many years during which God’s favors had poured down upon the people, and at a time when he hoped he could ap- ply God’s laws in his community. So, both of the Messengers did what they were expected to do, and they taught us important lessons.
- Jacob’s sons were the first ancestors of the children of Israel. Although being sons of a noble Prophet, as human beings, they had some traits requiring education. But we should point out that, later on, under the education of their father, they were able to transform their negative traits into virtues.God has equipped humankind with three major powers: lust for the opposite sex, offspring, money, earning, and the comforts of life; the power of anger to protect oneself; and one’s values and intellect. Moreover, they are, by nature, fal- lible, forgetful, neglectful, fond of disputing, obstinate, selfish, and envious, among many other negative traits. Since human beings are distinguished from other conscious beings, like angels, by being endowed with free will, these powers, faculties, and apparently nega- tive qualities have not been restricted in creation. However, in order to attain happiness as social beings, both in their individual and collective life, in the world and in the Hereafter, and to rise to higher and higher ranks of humanity, they should either discipline these traits according to certain precepts, or channel them into virtues. For example, obstinacy
can be channeled into steadfastness in right and truth, and envy into a feeling of competi- tion to do good things. The happiness and perfection of all people lie in their struggling against the negative aspects of their nature and restricting these aspects, or channeling them into virtues, and in acquiring a distinction with their good qualities, thus becoming good, worshipping servants of God, and useful members of society. The Last Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, said: “I have been sent to perfect the standards and beauties of good morals” (at-Tabarānī, 7: 74).
- And there came a caravan, and they sent forth one among them to fetch wa- ter. He let down his bucket (into the well). “Good luck!” he exclaimed: “(There is) a youth here!” So they hid and preserved him as merchandise to sell. God had full knowledge of what they were doing.
- And they sold him for a paltry price – a few silver coins – so little did they value him.
- The man who bought him in egypt said to his wife: “Give him honorable, good lodging. It may be that he will prove useful to us, or we may adopt him as a son.”12 Thus, did We establish Joseph in the land (egypt), that We would impart to him knowledge and understanding of the inner meaning of events, including dreams. God always prevails in whatever be His will, but most people do not know (that it is so).
12. While describing events, the Qur’ān displays the characters of the kind of people in- volved. As we see from verses 19 and 20, the Qur’ān’s complaint about the members of the caravan, who were apparently low, rough people lacking in discernment, and so unaware of the true value things and persons have; this verse, through contrast, shows the nobility of the man who bought Joseph, upon him be peace, in egypt.
- When Joseph reached his full manhood, We granted him authority with sound, wise judgment, and special knowledge. Thus, do We reward those de- voted to doing good as if seeing God.13
13. The original words, hukm and ‘ilm, which we translate here as “sound, wise judgment” and “special knowledge,” respectively, are used in the indefinite form. This implies that the judgment and knowledge given to the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, as well as to other Prophets, are of a special kind peculiar to the Prophets which cannot be acquired through studying. Some people may acquire a portion of this through self-purification of their sins and by spiritual contact with God through worship and reflection, as the con- clusion of the verse, Thus do We reward those devoted to doing good as if seeing God, suggests.
- And the woman in whose house he was living sought to enjoy herself by him. She bolted the doors and said, “come, please!” He said: “God forbid! My lord (your husband) has given me honorable, good lodging. Assuredly, wrongdoers never prosper.”
- certainly, she was burning with desire for him; and he would have desired her had it not been that he had already seen the argument and proof of his Lord (concerning chastity and good conduct, and so was anxious only about how to escape her). We did it in that way (We showed to him Our argument and proof ) so that We might avert from him an evil and indecency. For he was one of Our servants endowed with perfect sincerity and purity of intention in faith and practicing the Religion.14
14. When God excluded Satan from His mercy eternally, he took permission from God to come upon human beings, claiming that he would lead astray all except those endowed with sincerity in faith and practicing the Religion (15: 40; 38: 83). It is true that the Qur’ān mentions only the pure and sincere ones as being those whose salvation is guaranteed, and these are only the Prophets (37: 40, 74, 128). However, this does not mean that everybody else will go astray under the influence of Satan and perish. But everybody other than a Prophet is at risk and can be seduced by Satan. So, we must continuously be on the alert against Satan’s seduction, and whenever we feel driven by Satan, we must immediately turn to God in repentance. The Prophets are, however, sinless and exempt from Satan’s influ- ence. Having overcome their carnal selves eternally by always using their free will in the right direction, they are secured by God against any deviation.
God orders sincerity, that is, believing and practicing the Religion only for His sake. What- ever God has ordered us to do, we must do it because God wants us to do it and in order to obtain His approval. Those who act so, who seek devotion to God in purity of intention and sincerity, are the mukhlis, those who always seek sincerity. As for the Prophets, they are the mukhlas, those whom God has favored with purity of intention and sincerity. Since they always sought His good pleasure and used their free will in the direction that would please God, God established them on the peak of sincerity. The Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, was among those servants, one whom the Qur’ān mentions as a person who was endowed with sincerity in faith and practicing the Religion (mukhlas), and who was devoted to doing good as if seeing God (muhsin).
- So they raced to the door and she tore his shirt from the back, and they met her master (husband) by the door. She cried: “What should be the recompense for him who purposes evil against your household – except imprisonment or a grievous punishment?”
- He ( Joseph) said: “She it was who sought to enjoy herself by me.” And one of those present, a member of her household, said: “If his shirt has been torn from the front, she is telling the truth, and he is a liar.
