Lecture by Yasir Qadhi | Transcribed by Sameera
[The following is the video and transcript of part 10 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.]
Last week, we had begun the second portion of the story of Ya‘qub’s re-entering into the scene, and the brothers tell Ya‘qub they have to bring Binyamin into Egypt into Memphis in order to get more grain. Ya‘qub has them make a solemn oath to Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) that they will take care of him, and they give him their oath.
Ya‘qub tells them to enter from different gates because he wanted to protect them from two things: a natural jealousy and a natural fear and a jealousy that would come when so many people would come from a different tribe, all of them men and handsome and young and all of them from the same family. He wanted to protect them from the evil eye, from the ‘ayn. Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) then said,
“And when they entered how their father told them to enter…”
This means that the sons obeyed their father. Even though their father is far away, they have a sense of iman and oath. It shows that they have good in them, and they are not completely evil. Their father is not there, and now they are coming into the city, and they follow their father’s orders. They obeyed their father, but Allah comments,
“It didn’t help them against the decree of Allah.”
Allah had decreed that a calamity was going to happen right now, as we are going to find out. Allah had decreed something would happen, so Allah is saying, “It did not help them against Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) except for a haajah (desire).” Except for a will that Ya‘qub had that he felt calm that his children obeyed him. It was a psychological desire that did not change the decree of Allah, but Ya‘qub still told them to do it, and Allah approved of the action.
The whole point of all of this is tawakkul in Allah means that you do what you can to get to the end, but you realize it is not going to help you in the end result. If Allah has willed it, He has willed it, and if Allah has not willed it, it will not happen.
“And indeed, Ya‘qub has the knowledge of what We taught him.”
This phrase has a number of interpretations to it. The first of them: “He has knowledge because We taught him the knowledge.” This means he has the ‘ilm because Allah gave him the ‘ilm, and so Allah is ascribing ‘ilm to Himself because all ‘ilm comes from Allah (subhanahu wata’ala).
The second interpretation is that Ya‘qub understood the knowledge that Allah taught him, so it’s one thing to have knowledge, and it is another to understand it. Allah is praising Ya‘qub that he understood the knowledge. That is a different thing than knowing the knowledge. There are many people who have memorized the Qur’an but they don’t understand it, or they haven’t comprehend it. Allah is saying, “He has the knowledge of what We taught him, so he understood it.”
Yet a third interpretation, and this is the interpretation of Ibn Abbas, is that Ya‘qub acted upon the knowledge that Allah gave him because having knowledge is one thing, and acting upon it is something else. Ya‘qub is being praised because he acted upon the knowledge that Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) gave him.
The final interpretation is that this phrase is relevant to the whole story, and that Ya‘qub understood that he could not protect his sons from the decree of Allah, but he still did what he could to facilitate matters. We already mentioned a number of things: he took reasonable precautions, he told the children to enter from different doors, he took a solemn oath from Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) that they would take care of him. He did all the precautions, so he acted upon the knowledge, but he knew that in the end it was up to Allah (subhanahu wata’ala).
“But most of mankind, they do not know.”
They don’t have this knowledge or they don’t act upon this knowledge or they have it and they don’t understand it. Depending on the interpretation of the previous phrase, Allah is saying, “Most of mankind don’t have what Ya‘qub had.”
“When they entered in upon Yusuf, he took his brother close to himself.”
He took his brother aside. Some scholars say that he divided the group into two in order to host them, so the rooms that they had for hosting people were small rooms for two, and there were eleven in number. As you know, they were twelve full, and Yusuf is the twelfth, so they are eleven in number. He put two of them in every room, and as for the youngest one, he said, “I will take him with me as a guest because he doesn’t fit into any of your rooms.” And so he took him aside. Now he had his full brother Binyamin alone.
“He said, ‘I am your brother…’”
There is a double emphasis: inni ana, meaning “I am your only brother. I am the one that you know.” Binyamin was probably three or four years old, and he has never met Yusuf in a sense to remember him, or if he has, he has some very vague memories of Yusuf, but he knows, of course, the story. He knows that he has an older brother who went missing, and he knows that something happened and most likely his brothers did it.
The scholars say that the other ten were mistreating Binyamin, and the reference to this is in the next verse when Yusuf says, “So do not feel sad at the actions that they do.” From this phrase ‘don’t be sad at what they are doing to you,’ we get the interpretation that the other ten were mistreating Binyamin, but they couldn’t do to Binyamin what they did to Yusuf because they have already done one crime, so how many crimes are they going to do?
