Monday 4 March 2019

Surah Yusuf (Joseph): Exegesis of the 12th Chapter of the Holy Quran - Part III (Verses 36 - 53 )

Sūrat Yūsuf  is the twelfth surah with 111 ayahs with two rukus, part of the 12th-13th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an.

This the fourth post on the exegesis of Sūrat Yūsuf. In the earlier posts, we presented:
  • An overview of the surah with an enlightening commentary from prominent scholar and teacher Nouman Ali Khan.
  • In Part I, the exegesis of verses 1-22 was given which gave details of the initial dream by young Yusuf and describing it to his father who takes it as indication of Yusuf being tipped to be a future prophet, and the jealousy of his brothers for him being specially liked by their father and his tacit abandonment by them in a well. His ultimate retrieval from the well by a passing caravan, and adoption by a merchant.
  • In Part II, exegesis of verses 23-35 was given which mainly centered on the seduction of Yusuf by the lustful wife of the merchant which Yusuf resisted. Although a witness defended innocence of Yusuf, the merchant's wife had him poisoned till he acceded to her dirty desires
Now in the Part III, the details of Prophet Yusuf's imprisonment will be deliberated upon wherein Prophet Yūsuf met two other men and interprets one of the prisoner's dreams. The prisoner is then released and Yūsuf asked the prisoner to mention his talent to the king. One day, the King had a dream, and the prisoner who had been released mention Yūsuf. He interprets the King's dream, which is about Egypt having a seven-year drought. To reward him, the King requests his release from jail and the King also investigates his case. The wife who tried to seduce Yūsuf testifies that he was innocent, and the truth unveils. Yūsuf is given authority in Egypt.

Let us now read the translation and exegesis in English of the Third Part, verses 36-53 (For Arabic Text, please refer to the references given below):

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ 
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful"

When ultimately Prophet Yusuf was prisoned, he found two more prisoners. According to the Bible, one of the two prisoners was the chief of the butlers of the king of Egypt, and the other the chief of the bakers. And according to the Talmud, they were condemned to the prison because during a feast stone grits were found in the bread and a fly in the wine.
And there entered the prison with him two young men. One of them said, "Indeed, I have seen myself [in a dream] pressing wine." The other said, "Indeed, I have seen myself carrying upon my head [some] bread, from which the birds were eating. Inform us of its interpretation; indeed, we see you to be of those who do good." (36) 
The fact that two prisoners attested his righteousness shows that Prophet Joseph was held in high esteem in the prison. Otherwise there was no reason why the two should have requested him alone to interpret the dreams and paid their homage like this: We have seen that you are a righteous man. It clearly means that the events narrated in the preceding verses had reached all and sundry and the people, inside the prison and outside it, knew that he had not been guilty of any crime or sin. On the other hand, he had proved himself to be a noble soul who had come out successful in the hardest test of his piety. So much so that there was not the like of him in piety, not even among their own religious leaders in the whole country. That is why not only the prisoners but also the officers and officials of the prison looked upon him as an honorable man and had full confidence in him. The Bible confirms this: And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand. (Gen. 39: 22-23).
He said, "You will not receive food that is provided to you except that I will inform you of its interpretation before it comes to you. That is from what my Lord has taught me. Indeed, I have left the religion of a people who do not believe in Allah, and they, in the Hereafter, are disbelievers. (37) And I have followed the religion of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And it was not for us to associate anything with Allah. That is from the favor of Allah upon us and upon the people, but most of the people are not grateful. (38) O [my] two companions of prison, are separate lords better or Allah, the One, the Prevailing? (39) You worship not besides Him except [mere] names you have named them, you and your fathers, for which Allah has sent down no authority. Legislation is not but for Allah. He has commanded that you worship not except Him. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know. (40) O two companions of prison, as for one of you, he will give drink to his master of wine; but as for the other, he will be crucified, and the birds will eat from his head. The matter has been decreed about which you both inquire." (41)
The verse 41 is the soul of this story, and is one of the best on the doctrine of Tawhid in the Quran itself, finds no place at all in the Bible and the Talmud. This is because they regard him merely as a wise and pious man and not as a Prophet. That is why Rev. Rodwell has, in regard to this passage, accused Muhammad (peace be upon him) of putting his own doctrine and conviction into the mouth of Yusuf (peace be upon him). But the Quran not only puts forward and presents these two aspects of his life in a much better and clearer way but also presents Yusuf as a Prophet, who had started propagating the message even in the prison.

