Lecture by Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Sameera
[The following is the video playlist and transcript of part 4 of Shaykh Yasir Qadhi’s lecture series “The Best of Stories: Pearls from Surah Yusuf.” The transcript includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity.]
We had reached the story of Yusuf where the brothers of Yusuf were trying to convince their father to hand over Yusuf to them. They said, “Oh our father, why don’t you trust us with Yusuf? Why don’t you give us the protection of Yusuf? And indeed surely, we are those who want good for him. We are nasahah.” Nasahah means to want good for somebody. Naseehah, which means to give advice, comes from this root because when you give naseehah, you want good for somebody. When you give naseehah, you sincerely want their betterment.
From this wording when they say “Oh our father, why don’t you give us Yusuf?” it shows that before this time, Yusuf was not being given to them. Before this time, the brothers had never had the opportunity to take care of Yusuf. This means the father was taking precautions from before and not allowing the brothers to take Yusuf. They know that there is a problem, and they know that their father does not trust them.
They go to their father and make him feel guilty. They say, “Oh our father, why don’t you hand over our brother to us? How can you doubt our intention? We only want to enjoy his company. We want his good. (wa inna lahu la naasihoon).” They say, “What is the matter? What is the issue? Is there any problem?” By doing this, they take on an offensive and are not pacifist in trying to get Yusuf from their father.
There is an interesting tajweed point, by the way, before I move on: The word ta’manna comes from ta’mannuna (“Why don’t give trust of Yusuf over to us? Why don’t you trust us?”). The ‘nu‘ is not found in the Qur’an; it is ta’manna – the dhamma is not there. This is balagha that is allowed in the Arabic language to merge the two noons together. When the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) would recite this word, he would pucker up his lips, and this is called ishmaam to show that there is a silent dhamma or that there should be a dhamma here. This is the only place in the whole Qur’an where when we recite in our qira’a of Hafs and Asim (other qira’a have different rulings), when you reach this word, you are supposed to pretend you are making the dhamma, but you do not make the dhamma, to show that there is a missing dhamma. Why do we do it? Because the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) did it. This shows us how carefully the Qur’an has been preserved.
So the verse is: ma laka la ta’mannaa. The ruling when you do the ghunnah is to make the motion of a dhamma without making the sound of a dhammah because the original word is ta’mannuna, but we don’t say the dhammah. This ruling is called al-ishmaam. It is the only place in the whole Qur’an where we do ishmaam – ‘we’ meaning those who recite Hafs and Asim; the Qur’an has different recitations, and the recitation we do is generally Hafs and Asim.
They are saying, “Why don’t you trust us while we have so much love for him? Tomorrow we are going on a picnic and on a time to have fun, so send him with us tomorrow.” In another qira’a: “Either we will [or he will] have fun, play, and we will eat.” The word they use for eating is yart‘a, which is the word that is generally used for animals when they have very green grass. The reason they say this is they mean that they are going to enjoy a bountiful, luscious meal.
They are going to play. This shows us that playing and having a good time is something that is halal in our religion if it doesn’t go to an extreme. La‘ib and lahu are two things, and Allah ‘azza wa jall mentions both of them and compares this world as being la‘iboon wa lahu. La‘ib means to play, and lahu means pastime and amusement. What is the difference between la‘ib and lahu? La‘ib is something that you do which is not as serious and not as noble as other things but is permissible in moderate quantities. Lahu is a complete waste of time, and there is no benefit whatsoever in it. La‘ib is something that the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) occasionally did: racing with Aisha, spending time talking with his wives, playing with Hasan and Husayn and putting them on his backs. This is la‘ib, and it is healthy to have la‘ib. Lahu is a complete waste of time and is not something encouraged in our religion.
These are the children of a prophet, grandchildren of a prophet, and great-grandchildren of a prophet, and they are saying that they are going to play. Some people make Islam way stricter than it is and say, ‘you should not be playing’ or ‘the masjid should not organize a play event’ or ‘if you are an adult, then you have to have a very serious mannerism and cannot have fun with the children.’
In this surah, we learn that these children of prophets, and when this is happening, they are probably 25-30 and not young kids. The older brothers of Yusuf, as we mentioned last week, are baaligh and in their late teens and early 20s. They are adults and children of a prophet and eventually become prophets. They are saying that they want to go play. This clearly shows that a little bit of moderate quantity of playing is something that is healthy and a requirement of life. You cannot live without a little bit of playing.
It is narrated that once ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab visited the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) on Eid day and saw some little girls using the duff and singing and saw some other things happening on festivals. He became very angry and said, “You are doing this in the house of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam)?!” The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was lying there and said, “Oh ‘Umar, let the people know that our religion has some laxity and openness; you do not have to be that strict. Oh ‘Umar, let the people know that there is some openness in our religion.”