They couldn’t get rid of Binyamin, and they couldn’t throw him into a well, but for his entire life, Binyamin is being ridiculed and treated in a harsh manner and treated very crudely by all of the elder brothers. He is the youngest of them, and he is the full brother of Yusuf, so Yusuf is saying, “Now your days of tyranny are over. Don’t worry about what they do to you, you have now come to me. I am your brother, and I will take care of you.”
He informs his brother of the plot. He informs his brother of what he is going to do, and again, we get the question over and over again: Why is Yusuf doing this? We don’t have a response other than Allah would have told him to do so. We don’t know why he is going to do this plot. He is telling his brother, “Don’t worry about what they have done, and don’t be worried about what is going to happen. Put your trust in me. I will arrange a plan for you to stay here.”
Why would he want Binyamin to stay and deprive Ya‘qub of the second favorite son? All we can say is Allah knows best. Most likely Allah had a plot and a plan, and Allah gave him wahy, or another interpretation is that Binyamin was under some type of threat, maybe not a mortal or fatal threat, but the threat of always being persecuted and ridiculed and being treated harshly. Binyamin is now safe in the palace of Yusuf, and he is not going to be harmed by the brothers.
He wants to keep Binyamin with him. How can he keep Binyamin? Binyamin is a foreigner, and foreigners are not allowed to remain in Egypt. Egypt is now only for Egyptians, just like any land. Here in America, if you are from another land, as you all know, you need a visa to come here. You cannot remain in America, and you cannot remain in a land without permission.
Yusuf (‘alayhi salaam) devises a plan, and Allah gives him the plan how can he keep Binyamin in Egypt.
“When he prepared their provisions…”
Allah ‘azza wa jall mentions this, and we understand that another transaction has taken place. They brought forth more goods. This is the second time they are coming to Egypt, and there will be a third time. This is the second time they are coming for more goods. They purchased grain, and they purchased eleven camel loads. For every man, they get one camel.
“…he put the siqaayah…”
What is a siqaayah? There are many interpretations of what the siqaayah is. One interpretation says that it is the bowl of the king. A more accurate interpretation is that this was the bowl that was used to weight the grain, and it was a precious bowl that the king had given, and it was a symbolic bowl that shows the power of the king that ‘we are giving the grain to the people.’ This is the measuring bowl how the grain is measured when you put it into the sack, and so they are seeing something very expensive in front of them. It is the easy thing for them to hide because the sacks are being filled with this bowl. This seems to be the stronger interpretation.
All the scholars agree that it is an expensive bowl. There are many opinions, which we don’t have any evidence for such as it was made of out jewels and it was made out of gold. It really is irrelevant. It was an expensive bowl, and that is why it was a big deal that was raised when it was stolen. It is also a symbolic bowl; it was the bowl that shows Egypt has grain and the rest of the nations don’t have grain. This is the bowl that is used to put the grain when any merchant and any visitor come. This is the bowl that symbolizes the wealth of Egypt and the grains of Egypt. You can imagine that it must be a bowl that will carry a lot of grain, and it has emblems, decorations, and symbols on it. It is, if you like, a national icon.
“He put the siqaayah.” It is in the singular form. Yusuf did this, and he is the one doing the plan because he doesn’t want to tell. Even his servants don’t know the full plan. He put the bowl or the measuring cup in the portion of his brother.
“And then a crier called out, ‘O you traveling caravan, O you strangers!…’”
Adhan means to cry out and to give a call. Yusuf is hatching a plot that is a halal plot that Allah has told him. Right now these are the only strangers in Memphis.
“‘…O travelers of the caravan! You are a bunch of thieves!’”
How could this person accuse the brothers of being thieves when they haven’t stolen anything? How could Yusuf have said, “Go and accuse them of stealing,” when they didn’t steal? Scholars have trouble interpreting this because Yusuf cannot lie. The plot has to be halal. You are not allowed to lie in this plot. How then can they accuse the brothers of being thieves?
One interpretation is that Yusuf told the crier to accuse them of being thieves because they had stolen Yusuf from Ya‘qub and they are kidnappers. They are thieves because they had taken a property that was not theirs – and that was Yusuf – and they had taken him away from the one whom he belongs to, and that is his father. And that is exactly what a thief does, so there is no lying at all. They are all thieves.
