It was these two traits – jealousy and anger, the former manifesting through the latter – which led to the untold number of hardships that Prophet Yusuf had to face. History is clear that once the incorrect perception of Prophet Ya’qub (Jacob – peace be upon him) not treating his children fairly became ingrained in the hearts of the other brothers, jealousy began to simmer within their hearts, eventually overtaking their entire being and manifesting itself as anger and rage.
“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 has been 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 through the actual event. The story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph – peace be upon him) and his eleven brothers is of the second type of stories in the Qur’an. In fact, unlike other Prophets and their struggles which are dotted throughout the pages of the Qur’an and 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, thus 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 parents’ love and attention which has to be equally directed towards all of the other brothers and sisters, enduring bullying from elder siblings, amongst many other things. Indeed like many other children, Prophet Yusuf perhaps faced these and many other challenges, however the one thing which he endured to the greatest extreme – which many people may not have to experience in their lifetimes – is the intense feeling of jealousy and anger that his brothers felt towards him.
It was these two traits – jealousy and anger, the former manifesting through the latter – which led to the untold number of hardships that Prophet Yusuf had to face. History is clear that once the incorrect perception of Prophet Ya’qub (Jacob – peace be upon him) not treating his children fairly became ingrained in the hearts of the other brothers, jealousy began to simmer within their hearts, eventually overtaking their entire being and manifesting itself as anger and rage. Through their incorrect actions, the brothers ended up losing the most important God-given blessing – human intellect. They began to do things which are inconceivable for the children of a Prophet, such as beating up their younger brother, throwing him into a well to be left dead, letting a trade caravan find him and sell him into slavery which lead 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.
Ultimately, he overcame these and numerous other challenges to spiritually lift himself up. Through all of the adversities that were thrown at him, he became victorious over what would have been for most others, events causing them to succumb to the pressures, 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 (which can now be seen in the multi-part mini-series available online at ShiaSource, compliments to the Iranian cinema industry), if carefully and thoroughly studied becomes an entire lesson in Islamic ethics and morality. It highlights the eternal moral lesson to “always see the silver lining behind the dark cloud” and “be able to make the best out of any situation” and thus has the potential to instill timeless teachings within ourselves, our families and our entire communities.
One of the most powerful lessons which we extract from prophet Yusuf’s life of challenges is the extreme power and uncontrollable danger which anger can play in our lives. Indeed, if not governed and kept under control, anger can cause serious damage to ourselves and those around us, and it is for this reason that the four cardinal powers which are present within all of us (the powers of intellect, anger, desire and imagination) must be channeled and ruled by something much higher and greater – by Divinely sent teachings and teachers.
No one would deny the power of desire – whether it be towards food and drink, temporal authority or desire 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 potential to change a family or society for the better, or for the worse.
The same man or woman who gets angry feesabeelillah (for the sake of God) ensures that Divine ordinances are maintained, and the anger he feels when he sees poverty, homelessness, destitution, injustice and other societal evils that cause human suffering is used to enact a positive change in society – be it by volunteering or establishing soup kitchens, volunteering at local food banks or 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 feesabeelillah 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 abusing others etc), such anger can ultimately destroy families, communities and societies 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 same two 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 placed 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.
As we as Muslims do not condone nor encourage the display of immoral behavior of any sort and are told that we should mould our characters to be as our Prophets 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 permit new emotions to grow and mature. If 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 allow them to determine for themselves who is on the right – those playing with fire, or those playing with water.
As we close yet another lesson on the narratives of the Holy Qur’an, let us look into our souls and see if we have the fire of jealousy and anger burning within us. If the jealousy and anger are not for the sake of Allah but rather 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.