The Story of Stories

on Sayyiduna Yusuf

Allah, exalted is He, calls the story of Yusuf, peace be upon him, the "most beautiful story". It is in an entire Surah which tells about him in the Qur'an.

Ya'qub or Isra'il

It really begins with the prophet of Allah, Ya'qub. The Christians call him Jacob. He was the son of Ishaq and so the grandson of Ibrahim, peace be upon all of them.

Ya'qub had been given another name, one with which we are very familiar: Isra'il. He had a number of different wives and with them he had twelve sons. The sons are called Bani Isra'il - the Children of Isra'il. This name is also used for all their descendants.

The twelve sons of Ya'qub, and the tribes descended from them, were called in the Bible: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah (Yahudha), Issacher, Zebulun, Benjamin (Binyamin), Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher and Joseph (Yusuf).

Yusuf and Binyamin were two sons of the same mother, Rahil. They were the sons that Ya'qub loved the most, but Yusuf was his great favourite.

The beauty of Yusuf

It is said that Allah gave Yusuf a half of all beauty. Real beauty is not just in the physical shape or the form of the face. Real beauty is a light that a person has because of the condition of his or her heart. Some people show their real beauty more than others. This was something that Allah had done for Yusuf. He had made him the most beautiful of people.

Ya'qub loved Yusuf above all the other brothers. His other sons criticised him a lot for loving Yusuf too much. One time Ya'qub said something very important to them. He said, "Truly, I know from Allah what you don't know." Ya'qub was a prophet and he loved Allah above everything. He knew that Yusuf was also to be a prophet of Allah. He knew that Allah loved Yusuf and so he too loved him.

Our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, told us that a part of the highest wisdom is to love with the love of Allah and to hate with the hate of Allah. That means to love what Allah loves, and to hate what Allah hates, not just to love what you already love yourself, and hate whatever you want, just because you want to. Ya'qub loved Yusuf because Allah loved him, not just because he was his favourite.

The Dream

We saw once before in the small history book about al-Hudaybiyyah called The Clear Victory that prophecy begins with true dreams. As he told his father, Yusuf saw in a dream, "...eleven stars and the sun and moon. I saw them prostrating to me!"

The Arabic language has a big secret here. There are a number of different Arabic words for 'them'. There is 'them' the people, for groups which include men and women, 'them' the women, and them 'the things'. The stars and the sun and moon are of course things, but Yusuf used the word for 'them' the people. Guess who the eleven stars and the sun and the moon represent? We will see at the end of the book.

Ya'qub warned him, "My son! Do not tell your dream to your brothers, in case they plot something against you." The dream clearly shows that Allah honoured Yusuf greatly. Ya'qub knew that Shaytan could use the dream to make the brothers jealous of Yusuf. He also told him, "... your Lord will choose you and teach you the interpretation of events". He told him that Allah would teach him the meanings of things and of dreams. Dreams are a part of the beginning of prophethood.

The brothers

The brothers were already very jealous of Yusuf, because their father loved him so much. They did not really understand what it meant for him to be a prophet, or that prophets have reasons for what they do. They only thought of Ya'qub as their father, and told themselves, "Surely, our father is clearly wrong."

Then one of them suggested something really outrageous. He said, "Kill Yusuf, or expel him to some other land. Then your father's face will be for you alone." He meant that if they killed Yusuf, his father would no longer love him and would love them instead. Even worse, he said, "Then you can be right-acting people." That was like saying, "Just do this one terrible thing and then you can be good people after that." But that terrible thing was either to kill their own brother who was also to be a prophet of Allah, or drive him into exile.

Another one said, "Do not kill Yusuf, but throw him into the bottom of the well, so that some travellers find him..." This was what they agreed on.

In order for their plot to succeed, they had to deceive their father. They went to him and said, "Father! What is wrong with you that you do not trust us with Yusuf, when we are sincere towards him? Send him with us tomorrow, so he can shepherd [the sheep and goats] and play, and we will protect him."

Ya'qub said, "Truly, it makes me grieve for you to go off with him, and I am afraid that the wolf will eat him while you are not paying attention to him."

They said, "If the wolf ate him, while we are a powerful group of men, then certainly we would be losers." So they persuaded Ya'qub to put aside his fears and send Yusuf with them. Ya'qub was not a fearful person, but he was anxious because he was a prophet of Allah who knew things from Allah which other people do not know.

They went out into the countryside with Yusuf, and when they came to the deep well they seized him and threw him into it. At that moment something happened which they did not know about. Allah revealed to His prophet Yusuf, "You will tell them about this affair of theirs at a time when they will not be aware." Allah made him aware of something that would happen in the future, perhaps in order to console him in his difficult situation.

Many of the ayat in the Qur'an were revealed to the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to console him when the disbelievers caused him pain. In particular, many stories about the difficulties the prophets had were revealed to him. That was to let him know that all of the prophets had suffered, not just he alone.

In the Bible the story of Joseph is also told. So why do you think that Allah tells it again the Qur'an? One of the reasons is that the Jews altered the true stories of the prophets. They tell very bad lies about them, as if they were just ordinary kings, or as if they were only the ancestors of the Jews and were not very good or wise people. So Allah tells the truth in the Qur'an, because it is important to know about these great men.

One of the things that we must know about the prophets is that Allah loves them and always meant them to be prophets. Allah protected them from doing even small wrong actions. The Jews told many tales about the prophets and they invented many things about them doing stupid or even wrong actions. There are so many important lessons in these stories that they must be told correctly. This is one of the reasons why Allah retells them.

They went back to their father that night crying and weeping. They said, "Father! We went out to run a race and we left Yusuf with our goods [to guard them] and the wolf ate him." This was exactly the story that Ya'qub had been afraid to hear.

Then they added something extraordinary, "And you would not believe us even if we were truthful." The way that they said it was almost like saying, "We are telling a lie, but even if we told the truth, you would still not believe us."

As proof, they produced Yusuf's shirt, on which they had smeared blood to try and convince their father.

Ya'qub was not to be fooled. He told them that they had invented the whole thing, and then said, "But beautiful patience [is better]. And Allah is the One to seek help from against what you describe [to me]." With his great knowledge as a prophet, Ya'qub knew that even this terrible event was also a test from Allah. He knew that he had to be patient, and that he could only get help from Allah.

Later, a passing caravan of traders stopped at the well to get water. One man lowered his bucket, and when he brought it up there was Yusuf. He called out, "What good news for me; here is a boy!" He said that because he knew he could sell him as a slave. The people in the caravan hid Yusuf among the goods as if he too was something to be traded with.

It is said that the brothers came back to the caravan and sold Yusuf to them. But they didn't know what he was worth. They sold him for a few silver coins called Dirhams. As a prophet of Allah, no amount of money could pay for him. But even if he had only been an intelligent boy, as he was, he still should have fetched a much higher price. The people in the caravan took him to Egypt to sell him again there.