This is the most detailed and fascinating story in the Quran, involving both human weaknesses such as jealousy, hatred, pride, passion, deception, intrigue, cruelty, and terror as well as noble qualities such as patience, loyalty, bravery, nobility, and compassion.
It is related that among the reasons for its revelation is that the Jews asked the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to tell them about Yusuf (pbuh) who was one of their old prophets. His story had been distorted in parts and marred in others with interpolation and exclusions. Therefore it was revealed in the Book of Allah (Quran), complete in its minute and careful details.
Allah the Almighty declared: We relate unto you (Muhammad) the best of stories through Our Revelations unto you, of this Quran. And before this (i.e. before the coming of Divine Inspiration to you), you were among those who knew nothing about it (the Quran). (12:3 Quran)
Almighty Allah also decreed: thus We relate to you (O Muhammad) some information of what happened before, And indeed We have give you from Us a Reminder (this Quran). Whoever turns away from it (this Quran–i.e. does not believe in it, nor acts on its orders), verily they will bear a heavy burden (of sins) on the Day of Resurrection. They will abide in that (state in the Fire of Hell), and evil indeed will it be that load for them on the Day of Resurrection. (20:99-101)
The story of Yusuf (pbuh) moves in a stream from beginning to end; its substance and form are equally coherent. It inspires you with a feeling for the depth of Allah’s power and supremacy and the execution of His rulings despite the challenge of human intervention. And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not. (12:21)
This is what the story of Yusuf (pbuh), confirms categorically, for it ends with comfort and marvels.
Yusuf lived all his life confronting schemes made by the people closest to him. His brothers plotted to kill him, but they amended it to exiling him. This happened to him while he was a boy. He was sold into the slave market in Egypt, where he was bought for a nominal sum. Then he fell victim to the attempted seduction by a great man’s wife who, when her wish was foiled, sent him to prison, where he remained for some time. In spite of all of this, he at length approached close to the Egyptian throne and became the king’s chief minister. He then began his call to Allah from the position of the ruling authority.
Allah’s plans were carried out, and the matter ended. This is the substance (theme) of the story. As for the form (style) in which it is presented, it is a landmark of wonder.
The story is presented in a sequence of episodes. It gives you scene after scene and the transition is inspiring, informative, and stirring to the imagination. There are also artistic loopholes, which leave it to the imagination of the reader to complete the sense, as well as the depth of the picture, the like of which no human artist can bring forth.
The story begins with a dream and ends with its interpretation. As the sun appeared over the horizon, bathing the earth in its morning glory, Yusuf (pbuh), son of the Prophet Yaqub (Jacob) (pbuh) awoke from his sleep, delighted by a pleasant dream he had had. Filled with excitement he ran to his father and related it.
“O my father! Verily, I saw (in a dream) eleven stars and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves to me.” (12:4)
His father’s face lit up. He foresaw that Yusuf would be one through whom the prophecy of his grandfather, Prophet Abraham (pbuh), would be fulfilled, in that his offspring would keep the light of Abraham’s house alive and spread Allah’s message to mankind.
Therefore, it was narrated that Allah’s Messenger Muhammad (pbuh) was asked: “Who is the most honorable amongst the people?” He replied: “The most God-fearing.” The people said: “We do not want to ask you about this.” He said: “The most honorable person is Yusuf Allah’s prophet, the son of Allah’s prophet, the son of the faithful friend of Allah (Abraham).” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
However, the father was well aware of the jealousy of Yusuf’s brothers, so he warned him against telling his dream to his brothers. “O my son! Relate not your vision to your brothers, lest they arrange a plot against you. Verily! Satan is to man an open enemy! Thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of dreams (an other things) and perfect His Favor on you and on the offspring of Yaqub, as He perfected it on your fathers, Abraham, and Isaac aforetime! Verily! your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (12:5-6)
Yusuf heeded his father’s warning. He did not tell his brothers what he had seen. It is well known that they hatred him so much that it was difficult for him to feel secure telling them what was in his heart and in his dreams.
Yusuf was eighteen years old, very handsome and robust, with a gentle temperament. He was respectful, kind and considerate. His brother Benjamin was equally pleasant. Both were from one mother, Rachel. Because of their refined qualities, the father loved the two more than his other children, and would not let them out of his sight. To protect them, he kept them busy with work in the house garden.