Another interpretation is that Yusuf used a language that is appropriate, so he said, “The bowl has gone missing, and the last people to do a transaction are that caravan of the Canaanites.” Canaan is the ancient name of Filistine. “They are the Canaanites that we last gave the grain to.” As we all know, when you start a rumor this big, it becomes that big, so by the time this rumor or fact spreads to the mu’adhdhin, he has already made up his mind that these people are a bunch of thieves, so Yusuf did not tell him to use the words ‘thief’ or ‘stealing.’ Yusuf simply said a factual statement: “The siqaayah has gone missing and the last people we interacted with are those people.” It is factual. It is missing because nobody can see it, and the last group is this group. By the time it reaches down the chain of command and the crier comes out, in his mind these are the thieves.
“They said, and they turned towards the crier, ‘What are you missing?’”
In this, there is a huge psychological confession that ‘we cannot be thieves.’ Thieves would run away and turn. Thieves would become scared. Thieves would know what is missing. The first thing they did was turn towards the crier. If you are guilty and somebody says “hey, thief!” you run away. They weren’t guilty. They turned around and turned back and said to them calmly, “What are you missing?”
Notice they used the word ‘missing’ and not ‘stolen’ because they know they didn’t steal anything and “Perhaps something went missing, and you think we stole it.” They didn’t use the word ‘theft’ or ‘stealing’. They used the words ‘what are you missing.’
They turned to them. They know their innocence, and they haven’t stolen anything. They said, “What are you missing?” because they are so confident that none of them stole anything and something must have misplaced it and they are blaming them.
They are asking, “What is the problem? What are you missing?”
“They said, ‘We are missing the king’s cup.’”
As we explained, most likely this is a national icon and a symbol of the wealth of Egypt. “We are missing the measuring cup of the king.” The word suwaa‘ literally means a vessel, and it can be used for a drinking cup and a measuring cup. When we give Eid Al-Fitr, we give a sa‘, which is similar phrasing from this.
The mu’adhdhin says, “We are missing the suwaa‘ (measuring cup) of the king.”
“‘Whoever manages to find this will get an entire camel’s worth of grain.’”
In this day and age, and in the time of drought, they don’t care about money. They want food. The prize money and the reward will be an entire camel’s worth of food. The crier is saying,
“‘I will guarantee this that for sure whoever finds it will get the grain.’”
Here we have a little bit of fiqh here. As we already mentioned before, in Surah Yusuf, there are certain fiqh transactions that we can derive that are permissible in Islam. All of these transactions have other evidences, but we also find one evidence in Surah Yusuf. There is no problem using Surah Yusuf as evidence because there is a rule in Usul’l-fiqh that the Shari‘ah of the people before us is also our Shari‘ah as long as we don’t have specific evidence to abrogate it. Let me repeat that: the Shari‘ah of the people before us is also our Shari‘ah unless there is a specific evidence that shows that it is not allowed.
For example, drinking wine was permissible in previous Shari‘ahs. ‘Isa (‘alayhi salaam) transformed water into wine. This is something that was permissible for them to drink in moderate quantities. Our Shari‘ah says wine is haram, so nobody can say, “They were allowed wine, so why can’t we drink wine?” because our Shari‘ah has prohibited it.
However, there are other things that we can get from previous Shari‘ahs, and we are giving some examples from Surah Yusuf. As long as our Shari‘ah does not prohibit it, we can derive it from previous Shari‘ahs.
Some examples from this one transaction and this issue right here:
The first benefit is that it is permissible to give reward money for something that you don’t know the effort it will undertake. Let me clarify because this is fiqh of economics, and people many times don’t know the fiqh of economics. The general rule in Islam is that you must give a specific amount of money for a specific amount of work. “I will pay you ten dollars per hour” or “I will pay you $100 to build me this cup.” You tell them specific for specific. It must be known. You cannot have a major unknown. At the same time, there are many instances in society where you need to do something, but you don’t know how much work will be involved.
For example, if a camel goes missing, nobody knows how much effort it will take to find a missing camel. You can find it accidentally, or you can spend twenty days and not find it, correct? Would it be allowed in the Shari‘ah to say, “I will give $1000 to whoever finds my camel”? The general rule would be that such a transaction might possibly be haram because you don’t know the amount of effort that might be put into finding a camel, but this story tells us that there are exceptions that can be made to the general rule, and of those exceptions is to find a missing item and to have prize money for something which you don’t know how much effort might be put into finding it.
This is exactly what this incident tells us. A cup has gone missing, and whoever finds it will get a camel’s load of food. If you find it accidentally, you will get the camel load of food, and if you go hunting for it and after one month don’t find anything, you will not be paid anything because you didn’t do the deed.
As I said, generally speaking this might be prohibited in a similar situation. If somebody works for you for one month and you don’t pay him, then this is haram. But in this case, it becomes halal, and we learn this from this story, and there are other evidences as well.
