By Azra Pervez
The story of Prophet Joseph, the son of Prophet Jacob, is given with great detail in the Quran in Chapter 12, aptly titled “Joseph.” It begins with a dream he relates to his father, “‘O my father! I did see eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrate themselves to me!’” (12:4)
His father, Jacob, warns him not to share this dream with his brothers, aware of their discontent towards Joseph. In fact, Joseph’s brothers were already so jealous that they soon decided to get rid of him; they felt he was the main hurdle in getting their father’s full attention. They convinced their father to allow Joseph to accompany them and executed their plan of throwing him into a well, bringing home his blood-stained shirt to their father – confirming his worst fears. Little did his brothers know that by their act of betrayal they were placing Joseph on the first step of the ladder which would take him to the great heights of success that God had planned for him.
Joseph was later discovered by a passing caravan and, at the tender age of 17, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, far from his home of Canaan. Joseph’s trials were to continue. His slave master’s wife became infatuated with him and tried to seduce him; when her husband found them together, she placed the blame squarely on him; she even gathered other women from the city to show them how his beauty had blinded her. Although Joseph was cleared of any wrongdoing, he was still imprisoned for a period of time. (Would you also like to read about Moses?)
God had blessed him with the ability to interpret dreams. When the king had a dream which none of his advisers could explain, a royal servant, recently released from prison, went to consult Joseph. Joseph said that the dream predicted a future famine which will prove difficult for the people. Upon hearing Joseph’s interpretation, the King summoned him, promising him that he will not be snared in any trap by his master’s wife or other women. Indeed, his master’s wife, when questioned by the King, suffered the embarrassment of publicly confessing her sin.
From the depths of his trials, Joseph rose due to his strong faith and moral excellence to such an extent that the king gave him authority over all the granaries and storehouses of Egypt and trusted him to manage the supplies so there would be enough saved for impending crisis.
The famine struck the surrounding areas of Egypt as well, and they were not so prepared; one of those who came to purchase food supplies were his very own brothers, traveling from Canaan. Far from their earlier arrogance, they now stood in front of Joseph utterly humiliated, at one point even begging him for food. Eventually, he revealed his identity to them, forgave them, and gave them his shirt to cover their father’s face, which enabled him to regain his sight. The brothers confessed to their father and asked him to seek forgiveness on their behalf from God. Then, they returned, along with their parents, to Joseph.
“They all bowed down before him and he said, ‘Father, this is the fulfilment of that dream I had long ago. My Lord has made it come true and has been gracious to me– He released me from prison and He brought you here from the desert – after Satan sowed discord between me and my brothers. My Lord is most subtle in achieving what He will; He is the All Knowing, the Truly Wise.’” (Quran, 12:100)
Joseph and Muhammad: Similarities
Through the story of Joseph, God comforted Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The unjust treatment by Joseph’s brothers was similar to the way the Meccan non-believers treated Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He was reminded that just as Joseph faced all the difficulties with piety and patience and then was ultimately granted success, he too would be strengthened and rescued by God.
By linking the story of Joseph to the encounter between Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the Meccans, the Quran is predicting the future of the Meccan people. Within one to two years of revelation of Chapter 12, Meccans planned to harm the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) just as the envious and hateful brothers had plotted against Joseph. The Prophet was forced to migrate from one land to another; but, here again, this migration only furthered his destiny, helping him in spreading God’s Message. He too was granted ascendancy and power in a manner that reminds one of Joseph’s journey to Egypt from Palestine. (Read also about the similarities between Muhammad and Moses.)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) returned to Mecca after conquering it without any bloodshed. The Meccans stood humbled before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the same way as the brothers of Joseph were begging before him. Joseph had the power to take revenge but he pardoned them by saying, “‘You will hear no reproaches today. May God forgive you: He is the Most Merciful of the merciful’” (Quran, 12:92). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not seek revenge against the Meccans, and repeated the same words as he pardoned them on the day of conquest of Mecca.
Today, we witness Muslims and Muslim countries all over the world facing hardships. The story of Joseph reminds us that we should have strong faith that whatever is happening is the result of God’s Will and Plan. He is forever Good and Wise, and He Knows all things. Therefore, we must trust Him and treat these trials as a test and an opportunity to come back to Him. As Joseph told his brothers, “God does not deny anyone, who is mindful of God and steadfast in adversity, the rewards of those who do good” (Quran, 12:90). In other words, the reward for our good deeds can never be lost – we will see it, if not now, then as per God’s plan.
Meanwhile, let us try to respond to our challenges and difficulties in the wisest ways, with piety and patience, just like Joseph!
Adapted, with permission, from an article published in Message Magazine.