The scene of Yaqub and his son closes. Another opens on Yusuf’s brothers plotting against him. “Truly, Yusuf and his brother (Benjamin) are loved more by our father than we, but we are Usbah (a strong group). Really our father is in a plain error. Kill Yusuf or cast him out to some other land, so that the favor of your father may be give to you alone, and after that you will be righteous folk (by intending repentance before committing the sin).”
One from among them said: “Kill not Yusuf, but if you must do something, throw him down to the bottom of a well, he will be picked up by some caravan of travelers.”>> (12:8-10)
The pages of the Old Testament say that Yusuf told them his dream, whereas the Quran does not say that happened. Had it been so, the brothers would have said so themselves. The Old Testament claims they had lost their own rights by him, and so they would kill him. Indeed Yusuf kept his father’s order and did not tell his brothers about his vision.
In spite of this, his brothers sat down to conspire against him. One of them asked: “Why does our father love Yusuf more than us?”
Another answered: “Perhaps because of his beauty.”
A third said: “Yusuf and his brother occupied our father’s heart.”
The first complained: “Our father has gone all astray.”
One of them suggested a solution to the matter; kill Yusuf.
“Where should we kill him?”
“We should banish him away from these grounds.”
“We will send him to a distant land.”
“Why should we not kill him and have rest so that the favor of your father may be give to you alone?”
However, Judah (Yahudh), the eldest and most intelligent among them, said: “There is no need to kill him when all you want is to get rid of him. Look here, let us throw him into a well and he will be picked up by a passing caravan. T hey will take him with them to a distant land. He will disappear from your father’s sight and our purpose will be served with his exile. Then after that we shall repent for our crime and become good people once again.”
The discussion continued on the idea of dropping Yusuf into a well, as it was seen as the safest solution. The plan to kill him was defeated; kidnap into a distant land was approved. It was the cleverest of ideas.
Their next movement opened the scene between them and their father Yaqub (pbuh): They said: “O our father! Why do you not trust us with Yusuf, when we are indeed his well wishers? Send him with us tomorrow to enjoy himself and play, and verily we will take care of him.”
He (Yaqub) said: “Truly, it saddens me that you should take him away. I fear lest a wolf should devour him, while you are careless of him.”
They said: “If a wolf devours him, while we are Usbah (a strong group) (to guard him), then surely we are the losers.”>> (12:11-14)
Yaqub suggested a point, which had not occurred to them in their discussion: he feared that desert wolves would eat him! ithe wolves within them, or did he mean the wild wolves? No one but Allah knows. They coaxed their father to send Yusuf with them; he agreed under their pressure.
They were excited that they could now get rid of Yusuf for after this they could stand a better chance of receiving their father’s affection. On leaving home, they went directly to the well, as they had planned, on the pretext of drinking water. One of them put his arms around Yusuf and held him tightly. Startled by this unusual behavior, Yusuf struggled to free himself. More brothers rushed to hold him. One of them removed his shirt. Some more joined in to lift Yusuf up and cast him into the deep well. Yusuf’s piteous pleas made no difference to their cruel hearts.
Then Allah revealed to Yusuf that he was safe and should not fear, for he would meet them again some day to remind them of what they had done.
There was water in the well, which buoyed Yusuf’s body, so he was not harmed. He sat lonely in the water, then clung to a rock ledge overheard and climbed on top of it. his brothers left him in this desolate place.
Then they killed a sheep and soaked Yusuf’s shirt in its blood. One brother said that they should swear to keep their deed a close secret. All of them took the oath. And they came to their father in the early part of the night weeping. (12:16)
The scene here is dark night, broken by the crying of ten men. The father is sitting in his house when the sons enter, the darkness of night covering the darkness of their hearts and the darkness of their lies struggling to come out. Yaqub wondered aloud: “Why this weeping? Has anything happened to our flock?” They answered crying: “O our father! We went racing with one another, and left Yusuf by our belongings and a wolf devoured him; but you will never believe us even when we speak the truth. (12:17)
“We were surprised after returning from the race that Yusuf was in the belly of the wolf.”
“We did not see him!”
“You will not believe us even though we are truthful! we are telling you what happened!”
“The wolf has eaten Yusuf!”
“This is Yusuf’s shirt. We foiled it soiled with blood, and did not find Yusuf!”