- “But if it is torn from the back, then she is lying, and he is truthful.”
- So when he (her husband) saw that his shirt was torn from the back, he (turned to his wife and) said: “This is from the guile of you women; for sure your guile is great.”
- (To Joseph) he said “Do not mention this (to anyone).” (To his wife) he said: “Ask forgiveness for your sin; for surely you have committed a sin.”
- Women (gossiping) in the city said: “The minister’s wife has sought to enjoy herself by her slave-boy. certainly it (her desire for him) has pierced her heart with love. We see that she has plainly lost her wits and her way.”15
15. In Arabic, when the subject is feminine, the verb is in feminine form. Another gram- matical rule is that any noun that is in the plural is regarded as being feminine. However, in this verse, although the subject – women – is feminine and it is also in the plural – that is, although the subject is doubly in the feminine form, the verb in the original text is in the masculine. This means that when there is a strong solidarity in a community or group
– even though this is a group of women – that group or community acquires power tradi- tionally held by men Lem’alar (“The Gleams”), 161). This usage in the verse implies that there was a strong society of women which had dominance in the capital of egypt while Joseph, upon him be peace, was a slave there.
- When she heard of their sly whispers, she sent for them, and prepared for them a place of reclining for a sumptuous meal. She gave to each one of them a knife and said (to Joseph): “come out before them!” When they saw him, they were so stricken with admiration of him that they cut their hands, exclaiming: “God save us! This is no human mortal; he is but a noble angel!”
- She said: “This is the one about whom you have been taunting me. And, indeed, I did seek to enjoy myself by him, but he was resolute in his chastity. Yet if he continues to refuse what I command him, he shall certainly be imprisoned, and shall certainly find himself among the humbled!”
- He (imploring God) said: “My Lord! Prison is dearer to me than what they bid me to. If You do not avert their guile from me, I might incline towards them and become one of the ignorant (those who succumb to such temptations).”16
16. These verses show clearly what the egyptian community was like. There were shadowy remnants of the Divine Religion, and those in authority could talk about sin and asking forgiveness. But this was no more than a habit. even though they knew about God and had some belief in Him, they associated partners with Him. Like their counterparts in the present, the ruling class and the high society of the capital were morally corrupt. Men were lost in the quest for power and riches, the preference for reputation over truth, faulty judgment, utilitarianism, and forgetfulness. While the women indulged in gossip, giving banquets, arranging amusements, and competing for worldly things. They enjoyed control in their houses, and husbands could react to their improper behavior only by giving ad- vice. Laws were ignored in favor of the interest of the ruling class, and there was injustice throughout society.
It is in such circumstances that the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, succeeded in all the tests to which he was put. Though a slave in the palace, he rejected the invitation of noble, rich, and beautiful women. He willingly preferred imprisonment to committing sin. In the
end, the ruling class had to admit his innocence, wisdom, knowledge, ability to judge in all affairs, and his performance of good deeds.
- So his Lord answered him and averted from him their guile. Surely He it is Who is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.
- It occurred to them (the noblemen and his household), even after they had seen the signs (of Joseph’s innocence), that they should imprison him for a time.
- And there entered the prison with him two young men. One of them said (to Joseph one day): “I dreamed that I was pressing grapes for wine.” The other said: “I dreamed that I was carrying bread upon my head, of which birds were eating.” “Inform us of their meaning. For sure we see that you are of those endowed with the best qualities.”
- He said: “The meal which you are fed (daily) will not come to you but I will have informed you of their meaning before it comes to you. This is of the knowledge that my Lord has taught me. Surely I have left behind me the way of a people who do not have faith in God (as they ought to have faith), and who do not believe in the Hereafter.17
17. The Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, like all the other Messengers of God, lost no opportunity to convey his message to those around him. He teaches us that we should use all convenient opportunities to do the same.
- “I have followed the way of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not for us to associate anything with God as partner. This (His teaching and calling us to belief in Him without associating any partners with Him) is from God’s grace and bounty on us and on all people, but most people do not give thanks (in return, by believing firmly in His Oneness and worshipping Him alone).
- “O my two fellow-prisoners! Are many diverse lords more reasonable and better (to attribute creation to and believe in and obey), or God, the One, the All-Overwhelming (holding absolute sway over all that exists)?18
18. For the existence and Unity of God and having this belief, see Appendix 8.
- “What you worship apart from Him is nothing but names that you and your forefathers made up for them. (In the absolute sense) judgment and authority rest with none but God alone: He has commanded that you worship none but Him alone. This is the upright, ever-true Religion, but most people do not know (and they act from their ignorance).
- “(As for your dreams:) O my fellow-prisoners! One of you will, again, give his lord (the king) wine to drink. As to the other, he will be hanged, and birds will peck at his head. The matter about which you inquired has already been decided.”19
19. The interpreters of the Qur’ān have inferred from the verse that the second person did not have a dream, but rather that he had lied. When he heard the meaning of his dream, he admitted that he had not had a dream, but had invented it. However, this was of no avail concerning its result; the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, concluded: “The matter about which you inquired has already been decided.”
