(Peace be upon him)
This is the most detailed and fascinating story in the Qur’an, involving both human weaknesses such as jealousy, hatred, pride, passion, deception, intrigue, cruelty, 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 theProphet Muhammad to tell them about Joseph (PBUH), who was one of their old prophets. His story had been distorted in parts and marred in others with interpolations and exclusions. Therefore it was revealed in the Book of Allah (Qur’an), 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)." (Surah 12: 3)
Almighty Allah also decreed: "Thus We relate to you (O Muhammad) some information of what happened before. And indeed We have given you from Us a Reminder (this 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." (Surah 20: 99-101)
The story of Joseph (PBUH) 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." (Surah 12: 21)
This is what the story of Joseph (PBUH), confirms categorically, for it ends with comfort and marvels.
Joseph 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 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 (PBUH), son of the Prophet Jacob (PBUH), 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." (Surah 12: 4)
His father’s face lit up. He foresaw that Joseph would be the one through whom the prophecy of his grandfather, Prophet Abraham (PBUH), 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 was asked: "Who is the most honorable amongst the people?" He 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 Allah’s prophet, the son of Allah’s prophet, the son of the faithful friend of Allah (Abraham)." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
However, the father was well aware of the jealousy of Joseph’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 (and 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! Verify your Lord is All-Knowing All-Wise." (Surah 12: 5-6)
Joseph heeded is father’s warning. He did not tell his brothers what he had seen. It is well known that they hated him so much that it was difficult for him to feel secure telling them what was in his heart and in his dreams.
Joseph 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’s brothers plotting against him. "Truly, Joseph 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 or cast him out to some (other) land, so that the favor of your father may be given 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, 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." (Surah 12: 8-10)
The pages of the Old Testament say that Joseph told them his dream, whereas the Qur’an does not say that 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 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 more than us?"
Another answered: "Perhaps because of his beauty."
A third said: "Joseph 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.
"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 given 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. They 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 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 (PBUH): "They said: 'O our father! Why do you not trust us with Joseph, 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.'" (Surah 12: 11-14)
Jacob suggested a point which had not occurred to them in their discussion: he feared that desert wolves would eat him! Did he imply the wolves within them, or did he mean the wild wolves? No one but Allah knows. They coaxed their father to send Joseph with them; he agreed under their pressure.
They were excited that they could now get rid of Joseph 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 and held him tightly. Startled by this unusual behavior, Joseph struggled to free himself. More brothers rushed to hold him. One of them removed his shirt. Some more joined in to lift Joseph up and cast him into the deep well. Joseph’s piteous pleas made no difference to their cruel hearts.
Then Allah revealed to Joseph 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’s body, so he was not harmed. He sat lonely in the water, then clung to a rock ledge overhead and climbed on top of it. His brothers left him in this desolate place.
Then they killed a sheep and soaked Joseph’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." (Surah 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 the flock?" They answered crying: "O our father! We went racing with one another, and left Joseph by our belongings and a wolf devoured him; but you will never believe us even when we speak the truth." (Surah 12: 17)
"We were surprised after returning from the race that Joseph was in the belly of the wolf."
"We did not see him!"
"You will not believe us even though we are truthful, but we are telling you what happened!"
"The wolf has eaten Joseph!"
"This is Joseph’s shirt. We found it soiled with blood, and did not find Joseph!"
"And they brought his shirt stained with false blood." (Surah 12: 18)
Deep down in his heart Jacob knew that his beloved son was still alive and that his other sons were lying. He held the blood-stained shirt 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 one swore by Allah that he was telling the truth. The broken hearted father burst into tears: "Nay, but your own selves have made up a tale. So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it is Allah (Alone) whose Help can be sought against that which you assert." (Surah 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 had been thrown.
In the dark well Joseph 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 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 surrendered 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 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 to his mansion.
The Qur’an 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."
And they sold him for a low price, for a few Dirhams (i.e. for a few silver coins). And they were of those who regarded him insignificant.
And he (the man) from Egypt who bought him, said to his wife: "Make his stay comfortable, maybe he will profit us or we shall adopt him as a son." Thus did We establish Joseph in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of events. (Surah 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." (Surah 12: 21)
The chains of slavery have closed on Joseph. He was cast into the well, deprived of his father, picked from the well, made a slave, sold at the market, and made the property of this man, the ‘Aziz, the chief minister. The hazards followed in quick succession, leaving Joseph helpless.
What we see as hazards and slander is the first step of the ladder on Joseph’s way to greatness. Allah is decisive in His action. His plan is carried out despite the plans of others and while theirs are still being made. So He spoils their plan, and Allah’s promise is realized. Allah had promised Joseph prophethood. Love for Joseph was thrust into the heart of the man who bought him, and he was a man of no mean position. He was an important personage, one of the ruling class of Egypt.
Therefore, Joseph was pleasantly surprised when the chief minister of Egypt ordered his men to remove the heavy shackles from his swollen feet. He was also surprised when he told Joseph not to betray his trust; he would not be ill treated if he behaved himself. Joseph smiled at his benefactor, thanked him, and promised to be loyal.
