Yusuf's Time As Governor In Egypt (as)
Prophet Yusuf (as) Is Given Power And Influence
After the ruler had learned the truth a new period began for Prophet Yusuf (as). The ruler told his men to bring Yusuf (as) to him, and when he arrived he gave him an important position at his side, making him a trusted advisor. This is related as follows in the Qur'an:
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 [Yusuf] 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)
According to ancient Egyptian sources, rulers would give the people they appointed to run the treasury a ring such as this. Prophet Yusuf (as) was very probably given a ring like this as a symbol of his power and rank.
To recall, Prophet Yusuf (as) had gone to Egypt as a slave, after which he had been thrown into a dungeon on the ugly and baseless charge of lusting after a woman. However, Allah brought about a change that would have appeared "impossible" on the surface, making Prophet Yusuf (as) a man whose word counted in the Egyptian government. Bringing to pass that which on the face of it might seem quite impossible, belongs to the realm of Allah's wisdom and vastness. As we are informed in the Qur'an: "How many a small force has triumphed over a much greater one by Allah's permission!" (Surat al-Baqara: 249)
As a miracle of faith for believers, Allah rescues them from situations that appear very difficult or impossible and opposes those who deny Him. The only duty falling to a believer is never to abandon his belief in Allah's promise and always to submit to the will of Allah and to trust in Him.
For people who live their lives far removed from religion, the highest points to which they can aspire is to possess strength and power in this world, to own goods and wealth and to influence how the latter is spent. This is the aim for which they struggle and to which they devote their lives. As we have seen, however, Allah freed Prophet Yusuf (as) from the dungeon and endowed him with all these blessings at once. That is where the wisdom lies in Allah's recalling the hereafter at the end of the verse, right after He has given Prophet Yusuf (as) power, influence and property.
The ancient Egyptian pictures above depict the seven years of plenty before the famine.
He said, "Sow for seven years in the normal way and leave that which you harvest in the ear except for a small amount from which you eat. Then after that seven hard years will arrive in which you can eat from what you set aside for them, except for a little which you store. Then after that another year will come in which the people will be helped by rain in plenty and when they once more will press." (Surah Yusuf: 47-49)
A wall relief depicting the starving people of Egypt.The ancient Egyptian inscriptions from 1700-1550 BC describe in great detail the seven years of famine during the time of Prophet Yusuf (as).
Images of agricultural land before and during the famine from a film about the life of Prophet Yusuf (as).
A relief and a painting showing the Egyptian government storing away part of the harvests from the years of plenty and the distribution of provisions during the time of famine.
We are thus reminded that the possessions and rank conferred in this world are of no importance, and that what we need to set our sights on is the hereafter. However, in the final sentence of the verse, as we are reminded of this matter and informed that the recompense to be given in the hereafter will be most beneficial, we are also told that this applies to believers and the God fearing. It is therefore out of the question for those who lack these characteristics to hope for a pleasant recompense in the afterlife. In this way, Allah turns people's gaze in the direction of the hereafter.
People are shown another very important fact in the life story of Prophet Yusuf (as). Allah reveals this in the Qur'an:
"For truly with hardship comes ease; truly with hardship comes ease." (Surat al-Inshirah: 5-6)
As we are informed in this sura, Allah promises believers that in the wake of every trial He has provided ease.
The life of Prophet Yusuf (as) is full of such examples. The way he was rescued from the well and brought up in a good family, and the way he was appointed to the Treasury from the dungeon are all clear evidence of how Allah follows every trouble and difficulty with comfort and relief.
Historical paintings bringing to life the seven hard years of famine.
Prophet Yusuf (as) And His Brothers Meet Again
As we have seen, Prophet Yusuf (as) became responsible for the Egyptian Treasury. A short while later, those brothers who had thrown him into the well came to Egypt for reasons of trade and were brought into his presence, but they failed to recognise him. He, on the other hand, immediately recognised them and prepared a very subtle plan. He offered them certain provisions and assured them of his generous hospitality, thus calculating that he would be able to influence them into doing what he wanted. That his true aim was actually to recover his younger brother can be seen from the following verses:
The brothers of Yusuf came into his presence and he knew them but they did not know him. Then, having supplied their needs, he said to them, "Bring me your brother, your father's youngest son. Do you not see that I dispense full measure and am the most hospitable of hosts? But if you do not bring him here to me, your measure from me then will be denied and you will not come near to me at all." (Surah Yusuf: 58-60)
Thanks to Prophet Yusuf's foresightful management, provisions were distributed in exchange for capital during the years of famine. People poured into Egypt to engage in trade. The painting above and the ancient Egyptian images to the right depict that trade.
