Yusuf’s Dream and Brother’s Plot
This first episode of the Yusuf story tells about the dream of a young boy, Yusuf, and his brothers’ plot to get rid of him. The first and second verses of this surah speak of the Book, the Arabic Qur’an, and the understanding of the revelation. In the third verse, the story of Yusuf is described as the best of narratives. After given this logical prelude, the story of Yusuf immediately begins with the dream of Yusuf who relates this special vision to his father Ya’qub (Jacob):
“When Yusuf said unto his father, ‘O my father, truly I have seen eleven stars, and the sun and the moon. I saw them prostrating before me.’” (Q, 12:4) In vv. 5-6, Ya’qub advises Yusuf not to tell his dream to his brothers because he knows that Yusuf’s dream is a true vision, a sign of his forthcoming prophetic function, and that he is one of the chosen ones of God, who will also teach him the interpretation of events. Thus, God wills complete His Blessing upon Yusuf and the house of Ya’qub as did He with his forefathers, Ibrahim/Abraham and Ishaq/Isaac. This vision has been interpreted by Ya’qub to mean that Yusuf would attain an exalted position above his eleven brothers. However, at the same time, Ya’qub fears Satan’s enmity, which might lead his other sons to scheme against Yusuf since they are excessively jealous of Yusuf.
The Brothers’ Plot
After describing Yusuf’s dream, which foreshadows the story, the Qur’an alerts attentions by stating that “Certainly in Yusuf and his brothers there are signs for the inquiring” (Q, 12:7). For anyone who is enthusiastic to gain true knowledge, seeking an answer to his/her existential situation, there are moral lessons, indications, and evidences in the story of Yusuf.
The Qur’an indicates in the verse 8 that Yusuf did not relate his dream to his brothers. We understand this from the narrative that the reason for the brothers’ hatred of Yusuf is Ya’qub’s love and solicitude for Yusuf, not his dream: “Truly Yusuf and his brother are more beloved unto our father than are we, though we are a group. Surely our father is in manifest error.” (Q, 12:8) “…Though we are a group” implies that they are a larger and more powerful group, and therefore they think that they deserve Ya’qub’s love more than Yusuf and Yusuf’s younger brother. They only speak of their father’s favoritism of Yusuf and his brother, who is the youngest son of Ya’qub and the only full brother of Yusuf. If they knew about the dream of Yusuf, they would have revealed it. We understand from the following verse that the brothers cannot evaluate matters properly anymore, so that they plan to get rid of Yusuf: “Kill Yusuf, or cast him away in some faraway land” (Q, 12:9). Thus, they plan to have all Ya’qub’s attention on their selves. In v.10, one among them suggests that they better cast Yusuf into the hidden depth of a well on the caravan route, rather than kill him, or abandon him in a faraway land. Note that this brother is not identified in the Qur’an. We see in the next scene that the plan of the brothers to dispose of Yusuf is put into implementation:
They said to their father: ‘Father, why do you not trust us with Joseph, when we are indeed his well-wishers. Send him with us tomorrow, that he may enjoy himself and play. We will certainly take good care of him.’ He answered: ‘It certainly grieves me that you should take him with you; and I dread that the wolf may eat him when you are heedless of him.’ They said: ‘If the wolf were to eat him when we are so many, then we should surely be lost.’ (Q, 12:11-14)
As it is understood from these verses, Ya’qub is aware of the brother’s ill feelings towards Yusuf, and reluctant to send his beloved son with his brothers. Then the brothers take Yusuf away with them, and agree to put him in the depth of the well: “And when they went away with him, they resolved to cast him into the depths of well…” (Q, 12:15) The Qur’an does not mention the sequence of events take place between the statements “they went away with him” and “resolved to cast him into the depth of the well.” In the continuation of v. 15, God inspires Yusuf, and reassures him: “And when they went away with him, they resolved to cast him into the depths of well. We revealed [this] to him: ‘You will tell them of this their deed at a time when they shall not know you.’” (Q, 12:15) Since God speaks His revelation to Yusuf in the well, it is believed by Muslims that he is a prophet of God, as is his father, Yaquub. After committing their crime, the brothers come in to their father at night weeping, and say:
‘Father, we went off racing and left Yusuf behind with our belongings, and the wolf devoured him. But you will not believe us even though we are saying the truth.’ And they produced his shirt stained with false blood. He said: ‘No, but your minds have tempted you to evil. Sweet patience! It is to God alone that I turn for support in this misfortune that you have described.’ (Q, 12:16-18)
Ya’qub does not seem convinced by the brothers’ wolf story. By saying “your minds have tempted you to evil,” he implies that their wolf story is a fabricated lie. Then, he puts his trust in God with a beautiful patience, and hopes that Yusuf may turn back to him one day.
Through the verses 19-20, the last verses of the first episode, the scene returns to Yusuf in the well:
And then a caravan came along and sent their water carrier, and he let down his bucket. He said, “Good news! Here is a boy!” So they hid him as merchandise. And God knew well what they were doing. And they sold him for a low price, a number of dirhams, for they valued him not. (Q, 12:19-20)
A caravan comes from a long travel. The one, who is assigned to find water for the caravan, lets down his bucket into the well to find out whether there is water in the well. He sees Yusuf down there, and cries out that “Good news! Here is a boy,” however, the Qur’an does not tell about either Yusuf’s reaction or others’ actions towards this news. They realize that the boy is not a slave, and therefore, they hide him as a secret merchandise to sell. They then sell him quickly on the cheap because they fear to be accounted for enslaving and selling a free boy. Thus, the first episode of the story of Yusuf is concluded. This is the first trial of Yusuf in his life.