This is the most detailed and fascinating story in the Quran, involving both human weaknesses such as jealousy, hatred, pride, passion, deception, intrigue, cruelty, and terror as well as noble qualities such as patience, loyalty, bravery, nobility, and compassion.
It is related that among the reasons for its revelation is that the Jews asked the Prophet Muhammad (صلىاللهعليهوسلم) to tell them about Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام) who was one of their old prophets. His story had been distorted in parts and marred in others with interpolation and exclusions. Therefore it was revealed in the Book of Allah (Quran), complete in its minute and careful details.
Allah the Almighty declared: We relate unto you (Muhammad) the best of stories through Our Revelations unto you, of this Quran. And before this (i.e. before the coming of Divine Inspiration to you), you were among those who knew nothing about it (the Quran). ( Ch 12:3 Quran)
Almighty Allah also decreed: Thus, [O Muhammad], We relate to you from the news of what has preceded. And We have certainly given you from Us the Qur’an. Whoever turns away from it (this Quran–i.e. does not believe in it, nor acts on its orders), verily they will bear a heavy burden (of sins) on the Day of Resurrection. They will abide in that (state in the Fire of Hell), and evil indeed will it be that load for them on the Day of Resurrection.(Ch 20:99-101)
The story of Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام) moves in a stream from beginning to end; its substance and form are equally coherent. It inspires you with a feeling for the depth of Allah’s power and supremacy and the execution of His rulings despite the challenge of human intervention. And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not. (Ch 12:21)
This is what the story of Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام), confirms categorically, for it ends with comfort and marvels.
Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام) lived all his life confronting schemes made by the people closest to him. His brothers plotted to kill him, but they amended it to exiling him. This happened to him while he was a boy. He was sold into the slave market in Egypt, where he was bought for a nominal sum. Then he fell victim to the attempted seduction by a great man’s wife who, when her wish was foiled, sent him to prison, where he remained for some time. In spite of all of this, he at length approached close to the Egyptian throne and became the king’s chief minister. He then began his call to Allah from the position of the ruling authority.
Allah’s plans were carried out, and the matter ended. This is the substance (theme) of the story. As for the form (style) in which it is presented, it is a landmark of wonder.
The story is presented in a sequence of episodes. It gives you scene after scene and the transition is inspiring, informative, and stirring to the imagination. There are also artistic loopholes, which leave it to the imagination of the reader to complete the sense, as well as the depth of the picture, the like of which no human artist can bring forth.
The story begins with a dream and ends with its interpretation. As the sun appeared over the horizon, bathing the earth in its morning glory, Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام), son of the Prophet Jacob (عليهالسلام) awoke from his sleep, delighted by a pleasant dream he had had. Filled with excitement he ran to his father and related it.
“O my father! Verily, I saw (in a dream) eleven stars and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves to me.” (Ch 12:4)
His father’s face lit up. He foresaw that Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام) would be one through whom the prophecy of his grandfather, Prophet Abraham (عليهالسلام), would be fulfilled, in that his offspring would keep the light of Abraham’s house alive and spread Allah’s message to mankind.
Therefore, it was narrated that Allah’s Messenger Muhammad (صلىاللهعليهوسلم) was asked: “Who is the most honorable amongst the people?” He (عليهالسلام) replied: “The most God-fearing.” The people said: “We do not want to ask you about this.” He said: “The most honorable person is Joseph (Yusuf) Allah’s prophet, the son of Allah’s prophet, the son of the faithful friend of Allah (Ibrahim).” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
However, the father was well aware of the jealousy of Joseph (Yusuf)’s brothers, so he warned him against telling his dream to his brothers. “O my son! Relate not your vision to your brothers, lest they arrange a plot against you. Verily! Satan is to man an open enemy! Thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of dreams (an other things) and perfect His Favor on you and on the offspring of Jacob, as He perfected it on your fathers, Abraham, and Isaac aforetime! Verily! your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Ch 12:5-6)
Joseph (Yusuf) heeded his father’s warning. He did not tell his brothers what he had seen. It is well known that they hatred him so much that it was difficult for him to feel secure telling them what was in his heart and in his dreams.
Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام) was eighteen years old, very handsome and robust, with a gentle temperament. He was respectful, kind and considerate. His brother Benjamin was equally pleasant. Both were from one mother, Rachel. Because of their refined qualities, the father loved the two more than his other children, and would not let them out of his sight. To protect them, he kept them busy with work in the house garden.
The scene of Jacob and his son closes. Another opens on Joseph (Yusuf)’s brothers plotting against him. “Truly, Joseph (Yusuf) and his brother (Benjamin) are loved more by our father than we, but we are Usbah (a strong group). Really our father is in a plain error. Kill Joseph (Yusuf) or cast him out to some other land, so that the favor of your father may be give to you alone, and after that you will be righteous folk (by intending repentance before committing the sin).”
One from among them said: “Kill not Joseph (Yusuf), but if you must do something, throw him down to the bottom of a well, he will be picked up by some caravan of travelers.”>> (Ch 12:8-10)
The pages of the Old Testament say that Joseph (Yusuf) told them his dream, whereas the Quran does not say that happened. Had it been so, the brothers would have said so themselves. The Old Testament claims they had lost their own rights by him, and so they would kill him. Indeed Joseph (Yusuf) (عليهالسلام) kept his father’s order and did not tell his brothers about his vision.
In spite of this, his brothers sat down to conspire against him. One of them asked: “Why does our father love Joseph (Yusuf) more than us?”
Another answered: “Perhaps because of his beauty.”
A third said: “Joseph (Yusuf) and his brother occupied our father’s heart.”
The first complained: “Our father has gone all astray.”
One of them suggested a solution to the matter; kill Joseph (Yusuf) .
“Where should we kill him?”
“We should banish him away from these grounds.”
“We will send him to a distant land.”
“Why should we not kill him and have rest so that the favor of your father may be give to you alone?”
However, Judah (Yahudh), the eldest and most intelligent among them, said: “There is no need to kill him when all you want is to get rid of him. Look here, let us throw him into a well and he will be picked up by a passing caravan. T hey will take him with them to a distant land. He will disappear from your father’s sight and our purpose will be served with his exile. Then after that we shall repent for our crime and become good people once again.”
The discussion continued on the idea of dropping Joseph (Yusuf) into a well, as it was seen as the safest solution. The plan to kill him was defeated; kidnap into a distant land was approved. It was the cleverest of ideas.
Their next movement opened the scene between them and their father Jacob (عليهالسلام): They said: “O our father! Why do you not trust us with Joseph (Yusuf), when we are indeed his well wishers? Send him with us tomorrow to enjoy himself and play, and verily we will take care of him.”
He (Jacob) said: “Truly, it saddens me that you should take him away. I fear lest a wolf should devour him, while you are careless of him.”
They said: “If a wolf devours him, while we are Usbah (a strong group) (to guard him), then surely we are the losers.”>> (Ch 12:11-14)
Jacob suggested a point, which had not occurred to them in their discussion: he feared that desert wolves would eat him! ithe wolves within them, or did he mean the wild wolves? No one but Allah knows. They coaxed their father to send Joseph (Yusuf) with them; he agreed under their pressure.
They were excited that they could now get rid of Joseph (Yusuf) for after this they could stand a better chance of receiving their father’s affection. On leaving home, they went directly to the well, as they had planned, on the pretext of drinking water. One of them put his arms around Joseph (Yusuf) and held him tightly. Startled by this unusual behavior, Joseph (Yusuf) struggled to free himself. More brothers rushed to hold him. One of them removed his shirt. Some more joined in to lift Joseph (Yusuf) up and cast him into the deep well. Joseph (Yusuf)’s piteous pleas made no difference to their cruel hearts.
Then Allah revealed to Joseph (Yusuf) that he was safe and should not fear, for he would meet them again some day to remind them of what they had done.
There was water in the well, which buoyed Joseph (Yusuf)’s body, so he was not harmed. He sat lonely in the water, then clung to a rock ledge overheard and climbed on top of it. His brothers left him in this desolate place.