It can be seen from this that Prophet Yusuf (as) encouraged them in their desires by making it clear that he was a just man. This went perfectly according to plan. Furthermore, he made it clear that unless they brought their brother to him they would not gain what they had come for and neither would they be granted another audience. In this way he aroused in them the worrying prospect of possible difficulties.
In fact, the effect of Prophet Yusuf's words (as) on his brothers was seen immediately. Given his power and magnificence they were convinced that his were not empty words and decided to do everything in their power to bring their brother:
Years later, the brothers who had thrown Prophet Yusuf (as) into the well came into his presence again to take provisions. This painting depicts that moment.
They said, "We will request our father for him. That is something we will surely do." (Surah Yusuf: 61)
The strategy adopted here by Prophet Yusuf (as) was most ingenious. Had he not offered them a material advantage in this way, had he not imposed a number of conditions, they might have acted reluctantly and they would not have produced their brother. Therefore, Yusuf (as) did not leave matters entirely up to them, but prepared a plan they had no hope of resisting.
Alongside all these intelligent measures, Prophet Yusuf (as) took yet another step to guarantee matters. Before his brothers left Egypt he placed the money he had received from them in return for supplies secretly back among their loads. By giving them both the supplies and the money that they had paid for them he provided them with yet another material advantage. This incident is described in the sura:
He told his serving men, "Put back their goods into their saddlebags for them to find when they arrive back to their families so that perhaps they will return again." (Surah Yusuf: 62)
There is a nugget of wisdom here that believers need to draw from this succession of steps; when one reaches an agreement with people whose consciences cannot be trusted and who are weak in faith and morals, it is important to take all possible measures against the possibility of their breaking that agreement and to ensure they do that which is required of them. It is not the action of a believer to leave the course of events up to the other side, in other words to leave the initiative with those weak in faith.
The Brothers Make a Reouest of Their Father
It is a well-known fact that one characteristic of ignorant people is their deep attachment to material things and the way they bow their heads to everyone and everything that can bring about advantages for them. Yusuf's brothers could not bear to think of losing the material possibilities he had set before them. As soon as they departed from Egypt they went to their father's side and asked him to give them their little brother, promising that they would protect him:
Then when they got back to their father's house, they said, "Father! Our measure has been denied. Please send our brother with us so we may obtain our measure. We will take care of him." (Surah Yusuf: 63)
However, their father did not trust them:
He said, "How will my trusting him to your care be different from entrusting his brother before? The Best of Guardians, however, is Allah. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful." (Surah Yusuf: 64)
Close inspection will reveal that both Prophet Ya'qub (as) and Prophet Yusuf (as) generally remembered and praised Allah immediately after speaking. This is an example for believers, showing that they must remember Allah at all times and never forget Him.
However, the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (as) possessed a fierce longing for material gain. For this reason, they went to enormous lengths to talk their father around:
Then when they opened up their saddlebags and found their merchandise returned to them, they said, "Our father! What more could we ask! Here is our merchandise returned to us. We can provide our families with food, and guard our brother and get an extra load. That is an easy measure to obtain." (Surah Yusuf: 65)
Since Prophet Ya'qub (as) did not trust his other sons he asked them to promise that they would bring their brother back:
He said, "I will not send him out with you until you make a covenant with Allah to bring him home unless you are overwhelmed." When they had made their covenant, he said, "Allah is Guardian over what we say." (Surah Yusuf: 66)
The reminder issued by Prophet Ya'qub (as) that Allah was a witness to this contract and that he made Allah his Guardian are important examples of wisdom. This shows us that asking people who are weak in faith to swear on the name of Allah is an effective means of guiding them towards that which is better for them, this is because if they have even a little fear of Allah they will bear that in mind and behave honestly.
