This is the most detailed and fascinating story in the Qur'an,
involving both human weaknesses such as jealousy, hatred, pride, passion,
deception, intrigue, cruelty, terror as well as noble qualities such as
patience, loyalty, bravery, nobility, and compassion.
It is related that among the reasons for its revelation is that the
Jews asked the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to tell them about Joseph (PBUH),
who was one of their old prophets. His story had been distorted in parts
and marred in others with interpolations and exclusions. Therefore it was
revealed in the Book of Allah (Qur'an), complete in its minute and careful
Allah the Almighty declared: "We relate unto you (Muhammad) the best of
stories through Our Revelations unto you, of this Qur'an. And before this
(i.e. before the coming of Divine Inspiration to you), you were among
those who knew nothing about it (the Qur'an)." Surah 12:3
Almighty Allah also decreed: "Thus We relate to you (O Muhammad) some
information of what happened before. And indeed We have given you from Us
a Reminder (this Qur'an). Whoever turns away from it (this Qur'an - i.e.
does not believe in it, nor acts on its orders), verily, they will bear a
heavy burden (of sins) on the Day of Resurrection. They will abide in that
(state in the Fire of Hell), and evil indeed will it be that load for them
on the Day of Resurrection." Surah 20: 99-101
The story of Joseph (PBUH) moves in a stream from beginning to end; its
substance and form are equally coherent. It inspires you with a feeling
for the depth of Allah's power and supremacy and the execution of His
rulings despite the challenge of human intervention, "And Allah has full
power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not." Surah
This is what the story of Joseph (PBUH), confirms categorically, for it
ends with comfort and marvels.
Joseph lived all his life confronting schemes made by the people
closest to him. His brothers plotted to kill him, but they amended it to
exiling him. This happened to him while he was a boy. He was sold into the
slave market in Egypt, where he was bought for a nominal sum. Then he fell
victim to the attempted seduction by a great man's wife who, when her wish
was foiled, sent him to prison, where he remained for some time. In spite
of all this, he at length approached close to the Egyptian throne and
became the king's chief minister. He then began his call to Allah from the
position of the ruling authority.
Allah's plans were carried out, and the matter ended. This is the
substance (theme) of the story. As for the form (style) in which it is
presented, it is a landmark of wonder.
The story is presented in a sequence of episodes. It gives you scene
after scene and the transition is inspiring, informative, and stirring to
the imagination. There are also artistic loopholes which leave it to the
imagination of the reader to complete the sense, as well as the depth of
the picture, the like of which no human artist can bring forth.
The story begins with a dream and ends with its interpretation. As the
sun appeared over the horizon, bathing the earth in its morning glory,
Joseph (PBUH), son of the Prophet Jacob (PBUH), awoke from his sleep,
delighted by a pleasant dream he had had. Filled with excitement, he ran
to his father and related it. ""O my father! Verily, I saw (in a dream)
eleven stars and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves
to me."" Surah 12:4
His father's face lit up. He foresaw that Joseph would be the one
through whom the prophecy of his grandfather, Prophet Abraham (PBUH),
would be fulfilled, in that his offspring would keep the light of
Abraham's house alive and spread Allah's message to mankind.
Therefore, it was narrated that Allah's Messenger Muhammad (PBUH) was
asked: "Who is the most honorable amongst the people?" He replied: "The
most God-fearing." The people said: "We do not want to ask you about
this." He said: "The most honorable person is Joseph Allah's prophet, the
son of Allah's prophet, the son of the faithful friend of Allah
(Abraham)." Sahih Al-Bukhari
However, the father was well aware of the jealousy of Joseph's
brothers, so he warned him against telling his dream to his brothers: ""O
my son! Relate not your vision to your brothers, lest they arrange a plot
against you. Verily! Satan is to man an open enemy! Thus will your Lord
choose you and teach you the interpretation of dreams (and other things)
and perfect His Favor on you and on the offspring of Jacob, as He
perfected it on your fathers, Abraham and Isaac aforetime! Verily, your
Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise."" Surah 12: 5-6
Joseph heeded is father's warning. He did not tell his brothers what he
had seen. It is well known that they hated him so much that it was
difficult for him to feel secure telling them what was in his heart and in
Joseph was eighteen years old, very handsome and robust, with a gentle
temperament. He was respectful, kind, and considerate. His brother
Benjamin was equally pleasant. Both were from one mother, Rachel. Because
of their refined qualities, the father loved the two more than his other
children, and would not let them out of his sight. To protect them, he
kept them busy with work in the house garden.
The scene of Jacob and his son closes. Another opens on Joseph's
brothers plotting against him. ""Truly, Joseph and his brother (Benjamin)
are loved more by our father than we, but we are 'Usbah (a strong group).
Really, our father is in a plain error. Kill Joseph or cast him out to
some (other) land, so that the favor of your father may be given to you
alone, and after that you will be righteous folk (by intending repentance
before committing the sin)."
One from among them said: "Kill not Joseph, but if you must do
something, throw him down to the bottom of a well, he will be picked up by
some caravan of travellers."" Surah 12: 8-10
The pages of the Old Testament say that Joseph told them his dream,
whereas the Qur'an does not say that that happened. Had it been so, the
brothers would have said so themselves. The Old Testament claims they had
lost their own rights by him, and so they would kill him. Indeed Joseph
kept his father's order and did not tell his brothers about his
In spite of this, his brothers sat down to conspire against him. One of
them asked: "Why does our father love Joseph more than us?"
Another answered: "Perhaps because of his beauty."
A third said: "Joseph and his brother occupied our father's heart."
The first complained: "Our father has gone all astray."
One of them suggested a solution to the matter: kill Joseph.
"Where should we kill him?"
"We should banish him away from these grounds."
"We will send him to a distant land."
"Why should we not kill him and have rest so that the favor of your
father may be given to you alone?"
However, Judah (Yahudh), the eldest and most intelligent among them,
said: "There is no need to kill him when all you want is to get rid of
him. Look here, let us throw him into a well and he will be picked up by a
passing caravan. They will take him with them to a distant land. He will
disappear from your father's sight and our purpose will be served with his
exile. Then after that we shall repent for our crime and become good
people once again."
The discussion continued on the idea of dropping Joseph into a well, as
it was seen as the safest solution. The plan to kill him was defeated;
kidnap into a distant land was approved. It was the cleverest of
Their next movement opened the scene between them and their father
Jacob (PBUH): "They said: "O our father! Why do you not trust us with
Joseph, - when we are indeed his well-wishers? Send him with us tomorrow
to enjoy himself and play, and verily, we will take care of him."
He (Jacob) said: "Truly, it saddens me that you should take him away. I
fear lest a wolf should devour him, while you are careless of him."
They said: "If a wolf devours him, while we are 'Usbah (a strong group)
(to guard him), then surely, we are the losers.""Surah 12: 11-14
Jacob suggested a point which had not occurred to them in their
discussion: he feared that desert wolves would eat him! Did he imply the
wolves within them, or did he mean the wild wolves? No one but Allah
knows. They coaxed their father to send Joseph with them.; he agreed under
They were excited that they could now get rid of Joseph for after this
they could stand a better chance of receiving their father's affection. On
leaving home, they went directly to the well, as they had planned, on the
pretext of drinking water. One of them put his arms around Joseph and held
him tightly. Startled by this unusual behavior, Joseph struggled to free
himself. More brothers rushed to hold him. One of them removed his shirt.
Some more joined in to lift Joseph up and cast him into the deep well.
Joseph's piteous pleas made no difference to their cruel hearts.
Then Allah revealed to Joseph that he was safe and should not fear, for
he would meet them again some day to remind them of what they had
There was water in the well which buoyed Joseph's body, so he was not
harmed. He sat lonely in the water, then clung to a rock ledge overhead
and climbed on top of it. His brothers left him in this desolate
Then they killed a sheep and soaked Joseph's shirt in its blood.