Then they killed a sheep and soaked Joseph (Yusuf)’s shirt in its blood. One brother said that they should swear to keep their deed a close secret. All of them took the oath. And they came to their father in the early part of the night weeping. (Ch 12:16)
The scene here is dark night, broken by the crying of ten men. The father is sitting in his house when the sons enter, the darkness of night covering the darkness of their hearts and the darkness of their lies struggling to come out. Jacob wondered aloud: “Why this weeping? Has anything happened to our flock?” They answered crying: “O our father! We went racing with one another, and left Joseph (Yusuf) by our belongings and a wolf devoured him; but you will never believe us even when we speak the truth. (Ch 12:17)
“We were surprised after returning from the race that Joseph (Yusuf) was in the belly of the wolf.”
“We did not see him!”
“You will not believe us even though we are truthful! we are telling you what happened!”
“The wolf has eaten Joseph (Yusuf)!”
“This is Joseph (Yusuf)’s shirt. We foiled it soiled with blood, and did not find Joseph (Yusuf)!”
They brought his shirt stained with false blood. (Ch 12:18)
Deep down in the heart Jacob knew that his beloved son was still alive and that his other sons were lying. He held the blood stained in his hands, spread it out and remarked: “What a merciful wolf! he ate up my beloved son without tearing his shirt!” Their faces turned red when he demanded more information, but each swore by Allah that he was telling the truth. The brokenhearted father burst into tears: “Nay! But your ownselves have made up a tale. So for me patience is more fitting. It is Allah Alone whose Help can be sought against that which you assert.” (Ch 12:18)
The father acted wisely by praying for mighty patience, which is free of doubt, and by trusting in Allah for help against what they had plotted against him and his son. This scene dims, and the scene opens in the well with which Joseph (Yusuf) had been thrown.
In the dark well Joseph (Yusuf) managed to find a stone ledge to hold onto. Around him was total darkness and an eerie silence. Fearful thoughts entered his mind: what would happen to him? Where would he find food? Why had his own brothers turned against him? Would his father know of his plight? His father’s smile flashed before him recalling the love and affection he had always shown him. Joseph (Yusuf) began to pray earnestly, pleading to Allah for salvation. Gradually his fear began to subside. His Creator was testing the young man with a great misfortune in order to infuse in him a spirit of patience and courage. Joseph (Yusuf) , surrended himself to the will of his Lord.
The next scene shows the wide desert. At the horizon is a long line of camels, horses, and men; a caravan on its way to Egypt. The caravan of merchants halted at this famous well for water. A man lowered in his bucket. Joseph (Yusuf) was startled by the bucket hurtling down and grabbed hold of it before it could land in the water. As the man began to haul he felt the load unusually heavy, so he peeped into the well. What he saw shocked him; a man was clinging to the rope! He held the rope tightly and shouted to his friends: “Better give me a hand fellows! Looks like I found real treasure in the well!”
His companions rushed to the well and helped him to pull out the stranger holding onto the rope. Standing before them was a healthy, handsome youth, beaming with an angelic smile. They saw in him a handsome prize, for money was all that mattered to them. Immediately, they clapped iron shackles on his feet and took him along to Egypt, far away from his beloved homeland of Canaan.
All over the Egyptian city the news spread that an unusually handsome, robust young slave was on sale. People gathered by the hundreds at the slave market. Some were spectators, others were bidders the elite and the rich, each one craning his neck to view the handsome specimen. The auctioneer had a field day as the bidding went wild, each buyer trying to outbid the other. Eventually, the Aziz, the chief minister of Egypt, outbid all the others and took Joseph (Yusuf) to his mansion.
The Quran describes this scene as follows: And there came a caravan of travelers; they sent their water drawer, and he let down his bucket into the well. He said: “What a good news! Here is a boy.” So they hid him as merchandise (a slave). And Allah was the All Knower of what they did.
They sold him for a low price, for a few Dhirhams (for a few silver coins). They were of those who regarded him insignificant.
He (the man) from Egypt who bought him said to his wife: “Make his stay comfortable, perhaps he will profit us or we shall adobt him as a son.” Thus did We establish Joseph (Yusuf) in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of events. (Ch 12:19-21)
See how Allah the Almighty reveals the substance of this long story from its beginning: And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not. (Ch 12:21)