By Osman Umarji
Surat Yusuf is one of the most amazing surahs in the Quran. The entire subject matter is the dramatic story of Prophet Yusuf, with all of its twists, turns, and exciting moments. SubhanAllah, the composition of the surah is far more exhilarating than any Hollywood film, yet it maintains a plethora of wisdom and lessons that every Muslim needs to learn.
The surah is Makki, revealed in the 10th year, the year of sadness, after the Prophet lost his beloved wife Khadija and uncle Abu Talib. He was also driven out of the town of Ta’if, and was feeling very sad due to the loss of his family and difficulties in the dawah. Allah sent down this beautiful surah to be a source of peace for Prophet Muhammad, as a reminder that look how many difficulties Yusuf faced and how he persevered through them. The surah is rare in how it is exclusively discussing one story, yet is probably one of the most exciting. When you read the surah, you feel as if you are there during the time of Yusuf and you don’t want to stop reading till you finish.
Yusuf, the son of Prophet Yaqoob, begins by having a dream that he saw 11 stars, the sun, and the moon prostrating to him. His father told him not to reveal his dream to anyone, but we’ll come back to the dream later.
One of the first major lessons we learn from this story is the reality of jealousy and sibling rivalry, and how jealously can drive people to do unspeakable things. His brothers were so jealous that their father loved Yusuf so much, that they wanted to kill him, but they eventually settled on throwing him into a well and he was picked up by a caravan and taken to another town. We should reflect over this and look at how we treat our own brothers and sisters. Are we loving and caring, or do we get jealous when good befalls them or they are showered with love? Do we treat them the way Allah has commanded us, or do we cut off ties with them if they wrong us? SubhanAllah, even in the end, his brothers come back and ask for forgiveness. Ramadan is a time to mend families ties and re-establish the family relationship. We should all pick the phones (or visit if possible) our brothers, sisters, and other family members during this month and let them know how much they mean to us, or at least try to renew the relationships if they were not strong.
After Yusuf is picked out of the well and sold to slavery, he finds himself in the home of Aziz, one of the powerful people of his locale. His wife falls in love with Yusuf, who was given half of beauty (half of mankind’s’ beauty or half of Adam’s?) and as befitting of a righteous person he refuses to be seduced and holds his ground. Here is another valuable lesson about protecting our chastity and being conscious of Allah. That no matter what opportunities to fitna present themselves to us, to remember the reward Allah will give us if we are patient on the halal and persevere in avoiding the haram. This can include an illicit offer from TV, movies, the internet, or someone of the opposite gender. The Prophet told us that Allah will place the sweetness of iman in our hearts if we protect ourselves from looking at and partaking in such haram.
What happens next is another wild spin in the story. The wife of Aziz is embarrassed after word spreads around town that she tried to seduce her young slave boy. She decides to call over all her friends and show them how beautiful Yusuf is and that she is not to blame. In the end, after all the woman are shocked by his beauty, Yusuf is sent to prison for not complying to fall into haram. The famous ayah (33) shows Yusuf’s attitude and resolve.
قَالَ رَبِّ السِّجْنُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا يَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ وَإِلاَّ تَصْرِفْ عَنِّي كَيْدَهُنَّ أَصْبُ إِلَيْهِنَّ وَأَكُن مِّنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ. فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُ رَبُّهُ فَصَرَفَ عَنْهُ كَيْدَهُنَّ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
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 may feel inclined towards them and join the ranks of the ignorant. “So his Lord responded to his duaa, and turned away their plot from him. Indeed, He is the All Hearing and All Knowing.
Look at the commitment to piety that Yusuf had! He wouldn’t comprise anything regarding Islam. He wouldn’t sell his soul for the hardships he would face. This ayah should make us cry that we make excuses for so many things due to the “difficulties” of living in the West. We must make sure we are not those who are weak hearted and have no patience to put up with any hardship we face. These tests may include refusing to sit in a gathering where alcohol is, despite the “necessity” that work mandates it, or to step out of a meeting or class to complete our prayers. There are obviously more difficult ways that we need to persevere, but these are some simple ones we must start to establish in our lives.
