Prophet Yusuf’s (Joseph), alayhi as-salaam (blessings be upon him), story carries timeless spiritual, moral and literary lessons, among many others. One of those timeless lessons is the eloquent portrayal of Prophet Ya`qub’s (Jacob) (as) exemplary character, which stands as a testimony to his unshakeable faith. The Qur’an highlights his wisdom and divine knowledge as a parent and a believer in the following verse: “And indeed, he was a possessor of knowledge because of what We had taught him, but most of the people do not know.” (12:68)
Prophet Ya`qub’s (as) forbearing nature is evident throughout his difficult trials, which involved his own family. Ibn Qayyim Al Jawziyya said: “Iman (faith) is two halves: Half of it is patience and the other half is gratitude.”1 No doubt, Prophet Ya`qub (as) demonstrated those qualities repeatedly throughout his hardships.
My intention is to focus on his role model character, as depicted in Chapter Yusuf in the Qur’an. Ibn Kathir explains that Prophet Ya`qub (as) had twelve sons among whom Yusuf (as) was the most honorable. This is in a hadith (saying of the Prophet), narrated by Abu Huraira. This hadith also confirms Prophet Ya`qub’s (as) honorable status. Some people asked the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:”Who is the most honorable amongst the people?” He replied, “The most honorable among them is the one who is the most Allah-fearing.” They said, “O Allah’s Prophet! We do not ask about this.” He said, “Then the most honorable person is Joseph, Allah’s Prophet, the son of Allah’s Prophet (Ya`qub), the son of Allah’s Khalil [Prophet] Ibrahim.” (Sahih Bukhari)
Ya`qub’s Wisdom: His Parenting Style
“He said, O my son, do not relate your vision to your brothers or they will contrive against you a plan. Indeed Satan, to man, is a manifest enemy. And thus, will your Lord choose you, teach you the interpretation of narratives, and complete His favor upon you and upon the family of Jacob, as He completed it upon your fathers before, Abraham and Isaac. Indeed, your Lord is Knowing and Wise.” (Qur’an, 12:5-6)
Ya`qub’s (as) wisdom as a father prevails in his remarkably nurturing and supportive response to Yusuf (as) who approached him to share his dream of the eleven stars, the sun and moon prostrating for him. The above verses, which describe Ya`qub’s (as) response, reveal a close relationship between father and son. According to the Sharaawy, the usage of the phrase “Ya bunaya” (O my son) in Arabic, indicates endearment and love.2 Yusuf was still very young and dependent upon his father. Using the appropriate rhetoric and parenting style, Ya`qub (as) delivered counsel with utmost wisdom. Firstly, he acknowledged the importance of Yusuf’s (as) dream and validated his experience by reminding him of God’s (swt) blessings upon him and his ancestors. Secondly, he counseled Yusuf (as) to keep the dream a secret; thus, displaying depth of insight into human nature. Instead of perpetuating unnecessary feelings of rejection between Yusuf (as) and his ten older sons, Ya`qub (as) highlighted Satan as the perpetrator of wrong doings. He avoided highlighting any flaws, due to envy, in his sons’ characters, but, instead, he brought Yusuf’s (as) attention to Satan, as the source of potential conflict between him and his siblings.
This encounter between father and son points to the importance of developing family relationships based on openness and transparency. By responding with genuine concern to their children’s experiences, parents keep a steady channel of communication open for future dialogue and counsel. Furthermore, there is a valuable message to teach children compassion by using rhetoric, which encourages empathy and love, especially among siblings. According to modern psychology, Prophet Ya`qub’s parenting style is “authoritative.” This is the most effective parenting approach among the three parenting styles identified as “permissive,” “authoritative,” and “authoritarian”:
“Authoritative parents take a different, more moderate approach that emphasizes setting high standards, being nurturing and responsive and showing respect for children as independent, rational beings. The authoritative parent expects maturity and cooperation, and offers children lots of emotional support.”3
Ya`qub’s Patience: An Appropriate Response
As the story unfolds, the Qur’an describes Prophet Yusuf’s (as) brothers as harboring ill feelings towards their younger brother and accusing their father of favoritism. After seeking their father’s approval, they take Yusuf (as) on a leisure trip with the intention of getting rid of him. They throw him in a well and return to their father to relay the false news of his death.
