Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, also known as Joseph, is one of those Prophets who are mentioned in Quran by name. There is a complete surah in the Quran, Surah Yusuf, comprising 111 verses. This is a unique surah of the Quran in the sense that it is entirely about one Prophet, Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ.
Hazrat Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was a Nabi (Arabic for Prophet) and not a Rasool (Arabic for Messenger). Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى has sent around 124,000 Prophets but only a few of them were Messengers as well, like Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, Musa عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, Isa عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and finally Muhammad ﷺ. It is believed that there were 313 Rasools. However, only 16 of them are mentioned in the Quran.
As a general rule, we can say all Messengers (Rasool) were Prophets (Nabi), whereas all Prophets were not Messengers but only a few of them were. The main difference between them is the fact that Messengers were given the divine books, whereas Prophets followed the same book, which was given to the previous Messenger by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
Another difference is that Prophets are by birth. All the Messengers were Prophet by birth but became Messengers later on, like Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. He was a Prophet by birth but became a Messenger at 40. So, Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was a Prophet by birth.
Family Background of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ
Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ belongs to the family of Prophets. He was the great grandson of Prophet Ibrahim عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, grandson of Prophet Ishaq عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and son of Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. Hee was followed by a long chain of Prophets, whom Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى sent to the Bani Israel (Children of Israel). He was an important link in that chain of Prophets sent in Bani Israel.
Early Childhood – Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and His Brothers
Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ had 10 sons from his first wife and two more from his second wife. Binyamin and Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ were from his second wife. Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was the most beloved son of his parents. So, his 10 elder brothers developed a sort of jealousy with him.
Meanwhile, Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, in his early childhood, had a dream that there were eleven stars along with the sun and moon, and all prostrated in front of him. He shared this dream with his father. Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُُ asked him not to tell anything about this dream to his brothers, or they may harm him. This event is narrated in the 4th and 5th verses of Surah Yusuf.
˹Remember˺ when Joseph said to his father, “O my dear father! Indeed I dreamt of eleven stars, and the sun, and the moon—I saw them prostrating to me!”
He replied, “O my dear son! Do not relate your vision to your brothers, or they will devise a plot against you. Surely Satan is a sworn enemy to humankind.
So, his brothers conspired in a plan to kill him. They asked their father to let them take Yusuf on a trip. Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ showed reluctance, but they assured to take the best care of their younger brother. Eventually, he allowed them to take Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ with them.
So, they set off for the trip and planned to kill Yusuf. The eldest, known as Yahuda opposed it and suggested not to kill Yusuf but drop him in some deep well. So, they did it. At this stage, Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى assured His Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ that he will not be harmed and will get best of care, as narrated in the 15th verse of surah Yusuf.
And so, when they took him away and decided to throw him into the bottom of the well, We inspired him: “˹One day˺ you will remind them of this deed of theirs while they are unaware ˹of who you are˺.
So, they returned to their father and told him that a wild wolf ate Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ while they had gone away for some games. Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ though not satisfied with his sons’ plea, had no other option but to be patient. But he never believed that Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ has been killed. So, he kept on awaiting him, with a firm belief in Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Sold as a Slave in Egypt
While Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was in the well, a passing-by caravan got him in the bucket, which they dropped in the well looking for water. They thought by enslaving him, they would fetch some money, so they instantly went to Egypt and sold him for a paltry return. So, Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ reached his new master, who happened to be a high government official. He suggested his wife take the best care of this boy perhaps he may be good for them in the future.
This way, Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى not only saved his life but also provided him the best opportunity to grow up in a well off family in the highly civilized Egyptian culture of its time. Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى made it happen for Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ to get the best of the environments, where he would learn the manners, etiquettes and knowledge. Eventually, he grew up a handsome, well-mannered, well-educated young man. He was so handsome that he got the attention of the wife of his master, commonly referred to as Zulekha (though not mentioned in the Quran).
Prophet Yusuf and Zulekha
Impressed by the gorgeous Yusuf, Zulekha wanted to have a sexual relationship with him, but he refused straightaway. She threatened him, but Yusuf tried to escape from the scene. She tried to get hold of him while he ran away from her. During this, his shirt was torn off from the backside as he was going away, and Zulekha tried to catch him from his back.
