Editor’s Note: I attended the New Jersey Dawah Conference this past November, and listened to a moving lecture by Dr. Waleed Basyouni where he spoke about some of the lessons he took from the Surah and Story of Prophet Yusuf (may Allah be pleased with him). It was refreshing to see a reflecting mind, a connected heart, and a searching soul delve deeper into the words of Allah. Here are my notes and commentary from his presentation.
1. I learned to never underestimate the power of stories.
“We tell you [oh Muhammad ﷺ] the best of stories in revealing this Quran to you.”Yusuf 12:3
Sometimes we need stories.
Surah Yusuf is unique in that it tells one complete story from beginning to end, focused entirely on one prophet. This story, along with the numerous other stories in the Qur’an, reinforce the teachings from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and help us to relate, learn, and be inspired by role models.
2. I learned you don’t need to share all the good things that happen to you with everyone.
“Yusuf said to his father, ‘Father, I dreamed of eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them all bow down before me,’ and he replied, ‘My son, tell your brothers nothing of this dream, or they may plot to harm you––Shaytan is man’s sworn enemy.”Yusuf 12:8-9
It’s very easy for people to be swayed by Shaytan and become jealous over what we have, so we should think twice before discussing all of our blessings. Yaqub knew that Yusuf was blessed with special abilities that would probably cause his brothers to wish and plan harm against him, so he told him to keep the dream a secret.
3. I learned people can hate us for the good things we have.
“My son, tell your brothers nothing of this dream, or they may plot to harm you––Shaytan is man’s sworn enemy.”Yusuf 12:5
The brothers of Yusuf hated him because Allah chose him. In our lives too, some people may be unhappy and wish evil upon us when we receive blessings. As mentioned in the last point, these feelings can manifest into evil thoughts and actions even from people that are close to us among our friends and family.
4. I learned to try to love our children equally.
“Certainly were there in Yusuf and his brothers signs for those who ask, when they said, ‘Yusuf and his brother are more beloved to our father than we, while we are a clan. Indeed, our father is in clear error.’”Yusuf 12:7-8
The brothers of Yusuf felt that Yaqub loved Yusuf more than them and therefore made their plans for revenge. Children are very much attuned to how their parents treat them, especially if they feel more love or attention was showered upon their siblings, so we should be mindful of how we treat and show love to our children.
5. I learned that we might try to minimize the pain we feel from our sins by justifying our sins and pinning the burden on someone else.
“The brothers said [to each other], ‘Although we are many, Yusuf and his brother are dearer to our father than we are–– our father is clearly in the wrong.’ [One of them said], ‘Kill Yusuf or banish him to another land, and your father’s attention will be free to turn to you. After that you can be righteous.’”Yusuf 12:8-9
In the story of Yusuf, the brothers discuss how to get rid of Yusuf. They don’t mention their hatred of him as their motive, but instead, they claim that their father was not equal in his love towards them, and they believe it’s up to them to correct this injustice.
6. I learned there are levels of bad people.
“…Kill Yusuf or banish him to another land…”Yusuf 12:9
Not all evil people are at the same level. In the story of Yusuf, one of the brothers initially suggests that they either kill Yusuf or banish him. However, another brother counteracts this plan with a less evil suggestion instead:
“Do not kill Yusuf, but, if you must, throw him into the hidden depths of a well where some caravan may pick him up.”Yusuf 12:10
Evil and good isn’t black and white. There are shades in between, and it’s helpful for us to remember that so that we don’t elevate or degrade people beyond their level.
7. I learned Shaytan can come in the form of “sincere advice”.
“Oh our father, why do you not entrust us with Yusuf while indeed, we are to him sincere counselors?”Yusuf 12:11
A criminal can come across as righteous. Similar to how Iblis came to Adam in the form of sincere advice when he suggested that Adam eat from the tree, the brothers of Yusuf portrayed themselves as being caring and having Yusuf’s best interests in mind, when in fact they wished to get rid of Yusuf.
In our lives, Shaytan may also suggest things that look good to us on the surface, like meeting certain people or going to certain events, but we know deep inside that this may not be the best for us in the long run. May Allah protect us from the whispers of Shaytan.