Another benefit from this is the permissibility of their being guarantors and somebody to guarantee. This is something that is very common that you bring somebody who will guarantee. What is the concept of a bail and somebody bailing you out and being your guarantee that “If this person doesn’t show up, then I’m responsible.” This is somebody who will guarantee it.
Here, the man is saying, “I will guarantee, no matter what happens on top and if the king takes his promise back. I will guarantee it that no matter what happens, it is my responsibility.” This is something that is allowed in the Shari‘ah. So, for example, if you want to get some money from somebody, you go to him and say, “Akhi, I need $10,000.” The man will say, “Look, I know you are in a poor situation, and I cannot afford to give you $10,000 until you bring me a guarantor and somebody who will say that if you don’t pay, then he will pay me.” So you find another Muslim who is not giving you the $10,000, but he trusts you that you will be able to get $10,000 back. You say, “I have an older brother / cousin / uncle / friend who is my guarantor.” They will go to the judge in the Shari‘ah court and sign that one person is giving $10,000 and this person is the guarantor. This is allowed in Islam, and this story is one of the evidences that is used to show that it is permissible. The man is saying, “I am guaranteeing.”
Tallahi is one of the ways to give an oath (qasm) in Arabic. You say: wallahi, billahi, tallahi. These are all ways to swear and give an oath in the Arabic language.
They are laying the burden of guilt on the very crier and crowd and around them and saying, “Look, we have been here before, and you have seen our mannerisms.” Once again, this shows us that in their stay in Egypt in Memphis, they have shown their morals and their ethics and manners. They are now invoking their own character and saying, “Look, you know. We don’t have to tell you this. We have been here.” You can imagine that when you go from that far away that you would stay for ten or fifteen days to finish your transaction and to do other things. They established a reputation the first time, and this is the second time they are coming.
Some of the references that the scholars give of their honesty are that the brothers would put muzzles on the mouths of their camels so that the camels would not eat food from the streets because they were so conscious to have no evil sin ascribed to them. They were so conscious to keep a clean reputation that they would not even allow the animals to eat the food that was found on the street. They would feed them themselves. This was one example the scholars give.
They say, “Look, you know that we didn’t come to cause any evil. You know our reputation and we are not of those who steal.” They call stealing fasaad, and fasaad is corruption, which shows us that stealing is one of the worst types of corruption on earth. That is why the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said in a hadith in Abu Dawud, “Allah’s curse is on the one who steals.” It is such a despicable thing to steal and such a lowly thing. You take something that is not yours, and you put it in your pocket or you take it without it belonging to you.
Realize that Allah’s la‘na is not a common thing. Most of the sins do not have a la‘na on them. Allah’s la‘na is on a very few number of sins, and one of them is stealing. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is saying, “Allah’s la‘na is on the one who steals.” What does this mean? Allah’s la‘na means that this person has removed himself from the Mercy of Allah. La‘na simply means you have removed yourself from the Mercy of Allah. If you are not in the Mercy of Allah, then you are in Allah’s curse because you need Allah’s Mercy to be forgiven and to live. Simply to be removed from Allah’s Mercy means you are under la‘na. The la‘na is only given to a set number of crimes, and most crimes do not have la‘na, but the one who steals has Allah’s la‘na.
In another hadith, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “He steals a cheap item and because of it, his hand is cut off.” As you know, the punishment for stealing is to have your hand cut off, meaning what ‘izzah, what karamah, what nobility does he have? In the Eyes of Allah, when he stole an item, his hand is worthy of being disconnected from him. It shows you the punishment and the despicable nature of the thief. The thief has no honor in the Eyes of Allah, which is why the punishment is so severe for the thief. Even for the one who drinks, there is no la‘na on him, and his punishment is to be whipped. Whipping is not permanent. You whip him and then you let him go. The one who steals, Allah’s la‘na is upon him.
There is a crowd around the brothers of Yusuf. The people have gathered and these are the strangers in the land. There is a bit of tension. Here, the crier says, “This is the plan of Yusuf.” This is the phrase that Yusuf told the crier to say.
“What will be the punishment / penalty if it turns out that you are lying?”
Lying in what? Lying in saying, “We are not thieves. You have just said, ‘We don’t steal.’ If it turns out you are lying, what will be the penalty?”
Here is the beauty of the plan of Yusuf that Allah told Yusuf what to do. Allah told Yusuf this is the way to do it. Why? Because in the law of the Egyptians, no foreigner could remain in Egypt. A thief would be punished like most thieves are punished by whipping, a penalty, or to give double back. Some scholars have given different interpretations that he might have been whipped or had to give double the price back or might have been humiliated or hit or something and then let go.
