The story of Yaqub (alaihis salam) given in Surah Yusuf, is a moving story, imparting a strong lesson in patience, loyalty, nobility, and compassion. It also serves as an example of Allah’s power and supremacy and the execution of His rulings. Allah says:
And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not. (Surah Yusuf 12:21)
The story begins with a dream and ends with its interpretation fulfilled. Yusuf (alaihis salam), son of the Prophet Yaqub (alaihis salam) awoke from his sleep and filled with excitement, ran to his father and related his dream:
“(Remember) when Yousuf (Joseph) said to his father, ‘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 Yusuf 12:4)
Yaqub (alaihis salam)’s face lit up. Being the son of Prophet Ishaq (alaihis salam), and grandson of Prophet Ibrahim (alaihis salam), he foresaw that his son would be the one through whom the prophecy of his grandfather, Ibrahim (alaihis salam), would be fulfilled, and he would keep the light of Ibrahim’s house alive spreading Allah’s message to mankind.
Dreams of Prophets are revelations from Allah as stated by `Abdullah bin `Abbas. Scholars of Tafsir explained that in Yusuf (alaihis salam)’s dream the eleven stars represented his brothers, who were eleven, and the sun and the moon represent his father and mother. This vision became a reality forty (some say, eighty) years later, when Yusuf (alaihis salam) raised his parents to the throne while his brothers were with him. (Explanation collected from Ibn `Abbas, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah, Sufyan Ath-Thawri and `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam).
However, Ya’qub (alaihis salam), well aware of the jealousy of Yusuf (alaihis salam)’s brothers, 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 Ya’qub, as He perfected it on your fathers, Abraham, and Isaac aforetime! Verily! Your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Surah Yusuf 12:5-6)
Eighteen year old Yusuf heeded his father’s warning. He was very handsome and robust, respectful, kind, considerate, and had a gentle temperament. His brother Benjamin was equally pleasant. Both were from one mother. Because of their refined qualities, the father loved them more than his other children, and would not let them out of his sight. Satan aroused jealousy in the other brothers’ heart and they plotted against Yusuf (alaihis salam). Allah says:
“When they said: “Truly, Yusuf and his brother are dearer to our father than we, while we are `Usbah (a group). Really, our father is in a plain error.”
“Kill Yusuf 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 Yusuf, but if you must do something, throw him down to the bottom of a well; he will be picked up by some caravan of travelers.” (Surah Yusuf 12:8-10)
Judah (Yahudh), the eldest and most intelligent among them, suggested throwing Yusuf into a well. He might be picked up by a passing caravan and would disappear from their father’s sight. Their purpose would be served with his exile. And then they would repent for their crime and become good people once again. It was the cleverest of ideas seemingly safe.
The brothers approached their father. Allah says:
They said: “O our father! Why do you not trust us with Yusuf though 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 (Ya’qub) 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 Yusuf 12:11-14)
The brothers then went to the well as planned. The struggling Yusuf’s shirt was removed and he was thrown into the deep well. His piteous pleas had no effect on their cruel hearts. Leaving him in the desolate place and taking an oath to keep their evil deed a close secret, they killed a sheep and soaked Yusuf’s shirt in its blood. Allah says:
And they came to their father in the early part of the night weeping. (Surah Yusuf 12:16)
When Ya’qub (alaihis salam) asked: “Why this weeping? Has anything happened to our flock?” they answered crying:
O our father! We went racing with one another, and left Yusuf by our belongings and a wolf devoured him; but you will never believe us even when we speak the truth.” (Surah Yusuf 12:17)
And they brought his shirt stained with false blood. (Surah Yusuf 12:18)
Deep down in his heart Ya’qub (alaihis salam) 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 swore by Allah that he was telling the truth. The brokenhearted 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 (lie) which you assert.” (Yusuf 12:18)
Here is an example for us all in Ya’qub (alaihis salam)’s recourse to prayer and patience, that is totally free of doubt. His firm trust in Allah Alone for help against the plotting his own sons, is a strong lesson in Eeman / Faith.
Many years later when Yusuf (alaihis salam) had patiently and successfully gone through all the trials and tests of Faith in Allah, and had become Chief Minister to the King of Egypt, he was visited by his brothers who needed his help. He recognized them but they didn’t. He had them bring his younger brother Benjamin and detained him on charges of theft so that he could keep him and protect him. The other brothers returned home and told their father what had happened. Ya’qub (alaihis salam) could scarcely believe what he heard. Allah tells us what happened at the meeting of the sons and their father:
So, when they despaired of him, they consulted in private. The eldest among them said: “Know you not that your father did take an oath from you in Allah’s Name, and before this you did fail in your duty with Yusuf. Therefore I will not leave this land until my father permits me, or Allah decides my case and He is the Best of the judges.
“Return to your father and say: ‘O our father! Verily, your son (Benjamin) has stolen, and we testify not except according to what we know, and we could not know the unseen! And ask the people of the town where we have been, and the caravan in which we returned and indeed we are telling the truth.””
He (Ya’qub) said: “Nay, but your own selves have beguiled you into something. So patience is most fitting for me. Maybe Allah will bring them back all to me. Truly He! Only He is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”
And he turned away from them and said: “Alas, my grief for Yusuf!” And he lost his sight because of the sorrow that he was suppressing. (Yusuf 12:80-84)
Ya’qub (alaihis salam) was overwhelmed with sorrow and wept.“Patience be with me; perhaps Allah will return all of them to me. He is Most Knowing, Most Wise.” Once again he was faced with unbearable grief but his Trust in Allah remained steadfast – his only source of consolation. Only prayer could comfort him and strengthen his faith and patience. Weeping all those years for his beloved son Yusuf – and now with one more of his best sons being snatched away from him – he almost lost his sight.
The other sons pleaded with him: “O father, you are a noble prophet and a great messenger of Allah. Unto you descended revelation and people received guidance and faith from you. Why are you destroying yourself in this way?”
Ya’qub (alaihis salam) replied: “Rebuking me will not lessen my grief. Only the return of my sons will comfort me. My sons, go in search of Yusuf and his brother; do not despair of Allah’s mercy.”
Allah, the Almighty tells us:
They said: “By Allah! You will never cease remembering Yusuf until you become weak with old age, or until you be of the dead.”
He said: “I only complain of my grief and sorrow to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you know not. O my sons! Go you and inquire about Yusuf and his brother and never give up hope of Allah’s Mercy. Certainly no one despairs of Allah’s Mercy, except the people who disbelieve.” (Yusuf 12:85-87).