A very happy Eid to all of our readers! We pray that Allahhas blessed us all immensely and forgiven our sins this past Ramadan, ameen! Here is an Eid gift from MuslimMatters to you–an excerpt from Shaykh Mohammad Elshinawy’s book When the Stars Prostrated: Meditations on Surat Yusuf. We hope you enjoy this excerpt that covers verses 90-92. You can purchase the book here.
They said, “Is that you, Yūsuf?” He said, “I am Yūsuf, and this is my brother. God has been gracious to us. He who practices piety and patience—God never fails to reward the righteous.” [12:90]
“They said, ‘Is that you, Yūsuf?’ He said, ‘I am Yūsuf, and this is my brother.’”
The old features of Yūsuf start reconstructing in their eyes, memories of the crime scene at the well erupt in their minds, and suddenly the stare down between them is ablaze. Then he parted his lips and said what they would have done anything to never hear: “Yes, I am Yūsuf,” the brother you abused and betrayed in the worst way imaginable. I am that weakling you tried to kill and cast down a well. You wanted something, and Allahwanted something different. What a moment. It must have been one of the most nerve-wrecking introductions in human history. Imagine how wide their eyes became, stretching to be able to take in the greatest shock of their lives. “And this is my brother,” he continued, as if to say if anyone is my true brother it’s him and only him, and that, I also know what you’ve been doing to him all these years – your treatment makes it clear that unlike me, you don’t recognize him as your brother.
“He who practices piety and patience—God never fails to reward the righteous.”
-With this being one of the greatest stories of the Qur’an, with its 100+ verses each filled with gems of sacred lessons, Allahdeclared the ultimate wisdom of the story here – lest the many amazing lessons cause us to forget the most important of them all: the reward of taqwā and ṣabr will never disappoint. It is guaranteed in both this world and the hereafter, though how this reward manifests will vary for different people. Ibn Taymīyah said, “Whoever puts up with humiliation and loss to obey Allah, over being honored and empowered through the disobedience of Allah – as done by Yūsuf and others among the prophets and righteous – finds a good outcome in this world and the hereafter. He also finds the harm he experiences transforming into pleasure and delight, just as the worst sinners find their pleasures through sin transforming into sadness and misfortunes.”
-Sins and disobedience cause a person to lose their station of honor and nearness to Allah, even if they were esteemed and from a noble or pious lineage. Thus, the hadith says, “And whoever is kept back by his actions, his lineage will not bring him up to speed.” [Sahih Muslim]
-We would usually find it repulsive for someone to say, “it’s because I’m so righteous that Allah has honored me,” and hence Yūsufwas doing something quite different here. It was a humble concurrence with their assertion of his righteousness and patience, by saying that whoever is as you said, Allah does not squander their reward. This avoids being perceived as an arrogant boaster, and at the same time helps crystallize for them that it was not coincidence at play here. This is similar to the Prophet ﷺ saying, “I am indeed the master of the children of Adam, and I say that without pride.” They knew from his tone, demeanor, and track record, that this was no pompous statement, and at the same time he had to say it because they would never discover this sacred truth on their own. A wise preacher knows when to inject his cure in the right moment, and recognizes that, with the wrong timing, this very cure could lead to people fleeing from you. He does not take shots in the dark with his discourse, nor floods their ears with verbosity, but selects his words and moments for maximum mental and emotional engagement of his audience to cast his words into their open hearts.
They said, “By Allah, Allah has preferred you over us. We were definitely in the wrong.” [12:91]
-The brothers finally realized that Yūsufwas not just dearer than them to their father, but to their Lord as well. This sentiment is usually classified as ghibṭah (jealous admiration) and not ḥasad (envy), with the former being more of a wish to have a praiseworthy distinction that another enjoys, and the latter being more of a hatred that another has something that we do not. Ghibṭah is a positive form of ḥasad, because you are wishing for something virtuous, channeling your competitive instinct for pious ends, and not wishing that your rivals be stripped of that blessing in the process. As a result, ghibṭah does not generate worldly tensions, since it does not involve a chase of this finite world, but rather Allah’s Paradise which is so vast. The dispraised ḥasad, on the other hand, creates animosity between people in this world and jeopardizes the envier’s salvation in the hereafter. Hence, the Prophet ﷺ said, “There should be no ḥasad except in two cases,” and proceeded to mention those who were distinguished by being learned in the Qur’an, or by being charitable with their wealth. [Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]
-Dr Waleed Basyouni writes, “Sūrat Yūsuf taught me that people who hate me don’t necessarily hate me for my bad qualities. Some people hate you for your good qualities and the good things you have done. They hated Yūsuffor his beauty, his generosity, and his character. They hated him because of the honor that he had received from his father. When you see people criticizing and attacking you, don’t take it personally. It might not be about you, but about the blessings that Allah has given you. Haters don’t hate you – they actually hate themselves. So don’t let negative people turn you into one of them. Keep a positive attitude, and every time someone talks behind your back, keep them there.”
