Joseph (a)

Priority: b, Quality: b
From wikishia
Joseph (a)
Tomb attributed to Joseph (a) in Palestine
Tomb attributed to Joseph (a) in Palestine
Name in
the Qur'an:
Name in
the Bible:
Place of Birth:Cannan
Place(s) of
Cannan, Egypt
Burial place:Palestine
Name of People:Israelite
After:Jacob (a)
Well known
Jacob (a)
Jacob (a)
Repeat in
the Qur'an:
Being Thrown into the Well, The Story of Zulaykha, Becoming as chieftain of Egypt, Saving Egyption from famine

Joseph (Yūsuf) (Arabic: النبي يوسف) son of Jacob (a), was an Israelite prophet. In addition to prophethood, he became the ruler of Egypt for several years. Sura Yusuf, the twelfth chapter of the Qur'an, narrates the story of his life in detail.

When he was a child, Joseph (a) was cast into a well by his brothers out of envy, but he was taken out of the well by a group of travelers, who took him to Egypt and sold him as a slave to the chieftain of Egypt. Later, Zulaykha, the chieftain’s wife, fell in love with Joseph (a), who had become extremely handsome. However, when Joseph (a) refused to have unlawful relationship with her, she accused him of betraying her husband and had him imprisoned.

After many years, Joseph’s innocence was known and thus he was freed from prison. He was favored the Egyptian king and became his deputy, because he could interpret the king’s strange dream and provide a solution for the problem of famine.

The Qur'anic story of Joseph (a) has some differences with the biblical narrative; for instance, according to the Qur'an, Joseph’s brothers asked Jacob (a) to let Joseph (a) go out with them, but according to the Bible, Jacob (a) himself asked Joseph (a) to go with his brothers.

Joseph (a) reportedly lived 120 years and his burial place is in Palestine.

High Status

Yusuf (a), son of Jacob (a) and Rachel,[1] was an Israelite prophet. He had eleven brothers, but only Benjamin was from the same mother as Joseph (a).[2] Joseph (a) was younger than the other brothers except Benjamin.[3]

The name Yūsuf (Joseph) is mentioned twenty-seven times in the Qur'an,[4] and is the title of the twelfth sura. The Qur'an introduces Joseph (a) as one of the “purified servants of God”.[5] According to 'Allamah Tabataba'i, this means that not only Joseph (a) refused to have a sinful relationship with Zulaykha but that he was not even inclined to that.[6] Joseph (a) is also considered a “good-doer” in the Qur'an.[7]


Joseph (a) was a prominent prophet.[8] In a hadith of Imam al-Baqir (a), Joseph (a) is introduced as both a prophet (nabi) and an apostle (rasul).[9] It is mentioned in Tafsir-i Nimuna that Joseph’s dream in which the sun and the moon and eleven stars prostrated themselves before him indicated his future prophethood in addition to his future wealth and power.[10] 'Allama Tabataba'i also believes that one of the instances of the completion of God’s blessing upon Joseph (a) (Qur'an 12:6) was his prophethood.[11]


The story of Joseph (a) is narrated by the Qur'an in detail. The Qur'an counts his story among “the best of narratives”.[12] Among the details mentioned in the Qur'anic account is his being thrown into the well, the chieftain of Egypt buying him, the story of Joseph (a) and Zulaykha, his imprisonment, his meeting with his father and brothers, and his rule over Egypt.[13]

Being Thrown into the Well and Taken to Egypt

The Qur'an narrates that when Joseph (a) told his father about the prostration of eleven stars and the moon and the son before himself, Jacob (a) told him not to say anything about the dream to his brothers as they would conspire against him.[14]

According to the commentators, the eleven stars in Joseph’s dream indicated his brothers and the moon and the sun indicated his parents, all of whom would bow later before Joseph (a) for his high worldly and spiritual status.[15]

Jacob’s sons believed that Joseph was dearer to their father than they were.[16] One day they asked Jacob (a) to let them take Joseph (a) out so that he plays.[17] However, they threw him into a well, and when they returned, they told Jacob (a) that a wolf had eaten Joseph (a).[18] According to the Qur'anic account, Jacob (a) did not believe their claim.[19] He later became blind because he missed Joseph (a) greatly and cried a lot for his absence.[20]

A caravan took out Joseph (a) from the well[21] and took him to Egypt to sell him as a slave. The chieftain of Egypt bought him and thus Joseph (a) became part of his family.[22]

