Z The Holy Qur'an
QURANIC STORIES: The Story of Joseph
Joseph was the eleventh of the twelve sons of Jacob. One day, he told his father that in a dream he had seen eleven stars, the suna and the moon prostrating before him. Jacob realized that Joseph, who had always impressed him as a noble and gentle soul, was blessed by God. Sensing the greatness that lay ahead of his son, Jacob became more protective of him and asked him not to narrate his dream to his brothers, who, out of jealousy, might try to harm him. He told his son:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] The Lord has chosen you, O Joseph, for a much loftier purpose; He has given you His power to interpret dreams and foretell events; He has blessed you with His grace, as He had likewise blessed your forebears from Abraham to Isaac, for He is All-Knowing and full of wisdom. [12:6]
The other sons were aware of their father's extreme fondness for Joseph and were resentful of it. They decided that they would either have to [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'kill Joseph or cast him out to some unknown land in order to win Jacob's favor'. One of the brothers pleaded with the others not to kill Joseph; instead he suggested that they should find a pit or well and leave him there for some passing caravans to take him away. The others agreed. They asked Jacob to let Joseph go out and play with them, assuring him that Joseph would be taken good care of. Jacob was not happy at the suggestion; he told them that he feared they might not attend to him, and a wild animal such as a wolf might devour the young Joseph. But the brothers told their father not to worry, for there were so many of them that even if a wolf were to attack them, it would have to devour them first before it could do harm to their little brother.
So they took Joseph along with them, far away from home, threw him into a well and returned home weeping. They told Jacob that while they were away, racing with one another, a wolf, as the father had feared, has seized Joseph and devoured him. [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'We searched for him but in vain; all we could find was his blood-stained shirt.' This they showed to Jacob, who refused to believe their story. In his distress he turned to God; he had a strong feeling within him that no harm could have come to Joseph, for God was sure to protect him.
Meanwhile, a caravan passed by the well into which Joseph had been cast. Halting to draw a bucket of water, a water-carrier saw the handsome young boy struggling to get out of the well. He dragged the boy out, took him along with him and hid him in his merchandise. When he reached Egypt, he sold Joseph for a few dirhams to an Egyptian nobleman of high rank, an officer in the royal court. He took Joseph home and told his wife, Zuleikha, a lady of great beauty and charm, to take good care of him. As they had no children, he told her that they could adopt him as a son. And so Joseph was brought up in happy surroundings. He was given the best of training in the affairs of the world. The Almighty was working out His objective -- of which no one was aware -- of equipping Joseph with worldly wisdom and spiritual knowledge, with a view to making him His messenger.
Zuleikha felt deeply and passionately attracted to Joseph, but he maintained his distance and did not respond to her overtures. One occasion, when her husband was out, Zuleikha called Joseph to her room. As soon as he entered, she locked the door and said, [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'Now come to me, my dear one.' Taken aback by this advance, Joseph told her: 'God forbid. My master has been generous to me; I cannot betray his trust. Those who do evil can never prosper.' So saying, he rushed towards the door and tried to unlock it. Zuleikha caught hold of his tunic from behind and, in the tussle, it was torn. Joseph managed to unlock the door, but only to find his master outside. Zuleikha cried:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] What is the fitting punishment, my master! against one who has evil design against your wife, but prison and chastisement! [12:25]
Joseph denied the charge and said that it was Zuleikha who had sought to seduce him. An advisor from the household, a lady of reputation, was asked to settle the dispute. If Joseph's tunic was torn from the front, she said, then he was guilty; but if it was torn from the back, then Zuleikha should be held accountable. The husband saw that the tunic was torn from the back; he told his wife that she had been at fault. He asked her to seek forgiveness, for truly it was she who had sinned.
The news of the incident spread through the city like wildfire, and women in particular began to gossip about Zuleikha having gone astray. When she heard of their malicious talk she was furious. She invited all the noble ladies to a banquet at the palace; when they sat down for the feast she gave each of them a knife to hold in their hands, and then ordered Joseph to present himself. The women were so struck by the extraordinarily good-looking young man that they could not take their eyes off him; in the excitement they cut their fingers with their knives in their hands. They exclaimed:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] O God preserve our chastity. He is not a man! He looks an angel. [12:31]
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] This is the man about whom you noble ladies blamed me. It is true I tried to seduce him, though he resisted me and remained guiltless. Even now I shall not give him up. If he does not respond, he shall be cast into prison and He will be with the vilest. [12:32]
Joseph prayed to God:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] Help me, O my Lord! Prison will be better than what I am asked to do. Do not desert me. The snare is such that in my youth I may succumb to temptation. [12:33]
Joseph was all the same jailed, since the master could not displease his wife. In prison, Joseph had two young men as his companions, who became friendly with him. One day, one of them told Joseph that he had dreamt that he was pressing grapes to make wine. The other prisoner narrated his dream, in which he saw himself carrying bread on his head while a flock of birds were pecking at it. Joseph interpreted these dreams for his companions. He told the first that he would pour wine for his master, while the other would be beheaded and birds would peck at his head. That was what the future held for them. Joseph asked the one who was to serve wine not to forget him when he took service in the royal court. But after his release, when he became cup-bearer to the King, the young man forgot to mention Joseph, and so he continued to languish in jail.