Inventing dreams is a two-fold lie and is a grave sin. For we do not dream by our free will; rather, God causes us to dream, so inventing dreams means attributing a lie to God. When someone with exact knowledge about the meaning of dreams has interpreted a dream – particularly if that person is a Prophet, or another one near to God although not a Prophet
– it is expected that this dream will come true. So we should relate our dreams to those who have exact knowledge of their meaning and refrain from relating our “evil” dreams. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, advises us that when we have an evil dream, we should pray to God to save us from any evil likely to befall us, and that we should give something in charity.
- He said to the one of the two whom he deemed would be delivered: “Men- tion me in the presence of your lord.” But Satan caused him to forget to mention him to his lord, and so he ( Joseph) remained in prison some more years.
- And the king20 said one day: “I saw in a dream seven fat cows being devoured by seven lean ones, and seven green ears of grain and another (seven) dry. O you courtiers! enlighten me about my dream, if you know how to interpret dreams.”
20. This king was most probably one of the Hyksos rulers who ruled egypt from about 1700 to 1550 bc. They were a northwestern Arab or mixed Arab-Asiatic people who en- tered egypt sometime between 1720 and 1710 bc, and subdued the Middle Kingdom. They used Avaris-Tanis in the Nile Delta as their capital rather than the egyptian capital of Thebes. Under their hegemony, which lasted over a century, they established a powerful kingdom that included Syria and Palestine, and maintained peace and prosperity in their territories, to which the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, must have made the greatest contribution. They introduced the horse-drawn chariot and the composite bow, and their successful conquests were furthered by a type of rectangular fortification of beaten earth used as a fortress; archaeologists have uncovered examples of these mounds at Jericho, Shechem, and Lachish. The Hyksos were crushed by Amasis I at the battle of Tanis, in 1550 bc.
- They said: “Jumbles of dream images. And we are not knowledgeable in the interpretation of dream images.”
- Now after all that time, of the two (prisoners) the one who had been deliv-
ered remembered (what Joseph had asked him to remember) and he said: “I will inform you of its meaning, so send me forth!”
- (coming to Joseph in the prison, he said): “Joseph, O man of truth! en- lighten us about seven fat cows being devoured by seven lean ones, and seven green ears of grain, and another (seven) dry21 – so that I can return to the people (of the court). And it may be that (after I have told them your interpretation of the dreams), they will come to know (what manner of man you are, and the injustice done to you).”
21. Dreams should be narrated exactly as they were, and the words used to narrate them are of great importance with respect to their meaning and interpretation. For this reason, the Qur’ān mentions the dream of the king in exactly the same words in two different places, where it quotes it from the king himself and his cupbearer.
- He said: “You shall sow for seven years as usual, but that which you have harvested, leave it in the ear, all save a little which you eat.
- “Then will come after that seven hard years, which will consume what you have laid up for them, all but a little you should keep in store (to use as seed stock).
- “And thereafter will come a year in which the people will be relieved (with abundance in place of scarcity), and in which they will press (fruit for drink and oil, and milk from their cattle).”
- (Informed of the meaning of his dream,) the king said, “Bring him to me!” When the messenger (of the king) came to him, Joseph said: “Go back to your lord and ask him to find out the facts of the case about the women who cut their hands. For sure my Lord has full knowledge of their guile (and my in- nocence).”
- (The king had the woman assembled before him and) he said: “What hap- pened (between you and Joseph) when you sought to enjoy yourselves by him?” They said: “God save us! We perceived no evil at all on his part!” And the wife of the minister said: “Now the truth has come to light. It was I who sought to enjoy myself by him. He was indeed truthful (in all he said and true to his lord).”
- ( Joseph was informed of the women’s confessions and the declaration of his innocence. He explained why he had asked for the inquiry:) “This was so that he (my former lord) should know that I did not betray him in his absence, and that God never guides the schemes of the treacherous (to success).
- “Yet I do not claim myself free of error, for assuredly the human carnal soul
always commands evil, except that my Lord has mercy (which saves us from committing evil acts). Surely my Lord is All-Forgiving, All-compassionate (es- pecially toward His believing servants).”22
22. These words display the deep devotion of a Prophet to God Almighty, and his an- nouncement that it is not possible for a person to find the right way and be steadfast on it without God’s special succor. These words of the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, may be considered along with those of the Last Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings: “No one can enter Paradise by virtue of his or her own deeds. Nor do I. However, my Lord has embraced me in His mercy” (al-Bukhārī, “Riqāq,” 18).
- The king said: “Bring him to me, so that I may appoint him to myself (as my personal counselor).” And when he had conversed with him, he said: “From this day you shall be of high standing with us, established and trusted.”
- He ( Joseph) said: “Place me in charge over the store-houses of the land, for I am a good custodian, a knowledgeable one.”23
23. The Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, teaches us very important lessons. He had a lofty ideal, which was to convey God’s eternal Message to the people wherever he was. He had the opportunity to convey it to his fellow-prisoners in prison after they came to know how perfect a man he was. Now, in order to convey it to all people, he first wanted his in- nocence and trustworthiness to be openly acknowledged by them. Secondly, he asked for a job about which he had the best and most expert knowledge. Thirdly, he asked for the job, not for its own sake or for the sake of worldly advantages, but in order to be able to convey his message in the best and most influential way possible. Innocence, virtue, wishing the best for all and doing good for them, trustworthiness, truthfulness, and special knowledge are all essential to Prophethood; and those who are in a position to convey God’s Message in every age and place should try to equip themselves with these characteristics as much as possible.
- Thus We established Joseph in the land (of egypt) with authority. He was fully accepted therein, able to go and execute his authority wherever he willed. We visit with Our mercy whomever We will. We do not leave to waste the re- ward of those devoted to doing good as if seeing God.