8. I learned to be careful with whom I share my weaknesses with.
“I am afraid a wolf may eat him when you are not paying attention.”Yusuf 12:13
Yaqub was the one who initially shared his fear to the brothers of what might happen to Yusuf without him being there. The brothers ended up using this exact same reason when they came to Yaqub later without Yusuf since they knew this was his concern:
“They said: ‘Oh our father, indeed we went racing each other and left Yusuf with our possessions, and a wolf ate him…’”Yusuf 12:17
9. I learned we can’t always protect the ones we love.
“…The thought of you taking him away with you worries me: I am afraid a wolf may eat him when you are not paying attention.”Yusuf 12:13
We can’t protect our loved ones from sickness, death, and other hardships. But Allah can.
Out of love for his grandchildren, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to read the ruqya (incantation) of protection over them when they were in Madinah and when they would travel. Similarly, Yaqub would worry about Yusuf being away from him, even for a short time to go play with his other children. We are reminded that these acts of care and love are important, but it is only Allah who can save someone from hardship and misguidance. When Yaqub finds out that Yusuf didn’t come back with his brothers, he says,
“…But it is best to be patient: from God alone I seek help to bear what you are saying.’”Yusuf 12:18
10. I learned there is no perfect crime.
“And they brought upon his shirt false blood…”Yusuf 12:18
The brothers of Yusuf thought they had committed the perfect crime when they threw Yusuf into a well and stained his shirt with fake blood. However, they forgot one crucial element. The scholars of tafsir mention that when the brothers brought back the shirt of Yusuf, they had forgotten to make holes in it.
If the wife of Al-Azeez (the governor of Egypt) ripped a hole in the shirt of Yusuf when he was running away from her, then what about a wolf that was said to have killed Yusuf?
11. I learned not to fall for the tears.
“And they came to their father at night, weeping. They said: “Oh our father, indeed we went racing each other and left Yusuf with our possessions, and a wolf ate him. But you would not believe us, even if we were truthful. And they brought upon his shirt false blood. [Yaqub] said, ‘Rather, your souls have enticed you to something, so patience is most fitting. And Allah is the one sought for help against that which you describe.’”Yusuf 12:16-18
Many times, when someone comes to us crying, we fall for their tears and immediately begin to agree and accept whatever they tell us, even though it could be a lie or an excuse to get out of something. When faced with a display of emotion, we should still use our logic and look for evidence. When the brothers of Yusuf came to Yaqub with their tears, after throwing Yusuf into the well, he held firm to his conviction that Yusuf was alive and well, and that he needed to rely on Allah to bring Yusuf back to him.
12. I learned that one day you are the pigeon and one day you are the statue.
“And they sold him for a small price, for a few pieces of silver: so little did they value him.”Yusuf 12:20
One day you’re the one that is free and high up in the world. One day you’re the one that is unable to do anything. In the case of Yusuf, he was held in such high regard by his father, but his brothers didn’t think much of him at all. Neither did the caravan that picked him up and sold him for an insignificant amount.
13. I learned no one can force you to do what you don’t want to do.
“…She bolted the doors and said, ‘Come to me,’ and he replied, ‘God forbid! My master has been good to me; wrongdoers never prosper.’”Yusuf 12:23
Within reason, of course. Aside from cases where we are literally being forced to do something, Allah ﷻ has given us full ability over our words and actions. In the case of Yusuf, Al-Azeez’s wife could try to seduce Yusuf all she wanted, but it was still up to Yusuf to reciprocate. He didn’t say he was excused if he committed adultery because she was beautiful, powerful, and alone with him. He knew he was responsible for his actions and therefore prayed to Allah to help his human self.
14. I learned authentic people are faithful people.
“The woman in whose house he was living tried to seduce him: she bolted the doors and said, ‘Come to me,’ and he replied, ‘God forbid! My master has been good to me; wrongdoers never prosper.’”Yusuf 12:23
They don’t betray those that have done good to them. When Al-Azeez’s wife attempted to seduce Yusuf, he immediately mentioned his loyalty to Al-Azeez, saying that Al-Azeez has always treated him well.
15. I learned real power is when you’re capable of doing something and you still say no.
“She made for him [to seduce him], and he would have succumbed to her if he had not seen evidence of his Lord- We did this in order to keep evil and indecency away from him, for he was truly one of Our chosen servants.”Yusuf 12:24
Yusuf was handsome and young. He was given a secret room where the doors were locked. He was presented with Al-Azeez’s wife who was initiating the seduction. In that moment, he was very capable of committing adultery. But instead, he demonstrated real power by saying no.