One day, the King told his counsellors that he had had a strange dream. He saw seven lean cows devour seven fat cows, and he saw seven green corns being replaced by seven dry, withered ones. He asked the wise men to tell him what this dream foretold. The counsellors tried, but had to admit that they did not have the knowledge to interpret dreams. At that time the cup-bearer informed the King of his erstwhile friend Joseph and his uncanny ability to interpret dreams. The King sent the cup-bearer to the prison with orders that Joseph should be freed at once. The King asked for Joseph to be brought before him, but Joseph refused, saying that unless the false charge of seducing Zuleikha was investigated and he was exonerated, he would not appear at the royal court. The King agreed and ordered and investigation into the matter. The charge was found to be false, and Zuleikha admitted that she had tried to seduce Joseph and that Joseph was innocent. The King acquitted Joseph with honor. Joseph was happy that his innocence had been proved and that everyone now knew that he had not betrayed his master. He cautioned the people, however: [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'I do not want to justify myself or boast about my innocence. for any man can succumb to temptation and give in to evil; it is by the mercy of God that I was able to resist it and remain pure.' In his case, he said, the Lord was more than merciful to him.
Joseph then appeared before the King, who was so impressed by his honesty and candor that he declared that henceforth he would be his most trusted minister. Joseph asked the King to put him in unfettered charge of the storehouses of the kingdom, so that he could look after the needs of the people. the news of Joseph's appointment spread far and wide, and people from every part came to him for grain. His brothers were among those who came in search of food. They did not know Joseph's real identity, but Joseph recognized them and asked them to bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, who was Joseph's only real brother. He would then, he said, give them the full measure of their requirements, warning them at the same time that if they failed to bring Benjamin, they would get no supplies. They promised to bring Benjamin with them on the assurance that Joseph accepted their money and kept it as a deposit against future sales of grain.
The brothers returned home and told their father what had happened. They begged him to send Benjamin with them, for otherwise they might all have to starve and die of hunger. They promised to take good care of him. [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'No', said Jacob angrily. 'How can I trust him with you, knowing what you did to his brother Joseph?' The brothers persisted, pleading with their father to let Benjamin go with them, so that [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'we can secure what we need to keep our families alive'. Jacob reluctantly relented, but on one condition: that they would take a solemn oath before God that they would bring Benjamin back unless some dire calamity overtook each one of them. The brothers readily took the oath. Jacob advised them [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'not to go to the city through the same gate; each one of you should enter from a different gate.' So they entered the city through different gates and went straight to Joseph.
Joseph was happy to see Benjamin; he called his younger brother aside and informed him that he was his long-lost and only brother; the others were his step-brothers. He told Benjamin that he was deliberately putting the King's drinking-cup into his saddlebag so that Benjamin could stay back with him. Joseph then directed the attendants to search every visitor since the King's cup was missing. Before doing so a reward was announced: whoever brought the cup back would get a camel-load full of corn. The brothers were upset; they told the attendants that they were no thieves, nor had they come to do any wrong. They agreed that whoever was found guilty should be punished.
Everyone was searched, and of course the cup was discovered in the saddlebag of Benjamin; the brothers told the minister that they were not surprised, as his brother Joseph was also a thief. Little did they realize that the person they were addressing, the King's minister, was none other than Joseph himself. But they were worried about how they would face their father, who had made them take a solemn pledge that they would bring back Benjamin. They pleaded that Benjamin be freed:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] O powerful minister! we have a father old and venerable; he will grieve for him. Please take one of us in his place as a surety. Grant us this request, for you are most gracious. [12:78]
But Joseph refused. He told them:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] God forbid that we take someone other than the one with whom our property was found. That would be against the law, and we cannot act wrongfully. [12:79]
The brothers returned with the grain but without Benjamin. They told their father what their youngest brother had done, but he refused to believe them, saying that it was the evil in their hearts that was the real cause of the trouble. They had done the same with Joseph as they had now done with Benjamin. He scolded them for their lapse but said that he would also bear this loss with fortitude, for he knew the Lord would bring both his sons back and thus unite the family. But he wept so bitterly that his eyes grew weak and weary. He told his sons that God had endowed Joseph with knowledge of which they were not aware. [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'Hence,' Jacob said, 'go and search for Joseph and Benjamin. God's spirit is protecting them.'
So the brothers were back in the city once again. They told the King's minister of their father's state of health. [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'He is heartbroken; he cried so much that he has lost his eyesight.'
Joseph then revealed his true identity and the reason for keeping Benjamin with him. The brothers felt ashamed of their past conduct and their evil ways. They begged Joseph's forgiveness. Joseph embraced them and said:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] This day let us forget the past and let me not reproach you. God will forgive you for what you did for He is, indeed, Most Merciful. [12:92]
Joseph asked them not to worry about the condition of their father. [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'Take this shirt of mine,' he said, 'place it on his eyes, and he will recover his eyesight. Then all of you -- our parents and you, my brothers -- come to me, and we will once again be one family and live together.'
The brothers went back and brought their parents to Egypt, where Joseph embraced and welcomed them. He asked them to live with him in safety. He brought his father and mother on to the royal dais, and all of them prostrated before the Lord in gratitude. Joseph reminded his father of his dream, long long ago, and told how it had come true. Then, raising his hand in supplication to God, he prayed, [Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] 'O my Lord, you have given me power and taught me to interpret events. I beseech You to guide me to the right path so that I may die in peace and be among the righteous.' He was well aware that all he encountered in life was in fulfillment of God's plan. He told his father:
[Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim] God has indeed been good to me all along; even when I was in prison it was He who took me out. Again He has brought all of us back together here. Though Satan had sown enmity between me and my brothers, God wiped out everything and united us in one family. Verily, He understands the worst of our miseries and arranges to remove them, for He is Wise and All-Knowing. [12:100]
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