We know that in the masjid of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), the Abyssinians came and demonstrated their spear playing. It was so interesting that the sahabah were looking around and Aisha wanted to see, so the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) stood so that Aisha could look from behind his shoulder. She stood behind him in her veil and put her chin on the shoulder of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) to look over his head because where the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was standing, nobody would block his way, and where he was standing there was an opening. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was standing, and Aisha was standing there, and he was standing to show her the Abyssinians playing. What were the Abyssinians doing? They were using their spears and pretending to show their prowess and manhood, jumping up and down, and having a play fight with each other inside the masjid of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam). In our times, if we were to do this, the community would say, “Astaghfirullah, la hawla wa la quwwatta illa billah, how can you do this?” The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was allowing this. Now we are not talking about, astaghfirullah, bringing in music. These are Abyssinians jumping up and down with their spears and showing their powers of war. The point being that la‘ib is something that is good, Islamic, and permissible in moderate quantities. No doubt, extremes of everything are bad. They are saying that they want to go and play and have a picnic and are taking their brother.
They say, “Send him with us tomorrow. We will eat lots of food, and we will play.” The reason they are telling this to their father is: “Don’t you want Yusuf to enjoy as well? We are going to have a fun time. If you really love Yusuf…” This is emotional blackmail and turning the tables. First, they make him feel guilty by saying, “Why don’t you trust us? We are his brothers. What is your problem? (ma laka)” Now they add the icing on the cake. “We are having a good time, why don’t you want to send Yusuf? We are going to have good food, and he is going to play. Do you really love him? [this is the underlying tone] Don’t you want him to be happy?” Then to emphasize that point: “Of course, surely we will protect him.”
As we said last week, the phrasing – wa inna lahu la – is the highest possible way of emphasis in Arabic called tawkeed. Tawkeed is to emphasize. In English, we have a very meager system of emphasis: ‘indeed’ / ‘surely’, but nobody speaks like this anymore. “Indeed I shall see you tomorrow.” If somebody speaks like this, people will think he is crazy and that something is wrong with him. We don’t emphasize in English anymore, but in Arabic there is still emphasis. You can have single emphasis, double emphasis, or triple emphasis. Generally the highest is triple emphasis.
This is triple emphasis: inna, laam, and laam with the dhameer [and the reason the ‘la‘-hu here is emphatic is it is munfasil muqaddim, so we could say innaa nahfadhuhu ‘we will protect him’ where it is mutassil (connected), and when we take this dhameer and separate it, putting it before we are adding emphasis and now the meaning reads ‘of a surety, him we will protect / we will make extra protection of him.’
If you don’t understand any Arabic, you will understand one thing. When Allah mentions that He will protect the Qur’an, He uses the exact same wording: inna nahnu nazzalnaa’l-dhikra wa inna lahu lahafidhoon [15:9]. This is the exact same wording that the brothers of Yusuf are saying, meaning they couldn’t have said it more powerfully.
Notice the previous verse says ‘inna lahu lanaasihoon,’ and this verse says ‘inna lahu lahaafidhoon.’ Naasihoon means ‘we want good for him’ and hafidhoon means ‘we will protect him from other evil.’ They have shot down all excuses of Ya‘qub, and there are no excuses left. “We want good for him and will protect him from external evil.” There is no evil internal because we are naasihoon, and there is no evil external because we are haafidhoon.
Now that they have eliminated all excuses, Ya‘qub could have said, ‘Okay, khalas go,’ but there is still something in this heart, which is instinct, and in Arabic the word is firasah. Firasah is a very deep concept, and we will come over this again and again in Surah Yusuf. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Beware of the firasah of the believer because it is true.” What does firasah mean? We can translate it in English as a gut instinct or something that you sense – for the kids here, it is ‘spider sense’; some tingling goes off. You know something is wrong. This is a type of firasah.
The more iman that you have, the more you will have this firasah. For example, someone comes and offers you a business proposition, and it is so sweet and beautiful and everything looks good, but something inside you makes bells go off that something doesn’t look right but there is nothing that you can see and you say that you will pass it up. Firasah cannot be used in a court of law, and firasah cannot be used to say something. It is an instinct, so you keep it internal. You cannot say it to anybody. You cannot base your judgment that ‘I think this.’ Firasah is an internal thing and you do not mention it to other people.
Ya‘qub has this firasah because he is a prophet, and he knows that something is not right. He could have said after this beautiful introduction of the children, “What excuse do you have?” He still makes another attempt, and this really shows his concern. Not once has he ever handed Yusuf over to them, and never has he allowed Yusuf to be alone with them without his supervision. Now that they have laid it this way, he tries one more thing.
He said (and this is an emphasis here again), “Surely it will make me very sad that you should take him away.” This shows us how correct the brothers were when they said that their father was completely in love with Yusuf. He cannot bear to be away from Yusuf for one day. He said, “I will be sad if you take him away.” SubhanAllah there is a deeper meaning here: “Aren’t I going to be even more sad if you take him away permanently?” The point is that they wanted to take him away for one day, but there is a subtle message here because they will take him away for a long time, not permanently but for 30-40 years. He is telling them, “I will go into grief if you take him away.” That is exactly what happens that he goes into grief until he loses his eyesight. He is telling them, and these are the warning signals beforehand, that “I will be very grieved if you take him away.” They don’t heed this advice, and they have deaf ears.
“And I am worried and I am scared that a wolf might eat him.”