Joseph felt at ease, for at last he was sheltered and would be well cared for. He thanked Allah over and over and wondered at the mysteries of life. Not so long ago he had been cast into a deep, dark well with no hope of ever coming out alive. Next he was rescued, then enslaved in iron shackles, and now he was moving freely in a luxurious mansion, with enough food to enjoy. However, his heart ached with longing for his parents and brother Benjamin, and he shed tears daily.
Joseph was made the personal attendant of the chief minister’s wife. He was obedient and ever-obliging. With his pleasant manners and charming behavior, he won everybody’s heart.
Joseph’s handsomeness became the talk of the town. People referred to him as the most attractive man they had ever seen and wrote poetry about him. His face carried immaculate beauty. The purity of his inner soul and his heart showed in his face, increasing his beauty. People from afar came to the city to have a glimpse of him. The prettiest of maidens and the richest of ladies nursed the desire to possess him, but not once did he show haughtiness. He was always humble and polite.
The days passed and Joseph grew. Almighty Allah said: "And when he (Joseph) attained his full manhood, We gave him wisdom and knowledge (the Prophethood), thus We reward the doers of good." (Surah 12: 22)
He was given wisdom in affairs and knowledge of life and its ions. He was given the art of conversation, captivating who heard him. He was given nobility, which made him an irresistible personality. The chief minister soon knew that Allah had graced him with Joseph. He understood that Joseph was the most honest, straight forward and noble person he had met in his life. He put Joseph in charge of his household, honored him and treated him as a son.
The wife of the chief minister, Zulaikha, watched Joseph day to day. She sat with him, talked with him, listened and her wonder increased over the passage of time.
Joseph was soon confronted (with his second trial). The chief’s wife, Zulaikha, could not resist the handsome Joseph and her obsession with him caused her sleepless. She fell in love with him, and it was painful for her to be so close to a man, yet be unable to hold him. Yet, she was not a wayward woman, for in her position she could get any man she desired. By all accounts she must have been a pretty and intelligent lady, or why would the chief minister have chosen her of all the pretty women in the kingdom? Although she bore him no child, he would not take another wife, as he loved her passionately.
The Qur’an raises the curtain on the scene of this fierce and devouring love on the part of the lady. Allah the Almighty told us: "And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him (to do an evil act), she closed the doors and said: 'Come on, O you.' He said: 'I seek refuge in Allah (or Allah forbid)! Truly, he (your husband) is my master! He made my stay agreeable! (So I will never betray him). Verily, the Zalimun (wrong and evil-doers) will never be successful.' And indeed she did desire him and he would have inclined to her desire, had he not seen the evidence of his Lord. Thus it was, that We might turn away from him evil and illegal sexual intercourse. Surely, he was one of Our chosen, guided slaves." (Surah 12: 23-24)
Commentators are unanimous about her intention of disobedience but disagree about his own intention. There are those who say that she tempted him and he tempted her to sin, although he did not follow through with his intent. Others say that she merely wanted him to kiss her, and he attempted to strike her. Yet others say that this anxiety had been there before this incident. There was a psychological disturbance in Joseph when he reached adolescence, which Almighty Allah rid him of.
The safest commentary for us is that there is temptation and resistance in the verse, for He Most High stated: "And indeed she did desire him and he would have inclined to her desire ... " (Surah 12: 24)
Abu 'Ubaidah said that this is a temptation and resistance meaning that she had tried to seduce him; had he not seen the proof of Allah , he would have been seduced. This is in keeping with the infallibility of prophets, as it suits the words which immediately follow: "Thus it was, that We might turn away from him evil and illegal sexual intercourse. Surely, he was one of Our chosen, guided slaves." (Surah 12: 24)
This verse proves that Joseph was an upright worshiper of Allah ; it also testifies to his rescue from the authority of Satan. The Almighty said to the devil (Iblis) on the Day of Creation, "Certainly, you shall have no authority over my slaves, except those who follow you of the Ghawiii (Mushrikeen and those who go astray, criminals, polytheist, and evil-doers, etc.)" (Surah 15: 42)
Joseph's refusal only heightened her passion. As he moved to the door to escape, she ran after him and caught hold of his shirt, like a drowning person clinging to the boat. In her tugging she tore his shirt and held the torn piece in her hand. They reached the door together. It opened suddenly; there stood her husband and a relative of hers.
Almighty Allah said: "So they raced with one another to the door, and she tore his shirt from the back. They both found her lord (i.e. her husband) at the door." (Surah 12: 25)
As he opened the door, he saw her husband standing in front of him. The sly woman immediately changed her tone to anger and, showing the torn piece of the shirt in her hand, asked her husband: "What is the recompense (punishment) for him who intended an evil design against your wife, except that he be put in prison or a painful torment?" (Surah 12: 25)
She was now accusing Joseph of molesting her, to give the impression that she was innocent and a victim of Joseph's sexual desire. Though bewildered Joseph denied it: "It was she that sought to seduce me." (Surah 12: 26)
After the husband had questioned his wife and Joseph, he consulted Zulaikha's cousin. He was an honest, wise man who listened to both accounts and gave his opinion. He said the proof was in the shirt. If it was torn at the front it meant that he had tried to seduce her, as the torn shirt would then be a proof of self-defense. The husband asked: "And if the shirt is torn at the back?" The relative said: "Then it would mean that she was the one who tempted him."