As this discourse suggests several very important things, it will be worthwhile to consider these one by one:
  1. This is the first occasion on which Prophet Yusuf appears to have begun the preaching of the true faith. For before this, the Quran reveals him in the different stages of his life as a man of high morality but does not say anything to show that he conveyed the message also. From this it is clear that those stages were of a preparatory nature and the mission of Prophethood was entrusted to him at the stage of his imprisonment and this was his first discourse as a Prophet.
  2. Moreover, this was the first occasion when he revealed his identity to others. Before this, we find him bearing patiently everything that happened to him without revealing anything about his relationships with Prophet Ibraheem (Abraham, peace be upon him) and others. He kept silent when the caravan made him a slave and carried him to Egypt, when Al-Aziz bought him and when he was sent to prison. As Prophet Ibraheem, Ishaq(Isaac) and Ya'qub (Jacob, peace be upon them all) were quite well known, he might have used their names to his advantage. The members of the caravan, both the Ishmaelites and the Midianites, were closely related to his family, and the Egyptians were, at least, familiar with the name of Prophet Ibraheem. Nay, the way in which Prophet Joseph mentioned their names in this discourse, shows that the fame of his father, grandfather and great grandfather had reached Egypt. But in spite of this, Prophet Yusuf did not use their names on any of the critical occasions to save himself from the plight in which he was placed. This shows that probably he himself knew that these things were inevitable for his training for the mission for which Allah had chosen him. Now it was absolutely necessary for him, for the sake of his mission, to reveal this fact in order to show that he was not presenting any new faith but the same faith that was preached by Prophets  Ibraheem, Ishaq(Isaac) and Ya'qub (Jacob, peace be upon them all). This was necessary because the message demanded that it should not be presented with the claim that it was a new and novel thing but that it was the same universal and eternal truth that has always been presented by its bearers.
  3. This teaches us that one can, like Prophet Yusuf, carve out a way for the propagation of the message, if one has the intention and the required wisdom. The two men pay their homage to him and request him to interpret their dreams. In answer to this he says: I will tell their interpretations but let me first inform you about the source of my knowledge that enables me to understand dreams. Thus he takes advantage of their request and preaches his own faith to them. We learn from this that if a person is imbued with the true and strong desire for propagating the truth, he can very gracefully turn the direction of the conversation towards the message he desires to convey. On the contrary, if a person has no strong desire for the propagation of the message, he never finds any opportunity for it, even though hundred and one such opportunities might have come his way which could have been utilized for this purpose. But one must be on his guard to discriminate between the right use of an opportunity by a wise man from the crude propagation of a foolish and uncultured person, who tries to thrust the message into the ears of unwilling hearers and succeeds only in creating aversion for it in their minds because of his crude way of presentation.
  4. This also teaches the right procedure that should be followed in presenting the message. Prophet Yusuf does not present, at the very start, the details of the creed and regulations of the faith but the most fundamental thing that distinguishes a believer from a non-believer, that is, the distinction between Tawhid and shirk. Then he presents it in such a rational manner as cannot fail to convince any man of common sense. And his argument must have impressed deeply on the minds of the two slaves. Which is better, various gods or One Omnipotent Allah? They knew it from their personal experience that it was much better to serve one master than a number of them. Therefore it was far better to serve the Lord of the universe than His servants. Moreover, he does not invite them directly to accept his faith and discard their own faith, but he very wisely draws their attention to this fact; This is Allah’s bounty upon us and upon all mankind that He has not made us the servants of any other than Himself, yet most of the people are not grateful to Him. Instead of serving Him alone, they invent gods for themselves and worship them. Then it is also noteworthy that his criterion of the faith of his addressees is based on wisdom and has no tinge of bitterness in it. He says: The gods whom you call, the god of wealth or the god of health or the god of prosperity or the god of rain etc. are mere names you have given them without any reality behind them. The real Owner of everything is the Supreme Allah Whom you also acknowledge as the Creator and the Lord of the whole universe. He has sent no authority and given no sanction to anyone for Godhead and worship, but has reserved all the powers, all the rights and all the authorities for Himself, and commanded, “Serve and worship none but Me.”
  5. It may also be inferred from this discourse that Prophet Yusuf must have made full use of this opportunity of a decade for the propagation of the message. Some people think that that was the only time when he extended the invitation to the message. This is wrong for two reasons. First, it is absurd to imagine that a Prophet could have been neglectful of his mission for a long period. Second, it cannot be imagined that the person who availed himself of the opportunity when two men approached him for the interpretation of their dreams, could ever have passed a decade of imprisonment without propagating the message entrusted to him by his Lord. 
And he said to the one whom he knew would go free, "Mention me before your master." But Satan made him forget the mention [to] his master, and Joseph remained in prison several years. (42)
As regards verse 42, some commentators have interpreted it like this: Satan made Prophet Yusuf neglectful of his Lord, Allah, so he placed his confidence in a man rather than Allah and desired him to mention him to his lord, the king, for his release. So Allah punished him by letting him languish several years in the dungeon. In fact, such an interpretation is absolutely erroneous for as Allamah Ibn Kathir and some early commentators like Mujahid, Muhammad-bin- Ishaq and some others say, the pronoun him refers to that person who he thought would be released. Therefore it will mean: Satan made him (the would be free man) so neglectful that he forgot to mention him (Prophet Yusuf) to his lord (the king). They also cite a tradition in support of their interpretation to this effect. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: If Prophet Yusuf had not said that what he said, he would not have remained in imprisonment for several years. But Allamah Ibn Kathir says: This Hadith cannot be accepted because all the ways in which it has been reported are weak. Moreover, two of the reporters, Sufyan-bin-Wakii and Ibrahim-bin-Yazid, are not trustworthy. Besides being weak on technical grounds, it is also against the dictates of common sense: if a wronged person adopted some measures for his release, he cannot be considered to be neglectful of God and guilty of the lack of trust in Allah.

