INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS THE SCHOOL OF YUSUF?
" ... And he languished in prison for a number of years more." (Surah Yusuf, 42) According to an exegesis of this verse, Joseph (Peace be upon him) is the patron of prisoners, and prison is a sort of School of Joseph. (Madrasa-i Yusufiya)1
This interpretation was offered by one of the greatest Islamic scholars of the 20th century, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, who devoted much of his life to the teaching of the morality of the Qur’an, and because of that earned the animosity of certain circles. Ultimately, he spent 30 years of his life in prison and exile.
The reason for Bediuzzaman referring to prison as “the school of Yusuf” and our using this phrase as the title of this book is the following for certain sincere Muslims, who call the people to serve Allah alone, and to be of good character, prisons are places they are confined to from time to time, without any wrongdoing on their part. These places of confinement become for them classrooms (madrasah) by which they learn self-discipline.
The reason for these schools to be referred to as the School of Yusuf, is that, as the Qur’an reveals, Yusuf (as), known for his faith and good character, spent many years of his life in them, despite his innocence. Yusuf (as) was chastised for teaching Allah’s religion. Throughout the period of his confinement, he remained aware that everything that had happened to him was for some ultimate good. Despite this adversity, he continued to teach Islam to fellow prisoners, telling them of the existence of Allah and proper morality. For not having complained at any time during his term, he is a role model for all Muslims.
In addition to Yusuf (as), Imam A‘zam, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and more recently Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan and Mehmet Efendi of Gonen, known to be devout Muslims, all who strove to propagate the morality of the Qur’an, were similarly chastised by those who deny Allah and His religion, failing to appreciate the sincerity of these Muslims.
These courageous men were vilified, wrongly accused through fabricated evidence, and punished with imprisonment. These Islamic leaders, like Yusuf (as) before them, knew hardship to be an opportunity to earn rewards in the Hereafter, and therefore faced them in submission. They regarded the difficulties of prison life as a form of education, as well as an opportunity to retreat. In other words, they recognized themselves to be in the School of Yusuf, rather than prison.
Bediuzzaman spent a great part of his life in the School of Yusuf, and this book therefore contains many excerpts from his published reflections. He states, in his “Fruits of Belief,” written while in the Denizli prison, that he regarded prison as the School of Yusuf. He wrote:
"… [A]lthough I could never stand the slightest insult or to be dominated, I swear that the light and strength of belief in the Hereafter afforded me the patience, endurance, solace, and steadfastness; indeed, it filled me with enthusiasm to gain greater reward in the profitable, instructive exertions of this ordeal, for as I said at the beginning of this treatise, I knew myself to be in a good madrasah or school worthy of the title of “Madrasa-i Yusufiya"2
Sincere believers have been consistently assailed by those who deny the true religion, merely for seeking to live by the morality of the Qur’an, and striving to teach others to do the same. Throughout history, among the methods applied to weaken the believers has been slander, according to fabricated evidence, and false witnesses, in order to make them appear guilty in the eyes of the people and the law, and thus to have them imprisoned.
Believers, who are punished with imprisonment, as a result of such actions, are considered by others, who are deficient in their understanding, to be confined. In reality, however, they have an opportunity to concentrate on their spiritual development, to deepen their insight. Ultimately, it is a chance to come closer to Allah. They can also gain strengths in many further aspects, as one spending time to meditate at a retreat, as did the Companions of the Cave, over the passage of so many years. Therefore, those who seek to harm Muslims, and to inhibit their efforts in the service of the faith, in reality, only end up helping the Muslims in the earning of a great reward.
1 Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Books, The Rays 11, The Fruits of Belief
2 The Rays 11, The Fruits of Belief, A Summary of the Eighth Topic