The shirt was passed from hand to hand, while she watched. The witness (her cousin) looked at it and found that it was torn at the back. The evidence clearly showed that she was guilty. The disappointed husband remarked to his wife: "Surely, it is a plot of you women! Certainly mighty is your plot!" (Surah 12: 28)
The wise and just 'Aziz apologized to Joseph for his wife's indecency. He also instructed her to beg Joseph's forgiveness for accusing him falsely. Allah the Almighty narrated this incident thus: "He (Joseph) said: 'It was she that sought to seduce me.' And a witness of her household bore witness (saying): 'If it be that his shirt is torn from the front, then her tale is true and he is a liar! But if it be that his shirt is torn from the back, then she has told a lie and he is speaking the truth!' So when he (her husband) saw his (Joseph's) shirt torn at the back, (her husband) said: 'Surely, it is a plot of you women! Certainly mighty is your plot! O Joseph! Turn away from this! (O woman!) Ask forgiveness for your sin. Verily, you were of the sinful.'" (Surah 12: 26-29)
An incident like this cannot remain a secret in a house filled with servants, and the story spread. Women began to see her behavior as scandalous. They remarked: "The wife of Al-'Aziz is seeking to seduce her (slave) young man, indeed she loves him violently; verily, we see her in plain error." (Surah 12:30)
Naturally their gossip distressed Zulaikha. She honestly believed that it was not easy for any woman to resist a man as handsome as Joseph. To prove her helplessness, she planned to subject the women to the same temptation she faced. She invited them to a lavish banquet. No one so invited would want to miss the honor of dining with the chief minister's wife; besides, they secretly harbored the desire to meet the handsome Joseph face to face. Some of her close friends jokingly said they would come only if she introduced them to Joseph.
The invitation was restricted to ladies. The banquet began, laughter and mirth abounded. Etiquette dictated that the ladies not mention the topic of Joseph. They were shocked, therefore, when Zulaikha opened the topic. "I have heard of those who say I have fallen in love with the young Hebrew man, Joseph." Silence fell upon the banquet. At once all the guests' hands stopped, and all eyes fell on the chief minister's wife. She said, while giving orders for the fruit to be served: "I admit that he is a charming fellow. I do not deny that I love him. I have loved him for a long time."
The confession of the chief minister's wife removed the tension among the ladies. After finishing their dinner, the guests began cutting their fruit. At that very moment she summoned Joseph to make his appearance. He entered the hall gracefully, his gaze lowered. Zulaikha called him by his name and he raised his head. The guests were astonished and dumbfounded. His face was shining and full of manliness and angelic beauty. It reflected complete innocence, so much so that one could feel the peace of mind in the depth of his soul.
They exclaimed in astonishment while continuing to cut the fruit. All their eyes were on Joseph. So it was that the women began to cut their palms absentmindedly without feeling that they had cut them.
The presence of Joseph at the scene of drama was so effective that blood flowed without their feeling pain. One of the ladies gasped: "Good gracious!" Another whispered: "This is not a mortal being!" Another stammered, patting her hair: "This is but a noble angel."
Then the chief minister's wife stood up and announced: "This is the one for whom I have been blamed. I do not deny that I tempted him. You have been enchanted by Joseph, and see what has happened to your hands. I have tempted him, and if he does not do what I want of him he shall be imprisoned."
Almighty Allah related the scene of the banquet in His words: "So when she heard of their accusation, she sent for them and prepared a banquet for them; she gave each one of them a knife (to cut the foodstuff with), and she said (to Joseph): 'Come out before them.' Then, when they saw him, they exalted him (at his beauty) and (in their astonishment) cut their hands. They said, 'How perfect is Allah (or Allah forbid)! No man is this! This is none other than a noble angel!' She said: 'This is he (the young man) about whom you did blame me (for his love), and I did seek to seduce him, but he refused. And now if he refuses to obey my order, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and will be one of those who are disgraced.' He said: "O my Lord! Prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one (of those who commit sin and deserve blame or those who do deeds) of the ignorant." So his Lord answered his invocation and turned away from him their plot. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All Knower." (Surah 12: 31-34)
That evening, Zulaikha convinced her husband that the only way to save her honor was to put Joseph in prison; otherwise she would not be able to control herself or to safeguard his prestige. The chief minister knew Joseph was absolutely innocent, that he was a young man of honor, a loyal servant, and he loved him for these reasons. It was not an easy decision for him to put an innocent man behind bars. However, he was left with no choice. He reasoned that Joseph's honor would also be safeguarded if he was kept out of Zulaikha's sight. That night, with a heavy heart, the chief minister sent Joseph to prison.
Prison was Joseph's third test. During this period Allah blessed him with an extraordinary gift: the ability to interpret dreams. At about the same time two other men landed in the prison. One was the cupbearer of the king; the other was the king's cook. The two men sensed that Joseph was not a common criminal, for an aura of piety glowed on his face. Both men had vivid dreams, and they were anxious to have them explained. The king's cook dreamed that he stood in a place with bread on his head, and two birds were eating the bread. The cupbearer dreamed that he was serving the king wine. The two went to Joseph and told him their dreams, asking him to give them their meaning.
First, Joseph called them to Allah . Then he said that the cook would be crucified until he died and that the cupbearer would return to the service of the king. Joseph told the cupbearer to remember him to the king and to say that there was a wronged soul called Joseph in the prison. What Joseph predicted did happen; the cook was crucified and the cupbearer returned to the palace.