- However, certainly the reward of the Hereafter is better for those who be- lieve and keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety.
- And (after some years) Joseph’s brothers came to egypt and presented them- selves before him: he knew them (at once), they did not recognize him.
- When he provided them with their provisions, he said: “Bring me (when you come next time) that (step) brother of yours by your father. Do you not see that I fill up the measure and I am the best of hosts?
- “But if you do not bring him, I will no longer have any measure of provisions
to give you, and you shall not be given leave to come near me.”
- They said: “We will try to win him from his father, indeed we will do our utmost.”
- He ( Joseph) said to his servants: “Put back their merchandise (with which they had bartered) into their saddlebags, so that they may find it there when they have returned home, and hence will (be more eager to) return.”
- So when they went back to their father, they said: “O our father! We will be denied any measure (of provisions unless we take our brother), so send our brother with us that we may obtain our measure. For we will surely take every care of him.”
- He said: “Shall I to entrust him to you as I once entrusted his brother to you before? However, God is the Best as protector and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.”
- Then when they opened their packs, they found that their merchandise had been returned to them. “Father,” they said, “What more should we ask for? Here is our merchandise returned to us. So we will again be able to get provisions for our family! We will guard our brother and (his being with us) we will have an additional camel-load. That will be an easy gain.”
- He said: “Never will I send him with you until you give me a solemn pledge in God’s Name that you will indeed bring him back to me, unless you are (in some insurmountable way) overwhelmed. Then, when they gave him their sol- emn pledge, he said: “God is witness to and watcher over all that we say (and only on Him can we rely to fulfill our pledges).”
- He said (by way of advice at the time of their departure): “O my sons! Do not enter the city by one gate (in a single company), but enter by different gates. Yet I can be of no avail whatever to you against anything God wills. Judgment and authority rest with none but God alone. In Him have I put my trust, and whoever would entrust themselves should put their trust in Him.”
- They entered the city in the manner their father had enjoined on them, although this would have proved of no avail whatever to them against anything God had willed; it was but a need in Jacob’s soul, which he thus satisfied. For he was possessed of knowledge because We had taught it to him, but most people do not know (nor do they act according to the knowledge from God).24
24. We do not know what Destiny has in store for us, so we must behave according to the apparent conditions. If we behave according to the Divine rules, we will have behaved in accordance with Destiny.
Jacob’s sons were well-built and good-looking. Their entering the capital of a foreign state all together might have attracted the attention of both the people and the government. Therefore, they might have been exposed to some harm. For this reason, Jacob, upon him be peace, advised them to enter the city through different gates in order not to draw at- tention to themselves. This was what he had to do as a precaution. However, in order to remind us of God’s absolute sovereignty and of the fact that if He wills something, no one can prevent it from taking place, God stresses the dominion of His Will while approving of Jacob’s attitude. As a Messenger of God, Jacob, upon him be peace, was well aware of the relationship between human free will and willed actions and God’s absolute sovereignty and Destiny.
- And when they presented themselves before Joseph, he welcomed his brother to himself, and (having taken him aside) said: “Surely it is I – I am your brother, so do not grieve over what they did.”
- Then when he had provided them with their provisions, he put the drinking- cup (belonging to him) in his brother’s saddlebag (as a gift). Then, (as they had just departed on their return) a herald called out: “O you people of the caravan! You are surely thieves!”
- They said, turning towards them (the herald and his companions): “What is it that you are missing?”
- They said: “We are missing the king’s goblet, and whoever brings it shall re- ceive a camel-load (as reward).” (And the herald added:) “I have pledged myself to recovering it.”
- They (the brothers) said: “By God! certainly you know well that we did not come to provoke disorder and corruption in this land, and we have never been thieves!”
- They said: “What, then, shall be the penalty for it if you are proved liars?”
- They said: “The penalty for it is: the (freedom of the) one in whose saddle- bag it is found is the penalty for it. That is how we recompense the wrongdoers (who steal).”
- (So they were brought back before Joseph to be searched.) He began with their sacks before his brother’s sack; and then he brought the drinking-cup out of his brother’s sack. In this way, We made an arrangement for Joseph. Under the king’s law, he could not have detained his brother, had not God so willed. Whomsoever We will, We raise in ranks. Above every owner of knowledge, there is (always) one more knowledgeable (until God, Who is the All-Knowing).25/26
- This verse contains numerous lessons, such as the following:
- Muslims must not cause corruption and unrest where they stay, especially when they are given accommodation.
- The original word used for law in the phrase, “under the king’s law,” is dīn – religion. This means that dīn (‘religion’ in Islam) includes the laws ordering human worldly life.
- No one should claim to have the final say in a matter about which he or she does not have full, verified knowledge, and he or she should always consider that there may be one who is more knowledgeable. There are degrees of knowledge, reaching up until God’s all-encompassing Knowledge. A Prophet’s knowledge is based on God’s Knowledge and teaching.
- By saying, Above every owner of knowledge there is one more knowledgeable, not “Above every scholar,” the verse differentiates between those who have some (piece of ) knowledge, and those who are scholars or well-versed in knowledge. This differ- ence is like the difference between one who teaches science at a school and a scientist. Bediüzzaman Said Nursi says: “Any piece of knowledge that has not been fully di- gested should not be taught. A true, guiding scholar acts like a sheep, not like a bird. A sheep feeds its lambs on its milk, a fully-digested and processed substance, whereas a bird feeds its chicks on what it has half-chewed and then regurgitated” (Sözler, [“The Words”], 658).
