Joseph / Yusuf in Egypt

Joseph was one of twelve sons of Jacob, a grandson of Abraham by Isaac. The story begins with a dream in which Joseph sees eleven stars, a sun and a moon bow before him. In the Qur’an, to avoid jealousy, his father Jacob advises him not to tell his brothers about his dream. For Joseph and his little brother Benjamin are their father’s favorites, and the other brothers envy them.

The jealous brothers hatch a plan to get rid of Joseph by throwing him into a well. The Bible relates how the brothers – except for Benjamin and the well-meaning Rueben – sell him to passing traders for mere pennies. In the Qur’an, the traders are the ones who pull the abandoned child from the well and sell it. The brothers tell their father that his favorite son has been killed by wolves.

In both books, Joseph is sold as a slave to one of the Egyptian notables. He is extremely good-looking. As a young man, he is nearly seduced by the lady of the house, but he remains steadfast. When the rejected woman falsely accuses him, he is put in jail.
He is released after successfully interpreting a strange dream of the Pharaoh. The seven fat and the seven lean cows in the Pharaoh’s dream represent seven years of great prosperity, followed by seven years of failed harvests and famines. Joseph is released and appointed advisor to the Pharaoh.

At this point, the Qur’an offers an added twist to the story. Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dream while still in prison, and refuses to be released until the issue of the lascivious woman is resolved. The king interrogates the ladies and they admit to their wicked scheme. After his name has been cleared and faith in him fully restored, Joseph is willing to accept responsibility for the country’s economy.

Under the guidance of Joseph, Egypt successfully survives the lean years, with enough to export to less fortunate peoples. Others, including Joseph’s brothers, who lived in luxury during the fat years, are now destitute and come to Egypt to buy grain. At first, they do not recognize their long lost brother. But later, the family is joyfully reunited, and Joseph forgives his brothers. Father Jacob, who in Bible and Qur’an is also called Israel, also travels to Egypt. On his deathbed, he pronounces his blessing on his 12 sons and promises the return of his people to Canaan.

The story of Joseph is told in great length and detail in both books. The following version has been substantially abridged. Some scenes occurring in both books, (e.g., relating to Benjamin), have been left out for the sake of the storyline.
While most stories in the Qur’an are scattered over various surahs, Joseph’s story is contained in a single chapter, which is named after its protagonist. The Biblical story is found in the final chapters of Genesis. Through its explanation of how the sons of Israel come to the land of Egypt, it creates a link with the next book, Exodus, which relates how Moses led his people out of Egypt to freedom.



Joseph’s dream

Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers …”Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then…my sheaf arose and…stood upright; and…your sheaves…bowed down to my sheaf.”

And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us?”

Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers “|…the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” …His father rebuked him…”Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”

And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Genesis 37:5-11

Joseph thrown into a pit
They (His brothers ed.)…conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!”

But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”-that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father.

…when Joseph had come to his brothers…they stripped Joseph of the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. Genesis 37:18-24

Joseph sold to Egypt, Jacob mourns
Then they…looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites…bearing spices…on their way to carry them down to Egypt.

So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened…so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt…and sold him… to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh.

Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes. And he returned to his brothers and said, “The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?”

Then…they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood…and they brought it to their father…And he recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him….Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. Genesis 37:25-36

Joseph’s career in Egypt

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority… the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he (the master ed.) left all that he had in Joseph’s hand…Genesis 39:1-6

Joseph resists temptation

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance…his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”

But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.

But it happened …when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. Genesis 39: 6-12

Joseph imprisoned

So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him… saying,

“The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment saying… “

So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him…that his anger was aroused.

Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. Genesis 39:16-20

Fat and seven lean cows
… at the end of two full years…Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river. Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows.

…in the morning…his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.

Joseph interprets dream

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it.”

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years; the dreams are one. And the seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine.

“…let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years…as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt….”

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word.”