The scholars say that Ya‘qub was in the land of Canaan, which is the ancient name of Filisteen and Shaam and this area. This was the land of Canaanites and this is what Filisteen and that whole land was originally called. Ya‘qub was living there, and they said that they were going out into the desert and wilderness and it was possible that there could be wolves and coyotes and other such animals that could attack.
Scholars differ here: did he really say this meaning that he was scared of a wolf or was it just an excuse to get them off his back? Was he really scared of a wolf? After all, how rare is it that a wolf would come and eat, even if it is a child? Some scholars have said that what he meant was he is ‘scared of you and you are wolves.’ In other words, he is calling his own sons wolves when saying the wolves are going to devour him. This seems to be a bit far-fetched.
Another opinion says that there was a genuine fear of wolves, and this was a land full of animals and wild beasts and may have been dangerous for a young child to be alone in the desert or wilderness.
Most scholars say, and this seems to be the strongest opinion, Ya‘qub is not seriously worried about wolves. He is not genuinely worried about wolves, but he is trying to find an excuse to somehow prevent. He says one thing that is completely factual: “I will be very grieved if you take him away”, and then he adds another thing, which is not a lie but it’s not the full truth, and this is something that is permissible in Islam and is called tawriyah (double meaning). It is saying one thing, which is understood other than what you intended. His intention is that there is one chance in a million that a wolf would eat him; it’s not a big probability. He is intending to say, “I just don’t want you to take him,” but he cannot say that wording, so he uses a very flimsy excuse, which is factual and not a lie. After all, anything could happen. If he said an earthquake will come or a tidal wave will come, isn’t there a miniscule probability? He mentions a probability that is not very strong because he simply wants them to stop persisting.
There is a back and forth and there is an emotional struggle going on. The brothers are persistent and have laid out the plot to get Yusuf. Ya‘qub could have said yes, but he tries one more attempt, and they refute that attempt as well.
Before we move on, notice that Ya‘qub gave them the very excuse they would use in a few ayat later. It shows us that these young adults were not that mature to plan out the whole plot. They were so shortsighted and just thought about getting rid of Yusuf. What were they going to say? They hadn’t thought of this, so when Ya‘qub gives this line and says that he is worried the wolf will eat him, they have their plan. They have a plan now. They will tell their father the very excuse he was worried about.
This shows us that the brothers of Yusuf like most criminals and most people who do any sin don’t think three steps ahead. They just think of one step and don’t think ahead. This plot of theirs fell back in their faces.
They said, “If a wolf eats him while we are a large group, then we are a bunch of losers (have no good in us).”
‘Usbah means a large group of ten or more, and they were exactly ten. In English, the only word like this is ‘gang’, but this has a negative meaning.
How could a wolf take their little brother when they were a group of ten? Realize that Ya‘qub is already an elderly man. We do not know his age, but we can imagine that he is already a grandfather and elderly and cannot take care of his own needs. He is relying on his sons to do all of the housework and chores. Remember that they are living in a wilderness and there are no children of Isra’il now, and this is the genesis and beginning of the large tribes of Isra’il. There are no allies and no friends. The taking care of the housework and the goats and sheep and buildings are done by the ten brothers because Yusuf and his brother are too young. These ten are the ones taking care of Ya‘qub’s needs.
They are saying, “We take care of everything. Do you think a wolf is going to be able to do this? We are a whole group of people. We are constructing and building, and we are taking care of the goats and sheep, and now you think that a wolf will do this?” It is clear that Ya‘qub’s excuse is not strong, and they know it. As for the first meaning of Ya‘qub being sad, they do not say anything because they know that it is true, and they cannot say anything about this and let it go. For the second point, they say, “How is this possible when we are an ‘usbah?”
He gave up and relented. In this emotional struggle, the brothers of Yusuf won, and Ya‘qub allowed Yusuf to go with them.
Allah does not finish this portion. The missing sentence is: ‘and they did what they did.’ The sentence in Arabic is not finished. This is of the balagha or eloquence of the Arabic language that many times details are not mentioned, and the Qur’an is full of such ellipses (missing phrases or missing words). This is one of the problems of translation: when we translate the ellipses of Arabic goes completely blank. How do you translate this?
The point here is that Allah did not mention the details because:
- It is understood that they did what they did and harmed him.
- These details are very painful, and Allah does not mention these painful details.
Then Allah says, “They all agreed to put him into the jubb (recesses / darknesses of the well.).”
This shows us that there was not one merciful heart amongst them because Allah uses the verb ajma‘u. There was not one heart of pity or mercy amongst them. Their hearts had become so hard that there was unanimity that they were going to throw him into the well.
Some accounts in the books of tafsir mention that when they finally got far away from the house, they began joking harshly with him sarcastically and began beating him up and mocking him and the love that his father had for him. When they got to the well, they tied him up and took his shirt off. He begged and pleaded with each of them: “Oh my brother, why are you doing this?” He begged and pleaded with all ten of them one by one, but there was not one heart of mercy. Wa ajma‘u.