- Different comments have been made on the arrangement mentioned in these verses. The gist of the matter must be as follows:
The Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, who enjoyed full authority on behalf of the king, put the drinking-cup which was known to belong to the king, but which Joseph, upon him be peace, himself used or might have been given as a present, in the saddle-bag of his brother as a gift. The courtiers noticed that the cup was missing and, without finding it despite searching, promised a camel-load of grain to whoever could bring it. When it could not be found in the court, those who set out to find it with the hope of receiving the reward which was promised, became suspicious of the caravans that had come to buy wheat.
When the sacks of Jacob’s sons were searched, the goblet was found in the sack of Joseph’s brother. As explicitly stated in verse 76, this was the arrangement of God, not Joseph, upon him be peace, so that he could retain his brother with himself. Although Joseph, upon him be peace, knew that his brother was innocent, the result was in both his own and his brother’s favor, and would serve for his cause. Joseph’s brother would have to endure the accusation only for a while, just as Joseph, upon him be peace, had endured a great slander and imprisonment for a long time.
Destiny always wills good for believers. On the way to the good or the desired result He has ordained for them, God may subject believers to the stones of Destiny because of the crimes they have committed. Such stones cause their crimes to be forgiven, if they repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers paid for the wrong they had done to Joseph by being accused of theft and having to leave their brother in egypt, despite the pledge they had given to their father. The following verse (77) shows that they still nurtured bad feelings for Joseph, thus proving that they deserved a stone from Destiny. However, in the end, everything turned to be good for them, because it caused them to see the truth, to understand why their father was more concerned for Joseph, upon him be peace, and to
submit to God’s judgment for them and their brother Joseph, upon him be peace, allowing their sin to be forgiven. They would settle in egypt, occupying high positions (5: 20), and God’s Religion would prevail there for a certain time. It was Jacob and Joseph, upon them be peace, who had to bear the greatest sufferings to that end, as they were God’s Messen- gers charged with that great, lofty mission.
- They (the other brothers) said: “If he has stolen – well, a brother of his stole before.” But Joseph (endured their false accusation in silence and) held it secret in his soul and did not disclose it to them. He said (to himself ): “You are indeed in a bad situation. God has full knowledge of (the truth of ) what you allege.”
- “O minister!” they said: “He has a father, a very old man; so take one of us in his place. We see that you are indeed of those devoted to selfless kindness.”
- He said: “God forbid that we take any other but him with whom we found our merchandise; (if we did otherwise) then surely we (too) would be wrongdo- ers.”
- So, when they lost hope of moving him, they withdrew to take counsel among themselves. The eldest of them said: “Do you not know how your father took a solemn pledge from you in God’s Name, and how, before that, you failed with regard to Joseph? Never will I depart from this land, until my father gives me leave, or God judges for me (by ending my life or enabling me to win back my brother). And He is the Best of judges.
- “Return to your father, and say: ‘Our father! Your son stole. We do not testify (to anything) except what we know; and we are not keepers of the Unseen.27
27. That is, we only judge according to what we see. We could not have known what would happen when we had promised you to protect him, and we make no claim about anything that we have not witnessed.
- ‘Inquire in the township where we were, and the caravan with whom we traveled hither. We are certainly telling the truth.’ “
- (When they had returned to their father and made that speech to him) he said: “No! Rather, your (evil-commanding) souls have tempted you to some- thing. So (the proper recourse for me now is, again), a becoming patience (a patience that endures without complaint). It may be that God will bring them back to me all together.28 He it is Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”
28. As a Messenger of God with deep insight and sagacity, the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, felt that there was a Divine mystery in all that took place, and events were advancing to a good end. When events start to worsen, this means, for the believers who follow God’s way without deviation and with pure intention, that the happy end is approaching. The final end of darkness is the dawn of light.
- He turned away from them and said: “Alas, my grief for Joseph!” And his eyes turned white because of the grief. And he was restraining (any resentment toward his other sons, never displaying it to them).29
29. What the Prophet Jacob felt deeply for his son Joseph, upon them both be peace, was fatherly affection. Affection is keen, pure, and sublime. It enables one to manifest the Divine Name of the All-compassionate. It is so comprehensive that people’s affection for their own children makes them feel some affection for all children and all living beings. They can become comprehensive mirrors in which the Divine Name the All-compassion- ate manifests Itself.
Also, affection is a sincere feeling with no ulterior motive and which seeks no return. even the lowest type of sincere affection (such as that felt by animals for their young) proves that affection does not demand any return. It directs us to the Divine Names the All-Merciful and the All-compassionate, and shows that the way of affection leads to Divine compas- sion. These two great Divine Names seem to own a light so comprehensive and splendid that it envelops the universe, satisfying everyone’s needs forever, securing them against all hostility. They can enlighten people if they understand their poverty and helplessness vis- à-vis God’s Riches and Power and, in return, thank Him for His limitless compassion and Mercy. This is the way of sincere devotion to God and humility.
The remedy for the ailments of affection is the truth expressed in the concept that, God is the Best as protector and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful (12: 64) (The Letters, “The 8th Letter,” 1: 33–34).
- They said: “By God! You will not cease mentioning Joseph until you are consumed, or you perish!”