After the cupbearer returned to service, Satan made him forget to mention Joseph's name to the king. Therefore, Joseph remained in prison for a few years, but he made patience his own, praying to Allah .
Almighty Allah narrated: "And there entered with him two young men in the prison. One of them said: 'Verily, I saw myself (in a dream) pressing wine.' The other said: 'Verily, I saw myself (in a dream) carrying bread on my head and birds were eating thereof.' (They said): 'Inform us of the interpretation of this. Verily, we think you are one of the Muhsineen (doers of good).' He said: 'No food will come to you (in wakefulness or in dream) as your provision, but I will inform (in wakefulness) its interpretation before it (the food) comes. This is of that which my Lord has taught me. Verily, I have abandoned the religion of a people that believe not in Allah and are disbelievers in the Hereafter. And I have followed the religion of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and never could we attribute any partners whatsoever to Allah. This is from the Grace of Allah to us and to mankind, but most men thank not (i.e. they neither believe in Allah, nor worship Him). O two companions of the prison! Are many different lords (gods) better or Allah, the One, the Irresistible? You do not worship besides Him but only names which you have named (forged), you and your fathers, for which Allah has sent down no authority. The command (or the judgment) is for none but Allah. He has commanded (i.e. His Monotheism), that is the (true) straight religion, but most men know not. O two companions of the prison! As for one of you, he (as a servant) will pour out wine for his lord (King or master) to drink; and as for the other, he will be crucified and birds will eat from his head. Thus is the case judged concerning which you both did inquire.' And he said to the one whom he knew to be saved: 'Mention me to your lord (i.e. your King, so as to get me out of the prison).' But Satan made him forget to mention it to his lord [or Satan made (Joseph) to forget the remembrance of his Lord (Allah) as to ask for His Help, instead of others]. So (Joseph) stayed in prison a few (more) years." (Surah 12: 36-42)
The scene in the prison closes; a new scene opens in the bed chamber of the king. The king is asleep. He sees himself on the banks of the Nile river. The water is receding before him, becoming mere mud. The fish begin to skip and jump in the mud. Seven fat cows come out of the river followed by seven lean cows. The seven lean ones devour the seven fat ones. The king is terrified. Then seven ears of green grain grow on the river banks and disappear in the mud. On the same spot grow seven dry ears of grain.
The king awoke frightened, shocked, and depressed, not knowing what all this meant. He sent for the sorcerers, priests and ministers, and told them his dream.
The sorcerers said: "This is a mixed up dream. How can any of that be? It is a nightmare."
The priests said: "Perhaps his majesty had a heavy supper."
The chief minister said: "Could it be that his majesty was exposed and did not draw the blanket up at night?"
The king's jester said, jokingly: "His majesty is beginning to grow old, and so his dreams are confused."
They reached a unanimous conclusion that it was only a nightmare.
The news reached the cupbearer. He recollected the dream he had had in prison and compared it to the king's dream, and, therefore Joseph came to mind. He ran to the king to tell him about Joseph, who was the only one capable of interpreting the dream. The cupbearer said: "He had asked me to remember him to you, but I forgot." The king sent the cupbearer to ask Joseph about the dream.
Joseph interpreted it to him. "There will be seven years of abundance. If the land is properly cultivated, there will be an excess of good harvest, more than the people will need. This should be stored. Thereafter, seven years of famine will follow, during which time the excess grain could be used."
He also advised that during the famine they should save some grain to be used for seed for the next harvest. Joseph then added: "After seven years of drought, there will be a year during which water will be plentiful. If the water is properly used, grapevines and olive trees will grow in abundance, providing plenty of grapes and olive oil."
The cupbearer hurried back with the good news. The king was fascinated by Joseph's interpretation. Almighty Allah narrated this incident thus: "And the king (of Egypt) said: 'Verily, I saw (in a dream) seven fat cows, whom seven lean cows were devouring, and (seven) green ears of corn, and seven others dry. O notables! Explain to me my dream, if it be that you can interpret dreams.' They said: 'Mixed up false dreams and we are not skilled in the interpretation of dreams.' Then the man who was released (one of the two who were in prison), now at length remembered and said: 'I will tell you its interpretation, so send me forth.' (He said): 'O Joseph, the man of truth! Explain to us (the dream) of seven fat cows whom seven lean ones were devouring, and of seven green ears of corn, and (seven) others dry, that I may return to the people, and that they may know.' (Joseph) said: 'For seven consecutive years, you shall sow as usual and that (the harvest) which you reap you shall leave in ears, (all) except a little of it which you may eat. Then will come after that seven hard (years), which will devour what you have laid by in advance for them, (all) except a little of that which you have guarded (stored). Then thereafter will come a year in which people will have abundant rain and in which they will press (wine and oil).'" (Surah 12: 43-49)
The king was greatly astonished. Who could this person be? He commanded that Joseph to be set free from prison and presented to him at once. The king's envoy went to fetch him immediately, but Joseph refused to leave the prison unless his innocence was proven. Perhaps they accused him of cutting the ladies' hands, or of trying to rape them. Perhaps any other false accusation was made.
We do not know exactly what was said to the people to justify Joseph's sentence to prison. The envoy returned to the king. The kings asked him: "Where is Joseph? Did I not command you to fetch him?"
