Surat Yusuf/Joseph – 12- Meccan – Ayats – 111 Section Five – Verses 39-52

“O’ my two companions of the prison! I (ask you); Are many lords/gods differing among themselves better or the One God, Supreme and Irresistible? (39) يَا صَاحِبَيِ السِّجْنِ أَأَرْبَابٌ مُتَفَرِّقُونَ خَيْرٌ أَمِ اللَّهُ الْوَاحِدُ الْقَهَّارُ (39)
“You do not worship besides Him, but only names which you have named/forged –you and your fathers- for which God had sent no authority. The command (the judgment) is for none but God. He has commanded that you worship none but Him (His Monotheism); that is the [true] straight religion, but most men don’t understand/know. (40) مَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِهِ إِلَّا أَسْمَاءً سَمَّيْتُمُوهَا أَنْتُمْ وَآَبَاؤُكُمْ مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِنْ سُلْطَانٍ إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّهِ أَمَرَ أَلَّا تَعْبُدُوا إِلَّا إِيَّاهُ ذَلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ (40)
“O’ my two companions of prison! As to one of you, he [as a servant] will pour out wine for his lord/master to drink; but for the other, he will be crucified (hanged) and birds will eat from his head. Thus is the case decreed concerning which you both did inquire?” (41) يَا صَاحِبَيِ السِّجْنِ أَمَّا أَحَدُكُمَا فَيَسْقِي رَبَّهُ خَمْرًا وَأَمَّا الْآَخَرُ فَيُصْلَبُ فَتَأْكُلُ الطَّيْرُ مِنْ رَأْسِهِ قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ الَّذِي فِيهِ تَسْتَفْتِيَانِ (41)
And he said to the one whom he considered/ thought/knew to be saved; “mention me to your lord/master/king!” But Satan made him forget to mention it to his lord [or the Satan made Joseph/ Yusuf to forget the remembrance of his Lord to ask for help instead of others]. So he (Joseph) stayed/ lingered in prison a few {more} years. (42) وَقَالَ لِلَّذِي ظَنَّ أَنَّهُ نَاجٍ مِنْهُمَا اذْكُرْنِي عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ فَأَنْسَاهُ الشَّيْطَانُ ذِكْرَ رَبِّهِ فَلَبِثَ فِي السِّجْنِ بِضْعَ سِنِينَ (42)
The king [of Egypt] said: “I saw –in vision/dream- seven fat kine/cows, whom seven lean ones devouring them; and seven green ears of corn, and seven [others] dry/withered. O’ you chiefs/ notables/oracles expound/explain to me my vision /dream, if it to be you can interpret visions”. (43) وَقَالَ الْمَلِكُ إِنِّي أَرَى سَبْعَ بَقَرَاتٍ سِمَانٍ يَأْكُلُهُنَّ سَبْعٌ عِجَافٌ وَسَبْعَ سُنْبُلَاتٍ خُضْرٍ وَأُخَرَ يَابِسَاتٍ يَا أَيُّهَا الْمَلَأُ أَفْتُونِي فِي رُؤْيَايَ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ لِلرُّؤْيَا تَعْبُرُونَ (43)
They said: “ a confused medley of dreams; and we are not skilled in the interpretation of dreams”. (44) قَالُوا أَضْغَاثُ أَحْلَامٍ وَمَا نَحْنُ بِتَأْوِيلِ الْأَحْلَامِ بِعَالِمِينَ (44)
But the man who had been released (one of the two who had been in prison), and who now bethought him after [so long] period of time, said: “I will tell you the truth of its interpretation, so send me forth”. (45) وَقَالَ الَّذِي نَجَا مِنْهُمَا وَادَّكَرَ بَعْدَ أُمَّةٍ أَنَا أُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِتَأْوِيلِهِ فَأَرْسِلُونِ (45)
“O’ Joseph/Yusuf! [He said]: O’ man of truth! expound/ explain to us the (dream/vision) of seven fat kine/cows whom seven lean ones devour them, and of seven green ears of corn and seven others withered; that I may return to the people so that they may know/ understand” . (46) يُوسُفُ أَيُّهَا الصِّدِّيقُ أَفْتِنَا فِي سَبْعِ بَقَرَاتٍ سِمَانٍ يَأْكُلُهُنَّ سَبْعٌ عِجَافٌ وَسَبْعِ سُنْبُلَاتٍ خُضْرٍ وَأُخَرَ يَابِسَاتٍ لَعَلِّي أَرْجِعُ إِلَى النَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ (46)
(Joseph/Yusuf) said: “For seven consecutive years, you shall diligently sow as usual and that the harvest which you reap you shall leave them in the ear, except a little of which you shall eat.  (47) قَالَ تَزْرَعُونَ سَبْعَ سِنِينَ دَأَبًا فَمَا حَصَدْتُمْ فَذَرُوهُ فِي سُنْبُلِهِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِمَّا تَأْكُلُونَ (47)
