Prophets of Allah – Prophet Joseph: A story of betrayal and triumph


“And We did raise among every people a Messenger”

Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam

Prophet Josephas, known as يوسف [Yusuf] in the Holy Quran, was a pious man and an honourable prophet of God. He was the beloved son of Prophet Jacobas [Yaqub]. Our Holy Prophetsa, the noblest of messengers and the best of creation, is recorded as having said:

“Honourable is the son of the honourable, the son of the honourable, the son of the honourable, i.e., Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, peace be upon all of them.” (Sahih al Bukhari, Kitab ahadithi l-anbiya’, Hadith 3382)

The names of the other sons of Jacobas, as found in the Bible, are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. (Genesis, 35:23-26)

In the Holy Quran, Joseph’sas life is described as “the most beautiful narration.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.4).

The Holy Quran recounts the true lives of God’s Prophets rather than invented notions and stories. Over time, a multitude of fables has emerged about prophets and their personalities. The Holy Quran unequivocally affirms the righteousness of all prophets and absolves them of any wrongdoing, thereby debunking the unfounded and deceptive myths propagated about them.

When a Muslim studies the life of Josephas, one of the first things that strike them is how similar it is to the life of the Holy Prophetsa.

The dream and his brothers’ malicious design

As the life of Prophet Josephas is heavily linked to the dream he saw as a child, the Holy Quran starts the narration from there. Josephas says to his father:

“O my father, I saw [in a dream] eleven stars and the sun and the moon, I saw them making obeisance to me.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.5) Seeing this dream displays his devotion to Allah. From a young age, Allah had shown him a dream that was to come to pass and be fulfilled.

In response, his father, Prophet Jacobas, told him not to relate this dream to his brothers, “lest they contrive a plot against thee; for Satan is to man an open enemy.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.6)

The brothers of Josephas harboured great jealousy against him and desired that their father’s love and attention be solely devoted to them. Blinded by hatred and a sense of jealousy, the brothers held a secret meeting in which they eventually planned to kill Josephas or cast him out to some distant land. The Quran states that one of them told the others not to kill Josephas, and instead “cast him into the bottom of a deep well; some of the travellers will pick him up.” (Surah Ch.12: V.11) The Bible states that the brother who had this idea was Reuben. (Gen. 37:‌22)

The brothers planned to take Josephas out, where they would then execute their plan. Jacobas, aware of the brothers’ nature towards Josephas, was at first hesitant; however, he allowed Josephas to go with his brothers. Jacob’sas reluctance shows that Josephas was, at the time, a young boy who needed to be looked after. The next day, as they carried out their malicious design and left him at the bottom of a deep well, Allah comforted Josephas and revealed to him, “Thou shalt surely one day tell them of this affair of theirs and they shall not know.’” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.16)

The brothers ran back to their father weeping, “with false blood on his shirt” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.19), saying that Josephas was devoured by a wolf. Jacobas turned to Allah and exhibited patience.

A caravan finds Josephas

The story of Josephas reminds us that Allah’s help is always nigh. Immediately after being cast into a deep well, a caravan arrived at the scene to fetch water from the well. Seeing Josephas there, a member of the caravan exclaimed, “Oh, good news!’ said he, ‘Here is a youth!” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.20) and took him out of the well. Witnessing this, the brothers said that Josephas was their slave and “sold him for a paltry price.” (Surah, Ch.12: V.21)

Josephas in Egypt and Potiphar, the Egyptian who bought him

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra explained, “It is said that when Josephas was sold into slavery in Egypt an elderly woman tried to purchase him for the price of two balls of cotton. [Ismail Hakkı Bursevi, Ruh al-Bayan, 1839, Vol. 1, p. 120] Worldly people listen to this and laugh, while spiritual people are moved to tears. The emotional core of the story resonates in their hearts; when an individual truly values something, they no longer care for what the world might think. In my view, Josephas was at that time [considered an ordinary] man whose sublime qualities were hidden from view. That is why his brothers traded him for such a paltry sum. Under these circumstances, it is not fanciful for the old woman to have believed she could buy him in exchange for two balls of cotton, particularly when one considers that cotton was not a commodity local to the region from which the trading caravan [which sought to sell Josephas] came. Instead, it was imported from Egypt. So, it is entirely possible cotton commanded a sufficiently high price for the woman in the story to think she could purchase Josephas by it.” (Ahmadiyyat Destiny and Progress, Inaugural Address of the Jalsa Salana, 26 December 1936, p. 36-37)