After having extracted a certain promise from his children, Prophet Ya'qub (as) told them to act with caution and to enter Egypt through different gates:
He said, "My sons! You must not enter through a single gate. Go in through different gates. But I cannot save you from Allah at all, for judgement comes from no one but Allah. In Him I put my trust, and let all those who put their trust, put it in Him alone." (Surah Yusuf: 67)
This advice that Prophet Ya'qub (as) gave his sons is exceedingly important. These verses draw attention to the fact that believers must always act with caution, calculate any possible dangers and take the appropriate precautions.
At the same time, however, Prophet Ya'qub (as) again reminds us of the essence behind everything. He says that it is Allah who lays this down, that if Allah wills something there is no way to prevent it and that it is necessary to submit to His will. These are exceedingly valuable reminders. Here can be seen the idea of submission to the will of Allah that Muslims need to adopt in its fullest sense. The popular ideas of fate and submission are actually mistaken. Some people imagine that events arise because of measures that they have taken, or that they can cause other things to happen. Others possess a mistaken concept of submission to the will of Allah, along the lines of, "What is going to happen is already preordained, so there is no need for us to do anything." Both are mistaken. People are responsible for taking the appropriate steps in whatever situation they encounter, to set causes in motion, but not to forget that the outcome is in the hands of Allah. Of course precautions will not determine the outcome of anything, yet they need to be taken carefully and scrupulously as an act of faith.
Prophet Ya'qub (as) was a complete believer, and was fully conscious of this secret. The way that he called upon Allah whenever he spoke and considered the hidden aspect of matters is an indication of his God fearing nature. We are told in one verse that Prophet Ya'qub (as) was a servant possessed of knowledge:
But when they entered as their father said, it did not save them from Allah at all, yet a need in Ya'qub's soul was satisfied. He had knowledge which We had taught him, but most of mankind simply do not know. (Surah Yusuf: 68)
Prophet Yusuf (as) Meets His Little Brother
The brothers of Prophet Yusuf (as) came to Egypt, bringing their little brother with them, and again came into the presence of the prophet. Here, Prophet Yusuf (as) separated his little brother from the others and revealed his true identity:
Then when they entered into Yusuf's presence, he drew his brother close to him and said, "I am your brother. Do not be distressed concerning all the things they used to do." (Surah Yusuf: 69)
It appears from Prophet Yusuf's words that his brothers had been doing things to cause him difficulty and distress. This is yet another indication of the way their characters were far removed from religion.
After meeting his younger brother, Prophet Yusuf (as) made the rather shrewd move of calling him to his side. He thus rescued his little brother from the hardships which the other brothers were causing him. Prophet Yusuf's ingenuity is described in the following terms in the Qur'an:
Then when he had supplied them with their needs, he put the goblet in his brother's bag. A herald called out, "Caravan! You are thieves!" They turned to them and said, "What are you missing?" They said, "We're missing the goblet of the king. The man who brings it will get a camel's load. Regarding that I stand as guarantor." They said, "By Allah, you know we did not come to corrupt the land and that we are not thieves." They said, "What is the reparation for it if it in fact transpires that you are liars?" They said, "Its reparation shall be him in the saddlebags of whom it is discovered. With us that is how wrongdoers are repaid." He [Yusuf] started with their bags before his brother's and then produced it from his brother's bag. In that way We devised a cunning scheme for Yusuf. He could not have held his brother according to the statutes of the King–only because Allah had willed it so. We raise the rank of anyone We will. Over everyone with knowledge is a Knower. (Surah Yusuf: 70-76)
Under the laws of Egypt, Prophet Yusuf (as) could not have kept his brother with him, yet he was able to do so thanks to the plan he set in motion. According to this plan, he concealed a goblet in his brother's belongings. One of his men then called out to them in such a manner as to place them into a psychological state of guilt and alarm. On top of that, it was declared that the bowl belonged to the ruler and that whoever found it would be given a full camel-load as a reward. The impression was thus created that this was a major incident, thereby preventing any suspicion that it was all a deliberate ploy.
Later still, he asked them what the punishment might be if the bowl were discovered to be in their possession. Under the law, the owner of the bag in which the bowl was found would be arrested and detained. Yet in order not to make it apparent that this was all a ploy, he did not look in his little brother's belongings first, but began searching the others' possessions.