The envoy replied: "He refused to leave until his innocence is established regarding the ladies who cut their hands."
The king ordered: "Bring the wives of the ministers and the wife of the chief minister at once." The king felt that Joseph had been harmed unfairly but he did not know exactly how.
The wife of the chief minister came with the other ministers' wives. The king asked: "What is the story of Joseph? What do you know about him? Is it true that ... ?"
One of the ladies interrupted the king exclaiming: "Allah forbid!"
A second said: 'We know of no evil he has done."
A third said: "He enjoys the innocence of angels."
The eyes of everyone turned to the wife of the chief minister. She now wore a wrinkled face and had lost weight. She had been overwhelmed by sorrow over Joseph while he was in prison. She boldly confessed that she had lied and he had told the truth. "I tempted him; but he refused." She confirmed what she said, not out of fear of the king or the other ladies, but for Joseph to know that she had never betrayed him during his absence, for he was still in her mind and soul. Of all creation he was the only one she cared for, so she confirmed his innocence before all.
Almighty Allah said: "And the king said: 'Bring him to me.' But when the messenger came to him (Joseph) said: 'Return to your lord and ask him, what happened to the women who cut their hands? Surely, my Lord (Allah ) is well aware of their plot.' (The king) said (to the women): 'What was your affair when you did seek to seduce Joseph?' The women said: 'Allah forbid! No evil know we against him!' The wife of Al-'Aziz said: 'Now the truth is manifest (to all), it was I who sought to seduce him, and he is surely of the truthful.' (Then Joseph said: 'I asked for this enquiry in order that he (Al-'Aziz) may know that I betrayed him not in secret. And, verily! Allah guides not the plot of the betrayers. And I free not myself (from the blame). Verily, the (human) self is inclined to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills). Verily, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.'" (Surah 12: 50-53)
Reflecting on these verses suggests that she had turned to Joseph's religion, monotheism. His imprisonment was a great turning point in her life.
After this, the Qur'anic style neglects the story of the chief minister's wife completely. We do not know what happened to her after she gave her clear evidence. Yet still, there are legends about her. It has been said that after her husband died she married Joseph, and, behold, she was a virgin. She confessed that her husband had been old and had never touched women. Other legends said that she lost her sight, weeping for Joseph. She abandoned her palace and wandered in the streets of the city.
However, the lady disappeared from the Qur'anic narrative at a suitable stage, at the climax of her trouble. Perhaps she lingers in memory longer than if we had known the ending.
The king informed Joseph that his innocence was established and ordered him to come to the palace for an interview. The king recognized his noble qualities. When Joseph came, the king spoke to him in his tongue. Joseph's replies astonished the king with his cultural refinement and wide knowledge.
Then the conversation turned to the dream. Joseph advised the king to start planning for years of famine ahead. He informed him that the famine would affect not only Egypt but the neighboring countries as well. The king offered him a high position. Joseph asked to be made controller of the granaries, so that he could guard the nation's harvest and thereby safeguard it during the anticipated drought. By this Joseph did not mean to seize an opportunity or personal gain; he merely wanted to rescue hungry nations for a period of seven years. It was a sheer self-sacrifice on his part.
Almighty Allah said: "And the king said: 'Bring him to me that I may attach him to my person.' Then, when he spoke to him, he said: 'Verily, this day, you are with us high in rank and fully trusted.' (Joseph) said: 'Set me over the store-houses of the land; I will indeed guard them with full knowledge (as a minister of finance in Egypt, in place of Al-Aziz who was dead at that time).' Thus did We give full authority to Joseph in the land, to take possession therein, as when or where he likes. We bestow of Our Mercy on whom We please, and We make not to be lost the reward of Al-Muhsineen (the good-doers)." (Surah 12: 54-57)
The wheels of time turned. During the seven good years, Joseph had full control over the cultivation, harvesting, and storage of crops. During the following seven years, drought followed and famine spread throughout the region, including Canaan, the homeland of Joseph. Joseph advised the king that as his kingdom was blessed with reserved grain, he should sell grain to the needy nations at a fair price. The king agreed, and the good news spread all over the region.
Jacob sent ten of his sons, all except Benjamin, to Egypt to purchase provisions. Joseph heard of the ten brothers who had come from afar and who could not speak the language of the Egyptians. When they called on him to purchase their needs, Joseph immediately recognized his brothers, but they did not know him. How could they? To them Joseph no longer existed; he had been thrown into the deep, dark well many years ago!
Joseph received them warmly. After supplying them with provisions, he asked where they had come from. They explained: "We are eleven brothers, the children of a noble prophet. The youngest is at home tending to the needs of our aging father."
On hearing this, Joseph's eyes filled with tears; his longing for home swelled up in his heart, as well as his longing for his beloved parents and his loving brother Benjamin. "Are you truthful people?" Joseph asked them.
Perturbed, they replied: "What reason should we have to state an untruth?"
"If what you say is true then bring your brother as proof and I will reward you with double rations. But if you do not bring him to me, it would be better if you did not return," Joseph warned them.
They assured him that they would gladly fulfill his command but that they would have to get their father's permission. As an inducement to return with their brother, Joseph ordered his servant to secretly place the purse, with the money they had paid, into one of their grain sacks.
