By: Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

Delivered at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town

Ramadaan 1436/2015

After having given the prison inmates a comprehensive lesson in Tauheed, Prophet Yusuf (a.s) interpreted their dreams for them. 

Thus Verse 41 says:

يَاصَاحِبَيِ السّجْنِ أَمَّآ أَحَدُكُمَا فَيَسْقِي رَبَّهُ خَمْراً وَأَمَّا الأَخَرُ فَيُصْلَبُ فَتَأْكُلُ الطَّيْرُ مِن رَّأْسِهِ قُضِيَ الأَمْرُ الَّذِي فِيهِ تَسْتَفْتِيَانِ

“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.”

In other words the one would be free while the other would be killed and there was no doubt about this happening.

Verse 42 says:

وَقَالَ لِلَّذِي ظَنَّ أَنَّهُ نَاجٍ مّنْهُمَا اذكُرْنِي عِندَ رَبّكَ فَاَنسَاهُ الشَّيْطَانُ ذِكْرَ رَبّهِ فَلَبِثَ فِي السّجْنِ بِضْعَ سِنِينَ

“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 Yusuf remained in prison several years.”

Prophet Yusuf (a.s) asked his prison mate to inform the king that he has been in prison for no reason for many years and probably forgotten about, but the free man forgot and this extended the stay of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) in prison! Most narrations indicate that Prophet Yusuf (a.s) was in prison for 7 years initially and this period was extended after his fellow prisoner forgot to mention his case to the king. 


When one reflects on the impact of prison on the lives of the prisoners, then one sees that it varies depending upon the reason for being a prisoner. Thus the case of a criminal is different to that of an innocent person who is imprisoned for no reason and this is also different to that of freedom fighters who are imprisoned for an unjust reason. 

Someone may go to prison for having committed a petty crime, but inside prison he meets other hard criminals and becomes initiated into also being a hard criminal as you cannot survive in prison without joining a gang. Such a person eventually comes out of prison in a worse condition than when he entered prison. This is very prevalent in South African prisons.

Sometimes people of vision who enter prison capitalize on the opportunity that the free time in prison provides them to reflect as they are too busy in their daily lives. Such people often achieve great heights in educational development and obtain degrees and even PHD’s in prison. Robben Island is a great example where political prisoners spent time obtaining an education after initially having been illiterate. Well know political prisoners like Nelson Mandela eventually became the governors of the new South Africa.

Others like Robert Subukwe was a great academic who was so influential over the prisoners that the apartheid government were forced to place him in a separate location on Robben Island where is was kept alone.

In Iran during the pre-revolution era, there are many examples of political prisoners who were detained and spent many years in prison. Sometimes they might have spent 10 years in the company of great Ayatullahs and then after 10 years themselves became mujtahideen. This is due to prison having been converted into a hawza!

Prophet Yusuf (a.s) transformed prison from being a place of crime and joblessness into a place of training people of Tauheed and building their revolutionary spirit of rejecting diverse gods and achieving freedom.


Verse 42 indicates that after Prophet Yusuf (a.s) informed his one prison mate that he would be free and that he would be serving the king, he asks him to present his case before the king and thus said “Mention me before your master.” Of course the verse then says that his inmate forgot.

Now this verse has caused mufassireen to discuss its meaning at length and has resulted in diverse views. While all the previous verses present an image of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) being a symbol of chastity and steadfastness who, was consumed in the Divine Love of his Lord, suddenly there is reference to him wanting his case to be considered by the king. 

And the question of discussion on this point is whether Prophet Yusuf (a.s) who always relied on Allah in an absolute sense, had experienced a moment where his attention diverted from Allah and where he was suddenly going to consider someone other than Allah to attend to his needs.

In essence there are two views on the matter.

On the one hand certain mufassireen say that Prophet Yusuf (a.s) did have a minor shortcoming when his attention diverted from Allah at that moment. However this was not a sin that he committed in any way which affects his infallibility. 

Thus he was not relying on the king but simply wanted to sort out his freedom and was using this opportunity to try to arrange his freedom. These mufassireen say that since Prophet Yusuf (a.s) referred for a moment to the physical causes without looking at the Real Cause that would secure his freedom, his attention diverted from Allah for a moment and Allah did not like that (though it was not a sin). Since Allah did not like that, Prophet Yusuf (a.s) ended up spending more time in prison to do further purification of his soul before he was released.  

Thus there is a narration of Imam Saadiq (a.s) where he is reported to have said that Prophet Yusuf (a.s) was kept in prison for more years as he thought for one moment that someone other than Allah could help him. 

Another hadith says that Jibra-eel came to Prophet Yusuf (a.s) after this incident and asked him:

“Who rescued you when your brothers were beating you in the forest?” He replied: “Allah”

“Who rescued you when you were thrown in the well?” He replied: “Allah”

“Who rescued you when a caravan brought you out of the well?” He replied: “Allah”

“Who rescued you when they sold you for a small amount of money so that your journey could continue?” He replied: “Allah”

“Who rescued you when the Governor of Egypt purchased you?” He replied: “Allah”

“Who rescued you when Zuleikha tried to seduce you in the palace?” He replied: “Allah”

“Who rescued you when other women tried to seduce you and you were brought out of the palace into prison?” He replied: “Allah”

“Who was with you in the dark dungeons of the prison?” He replied: “Allah”

“So why have you diverted your attention for a moment to ask this prisoner to rescue you?”

Thus Prophet Yusuf (a.s) remained in prison for further spiritual purification.

The second view is from scholars like Allamah Tabatabai (which is our view too) who says that Prophet Yusuf (a.s)’s attention never diverted from Allah, nor did he follow something that Allah did not prefer for him to follow. This is because Quran calls him from among the “Mukhlaseen” in verse 24. And Mukhlaseen are those sincere servants of Allah who have reached the reality of sincerity itself and are thus protected by Allah from satan. It was thus not possible for the attention of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) to be diverted from Allah even for a moment.

So the reason that Prophet Yusuf (a.s) asked for his prison mate to speak to the king on his behalf was to try to secure his freedom as he started his Prophetic Mission and he wanted to take it to the next level by entering society to do so. He thus looked at the physical causes without diverting his attention from Allah.

The verse saying “satan caused him to forget” does not mean that satan compelled the inmate to forget or that satan compels us to commit sin in our daily life. Rather it means as a natural result of enjoying his new found freedom, the prison mate forgot about Prophet Yusuf (a.s) and this caused him to stay in prison for an extended period.