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Tafsir Surah Yusuf, Part 1

Shaykh Nour Kabbani

29 November 2014 Fenton Zawiya, Michigan

Maghrib Suhbah

The Story of Yusuf (a) and Zulaykha based on tafsir of Sayyidina Muhyiddin ibn al-`Arabi (q)

I feel shy talking, but an order is an order.

أَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ

Obey Allah, obey the Prophet, and obey those in authority among you. (Surat an-Nisa, 4:59)

I am asking support from Mawlana Shaykh (q) and from Qutb al-Mutasarrif (q). Inshaa-Allah we will talk a little bit about Sufism today.

A`oodhu billahi min ash-Shaytani ‘r-rajeem. Bismillahi 'r-Rahmani 'r-Raheem.

نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ الْقَصَصِ بِمَا أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِ لَمِنَ الْغَافِلِينَ

We relate to you, (O Muhammad), the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Qur'an although you were before it among the unaware. (Surat Yusuf, 12:3)

Following Traces of the Prophets

Allah (swt) says in the Holy Qur’an, “We tell you the best of stories.” Qassa in Arabic means qassa ‘l-athar, “to go after the trace”. In the past, they were experts in finding traces of desert horses, caravans and people that walked. When the Prophet (s) made Hijrah from Mecca to Madinah, they sent people after him yaqussu ‘l-athar, who traced his footsteps or traces of the animal he was riding. So the word qassa means “to follow the footsteps”. It is not a story; basically Allah (swt) is telling us how it happened, following the traces of the Prophet (s), their stories in the Holy Qur’an. So when Allah (swt) says, nahnu naqussu `alayka ahsana ‘l-qasasi, “We follow in the best way the traces of the prophets who are mentioned in the Holy Qur’an,” so that we can follow in their footsteps. Allah (swt) continues in the same surah:

لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي يُوسُفَ وَإِخْوَتِهِ آيَاتٌ لِلسَّائِلِينَ

Certainly in Joseph and his brothers there were signs for those who ask. (Surat Yusuf, 12:7)

Allah (swt) is saying, “You had in Joseph and his brothers aayaat, signs to the ones that are asking, as-saa’ileen.” Who is asking and what are we asking? Once three or four years ago, Mawlana Shaykh Nazim (q) told me in Turkish, “Oku! Iqraa! Read!” So I was reading, and alhamdulillah Mawlana Shaykh Hisham’s library is full of books, so I took one book and read it, and came across this passage by Sayyidina Muhyuddin ibn `Arabi (q). I will say what I understood and inshaa-Allah I understood it correctly. Allah (swt) is saying in the story of Sayyidina Yusuf (a) that you have a sign for the saa’ileen, the seekers, who are doing salook in Tariqah, seeking in the way of Allah (swt). Sayyidina Muhyuddin ibn `Arabi (q) said the outer understanding of the Holy Qur'an is compatible with what happens in the physical world, and its inner meaning is for salook, advancing in the hidden way of Tariqah. Muhyuddin ibn `Arabi (q) is interpreting the story of Sayyidina Yusuf (a), who was sold to the king, the `Azeez, the Misr (ruler of Egypt), who told his wife to take good care of Yusuf (a) as he will ‘be a benefit to us in the future’.

Analogy of Yusuf (Heart), Zulaykha (Ego) and the House (Your Body)

Muhyuddin ibn `Arabi says the example of Yusuf (a) is like the example of the heart, the wife Zulaikha is like the example of the ego and the house is the example of your being, your body. Who occupies the house? The housewife is usually in the house and makes the rules: she is like the queen, she raises the children and prepares the food, takes care of the family in the house. So the ego is the ruler of the body: it has all the mechanisms to make the body do what it likes. When the heart comes, the heart tells the ego to do something else, to behave differently, that this is not the way to be, we must not use the body only for fulfilling desires. There is a conflict between the heart and the ego, which takes place in the body. The way the ego can take over the heart is to pull the heart towards itself and it tells the heart all about the pleasures the body can give it. The body has a lot of senses and a lot of ways it can feel physical pleasure.

The heart likes spiritual pleasures and the ego likes physical pleasures. The heart is not interested in physical pleasures, it is interested in Allah (swt) and the Divine Presence. So the heart’s pleasure is spiritual and the ego’s pleasure is physical.

When the Ego Dominates

In the story in Holy Qur’an, when the ego and the heart, Zulaykha and Yusuf are in the same house, who will obey the other? The woman of the house wants to show the man the pleasures of her house and what it has to offer, so who will take over? The ego likes to show the heart the physical pleasures, so if the heart is more attached to the physical then it will find pleasure in the body and will leave the Divine Presence, it can go either way. When the ego shows you the pleasures of drinking, sky-diving, racing, massage, of being with a spouse legally or illegally, when the heart starts to align itself with physical pleasures it aligns with the ego, which controls the body, so the heart is now following the ego.