Now in the subsequent verses, the dream of the King of Egypt and its interpretation by Prophet Yusuf has been given in some detail. The man who was freed after the interpretation of his dream by Prophet Ysusf in fact had forgotten to mention Prophet yusuf's ability to interpret dreams and to request the king to release him being a pious and wronged man. However when he came to know that king had been seeing dreams that worry him, he suddenly remembered of Prophet Yusuf and asked him of the interpretation of dreams seen by the king (verse 46):
And [subsequently] the king said, "Indeed, I have seen [in a dream] seven fat cows being eaten by seven [that were] lean, and seven green spikes [of grain] and others [that were] dry. O eminent ones, explain to me my vision, if you should interpret visions." (43) They said, "[It is but] a mixture of false dreams, and we are not learned in the interpretation of dreams." (44) But the one who was freed and remembered after a time said, "I will inform you of its interpretation, so send me forth." (45) [He said], "Joseph, O man of truth, explain to us about seven fat cows eaten by seven [that were] lean, and seven green spikes [of grain] and others [that were] dry - that I may return to the people; perhaps they will know [about you]." (46)
 يُوسُفُ أَيُّهَا ٱلصِّدِّيقُ أَفْتِنَا فِى سَبْعِ بَقَرَٰتٍ سِمَانٍ يَأْكُلُهُنَّ سَبْعٌ عِجَافٌ وَسَبْعِ سُنۢبُلَٰتٍ خُضْرٍ وَأُخَرَ يَابِسَٰتٍ لَّعَلِّىٓ أَرْجِعُ إِلَى ٱلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

The Arabic word Siddiq (O man of truth above) is used for the one who is an embodiment of truth and righteousness. Thus it shows that the butler had been so deeply impressed with the pure character of Prophet Joseph that even years had failed to blot it from his heart. The meaning of Siddiq is best explained in Surah An-Nisa: Siddiq denotes someone who is utterly honest, someone whose devotion to truth has reached a very high point. Such a person is always upright and straightforward in his dealings. He supports nothing but right and justice and does so with sincerity. He opposes whatever is contrary to truth, and does not waver in his opposition to falsehood. His life is so unblemished and selfless that even enemies, let alone friends, expect of him unadulterated probity and justice.

