By: Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Delivered at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town
When Prophet Yusuf (a.s)’s plan to keep his brother back started to materialise, his other brothers became very stressed while Prophet Yusuf (a.s) and Bienyamin were very happy. The next verse thus narrate how they responded to this challenge.
BROTHERS OF YUSUF ARE “DOWN ON THEIR KNEES”
The brothers now started begging and offering any excuse to save Bienyamin from this situation.
Verse 77 says:
قَالُوا إِن يَسْرِقْ فَقَدْ سَرَقَ أَخٌ لَّهُ مِن قَبْلُ فَاَسَرَّهَا يُوسُفُ فِي نَفْسِهِ وَلَمْ يُبْدِهَا لَهُمْ قَالَ أَنتُمْ شَرٌّ مَّكَاناً وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا تَصِفُونَ
“They said: If he steals, a brother of his did indeed steal before. But Yusuf kept it secret in his heart and did not disclose it to them. He said: You are in an evil condition and Allah knows best what you state.”
Look at how their first response reveals their inner character. They still did not really lose their jealousy for Prophet Yusuf (a.s) and even refer to him as a thief as well. They did not know that they were lying in Prophet Yusuf (a.s)’s face! That’s most embarrassing. While the prison inmates addressed Prophet Yusuf (a.s) as “O truthful one”, his own brothers suggest he is dishonest!
This is typical of people with weak characters. They always try to shift the blame to protect themselves. They thus say that he is a thief, i.e. it is part of his character. If they had some character, they would have challenged the announcer by saying it’s a mistake and someone must have placed it in his bag. But instead of supporting their brother, they even bring false evidence to further support their argument to protect themselves by saying that he had a brother who had the same character!
Prophet Yusuf (a.s) felt very hurt at their expression but he did not show it on his face but rather told them that they are in an evil state and refers them to Allah who knows they are lying!
Commentators have expressed various views regarding this insinuation that Prophet Yusuf (a.s) is said to have been a thief once upon a time. This is because commentators felts that even though he was a Prophet and truthful person, something must have happened in his past that caused his brothers to confidently claim that he was also a thief.
They thus refer certain narrations to support their view that says:
- Prophet Yusuf (a.s) used to live with his aunt after his mother passed away and was young and one day took a shawl of his aunt and tied it around him and left the house with it and then someone accused him of having stolen the shawl even though it belonged to his very own aunt; or
- In the house of certain family from his maternal side, Prophet Yusuf (a.s) found an idol in the house and broke it. He was accused of breaking something that did not belong to him; or
- One day Prophet Yusuf (a.s) took food of his father and gave it away to a poor person. Someone said that he had no right to give the food away without asking.
However, there’s no certainty regarding the authenticity of these types of narrations and if they had some truth to it in any way, it was more that the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) were “clutching at straws” by referring to some obscure incident to degrade their brother.
This incident proves that though they were not such bad people any more, the old jealousy was still lurking inside them even though almost 35 years had passed. This is the reality of the evil of jealousy as it dies very hard and can resurface after decades. When one does not have real love for someone, then it’s very easy to accept any insinuation regarding that person.
The response of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) to conceal his feelings also show that sometimes one is forced to remain silent if one has a higher purpose to achieve and not destroy your ultimate goal by being vocal at the inappropriate moment.
Imam Ali (a.s) thus says: “The instrument of governance or leadership is to have a broad chest.” This is because you have to tolerate many ugly things and be extremely patient to be successful. A Persian poet says “Even if you saw a camel, you still say you saw nothing!”
Sometimes the revolutionaries among us always want to expose people, yet Prophet Yusuf (a.s) shows us that it’s not always the appropriate thing to do as covering others faults is better.
Verse 78 says:
قَالُوا يَآ أَيُّهَا الْعَزِيرُ إِنَّ لَهُ أَباً شَيْخاً كَبِيراً فَخُذْ أَحَدَنَا مَكَانَهُ إِنَّا نَرَاكَ مِنَ الْمُـحْسِنينَ
“They said: O Azeez! He has a father, a very old man, therefore retain one of us in his place; surely we see you to be one of the good doers.”
When the strategy of calling Prophet Yusuf (a.s) a thief did not work, the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) started to try to soften him by extolling his virtues and calling him by his high title like “O Azeez” and then saying that he should rather keep one of them in his place. They do refer to their old father, but could not reveal the true story of why they want to save Bienyamin, even though a moment earlier they called him a thief. And they further try to soften Prophet Yusuf (a.s) by referring to him as a “good doer.”
Verse 79 says:
قَالَ مَعَاذَ اللَّهِ أَن نَّأْخُذَ إِلاَّ مَن وَجَدْنَا مَتَاعَنَا عِندَهُ إِنَّآ إِذاً لَظَالِمُونَ
“He said: (I seek) Refuge of Allah that we should seize other than him with whom we found our property, for then most surely we would be unjust.”
Prophet Yusuf (a.s)’s reply is “Refuge of Allah” to any suggestion of him committing an act of injustice and incurring the wrath of Allah. How is it possible to punish someone who is innocent?! This is the same response that he had when Zuleikha tried to seduce him.
Again one should notice in this Verse that Prophet Yusuf (a.s) does not say that Bienyamin is a thief. He was very careful in his choice of words considering the implications in the Egyptian legal system.