“And they came to their father at night, weeping. They said, ‘O our father, indeed we went racing each other and left Joseph with our possessions, and a wolf ate him. But you would not believe us, even if we were truthful.’ And they brought upon his shirt false blood. [Jacob] said, ‘Rather, your souls have enticed you to something, so patience is most fitting. And Allah is the one sought for help against that which you describe.’” (12:16-18)
Unlike a typical parent’s reaction, Ya`qub (as) responded to the news of Yusuf’s (as) demise with great resolve. Even though he knew that his sons had committed a sin and were relaying false news, he decided to respond with patience. Ibn Kathir explains the sons’ paradoxical behavior and Ya`qub’s (as) suspicions:
“They claimed that this was the shirt Yusuf was wearing, when the wolf devoured him, being stained with his blood. Nevertheless, they forgot to tear the shirt, and this is why Allah’s Prophet Ya`qub did not believe them. Rather, he told them what he felt about what they said to him, thus refusing their false claim.”4
In spite of his total awareness of the sinful nature of his sons’ actions, Ya`qub’s (as) reaction lacked any harsh recourse and portrayed a character tempered with patience and wisdom. He did not hesitate to cast a doubt upon his sons’ actions, immediately sought “sweet patience” and called upon God, subhanahu wa ta’ala, Exhalted is He, for help. He chose to avoid provocation or frustration. Prophet Ya`qub (as) models patience as a state, which requires resolve as well as the courage to be steadfast during afflictions. He stands as an example for parents to show patience during family conflicts, while actively and intelligently seeking solutions with in the appropriate context and appropriate time. It is a fundamental character quality that the believer possesses and that defines his disposition during tribulations. Judith Orloff, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, affirms the empowering nature of patience:
“Patience doesn’t mean passivity or resignation, but power. It’s an emotionally freeing practice of waiting, watching, and knowing when to act.”5
Ya`qub’s Da`wah (Call) to his Family: A ”Balanced” Approach
After a focus on the events that Prophet Yusuf (as) underwent in Egypt, the Qur’an revisits the story of Ya`qub (as), his older sons and younger Benjamin. The sons are now in a despondent state. They had suffered from the drought that affected the region and were gradually undergoing a spiritual change indicated by feelings of remorse and despair. By that time, Yusuf (as) had reached a high position as financial advisor, in charge of all the storage units in Egypt. The wheel had turned a full circle and now Yusuf (as) had advantage over his brothers. It is under those circumstances that Ya`qub’s (as) sons urge him to send Benjamin with them to Egypt to claim his share of goods. The Qur’an describes Ya`qub’s (as) response:
“He said, ‘Should I entrust you with him except [under coercion] as I entrusted you with his brother before? But Allah is the best guardian, and He is the most merciful of the merciful.’ And when they opened their baggage, they found their merchandise returned to them. They said, ‘O our father, what [more] could we desire? This is our merchandise returned to us. And we will obtain supplies for our family and protect our brother and obtain an increase of a camel’s load; that is an easy measurement.’ [Jacob] said, ‘Never will I send him with you until you give me a promise by Allah that you will bring him [back] to me, unless you should be surrounded by enemies.’ And when they had given their promise, he said, ‘Allah, over what we say, is Witness.’ And he said, ‘O my sons, do not enter from one gate but enter from different gates; and I cannot avail you against [the decree of] Allah at all. The decision is only for Allah; upon Him I have relied, and upon Him let those who would rely [indeed] rely.’ And when they entered from where their father had ordered them, it did not avail them against Allah at all except [it was] a need within the soul of Jacob, which he satisfied. And indeed, he was a possessor of knowledge because of what We had taught him, but most of the people do not know.” (12:64-68)
In this interaction between father and sons, Ya`qub (as) is instructing with the intention of rectifying the wrongdoings, committed by his children. He alludes to God (swt) as the Guardian, Merciful, and Witness. He first reminds his sons of their broken trust with Yusuf (as) so that they may not repeat it with Benjamin. He however does not negate God’s (swt) attribute as the ultimate Guardian. Furthermore, he holds them responsible for their actions by obtaining an oath for Benjamin’s safe return and reminding them that God (swt) is a Witness over those events. This is incredible spiritual rhetoric, which arouses feelings of remorse and mindfulness of God (swt) by appealing to the sense of right and wrong. This type of rhetoric is however proceeded by very practical advice. Ya`qub (as) asks his sons to enter the city of Egypt from different gates hoping to prevent a possible calamity. He concludes by reminding his sons that God’s (swt) decree will finally avail in spite of his advice. The Qur’an attests to Ya`qub’s exemplary character. God (swt) describes him as the possessor of divine knowledge.