If he had proven to be a thief and the law of the land was to be enacted upon him, even then Binyamin could not have stayed. By putting the penalty on the children of Ya‘qub and by asking them, “You are so sure you are not thieves, then why don’t you tell us what the penalty should be.” They put it back on Ya‘qub’s children.
“They said, ‘The penalty if anybody is caught with this cup shall be that he himself will be given up for the penalty.’”
This means he will become a slave, and this was the law Ya‘qub (‘alayhi salaam) and the children of Isra‘il at the time. This was the Shari‘ah that Allah had given to Ya‘qub, and of course Yusuf knows his own Shari‘ah. He is the son of Ya‘qub and knows his own Shari‘ah, and he wants his Shari‘ah to be applied in a land where Allah’s Shari‘ah is not applied. How can he do so? He allows them the opportunity to tell him how he should be punished. He knows what they are going to say, and they say the Shari‘ah that is their father’s Shari‘ah. They say, “The penalty is that whoever is caught stealing shall become a slave to the one whom he stole from.”
“‘This is how we deal with the transgressors.’”
This was the law of the Shari‘ah of Ya‘qub (‘alayhi salaam).
“So he began…”
Now it gets to the singular. Throughout this, we are talking about the plural – the crowd and the mob. Now it gets to Yusuf. They must have brought the whole congregation and caravan back into the palace. Now they are in the court of Yusuf, and Yusuf now takes over the plot because he knows exactly what he is doing. The only thing that he planted in the mind of the mu’adhdhin was to make them announce the penalty. The rest of the plot he cannot tell anybody else, and not even the mu’adhdhin knows what is going on.
According to one interpretation, that is why he calls them thieves. Nobody else knows. Fabada’a – he began, he took charge.
“He began searching in all of their bags before he searched in his brother’s bag.”
Why? Because obviously there are eleven possibilities, and if he jumps to his brother’s bag, they would think, “How did you know? How did that happen? Out of all of these bags, you go to Binyamin’s bag?” He plays the plot out. It is human psychology. They are confident that none of them would steal. They are the sons of a prophet and not going to do this. They are in a foreign land and have a reputation to keep. They have a whistle clean reputation. They are confident. Every time a bag is opened, they are like, “Yeah, of course, we told you this. It cannot be us.”
He plays along with them just like when you go fishing and let the wire go a little bit and let the fish go even deeper so that when you catch it, you catch it really big. That is what Yusuf (‘alayhi salaam) is doing. He is letting all of the ten go into their sureness that this could not be something that they could have done until finally he gets to the bags of Binyamin.
“And then, lo and behold, there is the cup, and he took it out from the bag of his own brother. This is how We plotted for Yusuf.”
Meaning: Yusuf did not do this himself. Yusuf could not think through this plot himself. We were the One who told him to do it.
“He would not have been able to keep his brother according to the deen of the king…”
This really shows us what deen means here. All of us think that deen means a religion, but this clearly shows that deen means more than a religion. Deen is a system of life and a way of living. Allah calls the secular laws of Egypt ‘deen.’ We are not talking about the gods of the king, we are talking about the laws of the land of the king. “He could not have kept his brother according to the deen of the malik.”
“…except that Allah had willed it. This is how We raise people, whomever We please. And above every person of knowledge there are people who have more knowledge.”
Allah ‘azza wa jall of course is the One who raises people. One of the Names of Allah or descriptions of Allah is rafi‘u darajaat (the One who raises the ranks). Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) tells us, “Allah raises and honors whomever He pleases.” Allah says in the Qur’an, “Allah will raise the ranks of those who have iman and those who have knowledge amongst you. Knowledge and iman are what gets your rank raised. Yusuf is symbolizing both knowledge and iman because the knowledge that he has allows him to keep his brother, and his faith in Allah allows him to be raised up in the ranks in the Eyes of Allah (subhanahu wata’ala).
Once again, as in many verses in the Qur’an, raising of ranks is linked to knowledge. Because Yusuf has knowledge, Allah has raised his ranks. That is why the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said that the preference the scholar has over the worshipper and the difference in ranks that the scholar has over the worshipper is like the full moon over all of the other stars. Knowledge is the number one factor that raises ranks.