“Then will come after that, seven hard/dreadful years which will devour what you have laid for them in advance, all except a little of which you have –specially- guarded/ stored. (48) ثُمَّ يَأْتِي مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ سَبْعٌ شِدَادٌ يَأْكُلْنَ مَا قَدَّمْتُمْ لَهُنَّ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا مِمَّا تُحْصِنُونَ (48)
“Then thereafter will come a (period) year in which people will have abundant water/rain and in which they will press/squeeze/distill wine and oil. (49) ثُمَّ يَأْتِي مِنْ بَعْدِ ذَلِكَ عَامٌ فِيهِ يُغَاثُ النَّاسُ وَفِيهِ يَعْصِرُونَ (49)
So the king said: “bring him to me”- But when the messenger came to him (Joseph/Yusuf) said: “Go back/return to your lord and ask him ‘what happened [state of mind] of the women/ladies who cut their hands? Surely, my Lord is All-Knower of their plot/snare’”.  (50) وَقَالَ الْمَلِكُ ائْتُونِي بِهِ فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُ الرَّسُولُ قَالَ ارْجِعْ إِلَى رَبِّكَ فَاسْأَلْهُ مَا بَالُ النِّسْوَةِ اللَّاتِي قَطَّعْنَ أَيْدِيَهُنَّ إِنَّ رَبِّي بِكَيْدِهِنَّ عَلِيمٌ (50)
(The king) said [to the women/ladies]: “what was your affair when you did seek to seduce Joseph/ Yusuf {from his true self}?” The women/ladies said: “God forbid/God preserve us! No evil we know against him!” (then)Said the wife of Al-Aziz: “Now the truth is manifest [to all]; it was I who sought to seduce him [from his true self], and he is indeed of those who are ever true and virtuous!” (51) قَالَ مَا خَطْبُكُنَّ إِذْ رَاوَدْتُنَّ يُوسُفَ عَنْ نَفْسِهِ قُلْنَ حَاشَ لِلَّهِ مَا عَلِمْنَا عَلَيْهِ مِنْ سُوءٍ قَالَتِ امْرَأَةُ الْعَزِيزِ الْآَنَ حَصْحَصَ الْحَقُّ أَنَا رَاوَدْتُهُ عَنْ نَفْسِهِ وَإِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الصَّادِقِينَ (51)
Then Joseph/Yusuf said: “I [asked for this enquiry] in order that he (Al-Aziz) may know that I have never betrayed him in his absence. And verily, God will never guide the snare/plot of betrayers/ perfidious ones*. (52) ذَلِكَ لِيَعْلَمَ أَنِّي لَمْ أَخُنْهُ بِالْغَيْبِ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي كَيْدَ الْخَائِنِينَ (52)

Wahba Mahmoud Diyab


(Verses 43-68:- The king of Egypt saw a vision which none of his grandees could explain. The cup-bearer referred to Joseph, who was sent for by the king. But Joseph insisted that the voice of scandal –which had pointed to him- should be declared in public to be false. After Zulaikha had paid a splendid ungrudging tribute to his truth and righteousness, he came, and was invested with supreme power by the king. In times of plenty he organized great reserves to meet the needs of famine. When wide-spread famine at last prevailed, his brothers came from Canaan in search for corn. He treated them kindly and got them to bring his youngest brother Benjamin: but they knew not that he was Joseph).
(Verse 39)- Note the personal touch again: ‘Are we not also companions in misfortune? And may I not speak to you on terms of perfect equality, – as one prisoner to another? Well then, do you really think a conflict of heterogeneous gods is better than the One True God, Whose power is supreme and irresistible?’
(Verse 40)- ‘If you name other gods, they are nothing but your inventions, – name which you and your fathers put forward without any reality behind them. Who gave you authority to do any such thing? The only reality is God. Authority can come from Him alone. It is only for Him to command. And He has distinctly commanded you to worship none other than Him. That is the only religion that is right, – that has stood and will stand and endure forever. He has revealed it at all times by His Messengers and by His Signs. If men fail to understand, it is their own fault’.