Allah the Almighty said: "And Joseph's brethren came and they entered unto him, and he recognized them, but they recognized him not. And when he had furnished them forth with provisions (according to their need), he said: 'Bring me a brother of yours from your father; (he meant Benjamin). See you not that I give full measure, and that I am the best of the hosts? But if you bring him not to me, there shall be no measure (of corn) for you with me, nor shall you come near me.' They said: 'We shall try to get permission (for him) from his father, and verily, we shall do it.' And (Joseph) told his servants to put their money (with which they had bought the corn) into their bags, so that they might know it when they go back to their people, in order that they might come back." (Surah 12: 58-62)
The scene dims in Egypt and lights in Canaan. The brothers returned to their father. Before they could unload the camels, they greeted him, then reproved him: "We were denied some supplies because you did not let your son go with us. They would not give us food for absentees. Why would you not entrust him with us? Please, send him with us, and we shall take care of him." Jacob became sad and told them: "I will not permit Benjamin to travel with you. I will not part with him, for I entrusted Joseph to you and you failed me."
Later, when they opened their grain sacks, they were surprised to find the money purse returned intact. They rushed to their father: "Look, father! The noble official has returned our money; this is surely proof that he would not harm our brother and it can only benefit us." But Jacob refused to send Benjamin with them.
After some time, when they had no more grain, Jacob asked them to travel to Egypt for more. They reminded him of the warning the Egyptian official had given them. They could not return without Benjamin. Jacob agreed, but not before he extracted a pledge from them. "I will not send him with you unless you give me a pledge in Allah's name that you shall bring him back to me as safely as you take him." They gave their solemn pledge. He reminded them: "Allah is witness to your pledge." He then advised them to enter the city through several different gates.
Almighty Allah narrated: "So, when they returned to their father, they said: 'O our father! No more measure of grain shall we get (unless we take our brother). So send our brother with us, and we shall get our measure and truly we will guard him.' He said: 'Can I entrust him to you except as I entrusted his brother (Joseph) to you aforetime? But Allah is the best to guard, and He is the Most Merciful of those Who show mercy.' And when the opened their bags, they found their money had been returned to them. They said 'O our father! What (more) can we desire? This, our money has been returned to us, so we shall get (more) food for our family, and we shall guard our brother and add one more measure of a camel's load. This quantity is easy (for the king to give).' He (Jacob) said: 'I will not send him with you until you swear a solemn oath to me in Allah's name, that you will bring him back to me unless you are yourselves surrounded (by enemies, etc.).' And when they had sworn their solemn oath, he said: 'Allah is the Witness over what we have said.' And he said: 'O my sons! Do not enter by one gate, but by different gates, and I cannot avail you against Allah at all. Verily! The decision rests only with Allah. In Him, I put my trust and let all those that trust, put their trust in Him.'" (Surah 12: 63-67)
Jacob blessed them on their departure and prayed to Allah for their protection. The brothers undertook the long journey to Egypt, taking good care of Benjamin.
Joseph welcomed them heartily, although, with difficulty, he suppressed the desire to embrace Benjamin that arose within him. He prepared a feast for them and seated them in pairs. Joseph arranged to sit next to his beloved brother Benjamin, who began to weep. Joseph asked him why he was crying. He replied: "If my brother Joseph had been here, I would have sat next to him."
That night, when Joseph and Benjamin were alone in the room, Joseph asked whether he would have him for a brother. Benjamin respectfully answered that he regarded his host as a wonderful person, but he could never take the place of his brother. Joseph broke down, and amidst flowing tears, said: "My loving brother, I am the brother who was lost and whose name you are constantly repeating. Fate has brought us together after many years of separation. This is Allah's favor. But let it be a secret between us for the time being." Benjamin flung his arms around Joseph and both brothers shed tears of joy.
The next day, while their bags were being filled with grain to load onto the camels, Joseph ordered one of his attendants to place the king's gold cup which was used for measuring the grain into Benjamin's saddlebag. When the brothers were ready to set out, the gates were locked, and the court crier shouted: "O you travelers, you are thieves!" The accusation was most unusual, and the people gathered around Joseph's brothers.
"What have you lost?" his brothers inquired.
A soldier said: "The king's golden cup. Whoever can trace it we will give a beast-load of grain."
Joseph's brothers said with all innocence: "We have not come here to corrupt the land and steal."
Joseph's officers said (as he had instructed them): "What punishment should you choose for the thief?"
The brothers answered: "According to our law, whoever steals becomes a slave to the owner of the property."
The officers agreed: "We shall apply your law instead of the Egyptian law, which provides for imprisonment."
The chief officer ordered his soldiers to start searching the caravan. Joseph was watching the incident from high upon his throne. He had given instructions for Benjamin's bag to be the last to be searched. When they did not find the cup in the bags of the ten older brothers, the brothers sighed in relief. There remained only the bag of their youngest brother.
Joseph said, intervening for the first time, that there was no need to search his saddle, as he did not look like a thief.
His brothers affirmed: "We will not move an inch unless his saddle is searched as well. We are the sons of a noble man, not thieves."
The soldiers reached in their hands and pulled out the king's cup. The brothers exclaimed: "If he steals now, a brother of his has stolen before." They strayed from the present issue in order to blame a particular group of the children of Jacob.