Joseph’s Beauty and the Story of Zulaykha

In the books on qisas al-Qur'an (Quranic stories), Joseph (a) is said to have been exceptionally handsome.[23] This special beauty caused Zulaykha, the chieftain’s wife, to fall in love with him and ask him to have unlawful relationship with her. Joseph (a) refused Zulaykha’s request,[24] and the story spread among people. The women began to criticize Zulaykha for falling in love with her servant. So Zulaykha invited a group of these woman and gave them knives to peel fruit and then called Joseph (a) to enter. When he came in, the women were so much astonished at his beauty that they cut their hands.[25] After this, other women also asked Joseph (a) to have unlawful relationship with them, so Joseph (a) asked God to save him from sin and said in his prayer that imprisonment was dearer to him than committing sin. After some time, Joseph (a) was imprisoned by Zulaykha’s request.[26]

Interpreting the King’s Dream

While in prison, Joseph (a) interpreted the dreams of two inmates and told them that one of them would be killed, and the other one would find a position in the king’s court,[27] and his interpretation was realized. Several years later, the Egyptian king dreamed that seven thin cows were devouring seven fat cows and also saw seven fresh green ears and seven dry ones,[28] but no one was able to interpret his dream. At that time, the latter inmate remembered Joseph (a) and told the king that he would bring him the interpretation.[29] So he went to Joseph (a) and asked him about the dream. Joseph (a) said, “You will sow for seven consecutive years. Then leave in the ear whatever [grain] you harvest, except a little that you eat. Then after that there will come seven hard years which will eat up whatever you have set aside for them all except a little which you preserve [for seed]. Then after that there will come a year wherein the people will be granted relief and provided with rains therein” [30]

The king was impressed by Joseph’s interpretation and solution, so he summoned him to the court. Joseph (a) told the officials to ask the king about the story of the women’s cutting their hands and the reason behind his imprisonment. The king investigated about the issue by summoning the women to the court. The women affirmed that Joseph (a) was innocent and Zulaykha confessed to her misdeed as well.[31]

Afterwards, the king freed him from the prison and made him his own deputy and the chieftain of Egypt.[32]

Reunion with the Family

The same famine that struck Egypt affected Canaan as well. Thus, Jacob (a) sent his sons to Egypt to bring some wheat.[33] When Joseph (a) saw his brothers, he recognized them but they did not recognize him,[34] but he treated them well.[35] Later, Joseph’s brothers recognized him and eventually Jacob (a) and his family came to Egypt and visited Joseph (a).[36]

Marriage and Children

According to the Muslim historian al-Mas'udi, Joseph (a) married in Egypt and his wife bore him two sons, Ephraim (the ancestor of Joshua son of Nun) and Menashe (Manasseh).[37]

Marriage with Zulaykha

There are some reports of Joseph’s marriage with Zulaykha after he became the chieftain of Egypt. For instance, it is said that Joseph (a) saw a woman who said, “Praise to God who made the servants rulers because of their piety, and made the rulers servants because of their transgression.” Joseph (a) asked her who she was, Zulaykha introduced herself, and then they got married.[38] According to some hadiths, Zulaykha became young with the prayer of Joseph (a) and then they got married.[39] However, some scholars have doubted the authenticity of these hadiths.[40]

According to some reports, Joseph’s two sons were from Zulaykha.[41]

The Alleged Minor Misdeed of Joseph

According to Qur'an 12:42, when Joseph (a) interpreted the dream of one of his inmates in prison to mean that he would be freed, he told him to remember him before his master. However, Satan “made him forget the remembrance of his master” (Qur'an 12:42), so Joseph (a) remained in prison for several years. There is disagreement among the commentators here; some believe that what is meant is that Satan made Joseph (a) forget God, but others maintain that the verse means that Satan made the inmate forget telling his master about Joseph (a). 'Allama Tabataba'i holds that the first view contradicts Qur'anic teachings, which indicate that, on the one hand, Joseph (a) was one of the purified servants of God, and, on the other hand, that Satan does not have any influence over such servants of God.[42]

At any rates, the commentators who prefer the first view maintain that what Joseph (a) did was failing to do that which was better (Tark al-Awla) and not a sin.[43]

Differences between the Quranic and Biblical Accounts

The Bible, unlike the Qur'an,[44] mentions that Joseph (a) told his brothers about his dream, and consequently they hated him more and were afraid that he might rule over them. Also, according to the Bible, when Joseph (a) told his father about his dream, Jacob (a) rebuked him and said, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” [45].[46]

Another difference is that according to the Qur'an, Joseph’s brothers asked Jacob (a) to let them take Joseph (a) out with them,[47] but according to the biblical account, Jacob (a) himself asked Joseph to go out with his brothers.[48]

Demise and Burial Place

The poster of Prophet Joseph (TV series)