Now in the seven plentiful years the ground brought forth abundantly. Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea…

Genesis 41: 1-4, 8, 14-15, 25-27, 29-30, 33-36, 39-40, 47, 49

Jacob sends to Egypt for grain

Then the seven years of plenty which were in the land of Egypt ended, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. The famine was in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. Genesis 41: 53-54

When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons… I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.” Genesis 42:1-2

And the sons of Israel went to buy grain among those who journeyed, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. Genesis 42: 1-2, 5

Joseph forgives his brothers

Now the famine was severe in the land. And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, “Go back, buy us a little food.” But Judah spoke to him, saying, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ “

So the men took that present and Benjamin, and they took double money in their hand, and arose and went down to Egypt; and they stood before Joseph. And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present… Genesis 43:1-3,15, 26

Then Joseph could not restrain himself…and he…made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud…

Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God;” Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him. Genesis 45:1-2, 4-5, 8,15


And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘…Load your animals and depart; go to the land of Canaan. Bring your father and your households and come to me; I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat the fat of the land.’” Genesis 45:17-18

Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!…I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.”

So they…went to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him. Genesis 46:2-3,6

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. When the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph…Genesis 47:28-29

Then Israel (Jacob ed.) said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.”

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and…he blessed them; … each one according to his own blessing. Genesis 48:21; 49: 28


Stars and sun bow to Yusuf
… Joseph said to his father (Jacob ed.): “O my father! I saw eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrate themselves to me!”

Said (the father): “My (dear) little son! Do not relate your vision to your brothers, lest they concoct a plot against you!” 12 Yusuf, 4-5
They (his brothers ed.) said: “Truly Joseph and his brother (Benjamin) are loved more by our father than we: But we are a goodly body! Really our father is obviously wandering (in his mind)! You slay Joseph or cast him out to some (unknown) land, that so the favor of your father may be given to you alone: (there will be time enough) for you to be righteous after that!” 12 Yusuf, 4-5:8-9

Yusuf left in a well
Said one of them: “Do not slay not Joseph, but if you must do something, throw him down to the bottom of the well: he will be picked up by some caravan of travellers.”

They said: “O our father! Why don´t you trust us with Joseph – seeing we are indeed his sincere well-wishers? Send him with us tomorrow to enjoy himself and play, and we shall take every care of him.”

(Jacob) said: “Really it saddens me that you should take him away: I fear lest the wolf should devour him while you do not attend to him.”

They said: “If the wolf were to devour him while we are (so large) a party, then we should indeed (first) have perished ourselves!” So they took him away, and they all agreed to throw him down to the bottom of the well…12 Yusuf, 10-15

Yaqoub’s sorrow, Yusuf sold

Then they came to their father in the early part of the night, weeping. They said: “O our father! We went racing with one another, and left Joseph with our things; and the wolf devoured him. But you will never believe us even though we tell the truth.”

They stained his shirt with false blood.

He (the father ed.) said: “Nay, but your minds have made up a tale (that may pass) with you. (For me) patience is most fitting: against that which you assert, it is Allah (alone) Whose help can be sought”…

Then there came a caravan of travellers: they sent their water-carrier (for water), and he let down his bucket (into the well)…

He said: “Ah there! Good news! Here is a (fine) young man!” So they concealed him as a treasure!

The (Brethren) sold him for a miserable price,-for a few dirhams (pennies ed.) counted out: in such low estimation did they hold him! 12 Yusuf, 16-20

Yusuf rises to power in Egypt

The man in Egypt who bought him, said to his wife: “Make his stay (among us) honorable: maybe he will bring us much good, or we shall adopt him as a son.”

Thus We established Joseph in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of stories (and events).

When Joseph attained his full manhood, We gave him power and knowledge: thus do We reward those who do right..12 Yusuf, 21

Yusuf rejects seduction
But she in whose house he was, sought to seduce him from his (true) self: she fastened the doors, and said: “Now come, you (dear one)!”

He said: “Allah forbid! truly (your husband) is my Lord! he made my sojourn agreeable! Truly to no good come those who do wrong!”

And (with passion) she desired him, and he would have desired her, but that he saw the evidence of his Lord: thus (did We order) that We might turn away from him (all) evil and shameful deeds: for he was one of Our servants, sincere and purified. So they both raced each other to the door, and she tore his shirt from the back: they both found her lord near the door.

She said: ”What is the fitting punishment for one who formed an evil design against your wife, but prison or a grievous chastisement?”

He said: ”It was she that sought to seduce me – from my (true) self.” 12 Yusuf, 23-26

Yusuf cast into prison

She said: “There before you is the man about whom you blamed me! I sought to seduce him from his (true) self but he firmly saved himself guiltless!