When I say knowledge, I don’t just mean knowledge of the mind. It is a knowledge that is acted upon and a knowledge that you understand – that knowledge raises ranks more than anything else. It is how Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) prefers people over others, and it is how Allah showed the angels that Adam was better than them. As we know, Adam was not created to be bigger than the angels or stronger than the angels or faster than the angels. Adam was created tinier and smaller and punier and weaker than the angels, and his creation was done from clay, whereas the angels were created from light. Everything is inferior, but there is one thing Allah gave Adam that He didn’t give the angels. Allah taught him a knowledge. Allah then demonstrated through ‘ilm that Adam was blessed over the angels. This really shows us how much Allah puts emphasis on knowledge and Allah raises people in knowledge over others simply because of their knowledge.
Like the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “The superiority of the ‘alim over the worshipper is like that of the full moon over all of the stars.” This is a beautiful metaphor that I’ve explained in other classes, but I’ll just quickly explain here as well. As we know, when there is no moon in the skies above us, we see billions of stars. There are so many stars you cannot even count them, and this is especially true when you are in the desert or where there is no electricity. You look up, and it is completely star-filled skies. All of those stars, however, don’t give you any light that is of benefit. There are billions of stars, but you are in pitch black darkness where you are, and they don’t benefit you. They are beautiful stars, but what good does it do you? Nothing.
One moon comes along, and what happens to those billions of stars? They are eclipsed, and you can’t even see them. When there is a full moon, you can only see one or sometimes two or three stars – the north star and other stars and that’s it. The billions of stars disappear and vanish. That moon is only one unlike the billions of stars, but the light from the full moon is so bright that it will cast a shadow in the middle of the night. I have seen this plenty of times in Arabia when I lived there. The light that is coming from the moon is so bright especially when there is no electricity and when you are in the desert. You see everything in front of you completely. Why? Because it is one moon, but its light gives you benefit.
This is the metaphor that the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is saying of knowledge. When you have one person of knowledge, he will eclipse a billion worshippers. One ‘alim will eclipse – it is not even equal, it is not even the same. One ‘alim will eclipse billions of worshippers. Why? Because the worshipper (the ‘abid) is fasting and praying and giving zakah and reading Qur’an, alhamdulillah – he is not a joke, he is a star – but what good is he doing you? How is he benefitting you? What is he doing for the ummah? What is he doing for his neighbor? What is he doing for society? Nothing. He is a star, and alhamdulillah we are happy – it is good. He is not on the ground, but he is a star. But he is not benefitting anybody else. Good for him, but not good for anybody else.
The ‘alim, the scholar, the one who has ‘ilm and the one whom Allah has raised his ranks, he is a mover and a shaker. He is a person who can resurrect iman. He is a person who can change the course of history. Even amongst us now for the average Muslim, how many of the khalifahs names do you know in our history? Two, three or four after the khulafa’l-rashidun? And yet, how many scholars names do you know? Abu Hanifah, Shafi‘i, Malik, Imam Bukhari, Imam Al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ghazali, and so many hundreds of scholars. We know them even though they had no political power. Who were the rulers of their time? We have no idea and we don’t care because how does that benefit us? In their time and in their day and age, those politicians were the ones the people talked about and the scholars were secondary and second-rate. What lives and the legacy is knowledge. Knowledge remains behind and not power and not kingdoms and not countries and not politicians.
Allah ‘azza wa jall is saying, “We raised the ranks of whomever We please (i.e. through knowledge).” In this story, Allah has raised the ranks of Yusuf by teaching him what others don’t know, and he has raised the ranks of the parents of Yusuf because of their patience at what happened. He even raised the ranks of the brothers of Yusuf at the end of the story because they repented and lived righteous lives. The one whose rank is the highest is Yusuf because of the knowledge he has.
When Allah blessed him with the knowledge, Allah says, “We raised him ranks, and We raise whomever We please, but above every person of knowledge is a person who has even more knowledge.” Above every one of knowledge, is a knowledgeable one. What does this mean? It means that let no person think that he has encompassed all of knowledge. In fact, it is of the wondrous nature of Allah’s creation that He has refused to give even specializations of knowledge to any one person, even the prophets of Allah.
In Sahih Bukhari, a man stands up in front of Musa (‘alayhi salaam) and says, “Who is the most knowledgeable man on earth?” Musa says, “I am the most knowledgeable man. Who else can be more knowledgeable than me?” Allah inspires him: “Don’t speak without knowledge. There is a man who has more knowledge than you, and his name is Khidr.” So Musa says, “Someone with more knowledge than me? I must go study with him.” SubhanAllah, he is the prophet of Allah, but when he finds somebody who has more knowledge, he says he has to go study with him.
