Friday, March 22, 2013

ARQ Project: Surah Yousuf

So...yeah. Life happens. I had very good intentions for getting back to blogging but then Some People Who Will Remain Nameless decided to send me two large projects to do at work that *had* to be done the next day. When, normally, such projects would take several days to do.

And then my poor Baby dog got an eye infection that just won't go away, so he's on stronger antibiotics that have to be put into his eye every three hours. Guess who's waking up every three hours to squirt stuff into his eye? *raises hand* It's like the feedings that I've missed out on wisely managed to avoid by not having children have caught up to me!

*le sigh* But I digress. It's Friday and I have a lovely salmon pinwheel cooking and so we're going to try and be productive here.

*cracks knuckles*

Right. Joseph. Not Joseph, husband of Mary and step-father of Jesus, but Joseph of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Coat of Many Colors fame. You know, Old Testament Joseph.

This coat. Man...this *coat*. It's like a rainbow threw up on fabric. I hope, sincerely and deeply, that this is not an accurate representation of what Joseph's coat looked like. Or maybe it's like that sweater that your grandma buys you with the googly eyed turkey's on it and you have to say that you love it, but really you're hoping to be mauled by a random wild chinchilla so you can 'mourn' the sweater.
12:3 - We do relate unto thee the most beautiful of stories, in that We reveal to thee this (portion of the) Qur'an: before this, thou too was among those who knew it not.

I don't know why, but I find it odd that Mohammed would never have heard of the story of Joseph before. There were Jews and Christians in the area, he was a trader Maybe he didn't know the details by heart, but surely someone would have mentioned Joseph before. Or maybe I'm just relating too much of my knowledge backwards?

Before we get going, maybe we should refamiliarize ourselves with the story of Joseph in the Bible, it's a long section, so I'm just linking to it here: Genesis 37-46.

12:4-6 - Behold! Joseph said to his father: "O my father! I did see eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrate themselves to me!" Said (the father): "My (dear) little son! relate not thy vision to thy brothers, lest they concoct a plot against thee: for Satan is to man an avowed enemy! "Thus will thy Lord choose thee and teach thee the interpretation of stories (and events) and perfect His favour to thee and to the posterity of Jacob - even as He perfected it to thy fathers Abraham and Isaac aforetime! for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom."

The Qur'anic version of events differs from the Biblical narrative in that Joseph doesn't relate his dream to his brothers, but rather to Jacob, who warns him that all of his brothers are evil little jerks. It makes more sense, to me, for a younger brother to brag to his older brothers about these dreams and for this to be some kind of last straw for the older brothers. After all, they know that their father prefers Joseph over them. He gave him that nifty coat after all. (Also, Joseph was the son of the wife he loved, rather than the wife he got tricked into...) And you would think that if Jacob knew that his other sons were...ah...murderously jealous (given that they'd shown a talent for violence in the past especially) that he'd have been more careful about letting Joseph go out with them. Poor parenting? Perhaps.

I find something odd in the next couple lines.

12:8 - They said: "Truly Joseph and his brother are loved more by our father than we: But we are a goodly body! really our father is obviously wandering (in his mind)!

We have the brothers speaking amongst themselves, clearly.

12:9 - "Slay ye Joseph or cast him out to some (unknown) land, that so the favour of your father may be given to you alone: (there will be time enough) for you to be righteous after that!"

They go from speaking in the plural (our, we, our) to speaking to the singular (ye, your, you, you). Have they chosen one brother, perhaps angrier or more wounded than the others and started to pick at his emotions to drive him to kill Joseph so that they can claim clean hands? '*He* did it, not *us*!'

12:12 - "Send him with us tomorrow to enjoy himself and play, and we shall take every care of him."

This verse highlights a question I have, which is how old is Joseph supposed to be in the Qur'an here? He's 17 according to the Bible, which is old enough to be married and a father at this point in that culture. Past old enough, really. I get the impression from the Qur'an that he's much younger, but that could just be word choice here and how afraid Jacob (who, fearing his other sons murderous jealousy, should really not even be thinking about letting them borrow Joseph for any reason at all) is of letting him out of his sight.

12:19 - 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! But Allah knoweth well all that they do!

I find the lack of surprise from the travellers here amusing. They just pull up a young man out of a well and are like...'Hey! Another one! And this one's handsome! Woowoo!'

There's also a difference between the Qur'anic version and the Biblical one here. In the Qur'an Joseph seems to be found by accident - these travellers just happen by. In the Bible he's sold by his own brothers.

12:21 - The man in Egypt who bought him, said to his wife: "Make his stay (among us) honourable: may be he will bring us much good, or we shall adopt him as a son." Thus did We establish Joseph in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of stories (and events). And Allah hath full power and control over His affairs; but most among mankind know it not.

I find this to be a little too out of the norm for human behavior for it to be entirely believable for me. A man buys a slave and says 'Hey! Maybe we'll adopt him as a son later! So place nice.' I know the story of Zayd and Mohammed, so perhaps this is meant to be an echo of that? Or a justification of the behavior? I can't imagine that it was common to free and adopt slaves in Mohammed's time either. But even if it were the case, Zayd and Mohammed had a long standing relationship whereas, at least from what we see here, Potiphar (to give him his Biblical name) buys Joseph and immediately decides that maybe he'll adopt him later.

12:26-27 - He said: "It was she that sought to seduce me - from my (true) self." And one of her household saw (this) and bore witness, (thus):- "If it be that his shirt is rent from the front, then is her tale true, and he is a liar! "But if it be that his shirt is torn from the back, then is she the liar, and he is telling the truth!"

I don't find this argument as compelling as Potiphar appears to, to be honest. A shirt can be torn in a great number of ways and certainly some of them can indicate direction of force, etc.

Also, I'm not sold on the verses that follow where the women of Egypt are giving Potiphar's wife a hard time because she's trying to seduce a pretty slave boy. That would have been common. Slaves had a lot of uses.

12:100 - And he raised his parents high on the throne (of dignity), and they fell down in prostration, (all) before him. He said: "O my father! this is the fulfilment of my vision of old! Allah hath made it come true! He 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. Verily my Lord understandeth best the mysteries of all that He planneth to do, for verily He is full of knowledge and wisdom.

Joseph's mother is dead. So how did he raise his parents high? Or is this supposed to be a metaphor? Or perhaps it counts the mothers of his brothers as his 'mother' in some sense? 

I think this is one of the most complete stories that we get in the Qur'an. 

Any thoughts on this chapter? Anything that I overlooked or missed?


  1. LOL "looks like a rainbow threw up on it". I remember enjoying this surah.

    1. I also have that stupid song from the musical with all the colors in it stuck in my head now....

  2. Oh man, I am giggling just reading the intro to this post. You are a nut! :D

  3. I think you got most of the highlights. I remember this one being a favorite especially because the translation I used talked about the women seeing Joseph and how they reacted. I literally laughed out loud and then read it to Andrew and laughed some more. Just struck me so funny for some reason.

    Good to read your thoughts!

    1. Yeah, the women's reaction to Joseph is pretty hilarious.


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