That is, they might understand your true worth and realize their own error in keeping you in prison without any just cause. And in a way I may get the opportunity of fulfilling the promise I made with you during my imprisonment.
[Joseph] said, "You will plant for seven years consecutively; and what you harvest leave in its spikes, except a little from which you will eat. (47) Then will come after that seven difficult [years] which will consume what you saved for them, except a little from which you will store. (48)
The literal meaning of yasiroon (last word of verse 49)  is: “they will press.” Here it has been used to denote that state of verdure which was going to prevail after the famine years because of rainfall and flood in the Nile. For, when the land will be watered, there will be abundance of seed to press oil, and abundance of fruit to press juice and abundance of fodder for cattle to press milk out of them. It should be noted that Prophet Joseph not only interpreted the king’s dream but also told them how to preserve and reserve grain during the first seven years of prosperity for the subsequent seven years of famine. Moreover he foretold the good news of prosperity after the seven years of famine, though there was no hint of this in the dream of the king.

ثُمَّ يَأْتِى مِنۢ بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ عَامٌ فِيهِ يُغَاثُ ٱلنَّاسُ وَفِيهِ يَعْصِرُونَ
Then will come after that a year in which the people will be given rain and in which they will press [olives and grapes]." (49)
The verses 50-53 should be read i conjunction with the incident of seduction of Prophet Yusuf described in Part II already published. Allah finally tells that righteous people and His chosen messengers can never be wronged and one day truth always prevails to absolve them of any  bad experience or ill-framed false charges to debase them. 
And the king said, "Bring him to me." But when the messenger came to him, [Joseph] said, "Return to your master and ask him what is the case of the women who cut their hands. Indeed, my Lord is Knowing of their plan." (50)
There is no mention in the Bible and the Talmud of this most important part of the story that Prophet Yusuf declined to quit the prison till his character was cleared (verse 50). On the other hand, according to the Bible: Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon; and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. And the Talmud depicts even a more degrading picture of the event. It says: The king ordered that Joseph should be brought before him. But he commanded his officers to be careful not to frighten the lad, lest through fear he should be unable to interpret correctly. And the servant of the king brought Joseph forth from his dungeon, and shaved him and clothed him in new garments, and carried him before the king. The king was seated upon his throne, and the glare and glitter of the jewels which ornamented the throne dazzled and astonished the eyes of Joseph. Now the throne of the king was reached by seven steps, and it was the custom of Egypt for a prince or noble who held audience with the king, to ascend to the sixth step; but when an inferior or a private citizen of the land was called into his presence, the king descended to the third step and from there spoke with him. (The Talmud, H. Polano, pp. 87-88).

A comparison of the degrading picture in the Talmud with this self respecting grand, and noble picture depicted in the Quran will convince every unbiased critic that the one in the Quran is worthy of a Prophet of Allah. Moreover the picture in the Talmud is open to a grave objection: Had Prophet Yusuf behaved like a frightened and cringing lad who was so dazzled by the glitter and glare of the jewels of the throne that he bowed to the ground, how was it that the king and the courtiers were so impressed by him that they declared, “......the Hebrew has proved himself wise and skillful and through his wisdom shall our country be saved the pangs of want”? So much so that the king appointed him, without demur as governor over the land, second only to himself. All this shows that by that time he had proved his moral and mental superiority and had enhanced it by his refusal to quit the prison without proving his innocence. Otherwise, they would have never raised him to the highest rank in such a civilized and advanced country as Egypt.

He demanded an inquiry into the matter not because he himself had any doubt of his innocence, but because he was perfectly confident of this: My Lord has full knowledge of my innocence and of their cunning. But your lord should also make a thorough inquiry as to why I had been sent to prison, for I do not want to go before the public with any blemish or blot on my reputation. Therefore a public inquiry should be held to prove that I was an innocent victim of the injustice of the chiefs and nobles of the country, who had cast me into prison in order to cover up the guilt of their own ladies.

