The Quran

Commentaries for 12.39

Yusuf (Joseph) - يوسف

12.39 Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(O my two fellow prisoners!) He said this to the prison master as well as to the prisoners (Are diverse lords better) is the worship of numerous gods better, (or Allah the One, the Almighty?) or the worship of Allah, the One Who has no son or partner, the All-Conquering over His created beings.
12.39 Jalal - Al-Jalalayn
He [Joseph] then explicitly calls them to faith, saying: O my two fellow-prisoners!, inmates [of the prison]: Are several lords better, or, is, God, the One, the Almighty, better? (an interrogative meant as an affirmative).
12.39 Kashani - Kashani
Are several lords better, or God, the One, the Almightyḍ in other words, [what is meants is] if for each of you had several lords, similar to where God says shared by several [masters], quarrelling [Q. 39:29], this one commanding him to one thing, that one commanding him to another thing, mutually exclusive in that respect and incapacitated, where in the case of [the faculty of] love, then [lords] such as the attributes and the names, and in the case of vain desire, then [lords] such as the ego-centric faculties, would that be better for him, or a single lord commanding him to one thing, as He has said And Our command is but a single word [Q. 54:50], a powerful vanquisher who subdues all and whose command no one impedes and for whom nothing is impossibleḍ
And he [Joseph] compelled them by means of judicious guidance (siyāsa) to be united in orientation. For, when the heart is overcome by the [inclusive] unity, its love is fortified against love of the attributes and is turned towards the essence. And if it is trained in the affirmation of Oneness, its vain desire is curbed against devotion to shares and lusts and against separation in the actualisation of pleasures and is content to restrict itself to [the fulfilling of] dues and urgent needs as per the command of the Truth, and not in obedience to Satan.
12.39-40 Kathir - Ibn Al Kathir
ءَأَرْبَابٌ مُّتَّفَرِّقُونَ خَيْرٌ أَمِ اللَّهُ الْوَاحِدُ الْقَهَّارُ
(Are many different lords (gods) better or Allah, the One, the Irresistible) to Whose grace and infinite kingdom everything and everyone has submitted in humiliation. Prophet Yusuf explained to them next that it is because of their ignorance that they worship false deities and give them names, for these names were forged and are being transferred from one generation to the next generation. They have no proof or authority that supports this practice, hence his statement to them,
مَّآ أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ بِهَا مِن سُلْطَـنٍ
(for which Allah has sent down no authority) or proof and evidence. He then affirmed that the judgement, decision, will and kingdom are all for Allah alone, and He has commanded all of His servants to worship none but Him. He said,
ذلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ
(that is the straight religion,) `this, Tawhid of Allah and directing all acts of worship at Him alone in sincerity, that I am calling you to is the right, straight religion that Allah has ordained and for which He has revealed what He wills of proofs and evidences,'
وَلَـكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ
(but most men know not.), and this is why most of them are idolators,
وَمَآ أَكْثَرُ النَّاسِ وَلَوْ حَرَصْتَ بِمُؤْمِنِينَ
(And most of mankind will not believe even if you eagerly desire it.) 12:103 When Yusuf finished calling them, he started interpreting their dreams for them,
12.36-41 Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
At the time when Prophet Joseph was sent to prison, probably he was about twenty years old. This has been inferred from two statements in the Qur'an and the Talmud. The Qur'an (v. 42) says that `....he remained in the prison for a decade or so' and the Talmud says that `....Joseph was thirty years old when he was elevated to his honorable and trustworthy position.
One of the two prisoners, according to the Bible, was the chief of the butlers of the king of Egypt, and the other the chief of the bakers. And according to the Talmud, they were condemned to the prison because during a feast stone grits were found in the bread and a fly in the wine.
The fact that two prisoners attested his righteousness shows that Prophet Joseph was held in high esteem in the prison. Otherwise there was no reason why the two should have requested him alone to interpret the dreams and paid their homage like this: "We have seen that you are a righteous man". It clearly means that the events narrated in the preceding verses had reached all and sundry and the people inside the prison and outside it, knew that he had not been guilty of any crime or sin. On the other hand, he had proved himself to be a noble soul who had come out successful in the hardest test of his piety. So much so that there was not the like of him in piety, not even among their own religious leaders in the whole country. That was why not only the prisoners but also the officers and officials of the prison looked upon him as an honorable man and had full confidence in him. The Bible confirms this: "And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand." (Gen. 39: 22-23).
This discourse, which is the soul of this story, and is one of the best on the doctrine of Tauhid in the Qur'an itself, finds no place at all in the Bible and the Talmud. This is because they regard him merely as a wise and pious man and not as a Prophet. That is why Rev. Rodwell has, in regard to this passage, accused Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) of putting his own doctrine and conviction into the mouth of Joseph (Allah's peace be upon him). But the Qur'an not only puts forward and presents these two aspects of his life in a much better and clearer way but also presents him as a Prophet, who had started propagating the Message even in the prison.
