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Lessons from the Story of Prophet Yūsuf

Imām ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Nāṣir al-Saʿdī

A brief compilation of benefits that can be taken from the lifetime of the Prophet Yūsuf.

The Lessons:

    1. Patience, Perseverance, and Complaining to Allāh Alone
    2. The Importance of a Righteous Ending
    3. Man Is Tested in Prosperity and Hardship
    4. True Forgiveness and Pardon Stipulates Refraining from Recounting Other’s Past Misdeeds
    5. The Attitude of Allāh’s Chosen Ones Towards Hardship
    6. Cure from Afflictions Is Controlled by Allāh
    7. Avoiding Quick Judgements Based on Outward Appearances
    8. Acts of Oppression that Masquerade as Acts of Righteousness
    9. The Miracle of the Qurʾān

1. Patience, Perseverance, and Complaining to Allāh Alone

Imām ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Nāṣir al-Saʿdī (d. 1391 AH) said:

[There is a great lesson derived from the story of Yūsuf عليه السلام] when we examine the magnanimous test that Allāh subjected His prophet and chosen, sincere friend Yaʿqūb (عليه السلام) to. Allāh ordained separation between him and Yūsuf (عليه السلام) for a term that most likely spanned thirty years or more. This deduction is reached because he likely spent, prior to imprisonment, seven to ten years or around this span in the house of al-ʿAzīz. This is only in the way of seeking an estimation of the period in question. Then he spent several years1 in prison and most scholars postulate this term to be seven years. After he was exonerated, he spent another seven years that corresponds to the years of abundant produce. Altogether, this is twenty-one years. This was followed by the seven barren, unproductive years in which the brothers of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) returned to him repeatedly. What is most apparent from these meetings is that they [i.e. Yaʿqūb and Yūsuf (عليهما السلام)] only united at the very end. The full period, therefore, would be close to approximately thirty years.

In this entire period, sadness and depression never left his [Yaʿqūb’s عليه السلام] heart. In fact, he would weep continuously to the extent that his eyes turned white from extreme grief. He lost his eyesight completely. However, he remained upon steadfast patience concerning the order of Allāh, expectant of a reward from Him. For he promised to remain patient and he undoubtedly fulfilled this oath.

This, in no way, contradicts his saying:

قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَشْكُو بَثِّي وَحُزْنِي إِلَى اللَّهِ

“He said, “I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allāh”
[Yūsuf, 12:86]

For, truly, complaining to Allāh alone does not invalidate patience. Rather, patience is invalidated through complaining to the creation.2

2. The Importance of a Righteous Ending

From [among the beautiful lessons of the story of Yūsuf (عليه السلام)] is that the truest interpretation of the [upright] condition of the slave of Allāh is in the perfection of his end, not the deficiencies of his beginnings.

The brothers of Yūsuf committed atrocities, but when the matter had finally concluded, they repented to Allāh. They sought pardon from their brother Yūsuf, and forgiveness from their father. Thus they were fully pardoned, completely forgiven. Allāh forgave them allowing them to attain a level of perfection that was most befitting. It has been said: Allāh made them prophets, as was suggested by several of the mufassirīn concerning the term ‘asbāṭ’ (the descendants), they are the twelve brothers of Yūsuf.3 It was also said: they were a people upon righteousness, which has also been suggested. This is more evident as the meaning of the term ‘asbāṭ’ (the descendants) is the tribes of the Children of Israel. It is a general term that refers to all the tribes that originated from the twelve sons of Yaʿqūb. They [the twelve sons] are the fathers of the descendants, just as they are also considered descendants themselves [of Yaʿqūb and Ibrāhīm before him].

For this reason when Yūsuf (عليه السلام) saw them in his vision, they were stars in their luminescence and high stature. Such are the characteristics of the people who have combined true īmān with knowledge. And Allāh knows best.

