Chapter 12: Joseph
following is a translation of 'Joseph', the twelfth chapter of the
Quran. To many commentators it exemplifies the Quranic norms of
story-telling and if a poetics of the Quran were to be devised then
a structural study of this chapter is likely to be a cornerstone
in that edifice.
The story itself has inspired, in various
manners, nearly all Muslim writers. The most famous instances are,
of course, Maulana Jami among the classical poets and Dr. Sir Muhammad
Iqbal among moderns (in The Republic of Rumi: A Novel of Reality
by Khurram Ali Shafique, Joseph is presented as a key to the
mystery of Iqbal's work).
the name of Allah, the Rahman, the Rahim.
Verses 1 – 17
These are the verses of the perspicuous Book.
We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur'an, in order that you may
We do relate to you the most beautiful of stories, in that We
reveal to you this Qur'an: before this, you too were among those
who knew it not.
Behold! Joseph said to his father,"O my father! I did see
eleven stars and the sun and the moon. I saw them prostrate themselves
Said, “My little son! Relate not your vision to your brothers,
lest they concoct a plot against you: for Satan is to man an avowed
will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of
stories and perfect His favor to you and to the posterity of Jacob
– even as He perfected it to your fathers Abraham and Isaac
aforetime! For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.”
Verily in Joseph and his brothers are signs for seekers.
They said, "Truly Joseph and his brother are loved more by
our father than we but we are a goodly body. Really our father
is obviously wandering!
Joseph or cast him out to some other land, that so the favor of
your father may be given to you alone, for you to be righteous
Said one of them, "Slay not Joseph, but if you must do something,
throw him down to the bottom of the well: he will be picked up
by some caravan of travelers."
They said, “O our father! Why do you not trust us with Joseph,
seeing we are indeed his sincere well-wishers?
him with us tomorrow to enjoy himself and play, and we shall take
every care of him.”
Said, “Really it saddens me that you should take him away.
I fear lest the wolf should devour him while you attend not to
They said, “If the wolf were to devour him while we are
quite a party, then should we indeed first have perished ourselves!”
So they did take him away, and they all agreed to throw him down
to the bottom of the well and We put into his heart, “Of
a surety you shall tell them the truth of this their affair while
they know not.”
Then they came to their father in the early part of the night,
They said, “O our father! We went racing with one another,
and left Joseph with our things, and the wolf devoured him. But
you will never believe us even though we tell the truth.”
Verses 18 – 30
They stained his shirt with false blood. He said, “Nay,
but your minds have made up a tale with you. Patience is most
fitting; against that which you assert, it is Allah Whose help
can be sought.”
Then there came a caravan of travelers. They sent their water-carrier
and he let down his bucket. He said, “Ah there! Good news!
Here is a young man!” So they concealed him as a treasure
but Allah knows well all that they do.
Sold him for a miserable price, for a few dirhams counted out:
in such low estimation did they hold him!
The man in Egypt who bought him, said to his wife, “Make
his stay honorable. May be he will bring us much good, or we shall
adopt him as a son.” Thus did We establish Joseph in the
land, that We might teach him the interpretation of stories. And
Allah has full power and control over His affairs but most among
humankind know it not.
When Joseph attained His full manhood, We gave him power and knowledge.
Thus do We reward those who do right.
But she in whose house he was, sought to seduce him from his self.
She fastened the doors and said, “Now come, you.”
He said, “Allah forbid! truly your husband is my lord! He
made my sojourn agreeable. Truly to no good come those who do
And she did desire him and he would have desired her but that
he saw the evidence of his Lord – thus that We might turn
away from him evil and shameful deeds, for he was one of Our servants,
sincere and purified.
So they both raced each other to the door and she tore his shirt
from the back. They both found her lord near the door. She said,
“What is the punishment for one who formed an evil design
against your wife, but prison or a grievous chastisement!”
He said, “It was she that sought to seduce me – from
my self.” And one of her household saw and bore witness:
“If it be that his shirt is rent from the front, then is
her tale true, and he is a liar!
if it be that his shirt is torn from the back then is she the
liar and he is telling the truth.”