Meanwhile, his master also reached there, and Zulekha immediately blamed Yusuf for trying to assault her sexually. Yusuf rebutted. Meanwhile, an elder from the family of Zulekha proposed a solution to this controversy. He said, check the shirt of Yusuf. If it is torn from the front, he is the culprit. But if is torn from the back, Zulekha is guilty of attempting an assault on Yusuf. He also explained that if Yusuf was attempting on Zulekha, she would have tried to save herself, so the shirt should have been torn from the front side. When the shirt was checked, it was torn from the back, so Yusuf was declared innocent.
Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Sent to Prison
Soon, this event got publicized in the city. The reputation of Zulekha was badly damaged. So she arranged a feast and invited all the women of the elites. She then brought Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in front of them. All the elite women were so stunned by the attractiveness of Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ that they cut their hands in a state of astonishment.
They expressed that Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was so attractive that they would have done the same as Zulekha did. So, his master decided to put him in jail to save the status of his wife and that of all the women of the elite.
Prophet Yusuf Interprets Dreams in Prison
Prophet Yusuf met with two other prisoners while he was in jail. One was once a royal butler who used to serve wine to the King but was sent to prison due to some misconduct. They both observed the piety of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and got an impression that he was a noble and wise person so; he might be an interpreter of dreams. One day they decided to share their dreams with Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and asked him to tell them what these dreams meant.
Butler said that he had a dream where he was making wine. The other person shared his dream, seeing birds hitting his head with their beaks. Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ said give me some time till next dinner is served to you. I will then tell you what your dreams meant. So, the next day he told the royal butler that he would get out of jail and his official status of royal butler would be restored. Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ also asked him to tell my story to the King so that I could also get out of the prison. He promised to do so.
Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ told the other person that you will be hanged. Both the predictions proved true. The man was hanged to death while the butler was restored to his previous job, but he forgot about the promise that he made to Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. So Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ remained in the jail for quite some time. Later on, the King had a dream. He saw 7 healthy cows and 7 very weak cows in his dream. The healthy cows were being eaten by the weak cows. He asked the royal dream interpreters to interpret his dream. Incidentally, none of them could do so.
At this point of time, the butler recalled Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, who interpreted his dream correctly. He asked the King, that I will tell you the meanings of your dreams. He met Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ in jail and asked him to tell what the King’s dream meant. Yusuf told him that 7 healthy cows represent seven years of prosperity, and 7 weak cows indicate the subsequent seven years of drought. He also told the butler that the King should manage to save maximum food and grains during the prosperous years so that can be used in the years of drought.
Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Becomes a Higher Government Official
When the butler told this interpretation of his dream, he asked to bring Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ to him. But Yusuf demanded that first the allegations for which he was in jail should be eradicated; only then he will come out of the prison. This event is explained in verses 50 to 52 of Surah Yusuf.
The King ˹then˺ said, “Bring him to me.” When the messenger came to him, Joseph said, “Go back to your master and ask him about the case of the women who cut their hands. Surely my Lord has ˹full˺ knowledge of their cunning.
The King asked ˹the women˺, “What did you get when you tried to seduce Joseph?” They replied, “Allah forbid! We know nothing indecent about him.” Then the Chief Minister’s wife admitted, “Now the truth has come to light. It was I who tried to seduce him, and he is surely truthful
From this, Joseph should know that I did not speak dishonestly about him in his absence, for Allah certainly does not guide the scheming of the dishonest
In this way, he was absolved from all the allegations. King expressed his appreciation and appointed Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ as the custodian of the food reserves. He became minister to the King on food, agriculture, and finance matters. This was a more powerful status than his previous Master used to enjoy when he was his slave.
Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Successfully Managed the Food Reserves
So, Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ started to work in the capacity of a higher government official. During the prosperous phase of seven years, he managed to save food for the predicted famine years. Eventually, the drought hit badly. Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ announced a rationing policy for the entire kingdom. Per this policy, every family could get one camel load of grains and food for one year.