-Some people need decades to come to terms with basic truths, and hence we must never lose hope in any living person that they cannot turn over a new leaf. Abū Sufyān ibn Ḥarb was an open enemy to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ for nearly his entire ministry. He launched more battle campaigns against him than anyone, and during the intervals between battles, he would help orchestrate uprisings in the Prophet’s ﷺ city of Madinah and covert assassination attempts against him. It was only eighteen months before the Prophet’s ﷺ death that Abū Sufyān himself decided to give up his tribal bigotry and accept Islam. Abū Sufyānknew full well of the Prophet’s ﷺ integrity, witnessed many great miracles, was forgiven then honored in an unexpected situation, and yet it was only when Allah inspired him to faith did it penetrate his defenses and finally settle in his heart. As Allah says, “So whoever Allah wishes to guide, He expands their heart to welcome Islam.” [Surah Al- An’am:125]
-The Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said, “Regret is repentance.” [Musnad Ahmad] That is what lies at the heart of tawbah (repentance); sincere remorse for having violated the bounds of Allah. As for when the crime involves another human being, then seeking their pardon becomes another requirement for a complete repentance. But should we always forgive others in Islam? For this reason, Ibn Taymīyah would advocate for the position that this matter is circumstantial; if forgiveness does not lead to rectification and reform, then it is actually better to not forgive. This seems closest to the spirit of the Qur’an, wherein Allah said, “…but whoever pardons and [thereby] makes reconciliation – then his reward is [due] from Allah.” [Surah Ash-Shuraa:40] After all, we do not want to embolden wrongdoers and tyrants, and if we forgo our rights all the time, one wicked thug may control an entire city of good people. But when the wrongdoers seem genuine in their remorse, as Yūsuf’s brothers seem here, then forgiveness is the superior path taken by those with the spiritual strength to muster it. If they cannot, then justice is always sanctioned, and equitable retribution is still within the bounds of God’s law and should not be classified as a reprehensible pursuit of vengeance.
He said, “There will be no condemnation of you today. Allah will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.” [12:92]
-Dr Hatem al-Haj writes, “After being unjustly thrown into prison for years, he did not hesitate to (unconditionally) give the non-believing people of Egypt a detailed plan to save them from famine. After being thrown into the bottom of the well by his own brothers, when he had full power to avenge himself, he did not hesitate to tell them, ‘There will be no condemnation of you today. Allah will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful. [12:92] Every time I read this sūrah, I feel so small.”
-‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālibsaid to Abū Sufyān, “Head to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ until you are face-to-face, then say to him what Yūsuf’s brothers said to Yūsuf , ‘By Allah, Allah has preferred you over us. We were definitely in the wrong.’ [12:91] – for he will not accept anyone being better in statement than him.” Abū Sufyān did that and found the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying in response, ‘There will be no condemnation of you today. God will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.” [12:92] and [Ibn al-Qayyim, Zād al-Mi‘ād] How wise was it for ‘Alī to suggest that approach? How remarkable was it for the Prophet ﷺ to forgive twenty years of enmity and war crimes at the height of his power in a blink? How necessary is it for us to become better followers of his guidance ﷺ in this regard?
-In this reassurance, Yūsufis essentially saying: relax, the matter is over from today and will never haunt you again. While the natural consequence of wrongdoing may linger after the punishment or repentance, the chastisement or condemnation must not. For this reason, even in the context of publicly punishing a fornicator, the Prophet ﷺ said, “He should flog her, but not condemn her.” [Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim] A person may have regretted and repented, between him/herself and God, and therefore been forgiven in the heavens even before the punishment was meted out. Hence, even if the penalty will be upheld as Allah legislated it, for the overarching public interest, the gloating, excessiveness, and appetite for vengeance must be curbed.
-Us standing thousands of years apart from the brothers of Yūsufmakes it no less terrible to demonize the brothers of Yūsuf after they had sincerely repented. How could it be permissible after their brother has forgiven, their father has pardoned, and their Lord has absolved them? Take a lesson from their story and nimbly move on, fearful of stumbling to your own demise over the lethal wires of a believer’s sanctity. This same principle is even more operative regarding the disputes between the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), since those were tragic but nonetheless discretionary matters and not crimes. This principle would even apply to believing individuals and nations who were punished by God; those beneath the soil who committed wrong, and then we are afflicted with repeating it due to our ridicule of them. Several of the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions would say to people in rebuke, “What amazing people you must be; every sweet quality is yours, and every sour quality belongs to the Israelites. Know that you will surely follow in their every footstep.” [Al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ]
“Allah will forgive you. He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.”
-Some have found it curious that the brothers are in angst about whether or not Yūsuf , and yet Yūsuf will forgive themspeaks of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness instead. We know that the rights of the creation have been promised to them by Allah , and thus even the martyr is forgiven for all but his debts to other people. So what makes this pivot to Allah’s matchless mercy relevant here? The subtlety behind this thematic shift may be to reflect that Yūsuf recognized his own need to pursue Allah’s mercy by exhibiting mercy to others. It’s as if he is declaring that, because I seek Allah’s