When the Heart Dominates

But the opposite can happen also: when the heart is stronger than the ego, it will bring the ego to find pleasure in fasting, praying, dhikr and going to the masjid. The ego can also gain pleasure by doing nothing. How many times do we say, “I am so bored, I have nothing to do.” We all say this, but when we begin to do dhikr maybe we will find pleasure in it, or maybe our ego will say, “No,I’m not doing this”, and walk away. Wa raawadat allatee fee baytiha `an nafsihi, he is in her house. The ego grows on desires. You see children today wanting everything for themselves, to eat, have fun, play, ride the bike all the time, until they reach an age when the heart starts telling them, “You should pray, fast and do dhikr.” So the one whose house Yusuf (a) was in sought pleasure from him, the wife/ego, and she wants Yusuf/the heart to be inclined towards her, to like her, to give himself up to her. Wa ghalaqat al-abwaab, she shut all the doors! Which doors did she close? What is the inner spiritual meaning of closing all the doors? Sayyidina Muhyiddin ibn `Arabi (q) says they are the doors of `ilm, knowledge, of Revelation from the Holy Qur'an and Hadith, from lectures and advice of the Pious Ones, because the ego does not let you go to these places to read the Haqq. So this is what the ego did to the one who is a slave in her house. She shut all the doors so no light of `ilm, Tasawwuf, Hadith nor Haqiqat could enter, then she said, “We are alone here now and all the doors are shut!”

How the Heart Protects Itself

What does the heart do? Qaalat hayta lak. How does he protect himself? He says ma`dhallah! This is the weapon of the heart, to say, “A`oodhu billahi min ash-Shaytani 'r-rajeem!” He asks straight away for shelter in Allah (swt). So your heart has to seek refuge in Allah (swt) from the attack of your ego.

What happened after he said ma`dhallah? He ran to exit the house because he did not want to be with her in the body; he wanted to escape because he was afraid he would be inclined to be with her.

The Ego’s Addictions

What did she do? She did not let him go, she pulled his shirt from the back because the ego will not let the heart leave, she likes the heart: it can give the ego more pleasures than she can have on her own. If you love something you will do it all the time, so if you love dhikr, praying, fasting and being with the shaykhs, you will do that all the time; but if you like to do what is not spiritual and you are seeking physical pleasures, you will do that all the time, like drug addicts and alcoholics always want their next fix because their heart is attracted to that pleasure and their senses are addicted to it.

The Master Assesses the Situation and Takes a Decision

So what happened to Sayyidina Yusuf (a)? He met his master at the door and explained to him, “She wanted me!” and she said, “No, he wanted me!” Sayyidina Muhyiddin ibn `Arabi (q) explains that the master is the ruh, the soul/spirit. Without the spirit the body doesn't move, like stillborn babies who don’t live because they have no soul. The real master of the house is the soul, without which the ego cannot exist because nothing moves. So we return to the story. Now their master, the king, is at the door and they both tell the story of what happened and he believes Yusuf (a) and tells him to leave it alone, don't mention it to anyone, and he tells the ego to repent. “Heart! You leave this alone because all sin comes from the ego and it pushes us towards sin.” The master of the house/body says, “It is your fault, ego, and the heart has nothing to do with it, so make istighfaar, repent!”

So what is the end result, what should they do now? The master is at the door, he knows what is going on in the body and he tells the heart to leave this matter, and he tells the ego to make istighfaar.

ثُمَّ بَدَا لَهُم مِّن بَعْدِ مَا رَأَوُاْ الآيَاتِ لَيَسْجُنُنَّهُ حَتَّى حِينٍ

Thumma badaa lahum min ba`di maa raa’oo ’l-ayati la-yasjunannahu hattaa heen.

Then it occurred to the men, after they had seen the signs, (that it was best) to imprison him for a time. (Surah Yusuf, 12:35)

So it transpires that there are also friends of the ego who also seek pleasure; they are all the different dimensions of the ego.

The Heart Enters Seclusion

Later on in the story, Yusuf/the heart is sent to jail, and he says, “I would rather be in jail than be with the ego! I would love jail compared to being with them!” which is the real state of the heart: to be in khalwah, seclusion, where it starts to flourish and begins leaving desires ofthe body.

Sayyidina Muhyiddin ibn `Arabi (q) says when someone is on the way of a master, a shaykh, spiritual guide, slowly, slowly they show them how to fight the ego and take over the body, and they advance him in seclusion. They say two beings enter the heart with you in seclusion, which we will talk about next time.

Wa min Allahi ‘t-tawfeeq bi hurmati 'l-Fatihah.


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