According to al-Mas'udi, Joseph (a) lived 120 years. When the time of his death arrived, God told him to give his light and wisdom to one of Levi’s sons. Joseph (a) did so and also informed Jacob’s descendants, who were eighty individuals at the time, that a group of Egyptians would dominate them and afflict them with great suffering until God would save them by Moses (a), one of Levi’s descendants.[49]

After the demise of Joseph (a), every group wanted to bury him in their neighborhood. In order to prevent conflict, they decided to put him in a coffin made of marble and bury it under the Nile. After many years, according to Yaqut al-Himawi, Moses (a) took out the coffin out[50] and carried it to Palestine and buried it there.[51]

Joseph in Art and Media

The story of Joseph (a) has been reflected in media and artwork, such as painting, tiling, literature, cinema, and television. In 2008-9, the TV series "Joseph the Prophet" was broadcasted from the Iranian TV Channel One.


  1. Ṣuḥufī, Qiṣṣaha-yi Qurʾān, p. 106.
  2. Ṣuḥufī, Qiṣṣaha-yi Qurʾān, p. 106.
  3. Ṣuḥufī, Qiṣṣaha-yi Qurʾān, p. 87.
  4. Ja'farī, Nāmhā-yi payāmbarān dar Qurʾān, p. 25-26.
  5. Qurʾān, 12:24.
  6. Ṭabātabā'i, al-Mizān, vol. 11, p. 130.
  7. Qurʾān, 6:84.
  8. Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn fī qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ wa l-mursalīn p. 259.
  9. Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā', p. 348.
  10. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 310.
  11. Ṭabātabā'i, al-Mizān, vol. 11, p. 82.
  12. Qurʾān, 12:3.
  13. Qurʾān, verses 8-100.
  14. Qurʾān, 12:4,5.
  15. Ibn Kathīr, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā', p. 191.
  16. Qurʾān, 12:8.
  17. Qurʾān, 12:12.
  18. Qurʾān, 12:17.
  19. Qurʾān, 12:18.
  20. Qurʾān, 12:84.
  21. Qurʾān, 12:10,19.
  22. Qurʾān, 12:21.
  23. See: Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn fī qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ wa l-mursalīn, p. 217. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 98. Ṣuḥufī, Qiṣṣaha-yi Qurʾān, p. 114,115.
  24. Ṣuḥufī, Qiṣṣaha-yi Qurʾān, p. 115,116. and Qurʾān, 12:23
  25. Ṣuḥufī, Qiṣṣaha-yi Qurʾān, p. 117,118. and Qurʾān, 12:30,31
  26. Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn fī qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ wa l-mursalīn, p. 217. and Qurʾān, 12:33-35
  27. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 98. and Qurʾān, 12:41
  28. Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn fī qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ wa l-mursalīn, p. 223. Qurʾān, 12:43
  29. Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn fī qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ wa l-mursalīn, p. 223. Qurʾān, 12:44,45
  30. Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn fī qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ wa l-mursalīn, p. 223. Qurʾān, 12:47-49
  31. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 105-106. and Qurʾān, 12:50,51
  32. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 108.
  33. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 110.
  34. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 109. and Qurʾān, 12:58
  35. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 110. and Qurʾān, 12:59
  36. Balāghī, Qiṣaṣ-i Qurʾān, p. 119. and Qurʾān, 12:100
  37. Masʿūdī, Ithbāt al-waṣiya, p. 49.
  38. Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ, p. 351.
  39. Jazāʾirī, al-Nūr al-mubīn fī qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ wa l-mursalīn, p. 234.
  40. See: Maʿārif wa digarān, Barrasī riwāyāt-i tafsīrī farīqayn dar masʾala-yi izdiwāj-i haḍrat-i Yusuf bā Zulaykhā, p. 7-32.
  41. Maqdisī, al-Bidāʾ wa al-tārīkh, vol.3, p. 69. Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya wa al-nahāya, vol. 1, p. 210.
  42. Ṭabātabā'i, al-Mizān, vol. 11, p. 181.
  43. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 9, p. 414.
  44. Qurʾān, 12:4.
  45. Genesis 37:10 [ESV]
  46. Ṭabātabā'i, al-Mizān, vol. 11, p. 261.
  47. Qurʾān, 12:12
  48. Ṭabātabā'i, al-Mizān, vol. 11, p. 261.
  49. Masʿūdī, Ithbāt al-waṣiya p. 74.,
  50. Masʿūdī, Ithbāt al-waṣiya, p. 75.
  51. Yāqūt al-Ḥimawī, Muʿjam al-buldān, vol. 1, p. 478.


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