Did Prophets Have Perfect Families? Learning From Surat Yusuf

Anyone who has lived through a difficult family situation should read Surat Yusuf.

Someone recently told me that prophets are too far away from us to be used as a measuring stick for our own lives.

“We are not like the prophets,” this person argued. “Where are we from their blessed natures and lives? We are nothing like them, so we shouldn’t use their lives as a reference for ours. Stop comparing, and stop bringing up their example.”

This came from a 58-year-old Muslim. An older mother whose heart was broken repeatedly by her grown children. Prophet Nuh and his son were too far away for her to relate to; Prophet Ya`qub and his children meant nothing to her. She couldn’t see past her own pain and could not lift her eyes up from her own family problems to look up at the examples Allah has given us to teach us how to live through these familial traumas.

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But this person couldn’t be further from the truth. Allah has sent us prophets and messengers out of His mercy with various jobs: to convey to us His message (the final one being Islam), to bring Books to humanity (the final one being the Quran), and also to be our role models.

Prophets are unlike regular people, but they are still humans. They were not angels that we can never compare ourselves to or look to for guidance on how to live our own lives.

If you are dealing with or have dealt with a complicated family situation, with layers upon layers of complex circumstances and love-hate relationships and personal quirks, contradictions, and idiosyncrasies, look no further than the life of Prophet Yusuf عليه السلام.

He was a prophet, and so was his father and grandfather, and great-grandfather. Yusuf, Ya`qub, Ishaq, and Ibrahim.

Yet his family situation was complicated and enshrouded grudges, resentments, bitterness, and jealousy.

The people who hurt him were some of his closest family members, his older brothers. They allowed their insecurities and misguided understanding of love to lead them to commit crimes against their own brother.

The father was aware of the divergent natures and personalities of his various sons and tried to work with each of his children to correct their course. He tried to warn one of his children about the possibility of harm coming from his other children, which is a situation no parent ever wants to be in. To warn a young child about his own siblings. Harm from within the family itself.

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The story of Yusuf and his family circumstances should be a healing cure and a guiding light for any of us who are struggling to understand complex family dynamics. Who has past trauma and decades’ worth of pain that remains bottled up and unaddressed, boiling furiously beneath the surface? Who are adults trying to get a handle on their own unstable childhoods? Who see an elderly parent crying with regret over unfixable mistakes and old pain. Who see siblings turning on one another and grown children turning on parents. Who see husband and wife blaming one another for the kids turning out bad. Who falls prey to the sly whispers of Shaytan and get ensnared in his twisted plots.

Both Yusuf and his father Ya`qub recognize the reality and assign a portion of the blame for the family tragedy to Shaytan, the instigator of all problems. At the beginning of the surah, Ya`qub tells Yusuf privately,

قَالَ يَـٰبُنَىَّ لَا تَقْصُصْ رُءْيَاكَ عَلَىٰٓ إِخْوَتِكَ فَيَكِيدُوا۟ لَكَ كَيْدًا ۖ إِنَّ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنَ لِلْإِنسَـٰنِ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ

“He said, “My son, do not relate your dream to your brothers, lest they should devise a plan against you. Surely, Satan is an open enemy for mankind.” (Surat Yusuf, 5)

And at the end of the surah, Yusuf tells his dad,

وَقَدْ أَحْسَنَ بِىٓ إِذْ أَخْرَجَنِى مِنَ ٱلسِّجْنِ وَجَآءَ بِكُم مِّنَ ٱلْبَدْوِ مِنۢ بَعْدِ أَن نَّزَغَ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنُ بَيْنِى وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِىٓ ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّى لَطِيفٌ لِّمَا يَشَآءُ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْعَلِيمُ ٱلْحَكِيمُ

“…My father, here is the fulfillment of my dream from before. My Lord has made it come true. He favored me when he released me from the prison and brought you from the countryside after Satan had caused a rift between me and my brothers. Surely, my Lord does what He wills in a subtle way. Surely, He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.” (Surat Yusuf, 100)

No character was 100% bad or 100% good, except of course for the prophets, the best of humanity. Even the brothers who betrayed Yusuf repented and apologized, even if it was decades later. Even the women who lied and accused him of false rape allegations and got him thrown in jail confessed and apologized, even if it was years too late.
Shaytan leads people astray but they can come back. Eventually.

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There is hope. We must be optimistic and have complete faith in the mercy of Allah. This is one of the things that Ya`qub tells his sons as they set out to search for their missing brothers:

يَا بَنِيَّ اذْهَبُوا فَتَحَسَّسُوا مِن يُوسُفَ وَأَخِيهِ وَلَا تَيْأَسُوا مِن رَّوْحِ اللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّهُ لَا يَيْأَسُ مِن رَّوْحِ اللَّهِ إِلَّا الْقَوْمُ الْكَافِرُونَ

“My sons, go and seek news of Joseph and his brother and do not despair of Allah’s mercy–only disbelievers despair of Allah’s mercy.’” (Surat Yusuf, 87)

May Allah make ever hopeful in His mercy, ameen.

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