Verse 80 says:
فَلَمَّا اسْتَيْأَسُوا مِنْهُ خَلَصُوا نَجِيّاً قَالَ كَبِيرُهُم أَلَمْ تَعْلَمُوا اَنَّ أَبَاكُمْ قَدْ أَخَذَ عَلَيْكُم مَوْثِقاً مِنَ اللَّهِ وَمِن قَبْلُ مَا فَرَّطْتُمْ فِي يُوسُفَ فَلَنْ أَبْرَحَ الأَرْضَ حَتَّي يَأْذَنَ لِي أَبِي أَوْ يَحْكُمَ اللَّهُ لِي وَهُوَ خَيْرُ الْحَاكِمِين
“Then when they despaired of him, they secluded themselves in a private meeting. The eldest of them said: Do you know that your father took from you a covenant in Allah’s name, and how you fell short of your duty with respect to Yusuf before? Therefore I will by no means depart from this land until my father permits me or Allah decides for me, and He is the best of the judges.”
When they realised that they were not going to save Bienyamin, the brothers had a private meeting to decide what they were going to do. The eldest brother chastised them that they were once again in a bad situation as they were now breaking the oath they made. This exacerbates their situation as they have a previous bad record. The eldest brother thus said he will stay there until his father allows him to return or he dies as he could not face his father.
Verse 81 says:
ارْجِعُوا إِلَي أَبِيكُمْ فَقُولُوا يَآ أَبَانَا إِنَّ ابْنَكَ سَرَقَ وَمَا شَهِدْنَآ إِلاَّ بِمَا عَلِمْنَا وَمَا كُنَّا لِلْغَيْبِ حَافِظِينَ
“Return to your father and say: O our father! Surely your son committed theft, and we do not bear witness except to what we have known, and we were not witnesses of the unseen.”
The eldest brother who remained behind advised his brothers to say this to their father and to provide the following evidence to substantiate their claim which is captured in Verse 82 which says:
وَاسْأَلِ الْقَرْيَةَ الَّتِي كُنَّا فِيهَا وَالْعِيرَ الَّتِي أَقْبَلْنَا فِيهَا وإِنَّا لَصَادِقُونَ
“And inquire in the town in which we were and the caravan with which we proceeded, and most surely we are truthful.”
In other words if Prophet Ya’koob (a.s) did not believe them, then he could independently verify their story by asking those who were with them in their journey.
WHY PROPHET YA’KOOB (a.s) RESPONDED THE SAME WAY AS BEFORE
So they returned to Qan’aan and the Quran does not narrate what they actually said to their father but immediately refers to his response.
Verse 83 says:
قَالَ بَلْ سَوَّلَتْ لَكُمْ أَنفُسُكُمْ أَمْراً فَصَبْرٌ جَميلٌ عَسَي اللَّهُ أَن يَأْتِيَنِي بِهِم جَميعاً إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ
“He (Ya’koob) said: Nay, your souls have enticed you to something, so patience is most fitting; maybe Allah will bring them all together to me; surely He is the Knowing, the Wise.”
This is the same response that their father had for them when they threw Prophet Yusuf (a.s) in the well. “Tasweel” in Arabic refers to satan beautifying your action and causing one to rationalise your sin and thus not even repent for it.
But why does Prophet Ya’koob (a.s) in this case chastise them in the same way as he did previously, even though on this occasion they were actually innocent and in fact trapped in a situation beyond their control?
Allamah Tabatabai says in Tafseer Al-Mizan that Prophet Ya’koob (a.s) was not referring to this incident but was actually referring to the first incident when they got rid of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) indicating that it became the root cause of the subsequent chain of events.
Other scholars say that Prophet Ya’koob (a.s) chastised them as it appears that their response was too weak and that they should have remained behind like their elder brother did as the evidence against Bienyamin was insufficient to conclude that he was a thief.
Once again Prophet Ya’koob (a.s) takes the road of being patient and is the symbol of sabr in this story. This is due to Prophet Ya’koob (a.s)’s belief in the Wisdom of Allah and knowing that nothing occurs without reason. Anyone with such understanding will always have resolve during times of extreme crisis.
CRYING IS NOT IN CONTRADICTION WITH BEING PATIENT
Verse 84 says:
وَتَوَلَّي عَنْهُمْ وَقَالَ يَآ أَسَفَي عَلَي يُوسُفَ وَابْيَضَّتْ عَينَاهُ مِنَ الْحُزْنِ فَهُوَ كَظِيم
“And he turned away from them; and said: “O my sorrow for Yusuf! And his eyes became white on account of the grief; and he was a suppressor (of grief).”
Prophet Ya’koob (a.s) cried so much that he became blind. At the same time the Quran says that he controlled his emotions. Thus crying is something natural that is not against Allah’s will as we have been created like that to shed tears due to our natural human feelings.
Imam Ja’far Saadiq (a.s) says: “My grandfather Ali ibn Hussain (a.s) never stopped crying after the tragedy of Karbala.” This extended for over 30 years. People used to say to Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) that he should have sabr, not realising that crying was not in contradiction with sabr.
He replied by reciting this verse indicating that Prophet Ya’koob (a.s) had twelve sons and one of them went missing and he knew that he was still alive and knew that one day he would be reunited with him, yet he cried so much that he lost his eyesight. And in Karbala, Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) says that he lost eighteen Yusufs in one afternoon who will never return! He was referring to the offspring of Fatima bint Asad (a.s) and how should he not cry due to this?
Somehow Muslims incorrectly believe that crying is not good. When there is a janaazah, people think that if you cry you do not have sabr. But sabr means to not complain of your experience, whereas crying itself is healthy.
In the incident when the first khalif died, Ummul Mumineen Aisha cried a lot. The second khalif told her that crying too much affects the deceased. She replied that its not possible for a deceased to carry the burden of the living person who cries for them as it goes against the Quranic teachings itself.
She then said that the hadith he is referring to relates to a Jew who died for whom people were crying and Prophet Muhammad (sawa) indicated that people were crying for someone while he was in punishment, but that was due to his own actions, not the actions of those crying for him!