Sunday, January 8, 2012

Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort (Part 3 of 5)

All stories in the Quran are beautiful.  But it is the story of Joseph that is dubbed as the most beautiful of stories.  Incidentally, its main actor, the Prophet Joseph, was also the most beautiful of men. 

It would not be proper, I reckon, to talk about the Surah that brings comfort to the Prophet without narrating its story, albeit in a brief fashion.

The story in the Surah Yusuf starts with him having a dream whereby he saw 11 stars, a sun and a moon prostrated to him.  He mentioned the dream to his father, Prophet Jacob (Nabi Yaakob).   The father, himself a prophet, saw the greatness in his second youngest son, but was concerned about his safety.  Altogether Joseph had 11 brothers.  Except for the youngest one, Benjamin (Bunyamin), the other ten were from different mothers.  

Joseph was the most beloved son of his father, which made  the other ten envious of him.  Knowing how these ten brothers felt about Joseph, the father was worried that if any of them knew about the dream, they might do harm to Joseph.  So the father asked the son to keep his dream a secret.

But the ten brothers could not stand having Joseph in their midst anyway, irrespective whether they knew or not about the dream.   So long as Joseph was around, they could not hope to get the fair share of their father's love.  So they plotted to get rid of him.

This they did during one of the hunting expeditions, when Joseph was about 17 years old.  The majority of his brothers suggested that Joseph be killed in the cold blooded way, but the more reasonable one among them, the oldest whose name was Rueben according to Biblical account, suggested that he only be thrown into the dark well.  If Joseph died, at least their hands would not be smeared with Joseph's blood.  If he be rescued by others, the possibility that he would be brought back to the family, given the place he was dumped, and the condition of the society at that time, was negligible.  Either way, they were rid of him.

Having decided on the matter, his brothers threw him into the well and his shirt was torn and smeared with the wolf's blood.  Then his brothers came home weeping, saying that Joseph had been eaten by a wolf.  Joseph's torn shirt with the blood on it was presented as the evidence.  Their father did not believe them, and said that it was them who had harmed Joseph, though he felt that his beloved son was still alive, on account of the dream Joseph had.  But it did not matter.  Joseph was no longer with them.  They had managed to get rid of the son most beloved to their father.

A traveling caravan, drawing water from the well, found the valuable item at the bottom of the well.  They took him and sold him at the slave market in Egypt.  The Egyptian governor bought him and brought him home.

This governor, whose name the Quran did not mention, but the Bible said his name was Potiphar, had a young wife, whose name neither Quran nor Bible mentioned, but the Islamic scholars called her Zuleikha.  According to the fantastic tale narrated by Yusuf Ali in his celebrated translation of the Quran, this young woman was actually a beautiful princess from Morocco, who had a dream that she would meet her husband in Egypt, and thus travelled there.  Instead of meeting the man of his dream, she was married to an old nobleman, a governor of Egypt.

Regardless of the truth with respect to the identity of the governor's wife, Joseph grew up to be a stunning looking young man of a high moral conduct, and a competent handler of household affairs.  It turned out that she desired Joseph, and it seemed that Joseph also desired her.  Unlike the young wife who couldn't control her lust for Joseph, the latter was more obedient to his conscience than his desire. 

She persuaded him to lie with her in bed.  He told her to fear God.  She seduced him with her beauty and her elegance.  He lectured her on chastity.  She pointed out that she is the mistress of the house, and that he is her slave, and therefore he must do whatever she desires.  Joseph replied that she is a wife to his master, and should only cohabit with him.

Having despaired of any hope to get Joseph to fulfill her desire willingly, she forced him to her, but Joseph ran away.  When both raced to the door--Joseph to escape, and the young wife to catch him--, the man of the house appeared.  The wife quickly put the blame to Joseph, but the evidence, Joseph's shirt which was torn at the back instead of at the front, suggested otherwise.

The whole family decided to keep the scandal a secret, but a scandal like that could not be contained for long.  The tongues wagged that the young wife of the governor desired her slave boy.   The gossip was too painful and embarrassing for her to bear, so she decided to let the high ladies of the society to taste their own medicine. 

A banquet was set, the ladies were invited and Joseph was prepared.  Giving a knife to each lady, and fruits to be pealed off, having seated all on them comfortably in the cushions, Joseph was presented to the high ladies of the society at the right moment. 

It was a sight to behold.  They never saw such a stunning looking handsome man before in their life.  "This is not human," they exclaimed, "this is an angel."  Having thus fixated to Joseph's stunning beauty, the ladies unconsciously cut their fingers, thinking that they were cutting the fruits.  This they did all the while without feeling pain, until the lady of the house pointed what had happened.

"One look!  And see what happen to you.  You accuse me of moral debauchery, but one look is all it takes for you to lose your mind, while I have to live in a house with his presence for years."  The lady of the house retorted, having satisfied her vengeance.

It was decided among the ladies that Joseph be given only two choices: either succumbed to their wish or be imprisoned.  Joseph chose the latter, fearing that the longer he was under the great temptation, the harder it would be to repel the whisper of the Devil.  Having despaired of any hope that Joseph would fulfill their wish, the high lady of the society concocted the evil plan to have Joseph thrown into the prison.  And went into prison he did, soon afterward.

Thus changed the fortune of Joseph: first, dearly loved by his father and mother, then tricked by his brothers and thrown into a dark well, later captured by the trade caravan and sold as slave, then seduced by his mistress, and finally thrown into a prison for some concocted crime. 

No one with the right frame of mind loves prison, yet in prison Joseph found peace.  And his fortune was about to look brighter.  But it would take a few more years before the bright day descended on him.  We shall cover it in the next installation.

The End of Part 3


  1. Sir,

    What could be the brothers' ulterior motive warrant for the attempted murder? Was it Jacob's (AS) wealth or was it 'throne' or relic at stake? But then again removing Yusof (AS) from the equation only mean pitting themselves against each other.
    Any chance that the brothers were visited, incited, misled and induced by the devil?

    1. Neither Biblical nor Islamic accounts (at least as far as I know) suggest that the brothers of Prophet Joseph were influenced by outsiders. It is their internal affairs. Sibling rivalry so to speak. The influence of the devil, of course, was at play, as always.

      The story of Joseph appears to be nothing more than sibling rivalry. He was the second youngest of 12 sons, but being the most loved son from the most loved wife (Jacob have two wives and two handmaids) and slated to replace his father as the head of the clan. This naturally incited the envy and anger of his older brothers who thought themselves more deserving of the "throne," if not the love. So the wicked among his brothers incited the others to get rid of Joseph through killing, but the less wicked one suggested only for Joseph to be cut off from the family without having him killed. Hence the idea of throwing him into the well.