(Verse 41)- A/Having fulfilled his great duty –that touching the things of the spirit- Joseph now passes on, and comes to the things in which they were immediately interested,- the questions which they had asked him about their dreams and what they prognosticated of their immediate future. Notice how Joseph again puts himself into sympathy with them by repeating the phrase of Camaraderie [my two companions of the prison!]: for one he has good news, and for the other, bad news. He does not mince matters or waste words. He just barely tells the truth, hoping that the higher spiritual truths of which he has spoken will appear in their eyes -too- as of more importance than mere earthly triumphs or disasters,- (in Kipling’s words: “both impostors all the same”). B/The cup-bearer had perhaps been proved innocent of the crime which had been charged against him, and was restored to the favor of Pharaoh. He was to carry the sup and be the king’s confidante again. How much more good he could do now, after the spiritual influence he had imbibed from Joseph the man of God! He was more fortunate in having Joseph’s company than in being restored to his intimate position with the king! Yet he was not a perfect man, as we shall see presently. C/for the baker, Alas! He had bad news, and he tells it directly without tantalizing him. Perhaps he had been found guilty; or perhaps he had been really guilty –of some act of embezzlement or of joining in some palace intrigue, and he was to die a malefactor’s death on the cross, followed by exposure to birds of the air, – vultures pecking away at his eyes and cheeks, and all that had been his face and head! Poor man! If he was guilty, Joseph had taught him repentance, and we should like to think that he lost in this life but gained in the next. If he was innocent, the cruel death did not affect him. Joseph had shown him a higher and more lasting hope in the Hereafter.
(Verse 42)- A/Joseph never mentioned himself in interpreting the dream, nor ever thought of himself in his kindness to his fellow-sufferers in prison. It was afterwards, when the cup-bearer’s dream came true, and he was being released on being restored to favor, that we can imagine him taking an affectionate leave of Joseph, and even asking him in his elation if he could do anything for Joseph. Joseph has no need for earthly favors, least of from king’s or their favorites. The divine grace was enough for him. But he had great work to do, which he could not do in prison; work for Egypt and her king, and the world at large. If the cup-bearer could mention him to the king, not by way of recommendation, but because the king’s own justice was being violated in keeping him an innocent man in prison, perhaps that might help to advance the cause of the king and of Egypt. And so he said:”Mention me to Pharaoh”. B/The Eternal Plan does not put God’s men under obligations to men commanding mere worldly favor or earthly power. If they are given a chance, the obligation is on the worldly men, however highly placed. In this case the cup-bearer was but human. When he was in the midst of the Court, he forgot the poor fellow prisoner languishing in prison. In this he yielded to the lower part of his nature, which is guided by Satan, the personification of evil,- a real force in our lives if we but knew it. C/’A few more years’: BIDH’- ???: in Arabic signifies a small indefinite number; say up to 3, 5, 7, or 9 years.
(Verse 43)- The Pharaoh is holding a Council. His confidential adviser –the cup-bearer- is present. The Pharaoh relates his double dream: of seven fat kine being devoured by seven lean ones, and of seven fine full green ears of corn (presumably being devoured) by seven dry withered ears.
(Verse 44)- No one in the Council apparently wanted to take the responsibility either of interpreting the dream, or of carrying out any measures consequent on the interpretation.
(Verse 45)- At length the cup-bearer’s conscience was awakened. He thought of Joseph. He (Joseph) was a truthful man, and the cup-bearer knew by personal experience how skilled he was in the interpretation of dreams. Perhaps he could get him released at this juncture by getting him to interpret the King’s dream. If he had been frank, straight, and direct he would have mentioned Joseph at once, and presented him to Pharaoh. But he had worldly subtlety. He wanted some credit for himself, at the same time that he fulfilled an old obligation. His petty conscience would be satisfied if he has got Joseph’s release, but meanwhile he wanted to see how much attention he could draw to himself in the Court. So he just asked permission to withdraw in order to find the interpretation. He went straight to the person, and addressed himself to Joseph; as in the following verse.
(Verse 46)- The speech must have been longer, to explain the circumstances. We are just given the points. From Joseph he conceals nothing. He knows that Joseph knows more than himself. He tells Joseph that if he got the meaning, he would go and tell the Council. It would be impertinent for the cup-bearer to hold out to Joseph –the man of God- the bribe of the hope of his release. Notice how blandly he avoids referring to his own lapse in having forgotten Joseph so long, and how the magnanimous Joseph has not a word of reproach, but gets straight on with the interpretation.