And now, if he does not my bidding, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and… be of the company of the vilest!”

He said: “O my Lord! The prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me (forced sex with a married woman ed.); unless You turn away their snare from me, I should (in my youthful folly) feel inclined toward them and join the ranks of the ignorant. ” Then it occurred to the men, after they had seen the Signs… to imprison him for a time. 12 Yusuf, 32-33,35

Pharaoh’s dream explained
The king (of Egypt) said: “I do see (in a vision) seven fat kine (cows ed.) whom seven lean ones devour, and seven green ears of corn, and seven (others) withered. O you chiefs! expound to me my vision if it be that you can interpret visions.” They said: “A confused medley of dreams: and we are not skilled in the interpretation of dreams.” 12 Yusuf, 43-44
But the man… (who had been in prison)…said: you send me (to prison) (to fetch Joseph who explained my dream ed.)’

So the king said: “Bring him to me and say ed.’.”

“O Joseph! O man of truth! Expound to us (the dream) of seven fat kine (cows ed.) whom seven lean ones devour…”

But when the messenger came to him, (Joseph) said: “Go you back to your Lord, and ask him, ‘What is the state of mind of the ladies…´ For my Lord is certainly well aware of their snare.”

Said the ‘Aziz’s wife: “Now is the truth manifest (to all): it was I who sought to seduce him from his (true) self: He is indeed of those who are (ever) true (and virtuous).

(Joseph) said: “For seven years you shall diligently sow as is your wont: and the harvests that you reap, you shall leave them in the ear, – except a little, of which you shall eat.

Then will come after that (period) seven dreadful (years), which will devour what you shall have laid by in advance for them – (all) except a little which you shall have (specially) guarded.”

So the king said:.. ”I will take him specially to serve about my own person.” (Joseph) said: “Set me over the store-houses of the land: I will indeed guard them, as one that knows (their importance).”

Thus We gave established power to Joseph in the land, to take possession therein as, when, or where he pleased.

12 Yusuf, 43-48, 50-51,54-56

Jacob (Israel) moves to Egypt

Then… he provided a home for his parents… …and they (his parents and eleven brothers ed.) fell down in prostration, (all’ before him.

He said: “O my father! this is the fulfillment of my vision of old! He (Allah ed.) was indeed good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you (all) here out of the desert (even) after Satan had sown enmity between me and my brothers.

“O my Lord! You have indeed bestowed on me some power, and taught me something of the interpretation of dreams and events-” 12 Yusuf, 99-101

Yusuf makes himself known

Then came Joseph’s brethren: they entered his presence, and he knew them, but they did not know him.

12 Joseph, 58
Then, when they came into (Joseph’s) presence they said: “O exalted one! distress has seized us and our family: we have (now) brought but scanty capital: so pay us full measure, (we pray you), and treat it as charity to us. For Allah rewards the charitable.”

He said: “Do you know how you dealt with Joseph…not knowing (what you were doing)?”

They said: “Are you indeed Joseph?

He said: “I am Joseph… Allah has indeed been gracious to us (all): behold, he that is righteous and patient, – never will Allah suffer the reward to be lost, of those who do right.”
They said: “By Allah! Indeed Allah has preferred you above us, and we certainly have been guilty of sin!”

He said: “This day let no reproach be (cast) on you: Allah will forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!”

12 Joseph, 88-90; 91-92


They (Joseph’s brothers ed.) said: ”O our father (Jacob ed.)! Ask for us forgiveness for our sins, for we were truly at fault.”

He said: ”Soon will I ask my Lord for forgiveness for you: for He is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Were you witnesses when Death appeared before Jacob? Behold, he said to his sons: ”What will you worship after me?” They said: ”We shall worship your God (Allah) and the God (Allah) of your fathers, – of Abraham, Isma`il, and Isaac, – the One (True) God (Allah): to Him we bow (in Islam).” 2 The Heifer,133

And We made a people, considered weak (and of no account), inheritors of lands in both East and West, – lands whereon We sent down Our blessings. 7, The Heights, 137

Allah took a Covenant from the Children of Israel, and We appointed twelve captains among them. 5 The Table Spread,12