This is amazing for us to think about: they are his blood brothers and the children of a prophet, but their hearts became so hard because of jealousy and greed of something that was halal. Imagine jealousy and greed for something that was haram? They wanted something that was halal, but their hearts became blind. They completely rejected the begging, pleading, and crying of a little boy who is their brother and the heart of their father and the apple of his eye. They took his shirt off because this was their plan, and they threw him into the well.
We cannot even imagine how this little boy who was abandoned, tortured, mocked, ridiculed, and harmed by his own brothers would have felt. He was so young that he was not baaligh yet. He doesn’t understand why this is happening. He thought they were going to have a fun time, and he was an excited kid going out to have fun with his older brothers and thought they were going to race, but instead they do this to him.
One point that is really powerful about this whole story, and this is a point that we need to think about and shows the beauty of the Qur’an. The evil actions of the brothers are never described in detail, and nor does Allah ever explicitly criticize them directly despite the fact that this is such a cruel thing that they did. When we think about it, and we are not even a fraction of the level of the sons of these prophets eventually, our hearts shudder and our souls tremble thinking ‘how could you have done this?’ Yet Allah does not choose one negative adjective in the whole surah describing them as fasiqoon or dhalimoon or any type of adjective at all. One wonders what is the reason for this? Surely they are worthy of criticism and surely they are worthy that these pitiful details should have been mentioned that would make our hearts cry that Yusuf begged and pleaded.
Allah ‘azza wa jall is silent. Why? What is the wisdom behind this? It is not as though the Qur’an does not criticize other people. The mushrikoon are criticized. The Yahud and Nasarah are criticized. Why aren’t these people criticized when they are doing such a dastardly and evil deed?
Firstly, of the reasons why Allah ‘azza wa jall does not mention this, and this is generally a Qur’anic message, it is not appropriate to mention any type of evil in detail whether it is lewdness and fahishah or even something that is not respectful. For example, Allah says in the Qur’an, “If one of you comes from the restroom…” Allah does not say ‘if one of you urinates or excretes…’ Allah says in the Qur’an, “If you touch women…” Allah does not say ‘if you are intimate with women…’ The wordings of the Qur’an are extremely noble.
Going to the bathroom is something that is not just halal, but everybody does it. Allah says, “If you come from the restroom” and not ‘if you use the restroom.’ Why? Because there is no need to mention these details in the language of the Qur’an. This is a general rule: we don’t mention evil in detail. We learn this from so many other instances. It is not of the etiquettes of the Muslims to go into detail about fahishah or about evil or about a sin that occurred. Allah says in Surah Nur: “Those who love to spread the gossip of evil amongst the people are opening up a door of punishment.”
This shows us the difference between an Islamic model and the model that we live in of the world today. In the world today, any crime, vulgarity, murder, or rape, the news reports it in the most extreme, vivid detail. Hollywood movies are made out of it and best-selling books are done. What happens? Mankind is desensitized. The fitrah of man becomes used to listening to this evil. One of the reasons – and we say this clearly – why crime spreads is because the news of crime spreads.
In a very good Islamic environment, you would not hear of these details. Let the police take care of it. There is no fa’idah to spread it amongst the people. Human nature becomes accustomed to listening to it and spreading it, and when it becomes accustomed to listening and thinking and spreading, this is the stepping-stone to actually doing it. Therefore, the first reason why Allah does not mention this is because it is not befitting of the Majesty of Allah ‘azza wa jall.
The second reason is perhaps the key point in the surah. Allah ‘azza wa jall accepted the repentance of the brothers of Yusuf. They repented and acknowledged their sin. Notice that in the Qur’an, the only time their sin is mentioned is from their tongues. “And they go to Yusuf and they say, ‘Forgive us, oh Yusuf. We have done wrong.’ And they go to their father and say, ‘Oh our father, ask Allah to forgive us. We have done wrong.’” This is so powerful of a message. Why? When Allah has forgiven them, why mention their faults? This is the perfection of Allah’s maghfirah. When Allah has forgiven them, why should Allah go into detail about what they did? Leave it. This shows us the Majesty of Allah ‘azza wa jall that we should learn from.
True forgiveness and true turning the other cheek means that we don’t go reminding people of what they have done. We don’t go mentioning the faults even if they have done it. I want you to think about this point: how cruel have they been, yet how Merciful is Allah in describing their cruelty? It is amazing! Allah does not even finish the sentence. “When they went with him…”
This is the perfection of Allah’s maghfirah. Allah forgave them. Why should then Allah criticize and mention this? This really shows us that when we forgive, we can never forget, but we should try our best to overlook. Allah says, “Forgive and overlook.” Wasfahu means turn another page and ignore what happened in the past. We learn from this, this type of methodology.
Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) says after this that they threw him into the well.
“…and We inspired him, ‘Of a surety you will inform them of this very deed they have done, and they will have no idea that you will be telling them.’”
A small group of mufasiroon say that Allah inspired Ya‘qub that “You will tell your children what they have done,” but this does not seem to make any sense. The vast majority say that Allah inspired Yusuf. The minority said that this is problematic because Yusuf is a young child, and generally speaking young children are not prophets unless there is an excption. ‘Isa is an exception that he was made a prophet as a baby. The rule, generally speaking, is that you do not become a prophet until you are an adult, so how can Yusuf be receiving wahy?