They brought his shirt stained with false blood. (12:18)
Deep down in the heart Yaqub knew that his beloved son was still alive and that his other sons were lying. He held the blood stained in his hands, spread it out and remarked: “What a merciful wolf! he ate up my beloved son without tearing his shirt!” Their faces turned red when he demanded more information, but each swore by Allah that he was telling the truth. The brokenhearted father burst into tears: “Nay! But your ownselves have made up a tale. So for me patience is more fitting. It is Allah Alone whose Help can be sought against that which you assert.” (12:18)
The father acted wisely by praying for mighty patience, which is free of doubt, and by trusting in Allah for help against what they had plotted against him and his son. This scene dims, and the scene opens in the well with which Yusuf had been thrown.
In the dark well Yusuf managed to find a stone ledge to hold onto. Around him was total darkness and an eerie silence. Fearful thoughts entered his mind: what would happen to him? Where would he find food? Why had his own brothers turned against him? Would his father know of his plight? His father’s smile flashed before him recalling the love and affection he had always shown him. Yusuf began to pray earnestly, pleading to Allah for salvation. Gradually his fear began to subside. His Creator was testing the young man with a great misfortune in order to infuse in him a spirit of patience and courage. Yusuf, surrended himself to the will of his Lord.
The next scene shows the wide desert. At the horizon is a long line of camels, horses, and men; a caravan on its way to Egypt. The caravan of merchants halted at this famous well for water. A man lowered in his bucket. Yusuf was startled by the bucket hurtling down and grabbed hold of it before it could land in the water. As the man began to haul he felt the load unusually heavy, so he peeped into the well. What he saw shocked him; a man was clinging to the rope! He held the rope tightly and shouted to his friends: “Better give me a hand fellows! Looks like I found real treasure in the well!”
His companions rushed to the well and helped him to pull out the stranger holding onto the rope. Standing before them was a healthy, handsome youth, beaming with an angelic smile. They saw in him a handsome prize, for money was all that mattered to them. Immediately, they clapped iron shackles on his feet and took him along to Egypt, far away from his beloved homeland of Canaan.
All over the Egyptian city the news spread that an unusually handsome, robust young slave was on sale. People gathered by the hundreds at the slave market. some were spectators, others were bidders the elite and the rich, each one craning his neck to view the handsome specimen. the auctioneer had a field day as the bidding went wild, each buyer trying to outbid the other. Eventually, the Aziz, the chief minister of Egypt, outbid all the others and took Yusuf to his mansion.
The Quran describes this scene as follows: And there came a caravan of travelers; they sent their water drawer, and he let down his bucket into the well. He said: “What a good news! Here is a boy.” So they hid him as merchandise (a slave). And Allah was the All Knower of what they did.
They sold him for a low price, for a few Dhirhams (for a few silver coins). They were of those who regarded him insignificant.
he (the man) from Egypt who bought him said to his wife: “Make his stay comfortable, may be he will profit us or we shall adopt him as a son.” Thus did We establish Yusuf in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of events. (12:19-21)
See how Allah the Almighty reveals the substance of this long story from its beginning: And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not. (12:21)
The chains of slavery have closed on Yusuf. He was cast into the well, deprived of his father, picked from the well, made a slave, sold at the market, and made the property of this man, the Aziz, the chief minister. The hazards followed in quick succession, leaving Yusuf helpless.
What we see as hazards and slander is the first step of the ladder on Yusuf’s way to greatness. Allah is decisive in His action. His plan is carried out despite the plans of others and while theirs are still being made. So He spoils their plan, and Allah’s promise is realized. Allah has promise Yusuf prophethood. Love for Yusuf was thrust into the heart of the man who bought him, and he was a man of no mean position. He was an important personage, one of the ruling class of Egypt.
Therefore, Yusuf was pleasantly surprised when the chief minister of Egypt ordered his men to remove the heavy shackles from his swollen feet. He was also surprised when he told Yusuf not to betray his trust; he would not be ill-treated if he behaved himself. Yusuf smiled at his benefactor, thanked him, and promised to be loyal.
Yusuf felt at ease, for at last he was sheltered and would be well cared for. He thanked Allah over and over and wondered at the mysterious of life. Not so long ago he had been cast into a deep, dark well with no hope of ever coming out alive. Next he was rescued, then enslaved in iron shackles, and now he was moving freely in a luxurious mansion with enough food to enjoy. However, his heart ached with longing for his parents and brother Benjamin, and he shed tears daily.
Yusuf was made the personal attendant of the chief minister’s wife. He was obedient and ever-obliging. With his pleasant manners and charming behavior, he won everybody’s heart.