Pictures showing the ruler's lost goblet being found in the baggage of Prophet Yusuf's brother.
When the bowl was found amongst their little brother's possessions, the others immediately accepted the situation, accused him of being a thief, and repeated an earlier calumny regarding Prophet Yusuf (as):
They said, "If he steals now, his brother stole before."… (Surah Yusuf: 77)
Yet his brothers actually knew full well that he would not steal, that he was an honest person. According to the moral standards set out in the Qur'an, believers must think well of one another and protect each other from slander. The fact that the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (as) did not defend their innocent younger brother and actually implicated the prophet himself, is an indication of their false and hypocritical natures.
They said, "If he steals now, his brother stole before." But Yusuf kept it to himself and still did not disclose it to them, saying, "The plight that you are in is worse than that. Allah knows best the matter you describe." (Surah Yusuf: 77)
Prophet Yusuf's attitude here is an example of both submission to the will of Allah and of great intelligence. Most ignorant people become annoyed whenever they hear the slightest word spoken against themselves and react in an emotional manner. Prophet Yusuf (as), however, kept his thoughts concealed, as the verses tell us, in other words, he did not allow his innermost feelings to be sensed by others. The events which follow are related below:
They said, "Your Eminence! He has an old and venerable father, so take one of us instead of him. We see without a doubt that you are of the people who do good." He said, "Allah forbid that we should take anyone but him with whom our goods were found. In that case we would clearly be wrongdoers."When they despaired of him, they went apart to talk alone. The eldest of them said, "You know full well your father had you make a covenant with Allah concerning this, and how before you failed him with Yusuf. I will not leave this land until I have permission from my father, or Allah decides about the case on my behalf. Truly He is the justest Judge of all." (Surah Yusuf: 78-80)
Here it is seen that one of Prophet Yusuf's brothers had slightly more conscience than the others. In fact, a similar situation had arisen at the time when Prophet Yusuf (as) was thrown into the well and most of his brothers wanted to kill him, at which one of them said: "Do not take Yusuf's life but throw him to the bottom of the well, so that some travellers may discover him, if this is something that you have to do." (Surah Yusuf: 10). Maybe these two were actually one and the same individual (Allah knows best). What we are comparing here is an interesting human character; a character that understands with its conscience that what is going on around it is sinful, but which fails to stand up to these events sufficiently and is only able to put up a modest opposition. Even though this is a much more positive model than cruel people with no conscience at all, it is still highly deficient and lacking when compared to the character of a sincere believer.
The moment the goblet was found, from a film about the life of Prophet Yusuf (as). Under normal circumstances Yusuf (as) would not have been unable to keep his brother by him, yet the plan he conceived enabled him to do this.
The character of the believer is of a kind that requires swift and immediate intervention when it sees behaviour contrary to the religion of Allah, or cruelty, or lack of conscience. The believer is never helpless, never falls under the spell of "group psychology" or under the influence of the cruel majority around him, and never makes compromises on what is right. He will never deviate from the path of Allah, even if everyone around him does.
The conversation between the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (as) is related in the Qur'an in these terms:
Return now to your father and say to him, "Your son stole, father. We can do no more than testify to what we know and we are not the guardians of the Unseen. Ask questions of the town in which we were and of the caravan in which we came for we are surely telling you the truth." He said, "It's merely that your lower selves suggested something to you which you did. But [for me] beauty lies in steadfastness. Perhaps Allah will bring them all together. He is indeed All-Knowing and All-Wise." (Surah Yusuf: 81-83)
On close examination, the brothers really did believe that their little brother had engaged in theft. Yet as we have already seen, it was a grave error for them to think in such terms. They should have known that a believer would never, ever do such a thing, and they should have thought the best of their brother and assumed that there had been some kind of mistake. In fact, Prophet Ya'qub (as) behaved in just the manner one would have expected of a believer. He never admitted the slightest possibility that his son might be a thief, since he knew that he was a believer, one who feared Allah. As well as this, since he knew that the morals of his other sons were far removed from those of religion, he refused to trust them and assumed that their own unscrupulous dealings lay at the root of the matter, that it was some trick of theirs. Prophet Ya'qub's submission to the will of Allah here is another example of the upright conduct befitting a believer. Although he believed that what had happened to his son was a mistake of some sort and that there was a trick involved somewhere, he immediately turned to Allah and patiently sought His help. Again, he made it clear that what befitted him was patience. Prophet Ya'qub (as) never lost hope. He even hoped that Allah would reunite him with Yusuf (as) and his other son in the near future.
