We relate to you, (O Muhammad), the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Quran, although you were, before it, among the unaware.
Stories are a way to disquiet the minds of listeners, and focus their attention on the connections between events, and concepts. Drawing heavily on the elements of creative writing, and performing arts, story telling makes the abstract accessible for experts and novices, and allows us to create meaning in our lives, and environments. It can be an especially powerful medium for imparting meaning, and wisdom and communicating timeless lessons to others. The story of Prophet Joseph is perhaps one of the most well known narratives in the Quran. Although it is named after Joseph (a.s.), surah Yusuf sheds light on the pedagogical motifs used by the Prophet Jacob, which coax us to examine examples of positive parental engagement that promote the wellbeing, and development of children.
The development of a child begins with the healing of parents. Parents play a critical role in nurturing self-esteem, and self trust in children. Healthy parental figures provide generous amounts of attention, encouragement, safety, and care. By practicing taqwa, parents support children in their quest for self-determination. For one, healthy parents understand that allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their actions is a method to cultivate valuable learning experience, which fosters responsibility, critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the moral differences between right, and wrong.
(It happened) when Joseph said to his father, “My father, I saw (in dream) eleven stars and the Sun and the Moon; I saw them all fallen prostrate before me.’’
And it will be in this way that your Lord will choose you and teach you the correct interpretation of events, and will perfect His bounty upon you and upon the House of Jacob, as He has perfected it earlier upon your fore-fathers, Abraham and Isaac. Surely, your Lord is All-Wise, All-Knowing.”
The above example illustrates, the attentiveness of Jacob (a.s.) to his son Joseph’s (a.s.) dream. He validates the child’s reality, thereby encouraging him to trust his own viewpoint, and perception. Validating a child’s experiences is a crucial element in cultivating their psychosocial functioning. It ensures that the child does not externally outsource for meanings, interpretations, and opinions over their own feelings, and core beliefs. This is demonstrated when Yusuf trusts his own intuition, when the minister’s wife tries to seduce him. In jail, Yusuf has enough self-trust in his ability to impart the meanings of dreams to his peers.
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.
In the above verse, Jacob communicates the external rifts within their familial structure to his son. He exposes Yusuf to the nuances of interpersonal relationships, thereby diminishing the naiveté, and idealism that is present in children. If Jacob were to distort the perception of reality, and create the illusion of a close fraternal bond between Yusuf, and his brothers, when the reality painted a different picture, it would have encouraged Yusuf to distrust his own apprehension of the situation. When parents practice integrity they allow children to view life through realistic prisms, and equip them to better handle life’s problems. Moreover, Jacob depersonalizes the ill feelings that Yusuf’s brothers harbor towards him. Children sometimes believe that bad things happen to them because they are intrinsically bad. Jacob assures Yusuf, that anything that his brothers do to hurt him, has nothing to do with him, thereby teaching him how to rationalize challenges, and interpersonal conflicts in healthy ways.
It is important to highlight the progressiveness of Jacob (a.s.) in the way he parents his other sons as well.
They said (to Jacob), “Our father, why is it that you do not trust us about Joseph, while we are his well-wishers indeed.
Send him with us tomorrow, that he may eat and play, and of course, we will remain as guards for him
He said, “It makes me sad that you should take him with you, and I fear that some wolf may eat him up when you are heedless of him.
By stating his feelings, Jacob uses vulnerability to authentically connect with his sons. In doing so, he extends the opportunity for them to tell them how they really feel. Miscommunication between parents and children is often due to the fact that parents do not relate to their children as real people. Expressing feelings, and emotions creates a safe environment that encourages authentic exchanges, and true connection. Parents who practice vulnerability can extend empathy, and understanding to their children. Jacob (a.s.) continuously demonstrates a profound ability to regulate his emotions. In the later part of the Surah, we find that although he is grief stricken over Yusuf, he does not lash out inappropriately, shame his children, or give them silent treatment.
And he turned away from them and said, “O, how sorrowful am I for Joseph!” And his eyes whitened with grief that he was constantly repressed (with sorrow).
They said, “By Allah you will keep on remembering Joseph till you are decrepit, or among the perishing.”
He said, “Surely I complain of my anguish and my grief only to Allah, and I know from Allah what you do not know.
When parents model emotional regulation, and authentic connection through vulnerability, they teach children how to adapt and cope in stressful situations in healthy ways. Vulnerability is “the feeling we get during times of uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. This includes times when we’re showing our feelings and we’re not sure what people will think.” (Brene Brown, 2018) Practicing vulnerability lowers the likelihood that a child may feel shame for expressing their true emotions. When a child is shamed, they fear rejection, and therefore will find it hard to authentically show up as themselves. However, when they feel worthy, they can handle rejection because they have a healthy level of self-regard. Self-esteem is necessary in heightening a child’s ability to take chances, and to rebound when they fail. It is also a necessary component in enjoying life because, if a child is validated for who they are, this enables them to take emotional risks like trusting others, and forming new friendships. Prophet Jacob demonstrates a high level of emotional intelligence when he offered a safe space for Yusuf to share his dreams as a young boy, and vulnerably connected with his other sons. Therefore, he was not more attentive to the needs of Yusuf, rather he showed compassion to all of his children. Despite these powerful emotional exchanges with their father, there are notable differences in the levels of social competency between Yusuf, and his brothers.
Joseph and his brother are dearer to our father than we are, while we are a whole group. Surely, our father is in clear error.
Let us kill Joseph, or throw him at some place on earth, and thus your father’s full attention will be devoted for you alone, and after doing that, you may become a righteous people.’’
Everyone has a soul that is vulnerable to the whispers of our companion Satan who aggravates our fears, and desires to incite intense emotional reactions. The brother’s desire to kill Yusuf is an example of an emotion related to inner pain. Satan pushed Yusuf’s brothers to externalize their helplessness by seeking to control another person (Jacob) to make themselves feel safe, worthy, and loved. Satan plants in our minds that, if we can change another person, then we will feel better about ourselves. This is an illusion that we need someone else to be a certain way for us to feel complete.
Satanic whispers can also distort our perceptions of what it means to be loved for who we are, rather than for what we do. The brothers based their worthiness for paternal love on superficial factors. The interesting thing about Prophet Jacob, is that he demonstrates affection to them for who they are even after they committed an injustice against Yusuf, and they, unable to receive this gift, seek to change him. Equally remarkable is Jacob’s ability to extend the opportunity of redemption, giving them a sense of hope, and lowering the chances of recidivism.
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.”
Although, Yusuf (a.s.) experienced a string of unfortunate incidents, his adherence to Islamic morals, and virtue, are repeated, and reinforced throughout the Surah. It is with Allah’s aid, that Yusuf was a provided a way to free himself from resentment, and equip himself with an understanding of his experiences that was tempered with an appreciation for the Decree of Allah, and as a lesson for a people who give thought.
“O my father this is the fulfillment of my vision of old! My Lord has made it reality. And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from out of the desert, after Satan had sown enmity between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise.
Brown, Brene. ” Dare to Lead. Brave Work, Tough Conversations.” (2018)