Thus, seeing the sun, moon, or stars in a vision can be interpreted as representing the scholars and the righteous. It has also been interpreted as representing the kings, as the situation stipulates.4

3. Man Is Tested in Prosperity and Hardship

[From among the lessons of the story of Yūsuf عليه السلام] is that Allāh tests His prophets and chosen ones with hardship and prosperity. For happiness, sadness, ease, and hardship are all means by which true worship in both instances may be made apparent—brought to the forefront. This is achieved through showing gratitude in prosperous times, and showing patience in times of hardship and tribulation. It is through this that blessings are granted in full just as Yaʿqūb (عليه السلام) and Yūsuf (عليه السلام) were tested. Similarly, other than them from among the prophets and chosen sincere friends of Allāh.5

4. True Forgiveness and Pardon Stipulates Refraining from Recounting Other’s Past Misdeeds

[From among the lessons of the story of Yūsuf (عليه السلام)] is acknowledgement of the way Allāh blessed Yūsuf in allowing him to show compassionate forgiveness towards his brothers. For he (عليه السلام) forgave what had transpired from them while promising to never reproach them in the future on account of it, nor would he remind them of it. This is because the mention of such things represents a clear criticism of them, from which they would be saddened, and because of which they expressed thorough regret. It is because of this that He (عزَّ وجلّ) said:

مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزَغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي

“After Shayṭān (Satan) had sown enmity between me and my brothers.”
(Yūsuf, 12:100)

He did not say: “After they [his brothers] had sown enmity.” Rather, he associated the action to Shayṭān: the one who caused disunity and division between him and his brothers. This represents the very pinnacle of chivalry and symbolises his manliness and maturity.6

5. The Attitude of Allāh’s Chosen Ones Towards Hardship

From among the lessons of the story of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) is derived from the saying of the Most High regarding Yaʿqūb when the his sons first conspired against Yūsuf (عليه السلام):

بَلْ سَوَّلَتْ لَكُمْ أَنفُسُكُمْ أَمْرًا ۖ فَصَبْرٌ جَمِيلٌ ۖ وَاللَّهُ الْمُسْتَعَانُ عَلَىٰ مَا تَصِفُونَ

“Nay, but your own selves have made up a tale. So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it is Allāh (Alone) Whose help can be sought against that which you assert.”
(Yūsuf, 12:18)

Then, Yaʿqūb said when his circumstance had worsened and become even graver when his other son had also been held:

بَلْ سَوَّلَتْ لَكُمْ أَنفُسُكُمْ أَمْرًا ۖ فَصَبْرٌ جَمِيلٌ ۖ عَسَى اللَّهُ أَن يَأْتِيَنِي بِهِمْ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ

“Nay, but your own selves have beguiled you into something. So patience is most fitting (for me). Maybe Allāh will bring them (back) all to me. Truly He! only He is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
(Yūsuf, 12: 83)

In this there is clear evidence that proves that when catastrophe and disaster descend upon Allāh’s chosen ones, they respond at its very beginning with patience and seeking aid from their Master. Then, at its end when the hardship has worsened, reaching its peak and apex, again they respond with patience and sincere desire and hope in relief from their hardship. Thus does Allāh guide them towards worship of Him in both situations.

Then, when their hardship is finally lifted, they respond with gratefulness and commemoration of Allāh, in a state of greater awareness of His courteousness as evident in the saying of Yūsuf (عليه السلام):7

يَا أَبَتِ هَٰذَا تَأْوِيلُ رُؤْيَايَ مِن قَبْلُ قَدْ جَعَلَهَا رَبِّي حَقًّا ۖ وَقَدْ أَحْسَنَ بِي إِذْ أَخْرَجَنِي مِنَ السِّجْنِ وَجَاءَ بِكُم مِّنَ الْبَدْوِ مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزَغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي لَطِيفٌ لِّمَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ

‎”O my father! This is the interpretation of my dream aforetime! My Lord has made it come true! He was indeed good to me, when He took me out of the prison, and brought you (all here) out of the bedouin-life, after Shayṭān (Satan) had sown enmity between me and my brothers. Certainly, my Lord is the Most Courteous and Kind unto whom He wills. Truly He! Only He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise
(Yūsuf, 12:100)

6. Cure from Afflictions Is Controlled by Allāh

Among the benefits derived from the story of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) is that the curing of sickness may occur due to physical remedies, or by means of curative measures that are Lordly [from Allāh].

