The celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr ends the month of Ramadan and begins the month of Shawwal with a strong message. Every year, Ramadan proves to us that we can increase our acts of worship for one straight month, even though the time for eating and sleeping has been reduced. Shawwal brings us a new month and a message that builds on our Ramadan performance: “Do good deeds in perpetuity.”
That message is illustrated in the Prophet Muhammad’s words:
Whoever fasts Ramadan and follows it with six days of Shawwal, it will be as if he fasted for a year. (Muslim)
Even though Ramadan is over, the Prophet Muhammad encouraged us to continue the act of fasting. The reward of those six days with Ramadan grants the fasting person the reward of fasting for a full year. The signal is clear. Good deeds should continue all year round.
The Prophet Joseph’s life is a fantastic example of doing good works in perpetuity and the pleasant results it produces. God encourages us to explore his biography and benefit from the valuable lessons in his life.
Certainly there were signs in Joseph and his brothers for those who ask. (Quran 12:7)
When we study the many challenges he faced in his life, we become riveted on one message: do good deeds in perpetuity. This article will examine the encounters he had with his stepbrothers.
Prophet Joseph’s stepbrothers were envious of him and plotted to get rid of him. They could not stand their father’s immense love for him. With an initial plan for murder, the stepbrothers eventually settled on jettisoning him without taking his life. They decided to abandon him in a well and hoped he would ultimately be picked up by a caravan and taken far away.
Said a speaker among them, “Do not kill Joseph but throw him into the bottom of the well; some travelers will pick him up.” (Quran 12:10)
The stepbrothers did not expect, however, that Prophet Joseph would be picked up and sold off to a royal court.
Over the years, Prophet Joseph proved himself as trustworthy and skillful to the King. The King took advantage of his competences and appointed him as a Minister in the land. Prophet Joseph was in charge of storehouses of food and its ration. He had assumed authority and was able to travel wherever he wished:
And thus We established Joseph in the land to settle therein wherever he willed. (Quran 12:56)
With the Quranic facts that we have about his life, we can safely assume that it would not have been difficult for Prophet Joseph to locate his father, the Prophet Jacob, where his stepbrothers lived, and exact retribution for the crime the stepbrothers committed against him.
Prophet Jacob was a known figure at the time, and the royal court could have ascertained his whereabouts with ease. Amazingly, though, the Prophet Joseph did not pursue his brothers. Instead, he left the matter to God.
And since he chose not to be revengeful, God took care of his affairs. God brought his brothers to him at his court one day, seeking ration.
During their visit, the King’s measuring cup went missing. Prophet Joseph’s younger brother was being accused, and the stepbrothers were ready to believe the accusation. They also disparaged Joseph in the process, not knowing that they were speaking to Prophet Joseph.
They said, ‘If he steals – a brother of his has stolen before.’ But Joseph kept it within himself and did not reveal it to them. (Quran 12:77)
What kind of response could we expect someone to give in this situation if they were in Joseph’s place? The stepbrothers had almost gotten Joseph killed in his youth, and many years later they were still vilifying him. Despite that, the Prophet Joseph dealt with them gracefully.
He said, ‘Do you know what you did with Joseph and his brother when you were ignorant?’ (Quran 12:89)
He gave them an excuse for their behavior toward him: ignorance. He also gave them an opportunity to explain themselves. This was a fantastic display of social grace.
The brothers suspected that they were speaking to Joseph.
They said, ‘Are you indeed Joseph?’ He said ‘I am Joseph, and this is my brother. God has certainly favored us. Indeed, if one fears God and is patient, surely God does not cause the reward of those who do good to go amiss.’ (Quran 12:90)
In this conversation, Prophet Joseph disclosed the secret to continuous good works: have certainty that “God does not cause the reward of those who do good to go amiss.” That reward certainty fuels perpetuity.
God elevated the status of Prophet Joseph from a servant at a royal court to a Minister of the land who was later able to reunite with his family honorably.
Then he raised his parents to the throne, and they all fell in prostration to Joseph, who then said, ‘O my dear father! This is the interpretation of my old dream. My Lord has made it come true. He was indeed good to me when He freed me from prison and brought you all from the desert after Satan had ignited a rivalry between my siblings and me. Indeed my Lord is subtle in fulfilling what He wills. Surely He is the All-Knowing, All-Wise.’ (Quran 12:100)
Results of Perpetual Good
Doing good works in perpetuity may go unnoticed by humankind, but God sees every ounce of it.
An atom’s weight in the heavens or the earth is not hidden from Him nor anything smaller or larger than that, but is in a perfect Record. (Quran 34:3)
Because of Joseph’s good works, God taught him valuable skills:
And when he reached maturity, We gave him wisdom and knowledge. This is how We reward the good-doers. (Quran 12:22)
Those skills, especially the ability to interpret dreams, got him the Ministry position in the kingdom. Perpetual good works only produce positive results in our lives.
The message of Shawwal is one of celebration. We celebrate the ability God gave us to fast, to be charitable, to be generous, to be hospitable, to forgive others, and to do many other good works.
The celebration, however, is not done on the last day of Ramadan, but in Shawwal because the outpour of good works should continue throughout the year.
The continuity of genuine good practices will ensure that our challenges will end well. All of Prophet Joseph’s challenges concluded well. It is for this reason God called his life story “the best of stories.”