Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Surah Yusuf: The Story That Brings Comfort (Part 4 of 5)

In the last episode, we have seen how Joseph's brothers got rid of him, how he was seduced by his mistress, and after he refused all the temptations directed by the ladies, he was finally thrown into the prison.

In the prison, Joseph befriended two inmates who were sentenced for some crime (in the Bible, they were the King's butler and baker who had incurred the wrath of the King).  Each of these two had a dream, and finding that Joseph was a man of wisdom, they asked him to interpret those dreams.  Gifted with dream interpretation, he interpreted their dreams to their satisfaction. 

From their dreams, Joseph knew that one of them will be crucified, while the other will be the King's chef (or baker).  He befriended both, but disclosed his case to the latter, who was wondering why such a fine young man like him ended in a prison.  He also asked his prison inmate to tell the king about him when the latter became a chef, for by then he would have an access to the King.

But when Joseph's prison inmate went out and became a chef to the King, he forgot about Joseph's request.  Thus Joseph had to stay in the prison for many more years, until the king himself had a strange dream, of which no one can interpret to his satisfaction.  The strange dream of the king reminded the prison inmate of Joseph's request, so he told the king about Joseph.  The latter was brought to the king and the dream was related to him.  

In the dream, the King saw seven lean cows devoured seven fat cows, and seven rotten grains devoured seven good grains.

Having listened to the dream, Joseph interpreted that Egypt and the surrounding countries would be blessed with seven years of prosperity, followed by seven years of drought and famine.  The king was alarmed but exclaimed that this must be the correct interpretation of his dream.

To avoid the impending disaster, the king made Joseph to be in charge of the empire treasury, seeing him to be wise, intelligent and trustworthy.  Joseph's good name was also restored, after the conspiracy by the ladies of the high society was unraveled. 

It turned out that the old Governor died not too long after Joseph was thrown into the prison, and the young wife had been living in sorrow.  Not for the death of her husband, but for the guilt she felt on what she did to Joseph.   Thus, years later, when she was summoned by the King, she quickly confessed to her crime.  The Quran stops there, but the Quranic commentators say that, instead of asking the King to punish her and her partners in crime, Joseph asked her hand in marriage. 

The fantastic tale, popular among the sufis, goes on saying that it turned out that Zuleikha was still a virgin because the late governor was apparently an eunuch.  Well, we don't have to go that far.  Besides, the Bible simply said it was the late governor's daughter that Joseph married, not his seductive wife.

Anyway, seven prosperous years passed by.  All countries were in trouble due to the drought and famine, except Egypt.  Under Joseph's stewardship, he had used only what was needed during those seven years of prosperity, and stockpiled the rest.  People all over the surrounding regions came to Egypt to purchase food grains.  These included the ten men from Canaan (currently Israel and Palestine).  Joseph instantly recognized these ten men to be his brothers, but they did not recognize him.  It had been many years since they threw Joseph into the well.  Besides, they also did not expect that Joseph would turn out to be the Treasurer of Egypt, the most prosperous empire at that time. 

Upon enquiry, Joseph was told that they had 11 brothers altogether, but their youngest brother stayed with their father in Canaan.  Except for his own status, which his ten brothers kept silence, Joseph found them to be telling the truth.

"If you must come next time, bring your youngest brother.  Else, I would not sell food grain to you."  Said Joseph bidding them goodbye after the transaction. 

Finding Joseph's terms and conditions somewhat odd, they inquired as to why it should be that way, explaining that such a request could be difficult to meet, because their father would loath to be separated with their youngest brother.

"And why is that so?"  Joseph asked.

Not wanting to disclose any further, for that would lead to the story of what they did to Joseph years before, they told Joseph, who was the Treasurer of Egypt, that if that was what it took, then so be it. 

When they wanted to make the second travel to Egypt, having exhausted the previous supply, they fought tooth and nail with their father to let them bring Benjamin.  Though he sensed the danger, fully aware of what his sons did to Joseph before, and afraid that the same would happen to Benjamin, Joseph full brother, Jacob knew that he had no choice.