So when he saw his shirt that it was torn at the back, he said,
“Behold! It is a snare of you women! Truly, mighty is your
Joseph, pass this over!” “Ask forgiveness for your
sin, for truly you have been at fault!”
Ladies said in the City: “The wife of the Noble is seeking
to seduce her slave from his self. Truly has he inspired her with
violent love:. We see she is evidently going astray.”
Verses 31 – 45
When she heard of their malicious talk, she sent for them and
prepared a banquet for them: she gave each of them a knife and
called, “Come out before them.” When they saw him,
they did extol him and cut their hands. They said, “Allah
preserve us! No mortal is this! This is none other than a noble
She said, “There before you is the man about whom you did
blame me. I did seek to seduce him from his self but he did firmly
save himself guiltless. And now, if he does not my bidding he
shall certainly be cast into prison and be of the company of the
He said, “O my Lord! The prison is more to my liking than
that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their snare
from me, I should feel inclined towards them and join the ranks
of the ignorant.”
So his Lord hearkened to him and turned away from him their snare.
Verily He hears and knows.
Then it occurred to the men, after they had seen the signs, to
imprison him for a time.
Now with him there came into the prison two young men. Said one
of them, “I see myself pressing wine.” Said the other,
“I see myself carrying bread on my head, and birds are eating,
thereof.” “Tell us the truth and meaning thereof,
for we see that you are one that does good.”
He said, “Before any food comes to feed either of you, I
will surely reveal to you the truth and meaning of this before
it befalls you: that is part of that which my Lord has taught
me. I have abandoned the ways of a people that believe not in
Allah and that deny the Hereafter.
“And I follow the ways of my fathers – Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob – and never could we attribute any partners whatever
to Allah. That comes of the grace of Allah to us and to humankind,
yet most people are not grateful.
“O my two companions of the prison! Are many lords differing
among themselves better or One Allah, Supreme and Irresistible?
“If not Him, you worship nothing but names which you have
named, you and your fathers, for which Allah has sent down no
authority. The command is for none but Allah. He has commanded
that you worship none but Him. That is the right religion but
most people understand not.
“O my two companions of the prison! As to one of you, he
will pour out the wine for his lord to drink. As for the other,
he will hang from the cross and the birds will eat from off his
head. So has been decreed that matter whereof you two do enquire.”
And of the two, to that one whom he considered about to be saved,
he said, “Mention me to your lord.” But Satan made
him forget to mention him to his lord; thus lingered in prison
a few years.
The king said, “I do see seven fat kine whom seven lean
ones devour, and seven green ears of corn and seven withered.
O you chiefs! Expound to me my vision if it be that you can interpret
They said, “A confused medley of dreams! And we are not
skilled in the interpretation of dreams.”
But the man who had been released – one of the two –
and who now bethought him after a space of time, said, “I
will tell you the truth of its interpretation. Send me.”
Verses 46 – 60
“O Joseph! O man of truth! Expound to us of seven fat kine
whom seven lean ones devour, and of seven green ears of corn and
others withered, that I may return to the people, and that they
Said, “For seven years shall you diligently sow as is your
wont and the harvests that you reap, you shall leave them in the
ear, except a little, of which you shall eat.
“Then will come after that seven dreadful years, which will
devour what you shall have laid by in advance for them except
a little which you shall have guarded.”
“Then will come after that a year in which the people will
have abundant water and in which they will press.”
So the king said, “Bring him to me.” But when the messenger
came to him, he said, “Go you back to your lord and ask
him, ‘What is the state of mind of the ladies who cut their
hands?’ For my Lord is certainly well aware of their snare.”
Said, “What was your affair when you did seek to seduce
Joseph from his self?” The ladies said, “Allah preserve
us! No evil know we against him!” Said the Noble’s
wife, “Now is the truth manifest. It was I who sought to
seduce him from his self. He is indeed of those who are true.
“This, in order that He may know that I have never been
false to him in his absence and that Allah will never guide the
snare of the false ones.