Rather, the types of cure that occur from this latter type do not occur with the former. As the eyes of Yaʿqūb (عليه السلام) had turned white from sadness and his vision had completely left him. So Allāh allowed his cure and the returning of his eyesight to occur by means of the shirt of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) which was cast on his face. His eyesight returned to him as a result of the smell that shirt held that was attributable to Yūsuf (عليه السلام) which was made a cure for his eyes from the sadness and despair that plagued them. Thus, the cure for his sickness, by the kindness of Allāh, was made to be only in the form of the shirt that had left the body of Yūsuf (عليه السلام).

As for the ones who allege that his shirt was from Paradise, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Allāh is able to cure him without any means. However, He is All-Wise. Thus does He allow matters to occur in conjunction with reason and systems of causality. The intelligence of man may or may not be guided towards grasping these reasons and causes.

The same circumstance was experienced by Ayyūb (عليه السلام) whose sickness and distress had reached the extent that his disease was considered incurable, above the ability of the physicians. When Allāh wanted him to be cured from his affliction, He ordered that he strike the ground with his foot which caused a spring to flow forth from which he was ordered to drink and wash himself. So Allāh allowed this to be a means by which his inner and outer distress was quelled, becoming among the most beautiful of people ever seen. The Most High said:

ارْكُضْ بِرِجْلِكَ ۖ هَٰذَا مُغْتَسَلٌ بَارِدٌ وَشَرَابٌ

“(Allāh said to him): “Strike the ground with your foot: This is a spring of water to wash in, cool and a (refreshing) drink.””
(Ṣād, 38:42)

The Most High cures His slaves with physical remedies and means and through Lordly intervention not perceived by man:

وَإِن يَمْسَسْكَ اللَّهُ بِضُرٍّ فَلَا كَاشِفَ لَهُ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ

“And if Allāh touches you with harm, none can remove it but He”
(al-Anʿām, 6:17)

Just as He, the Most High, brings things into existence by well-known, widely perceived means, He also does so by Lordly means which our intellects are unable to fathom. Among these are the miracles of the prophets and those granted to the close friends and allies of Allāh, along with His physical signs we see manifest within ourselves and in the creation around us. He must be praised and commemorated for this and that.8

7. Avoiding Quick Judgements Based on Outward Appearances

From among the lessons of the story of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) is that Yaʿqūb (عليه السلام) did not believe the claim made by the brothers [of Yūsuf] that he was eaten by a wolf, after examination of the circumstances attached to their alleged story. This is because established information should not be unduly affected by doubts and guesses. Indeed, he already knew from the prior vision of Yūsuf and perhaps other than it, what Yūsuf’s situation would eventually result in from a completion of blessings that would be comprehensive of him and the entire family of Yaʿqūb.

We can also derive from it that it is unbefitting for one to allow himself to be tricked by the external appearance of a situation. An example of this is that when a woman came to Sharayḥ with her opposing party [for judgement], her eyes flowed with tears. Upon this, some of those present said to Shurayḥ: “I surmise the oppressed to be none other than this wretched woman.” Shurayḥ replied: “Have you not heard the story of the brothers of Yūsuf when they came upon their father at night weeping? Were they the oppressors or the ones that had been oppressed?”