(Verse 47)- Joseph not only shows what will happen, but –unasked- suggests the measures to be taken for dealing with the calamity when it comes. There will be seven years of abundant harvest. With diligent cultivation they should get bumper crops. Of them they should take a little for their sustenance and store the rest in the ear, the better to preserve it from the pests that attack corn-heaps when they have passed through the threshing floor.
(Verse 48)- There will follow seven years of dreadful famine, which will devour all the stores which they will have laid by in the good years. They must be careful –even during the famine- not to consume all the grain; they must –by special arrangements- save a little for seed, lest they should be helpless even when the Nile brought down abundant waters from the rains at its sources.
(Verse 49)- This is a symbol of a very abundant year, following the seven years of drought. The Nile must have brought abundant fertilizing waters and silt from its upper reaches, and there was probably some rain also in the Lower Egypt. The vine and the olive trees, which must have suffered in the drought, now revived, and yielded their juice and their oil; among the annuals –also- the oil seeds, such as, sesame, and the castor oil plant, must have been grown, as there was irrigated land and to spare from the abundant grain crops. And the people’s spirits revived, to enjoy the finer products of the earth, when their absolute necessities had been more than met in the grain crops.
(Verse 50)- A/The cup-bearer must have reported Joseph’s interpretation to the king, and the king naturally wanted to see Joseph himself. He sent a messenger to fetch him. B/The king’s messenger must have expected that a prisoner would be only too overjoyed at the summons of the king. But Joseph –sure of himself- wanted some assurance that he would be safe from the sort of nagging and persecution to which he had been subjected by the ladies. We saw in verse 33 above he preferred prison to their solicitations. He must therefore know what was in the mind of the women now. Note how discreetly he omits any particular mention of Zulaikha –who after all had been kind to him- and whose unschooled love had been tested all these years and been nearly purified of its grosser elements by now. But Mrs. Grundy –who understood (and perhaps practiced for herself) only the grosser side of the passion- must be put in her place, if Joseph was to have a chance of doing the great work for which he was marked out. C/If the king (their lord) did not know of al the snares which had been laid for Joseph by the ladies, God “my Lord” knew all their secret motives and plots.
(Verse 51)- A/Joseph’s message was conveyed by the messenger to the king, who sent for the ladies concerned. Among them came Zulaikha: “What was this affair?” said the king: “tell me the whole truth”. B/Zulaikha stood by, while the other ladies answered. Their answer was the answer of Mrs. Grundy –grudgingly acknowledging the truth of Joseph’s innocence and high principles- but holding a discreet silence about Mrs. Grundy’s own part in egging on poor Zulaikha to sin, wrong-doing, and revenge. When they had done, she began. She did not mince matters. She acknowledged her own guilt, freely and frankly. This was no time for her even to refer to other ladies, – their jealousy, their gross mindedness, their encouragement of all that was frail or evil in herself. These things she ignored. But to her awakened spiritual consciousness it was a triumph that Joseph –whom she adored- was true in every sense, in word and deed, and that that truth should be proclaimed in open Court before all, as was indeed already known to all concerned when she had taken the blame on herself before the assembly of ladies, and her own spirit had not yet been emancipated. What had happened to her since? She had learnt much sorrow, pain, and humiliation. She had learnt the vanity of carnal love. But Joseph –true of heart- calm in every turn of fortune, had taught her to question herself whether –In spite of all her sin- she could not yet be worthy of him. Perhaps her husband was dead, and she is a widow. But she must see whether she could understand love in the sense in which Joseph would have her understand it –that pure surrender of self- which has earthly stain to it?
(Verse 52)- I construe verses 52 and 53 to be a continuation of Zulaikha’s speech and have translated accordingly. There is both good reason and authority (e.g. Ibn Katheer) for this. But the majority of Commentators construe verses 52-53 to be spoken by Joseph, in which case they would mean that Joseph was referring to his fidelity to the ‘Aziz, that he had never taken advantage of his absence to play false with his wife, although he (Joseph) was human and liable to err. In my view Zulaikha –while fully reprobating her own guilty conduct- claims that she has at least been constant- and that she hopes for mercy, forgiveness, and the capacity to understand at last what true love is. Whatever false charge she made, she made it in a moment of passion and to his face,(never in cold blood, or behind his back). *(Guide the snare of the false ones, i.e., allow such snare to attain its goals).

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