- He said: “I only disclose my anguish and sorrow to God,30 and I know from God what you do not know.”
30. Those enduring great suffering find the remedy for it in the suffering itself. They say, “I used to seek a remedy for my suffering, and I came to know that the remedy for my suffering is my suffering itself.” Muhammad Lütfi efendi expresses his similar feelings as follows:
I used to seek a remedy for my inward suffering, until they said: “The remedy for your suffering is your suffering itself.”
Bediüzzaman Said Nursi is one of those who have written the most on this topic. While he was in exile in Barla, a village in the south-western Turkey, he felt inward, acute pain when he found himself in exile in a mountain, especially in the evenings, in autumn, and in his old age; he suffered separation from all his beloved ones.
He felt his heart groan out the following:
O Lord, I am a stranger; I am lonely and weak, Impotent, old, and ill, and I have no choices at all.
O God, I beg Your mercy, ask Your forgiveness, And I cry for help from Your Throne of Grace!
At just that point, the light of faith, the Qur’ān’s effusive grace, and the All-Gracious Be- ing’s favor, came to his aid and changed five kinds of separation into five circles of warm companionship. As he recited: God is sufficient for us; and how excellent a Guardian He is (3: 173), his heart recited: If they turn away from you, say: “God is sufficient for me; there is no deity but He. In Him have I put my trust, and He is the Lord of the Supreme Throne (as the absolute Ruler and Sustainer of the universe and all creation, Who maintains and protects it)” (9: 129).
Also his soul, weeping and wailing in its fearful sorrow, was persuaded by his intellect, which told it:
O helpless one, give up wailing and trust God,
For this wailing is an error that causes many troubles; If you have found the One Who makes you suffer, then
This suffering changes into a gift bringing peace and happiness. So thank God instead of complaining; do not think that Nightingales and roses smile because they are always happy.
But if you do not find Him, then the whole world Is a place of suffering and misfortune.
When you suffer from a world-wide responsibility, Why are you wailing over an insignificant misfortune?
come, put your trust in God and smile at the face of misfortune So that it may also smile, for as it smiles, it lessens and changes. After that, Bediüzzaman quotes from Jalālu’d-Dīn ar-Rūmī,
He asked: “Am I not (your Lord)?” And you responded: “Yes!”
How can one thank Him for that “yes”? By suffering misfortune!
What is the mystery of that “yes”?
That you say: “I am the leader of the circle of dervishes, In the lodge of poverty and perishing.”
And then, from ‘Atā‘ullāh al-Iskandarānī:
What has he found who has lost God? And what has he lost who has found God? (The Letters, “The 6th Letter,” 1: 26–27)
- He said (when once more seeing off his sons): “O my sons, go forth and seek earnestly for Joseph and his brother; and do not despair of God’s Mercy, for none ever despairs of God’s Mercy, except people who disbelieve in Him.”
- They (went back to egypt and once more) presented themselves before Jo- seph, saying: “O minister! Hardship has visited us and our family, and we have brought only merchandise of scant worth; but fill up for us the measure and be charitable to us. Surely God rewards the charitable.”
- He said: “Do you know what you did to Joseph and his brother at that time when you acted as if ignorant (of right and wrong)?”
- They said: “Is it indeed you who are Joseph?” He said: “I am Joseph, and this is my brother. God has indeed been gracious to us. Surely whoever keeps from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety, and is patient – surely God will not leave to waste the reward of those devoted to doing good as if seeing God.”
- “By God,” they responded, “God has indeed preferred you above us, and certainly we were sinful.”31
31. Based on this confession of Joseph’s brothers, Ziya Pasha, a famous Turkish poet and politician who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century, said:
A day certainly comes when the Power of God causes the wrongdoers to confess: “God has indeed preferred you above us!”
- He said: “No reproach this day shall be on you. May God forgive you; in- deed, He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.32
32. It is possible to see the manners of a Prophet in all the words and actions of Joseph, upon him be peace. His response to those who acknowledged their wrongdoing to him was to pardon them; he did not reproach them, nor did he leave them feeling guilty. This attitude, which is the manifestation of adopting the way God acts, was manifested by the Last Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, in the greatest, most perfect degree. After 21 years of persecution by the Makkan polytheists – the most stubborn unbelievers in history, who subjected him to derision, slander, boycotting, and all kinds of harsh treat- ment, attempting to kill him, compelling him to leave his homeland, waging wars on him many times, and killing many of his most beloved friends – he conquered Makkah without bloodshed. To his die-hard enemies who awaited his judgment on the day of the conquest, he said: “Today I will say to you what Joseph said to his brothers: No reproach this day shall be on you. May God forgive you; indeed He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.” Muslim conquerors usually displayed this same attitude, which they inherited from the Prophets, toward the conquered people. It was Mehmed II who displayed the most strik- ing example of this nobility when he conquered Istanbul and repeated the same words to the Byzantine people who were gathered in Haghia Sophia. He provided them with the security of life and property, and the freedom to live according to their own religion. This is the way of Islam.
The Qur’ān teaches important lessons through this narrative, which is the best of the nar- ratives concerning the past. Having been revealed in Makkah at a time when the Muslims were suffering the most at the hands of the Makkan polytheists, this sūrah, in addition to giving the Muslims the glad tidings of the final victory, informed the Makkan polytheists that the result of their brutal resistance to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, would not differ from the result of the matter between Joseph, upon him be peace, and his brothers. It reminded both sides that the Makkans would be obliged to
acknowledge their error and reassured them that there was no reason to fear the punish- ment of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, if he were to be finally victorious; his treatment would not be any different from that of the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace.