One brother said that they should swear to keep their deed a close secret.
All of them took the oath. "And they came to their father in the early
part of the night weeping." Surah 12:16
The scene here is dark night, broken by the crying of ten men. The
father is sitting in his house when the sons enter, the darkness of night
covering the darkness of their hearts and the darkness of their lies
struggling to come out. Jacob wondered aloud: "Why this weeping? Has
anything happened to the flock?" They answered crying: ""O our father! We
went racing with one another, and left Joseph by our belongings and a wolf
devoured him; but you will never believe us even when we speak the truth."
"We were surprised after returning from the race that Joseph was in the
belly of the wolf."
"We did not see him!"
"You will not believe us even though we are truthful, but we are
telling you what happened!"
"The wolf has eaten Joseph!"
"This is Joseph's shirt. We found it soiled with blood, and did not
"And they brought his shirt stained with false blood." Surah 12:18
Deep down in his heart Jacob knew that his beloved son was still alive
and that his other sons were lying. He held the blood-stained shirt in his
hands, spread it out and remarked: "What a merciful wolf! He ate up my
beloved son without tearing his shirt!" Their faces turned red when he
demanded more information, but each one swore by Allah that he was telling
the truth. The broken hearted father burst into tears: ""Nay, but your own
selves have made up a tale. So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it
is Allah (Alone) whose Help can be sought against that which you
The father acted wisely by praying for mighty patience which is free of
doubt and by trusting in Allah for help against what they had plotted
against him and his son. This scene dims, and the scene opens in the well
with which Joseph had been thrown.
In the dark well Joseph managed to find a stone ledge to hold onto.
Around him was total darkness and an eerie silence. Fearful thoughts
entered his mind: what would happen to him? where would he find food? why
had his own brothers turned against him? would his father know of his
plight? His father's smile flashed before him, recalling the love and
affection he had always shown him. Joseph began to pray earnestly,
pleading to Allah for salvation. Gradually his fear began to subside. His
Creator was testing the young man with a great misfortune in order to
infuse in him a spirit of patience and courage. Joseph surrendered himself
to the will of his Lord.
The next scene shows the wide desert. At the horizon is a long line of
camels, horses, and men: a caravan on its way to Egypt. The caravan of
merchants halted at this famous well for water. A man lowered in his
bucket. Joseph was startled by the bucket hurtling down and grabbed hold
of it before it could land in the water. As the man began to haul he felt
the load unusually heavy, so he peeped into the well. What he saw shocked
him: a man was clinging to the rope! He held the rope tightly and shouted
to his friends: "Better give me a hand fellows! Looks like I found real
treasure in the well!"
His companions rushed to the well and helped him to pull out the
stranger holding onto the rope. Standing before them was a healthy,
handsome youth, beaming with an angelic smile. They saw in him a handsome
prize, for money was all that mattered to them. Immediately, they clapped
iron shackles on his feet and took him along to Egypt, far away from his
beloved homeland of Canaan.
All over the Egyptian city the news spread that an unusually handsome,
robust young slave was on sale. People gathered by the hundreds at the
slave market. Some were spectators, others were bidders the elite and the
rich, each one craning his neck to view the handsome specimen. The
auctioneer had a field day as the bidding went wild, each buyer trying to
outbid the other. Eventually, the 'Aziz, the chief minister of Egypt,
outbid all the others and took Joseph to his mansion.
The Qur'an describes this scene as follows: "And there came a caravan
of travellers, they sent their water-drawer, and he let down his bucket
(into the well). He said: "What a good news! Here is a boy." So they hid
him as merchandise (a slave). And Allah was the All-Knower of what they
And they sold him for a low price, - for a few Dirhams (i.e. for a few
silver coins). And they were of those who regarded him insignificant.