The main lesson from this event: Never sellout your deen for any price. Nothing in life is more precious and valuable. Never compromise for the sake of the dunya.
As Yusuf spends many years in prison (between 3 and 9 as we are not told exactly how many), he is approached by a couple of prisoners who observe his perfect character. He tells one of them to tell the king about his situation about being wrongly imprisoned. The prisoner forgets until much later when the king has a dream and asks his people for an interpretation. The old cellmate of Yusuf goes back to Yusuf and gets the answer, and then the king finally exonerates Yusuf of any wrongdoing and he is made the Treasurer of Egypt. There are many lessons in these events, amongst them, is to always make the best of your situation. Yusuf, although being wrongly imprisoned, didn’t throw a fit or cry all day. He made the best of the situation and did dawah to the prisoners and showed them the most upright character until they came to him with their problems. We can really learn from this because the Muslims in America should show the non Muslims the perfection of character that Islam came to teach, until they recognize how well we behave and desire to be like us and begin to question us about our faith. Each of us should take our responsibility to represent Islam in the best way seriously, because each of us may be the only Muslim that our non Muslim friends, coworkers, or neighbors know.
To wrap things up, Yusuf eventually is reunited with his siblings after they come to Eygpt looking for food due to the famine they were living through. They came to know Yusuf was the Treasurer and begged him for forgiveness. He forgave them and told them to ask Allah for forgiveness. Then he brought his whole family to Egypt and they all prostrated to him, which was the interpretation of his dream (that his brothers, mom, and dad all prostrated to him out of respect). Take note prostrating to another human was abrogated by the law of Islam.
There is are a few ayahs Yusuf said that are worth mentioning. After revealing to his brothers whom he was (they didn’t recognize him after all the years), he said
قَدْ مَنَّ اللّهُ عَلَيْنَا إِنَّهُ مَن يَتَّقِ وَيِصْبِرْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُضِيعُ أَجْرَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
Indeed Allah has favored us (Yusuf and his brother). Whoever is conscious of Allah (has taqwa) and is patient, then Allah will never waste the affairs of the righteous and they will be rewarded in full.
Yusuf reminds us that at the end of the day, as long as you are mindful of Allah and are patient in life, then Allah will eventually reward you and bring about what is best for you. Think about how Yusuf was thrown in a well, sold in slavery, imprisoned, but he was patient through it all and look where Allah placed him. Yusuf realized that life may be long and full of challenges, but he had trust that Allah would take of him as long as he did his part. We should remember this in our lives and remember that although we may think a particular incident is bad for us, that our scope to see the world and our entire lives is limited. Could Yusuf have imagined that due to his adventures that found him in prison, that he would meet the king and be made the treasurer of Egypt? Of course not. But it is proof that Allah is the All Capable and rewards the believers in this life and the next.
The last statement of Yusuf when he sees his whole family is amazing. In part of ayah 100 and 101, he says
وَقَدْ أَحْسَنَ بَي إِذْ أَخْرَجَنِي مِنَ السِّجْنِ وَجَاء بِكُم مِّنَ الْبَدْوِ مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي إِنَّ رَبِّي لَطِيفٌ لِّمَا يَشَاء إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ.
Allah treated me in the best way when He took me out of prison and brought you (all here) out of the desert, (even) after Satan had sown enmity between me and my brothers. Verily my Lord knows best the mysteries of all that He planned, for verily He is full of knowledge and wisdom.
Do you notice how Yusuf says that Allah has been good to him and treated him the best way? SubhanAllah, after every ordeal and difficulty, none of which he did any wrong in, he says Allah was best to him! This is the ultimate and deepest manifestation of understanding the qadr (Divine Decree) of Allah, that you are completely satisfied with every circumstance Allah places you in. You don’t complain to others, but you thank Allah for all the blessings He has given, and that He hasn’t tested you how He has tested others. In the end, we should know that Allah knows best how to plan the universe and our lives, and all we can do is to exercise the most taqwa and patience, and put our trust in Allah as he will take care of us in the end.
May Allah make us amongst those we learn from the best of stories, and who seek to perfect our character like that of Prophet Yusuf.