- “Go with this shirt of mine and lay it over my father’s face, and he shall re- cover his sight; and come to me with all your people.”
- At the time that the (brothers’) caravan set out, their father said (to those around him): “Surely, I sense the fragrance of Joseph, unless you would consider me a dotard.”33
33. As has been mentioned before, the miracles of the Prophets mark the final point of scientific progress. It was stated that the Prophet Jacob’s eyes had turned white, i.e. that he was suffering from cataracts. We can conclude from these last two verses that there is a substance which removes cataract-like obstacles from the eye, and that like images and sounds, scent can also be transmitted. Thus, the Qur’ān encourages humankind to find that substance and to try to transmit scent.
Said Nursi answers a possible question which may arise concerning Jacob’s perception of Joseph’s scent from far away:
The Prophet Ya‘qūb ( Jacob) was asked why he had not seen Yūsuf ( Joseph) in a nearby well in canaan, although the fragrance of his shirt reached him from egypt. He replied:
Our state, especially with regard to miracle-working, is like lightning that is sometimes vis- ible and, at other times, hidden. Sometimes it is as if we were sitting on the highest point with the whole universe spread out before us, but at other times we cannot see what lies just ahead of us (The Letters, “The 15th Letter,” 1: 72).
It is God Who creates the miracles at the hand of the Prophets. Therefore, without His leave, even Prophets cannot work miracles whenever they wish.
- “By God,” they said, “you are indeed still lost in your old error.”
- But when the bearer of the good tidings came (with Joseph’s shirt), Jacob laid it over his face and he regained his sight. (Soon the caravan of the brothers reached home.) Jacob said: “Did I not tell you that I know from God what you do not know?”34
34. It is usually the fate of great persons like Prophets that those around them are not aware of them, nor can they understand them; and thus they suffer remoteness in parallel with their physical nearness. The physical nearness, and the familiarity produced by it, is like a veil over their eyes and hearts.
- ( Jacob’s sons confessed what they had done.) They said: “O our father! Ask God to forgive us our sins; surely we have been sinful.”
- He said: “I will ask my Lord to forgive you.35 Surely He it is Who is the All- Forgiving, the All-compassionate.”
35. concerning the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and his com- munity, the Qur’ān declares: If, when they wronged themselves (by committing a sin), they but came to you and implored God to forgive them – with the Messenger praying to God for their forgiveness – they would find that God is One Who returns the repentance of His servants with acceptance and additional reward, and All-compassionate (4: 64). It also says: (O Messenger!)…. Pray for them. Indeed your prayer is a source of comfort for them. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing (9: 103). It is of great importance that a Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, prays for his community and asks God to forgive their sins.
First of all, his prayer is more acceptable to God. Secondly, his prayer for his community and asking God to forgive their sins means that he is pleased with them. God is pleased with those with whom a Prophet is pleased, and He does not reject a prayer for those with whom a Prophet is pleased. It is for this reason that Jacob’s sons asked their father to pray to God to forgive their sins. However, this does not mean that they, themselves, did not need to ask for God’s forgiveness. Rather, every believer should pray to God themselves and ask Him to forgive his or her sins. However, one’s sincere admission of one’s sins, and showing remorse for them, in addition to asking another who is regarded as being nearer to God to ask for God’s forgiveness for them, especially if that one is a Prophet, means repentance.
It is worth noting that the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, postponed asking God to forgive the sins of his sons. This might be because a Prophet does not pray and ask for God’s forgiveness for even his children without God’s leave and without being fully aware of their inner state. As mentioned before (9: 144; 11: 46), the Almighty forbade Noah and Abraham, upon them be peace, to ask for forgiveness for their nearest relatives since those relatives were unbelievers. So, in order to wait for both God’s leave and to observe his sons, the Prophet Jacob, upon him be peace, postponed asking for God’s forgiveness.
- (When Jacob’s family reached egypt,) they presented themselves before Jo- seph (who had come out to welcome them). He embraced his parents,36 and said (addressing all those who came): “enter egypt by God’s will in security (free from fear of privation or grief )!”
36. The interpreters of the Qur’ān are of the opinion that the mother mentioned in this sūrah was Joseph’s step-mother, who had brought up Joseph and Benjamin. The use here of abawayn, not wālidayn, (for the difference between these two expressions, see sūrah 9, note 24) for parents, may indicate this.