The Holy Quran goes on to say that a man from Egypt bought him and said to his wife, “Make his stay among us honourable. Maybe he will be of benefit to us; or we shall adopt him as a son.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.22)

Through the study of Jewish literature, it is said that the Egyptian who bought Josephas was known as Potiphar, who held a high rank as a captain of the royal guard. The Bible also makes mention of this. (Genesis 39:1)


Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to seduce Josephas

As Josephas attained age and strength, God granted him judgement and knowledge.

Narrating the incident of Potiphar’s wife’s failed attempt to seduce Josephas against his will, the Holy Quran states:

“And she, in whose house he was, sought to seduce him against his will. And she bolted the doors, and said, ‘Now come.’ He said, ‘I seek refuge with Allah. He is my Lord. He has made my stay [with you] honourable. Verily, the wrongdoers never prosper.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.24)

This verse clearly shows that the woman completely failed in her attempt. Josephas, recognising the favours bestowed upon him by Allah, resisted her and said, “Verily, the wrongdoers never prosper.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.24)

Seeing there was no hope in turning her away from the evil she desired, Josephas wanted to leave the room immediately and ran towards the door. As he ran, the woman, attempting to pull him back, grabbed hold of his shirt and, as a result, tore it from the back. Stumbling upon Potiphar at the door, the woman brazenly said, “What shall be the punishment of one who intended evil to thy wife, save imprisonment or a grievous chastisement?” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.26)

In this way, she tried to lay the blame at the feet of Josephas in an attempt to portray him as the culprit, God forbid. Hearing this, Josephas was compelled to state the facts. He replied, “She it was who sought to seduce me against my will.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.27)

A witness of the household  present, noticing that Joseph’sas shirt was torn from the back, simply said, “If his shirt is torn from the front, then she has spoken the truth and he is of the liars. But if his shirt is torn from behind, then she has lied and he is of the truthful.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.27-28)

The women of the city

With the above-mentioned incident having spread throughout the city, women began gossiping that Potiphar’s wife had been infatuated with Josephas. With this, to put the matter to rest, as well as her reputation, Potiphar’s wife invited the women to a feast and arranged for a seating area and knives.

According to the Talmud, oranges were served to the guests […]. (Jew. Enc. & Talmud) Potiphar’s wife arranged for knives and a place to sit and invited the guests. Thereafter, she asked Josephas to serve the guest. As they looked upon his countenance, they said, “Allah be glorified! This is not a human being; this is but a noble angel.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.32)

Struck by his beauty, the Quran says, some even “cut their hands” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.32) upon entering a state of absentmindedness.

The Holy Quran states that Potiphar’s wife said to the guest who, before, used to say she was infatuated by Joseph’sas beauty:

“And this is he about whom you blamed me. I did seek to seduce him against his will, but he preserved himself [from sin]. And now if he do not what I bid him, he shall certainly be imprisoned and become [one] of the humbled.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.33)

As Joseph’sas pious nature and nobility were revealed to all, the bad reputation of Potiphar’s wife spread even more. In order to save her reputation, it was deemed necessary to imprison Josephas so as to sway public opinion and so that he may be considered the offender.

Josephas in prison and the two young men

While in prison, two young men, upon seeing a dream, request Josephas to tell them the meaning of it.

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has said that the fact that these two men asked Josephas to interpret their dreams alludes to the fact that people regarded him as a noble and pious man, as it is usually highly spiritual people who are asked to explain the dreams. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.37, Vol.3, pp. 311-312)

Further, their saying, “We see thee to be of the righteous” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.37), clearly shows they saw Yusuf to be a great man.