“Nor do I absolve my own self: the soul is certainly prone
to evil unless my Lord bestows His Mercy, but surely my Lord is
Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
So the king said, “Bring him to me. I will take him specially
to serve about my own person.” Therefore when he had spoken
to him, he said, “Be assured this day, you are, before our
own presence, with rank firmly established, and fidelity fully
Said, “Set me over the store-houses of the land. I will
indeed guard them as one who knows.”
Thus did We give established power to Joseph in the land, to take
possession therein as, when or where he pleased. We bestow of
our Mercy on whom We please and We suffer not to be lost the reward
of those who do good.
But verily the reward of the Hereafter is the best, for those
who believe, and are constant in righteousness.
Then came Joseph's brothers. They entered his presence, and he
knew them, but they knew him not.
And when he had furnished them forth with provisions for them,
he said, “Bring to me a brother you have, of the same father
as yourselves. See you not that I pay out full measure and that
I do provide the best hospitality?”
“Now if you bring him not to me, you shall have no measure
from me nor shall you come near me.”
Verses 61 – 75
They said, “We shall certainly seek to get our wish about
him from his father. Indeed we shall do it.”
And told his servants to put their stock-in-trade into their saddle-bags
so they should know it only when they returned to their people,
in order that they might come back.
Now when they returned to their father, they said, “O our
father! No more measure of grain shall we get. So send our brother
with us that we may get our measure – and we will indeed
take every care of him.”
He said, “Shall I trust you with him with any result other
than when I trusted you with his brother aforetime? But Allah is
the best to take care, and He is the Most Merciful of those who
Then when they opened their baggage they found their stock-in-trade
had been returned to them. They said, “O our father! What
can we desire? This our stock-in-trade has been returned to us.
So we shall get food for our family. We shall take care of our
brother and add a full camel’s load. This is but a small
Said, “Never will I send him with you until you swear a
solemn oath to me in Allah's name that you will be sure to bring
him back to me unless you are yourselves hemmed in.” And
when they had sworn their solemn oath he said, “Over all
that we say, be Allah the witness and guardian!”
Further he said, “O my sons! Enter not all by one gate:
enter by different gates. Not that I can profit you aught against
Allah: none can command except Allah. On Him do I put my trust
and let all that trust put their trust on Him.”
And when they entered in the manner their father had enjoined
it did not profit them in the least against Allah. It was but
a necessity of Jacob’s soul which he discharged. For he
was by our instruction full of knowledge but most people know
Now when they came into Joseph's presence he received his brother
to stay with him. He said, “Behold! I am your brother. So
grieve not at aught of their doings.”
At length when he had furnished them forth with provisions for
them he put the drinking cup into his brother’s saddle-bag.
Then shouted out a crier, “O you the caravan! Behold! You
are thieves, without doubt!”
They said, turning towards them, “What is it that you miss?”
They said, “We miss the great beaker of the king. For him
who produces it is a camel load. I will be bound by it.”
Said, “By Allah! well you know that we came not to make
mischief in the land and we are no thieves!”
Said, “What then shall be the penalty of this if you are
to have lied?”
They said, “The penalty should be that he in whose saddle-bag
it is found should be held to atone for it. Thus it is we punish
Verses 76 – 90
So he began with their baggage before the baggage of his brother.
At length he brought it out of his brother’s baggage. Thus
did We plan for Joseph. He could not take his brother by the law
of the king except that Allah willed it. We raise to degrees whom
We please but over all endued with knowledge is one, the All-Knowing.
They said, “If he steals, there was a brother of his who
did steal before.” But these things did Joseph keep locked
in his heart, revealing not the secrets to them. He said, “You
are the worse situated and Allah knows best the truth of what
They said, “O exalted one, behold! He has a father, aged
and venerable. So take one of us in his place, for we see that
you do good.”
He said, “Allah forbid that we take other than him with
whom we found our property. Indeed, we should be acting wrongfully.”
Now when they saw no hope from him, they held a conference in
private. The leader among them said, “Know you not that
your father did take an oath from you in Allah's name and how
before this you did fail in your duty with Joseph? Therefore will
I not leave this land until my father permits me or Allah commands
me, and He is the best to command.
“Turn you back to your father and say, ‘O our father,
behold! Your son committed theft. We bear witness only to what
we know and we could not well guard against the unseen.
