Dealing with Grief and Sadness in the Light of Surah Yusuf

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Nouman Ali Khan is the founder and CEO of Bayyinah, , an Islamic educational institute in the USA, and serves as a lead instructor for several programmes including Dream, travelling seminars and Bayyinah TV.


Like most stories from the Quran, there are some important life lessons that stem from Surah Yusuf. This entire Surah is dedicated to a story in a chronological order. Most importantly, it teaches us how to deal with sadness, anguish, and difficult situations in life. Allah (swt) essentially describes two characters who suffer and deal with a lot of grief in their lives: Prophet Yaqoob (as) and his son, Prophet Yusuf (as).

We can apply these examples to our own difficulties. This is similar to how Prophet Muhammad (sa) received this Surah at a time when he was facing a tough time in life: during the Year of Grief, his beloved wife Khadijah (rtaf) and his supportive uncle, Abu Talib, passed away. He was signalled to seek counsel through Surah Yusuf, so surely we can do the same.

We learn from this Surah about Yaqoob’s (as) excessive love for his son, Yusuf (sa) and also that his brothers are so jealous of their father’s attachment to Yusuf (as) that they plot to get rid of him.

We also discover that Yusuf (as) tells his father of a dream he saw. Yaqoob (as) interprets the dream and realizes that his son will become a prophet. He warns Yusuf (as) not to mention the dream to his brothers because he is worried for him. Similarly, many years later, Yaqoob (as) fears for his son Bin Yamin when he is left behind in Egypt. Generally, Yaqoob (as), by nature, is concerned about his children and their well-being. He is known to give sound practical advice to his children throughout the narrative. However, we learn that his advice or plans do not necessarily turn out the way he wishes, because Allah (swt) has greater outcomes planned.

Yaqoob (as) advises his son not to share this dream with his brothers because they might plan against him. Even though Yusuf’s (as) brothers did not learn about his dream, they went ahead and schemed against him anyway. In this regard, we have to realize that there are always two plans at work: one is the plan a human maps out, and then there is a greater plan, of the greatest of planners, Allah (swt). Sometimes our plans and hopes for the future coincide with Allah’s (swt) decisions, but at times, they don’t.

Assume you’ve just been hired and are on your way to purchase a new home. Everything seems to be working out just fine. Suddenly, the employers reconsider their decision and the seller of the house changes his mind. You are now hit by an unexpected turn in life; this is not the way you had it planned! This is not what you had wanted! What you experience next is sadness, grief, and depression. After this phase, we might experience a state of disbelief driven by extreme sadness. We might question our destiny, asking why Allah (swt) did this to us.

After hearing about Yusuf’s (as) dream, Yaqoob (as) harbours high hopes for him. He ends the congratulatory response to his son by saying: “…Verily, your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Yusuf 12:6) Note the two names of Allah (swt) mentioned in this Surah: Aleem and Hakeem. Hakeem means He possesses all the wisdom, and Aleem pertains to Allah’s (swt) knowledge. These are words of hope which Yaqoob (as) utters, because he trusts the knowledge and wisdom of Allah (swt). Basically, what he’s telling his son is that he has high hopes for him but only Allah (swt) knows what is really going to happen.

These attributes of Allah (swt) are mentioned a second time when another son of Yaqoob (as), Bin Yamin, is left behind in Egypt. Saddened by the news, Yaqoob (as) once more mentions that “…Truly He! Only He is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Yusuf 12:83) By saying that Allah (swt) is All-Knowledgeable, you have already affirmed that Allah (swt) knows what you’re going through. Thus, the second time Yaqoob (as) mentions these words, he says them as words of trust.

They are mentioned a third time by Yusuf (as) towards the end of the story when he finally reunites with his family in Egypt. He acknowledges Allah’s (swt) attributes by saying: “…Certainly, my Lord is the Most Courteous and Kind unto whom He will. Truly He! Only He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.” (Yusuf 12:100) He never forgot the words he heard as a child. Yusuf (as) realized that he went through many problems in his life because Allah (swt) was subtly planning something great for him.

Anyone else in Yusuf’s (as) place would have lost all hope, but he was steadfast in his faith in Allah (swt). Imagine what he went through! As a child, he was hated by his brothers, kidnapped, and sold away as a slave in a house where he was treated well at first, but eventually had to deal with a psychotic woman, who caused him to be imprisoned.

He went through a lot of problems! However, when he looks back at his life he says: “…He was indeed good to me…” (Yusuf 12:100) He adds another phrase: “…Certainly, my Lord is the Most Courteous and Kind unto whom He will…” (Yusuf 12:100)

Another attribute specified in the Surah is Allah’s (swt) dominance over matters. At first, we cannot understand why Allah (swt) is making Yusuf (as) go through all this trouble. But soon it all makes sense. In the Quran, Allah (swt) mentions that He “…established Yusuf (Joseph) in the land…” (Yusuf 12:21). This verse implies that all these events are occurring for Yusuf’s (as) benefit, not against him. Allah (swt) further clarifies that this is happening to Yusuf (as) so that “…We might teach him the interpretation of events…” (Yusuf 12:21) It now makes sense why Yusuf (as) ends up in the home of a minister. Naturally, the minister’s home is one where other dignitaries visit and discuss important political and economic matters. Yusuf (as) has the opportunity to listen in to the conversations as he goes about doing his work. Indeed, from the well to the caravan and to the minister’s home, Allah (swt) planned and decided that this is how Yusuf (as) will be exposed to learning the interpretation of speech.

This proves that Allah (swt) was dominant over Yusuf (as) and his matters. All events, including Yusuf’s (as) stay in jail, were critical because it was the way Allah (swt) chose for Yusuf (as) to come out and gain position as a minister himself. He mentions: “…And Allah has full power and control over His Affairs, but most of men know not.” (Yusuf 12:21)

From this Surah, we learn four names or attributes of Allah (swt): Ghalib (the Dominant), Lateef (Most Courteous and Kind), Aleem (All-Knowing) and Hakeem (All-Wise). It is important to seek counsel from this Surah because it displays how Allah’s (swt) plans work. Yes, it is extremely difficult to face grief and unexpected situations, but we need to realize and believe that these events are occurring by Allah’s (swt) will. We can seek inspiration from Yusuf’s (as) story and learn to trust Allah’s (swt) plans, especially when our lives seem to be breaking apart. Believe that Allah (swt) is taking you somewhere better.

An unabridged version of this lecture transcription is available at It has been abridged and edited for hiba with their permission.


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