Some people said that this is problematic. Others said that this is when Yusuf became a prophet. Others said, and this is the majority opinion, that this wahy is not the type of wahy that makes people prophets. There are different types of wahy in the Qur’an, and as Ibn Al-Qayyim says – we don’t want to go into too much detail – there are six types of wahy. One of them is the natural order of things or what we call ‘mother nature,’ or in other words, the structure of the creation. Allah says in the Qur’an, “We inspired the bee that you take the flowers and eat them and give forth the honey.” This is a wahy that does not make the bees prophets. Allah gave wahy to the heavens, which is the order of things.
There is another type of wahy, which is one level below that of being a prophet, and it is possible that people get this type of wahy. The Shari’ah generally does not call this wahy but calls it ilham. Ilham means an inner voice or inner thought comes that you feel and know is from Allah (subhanahu wata’ala). This is given to those who are one level beneath the prophets. The most famous case of ilham in the Qur’an is the mother of Musa. “We inspired her (awhayna) to suckle him and make a basket and put him in the river.” The wahy was not to make her a prophet. What mother would possibly do this? If any mother would do this, we would think she is a mad-woman. This was a type of wahy that is called ilham, which is one level below being a prophet.
It is possible that Yusuf got this ilham before actually becoming a prophet. In any case, it is quite clear that this is coming to Yusuf. As soon as the darkness of the well overtook him, Allah’s noor and Allah’s wahy came down immediately to console him.
What was his consolation?
“Surely, you will inform them of this very deed while they have no clue who you are.”
Once again there is tawkeed (emphasis). There is double emphasis here with the laam and nun in latunabbi’annahum. This simple pronunciation of a statement of fact of the future prediction tells us many benefits.
1. The first benefit: “Oh Yusuf, you are not going to die in this well. You are not going to be left alone and die a miserable death. You will live.”
2. “Oh Yusuf, you will go and be reunited with your family. Yes, they left you and turned their backs to you, but eventually you will be reunited with your family.”
3. “You will tell them when they do not know who you are. This means that you will have the upper hand and they will have the lower hand. Right now they have the upper hand and you have the lower hand, but the time will come when you will be saved from this well and will meet them again and will remind them of what they did and because you are unknown to them, you will have the upper hand.” This simple phrase has in it powerful messages of optimism.
From this, we can also gain a little bit of optimism ourselves. Remember this surah was revealed to cheer our Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) up. It was revealed to make him feel the consolation and comfort. Allah ‘azza wa jall is reminding him through the story of Yusuf that: “Just like your family abandoned you, Allah ‘azza wa jall will cause you to go back to them, and you will have the upper hand.” Allah ‘azza wa jall says in the Qur’an, “This city that you are leaving, you will go back to it. You will be given back to it, and you will be sent back to it.” This is exactly the message of Yusuf (‘alayhi salaam).
4. Knowing the ultimate end of anything brings about some comfort. Yusuf is told of the ultimate end in this world. Only a prophet can be told this. For us believers, the ultimate end of the akhirah can be known to us, meaning that the continuing belief that if I am righteous and if I am pious, then the ultimate end will be for the righteous. No matter what is happening in this world, and no matter how tough life is, and no matter the difficulty we are suffering from problems, always remind ourselves of the end. The end result will be for the righteous. Yusuf is calmed down by the end result in this duniyah. In this duniyah, only the prophets are told the end results. In the akhirah we know that the righteous shall be saved. We continue to hope, and any time a museebah happens, we console ourselves and think “Insha’Allah the akhirah. Our place is the akhirah, and that is where we will get our rest.”
Imam Ahmad was asked, “When will you rest?” He said, “When my right foot enters Jannah. Otherwise there is no rest before this.” The sweetness of worshipping Allah ‘azza wa jall has its own reward.
“They came to their father at night, crying.”
They came back at night, but they were not supposed to stay out that late. Nobody picnics in the darkness. They are supposed to come back at maghrib / when the light is finishing. They purposely delayed to add to the plot and to pretend that they were searching and did not know what to do. They came at night much later than they should have come. They came back to their father crying.
In order to carry out their cruel act, they plot together a story, and in order to embellish the story, they show these false emotions. We all know human nature; it is easy to show these false emotions when you have an evil heart. Emotions are not the basis of pronouncing judgment on anything. Simply because someone is crying or emotional does not mean that they are innocent or scot-free. This is something that we all know from human experience, but yet unfortunately we still fall into this.
There is a famous incident of Shurayh Al-Qadhi, the most famous judge of Islamic history who was a tabi’i. He was a very wise judge and many stories are mentioned about him. It was mentioned that once a woman was accused of something and came to him sobbing hysterically. When women cry, men get very worried because it is human nature that the manliness of a man comes out to calm her down and help her. She was sobbing and crying, and Shurayh was dead emotionless. His own students were embarrassed and ashamed. Shurayh was dead silent. When the woman left, they said, “Ya shaykh, you could have at least shown some sympathy. Maybe dhulm was done? She was sobbing and weeping. Why not sympathy?” Shurayh said, “Verily the brothers of Yusuf were also sobbing and crying and they were dhalamah and fasaqah. I don’t care how much people are crying or not. We base our ruling on facts and not on emotion.” SubhanAllah in that particular case, it turned out that the woman was lying and the sobs and tears were fake. This shows that a Muslim and wise man does not judge based on emotions.