“‘Ask at the town where we have been and the caravan
in which we returned, and we are indeed telling the truth.’”
Jacob said, “Nay, but you have yourselves contrived a story
for you. So patience is most fitting. Maybe Allah will bring them
all to me. For He is indeed full of knowledge and wisdom.”
And he turned away from them, and said, “How great is my
grief for Joseph!” And his eyes became white with sorrow,
and he fell into silent melancholy.
They said, “By Allah! Will you cease to remember Joseph
until you reach the last extremity of illness or until you die!”
He said, “I only complain of my distraction and anguish
to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you know not.
“O my sons! Go and enquire about Joseph and his brother,
and never give up hope of Allah's Soothing Mercy. Truly no one
despairs of Allah's Soothing Mercy except those who have no faith.”
Then, when they came into presence they said, “O exalted
one! Distress has seized us and our family. We have brought but
scanty capital. So pay us full measure and treat it as charity
to us, for Allah does reward the charitable.”
He said, “Know you how you dealt with Joseph and his brother,
They said, “Are you indeed Joseph?” He said, “I
am Joseph, and this is my brother. Allah has indeed been gracious
to us. Behold! He that is righteous and patient, never will Allah
suffer the reward to be lost of those who do right.”
Verses 91 – 111
They said, “By Allah! Indeed has Allah preferred you above
us and we certainly have been guilty of sin!”
He said, “This day let no reproach be on you. Allah will
forgive you and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!
“Go with this my shirt and cast it over the face of my father.
He will come to see. Then come to me together with all your family.”
When the caravan left, their father said, “I do indeed scent
the presence of Joseph. Nay, think me not a dotard.”
They said, “By Allah! Truly you are in your old wandering
Then when the bearer of the good news came, he cast over his face
and he forthwith regained clear sight. He said, “Did I not
say to you, ‘I know from Allah that which you know not?’”
They said, “O our father! Ask for us forgiveness for our
sins, for we were truly at fault.”
He said, “Soon will I ask my Lord for forgiveness for you,
for he is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Then when they entered the presence of Joseph, he provided a home
for his parents with himself and said, “Enter you Egypt
in safety if it pleases Allah.”
And he raised his parents high on the throne and they fell down
in prostration before him. He said, “O my father! This is
the fulfillment of my vision of old. Allah has made it come true!
He was indeed good to me when He took me out of prison and brought
you out of the desert after Satan had sown enmity between me and
my brothers. Verily my Lord understands best the mysteries of all
that He plans to do, for verily He is full of knowledge and wisdom.
“O my Lord! You has indeed bestowed on me some power and
taught me something of the interpretation of dreams and events.
O You Creator of the heavens and the earth, You are my Protector
in this world and in the Hereafter. Take my soul as a Muslim,
and unite me with the righteous.”
Such is one of the stories of what happened unseen, which We reveal
by inspiration to you. Nor were you with them then when they concerted
their plans together in the process of weaving their plots.
Yet no faith will the greater part of humankind have, however
ardently you do desire it.
And no reward do you ask of them for this: it is no less than
a message for all creatures.
And how many Signs in the heavens and the earth do they pass by?
Yet they turn away from them.
And most of them believe not in Allah without associating (other
partners) with Him.
Do they then feel secure from the coming against them of the covering
veil of the wrath of Allah or of the coming against them of the
Hour all of a sudden while they perceive not?
Say you, “This is my way: I do invite to Allah, on evidence
clear as the seeing with one’s eyes, I and whoever follows
me. Glory to Allah! And never will I join gods with Allah.”
Nor did We send before you any but human beings, whom we did inspire,
living in human habitations. Do they not travel through the earth
and see what was the end of those before them? But the home of
the hereafter is best, for those who do right. Will you not then
Until, when the messengers give up hope and think that they were
treated as liars there reaches them Our help, and those whom We
will are delivered into safety. But never will be warded off our
punishment from those who are in sin.
There is, in their stories, instruction for men endued with understanding.
It is not a tale invented but a confirmation of what went before
it – a detailed exposition of all things, and a guide and
a mercy to any such as believe.
Text based on Abdullah Yusuf
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