It was said that Musa was the first to travel for the sake of knowledge. This is what Bukhari put in his chapter title: The first person to travel for the sake of knowledge was Musa. He traveled to study. He was not arrogant. He thought he had the most knowledge, and as soon as he found out that Khidr had more knowledge than him, he said, “I have to go study.” He took his servant Yusha, and they went out traveling.
We need a long lecture about Khidr, and maybe one day insha’Allah we’ll talk about Khidr. Khidr was not some mystical green man. His name Khidr means ‘the green.’ He was called Khidr because wherever he would go, the earth would become green after him, which is why he was called Khidr. Wherever he would go, the land would flourish. Wherever he would walk, there would be trees and flowers and it would become a pasture.
There is folklore legend that has now seeped into the minds of the Muslim ummah that Khidr is some mystical figure who is some eternal man who comes and goes like Merlin the wizard and he will appear to people and disappear. There is no basis whatsoever in the Qur’an and Sunnah for this. It is very clear that Khidr is another prophet. Allah gave him types of knowledge that He didn’t give to Musa even though Musa has a higher status than Khidr. Musa has other types of knowledge that Khidr does not have. Each has been given types of knowledge that the other does not have.
Whe Musa is saying, “I am the most knowledgeable,” Allah said, “There is a servant that We have taught knowledge that you don’t have, and you have knowledge that he doesn’t have. Don’t say that you are the most knowledgeable.” When Musa accompanied Khidr – you all know the story, and that is a separate story altogether – he couldn’t understand this knowledge, and it was beyond him. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “May Allah have mercy on Musa. If he was only patient, he would have seen amazing things to tell us.” He was impatient – as you know from the story of Surah Al-Kahf.
Even our Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is the most knowledgeable of Allah. He never claimed to be the most knowledgeable of everything, and that is why, from a hadith in Sahih Bukhari – this is a big, controversial hadith but wallahi there is no controversy in it when you think about it logically and even Islamically: The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) passed by people who were fertilizing date palms. They would take the male organ of the date and put it and fertilize it just like the bees fertilize the flowers. They would take it and fertilize it themselves. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Why don’t you leave it and let it do it by itself.” So the next year they didn’t do it at all. When you are not going to have the male and the female parts of the plant touching, what is going to happen? The seeds are not going to get transferred. That year there was a complete crop failure. They went and told the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and subhanAllah the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) didn’t try to make an excuse and was completely factual. He said, “I am a human being. When I tell you something about the religion, follow me. When I tell you something about your world, you know more about your dunya than I do. [I’m not here to teach you engineering, to teach you agriculture, to teach you architecture.] Allah sent me to teach you your religion.”
Even the prophets of Allah have not been given ultimate knowledge. Every person has a specialty or has an area. Even in the entire history of the ummah, it is almost impossible to find a scholar who was a specialist in more than one field. Most of you are doctors, how many amongst you are two specialties that are different? Is there any neurosurgeon and heart surgeon simultaneously? If there is, is there also someone who is a gastroenterologist? Even within your field – you are all doctors masha’Allah – how many specialties can you have? Even within your field, you all know that there are people who know one area better than you do. In our history of Islam, most of the scholars only specialized in one area just like most of you are specialists in one area. Rarely did a scholar specialize in two. Hardly ever do you have a scholar in three or more areas of Islam. This is just the fact of the matter.
Scholars say that this is a beautiful, subtle message here that dhi ‘ilm means ‘one of knowledge’ and ‘aleem means ‘the one who has knowledge.’ ‘Aleem is generally more than dhu ‘ilm. Of course, of the Names of Allah is Al-‘Aleem. Allah is saying that above everyone who has a little bit of knowledge, you will find people who have more and more and more until finally you will find the One who has ultimate knowledge, and that is Al-‘Aleem.
The purpose of this phrase here: let no one feel a hint of arrogance because of any knowledge that he has. Let no scholar feel arrogance because of his ‘ilm, let no doctor and no engineer and no lawyer and let nobody who has knowledge feel that “I am worthy of this.” And of course we ask Allah ‘azza wa jall that He gives us beneficial and righteous knowledge.
“They said, ‘If he is stealing, then indeed he had a brother before him who also was a thief.’”
What is all of this about? They were adamant that “none of us could be thieves.” Now, Binyamin is caught red-handed, so they have to dissociate themselves from Binyamin, and they point out that “Well, he is not really our full brother. He is a half brother, and he had another brother in the past [Yusuf].” Always family politics is there. “That side of the family. If he is a thief, then he used to also have a brother who was a thief before him.”