They said, “Oh our father, we went racing one another, and we left Yusuf with our belongings (food, vessels, containers, meat) and all that we came to have the picnic with because he was the youngest. We are the elders and were playing (some type of race or hide-and-seek) and had to leave the youngest one. We left Yusuf with our belongings. Oh our father, you gave us the excuse and we did not have this plot in mind. You told us what to tell you. Our minds are not yet that developed, and we are not that imaginative. You are the wise man and gave us what we needed. This is what happened, but we know that you are never going to believe the story even if we were telling the truth. We know that you will never have iman in us.”
Iman means to believe in something that is unseen. Iman means believing in something that you cannot prove, which is why it is called faith. They are saying, “You will never have iman in us, even if we are telling the truth.” What they are trying to say is that they know the story is so preposterous and far-fetched, and even if they were telling the truth they know that he would not believe them, so why would they lie? They know it sounds strange and preposterous, so why would they possibly lie? They are trying to make their father believe because it is a preposterous story. Sometimes something is so unbelievable that when the guy says it, you do not know whether to laugh or cry and do not know whether to believe or not. This is one of those points. They said, “Oh our father, we know that you wouldn’t believe us even if we are telling the truth.”
Of course, here they only add one more imaginative idea: why would Yusuf be left alone. What is the excuse? This is the lie that they invent that they went racing one another and left Yusuf all alone.
“And they brought forth his shirt with damin kadhib (a lying blood).”s
There is very beautiful Arabic balaghah here: ‘a lying blood.’ Blood does not lie but Allah ascribed the lying to the blood to show how evil and false it was. It should be damin makhdoob (a false blood), but Allah said, “a lying blood.” In English it is not quite clear to understand, but technically you should not phrase it like this. Allah ascribes the lying to the blood to show what a bold-faced evil lie. It was not the blood of Yusuf, and it is as if the blood itself was lying.
They brought forth his shirt, and it had blood all over it. They sacrificed a rabbit or a goat and splattered the shirt with blood and handed it to him and said that this was his shirt.
“He said, ‘No!…’”
Bal in the Arabic language is harf al-idrab, which means negating completely what has gone before. Take this as a rule: Any time Allah uses the word bal, it is a negation of what comes before and an affirmation of what will come after. There is no English equivalent for the word bal. Anytime Allah says bal, it means that whatever has preceded is wrong and not true, and what will come after is the truth.
“…‘Your souls have made some matter appeasing to you…’”
Ya‘qub does not know the story, so he is saying that their souls made something appeasing to them. He does not know the details, so he leaves it open. Why couldn’t Ya‘qub believe the story? Remember that he was suspicious of them from even before the story began. When Yusuf told him the dream, he was suspicious: “I know something is wrong and they are going to do something to you.” And when they come to him, he says, “No,” and tries to push them away.
Also, scholars say another reason is that he remembers the dream of Yusuf, and the dream of Yusuf has to be fulfilled. “How can Yusuf be dead when I know for a fact that all of us are going prostrate to him?” Also, they say that the shirt itself was evidence. In their haste, they handed him the whole shirt. It is said that Ya‘qub responded, “What a merciful wolf this is that ate up Yusuf without even one scratch in the shirt.” Even modern criminologists say that there is no such thing as the perfect murder. Every murderer and every criminal makes mistakes because either they over plot or under plot. In this case, they are so worried about what they are going to do. They forgot to tear the shirt up and handed him the full shirt. Ya‘qub knows this is just not right and something is wrong here.
Another beautiful point of this verse is that Ya‘qub understands that the brothers made a plot, and in order to plot this plot and enact this plot, they need to justify it in their conscience. Ya‘qub did not say “you have done wrong,” but he said, “your souls have convinced you that this doing wrong is good.” Do you see the difference between the two? To say ‘you have done wrong’ is a factual statement. He is psychoanalyzing and going deeper and saying, “Your own souls and own conscience have been corrupted,” which is a much deeper critique. Instead of just criticizing the action, he criticizes the niyyah behind the action. He criticizes the frame of mind behind the action, which is striking the guilt deep inside. “Not only have you done wrong, but your souls have managed to concoct some type justification, and you know the justification is wrong.” And of course, this is a plot of Shaytan. Any time we do a wrong, subhanAllah, Shaytan comes and gives us a million and one excuses. Every one of us – myself and you. When we do a sin, Shaytan comes and makes an excuse. i.e. we do the sin to avoid a bigger sin or we do this to do that. Shaytan is making this pleasing to us.
“Fa sabrun jamil.”