And he (the man) from Egypt who bought him, said to his wife: "Make his
stay comfortable, may be he will profit us or we shall adopt him as a
son." Thus did We establish Joseph in the land, that We might teach him
the interpretation of events. " Surah 12: 19-21
See how Allah the Almighty reveals the substance of this long story
from its beginning: "And Allah has full power and control over His
Affairs, but most of men know not." Surah 12: 21
The chains of slavery have closed on Joseph. He was cast into the well,
deprived of his father, picked from the well, made a slave, sold at the
market, and made the property of this man, the 'Aziz, the chief minister.
The hazards followed in quick succession, leaving Joseph helpless.
What we see as hazards and slander is the first step of the ladder on
Joseph's way to greatness. Allah is decisive in His action. His plan is
carried out despite the plans of others and while theirs are still being
made. So He spoils their plan, and Allah's promise is realised. Allah had
promised Joseph Prophethood. Love for Joseph was thrust into the heart of
the man who bought him, and he was a man of no mean position. He was an
important personage, one of the ruling class of Egypt.
Therefore, Joseph was pleasantly surprised when the chief minister of
Egypt ordered his men to remove the heavy shackles from his swollen feet.
He was also surprised when he told Joseph not to betray his trust; he
would not be ill-treated if he behaved himself. Joseph smiled at his
benefactor, thanked him, and promised to be loyal.
Joseph felt at ease, for at last he was sheltered and would be well
cared for. He thanked Allah over and over and wondered at the mysteries of
life. Not so long ago he had been cast into a deep, dark well with no hope
of ever coming out alive. Next he was rescued, then enslaved in iron
shackles, and now he was moving freely in a luxurious mansion, with enough
food to enjoy. However, his heart ached with longing for his parents and
brother Benjamin, and he shed tears daily.
Joseph was made the personal attendant of the chief minister's wife. He
was obedient and ever-obliging. With his pleasant manners and charming
behavior, he won everybody's heart.
Joseph's handsomeness became the talk of the town. People referred to
him as the most attractive man they had ever seen and wrote poetry about
him. His face carried immaculate beauty. The purity of his inner soul and
his heart showed in his face, increasing his beauty. People from afar came
to the city to have a glimpse of him. The prettiest of maidens and the
richest of ladies nursed the desire to possess him, but not once did he
show haughtiness or conceit. He was always humble and polite.
The days passed and Joseph grew. Almighty Allah said: "And when he
(Joseph) attained his full manhood, We gave him wisdom and knowledge (the
Prophethood), thus We reward the doers of good." Surah 12:22
He was given wisdom in affairs and knowledge of life and its
conditions. He was given the art of conversation, captivating those who
heard him. He was given nobility and self-restraint, which made him an
irresistible personality. His master soon knew that Allah had graced him
with Joseph. He understood that Joseph was the most honest,
straightforward and noble person he had met in his life. Therefore, he put
Joseph in charge of his household, honored him, and treated him as a
The wife of the chief minister, Zulaikha, watched Joseph from day to
day. She sat with him, talked with him, listened to him, and her wonder
increased over the passage of time.
Joseph was soon confronted (with his second trial). The chief
minister's wife, Zulaikha, could not resist the handsome Joseph, and her
obsession with him caused her sleepless nights. She fell in love with him,
and it was painful for her to be so close to a man, yet be unable to hold
him. Yet, she was not a wayward woman, for in her position she could get
any man she desired. By all accounts she must have been a very pretty and
intelligent lady, or why would the chief minister have chosen her of all
the pretty women in the kingdom? Although she bore him no child, he would
not take another wife, as he loved her passionately.
