The Life Of Yusuf (as)
Messengers are noble individuals, who seek Allah in word and deed, every one of them being a model of sincerity, honesty, determination, faith, patience and devotion. Yusuf (as) was one such prophet. In the superior conduct he exhibited in the face of adversity and hardship throughout his life are many lessons for believers.
The Snare Set For Yusuf (as) By The “Alliance Of Evil”
The 12th Surah of the Qur’an is Surah Yusuf, which relates Yusuf’s (as) life, from his childhood onwards. Yusuf (as) had to endure many difficulties, even as a child, through which his patience and faith in Allah was exemplary. The Surah begins with a dream had by Yusuf (as):
When Yusuf told his father, “Father! I saw eleven bright stars, and the sun and moon as well. I saw them all prostrate in front of me.” (Surah Yusuf, 4)
Yusuf’s (as) father, Ya‘qub (as), interpreted his son’s dream, and said:
Accordingly your Lord will pick you out and teach you the true meaning of events and perfectly fulfill His blessing on you as well as on the family of Ya‘qub as He fulfilled it perfectly before upon your forebears, Ibrahim and Ishaq. Most certainly your Lord is Knowing, Wise. (Surah Yusuf, 6)
The Qur’an reveals that his brothers felt a certain animosity towards him. They were envious of him because of his good character, sincerity and faith. Ya‘qub (as) was aware of this, and he warned Yusuf (as) against his brothers in the following way:
He said, “My son, don’t tell your brothers your dream lest they devise some scheme to injure you, Satan is a clear-cut enemy to man.” (Surah Yusuf, 5)
Because of their intense jealousy, Yusuf’s (as) brothers decided to kill him. Out of their attempts to fulfill their plan, there is much to be learned. They regarded themselves as accomplices in the same aim, in other words, formed an alliance. They then carefully considered the details of their plot against Yusuf (as), and proceeded to carry it out. The Qur’an reveals the discussion held amongst them:
In Yusuf and his brothers there are Signs for every one of those who wants to ask. When they declared, “Why! Yusuf and his brother are dearer to our father than we are although we constitute a powerful group. Our father is clearly making a mistake. Kill Yusuf or expel him to some land so that your father will look to you alone and then you can be people who do right.” One of them said, “Do not take Yusuf’s life but throw him to the bottom of the well, so that some travelers may discover him, if this is something that you have to do.” (Surah Yusuf, 7-10)
As stated at the beginning of the verse, there are lessons to be learned from the experience of Yusuf (as) and his brothers. Therefore, when reading these verses, Muslims must learn from them, understand their wisdom, and apply it to their own lives. For instance, Yusuf’s (as) brothers were envious of Ya‘qub’s (as) love for him, to such an extent that they contemplated murdering him. The Prophet Muhammad (saas) also warned believers against envy: Abu Hurairah said that Rasulullah (saas) said: "Beware of envy, for envy devours good (deeds) like fire devours firewood.” (Abu Dawud) It is surprising that Yusuf’s (as) brothers would have formed an “alliance of evil,” and joined forces against a devout believer. The purpose of their conspiracy was to separate Yusuf (as) and Ya‘qub from each other, to then kill Yusuf (as), who they knew to be blessed with superior qualities.
Throughout history, unbelievers have joined forces and cooperated against sincere believers. In every age, the evil formed alliances with the aim of harming the good, to inhibit their efforts, and to exile or even kill them. Allah, on the other hand, in every instance, brought their conspiracies to naught and destroyed their alliances. One such example is in Ya‘qub’s (as) warning and support for Yusuf (as) against the evil conspiracy of his sons.
The False Evidence Fabricated By The Alliance Of Evil
In that which followed these verses, it is revealed that Yusuf’s (as) brothers decided to, as part of their plan, to throw him down into a well, after first, though with some difficulty, obtaining their father’s permission to take Yusuf (as) out to play. Just as they are about to throw Yusuf (as) into the well, Allah sends him the following revelation:
But when, in fact, they did go out with him and gathered all together and agreed to put him at the bottom of the well, We then revealed to him that: “You will inform them of this deed they perpetrate at a time when they are totally unaware.” (Surah Yusuf, 15)
Yusuf’s (as) brothers return home following their misdeed, and give their father the following excuse as to what happened:
[Yusuf’s brothers say], “Father, we went out to run a race and left Yusuf together with our things and then a wolf appeared and ate him up but you are never going to believe us now, not even though we really tell the truth.” They then produced his shirt with false blood on it. He said, “It is merely that your lower selves have suggested something to you which you did; but beauty lies in showing steadfastness. It is Allah alone Who is my Help in face of the event that you describe.” (Surah Yusuf, 17-18)
Allah indicates, in these verses, that Yusuf’s (as) brothers had thought out every detail, and even fabricated false evidence in order to convince their father that they have done no wrong. Hypocrites and unbelievers do not refrain from false accusations and fabricating evidence when they plot against Muslims. And, Yusuf’s (as) brothers had aimed to convince their father of their honesty, but as Ya‘qub’s (as) response suggests, believers will usually suspect the plotting unbelievers, not being duped by their fabricated evidence. It is only other unbelievers who believe the lies of the unbelievers.
