How Prophet Yusuf Dealt With Difficult People

Allah has aptly described Surah Yusuf as “the best of stories” in the Quran.

The Quran is replete with other stories about events in the lives of Allah’s Prophets, and most of them are told in bits here and there.

The events that took place in the life of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) however have been told in one go, because they leave a marked impact upon the reader who ponders upon them.

Truth be told, the gems of lessons contained in this one chapter of the Quran cannot be extracted in even a few readings. Every time one ponders upon this chapter whilst reciting it, one can come away with yet another poignant life lesson for one’s self-improvement and correction.

The best lessons I’ve gleaned from chapter Yusuf so far in life, by Allah’s grace, are related to human psychology, ‘people’ issues, and interpersonal relationships - especially with people whom we are close to and interact with daily, like extended family members and workplace colleagues.

Chapter Yusuf imparts valuable lessons about what to do when these people turn against you and try to cause you harm.

Distance Yourself from Those Who Compel You to Commit Sin

Yusuf was deliberately victimized twice in his youth, by people close to him; those whom he lived with.

The first time, when his brothers plotted to throw him into the well and took him along on the ill-fated picnic that changed his life, he was totally in the dark about their intentions, hence he trusted them and went along.

The second time, however, he refused to give in when his employer’s wife invited him to commit adultery. As soon as he realized her intentions, he tried to escape. Caught red-handed at the door, yet acquitted in front of his master, she nevertheless stealthily kept up the pursuit, garnering her girlfriends’ support in the mission to get him to commit adultery.

At this point, we learn what steps the young Yusuf took in such a situation - whence he found himself in a trap or dead-end of sorts. Either he could give in to what the older society women were forcing him to do, and join them in sin, or he could opt for the only other situation that was apparently much, much worse for himself: wallowing in prison for years.

So Yusuf turned to his Creator. He called out to Allah to save him from the sin that they were compelling him to commit. Being human, he acknowledged to Allah in his du’a that if Allah didn’t save him in time, he’d give in to the sexual innuendos of the women. His position as a purchased slave was socially and economically very weak before them.

Allah responded to his du’a and decreed for him to spend years in prison.

Lesson: Force yourself to relinquish the company of those who invite you towards sin, even if it means choosing the more difficult option and a ‘boring’ life for yourself, e.g. that of social debasement and isolation.

It is a very difficult thing to do, and few among us possess the courage during our youth to take such a step. For example, how many of us know a young student who willingly leaves a coeducational university and pursues a degree online just to get away from the campus free mixing that is pulling them towards temptation?

Our youth cave in to peer pressure during school and college, and irreversibly become entangled in faith-decreasing problems such as secret romantic liaisons, smoking, drinking, clubbing, dating and porn addiction; issues that are difficult to get rid of later on in life.

Move On: Do Positive Work During Isolation

Prophet Yusuf was very young when he chose to live in prison instead of leading a life of high-class social debauchery.

While it might outwardly seem as if every kind of ill treatment that vile people were subjecting the young, susceptible and humble Yusuf to, and everything ‘wrong’ that was happening in his life, was because of their evil plots; it was all actually a part of a preordained plan decreed by Allah, through which He intended to teach Yusuf how to ‘interpret matters (stories and events)’.

{Thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of stories (and events)....} (12:6; 21)

Yusuf stayed in a positive state of mind even after going to jail. Instead of developing a ‘victim’ mentality: questioning/complaining about what Allah had decreed for him, spiraling down a self-destructive path of self-pity, and blaming/badmouthing his antagonists for the things that they had done to him, he instead started propagating beneficial knowledge to the inmates around him.

Soon, he became known as a good-doer in prison. Two of his inmates requested him to interpret their dreams. His successful interpretation of their prophecies paved the way for his ‘honorable discharge’ from prison years later, initiated by the ruling Egyptian king himself.

