Monday, January 17, 2011

Habib Ali on the story of Yusuf & Zulaikha


Continuing his tafsir of Surah Yusuf, Habib Ali bin Zainal Abidin  expounded the story of Zulaikha & Prophet Yusuf as narrated in verses 30 to 35 of the surah.

The episode of Zulaikha, wife of Al-Aziz the Governor of Egypt, falling for Yusuf became a sensational talk among Zulaikha's circle of friends - elite women of her class. How did they find out  when initially only four people knew about the embarrassing incident? The four were: Zulaikha, Yusuf, Zulaikha's husband and As-Shahid, the man who witnessed Yusuf's torn shirt.

The women gossiped among themselves - how could an honorable woman, a governor's wife go after her own servant? How could she be willing to give up her chastity to such a man? How could her heart be so engulfed by love and lose her senses in that manner?

Habib Ali said, love can make one blind and there are various degrees of love. The highest being al hubbul qatil, a type of love that could make someone kill for the sake of his love. However, this should only be applied positively in loving Allah and Rasul. One who is granted the honor of iman will have ultimate love towards Allah and Rasulullah, that there is no other beings he loves more than he loves Allah and the Prophet. Several companions of the Prophet are known to have such an intense love. Upon the demise of Rasulullah, one of them said, 'O Allah, take my eyesight from me for I bear not seeing anything else except Nabi.' and another sahabah even asked Allah to take away his life. Indeed, he who is privileged to taste the sweetness of iman will always live a peaceful life though he may be less privileged outwardly.

Rabiatul Adawiyah is known to have addressed Allah so lovingly. She said: 'If only our bonding remains sweet; if You would always grant Your mercy; if our relationship remains strong, it should not matter that the rest of the people break their ties with me. All that is here on earth will eventually return to the earth. I do not care about anything for as long as You, whose Essence is my goal, as long as You are with me.'

Imam al-Haddad in his famous sha'ir notably recorded his affection for the solehin and salafi in the verse Salamun salamun kamiskil khitam -  "Nothing is more sad than being distant from you." Many of us are also familiar with the amazing love story of Majnun Layla. Love is sacred when one puts it at its rightful place.

Coming back to the story of Zulaikha, her love for Yusuf had made her become oblivious about her noble status. During those days it was considered a humiliation for someone at her position to walk or sit with their servants, let alone surrrender one's dignity to them! Zulaikha was obviously overwhelmed by her attractions towards Yusuf that she couldn't hold the secrets to herself. She was the one who leaked the story to the women.

Habib Ali cautioned us not to reveal everything to people, especially our flaws (aib). Each one of us has mu'afa which needs to be safeguarded. We have to protect our dignity at all times, except al-muhajirun who have the tendency to commit a sin and divulge to people the next day.

People are naturally curious - istiklak. There is a story about a scholar who got upset that a concert had been scheduled in the district where he lived. His frustration was visible on his face that while lecturing his students asked him: 'Shaykh why do you look so upset?' He said, 'Haven't you heard, there will be a concert here.' His reply got the students curious so after class they all went to the concert venue to find out for themselves.

Similarly, the women in the case of Zulaikha became curious about what had happened. They said, 'Verily, Zulaikha is in plain error.' When Zulaikha heard the women making such condescending remarks, she quickly devised a plan. She invited them to dine at her house and prepared a special resting place known as muttaka'an where they could recline comfortably while dining. (Habib Ali reminded the audience about the sunnah of eating, that we should sit up straight and not lean against the back of the chair while eating. We should not even have one hand on the chair or table.) 

Zulaikha carefully planned the dinner with an intention to teach the women a lesson. She let each one of them have a knife for cutting fruits etc. When they were enjoying the treat she had specially prepared for them, Zulaikha called Yusuf out to show himself off. As expected the women became awestruck. Zulaikha had purposely plotted the game plan so as to punish the women. She wanted to get revenge on them.

Habib Ali said we must be careful of our intention. We should also learn to forgive and forget. When Prophet Muhammad discovered the body of Sayyidina Hamzah in a terrible state, he became angry and made a pledge to take revenge on 70 people. That was when Allah revealed a verse on qisas that we can only exact vengeance on equal terms, but in any case it is better to be patient. The Prophet then said, wallahi asbir. By Allah I am patient.

So when the women saw Yusuf, they were captivated by his good looks so much that they had cut their fingers repeatedly as though they didn't feel any pain. The term employed in the Qur'an is qod to'a meaning more than once. They were ta'jub (overwhelmed) to see Yusuf's angelic appearance that they could bear their pain. There is a more subtle meaning to the tafsir on why they didn't feel any pain. It refers to the ar-ruh upon experiencing death. A faithful man who yearns to meet Allah, who longs to unite with his Beloved will endure the pain of death gladly.

Zulaikha wanted those women to understand why she was deeply attracted to Yusuf. They had only seen Yusuf once. Zulaikha on the other hand had to deal with her desires towards Yusuf on a daily basis. Zulaikha eventually admitted that it was she who chase after Yusuf. She also threatened to imprison him if he refused to succumb to her longing. This is what happen when we let our nafs dominate our judgment. Yusuf then prayed for Allah's help. Despite being a prophet, Yusuf did not rely upon his own strength. He sought help from Allah.

According to Imam Ghazali in his kitab Tazkiyatul Nufus, there are six types of nafs: nafs amarah, nafs lawammah, nafs mulhammah, nafs mutmainnah, nafs ar radiah and nafs mardhiah.

Nafs amarah is one who seeks to legalize his wrong actions. One who has nafs lawwamah is regretful of his wrongdoings and blame himself for it. One who has nafs mulhammah is often inspired to do good. One who has nafs mutmainnah feels easy to carry out his duties and does good deeds readily. One who has nafs radhiah is satisfied with Allah's decree so he doesn't complain about anything that is destined for him. Nafs mardhiah is one whom Allah is well pleased with. In the Hereafter, they will be very contented that they will not bother to ask for anything more. They will say, 'O Allah, You have made our face fair, You let us enter the Heavens, You have given us the best of rewards, how can we not be pleased?' Still Allah offers them something better. He said: "I shall grant you My mercy (redha) that I will never ever be angry towards you." This shows that His redha is above and beyond any nikmat that we could ever imagined.

Habib Ali said in order for us to earn His redha, we must first be redha towards Allah. One thing we could do to win His redha is by reciting this du'a once in the morning and once in the afternoon. We must not only recite it but try to understand the underlying meanings.
Radhina billahi robban
wa bil Islami deenan
wa bi Muhammadin Nabiya

Yusuf said he would rather go to prison than face those women. Notice he referred to more than one woman although it was Zulaikha who had seduced him in the first place. Apparently Zulaikha's friends, the women whom she had invited to dinner were also eyeing for Yusuf. Yusuf realized that it would be foolish of him to surrender to them all, so he pleaded to Allah for His help. If Allah did not protect him, he would definitely have fallen into temptations. And surely Allah did answer Yusuf's pleas. Indeed, Yusuf belongs with one of the seven groups of people whom Allah guarantees salvation in the Hereafter - man who declines to submit himself to alluring women.

Prophet Yusuf was honored with half of all the beauties of Allah's creations and Prophet Muhammad although he was adorned with the entire beauty that exists, Allah covered him with hibbah so that he was protected from desirous eyes.

Wallahu a'lam.
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