Entering the School of Yusuf
After Yusuf (as) had been placed in the well, some travelers found him, and sold him to an Egyptian governer for a small amount of money. Thus, Allah placed Yusuf (as) in Egypt and taught him “the true meaning of events.” And, when he grew up, he was given knowledge and right judgment. (Surah Yusuf, 21-22)
The events that lead to Yusuf’s (as) imprisonment begin with the governer’s wife seeking to seduce him (as). Yusuf (as) responded to her advances in the following way:
The woman whose house it was solicited him. She barred the doors and said, “Come over here!” He said, “Allah is my refuge! He is My lord and has been good to me with where I live. Those who do wrong will surely not succeed.” (Surah Yusuf, 23)
After speaking these words, Yusuf (as) heads for the door, but the woman persists, and the back of his shirt is torn by her in the doorway. Just then, however, her husband arrives. Without the slightest hesitation, she says: “How should a man whose intention was to harm your family be punished for what he did except with prison or painful punishment?” (Surah Yusuf, 25). Thus she slandered Yusuf (as), and sought to have him imprisoned by inciting those around her against him. In response to this allegation, Yusuf (as) expressed his innocence and said:
He said: “It was she who tried to seduce me.” (Surah Yusuf, 26)
Then, a woman close to the governer’s wife suggested the following:
… A witness from her people then declared, “If his shirt is torn in front, she speaks the truth and he has clearly told a shameless lie. If his shirt is torn at the back, then she has lied and he has clearly told the simple truth.” (Surah Yusuf, 26-27)
Yusuf’s (as) innocence was evident, and the woman’s husband, now recognizing what had actually happened, said:
He saw the shirt torn at the back and said, “The source of this is women’s deviousness. Without a doubt your guile is very great. Yusuf, ignore all this, and you, my wife, should ask forgiveness for your evil act. There is no doubt that you are in the wrong.” (Surah Yusuf, 28-29)
As these verses reveal, Yusuf’s (as) innocence was well confirmed, and even the other women of the city knew of it, and yet, Yusuf (as) was imprisoned for his chastity, and for not acquiescing to their lifestyle. The governer’s wife herself attests to this. Almost the entire city is aware of Yusuf’s (as) innocence and wrongful imprisonment:
She said, “You see! It’s him you blamed me for. I tried seducing him but he refused. If he does not do what I order him, he will be put in prison and humiliated.” (Surah Yusuf, 32)
Another verse announces the following:
Then, after they had seen the Signs, they thought that they should nevertheless imprison him for a time. (Surah Yusuf, 35)
The verses reveal that all knew of Yusuf’s (as) innocence, but that they decided to imprison him nonetheless. The reason for their punishing Yusuf (as) so was in reality because of his faith in and devotion to Allah. Just as Yusuf (as) suffered from his brothers’ envy and enmity for his faith and morality, he earned the hostility of these for the very same reasons. Yusuf’s (as) exemplary conduct, faith in Allah, and determination, in the face of these unjust accusations, slander and then punishment, is revealed in the Qur’an as follows:
He said, “My Lord, the prison is preferable to me than what they call on me to do. Unless You turn their guile away from me, it may well be that I will fall for them and so become a man of ignorance.” His Lord replied to him and turned away from him their female guile and deviousness. He is the One Who Hears, the One Who Knows. (Surah Yusuf, 33-34)
Throughout history, believers, who were imprisoned as a consequence of slander, or suffered some other hardship, demonstrated that they would never compromise their morality, thus following the example set by Yusuf (as). Sincere believers submitted to their prison sentences, otherwise considered by the unbelievers as suffering and punishment. All the hardship they encountered in their efforts to earn Allah’s good pleasure served only to increase their determination.
Yusuf’s (as) Days In Prison
Throughout his stay in prison, Yusuf (as) demonstrated his superior character through his patience, submission to Allah, determination and insight. He told the other inmates about the existence of Allah and His unity, and warned them against worshipping others besides Him. He also used his gift for interpreting dreams to explain to his fellow inmate the meaning of his dream, but only after first reminding them of Allah.
Yusuf’s (as) release from prison came under unusual circumstances. News of his wisdom and trustworthiness reached the ears of the ruler through a friend of his, released from the prison some time before. When those who had slandered him admitted to their guilt, his innocence was established, and he was granted the treasury to administer. The verses reveal these events as follows:
The King said, “Bring him to me straight away! So I may draw him very close to me.” When he had spoken with him, he declared, “Today you are trusted, established in our sight.” He said, “Entrust the country's stores to me. In truth I am a knowing guardian.” And thus We established Yusuf in the land so he could live in any place he pleased. We grant Our grace to anyone We will and We do not allow to go to waste the wage of any people who do good. But the wages of the Hereafter are the best for people who believe and fear their Lord. (Surah Yusuf, 54-57)
As these verses demonstrate, Allah rewards believers with a good life, following the hardship, sufferings, and cruelty inflicted on them at the hands of the unbelievers. This good can take the form of authority or wealth here on Earth, as well as the gift of Paradise in the Hereafter. Yusuf (as) found a reward following the hardship he experienced, here on Earth, as he will in the Hereafter. Allah says:
As for those who make Allah their friend, and His Messenger and those who believe: it is the party of Allah who are victorious! (Surat al-Ma’ida, 56)
Allah has written, “I will be victorious, I and and My Messengers.”Allah is Most Strong, Almighty. (Surat al-Mujadala, 21)
Yusuf’s (as) life is an example proving that Allah’s promise is always true. Yusuf (as) encountered first hardship and suffering, and then betrayal and slander. However, he underwent a process of spiritual education in prison, being a kind of school. In the end, Allah’s promise was realized, when he was cleared of all wrongdoing, established in the land, and strengthened with knowledge and riches.