How much trickery, deceit, and upturning of the truth has occurred because of such false affectations? The truly insightful, clever individual must allow every possibility to weigh on his mind, and examine the situation from every possibility and angle.9

8. Acts of Oppression that Masquerade as Acts of Righteousness

Among the lessons derived from the story of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) is that which is contained within the saying of the Most High:

قَالَ مَعَاذَ اللَّهِ أَن نَّأْخُذَ إِلَّا مَن وَجَدْنَا مَتَاعَنَا عِندَهُ إِنَّا إِذًا لَّظَالِمُونَ

He said: “Allāh forbid, that we should take anyone but him with whom we found our property. Indeed (if we did so), we should be ẓālimūn (wrong-doers).”‎
(Yūsuf, 12:79)

It proves that no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another. We can also derive from it a more intricate deductive lesson. This is, acts of goodness are only considered good when they do not entail the perpetration of ḥarām or the abandonment of that which is obligatory. They [the brothers of Yūsuf] requested that he [Yūsuf] show them kindness by allowing this brother [Bin Yamīn] to return to his father, and detain one of them in his place. He refused this request saying: “Allāh forbid, that we should take anyone but him with whom we found our property. Indeed (if we did so), we should be ẓālimūn (wrong-doers).”

Thus, if a proposed act of goodness stipulates the abandonment of justice and equity, then it is in actuality an act of oppression. It is for this reason that specifying particular children among others, or certain wives among many—even if this specification is for the purpose of showing compassion and goodness—is impermissible because it stipulates abandonment of justice and equity. Similarly any circumstance that resembles this, and Allāh knows best.10

9. The Miracle of the Qurʾān

Among the benefits derived from the story of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) is that after Allāh related to us his amazing story in detail, He said at its end:

مَا كَانَ حَدِيثًا يُفْتَرَىٰ وَلَٰكِن تَصْدِيقَ الَّذِي بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَتَفْصِيلَ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ

“It (the Qurʾān) is not a forged statement but a confirmation of Allāh’s existing Books [the Tawrāt (Torah), the Injīl (Gospel) and other Scriptures of Allāh], a detailed explanation of everything, a guide, and a mercy for the people who believe.”
(Yūsuf, 12:111)

Thus, He has negated that this Qurʾān could have mistakes or consist of forgery in any conceivable way.

Then, He has described it as having three characteristics. Each one of these characteristics act to prove unequivocally that it is from Allāh; the truth concerning which there is no doubt.

  1. The first characteristic: It confirms and attests to the truthfulness of that which is already with the people. That is, the existing preceding books that have already been revealed from the Heavens. While also confirming the words of the other prophets who have received revelation from Allāh. As the Most High said:

    بَلْ جَاءَ بِالْحَقِّ وَصَدَّقَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ

    “Nay! he (Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)) has come with the truth (i.e. Allāh’s Religion – Islamic Monotheism and this Qurʾān) and he confirms the Messengers (before him who brought Allāh’s religion – Islamic Monotheism).”
    (Al-Saffāt, 37:37)

    This Qurʾān which has been brought by Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) is the unadulterated truth; truthful with regards to its stories and what is related in it concerning Allāh, His angels and the Last Day. Truthful in relation to all unseen events, both past and future. It has come with complete justice and equity in its rulings such that it does not command except with goodness and only forbids evil. As the Most High said:

    وَتَمَّتْ كَلِمَتُ رَبِّكَ صِدْقًا وَعَدْلًا

    “And the Word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice.”
    (Al-Anʿām, 6:115)

    That is, truthful in the stories and events it relates. Just in its rulings, commands, and prohibitions.

    Also, this Qurʾān attests to the truthfulness of what has been brought by all the messengers of the past, behaving as a trustworthy witness over their scriptures. Agreeing and supporting the fundamental foundations of those books, and their general, encompassing laws. Also, those messengers related to their people the raising of Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) as a messenger and gave their people glad tidings of his arrival, and the book he will bring. So, in his (صلى الله عليه وسلم) coming, he attests to their truthfulness while actualising the proffered glad tidings.