16. I learned you can be stabbed by someone close to you.
So when her husband saw his [Yusuf’s] shirt torn from the back, he said, “Indeed, it is of the women’s plan. Indeed, your plan is great. Yusuf, overlook this; but you [wife], ask forgiveness for your sin- you have done wrong.’Yusuf 12:28-29
Sometimes you are betrayed or deceived by a close friend or family member. In the story of Yusuf, we witness that Al-Azeez of Egypt finds out about his own wife trying to seduce Yusuf.
17. I learned that only Allah can save you against your desires, not your family or marital status.
“…If You do not protect me from their treachery, I shall yield to them and do wrong,’”Yusuf 12:33
Being a married woman didn’t stop the wife of Al-Azeez from desiring Yusuf. Being a Prophet and the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prophets wasn’t enough for Yusuf to save himself from his desires. In the heat of the moment, he knew that only Allah could save him from doing something he would regret later.
18. I learned that the joy of iman is greater than any other joy.
“Yusuf said, ‘My Lord! I would prefer prison to what these women are calling me to do…’”Yusuf 12:33
Yusuf could have accepted the advances of the Aziz’s wife and the women around her. He however distanced himself from it and even went to prison instead because he desired the joy of iman, faith, and closeness to Allah over any other type of enjoyment.
19. I learned many people are in jail unfairly.
“In the end, they thought it best after seeing all the signs of his innocence, that Al-Azeez should surely imprison him for a while.”Yusuf 12:35
Injustice is a very old thing. If a Prophet could be thrown into jail, then why not other innocent people? It’s easy to assume that everybody in jail is guilty and deserving of being imprisoned, but Yusuf’s sentencing reminds us that even the righteous can find themselves in jail while having done nothing wrong.
20. I learned that Dawah can be done anywhere.
“He said, “I can tell you what this means before any meal arrives: this is part of what my Lord has taught me. I have left the religion of those who disbelieve in God and who deny the life to come.”Yusuf 12:37
Yusuf never stopped giving Da’wah. Even when he was thrown into prison unjustly, he continued to give Da’wah to those around him. When cellmates came up to him one day with their dreams, the first thing he discussed was the message of Islam before saying anything else. This continued even after he was released and elevated to a position of authority. The Da’wah never ceased.
21. I learned the importance of planning well.
“[He said], “Truthful Yusuf! Tell us the meaning of seven fat cows being eaten by seven lean ones, seven green ears of corn and [seven] others withered,then I can return to the people to inform them.” [Yusuf] said, “You will sow for seven consecutive years as usual. Store all that you reap, left in the ear, apart from the little you eat. After that will come seven years of hardship which will consume all but a little of what you stored up for them; after that will come a year when the people will have abundant rain and will press grapes.”Yusuf 12:46-49
It’s not about your resources, but about how you manage them. Yusuf showed us how important it is to plan well when he told the king to save crops for seven years in preparation for a drought that would last seven years.
We learn from his story that planning well is especially important when it comes to managing government resources. In a modern-day example, we learn that Ethiopians possess over 50 million cows in their country, while Holland only has about 11 million cows. However, Holland produces much more milk and dairy products than Ethiopia does because of how well they manage their dairy production.
22. I learned that Allah can use a weapon that no one else could come up with.
“And the king said, “Bring him to me.” But when the messenger came to to fetch Yusuf, [Yusuf] said, ‘Go back to your master and ask him about what happened to those women who cut their hands- my Lord knows all about their treachery.”Yusuf 12:50
Only Allah could have made the king see a dream that caused him to seek out a dream interpreter. A series of events unfolded that led to Yusuf eventually being released from jail and earning a position to go work for the king. Allah can make miracles happen from anywhere and anything.
23. I learned that no matter how you hide something, Allah will expose it eventually.
“The king asked the women, ‘What happened when you tried to seduce Yusuf?’ They said, ‘God forbid! We know nothing bad of him!’ and the wife of al-Azeez said, “‘Now the truth is out: it was I who tried to seduce him- he is an honest man.’”Yusuf 12:51
The wife of Al-Azeez thought she got away with her attempt at seduction by having Yusuf thrown into prison. The brothers of Yusuf thought they got away with having Yusuf thrown into the well. But in both cases, Allah exposed them.
“…And they cried, ‘Could it be that you are Yusuf?’ He said, ‘I am Yusuf. This is my brother. Allah has been gracious to us: Allah does not deny anyone who is mindful of Allah and steadfast in adversity the rewards of those who do good.’”Yusuf 12:90
24. I learned life is about taking chances and opportunities.
“The king said, “Bring him to me: I will have him serve me personally.” And when he spoke to him, he said, “From now on you will have our trust and favour.” Yusuf said, “Put me in charge of the nation’s storehouses: I shall manage them prudently and carefully.”Yusuf 12:54-55
Allah will present us with many opportunities. It’s up to us to go and seize them. In the story of Yusuf, the king told him he would give him whatever he wanted. He seized this opportunity to work for the king and was therefore able to help a nation avoid the calamities of a drought.