Lesson: Whenever you hit rock-bottom in life as a result of the evil actions of your haters and antagonists, who take advantage of your righteousness to deliberately defame you, slander you, threaten you, and less commonly, to throw you out on to the street - don’t give up on life, and stay positive, the way Prophet Yusuf did. Believe without a doubt that whatever bad happens to you in life, is in some unbeknownst way, extremely good for you.

It might take time (even years) but retribution will come, and remember that Allah is always in control over your affairs. No one can harm you more than what is decreed for you.

And know that whatever outward “harm” or pain is decreed for you, surely some long-lasting and beneficial good will come out of it; one that will raise you in honor and rank, in both this world and the next.

Withhold Information of Personal Achievements and Success from Known Enviers

Once bitten, twice shy, it is rightly said.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“A believer is not stung twice (by something) out of one and the same hole.” (Al-Bukhari, 6133)

People within close or extended family who envy others, keep a keen eye on other’s blessings, lie through their nose when confronted about their doings, and secretly make plots in order to achieve their plans, are the prime example of those with whom a believer should practice immense caution and discretion, in order to protect himself from repeatedly getting harmed by them.

Once some people in your close family or work circle have shown you their true colors, and you know without a shadow of doubt that their intentions towards you are still not good (e.g. if they are defiant and unapologetic about what they did to you in the past), then you should adopt the same stance that Prophet Yusuf did with his own brothers, after he came across them again later on in life, when he was a minister.

Prophet Yusuf recognized his brothers immediately when they came to Egypt to buy grain during the period of famine that he had correctly predicted in prison, but they did not recognize him.

Firstly, he did not let them know that he was their brother Yusuf, whom they had thrown into the well. Secondly, he started negotiating the grain transaction with them, and in the course of the conversation discreetly extracted information about his younger brother, Bin Yameen, from them.

Next, Prophet Yusuf drafted a plan to ‘manipulate’ them into bringing Bin Yameen to him.

For the details, you can read the exegesis of chapter Yusuf, but the crux of the lesson that we can learn from this part of the story, is that - when you are dealing with people who can deliberately lie even to their parent in order to permanently ‘get rid of’ a sibling, - you need to be discreet and subtle in not letting them know about your personal success and achievements.

Prophet Yusuf knew that, had he told them from the start that he was the same Yusuf whom they had thrown into a well, they might never have let him reunite with his aging parents and younger brother.

Use Vested Authority to Achieve Beneficial Objectives

When dealing with people who habitually and unapologetically lie, envy and deceive, if you want them to do something that is beneficial and correct for everyone (in the family or workplace), you should use your authority to ‘twist their arm’, so to speak, to bring it about.

For example, Prophet Yusuf didn’t just hide his identity from his brothers while selling them grain, he also stipulated a condition for their future transactions: they wouldn’t get any grain on their next trip if they didn’t bring Bin Yameen back with them; but if they did, they’d get extra grain.

Next, he told his employee to secretly return their payment for the grain into their bags, which would ensure that they’d come back for grain again, very soon -- bringing Bin Yameen with them.

Conclusion: No Grudges

Chapter Yusuf ends on a beautiful note: when Prophet Yusuf’s moment of truth arrives, and he finally tells his brothers who he really is, they admit before him that Allah has raised him in authority over them, and that they did wrong to him.

He then says the famous words that Prophet Muhammad repeated after the conquest of Makkah:

“This day let no reproach be on you..” and further, asked Allah to forgive them as well.

This is the final and most beautiful lesson to be learned from chapter Yusuf in dealing with difficult people: forgive them when they ask for pardon/admit their mistake, do not take revenge, and thenceforth dwell cordially with them.

Very few of us have family members plotting to kill us off. If Prophet Yusuf could forgive his brothers for ‘ruining’ his youth (apparently) and separating him from his parents for so many years, we can also try to forgive those who wrong us on a much lesser level, especially if they ask for pardon and change their behavior.

As for the antagonists who unapologetically continue to envy and plot against us, the rest of the lessons highlighted above from Prophet Yusuf’s example, in how he dealt with such people during the trying years of his life, can serve as wonderful beacons of guidance for us to emulate.

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