  2. The second characteristic: It is a detailed explanation of everything. Comprehensive of all of the creation’s requirements with regard to their creeds, manners, both apparent and hidden actions, and their religion and worldly life.In it, there is an explanation and elaboration of His Oneness, the message [of Islam], and the resulting recompense [whether good or bad]. The correct, sound, truthful creed is related therein with great elaboration, the likeness of which is absent in any other book. He elaborates on true īmān and encourages it, while also calling to adorning oneself with exemplary manners and refraining from contemptible, detestable behaviours. It clarifies the path and the means by which one is able to reach the most excellent of these manners, and defend oneself from its evil counterpart.Just as it has expounded upon the legislations that concern apparent actions; righteousness; that which is ḥalāl and ḥarām; and good and evil. It gives detailed explanations of beneficial aims and goals, both in this world and the hereafter, signposting to the way in which these goals are fulfilled.

  3. The third characteristic: It is a mercy and a source of guidance for the believing people. Wherewith Allāh guides all those who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace:

    إِنَّ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ يَهْدِي لِلَّتِي هِيَ أَقْوَمُ

    “Verily, this Qurʾān guides to that which is most just and right.”
    (Al-Isrāʾ, 17:9)

    That is, it guides to a condition of uprightness and the straight path, the most righteous of actions, the most exemplary of all manners, while guiding to all goodly religious matters, highlighting the beneficial aspects of this worldly life that then facilitate religious fulfilment and the attainment of complete happiness.

    The difference between guidance and mercy is that guidance refers to the means and the path towards the attainment of goodness in this life and the hereafter. Mercy represents that goodness itself and the reward for it, whether that reward is attained in this life or the hereafter.

    The happiness of this world and the hereafter is predicated upon abiding by the teachings of the Qurʾān, both having knowledge concerning it, and then acting in light of it. Allāh has specified the believers with guidance and mercy because they are the true beneficiaries of the Qurʾān. By their īmān they are guided and Allāh increases them in guidance and mercy.

    This Qurʾān acts as a source of enlightenment for all of mankind, enlightening them regarding everything they could ever need. There is no good except that it has guided them towards it, no evil except that it has warned them from it. With it, the perfect proof and argument has been raised against each and every single one of them. However, it represents a source of mercy and guidance for the believing people among them.

O Allāh! Bless us with true īmān, make this Qurʾān a source of guidance for us and a mercy. Indeed, You are the One who is Near, the One who Responds [to invocations].

May Allāh commemorate Muḥammad in the highest assembly, and may His peace be upon him.11

Endnotes: 

[1]Translator note: Reference to the term mentioned in the verse:

وَقَالَ لِلَّذِي ظَنَّ أَنَّهُ نَاجٍ مِّنْهُمَا اذْكُرْنِي عِندَ رَبِّكَ فَأَنسَاهُ الشَّيْطَانُ ذِكْرَ رَبِّهِ فَلَبِثَ فِي السِّجْنِ بِضْعَ سِنِينَ

And he said to the one whom he knew would go free, “Mention me before your master.” But Satan made him forget the mention [to] his master, and Joseph remained in prison several years.
[Yūsuf, 12:42]

The term ‘بضع’ as in the verse refers to any term from 3-10 years.
[2]Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsūf: 38
[3] Translator note: There is a difference of opinion concerning the sons of Yaʿqūb. Al-ʿAllāmah al-Alūsī said: Most [of the mufassirīn] from the pious predecessors and contemporaries take the opinion they were not prophets.’ Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘The brothers of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) were not prophets. There is no verse in the Qurʾān nor narration from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) or from even one of the companions, that Allāh made them prophets.’ See ‘Rūḥ al-Maʿānī’ 12:184
[4]Fawāʾid Qissah Yūsuf: 24-25
[5]Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsuf: 39
[6]Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsuf: 41
[7]Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsuf: 56
[8] 
Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsuf: 45
[9] Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsuf: 59
[10] Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsuf: 51
[11] Fawāʾid Qiṣṣah Yūsuf: 62-64

Published: July 1, 2023
Edited: February 20, 2024

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