25. I learned people can change on you at any time.
“Father, we have been denied any more corn, but send our brother back with us and we shall be given another measure. We shall guard him carefully.”Yusuf 12:63
When some people need something from you, they are so gentle. When they don’t need you, they change their attitude abruptly and become very harsh to you. These people don’t stop at being two-faced- it’d be more appropriate to call them five- or six-faced.
In the story of Yusuf, his half-brothers change the way they talk about Yusuf’s full brother, Bin Yameen to their father. When they need Bin Yameen to come with them to Egypt for more supplies, they refer to him as “our brother”. However, later in the story when they return to their father without Bin Yameen, since he was accused of stealing, they say “your son” about Bin Yameen instead of “our brother”:
“So go back to your father and say, ‘Your son stole. We can only tell you what we saw. How could we guard against the unforeseen?’”Yusuf 12:81
Because they were now facing a challenge instead of an opportunity with Bin Yameen, they distanced themselves from him even in their language regarding him.
26. I learned to forgive over everything else.
“But he said, ‘You will hear no blame today. May Allah forgive you: He is the most merciful of the merciful.’”
Yusuf could have exacted revenge on his brothers and nobody would have blamed him, because he went through so much pain as a result of their evil actions. However, he showed great magnanimity and generosity in forgiving his brothers. His forgiveness inspired many to remember him and follow his actions. In fact, when the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his companions came and conquered Makkah, he told its inhabitants, who were infamous for the cruel way they treated the Muslims, “I speak to you in the same words of Prophet Yusuf, peace be with him, who spoke to his brothers”, and then he recited the same verse from Surah Yusuf: “You will hear no blame today. May Allah forgive you…”
27. I learned to never be superstitious about anything.
“…And they showed him his shirt, deceptively stained with blood. He cried, ‘No! Your souls have prompted you to do wrong! But it is best to be patient: from God alone I seek help to bear what you are saying.”Yusuf 12:18
“But if his shirt is torn from the back, then she has lied, and he is of the truthful.”Yusuf 12:27
“Take my shirt and lay it over my father’s face: he will recover his sight.”Yusuf 12:93
In Surah Yusuf, there are shirts mentioned multiple times in his lifetime. In the first instance, the brothers use it to fake his death. When he is a young man, his shirt is used as evidence to save him from accusations of adultery. When he is older, he uses his shirt as proof of life to reassure his father.
Even though Yusuf faced a lot of trauma in being stripped of his shirt as a young child and being thrown into the well, he never held any bad feelings or superstitions about his clothing. As Muslims, we have no reason to ever be superstitious about anything in our lives. If we avoid going to a specific place, meeting certain people, or wearing a particular type of clothing because we have a bad memory associated with that, and are worried something distressing might happen, the story of Yusuf should put us at ease that there isn’t anything we should be afraid of.
28. I learned that this life is really worth nothing.
“Father, this is the fulfilment of that dream I had long ago. My Lord has made it come true and has been gracious to me- He released me from prison and He brought you here from the desert- after Shaytan sowed discord between me and my brothers. My Lord is most subtle in achieving what He wills; He is the All Knowing, the Truly Wise.”Yusuf 12:100
If we expect a lot from this life, we will be disappointed. Some days, we will be running high with happiness. Other days, we’ll be really low with all of the struggles we’re facing.
Prophet Yusuf acknowledges this and realizes the wisdom behind all that Allah has put him through – from abandonment and prison to becoming a minister and reunited with his family.
29. I learned real knowledge is from Allah when he opens your heart.
“My Lord! You have given me authority; You have taught me something about the interpretation of dreams; Creator of the heavens and the earth, You are my protector in this world and in the Hereafter. Let me die in true devotion to You. Join me with the righteous.’”
Yusuf realizes all of his blessings, gifts, and knowledge were as a result of Allah showing His favor upon him and opening his heart towards guidance. He looks back at his time in the desert and in prison, and realizes that Allah was testing him so that he would grow closer to Allah and grow in his wisdom, understanding, and mercy.
May Allah enable us to take benefit from these verses and gems, and help us to make our conduct like that of Yusuf and all of the Prophets.