The Qur'an raises the curtain on the scene of this fierce and devouring
love on the part of the lady. Allah the Almighty told us: "And she, in
whose house he was, sought to seduce him (to do an evil act), she closed
the doors and said: "Come on, O you." He said: "I seek refuge in Allah (or
Allah forbid)! Truly, he (your husband) is my master! He made my stay
agreeable! (So I will never betray him). Verily, the Zalimun (wrong - and
evil-doers) will never be successful." And indeed she did desire him and
he would have inclined to her desire, had he not seen the evidence of his
Lord. Thus it was, that We might turn away from him evil and illegal
sexual intercourse. Surely, he was one of Our chosen, guided slaves."
Commentators are unanimous about her intention of disobedience but
disagree about his own intention. There are those who say that she tempted
him and he tempted her to sin, although he did not follow through with his
intent. Others say that she merely wanted him to kiss her, and he
attempted to strike her. Yet others say that this anxiety had been there
before this incident. There was a psychological disturbance in Joseph when
he reached adolescence, which Almighty Allah rid him of.
The safest commentary for us is that there is temptation and resistance
in the verse, for He Most High stated: "And indeed she did desire him and
he would have inclined to her desire. . ." Surah 12: 24
Abu 'Ubaidah said that this is a temptation and resistance meaning that
she had tried to seduce him; had he not seen the proof of Allah, he would
have been seduced. This is in keeping with the infallibility of prophets,
as it suits the words which immediately follow: "Thus it was, that We
might turn away from him evil and illegal sexual intercourse. Surely, he
was one of Our chosen, guided slaves." Surah 12: 24
This verse proves that Joseph was an upright worshiper of Allah; it
also testifies to his rescue from the authority of Satan. The Almighty
said to the devil (Iblis) on the Day of Creation, ""Certainly, you shall
have no authority over My slaves, except those who follow you of the
Ghawin (Mushrikeen and those who go astray, criminals, polytheists, and
evil-doers, etc.)""Surah 15: 42
Joseph's refusal only heightened her passion. As he moved to the door
to escape, she ran after him and caught hold of his shirt, like a drowning
person clinging to the boat. In her tugging she tore his shirt and held
the torn piece in her hand. They reached the door together. It opened
suddenly; there stood her husband and a relative of hers.
Almighty Allah said: "So they raced with one another to the door, and
she tore his shirt from the back. They both found her lord (i.e. her
husband) at the door." Surah 12: 25
As he opened the door, he saw her husband standing in front of him. The
sly woman immediately changed her tone to anger and, showing the torn
piece of the shirt in her hand, asked her husband: ""What is the
recompense (punishment) for him who intended an evil design against your
wife, except that he be put in prison or a painful torment?"" Surah 12:
She was now accusing Joseph of molesting her, to give the impression
that she was innocent and a victim of Joseph's sexual desire. Though
bewildered Joseph denied it: ""It was she that sought to seduce me.""Surah
After the husband had questioned his wife and Joseph, he consulted
Zulaikha's cousin. He was an honest, wise man who listened to both
accounts and gave his opinion. He said the proof was in the shirt. If it
was torn at the front it meant that he had tried to seduce her, as the
torn shirt would then be a proof of self-defense. The husband asked: "And
if the shirt is torn at the back?" The relative said: "Then it would mean
that she was the one who tempted him."
The shirt was passed from hand to hand, while she watched. The witness
(her cousin) looked at it and found that it was torn at the back. The
evidence clearly showed that she was guilty. The disappointed husband
remarked to his wife: ""Surely, it is a plot of you women! Certainly
mighty is you plot!""Surah 12: 28
The wise and just 'Aziz apologised to Joseph for his wife's indecency.