Moreover, believing that there is something auspicious in every event is one of the most defining characteristics of believers. That there was something auspicious in the other brothers' belief that the youngest had stolen the goblet, is borne out by the fact that they were thereby easily persuaded to leave the youngest brother behind in Egypt without creating any difficulties for Prophet Yusuf (as).
Prophet Ya'qub (as), on the other hand, knew this secret, that is, that Allah created everything and made them favourable for believers. In fact, the most striking aspect of his attitude is the way that he does not link the events to material causes, does not think with a superficial logic of cause and effect, and knows that everything is very definitely under the control of Allah. This example shows that believers must never abandon their hope in Allah, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult the conditions. They must always be full of hope and call upon Allah for help.
However, Prophet Ya'qub (as) was in an interesting position. Despite knowing that Allah created everything, he did not hesitate to feel sorrow as regards Prophet Yusuf (as) and his brother. That was his test. So testing was the experience, in fact, that as revealed in the Qur'an, his eyes turned white from grief over Prophet Yusuf (as), that is to say, he went blind. His sons warned him that he might fall sick because of the sorrow he felt, or even die:
He turned himself away from them and said, "What anguish is my sorrow for Yusuf!" And then his eyes turned white from hidden grief. They said, "By Allah, you will not ever cease to mention Yusuf, till you will be exhausted or will be ready to die!" He said, "I make complaint about my grief and sorrow to Allah alone because I know things from Allah you do not know." (Surah Yusuf: 84-86)
It is indicated in these verses that sorrow can lead to serious illness. In fact, in many places in the Qur'an, Allah tells people not to feel sorrow or sadness. When that stricture is not adhered to, negative consequences can be seen at once. Apart from the psychological effects of sorrow, it also brings with it serious physical consequences, such as a darkening under the eyes, tension in the face, the hair going grey, bodily collapse etc.
As the episode continues, Prophet Ya'qub (as) asked his sons to go and bring him news of Prophet Yusuf (as) and his brother:
"My sons! Seek news of Yusuf and his brother. Do not despair of solace from Allah. No one despairs of solace from Allah except for people who are disbelievers." (Surah Yusuf: 87)
Worthy of note here is the fact that Prophet Ya'qub (as) was sure that Prophet Yusuf (as) was still alive. The reason for that certainty may perhaps have been a special knowledge Allah imparted to him. As is revealed in the Qur'an, Allah is able to give his prophets and messengers such things as powerful sensory perception, exceptional wisdom, consummate insight, superior foresight and the ability to see future events. For that reason it is necessary to rely on those to whom such knowledge is given, to trust in and abide by them.
Another fact emphasised in this verse is that believers must always be hopeful under all circumstances. Prophet Ya'qub (as) never lost hope that he would see Prophet Yusuf (as) and his brother, and he advised his sons never to abandon hope in Allah. Loss of hope in Allah is a state of mind fit for unbelievers, not the faithful.
Prophet Yusuf (as) is Recognised by His Brothers
The Qur'an describes the meeting of Prophet Yusuf (as) with his brothers as follows:
So when they came into his presence, they said, "Your Eminence! Hardship has hit us and our families. We bring scant merchandise, but fill the measure for us generously. Allah always rewards a generous giver." (Surah Yusuf: 88)
The attitude adopted by the brothers at the end of the above verse is particularly worthy of note. After begging Prophet Yusuf (as) to be generous towards them, they recall Allah and the fact that He will reward those who give generously. This is an indication of their hypocritical behaviour, because despite living in a way that is contrary to religion and the good pleasure of Allah, and their forgetting Allah during the course of their actions, they recall Him when their interests are at stake.
A picture showing Prophet Yusuf (as) revealing his true identity to his brothers. They remembered what they had done, repented and confessed their mistake.