Joseph heard their resentment with his own ears and was filled with regret. Yet, he swallowed his own resentment, keeping it within. He said to himself. "You went further and fared worse; it shall go bad with you and worse hereafter, and Allah knows your intention."
Silence fell upon them after these remarks by the brothers. Then they forgot their secret satisfaction and thought of Jacob; they had taken an oath with him that they would not betray his son.
They began to beg Joseph for mercy. "Joseph, O minister! Take one of us in his stead. He is the son of a good man, and we can see you are a good man."
Joseph answered calmly: "How can you want to set free the man who has stolen the king's cup? It would be sinful." The brothers went on pleading for mercy. However, the guards said that the king had spoken and his word was law.
Judah, the eldest, was much worried and told the others: "We promised our father in the name of Allah not to fail him. I will, therefore, stay behind and will only return if my father permits me to do so."
Regarding this scene, Almighty Allah said: "And when they entered according to their father's advice, it did not avail them in the least against (the Will of) Allah, it was but a need of Jacob's inner-self which he discharged. And verily, he was endowed with knowledge because We had taught him, but most men know not. And when they went in before Joseph, he betook his brother (Benjamin) to himself and said: 'Verily! I am your brother, so grieve not for what they used to do.' So when he had furnished them forthwith their provisions, he put the (golden) bowl into his brother's bag. Then a crier cried: 'O you (in) the caravan! Surely, you are thieves.' They, turning towards them, said: 'What is it that you have missed?' They said: 'We have missed the (golden) bowl of the king and for him who produces it is (the reward of) a camel load; I will be bound by it.' They said: 'By Allah! Indeed you know that we came not to make mischief in the land, and we are no thieves!' They (Joseph's brothers) said. 'The penalty should be that he, in whose bag it is found, should be held for the punishment (of the crime). Thus we punish the Zalimeen (wrong-doers, etc.)!' So he (Joseph) began (the search) in their bags before the bag of his brother. Then he brought it out of his brother's bag. Thus did We plan for Joseph. He could not take his brother by the law of the king (as a slave), except that Allah willed it. (So Allah made the brothers to bind themselves with their way of punishment, i.e. enslaving of a thief). We raise to degrees whom We please, but over all those endowed with knowledge is the All-Knowing (Allah). They (Joseph's brothers) said: 'If he steals, there was a brother of his (Joseph) who did steal before (him).' But these things did Joseph keep in himself, revealing not the secrets to them. He said (within himself): 'You are in worst case, and Allah knows best the truth of what you assert!' They said: 'O ruler of the land! Verily, he has an old father (who will grieve for him), so take one of us in his place. Indeed we think that you are one of the good-doers.' He said: "Allah forbid, that we should take anyone but him with whom we found our property. Indeed (if we did so), we shall be Zalimun (wrong-doers).' So, when they despaired of him, they held a conference in private. The eldest among them said: 'Know you not that your father did take an oath from you in Allah's name, and before this you did fail in your duty with Joseph? Therefore I will not leave this land until my father permits me, or Allah decides my case (by releasing Benjamin) and He is the Best of the judges.'" ( Surah 12: 68-80)
The brothers left enough provisions behind for Judah, who was at a tavern awaiting the fate of Benjamin. In the end, Joseph kept Benjamin in his house as his guest and told him how he had devised the plot to king's cup in his bag, in order to keep him behind, so as to protect him. He was also glad that Judah had stayed as he was a good-hearted brother. Joseph secretly had to watch over Judah's well-being.
Joseph’s plan in sending the others back was to see if they would come back for the two brothers left behind.
When they arrived home, they entered upon their father, "O our father! Your son has stolen!"
He was puzzled, scarcely believing the news. He was overwhelmed with sorrow and his eyes wept tears. "Patience be with me; perhaps Allah will return all of them to me. He Knowing, Most Wise." A pall of lonesomeness closed yet he found consolation in patience and trusted in Allah .
Allah revealed to us what happened at their meeting with their father: [Judah said:] "Return to our father and say: 'O our father! Verily, your son (Benjamin) has stolen, and we testify not except according to what we know, and we are not guardians of the unseen! And ask (the people of) the town where we have been, and the caravan in which we returned and indeed we are telling the truth.' He (Jacob) said: 'Nay, but your own selves have beguiled you into something. So patience is most fitting (for me). Maybe Allah will bring them (back) all to me. Truly He! Only He is All-Knowing, All-Wise.' And he turned away from them and said: 'Alas, my grief for Joseph!' And he lost his sight because of the sorrow that he was suppressing." (Surah 12: 81-84)
The father was deeply hurt. Only prayer could comfort him and strengthen his faith and patience. Weeping all those years for his beloved son Joseph -- and now one more of his best sons had been snatched from him -- Jacob almost lost his sight.
The other sons pleaded with him: "O father, you are a noble prophet and a great messenger of Allah. Unto you descended revelation and people received guidance and faith from you. Why are you destroying yourself in this way?"
Jacob replied: "Rebuking me will not lessen my grief. Only the return of my sons will comfort me. My sons, go in search of Joseph and his brother; do not despair of Allah's mercy."