Yusuf’s handsomeness became the talk of the town. People referred to him as the most attractive man they had ever seen and wrote poetry about him. His face carried immaculate beauty. The purity of his inner soul and his heart showed in his face, increasing his beauty. People from afar came to the city to have a glimpse of him. The prettiest of maidens and the richest of ladiesnursthe to possess him, but not once did he show haughtiness or conceit. he was always humble and polite.
The days passed and Yusuf grew. Almighty Allah said: And when he (Yusuf) attained his full manhood, We gave him wisdom and knowledge (the Prophethood), thus We reward the doers of good. (12:22)
He was given wisdom in affairs and knowledge of life and its conditions. He as given the art of conversation, captivating those who heard him. He was given nobility and self restraint, which made him an irresistible personality. His master soon knew that Allah had graced him with Yusuf. He understood that Yusuf was the most honest, straightforward and noble person he had met in his life. Therefore, he put Yusuf in charge of his household, honored him, and treated him as a son.
The wife of the chief minister, Zulaikha, watched Yusuf from day to day. She at with him, talked with him, listened to him, and her wonder increased over the passion of time.
Yusuf was soon confronted (with his second trial). The chief minister’s wife, Zulaikha could not resist the handsome Yusuf, and her obsession with him caused her sleepless nights. She fell in love with him, and it was painful for her to be so close to a man, yet be unable to hold him. Yet, she was not a wayward woman, for in her position she could get any man she desired. By all accounts, she must have been a very pretty and intelligent lady, or why would the chief minister have chosen her of all the pretty women in the kingdom? Although she bore him no child, he would not take another wife, as he loved her passionately.
The Quran raises the curtain on the scene of this fierce and devouring love on the part of the lady. Allah the Almighty told us: And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him (to do an evil act), she closed the doors and said: “come on, O you.” He said: “I seek refuge in Allah (or Allah forbid)! Truly he (your husband) is my master! He made my stay agreeable! (So I will never betray him). Verily, the Zalimun (wrong, evildoers) will never be successful.” Indeed she did desire him and he would have inclined to her desire had he not seen the evidence of his Lord. Thus it was, that We might turn away from evil and illegal sexual intercourse. Surely, he was one of Our chosen, guided slaves. (12:23-24)
Commentators are unanimous about her intention of disobedience but disagree about his own intention. There are those who say that she tempted him and he tempted her to sin, although he did not follow through with his intent. Others say that she merely wanted him to kiss her, and he attempted to strike her. Yet others say that this anxiety had been there before this incident. There was a psychological disturbance in Yusuf when he reached adolescence, which Almighty Allah rid him of.
The safest commentary for us is that there is temptation and resistance in the verse, for He Most High stated: And indeed she did desire him and he would have inclined to her desire… (12:24)
Abu Ubaidah said that this is a temptation and resistance meaning that she had tried to seduce him; had he not seen the proof of Allah, he would have been seduced. This is in keeping with the infallibility of prophets, as it suits the words, which immediately follow: Thus it was that We might turn away from him evil and illegal sexual intercourse. surely, he was one of Our chosen, guided slaves. (12:24)
This verse proves that Yusuf was an upright worshipper of Allah; it also testifies to his rescue from the authority of Satan. The Almighty said to the devil (Iblis) on the Day of Creation, “Certainly, you shall no authority over My slaves, except those who follow you of the Ghawin (Mushrikeen, and those who go astray, criminals, polytheists, and evildoers, etc)” (15:42)
Yusuf’s refusal only heightened her passion. As he moved to the door to escape, she ran after him and caught hold of his shirt, like a drowning person clinging to the boat. In her tugging she tore his shirt and held the torn piece in her hand. They reached the door together. It opened suddenly, there stood her husband and a relative of hers.
Almighty Allah said: So they raced with one another to the door, and she tore his shirt from the back. They both found her lord (her husband) at the door. (12:25)
As he opened the door, he saw her husband standing in front of him. The sly woman immediately changed her tone to anger, and, showing the torn piece of the shirt in her hand, asked her husband: “What is the recompense (punishment) for him who intended an evil design against your wife, except that he be put in prison or a painful torment?” (12:25)
She was now accusing Yusuf of molesting her, to give the impression that she was innocent and a victim of Yusuf’s sexual desire. Though bewildered Yusuf denied it: “it was she that sought to seduce me.” (12:26)
The shirt was passed from hand to hand, while she watched. The witness (her cousin) looked at it and found that it was torn at the back. The evidence showed that she was guilty. The disappointed husband remarked to his wife: “Surely, it is a plot of you women! Certainly mighty is you plot!” (12:28)
The wise and just Aziz apologized to Yusuf for his wife’s indecency. He also instructed her to beg Yusuf’s forgiveness for accusing him falsely. Allah the Almighty narrated this incident thus: He (Yusuf) said: “It was she that sought to seduce me,” and a witness of her household bore witness saying: “If it be that his shirt is torn from the front, then her tale is true, and he is a liar! but if it be that his shirt is torn from the back, then she has told a lie and he is speaking the truth!”
