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Yusuf Zulaikha

Updated: Jul 17, 2023


In the land of Egypt, a time long ago, there lived a man named Yusuf. He was a handsome and virtuous man, with eyes as dark as night and a heart as pure as gold. Yusuf was beloved by all who knew him, but none loved him more than Zuleikha, the wife of his master, Potiphar.


Zuleikha was a woman of great beauty and ambition but her heart was consumed with desire for Yusuf. She longed for him day and night, but Yusuf remained steadfast in his devotion to God and refused her advances.


One day, when Yusuf was alone in the house with Zuleikha, she approached him and begged him to lay with her. Yusuf refused her once again and, in her anger and frustration, Zuleikha accused him of trying to seduce her. Potiphar, her husband, believed her lies and cast Yusuf into prison. But even in his darkest hour, Yusuf remained faithful to God and continued to pray and give thanks for his blessings. While in prison, Yusuf met two other prisoners who had been cast into jail by the king. One was a baker, and the other was a cupbearer.


In the story of Yusuf (Joseph) in the Quran and the Bible, the cupbearer and the baker had dreams while they were imprisoned along with Yusuf. The cupbearer dreamed of squeezing grapes into a cup and giving it to the Pharaoh, while the baker dreamed of carrying bread on his head which was being eaten by birds.


When the two men woke up, they were troubled by their dreams and Yusuf offered to interpret them. Yusuf told the cupbearer that he would be restored to his former position as the Pharaoh's cupbearer; he would serve wine to the Pharaoh once again. Yusuf also advised the cupbearer to remember him when he was released from prison and to speak on his behalf to the Pharaoh.


Regarding the baker's dream, Yusuf interpreted it as a warning that the baker would be crucified and his body would be eaten by birds. Yusuf's predictions came true, as the cupbearer was restored to his position and the baker was executed, exactly as Yusuf had foretold.


The interpretations of the dreams play a significant role in the story, as they helped to establish Yusuf's reputation as a wise and insightful man. They paved the way for his eventual rise to power as the chief minister of Egypt.


Though Yusuf’s predictions came true, years passed and Yusuf remained in prison until one day, the king of Egypt had a dream that troubled him greatly. He dreamed of seven fat cows and seven thin cows but he could not comprehend the meaning.


The cupbearer remembered Yusuf and told the king of his ability to interpret dreams. The king summoned Yusuf, and Yusuf interpreted the dream as a warning of seven years of famine that would come to Egypt. Impressed by Yusuf's wisdom and insight, the king made him the chief minister and tasked him with preparing for the coming famine.

Under Yusuf's guidance, the state was able to store enough food to survive the famine and the people were saved from starvation. Yusuf's reputation as a wise and just ruler spread far and wide, and he became known throughout the land as a Prophet of God.


Years later, Zuleikha came to visit Yusuf in Egypt. Once again, she was struck by his beauty and his wisdom. She repented of her past sins and begged Yusuf for forgiveness which he granted willingly.


 

Yusuf and Zulaikha is a medieval tale from Islamic scripture. The Quran has an entire chapter dedicated to Prophet Yusuf (A). It was adopted as a folktale and thus has been penned in classical Bengal literature, Kashmiri, Turkish, Pashto, and Punjabi. Saadi and Jami’s versions remain two evergreen versions of the story.


Another variation of the story crowns Zuleikha as a princess. She sees the beautiful and noble Yusuf in her dreams thrice and, during the last of her visions, seeks to ask who he is. She receives no name but is told the man in her dreams is the Wazir of Egypt. Zuleikha follows the clue only to find the current Wazir of Egypt is a eunuch. The voice of the Unseen encourages her to marry the eunuch anyway, biding her time as a virgin until she can unite with Yusuf. Eventually, she hears of the caravan bringing Yusuf and encourages her husband to buy him as a slave.


The Quranic story begins after Zuleikha seeks to seduce Yusuf who refuses given that she is married and Yusuf is too noble to betray his Master who has done him no wrong. While Yusuf runs towards the closed doors to escape her, Zuleikha tears his shirt from behind. Her husband is thunderous as he arrives on the scene. Yusuf denies any wrongdoing. The proof that Zuleikha is the perpetrator is the shirt torn from Yusuf’s back. Zuleikha is disgraced for going astray and falling so far as to seduce a mere slave. She openly admits her wrongdoing and Yusuf’s guiltlessness at a grand banquet where the other ladies see Yusuf for the first time and are shocked by his beauty, believing him to be an angel. Yusuf goes to prison and Zuleikha is cast aside for her sins. She becomes ill in her grief and eventually loses all her youth and beauty alongside her honour.


When Zuleikha reunites with Yusuf, she is widowed but meek, lowly and sincere, having lost all her pride, prior rank and status. Yusuf accepts her then at her lowest whereas he repelled her before at her highest and they are married in pure and true love. By Yusuf’s prayers, Zuleikha’s youth and beauty are restored. Even so, the couple’s love is not perfect until they unite their hearts in pure worship of God.


The Prophet Yusuf (A), is known as Prophet Joseph by the Christians and the Jews. The story is known as that of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife and appears in the Genesis (39): Yusuf’s arresting beauty captures the hearts of all of the women he encounters. Zulaikha, unable to quell her thoughts of Yusuf, attempts to seduce him, but he rejects her advances until they meet again and marries many years later. This version is not all that dissimilar from the Quranic version of events.


In yet more versions of the story, this uncontrollable passion is intended as a Sufi metaphor for a beloved’s yearning for union with the divine; it illustrates the triumph of the spiritual over carnal love.





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