When they arrived and had an audience with Joseph, he disclosed his identity to his younger brother in private, who did not recognize him, since when Joseph was thrown into the well, Benjamin was just a boy.  The two brothers cried and embraced each other.  Benjamin had heard a lot about his lost brother and how his father had suffered because of the loss.

Joseph wanted to disclose himself to his half brothers as well, but decided to play a little drama.  He told Benjamin that he would be arrested, but he had nothing to fear. 

Having stayed long enough, his 11 brothers bid him goodbye.  Before they managed to leave the town, however, they were stopped by Joseph's bodyguards, who insisted that they came back to the palace.  Upon enquiry they were told that the Treasurer has lost his gold cup.  Believing in their innocent, they gladly let their sacks be searched.  Lo, the gold cup was found in the Benjamin's sack.

His eldest brother, Rueben, quickly came forward, "This is indeed most surprising, but I appeal to you to arrest me instead.  Punish me in any way you like, but please set my youngest brother free."

"I'm moved by your concern about your youngest brother, but I only punish the guilty one. If I punish you instead of him, that would make me a tyrant, and I'm not a tyrant."  Joseph retorted.

Seeing that there was no way they could persuade the Treasurer to change his mind, and they were already in great despair, one of them blurted out.

"If indeed he steals, so was his brother before him."

The remark stirred fury within Joseph, but he maintained his calm composure.  The drama had only begun. 

In despair, Joseph brothers left Egypt, leaving Benjamin as the slave of the treasurer, for that was the punishment for stealing.  In reality, Benjamin did not stay in Joseph's palace as a slave, but as a brother who loved one another.  It seemed possible that some of the brothers did not go back to Canaan, afraid to face their father, for their failure to keep their youngest brother out of trouble.

When they brought the news to their father, Jacob was so stricken with grief that he became blind.  He implored his children to go back to Egypt, looking for Benjamin, and enquired about Joseph.

When they arrived the third time, Joseph decided that the drama had to end.  He wanted to see his  father as soon as possible.  When the brothers implored upon him to release Benjamin, and to take anyone among them as the Treasurer pleased, Joseph finally asked his brothers:

"Do you know what you did to your brother Joseph, and what had happened to him?"

Looking at the Treasurer up and down, fear overtook them.  At that moment, they knew that the Treasurer was none other than their brother whom they threw into the dark well.  On his part, Joseph had no intention to punish his brothers for what they did years back, and before they threw themselves on his feet, asking for forgiveness, he said:

"No reproach on you this day, may Allah forgive you." 

Giving his shirt, so that his father and mother can smell the scent of their beloved son, Joseph instructed his brothers to quickly get their father and the rest of the family to Egypt, which they did.

The son was at last reunited with his father after they they lost each other for so long.  Jacob, whose father and grandfather were prophets (his father is Prophet Isaac (Nabi Ishak) and his grandfather Prophat Abraham (Nabi Ibrahim)), knew all along that his beloved son did not die, as claimed by his ten sons.  Himself a prophet, he knew that Joseph would not die unless and until his dream is fulfilled.  

As his 11 brothers bowed and humbled themselves to him, thus was fulfilled his dream of seeing 11 stars prostrated to him.  As his father and his mother were reunited with him, so was the dream of the sun and the moon prostrated to him get fulfilled.

Joseph's dream was fulfilled at last, but not before much trials and tribulations he had to go through.

The End of Part 4


  1. Eager to read your part 5. Thanks for narrating the seerah.

  2. Dear SM,

    It's good that you made references to what's actually mentioned in the Quran and what's in the Bible. We are often confused by the more popular accounts of the corrupted Biblical narratives, thru a much-celebrated folklores of western cultures. Keep up the good work!

    Rgds, TSZ

  3. Most welcome Wan.

    Yes TSZ, most of the materials in the net are confusing and not worth reading. My intent is to present seerah and history in the simplest and clearest way possible.