Allah , the Almighty told us: "They said: 'By Allah! You will never cease remembering Joseph until you become weak with old age, or until you be of the dead.' He said: 'I only complain of my grief and sorrow to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you know not. O my sons! Go you and enquire about Joseph and his brother, and never give up hope of Allah's Mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah's Mercy, except the people who disbelieve." (Surah 12: 85-87)
The caravan set out for Egypt. The brothers -- on their way to see the chief minister (Joseph) -- were poor and depressed.
On reaching Egypt they collected Judah and called on Joseph, to whom they pleaded: "O ruler of the land! A hard time has hit us and our family, and we have brought but poor capital, so pay us full measure and be charitable to us. Truly, Allah does reward the charitable." ( Surah 12: 88)
At the end, they begged Joseph. They asked alms of him, appealing to his heart, reminding him that Allah rewards alms givers. At this moment, in the midst of their plight, Joseph spoke to them in their native tongue saying: "Do you know what you did with Joseph and his brother, when you were ignorant?"
They said: "Are you indeed Joseph?"
He said: "I am Joseph, and this is my brother (Benjamin). Allah has indeed been Gracious to us. Verily, he who fears Allah with obedience to Him (by abstaining from sins and evil deeds, and by performing righteous good deeds), and is patient, then surely, Allah makes not the reward of the good doers to be lost."
They said: "By Allah! Indeed Allah has preferred you above us, and we certainly have been sinners." (Surah12: 89-91)
The brothers began to tremble with fear, but Joseph comforted them: "No reproach on you this day, may Allah forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!" (Surah 12: 92)
Joseph embraced them, and together they wept with joy. It was not possible for Joseph to leave his responsible office without proper replacement, so he advised his brothers: "Go with this shirt of mine, and cast it over the face of my father, he will become clear-sighted, and bring to me all your family." (Surah 12: 93)
And so the caravan headed back for Palestine. We leave the scene in Egypt and return to Palestine and the house of Jacob. The old man is sitting in his room; tears have been flowing down his cheeks. He stands up all of a sudden, dresses and goes out to his sons' wives. Then he lifts up his face to Heaven and sniffs the air.
The wife of the eldest son remarked: "Jacob has come out of his room today." The women inquired about what was amiss. There was a hint of a smile on his face. The others asked him: "How do you feel today?"
He answered: "I can smell Joseph in the air."
The wives left him alone, saying to one another that there was no hope for the old man. "He will die of weeping over Joseph."
"Did he talk about Joseph's shirt?"
"I do not know. He said he could smell him; perhaps he has gone mad."
That day the old man wanted a cup of milk to break his fast, for he had been fasting. At night he changed his clothes. The caravan was traveling in the desert with Joseph's shirt hidden among the grain. It neared the old man's estate. He gesticulated in his room, and then he prayed along time, lifting his hands to heaven and sniffing the air. He was weeping as the shirt was nearing him.
"And when the caravan departed, their father said: 'I do indeed feel the smell of Joseph, if only you think me not a dotard (a person who has weakness of mind because of old age).' They said: 'By Allah! Certainly, you are in your old error.' Then, when the bearer of the glad tidings arrived, he placed it (the shirt) over his face, and he became clear-sighted. He said: 'Did I not say to you, 'I know from Allah that which you know not.' They said: 'O our father! Ask Forgiveness (from Allah) for our sins, indeed we have been sinners.'" (Surah 12: 94-97)
The story began with a dream and it ends with the interpretation of the dream. Almighty Allah narrated: "He, said: 'I will ask my Lord for forgiveness for you. Lo! Only He is the Oft-forgiving, the Most Merciful.' Then, when they entered unto Joseph, he betook his parents to himself and said: 'Enter Egypt, if Allah will, in security.' And he raised his parents to the throne and they fell down before him prostrate. And he said: 'O my father! This is the interpretation of my dream of old! 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 Satan had sown enmity between me and my brothers. Certainly, my Lord is the Most Courteous and Kind unto whom He will. Truly He! Only He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.'" (Surah 12: 98-100)
Consider his feelings now that his dream has come true. He prays to Allah : "My Lord! You have indeed bestowed on me of the sovereignty, and taught me the interpretation of dreams; the (only) Creator of the heavens and the earth! You are my Wali (Protector, Helper, Supporter, Guardian, etc.) in this world and in the Hereafter, cause me to die as a Muslim (the one submitting to Your Will), and join me with the righteous." (Surah 12: 101)
Joseph arranged an audience with the king for himself and his family, to ask the king's permission for them to settle in Egypt. Joseph was an asset to the kingdom, and the king was happy to have him remain with his household. Joseph prostrated to Allah in gratitude.
Before he died, Jacob (PBUH) advised his children to adhere to the teachings of Islam, the religion of all of Allah's prophets. Allah the Almighty revealed: "Or were you witnesses when death approached Jacob? When he said unto his sons: 'What will you worship after me?' They said: 'We shall worship your Ilah (God - Allah); the Ilah (God) of your fathers. Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, one Ilah (God), and to Him we submit (in Islam).'" (Surah 2: 133)
Joseph (PBUH), at the moment of his death, asked his brothers to bury him beside his forefathers if they were to leave Egypt. So when Joseph (PBUH) passed away, he was mummified and placed in a coffin until such a time as he could be taken out of Egypt and buried beside his forefathers, as he had requested. It was said that he died at the age of one hundred ten.