So when he (the husband) saw his (Yusuf’s) shirt was torn at the back; (her husband) said: “Surely, it is a plot of you women! certainly mighty is your plot! O Yusuf! turn away from this! (O woman)! Ask forgiveness for your sin. Verily, you were of the sinful.”(Ch 12:26-29 Quran).
An incident like this cannot remain a secret in a house filled with servants, and the story spread. Women began to see her behavior as scandalous. They remarked: “The wife of Al-Aziz is seeking to seduce her (slave) young man, indeed she loves him violently; verily, we see her in plain error.” (12:30)
Naturally their gossip distressed Zulaikha. She honestly believed that it was not easy for any women to resist a man as handsome as Yusuf. To prove her helplessness, she planned to subject the women to the same temptation she faced. She invited them to a lavish banquet. No one so invited would want to miss the honor of dining with the chief minister’s wife; besides, they secretly harbored the desire to meet the handsome Yusuf face to face. Some of her close friends jokingly said they would come only if she introduced them to Yusuf.
The invitation was restricted to ladies. The banquet began, laughter and mirth abounded. Etiquette dictated that the ladies not mention the topic of Yusuf. They were shocked, therefore, when Zulaikha opened the topic. “I have heard of those who say I have fallen in love with the young Hebrew man, Yusuf.” Silence fell upon the banquet. At once all the guests hands stopped, and all eyes fell on the chief minister’s wife. She said, while giving orders for the fruit to be served: “I admit that he is charming fellow. I do not deny that I love him. I have loved him for a long time.”
The confession of the chief minister’s wife removed the tension among the ladies. After finishing their dinner, the guests began cutting their fruit. At that very moment she summoned Yusuf to make his appearance. He entered the hall gracefully, his gaze lowered. Zulaikha called him by his name and he raised his head. The guests were astonished and dumbfounded. His face was shining and full of mand angelic beauty. It reflected complete innocence, so much so that one could feel the peace of mind in the depth of his soul.
They exclaimed in astonishment while continuing to cut the fruit. All their eyes were on Yusuf. So it was that the women began to cut their palms absent mindly without feeling that they had cut them.
The presence of Yusuf at the scene of drama was so effective that blflowed without their feeling pain. One of the ladies gasped: “Good gracious!” Another whispered: “This is not a mortal being!” Another stammered, patting her hair: “This is but a noble angel.”
Then the chief minister’s wife stood up and announced: “This is the one for whom I have been blamed. I do not deny that I tempted him. You have been enchanted by Yusuf, and see what has happened to your hands. I have tempted him, and if he does not do what I want of him he shall be imprisoned.”
Almighty Allah related the scene of the banquet in His words: So when she heard of their accusation, she sent for them and prepared a banquet for them; she gave each one of them a knife (to cut the foodstuff with), and she said (to Yusuf): “Come out before them.” Then, when they saw him, they exalted him (at his beauty) and (in their astonishment) cut their hands. They said: “how perfect is Allah (or Allah forbid)! No man is this! This is none other than a noble angel!”
She said: “This is he (the young man) about whom you did blame me (for his love) and I did seek to seduce him, but he refused. And now if he refuses to obey my order, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and will be one of those who are disgraced.”
He said: “O my Lord! Prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one of those who commit sin and deserve blame or those who do deeds of the ignorants.”
So his Lord answered his inovocation and turned away from him their plot. Verily he is the All Hearer, the All Knower. (12:31-34)
That evening, Zulaikha convinced her husband that the only way to save her honor was to put Yusuf in prison; otherwise she would not be able to control herself or to safeguard his prestige. The chief minister knew Yusuf was absolutely innocent, that he was a young man of honor, a loyal servant, and he loved him for these reasons. It was not an easy decision for him to put an innocent man behind bars. However, he was left with no choice. He reasoned that Yusuf’s honor would also be safeguarded if he was kept out of Zulaikha’s sight. That night, with a heavy heart, the chief minister sent Yusuf to prison.