Why does Allah let bad things happen to innocent people? Why is my life so full of pain? And why are people so bad? How can I save myself from temptations?
If you want answers to such deep questions about life, study the story of Prophet Joseph in Quran Surah Yusuf. After all, Allah calls it the best of stories for a reason.
This article is too short to provide all the answers, but here are four life lessons from the story that shed some light on them.
Allah Has a Plan for You
Thrown into a desolate well, enslaved in a foreign country, imprisoned for years – the events in the first half of Prophet Joseph’s life seem like a cascade of pointless traumas.
But look closer. Try to connect the dots between the separate events, and an amazing pattern will begin to appear. You’ll see how everything starts to make sense, and how every event is perfectly timed and sequenced.
Just as a quick glimpse, consider the following points:
- If the caravan hadn’t kidnapped young Joseph from a well in Canaan, he wouldn’t have ended up in Egypt.
- If the minister’s wife hadn’t tried to seduce him, he wouldn’t have ended up in prison.
- And if he hadn’t been thrown in prison, no one would interpret the king’s dream.
- If Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) hadn’t ended up in Egypt, gone to jail, and interpreted the king’s dream, the population in Egypt, Canaan and surrounding areas would have been almost completely wiped out.
The deeper you think, the more it makes sense, and the more you’re awed by the beauty of Allah’s elaborate plan. And it’s not just true about Prophet Joseph’s story. Allah has a beautifully designed plan for every one of us.
Think deeply about your own story, the sequence of events, the people who came in and went out of your life – what did happen, and what could have happened. Connect the dots, and you’ll see a glimpse of Allah’s plan for you.
Never Assume You Can Control Your Desires
Someone watches a movie that includes a bad scene, saying to himself, “It’s only one scene. I’ll close my eyes during it.”
Or someone meets her friends at a pub, thinking, “I can keep myself from smoking and drinking. I know the dangers.”
We deliberately expose ourselves to situations that can awake our sleeping desires and temptations, assuming we can control ourselves. Prophet Joseph did the exact opposite.
Who could have stronger faith and better self-control than a prophet? Yet what did Prophet Yusuf say when the women were trying to seduce him?
My Lord! I would prefer prison to what these women are calling me to do. If You do not protect me from their treachery, I shall yield to them and do wrong, (12:33)
Prophet Joseph knew that, no matter how strong his faith, he was still a human being.
Always be wary of your own weaknesses. Flee from situations that might evoke them.
Everyone Has the Potential to Transform
“She is a bad person.”
“He is a terrible man.”
“You’re just stupid.”
We often make black-or-white character judgments about people, assuming they’ll never change.
How would you judge a group of people who threw their own little brother in a well, and left him there to die or be kidnapped? That’s exactly what Prophet Joseph’s brothers did to him, and yet at the end of the story they all repent.
Also think of the minister’s wife. She tried her very best to make the Prophet sin, and she was the main reason he got thrown into jail. Yet we later see her not just repent but also become a believer.
Remember this when you’re tempted to judge yourself or other people. No human is perfect. We are all swayed by emotions, and Satan, our eternal enemy, is constantly trying to set fire to our desires and fog our brains.
No matter how bad a person seems to be on the outside, as long as they’re alive, there’s some good hidden inside them that has the potential to come out and transform their lives.
Knowing Who Allah is Makes You Grateful
Imagine if we were unjustly thrown into jail. How would we feel? Humiliated, betrayed. Perhaps we’d stop eating and speaking and go into the deepest pit of depression. Or maybe we’d rant about the injustices done to us to our fellow prisoners.
When we suffer, we often end up questioning Allah’s mercy:
“Why did Allah let this happen to me?”
Yet look at what Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) does – he talks to his fellow prisoners about Allah’s favors on him. (12:37-40)
At the end of the story, after Joseph (peace be upon him) is reunited with his family, he tells his father how Allah has been good to him by taking him out of prison and bringing his father out of Bedouin life. (12:100)
Notice how Prophet Joseph’s focus is always on the positive. He doesn’t mention going into prison but coming out of it. After all that he has suffered throughout his life, he is grateful.
Then Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) mentions three beautiful names of Allah, and in these three names is the secret of his gratefulness:
- The All Knowing: Allah knows about each and every pain we go through.
- Most Subtle in achieving what He will: Allah is always there, but we often don’t realize His presence because He is subtle in the way He helps us and takes care of us.
- The Truly Wise: Whatever He has decreed for us, it’s the best thing that could happen, even if we don’t realize it at the time.