At that time, Egypt was the agricultural hub of the entire region. So, the people of the surrounding areas used to get the needful from Egypt. So, Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ managed the reserve efficiently to fulfill the domestic needs of the surrounding areas for the entire famine years.
Brothers of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Travel to Egypt for Food
The sons of Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ also decided to go to Egypt to get much-needed food due to the prevailing drought in their region. They traveled to Egypt and met Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, without knowing that he was their brother. But Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ did recognize them as his brothers, who threw him in the well.
However, he did not disclose his identity and just facilitated them with one camel load of grains per head, per his rationing policy. They asked for one more camel load for their younger brother (Binyamin), who was left behind with their father. Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ allowed one more camel load but told them to bring him along next time. They promised to do so.
Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Meets His Younger Brother Binyamin
Next year, the brother of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ again planned to travel to Egypt to get food. Per their promise, they asked their father to allow Binyamin to accompany them so he could get his share of food from Egypt. With much reluctance, remembering the tragic incident of his son Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, he ultimately allowed them to take Binyamin with them.
When they reached Egypt and got the food accordingly, including the share of Binyamin, Prophet Yusuf, by the will of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, managed to hide a very costly cup, which was used by the King to drink wine, in the food bags of Binyamin. Meanwhile, he had already told Binyamin that he was his brother Yusuf and asked him not to tell his other brothers about this.
When they started to go back, they were halted by the guards and were asked to get their bags checked, as a costly royal cup was lost, and they suspected that someone had stolen it from your side. They asked what punishment would be if the lost cup was found in their bags. They were told that the culprit would be enslaved. So, the cup was found in the bag of Binyamin, and he was held back in the custody of Prophet Yusuf. In this way, both the maternal brothers were reunited by the will of Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
The Whole Family of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ Re-united in Egypt
So, the brothers of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ went back to their home, but the eldest one, Yahuda, decided to stay there until his father pardoned him for not bringing back Binyamin safely, as was promised by them. When they reached their father and told him about Binyamin and Yahuda, he was deeply grieved, which resulted in the loss of his eyesight, as narrated in the 84th verse of Surah Yusuf.
He turned away from them, lamenting, “Alas, poor Joseph!” And his eyes turned white out of the grief he suppressed.
Days passed and the next year came when they again ventured to travel to Egypt seeking food for the next year. But they were financially so weak that they did not have enough to buy their food. They requested Prophet Yusuf to grant them food free of cost. At this point of time, he decided to disclose his identity and told him that he was their brother Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, whom they threw into a well.
Eventually, Prophet Yusuf pardoned them all and asked them to return to their land. He gave them one of his clothes and asked them to put it on his father’s face to restore his eyesight. He also asked them to bring entire families of theirs to Egypt.
When they reached their land, their father cried, I am getting the smell of my son Yusuf. People thought that he had lost his senses, but he reiterated that his son was alive and he was smelling his presence. So, the caravan reached Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and put the shirt of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ on his face and his eyesight was restored. At this stage, sons of Prophet Yaqub عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ confessed their mischievous act and requested to pardon them. He promised to do so.
Eventually, all the families of Bani Israel reached Egypt, where they were warmly welcomed by Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ. Prophet Yusuf arranged a grand gathering in honor of his brothers and parents. All the eleven brothers and parents bowed in front of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ, proving his dream where he saw eleven stars and sun and moon prostrating in front of him. Eleven stars are his eleven brothers, and the sun and moon are his father and mother.
At this point of time Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ prayed to Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, as narrated in verse number 101 of Surah Yusuf
My Lord! You have surely granted me authority and taught me the interpretation of dreams. ˹O˺ Originator of the heavens and the earth! You are my Guardian in this world and the Hereafter. Allow me to die as one who submits1 and join me with the righteous
So, this way, Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى reunited the entire Bani Israel in Egypt due to the continuous efforts of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ and his firm belief on Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى.
The story of Prophet Yusuf عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ was set to be a role model for generations to come. It is all about firm belief in Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى, patience, developing a habit of forgiveness, and helping the people around you. It also tells us not to deviate from the straight path even in the worst of the circumstances. And above all, not to be tempted to commit sins in any case.