The words in which the demand was made clearly show that the king was already fully acquainted with the details of the incident that had happened at the banquet of the wife of Al-Aziz. That is why a mere reference to it was enough. Another noteworthy thing in this demand was that Prophet Yusuf did not in any way hint at the part the wife of Al- Aziz had played in the event. This is another proof of his noble character that he did not like to involve and entangle the wife of his benefactor in the matter, even though she had done him her worst.
Said [the king to the women], "What was your condition when you sought to seduce Joseph?" They said, "Perfect is Allah! We know about him no evil." The wife of al-'Azeez said, "Now the truth has become evident. It was I who sought to seduce him, and indeed, he is of the truthful. (51)
The inquiry and the evidences must have helped to pave the way for Prophet Joseph’s rise in the land by concentrating the public attention on him, especially under the circumstances when the inquiry had been demanded by him. He had interpreted the dream of the king, when all the wise men, sooth sayers and the magicians had failed. Then he had refused to quit prison even though the king himself had ordered that he should be brought before him, and, instead of this, demanded an inquiry of the matter which had been the cause of his imprisonment. Naturally this thing would have filled the people with wonder and they would have been looking eagerly for the result of the inquiry. Thus it can be imagined how the evidences and the result of the inquiry raised his prestige so high that the king and his courtiers declared that he was the only fit person to save the country from the coming calamity. It is no wonder, then, that Prophet Joseph proposed that all the resources of the land should be placed in his hands, and the king accepted this proposal as soon as it was made. For, had it been merely the matter of the interpretation of a dream, the most he would have deserved was some reward and his release from prison. But he could not have said: Place the resources of the land in my hands, and the king would not have readily acceded to his proposal and given him all the powers in the land, as is contained in (Ayats 55-56), and confirmed by the Bible and the Talmud.
That is so al-'Azeez will know that I did not betray him in [his] absence and that Allah does not guide the plan of betrayers. (52)
Prophet Yusuf might have said these words in the prison when he came to know the result of the inquiry. But some commentators, including great scholars like Ibn Taimiyyah and Ibn Kathir, regard this sentence to be a continuation of the preceding speech of the wife of Al-Aziz. They argue that this sentence has been placed contiguous to her preceding speech without any dividing word between them to indicate that her speech had ended at “indeed, he is surely of the truthful”, and that the succeeding words were spoken by Prophet Yusuf. They construe that if two speeches made by two different persons are placed in contiguity, they must be separated by means of some definite word, or there must be some definite clue to it. As neither of these two things exists in this case, it may rightly be construed that the words contained in (Ayat 52) are the continuation of her preceding speech in (Ayat 51). I (Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi), however, am surprised how a great scholar of Ibn Taimiyyah’s insight has missed this point that the characteristic of a speech is in itself a clear and self sufficient clue. Her confession in (Ayat 51) fits in with her low character, but obviously the succeeding dignified and grand speech in (Ayat 52) is too high for her. That fits in only with the noble character of Prophet Joseph. It is obvious that this must have been uttered by one, who was righteous, generous, humble and God fearing. It is by itself a clear evidence that it could not have come out of the mouth of the one, who said: Come here, and what punishment does the one deserve, who shows evil intentions towards your wife? And if he will not yield to my bidding, he shall be cast into prison. On the other hand, such a pure speech fitted in with the one who said: May Allah protect me. My Lord has shown so much kindness towards me. Should I, then, misbehave like this? And my Lord, I prefer imprisonment to that to which they invite me. If Thou dost not ward off their cunning devices from me, I might be caught in their snares. Therefore one cannot ascribe such a pure speech to the wife of Al-Aziz unless there is a clear clue showing that by that time she had repented and believed and mended her ways, but there is no such clue. Thus it is clear that this speech must have been made by Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him).
And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful." (53) The king said: "Bring him to me. I will select him exclusively for my own service." So when Joseph spoke to him the king said: "You are now one of established position, fully-trusted by us. (54)
So Prophet Yusuf was asked to be brought in front of the king who having been satisfied about his innocence and truthfulness wanted to reward him with some elevated position in his court as his trustworthy minister. The last verse 54 and the remaining part of the surah will continue in the Part IV of our series of posts shortly.

You may now like to listen to Arabic recitation of Sūrat Yūsuf  with English subtitles:

You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Part backwards for chapters in 30th Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References1 |  2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
An effort has been made to gather explanation of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic souses and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. However, those wanting detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to sites the references of which are given above.

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