In Tafheem, Al Maududi best explains Prophet Ya`qub’s (as) state:
In short, as far as it was humanly possible, he took all the precautionary measures to avoid every possible risk. On the other hand, he always kept this thing in view (and expressed it) that no human precautionary measure could avert the enforcement of Allah’s will, and that the real protection was Allah’s protection: and that one should not rely on the precautionary measures but on the favour of AIlah. Obviously only that person who has the real knowledge can keep such a balance in his words and deeds, who knows what kind of efforts are demanded of his human faculties bestowed by Allah for the solution of worldly problems, who also realizes that it is Allah alone Who has the power to make them a success or a failure. This is “what most people do not understand”. Some of them rely merely on their efforts and measures and discard trust in Allah; while there are others who rely merely on “trust in AIlah” and do not adopt any practical measure to solve their problem.6
This is a lesson for parents to approach any problem they encounter with a practical solution that considers worldly causes or consequences to mundane matters without negating the power of God (swt) and His will to the outcome of their affairs. Prophet Ya`qub (as) also serves as a role model in his gentle approach to parenting where he instructs but also constantly reminds of God’s (swt) presence both through words and through actions.
Ya`qub’ s Hopefulness: A Tenacious Supplicator
The events that follow further deteriorate the sons’ relationship with their father. Yusuf (as) who now has an established status in the land has plans to reunite the family. Benjamin, accused of stealing, is held back in the palace with Yusuf (as). Yusuf’s (as) brothers return to their dad in despair with the eldest son refusing to reunite with his father. He held himself accountable for Benjamin’s safety. Prophet Ya`qub (as) is deeply saddened, but never fails to return to God (swt) and supplicate for the safe comeback of his children. In the beginning verses, he seeks “sweet patience.” He does the same now while referring to God (swt) as the All-knowing. Even though he felt tremendous grief over Yusuf (as), he did not despair from the mercy of God (swt), and he relays that to his sons as he asks them to continue searching for Yusuf (as). This indicates that Ya`qub (as) did not shun his sons out completely but continued to remind them to take heed in God (swt) and gave them counsel.
“O my sons, go and find out about Joseph and his brother and despair not of relief from Allah. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (Qur’an, 12:87)
Yaqub’s Certitude: A Trait of a Sound Heart
Ya`qub (as) continued to call his sons to submission and repentance through a relationship tempered with mercy and patience. His rhetoric in the Qur’an indicates a state of unremitting reliance on God (swt), with the initiative to continue his service to humanity through da`wah (call to God’s religion). In this case, da`wah was to his closest family members, his own sons. God (swt) also instructed the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to invite his family to Islam first and foremost:
“And warn your closest kindred.” (Qur’an 26:214)
This kind of gentle rhetoric no doubt caused the children to feel remorse. Their wrong actions, of plotting against Yusuf (as), were spurred by the motive of seeking their father’s undivided attention. Their father did not desert them but continued to guide them while turning to God (swt) to seek solace and patience. His certitude that the dream would unfold kept him steadfast.Prophet Ya`qub (as) exemplifies how parents should carry their responsibilities towards their children even when they are in a state of rebellion. His actions reflect a sound heart, connected to God (swt) through worship and solely seeking His pleasure. Believers cannot but ponder upon his exemplary character and consider the malleable character of human beings. Yusuf’s (as) brothers underwent major moral changes stemming from a change of heart and consequently evolved from wrong doers to remorseful human beings who sought repentance and asked their father to pray for their forgiveness. It was God’s (swt) decree through all the events, to reunite Ya`qub’s (as) family with Yusuf (as) in a beautiful scene where the dream unfolds to reality.
As a parent, Ya`qub (as) suffered through the disobedience of his sons but remained involved in their lives with a mission to rekindle their faith. His “authoritative parenting style” portrays him as a “nurturing” and “responsive” parent who expected his sons to behave morally and consequently, he sought every effort through worship and counsel to propagate their repentance. Each tribulation brought him closer to His creator. Ultimately, God (swt) does not waste the faith of those who have taqwa (piety) and endure with patience. As the Qur’an addresses Prophet Muhammad ,peace be upon him, in Chapter Hud:
“And have patience (oh Muhammad) for Allah will not waste the reward of the righteous.” (11:115)