Before explaining the meaning of their dreams, Josephas takes this opportunity to preach to them about the One true God (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.40). Then he explained the meaning of their dreams, “O my two companions of the prison, as for one of you, he will pour out wine, for his lord to drink; and as for the other, he will be crucified so that the birds will eat from off his head. The matter about which you inquired has been decreed.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.42)

Addressing the one whom he thought would escape, Josephas told him to mention him to his master. However, Satan caused him to forget and Yusuf remained in prison for some years. (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.43)

The King’s dream and Joseph’sas deliverance from prison

The King of the time, in Egypt, had seen a dream that seems to have had a huge impact on him. Demanding an interpretation, he presented his dream to the men of his court:

“I see [in a dream] seven fat kine which seven lean ones eat up, and seven green ears of corn and [seven] others withered. O ye chiefs, explain to me the meaning of my dream if you can interpret a dream.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.44)

The men replied that it was a “confused dream”. Then, the man who had met Josephas in prison, remembered how he had interpreted his dream and said to the King that he would let him know of the interpretation. He went to Josephas and narrated to him the King’s dream and desired to return with an answer. The servant wished to return with Joseph’sas interpretation, hoping that they would recognise him as a pious man who was not guilty of any charge levelled against him.

Josephas not only explained the dream, but he also offered a solution.

“You shall sow for seven years, working hard and continuously, and leave what you reap in its ear, except a little which you shall eat. Then there shall come after that seven hard years which shall consume all that you shall have laid by in advance for them except a little which you may preserve.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.48-49)

For the seven years of famine, Josephas advised them to leave the corn in the ear as it was the best way of preserving them.

Seeing that none of the men in his court was able to explain his dream and also hearing that Josephas not only provided its interpretation but also gave solutions as to what to do, the King was impressed and asked for Josephas to be presented before him. When Josephas heard of this, prior to leaving, he asked the courtier, “Go back to thy lord and ask him how fare the women who cut their hands: for, my Lord well knows their crafty design.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.51)

The King, being convinced of Joseph’sas righteousness, questioned the matter. The wife of Potiphar confessed, “Now has the truth come to light. It was I who sought to seduce him against his will, and surely, he is of the truthful.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.52)

The King said, “Bring him to me that I may take him specially for myself.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.55) Recognising his trust, the King desired to bestow a high rank upon him. Josephas replied, “Appoint me over the treasures of the land.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.56)

“Most probably, the King offered Josephas the post of Prime Minister, but Josephas preferred charge of the finance department. His choice seems to have been dictated by the desire to enjoy comparative freedom from the material cares and court intrigues that are incidental to premiership and also to give his single-minded attention to the successful running of the department with which the fulfilment of the King’s dream was so deeply concerned.” (Five Volume Commentary, Vol.3, p. 1450)


Josephas meets his brethren

Josephas was now a well-established man. The country was overtaken by famine and his brothers had entered the city for provision. Josephas recognised them, yet they did not recognise him. He, handed over the provision they had come for, told them to “Bring me your brother on your father’s side. Do you not see that I give you full measure of corn and that I am the best of hosts?” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.60)

The brothers replied, “We will try to induce his father to part with him and we will certainly do it.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.62)

Josephas then said to his servants to put their money back into their saddlebags which they used to buy the grain. This should not be taken to imply that Josephas took out the money from the treasury as it is against the character of a noble prophet. In fact, such a sum would have been easy to pay back. Josephas did this so that they may recognise the money upon their return home and this might thereby be tempting them to return.

Joseph’sas brethren return to their father, Prophet Jacobas

Due to the severe famine at that time, Joseph’sas brothers were sent to Egypt to purchase grain. Due to the King’s dream mentioned above, Prophet Joseph was able to predict that a severe famine would hit and thus had made preparations for it. 

As they, the brothers, arrived, and received their fair share, Joseph’sas had been denied further measure of corn until they brought their younger brother, Benjamin. When Joseph’sas brethren returned to their father, Prophet Jacobas, they said, “Send with us our brother that we may obtain our measure, and we will surely [be able to] take care of him.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.64) Prophet Jacobas, hearing this, rebuked his sons, reminding them that it was in fact Allah who was the best Protector. When the brothers opened their saddlebag, they found their money, which was returned to them. They said to their father that they would go back and now bring more provisions for the family.