He also instructed her to beg Joseph's forgiveness for accusing him
falsely. Allah the Almighty narrated this incident thus: "He (Joseph)
said: "It was she that sought to seduce me,"- and a witness of her
household bore witness (saying): "If it be that his shirt is torn from the
front, then her tale is true and he is a liar! But if it be that his shirt
is torn from the back, then she has told a lie and he is speaking the
So when he (her husband) saw his (Joseph's) shirt torn at the back;
(her husband) said: "Surely, it is a plot of you women! Certainly mighty
is your plot! O Joseph! Turn away from this! (O woman!) Ask forgiveness
for your sin. Verily, you were of the sinful."" Surah 12: 26-29
An incident like this cannot remain a secret in a house filled with
servants, and the story spread. Women began to see her behavior as
scandalous. They remarked: ""The wife of Al-'Aziz is seeking to seduce her
(slave) young man, indeed she loves him violently; verily, we see her in
plain error."" Surah 12: 30
Naturally their gossip distressed Zulaikha. She honestly believed that
it was not easy for any woman to resist a man as handsome as Joseph. To
prove her helplessness, she planned to subject the women to the same
temptation she faced. She invited them to a lavish banquet. No one so
invited would want to miss the honor of dining with the chief minister's
wife; besides, they secretly harbored the desire to meet the handsome
Joseph face to face. Some of her close friends jokingly said they would
come only if she introduced them to Joseph.
The invitation was restricted to ladies. The banquet began, laughter
and mirth abounded. Etiquette dictated that the ladies not mention the
topic of Joseph. They were shocked, therefore, when Zulaikha opened the
topic. "I have heard of those who say I have fallen in love with the young
Hebrew man, Joseph." Silence fell upon the banquet. At once all the
guests' hands stopped, and all eyes fell on the chief minister's wife. She
said, while giving orders for the fruit to be served: "I admit that he is
a charming fellow. I do not deny that I love him. I have loved him for a
The confession of the chief minister's wife removed the tension among
the ladies. After finishing their dinner, the guests began cutting their
fruit. At that very moment she summoned Joseph to make his appearance. He
entered the hail gracefully, his gaze lowered. Zulaikha called him by his
name and he raised his head. The guests were astonished and dumbfounded.
His face was shining and full of manliness and angelic beauty. It
reflected complete innocence, so much so that one could feel the peace of
mind in the depth of his soul.
They exclaimed in astonishment while continuing to cut the fruit. All
their eyes were on Joseph. So it was that the women began to cut their
palms absent-mindedly without feeling that they had cut them.
The presence of Joseph at the scene of drama was so effective that
blood flowed without their feeling pain. One of the ladies gasped: "Good
gracious!" Another whispered: "This is not a mortal being!" Another
stammered, patting her hair: "This is but a noble angel."
Then the chief minister's wife stood up and announced: "This is the one
for whom I have been blamed. I do not deny that I tempted him. You have
been enchanted by Joseph, and see what has happened to your hands. I have
tempted him, and if he does not do what I want of him he shall be
Almighty Allah related the scene of the banquet in His words: "So when
she heard of their accusation, she sent for them and prepared a banquet
for them; she gave each one of them a knife (to cut the foodstuff with),
and she said (to Joseph): "Come out before them." Then, when they saw him,
they exalted him (at his beauty) and (in their astonishment) cut their
hands. They said: "How perfect is Allah (or Allah forbid)! No man is this!
This is none other than a noble angel!"
She said: "This is he (the young man) about whom you did blame me (for
his love), and I did seek to seduce him, but he refused. And now if he
refuses to obey my order, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and will
be one of those who are disgraced."
He said: "O my Lord! Prison is more to my liking than that to which
they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel
inclined towards them and be one (of those who commit sin and deserve
blame or those who do deeds) of the ignorants."
So his Lord answered his invocation and turned away from him their
plot. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower." Surah 12: 31-34
That evening, Zulaikha convinced her husband that the only way to save
her honor was to put Joseph in prison; otherwise she would not be able to
control herself or to safeguard his prestige. The chief minister knew
Joseph was absolutely innocent, that he was a young man of honor, a loyal
servant, and he loved him for these reasons. It was not an easy decision
for him to put an innocent man behind bars. However, he was left with no
choice. He reasoned that Joseph's honor would also be safeguarded if he
was kept out of Zulaikha's sight. That night, with a heavy heart, the
chief minister sent Joseph to prison.