Yusuf (Joseph) was born in Canaan (Palestine) to Yaqub (Jacob), the son of Ishaq (Isaac), who was the son of Ibrahim (Abraham) – all of whom were prophets. The intriguing life story of Yusuf has been described by Allah as “the best of stories” (12:3) and has been completely narrated in a single chapter.
As a young boy, Yusuf’s righteousness earned him the extra love of his father, Yaqub (also known as Israel), which invited the violent envy of his half-brothers. They cast Yusuf in a well from where a group of travelers picked him and sold him as a slave to a minister (Aziz) in Egypt. As Yusuf grew into an extremely handsome young man, the wife of Aziz – and later, other influential women in the city – sought to seduce him, which led to his subsequent imprisonment despite resisting all their advances.
Allah granted wisdom and prophethood to Yusuf, and taught him the interpretation of dreams. After remaining imprisoned for several years, Yusuf interpreted a dream for the King of Egypt which saved the country from famine and poverty, and led to the appointment of Yusuf as the minister (Aziz) responsible for the storehouses, thereby giving him great prestige.
Sometime later, a famine in Canaan forced the brothers of Yusuf to approach him for trade on lenient terms, although they did not recognize the powerful minister as their brother. After several visits to Egypt, when their financial constraints forced the brothers to ask Yusuf for charity, he revealed his true identity, which made the brothers truly remorseful. He forgave their earlier crime and asked them to migrate to Egypt along with their families, where Yusuf welcomed them and experienced the joy of being reunited with his parents.
- Jealousy can destroy any relationship
Jealousy leads to ill-will and causes a person to take for granted what he or she possesses. It can create hostility between siblings, friends, colleagues, and even spouses, and can potentially end any relationship. The half-brothers of Yusuf resented the special attention Yusuf received from their father, which alone motivated them to conspire against him and brutally cast him into a well: “[The brothers said,] ‘Yusuf and his brother [Binyamin (Benjamin)] are more beloved to our father than we, while we are a clan. Indeed, our father is in clear error. Kill Yusuf or cast him out to some land; the countenance [i.e. attention] of your father will be only for you, and you will be after that a righteous people.’” (12:8-9)
- Counter tragedy with patience
We all face tragedies in life, including partings from our beloved. In such situations, one should seek help from Allah, and not utter anything objectionable or do something blameworthy. A person must never harm him or herself out of grief as Allah has made human life sacred, and should try to remain emotionally stable by remembering Allah. Yaqub, upon being separated from his young son, felt great anguish, but remarked, “…Patience is most fitting. And Allah is the one sought for help against that which you describe.” (12:18)
- Seek Allah’s help in overcoming lust
One has to be conscious of Allah, and sincerely connect with Him, to overcome lust and false desires. That is why a spiritually dead person gives in to all sorts of temptations. The Quran makes it clear that Yusuf might have inclined to the wife of Aziz, and other women who sought to seduce him, if he did not seek help from Allah in staying resolute: “And she certainly determined [to seduce] him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord.” (12:24) Yusuf similarly prayed, “…If You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and be of the ignorant.” (12:33)
- Justice should be established, not just imparted
Sometimes, a just outcome alone is not sufficient; justice should also be seen to be done. People must be in a position to acknowledge that justice has been imparted and that the ruling has not been unfair in any way. When Yusuf interpreted the king’s dream and saved the people from potential starvation, the king ordered his immediate release from prison. However, Yusuf refused to come out of prison, despite languishing there for years, until his innocence was firmly established in the king’s court, and witnessed by people. It was only after the wife of Aziz testified against her own conduct and rendered him blameless that he left prison, thus proving his trustworthiness and lofty character.
- Express confidence in your abilities
We should be confident in our abilities and skills, and not be afraid of accepting responsibility. There is nothing wrong with informing others of our capabilities and requesting a position of authority on its basis. However, it is important to be honest in appraising oneself, and not exaggerate or show off. When the King of Egypt decided to appoint Yusuf for his service, the latter said, “Appoint me over the storehouses of the land. Indeed, I will be a knowing guardian.” (12:55) Yusuf felt he could do the job well, and he made it known to the king.
- None possesses knowledge of the Unseen
It is important to remember that Allah alone possesses the ultimate knowledge and no one else. The prophets did not know the Unseen unless specifically informed by Allah, and hence were susceptible to making a misjudgment. When Yusuf’s full brother, Binyamin, was detained in Egypt on the feigned charge of stealing, Yaqub assumed his sons had harmed Binyamin – just as they had done with Yusuf – but this was not actually the case: “[Yaqub] said, ‘Rather, your souls have enticed you to something…’” (12:83) Similarly, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, Ayesha, informs us, “…if anyone tells you that Muhammad has seen the Unseen, he is a liar, for Allah says, ‘None has the knowledge of the Unseen but Allah.’” (Bukhari)
- Seek Allah’s bounty throughout the land
The Quran encourages us to travel for seeking Allah’s sustenance. As the example of Yaqub and his family shows, there is also nothing wrong with migrating to another land for financial considerations as long as one is able to serve Allah alone and follow His teachings without restrictions. When Canaan was affected by the famine, and Egypt was relatively prosperous due to the foresight granted by Allah to Yusuf, he instructed his brothers, “And bring me your family, all together.” (12:93) Hence, they all migrated from their native Canaan and settled in Egypt.
- Stay resolute in the face of hardships
The life of Yusuf gives us a great lesson in steadfastness and determination. He was separated from his parents at an early age, cast in a well by his own brothers, hidden and carried along as merchandise, and sold as a slave for a low price in a foreign land. He lived as a slave for many years, resisted the advances of his master’s wife, and was then imprisoned on a false charge. Yet, in spite of all these hardships, he remained positive, exhibiting exemplary strength of character and constantly asking Allah for help. He ended up acquiring a position of honor and prestige, with his family by his side, and all blessings at his disposal. We must, therefore, be determined when confronted with hardships, and never despair of help from Allah. As Yaqub advised his sons, “…despair not of relief from Allah. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (12:87)