Sunday, January 15, 2012

Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort (Part 5 Of 5)

When one is at the depth of despair, nothing is better than a moving story, narrated in a beautiful fashion, illustrating how others had likewise been through all those predicaments. 

Muhammad had been promised that his mission will succeed.  He believed in that promise.  He knew his mission cannot fail.  How could it fail when he is the Seal of the Prophets.  There will be no more prophet after him.  His mission is the last after a series of prophetic missions.  His mission is not targeted at a certain purpose, to certain people, at a certain time.  Nay, his mission is the last of the prophetic missions.  It is targeted to all people to all time with universal message.  After him, there is no more need for a prophet, because he will bring the complete message, which will be eternally preserved. 

That had been promised, and that he believed without reservation. 

But in the tenth year of his prophethood, nothing seemed to be right.  He had lost his beloved wife who had comforted him all the way, spending all her wealth to the cause.  He had lost his protector.  His life was by then in danger.    His mission seemed to meet the dead end.  There had not been new converts for sometime.  Most of his followers were stranded in Ethiopia.  His followers in Makkah were weak and constantly under oppression.  He had been to Taif to secure new support, but was severely rejected.  He had tried to approach other tribes who came to Makkah, and went out of Makkah to spread his message, but everywhere he went, his uncle Abu Lahab kept following him, telling the audiences that this nephew of his was afflicted by mental disease, so don't listen to him.  Having thus admonished, by his own uncle no less, who seemed to have genuine regard to his mental state, those tribes naturally avoided him.

It was in that state of despair and helplessness that this surah was revealed.  It was in that state of mental anguish and physical danger that the Surah Yusuf was revealed to him, and to his companions who did not fare any better, as a means to console them, and to give them hope.  Allah was telling Muhammad and his companions to be patient, to persevere, and to keep faith in Him.  These difficulties were great.  They were insurmountable.  But so were the difficulties the other prophets had to go through. 

Through the Surah Yusuf, Muhammad and his companions were made to remember that even a lesser prophet like Joseph had to undergo such a tribulation.  What more for a greater prophet like himself, who was going to carry the final and the most important mission of all missions.  Muhammad and his companions were made to remember that they will be triumphant, as Joseph was triumphant, and their triumph would be greater.

That revelation, needless to say, managed to console him and his companions.  It gave hope to them.  It made them more determined to carry out their mission. 

As is generally the case, when one is already at the bottom, the only way to go is up.  After the Surah Yusuf was revealed, things started to look brighter.  The opportunity came from the angle least expected.

In the hajj season the following year, he met six men from Yathrib who came to Makkah to perform hajj.  He secretly approached them, accompanied only by Abu Bakar and Ali, and upon inquiry, some of them turned out to be his relatives.  Muhammad's great grandfather, Hashim, had married a daughter of one of the leaders in Yathrib.  It turned out that some of them were descendants of Muhammad's great grandmother.

Muhammad's reputation had apparently spread far and wide.  Those men from Yathrib were quite curious to know the man who claimed himself to be a prophet.  Their curiosity was not without a reason.  The Arabs in Yathrib were neighbors to the Jews there, but they were not always good neighbors.  From time to time, they fought against each other for the slightest of reason.  These skirmishes had often been bloody, but not decisive.  Sometimes the Arabs had an upper hand, for their number was superior.  Sometimes it was the Jews who had an upper hand, because they were wealthier. 

Every time they clashed with one another, the Jews would brag that a prophet was about to come, and with this prophet, the Jews will annihilate the Arabs for good.

Having listened to the Prophet, they exclaimed among themselves: "This is the prophet with whom the Jews are ever threatening us.  Let's be the first to join him, before the Jews do."

All six of them declared their faith right away.  Obviously they believed in the threat made by the Jews, and not wanting to be the annihilated party, they seized the opportunity to be the first to follow the new prophet. 

With that conversion, the seed for the new epoch was planted.  The path was cleared to Muhammad.  Slightly more than two years later, he migrated to Yathrib and renamed the place Madinah, meaning the City.  The full name is Madinatul Rasul, or The City of the Prophet.