The fact that Allah loves those who truly seek His good pleasure is revealed in the Qur'an, and of that there is no doubt. On the other hand, those people who ignore what is pleasing to Allah and only call on him when their own interests are at stake, still imagine that they can influence others in spite of this attitude.
In the following verse Prophet Yusuf (as) hinted at his own identity in the face of this request for help by his brothers, without taking any interest in what they said. This is how he enabled them to understand who he actually was:
A Christian picture of the brothers regretting their past deeds.
He said, "Are you aware of what you did to Yusuf and his brother in ignorance?" They said, "Are you Yusuf?" He said, "I am indeed Yusuf, and this here is my brother. Allah has acted graciously to us. As for those who fear Allah and are steadfast, Allah does not allow to go to waste the wage of any people who do good." They said, "By Allah, Allah has favoured you above us. Clearly we were in the wrong." (Surah Yusuf: 89-91)
As can be seen from the statements in these verses, Prophet Yusuf's brothers managed to surmise that they were dealing with Prophet Yusuf (as) himself, declaring their regret and the fact that they had committed an error. They accepted that Allah had singled Yusuf out (as), and that He had chosen him over them. An important point is being emphasised here: the power of choice belongs to Allah. This fact is also revealed in the Qur'an, in the words, "Your Lord creates and chooses whatever He wills. The choice is not theirs..." (Surat al-Qasas: 68)
Prophet Yusuf (as) gave his brothers the following reply:
He said, "No blame at all will fall on you. Today you have forgiveness from Allah. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful." (Surah Yusuf: 92)
As can be seen from the verse above, despite the fact that Prophet Yusuf (as) was in a position to have punished his brothers or treated them badly, he did not question them, but rather said that he did not condemn them. In fact, he even asked Allah for forgiveness for them, reminding them that Allah was the Most Merciful of the merciful.
This behaviour on the part of Prophet Yusuf (as) is an example to all the faithful. Ignorant people are inspired by hatred in such situations, and act with the logic of revenge. Believers, on the other hand, decline to insist on their own personal rights, as was the case with Prophet Yusuf (as), and know that it is forgiving behaviour that finds favour in the sight of Allah. This is in line with the verse, "Make allowances for people, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant." (Surat al-A'raf: 199). They forgive wicked behaviour and demonstrate superior moral virtues by countering evil with good.
The Knowledge of Prophet Yusuf (as)
Following those words to his brothers, Prophet Yusuf (as) gave them his shirt, asking them to take it to their father:
"Go with this shirt of mine and cast it on my father's face and he will see again. Then come to me with all your families." And when the caravan went on its way, their father said, "I can smell Yusuf's scent! You probably think I have become senile." They said, "By Allah! Your mind is still astray." (Surah Yusuf: 93-95)
This verse demonstrates that his family thought that Prophet Ya'qub (as) had committed an error because of the way he missed his son. There is a wise lesson to be borne in mind which arises from this attitude of theirs; it is often a mistake to make judgements in the light of external appearances and causes. That is because Allah has spoken in the Qur'an of actions which are taken based upon knowledge that is specially granted. For example, this matter is illustrated in some detail in the episode of Prophet Musa's encounter (as) with a servant of Allah possessed of special knowledge. (For further details, see Harun Yahya's The Prophet Musa (as), Millat Book Centre, June, 2002). Allah had in any case revealed that Prophet Ya‘qub (as) was a servant possessed of special knowledge. His family failed to understand his behaviour which was adopted on account of that knowledge, and approached matters from a superficial perspective, believing him to be in error.
In fact, after receiving the shirt, Prophet Ya'qub (as) reminded his family of the special knowledge Allah imparted to him:
But when the bringer of the good news came, he cast it on his face and sight returned. He said, "Did I not say to you before, I know things from Allah you do not know?" (Surah Yusuf: 96)
As we have seen, the words previously spoken by Prophet Yusuf (as) came to pass; when they wiped the shirt over their father's face his sickness left him, and his eyes began to see again. He thus regained his health. In addition, Prophet Ya‘qub's words came true. He had seen and felt beforehand that he would see Yusuf again. This is a true indication that both were servants possessed of special knowledge.