Prophet Jacobas responded that he would not send their brother with them until they gave a solemn promise, in the name of Allah, “you will surely bring him to me, unless you are encompassed.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.67)

Prophet Jacob’sas advice to his sons

Jacobas said to his sons, “O my sons, enter not by one gate, but enter by different gates; and I can avail you nothing against Allah.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.68)

Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, explaining this verse, said that as the brethren told their father that they had been suspected of being spies, Jacobas advised them to enter separately. Huzoorra said that it could also imply that God revealed to Jacobas that Josephas was alive in Egypt and the brethren entering separately may give Josephas a chance to talk to his younger brother, Benjamin, in private, as this is what Jacobas wanted. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.68)

Josephas meets Benjamin and an incident with the King’s measuring cup

As the brothers entered, Josephas, upon seeing Benjamin, said to him, discreetly, that he was his brother and assured him that he was now safe with him.

“And when he had provided them with their provision, he put the drinking cup in his brother’s saddlebag.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.71)

Under this verse, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has explained that the verse may infer that Josephas, knowingly, placed a drinking cup in his brother’s saddle as a gesture of love so that he may make use of it on his way home.

As Joseph’sas brothers turned to leave, someone cried out that they had taken the King’s measuring cup. This incident has given rise to unfortunate commentaries. It is wrong to suggest that Josephas placed the measuring cup on purpose and accused him of stealing it. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has rejected this concept, as it does not behove the character of a noble Prophet to commit such an act. Huzoorra said that this matter was the result of what is found in the Bible and commentators copied the story from there.

Huzoorra states that the Holy Quran clarifies the entire situation. What Josephas placed inside his brother’s saddle was a drinking cup: the word used in the Holy Quran is  سقاية (siqayah). The cup that was said to be missing was a measuring cup, for which the word used in the Holy Quran is صواع (suwa‘).

The brothers said that whoever’s bag the measuring cup was found in should be detained. As Joseph’sas brothers were searched, they found the measuring cup in Benjamin’s luggage along with the drinking cup. Huzoorra added that it was possible that the King’s measuring cup (صواع الملك), which was in Joseph’sas hand when he was meeting his brothers, was accidentally placed in Benjamin’s bag by Josephas. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.71) In this way, Benjamin was made to stay back with him.

In light of this, God says, “Thus did We plan for Josephas. He could not have taken his brother under the King’s law unless Allah had so willed.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.77)

Joseph’sas brethren return to their father

Judah, the fourth of the brothers, also known as the leader among them (Genesis, 49:8-12), told his brothers to return to their father and relate this matter to him. After hearing what had come to pass, Prophet Jacobas said:

“So now comely patience is good for me. May be Allah will bring them all to me; for He is the All-Knowing, the Wise.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.84)

Through the study of the Holy Quran and Arabic grammar, we learn that this sentence of the Holy Quran highlights that God had told Prophet Jacobas beforehand that Josephas would still be alive and that all three brothers would come back safely.

The words recorded in the Holy Quran are:

عَسَي اللّٰہُ اَنۡ يَّاۡتِـيَنِيۡ بِہِمۡ جَمِيۡعًا

In this verse, Prophet Jacobas used the pronoun ھم (them). This pronoun, in the Arabic language, is used to denote more than two; and so the three referred to in this verse are none other than Prophet Josephas, Benjamin, and Judah. (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.84)

“And his eyes became white because of grief”

After hearing of what had happened, the Quran states that Jacobas grieved. The Quran explains this in the following manner:

وَابۡيَضَّتۡ عَيۡنٰہُ مِنَ الۡحُزۡنِ فَہُوَ کَظِيۡمٌ

“And his eyes became white because of grief, and he was suppressing [his sorrow].” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.85)

This verse does not mean that Prophet Jacobas, on account of his loss, grief, and weeping, lost his eyesight. This belief or view is simply not correct for two main reasons. Firstly, the Arabic idiom does not denote that the eye becoming white means loss of sight. Secondly, Prophet Jacobas has already, in various places, been described as a man of patience. Hence, it does not fit with his noble character that he should have forgotten his prophetic duty and wept all day on account of his loss and grief. Further, in this verse, the Holy Quran uses the word کَظِيۡمٌ (kazim), meaning he suppressed his grief.