This is a phrasing in Arabic that cannot be translated into English. There is a missing phrase (ellipses) here. In English, either the full phrase is: “I shall have a beautiful patience” or “there is nothing for me to do better than having a beautiful patience.” This is not a full sentence. The ellipses here simply indicate that Ya‘qub is submitting to the will of Allah and saying, “I will have a beautiful patience.” This shows us a number of things:
1. The blessings and the beauty of patience. There is much to be said here, but this is not the time and place to mention. If you read any book of kitab al-sabr or Riyadh Al-Saaliheen or Sahih Bukhari or any book that mentions the beauty of patience where Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) tells us in the Qur’an, “Allah is with those who are patient.” There are only a handful of nouns that Allah says He is with. There are only a few, a dozen or less. Of them: muttaqin, saadiqeen, sabireen, Allah says that He shall reward those who are patient without any hisab. Bi ghayri hisab is hardly ever mentioned.
Bi ghayri hisab is the highest level of reward because every good deed is rewarded between 10 to 700 times. The max is 700. If a person gives a dollar, then depending on who he is and how much the dollar means and what he gave it to, he will get back the reward of $10 and sometimes even up to $700 but not more than 700. There are a few deeds that Allah says bi ghayri hisab, meaning Allah does not count. When Allah does not count, then it is infinity and there is no counting to it. Of them we know is the one who fasts. He shall get back his reward bi ghayri hisab. Of them is to be patient. To be patient gives you that elite status. There is hardly anything else in the Qur’an and Sunnah that is bi ghayri hisab. The point of sabr, which Allah says in the Qur’an, “Enter Jannah because you have been patient. What a beautiful reward and what a beautiful place for those who are patient.” The hadeeth and the ayat go on and on about patience.
2. This shows us that sabr has many categories. You can have a patience that is not quite beautiful but is patience. There are levels of sabr. Ya‘qub will go to the highest level of sabr. Sabr isn’t just one category, it is not a black and white or on and off switch. Sabr is a spectrum. The highest level of sabr is what Yaq’ub has said: fi sabrun jamil (a beautiful patience). Scholars say a beautiful patience is one in which there is no complaining to the creation. You don’t seek their sympathy, and you don’t want people to pat you on the shoulder and tell you that things will be good for you. You take it directly to Allah ‘azza wa jall. Later on in the surah: “I’m complaining to Allah.” We will talk about later on what it means to complain to Allah. Sabrun jamil means you don’t want the sympathy of the others. There are types of patience which are okay and good, but you need some help and some uplifting. Most of us are patient but also want some worldly benefit. We want some worldly patting on the back and hearing that it is alright and it will all be good and our hearts get consolation. Sabrun jamil is the highest level. You do not need any sympathy from people but are getting the reward from Allah.
Sabara means ‘to restrain / to withhold.’ The actual meaning of sabara is to hold back. That is why an animal that is reined is called an animal that is masboor. Sabr is called sabr because you are supposed to hold yourself back and restrain yourself. The reason why sabr is so difficult is because it is inaction in the face of wanted action. You want to do something. Your blood is boiling and you want to let it out and show it but you hold back. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) told us that the strong person is not the one who can beat up other people, but the strong person is the one who can restrain himself when he is angry. This is the true test of strength. It is not just when angry but there is also sabr in response to calamities and sabr in response to worship. There are different types of sabr. The sabr when having lost a loved one is a very difficult one.
Ya‘qub knows something is wrong. Some people may say, “Why doesn’t Ya‘qub do more with the brothers of Yusuf?” The response is that some scholars say that Allah had inspired him not to do that. This is possible; we will never know. Others have said that in his old age, he needed these very sons to take care of the rest of the livelihood. He had multiple wives and other things to take care of and he himself was an old man, so he needed them for his own livelihood and also for their children and grandchildren. These ten were not the only ones, but they had children. No doubt, as a grandfather, he is attached to them. At the end of the day, they are his sons no matter what they have done, and it is unquestionable that he has some type of love for them.
“And Allah is the One who I will turn to for help against what you have described.”
“[You have described something that surely did not take place. No wolf ate up my son Yusuf. I will turn to Allah to help me against what you have described.]”
Ya‘qub feels helpless, but at the end of the day what can he do? These are his sons, and he loves them. At the end of the day they take care of him and the extended family. All that he can do is to turn to Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) and ask Allah to help him in finding Yusuf. This shows us that the believer is never alone and the believer is never without help. The phrase ‘w’Allahu’l musta’an‘ is a phrase we should also memorize and use frequently. Allah is the One who we will turn to for help.
The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Whoever turns to Allah for help, Allah will be sufficient for him. Whoever asks Allah ‘azza wa jall for protection, it will be sufficient for that person.” Therefore, when we are faced with a calamity or museebah, we turn to Allah immediately and effectively and insha’Allah that is the most effective way of getting our goal.
“And a sayyarah came.”
Sayyarah for modern Arabs is a car. Sayyarah comes from yasiru, meaning travelers. It means those who are accustomed to traveling, meaning the caravan.
“They sent their water man who put his bucket down.”
There was one person assigned for the water. “He put his bucket down.” This shows us, as we said two weeks ago, that Yusuf was put in a very primitive well because the word that Allah used was jubb and not bi’r. Jubb is an unconstructed well, and the fact that the man has to lower his own bucket really shows you how primitive it was.