- He raised his parents on the throne and they all bowed down before Joseph (as a sign of loyalty to him). He said: “O my father! This is the meaning of my dream of long ago; my Lord has made it come true. He has indeed been gracious to me: He freed me from prison, and He brought you all from the desert after Satan had sown discord between me and my brothers. Truly, my Lord is subtly kind in the way He brings about whatever He wills. Surely, He it is Who is the
All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
- “My Lord! You have indeed granted me some important part of the rule and imparted to me some knowledge of the inner meaning of all happenings (including dreams). O You, Originator of the heavens and the earth, each with particular features! You are my Owner and Guardian in this world and in the Hereafter. Take my soul to You as a Muslim, and join me with the righteous.”37
37. The phrase, Make me die a Muslim (one wholly submitted to You), and join me with the righteous, marks the end of the story of the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace. This contains, in a vivid fashion, the following significant truth concerning human life and glad tidings:
every Prophet was sent with an important mission, conveying God’s Message, and when he had fulfilled this mission, he asked for death, since there was no further meaning in, or purpose for, living. When his dream came true, the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, thought that his mission was over. Similarly, when some jinn believed in him in Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, also thought that his mission was over and that his death was near because some among both humankind and jinn believed in him. God has a purpose for the creation of every being, and He has created humankind and jinn to worship Him. Moreover, all believers have some part in the mis- sion of the Prophets, and they must order their lives according to this vital purpose of their lives. When there is no longer anything to do for this purpose, it means that no important meaning in remaining alive is left. (The Messenger of God, 25–26, 75)
As for the glad tidings the verse contains, these can be described as follows
The pleasure received from a happy story ends in deep sorrow because of final separation or death. Or, it arouses more sorrow when we learn that the people involved encounter separation or death just after finding ease and happiness. But the verse quoted above, even if it contemplates Joseph’s death when he became egypt’s ‘Azīz (grand vizier or chancel- lor), and was then reunited with his parents and brothers (the happiest moment in his life), shows it in a different light.
It declares: “To receive a far greater happiness, Joseph, upon him be peace, asked God for death.” This means that a more attractive and pleasure-giving bliss than the greatest happi- ness of this world waits on the other side of the grave. Knowing this, Joseph, upon him be peace, asked for death, by all appearances an unpleasant thing, while he was enjoying the world’s greatest happiness.
Another benefit of such an ending is that it encourages us to strive for the other side of the grave, where we will find real happiness and pleasure. It also shows Joseph’s exalted truth- fulness, and announces that even the most joyful and brightest condition of the worldly life could not captivate him; rather, it led him to ask for death and the other life (The Letters, “The 23rd Letter,” 2: 86–87).
- That is an account of some exemplary events of the unseen (a realm and
time beyond the reach of any created being’s perception) that We reveal to you, (O Messenger). You were not with them when those agreed upon their plans, and then were scheming (against Joseph).
- Yet, be you ever so eager, most people will not believe.
- You do not ask them any wage for it (for conveying the Qur’an to them). It is but a message and reminder to all conscious beings.
- How many a sign there is in the heavens and earth that they pass by, being unmindful of the signs and giving no consideration to them.
- And most of them do not even believe in God without associating partners with Him.38
- The Qur’ān regards associating partners with God as the greatest wrongdoing (31: 13), and belief in God without associating partners with Him as a means of the ultimate salva- tion (6: 82). It is not easy to remain free from associating partners with God. It has many forms and types:
- Accepting another creator besides God, or associating helpers with Him in creation;
- Admitting any part in the creation and administration of the universe to persons, or some nominal principles called natural laws, or to nature and so-called natural forces, or to matter, or to spirit, or to something else;
- Associating partners with Him in the government of human life;
- Recognizing some powers other than He as the absolute authority to make things lawful or unlawful;
- Ascribing to Him certain attributes essential to created beings, such as begetting or being begotten;
- Believing that He takes the form of any created being (incarnation), or that any mortal can join Him and become one with Him (union);
- Ascribing to any mortal being the qualities belonging to Him exclusively, such as creating, taking the soul, having no beginning or end, self-sufficiency, absolute sover- eignty, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, etc.;
- Supposing that He may have some deficiencies, such as impotence or need;
- Supposing Him to be a spirit permeating the universe, or the universe as being His outward manifestation (Monism and Pantheism).
In short, having no true judgment of Him, and ascribing to Him attributes that are not befitting for Him, means associating partners with Him. In addition, the following false beliefs also amount to attributing partners to God:
- Worshipping other than Him;
- Regarding any beings other than Him as having the absolute power to give benefit or harm to themselves or others without His leave and enabling, and bowing before them in a way that indicates adoration or worship;
- Praying to another being or power;
- Intending to please other than He in any act of worship, or in the practice of any rule or principle of religion;
- Using religion for worldly benefits or personal purposes, such as being well-known, admired, or praised.
So, there are many people who claim faith but cannot free themselves from associating partners with God. This is a very subtle and important point that requires great care.
- Do they deem themselves secure that there will not come upon them an overwhelming punishment of God, which will envelop them thoroughly, or that the Last Hour will not come upon them all of a sudden, without their being aware (of its coming)?
- Say (to them, O Messenger): “This is my way: I call to God on clear evi- dence and with sure knowledge – I and those who follow me. All-Glorified is God (in that He is absolutely above having any partners) – and I am not one of those who associate partners with Him.”
- We did not send before you as Messengers any but men to whom We revealed, from amongst the people of the townships (where We raised them). Have they never traveled about the earth and beheld how was the outcome for those who came before them (those who persisted in associating partners with Him and in wrongdoing and transgression)? Assuredly, the abode of the Here- after is best for those who keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety. Will you not, then, reason and understand?
- So far so that when they (the earlier Messengers who all had to suffer much persecution for a long time) nearly lost hope and were convinced that they were denied, Our help came to them. And whoever We willed was saved. But Our mighty punishment cannot be averted from the guilty people committed to ac- cumulating sin.
- Indeed, in their exemplary life-stories there is a significant lesson for people of discernment. It (the Qur’an, which contains them) is not a discourse fabricat- ed, but (a Divine Book revealed as) a confirmation of (the Divine authorship of and the truths still contained by) the Revelations prior to it, and an explanation of everything, and a guidance and mercy for people who will and do believe.