“Indeed We have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’an so that you may apply reason. We will recount to you the best of narratives in what We have revealed to you of this Qur’an, and indeed prior to it you were among those who are unaware [of it].” (12:2-3)
Sallust (86 bc to 34 bc), the Roman historian and politician, has been quoted as saying: “They envy the distinction I have won; let them therefore, envy my toils, my honesty, and the methods by which I gained it.”
As have seen thus far, the Noble Qur’an is replete with historical narratives – some mentioned in brief with its moral lessons just touched upon, while others are recounted with such vivid detail that the reader feels as if he has been transported back in time and is living the event. The story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) and his eleven brothers is of the second type of story of the Qur’an. In fact, unlike other Prophets and their struggles which are dotted throughout the pages of the Qur’an, interspersed with jurisprudential guidelines, moral commandments and theological arguments, the story of Prophet Yusuf is the only complete “story” contained all-together in one chapter and narrated in one instance – making it “easier” for the truth-seeker to follow the events which were transpiring so long ago…
The initial phases of the life of Prophet Yusuf in which he basked in the company of his loving father, mother and brothers is not unlike that of many other people even in today’s day and age.
Living as the youngest sibling in a large family is always fraught with difficulties and challenges – from having to deal with ‘hand me downs’ which are perhaps no longer in style; ‘competing’ for the love and attention of one’s parents which has to be equally directed towards all of the other brothers and sisters; having to endure ‘bullying’ from older siblings, and many other things. Indeed, Prophet Yusuf, perhaps like many other children, had to face these and many other challenges, however the one thing which he had to face to the greatest extreme which many people MAY NOT go through in their life is the intense feelings of jealousy and anger which his brothers felt for him.
It was these two traits – jealousy – which then manifest through anger which led to the untold number of hardships that Prophet Yusuf had to face. The history is clear that once the incorrect perception that Prophet Ya’qub (Jacob) was not “treating” his children fairly became ingrained in the hearts of the other brothers, jealousy began to simmer within their hearts which finally over took their entire being and manifest itself as the anger and rage. Through their incorrect actions, the brothers ended up losing of the most important God-given blessing – the intellect. It is from this point forward that they began to do things which are inconceivable for the children of a Prophet, such as: beating up their younger brother; throwing him into the well to be left for dead; letting a trade caravan find the brother and selling him into slavery ultimately leading him to be taken hundreds of kilometers away to Egypt; being indirectly guilty of the state Prophet Yusuf found himself in whilst being a servant in the palace of one of the elite and being tempted with sexual impropriety by the wife one of the heads of the state and everything else that he had to go through.
Ultimately, he overcame these and numerous other challenges to spiritually lift himself up, and through all of the adversities that were thrown at him, he became victorious over what would have been for most people, events which would have caused them to succumb to the pressures and to give in to temptation and buckle down under the weight of the opportunities of sinning – ending up in a state of remorse for the rest of their lives…
Indeed, the beautiful story of Prophet Yusuf contained in the Qur’an (and now thanks to the Iranian cinema industry can be seen in the multi-part mini-series – available online at www.shiasource.com), if carefully and thoroughly studied becomes an entire lesson in Islamic ethics and morality and the eternal moral lesson of always “seeing the silver lining behind the dark cloud” and “being able to make the best out of any situation” and thus, has the potential to instill timeless teachings within ourselves, our family and our entire community.
One of the most powerful lessons which we extract from the life of challenges which Prophet Yusuf went through vis-à-vis his brothers is the extreme power and uncontrollable danger which anger can play in our lives.
This very important God-given ability, if not governed and kept under control, can cause serious damage to many around us – including ourselves – and it is for this reason that the four cardinal powers which are present within all of us – the powers of: intellect; anger; desires and imagination must be channeled and ruled by something much higher and greater – the Divinely sent teachings and teachers.
No one would deny the power of desire – whether this ‘power’ guides us to food and drink, temporal authority or towards the opposite gender – however if kept uncontrolled and not reigned in under the Divine authorities, it can cause us to imbibe the forbidden; consume the unlawful; seize control of institutions, religious organizations or countries when we are not worthy of such authority and can lead to sexual impropriety on a mass scale!
The power of anger is the same – this God-given ability has the ability to change a family or society for the better … or the worse.
The same man or woman who gets angry ‘for the sake of God’ and ensures that the Divine ordinances are maintained and that when he sees poverty, homelessness, destitution, injustice and other societal evils and feels “anger” at how people are suffering would use this ‘anger’ to enact a positive change in society – be it by volunteering or establishing soup kitchens, volunteering at local food banks, making contributions to organizations which work to assist orphans, widows, single mothers, single fathers, etc… However if this same man or woman does not channel the anger ‘for the sake of God’ and rather, uses it to hurt the creations of God when he or she is upset such as through the vile crime of spousal or child abuse, physically or verbally abuses others when he or she does not get their way, etc… then the anger can destroy families, communities and ultimately, society as a whole.
Thus, one of the outcomes of the “Best of Stories” as the Qur’an refers to it as, is the destructive nature of anger and jealousy and what it can do to a family and society.
However on the other end of the spectrum, we see that these two ‘worst of traits’ molded and shaped Prophet Yusuf into being one of the most gracious and God-conscious young men of his time such that he became a role-model for those around him. His display of modesty, humility, trust, conviction in God and inner strength to keep away from sins even when being put in a position to indulge in them gives us hope that we too have the ability to work on our inner selves to learn to resist temptation when it comes knocking on our door.
Whereas we as Muslims do not condone or encourage the display of immoral behavior of any sort and are told that we should mould our characters to be as our Prophet and Imams were – beacons of guidance through their actions and noble ethical traits – we must keep in mind that there are always ways to deal with the immoral people around us.
The old adage of “fight fire with fire” does nothing but burn down everything in its way; however if a believer was to “fight fire with water” – not only would he or she put out the flames of anger and everything evil, but perhaps through that ‘water’ he would be able to permit new emotions to grow and mature; if the ‘water’ was not able to quell the heat of the aggressors, it would at least cool down and calm the spirits of the bystanders and show them who is on the right – those who are playing with fire; or those who are playing with water…
As we close yet another lesson on The Narratives of the Qur’an, let us look into our souls and see if we have the fire of jealousy and anger burning within them. If the jealousy and anger are not ‘for the sake of Allah’ but rather, are ‘for the sake of Satan’ or ‘for the sake of our own carnal desires’, we must stop and take a breather and see how it is we can redirect our passions into something which will not cause us and those around us harm…