As this discourse suggests several' very important things, it will be worthwhile to consider these one by one:
(1) This is the first occasion on which Prophet Joseph appears to have begun the preaching of the true Faith. For before this, the Qur'an reveals him in the different stages of his life as a man of high morality but does not say anything to show that he conveyed the Message also. From this it is clear that those stages were of a preparatory nature and the mission of Prophethood was entrusted to him at the stage of his imprisonment and this was his first discourse as a Prophet.
(2) Moreover, this was the first occasion when he revealed his identity to others. Before this, we find him bearing patiently everything that happened to him without revealing anything about his relationships with Prophet Abraham and others. He kept silent when the caravan made him a slave and carried him to Egypt: when Al-`Aziz bought him and when he was sent to prison. As Prophet Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Allah's peace be upon them all) were quite well-known, he might have used their names to advantage. The members of the caravan, both the Ishmaelites and the Midianites, were closely related to his family, and the Egyptians were, at least, familiar with the name of Prophet Abraham. Nay, the way in which Prophet Joseph mentioned their names in this discourse, shows that the fame of. his father, grandfather and great grandfather had reached Egypt. But in spite of this, Prophet Joseph did not use their names on any of the critical occasions to save himself from the plight in which he was placed. This shows that probably he himself knew that these things were inevitable for his training for the Mission for which Allah had chosen him. Now it was absolutely necessary for him, for the sake of his Mission, to reveal this fact in order to show that he was not presenting any new Faith but the same Faith that was preached by Prophets Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Allah's peace be upon them all). This was necessary because the Message demanded that it should not be presented with the claim that it was a new and novel thing but that it was the same universal and eternal Truth that has always been presented by its bearers.
(3) This teaches us that one can, like Prophet Joseph, carve out a way for the propagation of the Message, if one has the intention and the required wisdom. The two men pay their homage to him and request him to interpret their dreams. In answer to this he says, "I will tell their interpretations but Iet me first inform you about the source of my knowledge that enables me to understand dreams". Thus he takes advantage of their request and preaches his own Faith to them. We learn from this that if a person is imbued with the true and strong desire for propagating the Truth, he can very gracefully turn the direction of the conversation towards the Message he desires to convey. On the contrary, if a person has no strong desire for the propagation of the Message, he never "finds" any opportunity for it, even though hundred and one such opportunities might have come his way which could have been utilized for this purpose. But one must be on one's guard to discriminate between the right use of an opportunity by a wise man from the crude "propagation" of a foolish and un-cultured person, who tries to thrust the Message into the ears of unwilling hearers and succeeds only in creating aversion for it in their minds because of his crude way of presentation.
(4) This also teaches the right procedure that should be followed in presenting the Message. Prophet Joseph does not present, at the very start, the details of the creed and regulations of the Faith but the most fundamental thing that distinguishes a Believer from a non-Believer, that is, the distinction between Tauhid and shirk. Then he presents it in such a rational manner as cannot fail to convince any man of common sense. And his argument must have impressed deeply on the minds of the two slaves. "Which is better: various gods or One Omnipotent Allah?" They knew it from their personal experience that it was much better to serve one master than a number of them. Therefore it was far better to serve the Lord of the universe than His servants. Moreover, he does not invite them directly to accept his Faith and discard their own faith, but he very wisely draws their attention to this fact; "This is Allah's bounty upon us and upon all mankind that He has not made us the servants of any other than Himself, yet most of the people are not grateful to Him. Instead of serving Him alone, they invent gods for themselves and worship them". Then it is also noteworthy that his criterion of the faith of his addressees is based on wisdom and has no tinge of bitterness in it. He says, "The gods whom you call `the god of wealth' or `the god of health' or 'the god of prosperity' or `the god of rain' etc. are mere names you have given them without any reality behind them. The real Owner of everything is the Supreme Allah Whom you also acknowledge as the Creator and the Lord of the whole universe. He has sent no authority and given no sanction to anyone for Godhead and worship, but has reserved all the powers, all the rights and all the authorities for Himself, and commanded, `Serve and worship none but Me.''
(5) It may also be inferred from this discourse that Prophet Joseph must have made full use of this "opportunity" of a decade for the propagation of the Message. Some people think that that was the only time when he extended the invitation to the Message. This is wrong for two reasons. First, it is absurd to imagine that a Prophet could have been neglectful of his Mission for a long period. Second, it cannot be imagined that the person who availed himself of the opportunity when two men approached him for the interpretation of their dreams, could ever have passed a decade of imprisonment without propagating the Message entrusted to him by his Lord.