Eight years after his migration, he came back to Makkah.  This time not as someone asking to be heard.  This time, as conqueror.  Ten years after everything seemed to be closing down on him, his relationship with the Qurasyh had turned upside down.  If hitherto he and his followers were the weaker party under persecution, on the eight year of Hijrah, he brought 10,000 of his companions to conquer Makkah.

His enemies had been reduced to dust as far as their power was concerned.  They did not offer any meaningful resistant.  Gathering all those who used to persecute him, all fearful for their lives, for truly their very own lives were by then under the hand of Muhammad, the Prophet asked:

"What treatment do you expect from me now?"

Not knowing what else to reply, they merely said: "You are a generous brother, who is the son of a generous brother."

To that, Muhammad quoted what Joseph said to his brothers, as had been revealed to him ten years before:

"I will give the same answer as Joseph said to his brothers.  Today, no reproach shall be inflicted upon you.  You are forgiven."

The parallel to what the brothers of Joseph did to him was strikingly similar to what the Qurasyh did to Muhammad.  Joseph brothers stopped short of killing him, but instead throwing him into the well, which led to much difficulties in his later life, having received one trial after the other.  The Quraysh too, like the brothers of Joseph, had inflicted all kinds of persecution to Muhammad.  But unlike Joseph brothers, the Quraysh did make an attempt to kill Muhammad.  The Prophet took all precautions when he fled from their murderous intent, yet his pursuers came very close to finding him at the cave.  Were they to look into the cave, they would have found Muhammad and Abu Bakar hiding.

Likewise is the parallel between what Joseph did to his brothers and what Muhammad did to the Quraysh.  Joseph forgave all his brothers.   And Muhammad, quoting what Joseph said to his brothers, forgave all the Quraysh who used to persecute him.

To recap, Surah Yusuf, whose story was revealed in its entirety at one go, narrating his life in full, is unlike any other Surah.  All surah in the Quran, of course, are significant in their own right.  But Surah Yusuf is special in the sense that it was revealed to serve a specific purpose.  It is meant to console the Prophet who was at the lowest of his spirit due to the loss of two most important people in his life.  It is meant to shed light and give hope to the fledgling movement that he led, which seemed to meet the dead end at that time.  It is meant to give a portent to what is coming, that like those brothers of Jospeh who finally knelt themselves to the feet of Joseph, the Quraysh too will kneel themselves to Muhammad's feet.

The Surah Yusuf brought comfort, consolation and hope to the Prophet and his companions during those difficult and critical times, as it should also bring comfort, consolation and hope to all of us when we are faced with hardship, trials and tribulations during our times.

The End


  1. Subhanallah - beautiful closure. Everyone can relate to and benefit from this seerah. Hard times are there for us to appreciate good times. Forgiveness is liberating. It moves us forward and opens new possibilities.
    rgds tsz

  2. Beautiful comment, tsz. Those few short sentences should serve as the ending for the above piece. Even I wasn't thinking of those lines when concluding it. You did it beautifully.

    1. Sir,

      While the story of Yusof (a.s.) has always been a great Ibrah as summed up by TSZ, what appears missing in most mainstream narrative is typical Prophetic Da'wah Mission and the ensuing apposition by the Ruler and immediate masses? Even the two prison inmates Yusof (a.s) befriended do not sound like disciples. Furthermore it might not be befitting for a Prophet to serve as household servant.
      His Prophethood only came in much later, I suppose? If so, the story is telling us even at Fitrah, a'Prophet to be" is already a Towering Figure.

    2. Yes. The narrative that you mention appears missing. I would even say it is really missing, because there was no such event. He was not commanded to warn the leaders of the people, as was Nabi Nuh, or to warn the great kings, like Nabi Ibrahim and Nabi Musa. In fact Nabi Yusuf was welcome by the king who made him their chief wazir.

  3. What does this commentary have to do with the Bab's commentary, the initiating surah of the Bayan?

  4. What does this commentary have to do with the Bab's commentary, the initiating surah of the Bayan?

    1. I have no idea what you are talking about...