Why does that benefit the story? They are not going to a well that is inside the city or a well that is frequented. Any well that city dwellers would use would be constructed and have a pulley and rope. This is a well that is abandoned and not used by inhabitants. It is used by sayyarah, people who are going in the way. They have crafted a plan to put Yusuf in a well that is not in the city and is not close to where anybody lives. It is in a far away location, which only the passing caravan will find.
The person comes and lowers his bucket, and Allah does not tell us the details, but it is understood that Yusuf held onto the bucket. When the bucket comes up and he thinks it is water, it is none other than a child.
“He said, ‘Good news for me! / What good luck! This is a boy.’”
It was self-evident that it was a boy. Why was he so happy? The man was so happy because one of the most precious and prized possessions is a slave. In those days slavery was allowed. One of the most expensive items and commodities is a slave. This issue opens up a whole issue of slavery. We don’t need to talk about it in modern times. This is the past and talking about a time when people operated upon slavery. Slaves were very expensive. Only the elite and the rich could afford it. Even though our religion has a different understanding of slavery, alhamdulillah slavery is now finished and abolished.
It is true to say, without any apologetics, that our Shari‘ah made it easy to abolish slavery. Our Shari‘ah made those types of rulings and issues where if you fall into a sin, you free a slave. If you break a fast during Ramadan, you free a slave. If you have a kaffarah, you free a slave. If you make a mistake, you free a slave. So many of the expiations are to free a slave. We are allowed to give zakah to free slaves. Alhamdulillah, now that slavery is abolished, no Muslim in the entire world is calling for the re-establishment slavery. Our religion is complete alhamdulillah without slavery. Anytime someone criticizes you that your religion allowed slavery, you say that every culture and society did, but now in our time nobody is calling for it anymore.
“And they hid him.”
How did they hide him? As merchandise. This means they took him out of the well and put him in their belongings and covered him up. They put him in the cart and put sacks and bags on top of him. They hid him as another piece of merchandise because they did not want to tell the local people that they found a boy. They did not know if this boy was from far away or near. He could have been from the closest village, and if he was, then people would come and say that they had a missing child. They wanted to take him and sell him.
“And Allah is fully aware of what they were doing.”
They knew what they were doing was wrong even in their culture and their shari‘ah. In our Shari‘ah we have other rulings, which are even stricter. In their shari‘ah it was not allowed to capture a free man and sell him. In our Shari‘ah, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Of the people who will be punished the most on the Day of Judgment are those who did this.”
Slavery in Islam is a very different concept. One of the biggest differences is that slavery in this part of the world was to go to Africa and literally throw nets onto free people and capture them and sell them in New England and other places. In our Shari‘ah, you were not allowed to take free people. Rather, the only legitimate means of acquiring slaves was prisoners of war who were not ransomed by the other state. If there was a legitimate battle and there were prisoners, then what do you do if the enemy has not paid their ransom? In the old days before Islam, they were executed. In our religion, Allah gave the allowance that they can become slaves. This is the only way to acquire slaves in classical Islamic law. Of course nowadays we do not have to worry about that.
They knew what they were doing was wrong. Why? They hid him. Only guilty people hide things. They hid him as merchandise, and Allah is all aware of what they had done.
We will mention the Bible once in a while (rarely). As we said before, it is permissible to quote from the Bible if we clarify that it is from the Bible, and we don’t believe in it and we don’t deny it. Our Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Do not believe what the Jews and Christians tell you about these stories, and don’t reject it (because you don’t know and it might be true) unless it contradicts what we know.”
The Bible says that these were Ishmaelites, in other words, these caravans were the children of Isma‘il. Allahu ‘alam, but this seems very strange because Isma‘il is their uncle, and it seems to be a type of slur or negative remark to say that these were evil people. Isma‘il is not a great ancestor from ten generations ago, but he is a contemporary and like a great-uncle and it seems strange that they ascribe these people to be Ishmaelites. In the Bible itself in another chapter mentions that these were another group of people, so there is a contradiction here. In one chapter it mentions that they were Ishmaelites, meaning Arabs, and I am mentioning this to you to show that there is something fishy to blame the Ishmaelites.
We will conclude by saying that Allah is setting the story up, and a new phase is about to begin where he is leaving the land of Canaan and Filisteen because his brothers have plotted and planned against their father. He is being carried with sacks of other merchandise hidden.
We thank Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) – this is one point I want to mention – that the times that we live in are so different from those barbaric times. In those days, there was no government or police force or Interpol. It is a blessing from Allah that we live in times of civilized society in many respects. Of course there are a lot of problems, but look at the positives. Allah ‘azza wa jall tells us in the Qur’an that the two biggest blessings that he gives any society are full stomachs and to be in security [106:4].
It is a blessing that we live at a time where it is almost unprecedented the type of security overall. In those days, Yusuf was gone and there was nothing that could be done. There was no government or agency or police force or Interpol that would do this or that. In our times, there is a little bit of this on the worldwide level. We thank Allah ‘azza wa jall for having caused us to be born and live in a society where generally speaking alhamdulillah we are provided for in terms of food and living in very safe and humane settlements.