Hazrat Jacobas further states:

اِنَّمَاۤ اَشۡکُوۡا بَثِّيۡ وَحُزۡنِيۡۤ اِلَي اللّٰہِ وَاَعۡلَمُ مِنَ اللّٰہِ مَا لَا تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ

“I only complain of my sorrow and my grief to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you know not.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.87)

Josephas forgives his brethren

Prophet Jacobas then sends his sons to “go ye and search for Josephas and his brother and despair not of the mercy of Allah.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.88)

This saying emphatically shows that Prophet Jacobas, no doubt, was convinced that his beloved son, Josephas, was still alive in Egypt, as he would not have commanded his sons to go out in search of him. Prophet Jacobas did not despair of the mercy of Allah.

The brothers, upon seeing Josephas, began begging for corn. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has explained that Prophet Josephas, it seems, did not like to see his brothers like this (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.89) and decided to tell them who he was:

“Do you know what you did to Josephas and his brother, when you were ignorant?” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.89)

The brothers, hearing this and having in mind what their father told them before leaving, immediately asked if he was Josephas, to which he replied in the affirmative and said that Allah had been gracious upon him. He went on to forgive his brothers for the terrible crime they committed when he was younger and said:

لَا تَثۡرِيۡبَ عَلَيۡکُمُ الۡيَوۡمَ

“No blame [shall lie] on you this day.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.93)

The Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, uttered the same words as he triumphantly entered Mecca. Just as Josephas was granted victory over his brothers, the Holy Prophetsa had been granted victory over the Meccans. Hearing the Meccans’ pleas for forgiveness, the Holy Prophetsa declared at once: “No blame [shall lie] on you this day.” (Life of Muhammad, p. 165)

Jacobas goes to Egypt with his family

Josephas gave his shirt to his brothers to lay before their father so that he may see it and feel delight and he said, “He will come to know.” (Surah, Yusuf, Ch.12: V.94) He went on to tell them to bring the entire family to him. Realising the error of their ways, the brothers asked their father to seek forgiveness for them.

As they arrived, Josephas welcomed them and said, “Enter Egypt in peace, if it please Allah.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.100) Joseph’sas real mother had passed away, however, when he saw his family, he showed the same love and affection for his stepmother as one does for their real mother. Josephas had also, as a sign of love, respect and anticipation, gone out of town to receive his parents. (Ibid.)

A dream fulfilled

As a sign of respect, Josephas “raised his parents upon the throne” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.101). Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said that this could have two implications. The first is that he introduced his parents and family to the King of that time. Second, it can mean that he seated them on his own throne with the King’s permission, as a sign of love. In Yusuf’s time, even deputies of Kings had thrones. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol.3, p. 362)

Thereafter, the Holy Quran states that they all fell down in prostration, thanking Allah for his immense blessings. Witnessing this scene, Prophet Josephas said:

“O my father, this is the fulfilment of my dream of old. My Lord has made it true. And He bestowed a favour upon me when He took me out of the prison and brought you from the desert after Satan had stirred up discord between me and my brethren.” (Surah Yusuf, Ch.12: V.101)

The lives of the prophets are presented in the Holy Quran for mankind to read and learn from. Their lives are filled with events that can enhance one’s spirituality, faith and trust in Allah. From being discarded by his brothers, thrown into a well, and sold as a slave, the life of Prophet Josephas reminds us that however difficult life may be, Allah’s help is always nigh for those who remain patient and steadfast in their faith.

His followers after his demise

Prophet Joseph’sas followers believed, after his death, that no prophet would appear after him. The Holy Quran states:

“And Josephas did come to you before with clear proofs, but you ceased not to be in doubt concerning that with which he came to you till, when he died, you said: ‘Allah will never raise up a Messenger after him.’ Thus does Allah adjudge as lost those who transgress, [and] are doubters.” (Surah al-Mu’min, Ch.40: V.35)

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