Where did this come from? What is this about? Scholars say that either this is an outright lie, or they are exaggerating a story that happened when Yusuf was much younger. There are a number of interpretations of what exactly happened. There are two or three stories that are mentioned in the books of tafsir. The one that seems to be the strongest one is that Yusuf’s maternal grandfather was a pagan and idol-worshipper. His paternal grandfather is Ishaaq (‘alayhi salaam). His mother’s father was an idol-worshipper, and he wanted to get rid of this idolatry in his household, and just like Ibrahim before him – his great-great grandfather – he took the idol and he gave a story around it to make his grandfather realize that this was not a proper religion. He did this while he was a young child. When he did this, his grandfather accused him of stealing the idol, which might have been true, but in this case there is a greater daw‘ah to be done and that is to get him away from idolatry.
They exaggerated this tale and said, “If he stole this, he used to have a brother who was also a thief.” They know that he wasn’t an actual thief. They are Muslims and they know that this was being done for a legitimate reason, but they want to dissociate and cut off and give an excuse that “The reason why we were so confident is that we were speaking about our full brothers. As for Binyamin, he is a half-brother and he used to have a brother who was a thief before.”
“But Yusuf kept it to himself and did not reveal it.”
Reveal what? Many things. Number one, of course, is his identity. He didn’t reveal his identity. Number two, he didn’t reveal his anger because he is controlling his anger now. They have just accused him of being a thief. He doesn’t reveal his own identity. Number three, he doesn’t defend himself. He knows the story and he could have defended: “That is not stealing. You cannot call me a thief.” But he has to hide it because obviously the only other person who could know the full story other than the brothers is Yusuf. He cannot tell them anything.
One interpretation is that he kept the next phrase to himself, and that is:
“You are in a worse situation than your brothers you have accused of stealing,”
“You have accused two people of stealing: Binyamin and Yusuf. You are worse off than them.”
One interpretation is that he didn’t say this sentence. He kept it to himself, and he said it in his mind. What did he say? “You are worse off than myself and my brother.”
The stronger interpretation is that he physically said “you are worse off.” What he kept to himself was his anger, identity, and defense. This also shows us that here he doesn’t defend himself, whereas ten years ago when he was accused of another crime, he defended himself. This shows us that it is permissible for the Muslim to defend, and it is permissible to remain quiet, depending on which of the two is greater. We don’t need to respond to every accusation. You use your wisdom. You use your judgment.
Sometimes the accusations are so ridiculous and so childish that to respond to it is actually dignifying it. Wallahi, this is so true in the post-9/11 Islamophobic world we live in where our religion and these days even our masjid is being accused of things that are utterly ludicrous. Sometimes to respond is to actually demean yourself and to go down to the level it is not worthy to go down to. Other times, it is worthy to respond.
The story of Yusuf shows us because once he defended and once he didn’t defend, so he kept it to himself. He didn’t reveal his identity. He said, “You are in a worse situation.”
He then says a vague statement. You can imagine now that they think this is the minister and they think this is the ‘aziz and now the ‘aziz tells them, “You are worse off.” This is cryptic. It flew over their heads, and they didn’t understand it, but Yusuf knew what he was meaning, and it was the only thing he could say in his anger without giving his identity away.
He said, “You are worse off. You have accused me and my brother of crimes we did not commit, but we both know that you have committed crimes and are guilty of crimes. You are worse off than the two of us.”
“And Allah knows what you are saying.”
This means: “Your characteristics of Yusuf and Binyamin, Allah is aware that they are not true.” He leaves them with this cryptic statement and statement that he calms himself down by saying, but he does not reveal his full identity to his brothers because now is not the time.
One final point and that is that once again we are confronted with the question: How could he be doing this? Why isn’t he revealing himself? Scholars have so many interpretations about what is going on here. The bottom line is that we have two options. The first of them is that we assume that Allah inspired him. The second is that he knows things that we are not being told in the story, and because of that, he has to navigate around those things. He might know, for example, that his brother is in physical danger or emotional stress, so he wants to rescue him. He knows that his father cannot come right now to Egypt. Maybe the political situation would not allow foreigners to come. Remember the tribe of Bani Ya‘qub will be at least one hundred or two hundred people, and that is why when they do come in the beginning, they come with ‘izzah, but over the centuries by the time Musa comes, they are the third class citizens and have become slaves. They are foreigners and this is not their land, and racism is a predominant phenomenon of humanity. Yusuf knows that now is not the time to bring his family over. It might be in a few months when he calls his family over. He knows things we are not told in the story. Either way, we have to trust in his judgment. Either Allah told him, or there are factors that we don’t know about and Yusuf knows what he is doing that he is not telling his father right now and he is keeping Binyamin and he will bring his father later on.