An Interpretation of Verse 18 of the Chapter of Joseph

This article is taken from The Prophet Joseph In The Qur’an, The Bible, And History

وَجَاءُوا عَلَى قَمِيصِهِ بِدَمٍ كَذِبٍ قَالَ بَلْ سَوَّلَتْ لَكُمْ أَنفُسُكُمْ أَمْرًا فَصَبْرٌ جَمِيلٌ وَاللَّهُ الْمُسْتَعَانُ عَلَى مَا تَصِفُونَ (يوسف: 18).

And they came with false blood on his shirt. He said: “[No,] rather your souls have suggested to you [doing] something [evil]; so, [my course is] perfect patience. And it is Allah whose help is sought against what you describe” (18).
Joseph’s brothers brought his shirt to their father after smearing it with blood, which was not actually Joseph’s, as proof that their brother was devoured by a wolf. The plan that Joseph’s brothers followed to deceive Jacob reflects their failure to appreciate the depth of the knowledge of this prophet. Allah conferred on Jacob “ta’wil al ahadith (the interpretation of talks),” making him able to read through simple things and signs present and future events, as we saw in his interpretation of his son’s dream. Jacob, therefore, was not going to believe his sons’ story about the death of Joseph. He knew through Joseph’s dream, and whatever other sources of knowledge that Allah made available to him, certain facts about the future of Joseph and the rest of the family. Indeed, we will see later how Jacob tells critics of his undiminished hope of seeing Joseph again, years after his disappearance: “and I know from Allah what you do not know” (from 12.86).
I should cite a particular event that reveals the extent of Jacob’s sons’ underestimation of the knowledge and paranormal abilities that Allah conferred on their father. Many years after the sudden disappearance of Joseph, Jacob was one day able to smell the scent of his son through a shirt that Joseph sent to him, when the shirt was still at a far distance from Jacob’s living place: “And when the camel caravan had departed, their father said: ‘I perceive the scent of Joseph; may you not disbelieve me!’” (12.94). The recipient of such divine favor was undoubtedly able to know that the blood on the shirt, which he could touch and carefully examine, was not Joseph’s.
Indeed, Jacob’s first reaction to his sons’ claims was: “ [No,] rather your souls have suggested to you [doing] something [evil].” This is a direct accusation from Jacob to his sons that they have worked out a scheme for Joseph and that their account of what happened had no relation to truth. Jacob’s words “so, [my course is] perfect patience” refer to his reaction to what happened. The صَبْرٌ جَمِيلٌsabrun jamilun,” which I translate as “perfect patience,” is “the patience that is not associated with any complaint,” as explained by the Prophet.1
Note that Jacob’s reply “so, [my course is] perfect patience” refers to his patience not only with Joseph’s calamity, but also with the state of his sons. Jacob did not react negatively to what his sons did. He did not throw them out of the house, for example. He followed those words with the sentence “and it is Allah whose help is sought against what you describe.” Here, Jacob refers to his sons’ lies about what happened and asks Allah for help in exposing those lies and revealing the truth.
Before moving to the next verse, we need to stop a little to ponder on Jacob’s reaction in this extremely difficult situation. There is no doubt that losing the son that he had special love for caused great sadness to Jacob, especially as he did not know the condition of his son then, and what was going to happen to him. Jacob’s knowledge that Allah had ordained great good for Joseph in the future was a source of consolation for him, but that would not have prevented him from feeling sad for his son whom he could not see anymore, know his condition, or help.
Jacob’s sadness must have been amplified by the fact that Joseph’s brothers were responsible for his disappearance, and that the good faith that he put in them had contributed directly to the sad unfolding of events. Despite all that, faith and wisdom never departed Jacob when he was disputing his sons’ story and later asking for patience and help from Allah during that crisis. How beautiful, then, is the reaction of this knowledgeable prophet to his grave calamity, and how great is his perfect patience! This divine test has made Jacob draw nearer to Allah.
No doubt, Jacob would have remembered in this grave calamity his great grandfather, prophet Abraham, whom Allah also tested with his son. One day, Allah ordered Abraham in a dream to slaughter his son Ishmael. When Abraham and Ishmael were about to carry out Allah’s command, Allah intervened. He ordered Abraham not to sacrifice his son, and gave him a huge animal to sacrifice instead:

فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعْيَ قَالَ يَابُنَيَّ إِنِّي أَرَى فِي الْمَنَامِ أَنِّي أَذْبَحُكَ فَانظُرْ مَاذَا تَرَى قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ سَتَجِدُنِي إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مِنْ الصَّابِرِينَ (102). فَلَمَّا أَسْلَمَا وَتَلَّهُ لِلْجَبِينِ (103). وَنَادَيْنَاهُ أَنْ يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ (104). قَد صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا إِنَّا كَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ (105). إِنَّ هَذَا لَهُوَ الْبَلاَءُ الْمُبِينُ (106). وَفَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ (الصافات: 107).

And when he (Abraham’s son, Ishmael) was old enough to work with him (his father Abraham), he (Abraham) said: “O son! I see in a dream that I am sacrificing you, so let me know what you think.” He (Ishmael) said: “O father! Do what you are commanded to do; Allah willing, you will find me one of those with patience” (37.102). So when they submitted [to Allah’s command], and he (Abraham) laid him (Ishmael) on his forehead (37.103). And We called to him saying: “O Abraham! (37.104). You have fulfilled the vision.” Indeed, this is how we reward the good doers (37.105). Surely this was a manifest trial (37.106). And we ransomed him (Ishmael) with a tremendous sacrifice (37.107). Great stances such as these reveal some of the unique nature of Allah’s prophets and the close servants whom He has chosen for Himself and distinguished from other people.


1 This use of the adjective جَمِيلٌjamil (beautiful)” suggests that it shares the same root with كامِلkamil (perfect),” and the same applies to the nouns of these two adjectives, جَمالjamal (beauty)” and كمالkamal (perfection).” Patience that is Jamil is one that is kamil, and something can be “perfect” only if it is free of any flaw. The flaw of patience is complaint.

          Copyright © 2006 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *