Does Allah punish his prophets? In the story of Yusuf (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), was he left in prison for a number of years as a punishment from Allah because he asked one of his prison mates to mention him to his master, while only Allah should be called Master.
Praise be to Allaah.
We have previously discussed the fact that the Prophets (may be the
blessings and peace of Allaah be upon them all) are infallible and protected
against major sins, bad attitudes and vile actions that are contrary to
See the answers to questions no.
With regard to the story of Yoosuf, the more correct of the
two opinions in the commentary thereon is that the one who forgot to mention
him to his lord (master) in this verse was not Yoosuf (peace be upon him)
but the other prisoner, whom Yoosuf asked to mention him to his lord (master
or king). Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And he said to the one whom he knew to be saved: “Mention
me to your lord (i.e. your king, so as to get me out of the prison).” But
Shaytaan (Satan) made him forget to mention it to his lord. So [Yoosuf
(Joseph)] stayed in prison a few (more) years”
As the apparent meaning of the commentary on the verse is
that the one who forgot was the one who was supposed to convey the message
from Yoosuf to the ruler of Egypt, there is nothing in the content of this
message – to remind the ruler about Yoosuf – that undermines the position of
Prophethood or is contrary to the idea of putting one’s trust in Allaah and
referring one’s needs to Him.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said: Allaah said: “But
Shaytaan (Satan) made him forget to mention it to his lord”. It was said
that he caused Yoosuf to forget to remember his Lord, when he said, “Mention
me to your lord.” And it was said that the shaytaan caused the one who
was saved (from person) to forget to mention him to his lord. This is the
correct view, because it follows on from the words “Mention me to your
lord”. Allaah said: “But Shaytaan (Satan) made him forget to mention
it to his lord”. The pronoun refers to the nearest person if there is no
evidence to the contrary, and because Yoosuf would not forget to remember
his Lord, for he was always remembering his Lord. Before interpreting the
dream he had called them both [his two fellow prisoners] to believe in his
Lord, and said to them:
“O two companions of the prison! Are many different lords
(gods) better or Allaah, the One, the Irresistible?
40. “You do not worship besides Him but only names which
you have named (forged) — you and your fathers — for which Allaah has sent
down no authority. The command (or the judgement) is for none but Allaah. He
has commanded that you worship none but Him (i.e. His Monotheism); that is
the (true) straight religion, but most men know not”
And before that he had said to them:
“No food will come to you (in wakefulness or in dream) as
your provision, but I will inform (in wakefulness) its interpretation before
it (the food) comes. This is of that which my Lord has taught me. Verily, I
have abandoned the religion of a people that believe not in Allaah and are
disbelievers in the Hereafter (i.e. the Kan‘aanyyoon of Egypt who were
polytheists and used to worship sun and other false deities).
38. “And I have followed the religion of my fathers, —
Ibraaheem (Abraham), Ishaaq (Isaac) and Ya‘qoob (Jacob) [عليهم
السلام ], and never could we attribute any partners whatsoever to
Allaah. This is from the Grace of Allaah to us and to mankind, but most men
thank not (i.e. they neither believe in Allaah, nor worship Him)”
Thus he mentioned his Lord, and this is what his Lord had
taught him, because he left the religion of mushrik people who did not
believe in Allaah even though they acknowledged the existence of a Creator,
and they did not believe in the Hereafter, and he followed the religion of
his forefathers, the leaders of the believers, whom Allaah has made leaders
calling people to Him – Ibraaheem, Ishaaq and Ya’qoob. He mentioned his
Lord, then he called them to believe in his Lord, then after that he
interpreted the dream and said:
“O two companions of the prison! As for one of you, he (as
a servant) will pour out wine for his lord (king or master) to drink” [v.
Then when he had finished interpreting the dream, “he said
to the one whom he knew to be saved: ‘Mention me to your lord (i.e. your
king’)”, so how could the shaytaan have caused Yoosuf to forget to
mention his Lord?
Rather the shaytaan caused the one who was saved (from
prison) to forget to mention Yoosuf to his lord (or master, the king).
Those who were of this opinion said: It would have been
better to put his trust in Allaah and not say, Mention me to your lord; when
he forgot to put his trust in his Lord, he was punished by staying a few
years more in prison.
It may be said that there is nothing in his saying “Mention
me to your lord” that is contrary to putting one’s trust in Allaah
(tawakkul), rather Yoosuf said: “The command (or the judgement) is for
none but Allaah” [v. 40], just as his father’s words, “Do not enter
by one gate, but enter by different gates” [v. 67], were not contrary to
putting one’s trust in Allaah, rather he said: “I cannot avail you
against Allaah at all. Verily, the decision rests only with Allaah. In Him,
I put my trust and let all those that trust, put their trust in Him” [v. 67].
Moreover, Allaah has testified that Yoosuf is one of His
sincere slaves, and the sincere person cannot be sincere if he puts his
trust in anything other than Allaah, because that is shirk, and Yoosuf was
not a mushrik, either in worship or trust. Rather he put his trust in his
Lord with regard to his own actions, as he said: “Unless You turn away
their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one (of those
who commit sin and deserve blame or those who do deeds) of the ignorant”
[v. 33]. How could he not put his trust in Him with regard to the actions of
His saying “Mention me to your lord” is like his
saying to his master, “Set me over the store‑houses of the land; I will
indeed guard them with full knowledge” (as a minister of finance in Egypt)”
[v. 55]. When he asked to be appointed as governor for a religious purpose,
that was not contrary to putting one's trust in Allaah, and it was not the
kind of seeking high position that is forbidden. So how could his saying to
the boy, “Mention me to your lord” be contrary to putting one’s trust
in Allaah, when all it involved was telling the king about him so that he
would know about his situation and the truth would become clear, and Yoosuf
was one of the most steadfast of people.
Hence after this request – “And the king said: ‘Bring him
to me’” [v. 50] – was made, Yoosuf said: “Return to your lord and ask
him, ‘What happened to the women who cut their hands? Surely, my Lord
(Allaah) is Well‑Aware of their plot” [v. 50]. So here Yoosuf referred
to the “lord” (master) of that man, as he mentioned him before. And he said:
“Return to your lord and ask him, ‘What happened to the women…” In
saying “Mention me to your lord”, he did not fail to do something
that was obligatory and he did not do something that was haraam, such that
Allaah would punish him by leaving him in prison for a few more years.
What is meant is that Yoosuf did not commit a sin that was
referred to in the Qur’aan, and Allaah does not tell us of any sin that any
of the Prophets committed but He also tells us that he asked for forgiveness
for it. But Allaah does not tell us that Yoosuf asked for forgiveness for
End quote from Majmoo’ al-Fataawa (15/112-118).
With regard to Yoosuf (peace be upon him) saying when he was
in prison, “Mention me to your lord”, this is not the lordship of
worship, rather it is the lordship of kingship and control. Al-Fayroozabaadi
said: The lord of anything is its owner or the one who is entitled to it or
to whom it belongs. But no one can be called the Lord in a general sense
except Allaah, may He be exalted, who is looking after all creatures. But
when it is mentioned in conjunction with something else in the possessive,
then it may be said of Allaah and of others, such as Rabb al-‘Aalameen (Lord
of the worlds), rabb al-daar (owner of the house). End quote.
Al-Raaghib al-Asfahaani said: It may be said; rabb al-daar
(lit. lord of the house), rabb al-faras (lord of the horse) meaning the
owner thereof. It is on this basis that Allaah tells us that Yoosuf said “Mention
me to your lord”. End quote,
Al-Mufradaat fi Ghareeb al-Qur’aan
What al-Raaghib (may Allaah have mercy on him) meant was that
the usage of the word rabb (lord) in this verse is permissible, because lord
here refers to his master or ruler, not a lord in an absolute sense; that
may only be said of Allaah, may He be exalted.
But he may be confused and think that this is not allowed, as
in the hadeeth of Abu Hurayrah in which the Prophet (peace and
blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “None of you should say, Give food to
your lord (rabb), help your lord with wudoo’, give water to your lord. Let
him say sayyidi or mawlaaya (my master). And no one of you should say my
‘abd or my amah (referring to his slave); let him say my fataa or my fataah,
or my ghulaam.” [Narrated by al-Bukhaari (2552) and Muslim (2249).
Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The scholars
said: The word al-Rabb, with the definite article al-, cannot be applied to
anyone except Allaah, may He be glorified and exalted. But it may be used in
conjunction with something else, in the genitive, e.g., rabb al-maal (the
owner of the wealth), rabb al-daar (the owner of the house) and so on. An
example of this is what the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be
upon him) said, in the saheeh hadeeth about the lost camel, “Let it be until
its owner (rabbuha) finds it, and in another saheeh hadeeth, “until the one
who has wealth (rabb al-maal) will be worried about finding someone to
accept his wealth (zakaah).” (It also appears) in the words of ‘Umar (may
Allaah be pleased with him) in al-Saheeh, “… the owner (rabb) of the
herd of camels and flock of sheep…” And there are many other well-known
examples in the hadeeth.
The scholars said: It is only makrooh for a slave to say to
his master “rabbiy (my lord)” because by saying this he is making someone a
partner with Allaah in lordship.
With regard to the ahaadeeth “until its owner (rabbuha) finds
it” and “owner (rabb) of the herd of camels” and so on, the word is only
used here because it refers to things that are not accountable. They are
like houses and wealth. Undoubtedly it is not makrooh to say rabb al-daar
(owner of the house) or rabb al-maal (owner of the wealth).
With regard to the words of Yoosuf, “mention me to your
lord”, there are two answers:
1 – That he was addressing him in terms that he was
accustomed to; such usage is permissible in cases of necessity, as Moosa
(peace be upon him) said to al-Saamiri: “And look at your ilaah (god)”
[Ta-Ha 20:97], i.e., look at that which you have taken as a god.
2 – This was the law of those who came before us, and the law
of those who came before us is not a law for us if our law tells us
something different. There is no difference of scholarly opinion concerning
The scholars of usool only differed concerning the laws of
those who came before us if there is no narration stating that our law is
either in agreement with it or differs from it – is it a law that is
prescribed for us too, or not? End quote.
Al-Adhkaar by al-Nawawi
Al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The
reason for the prohibition is that that the right of Lordship belongs to
Allaah alone, because the lord is the owner, the one who is maintaining a
thing, and that is true only of Allaah, may He be exalted.
Al-Khattaabi said: The reason why it is not allowed to call
another person one’s rabb (lord) is that man is under the care of al-Rabb
(the Lord, Allaah), and he is required to show sincere belief in the Oneness
of Allaah (Tawheed) and avoid associating anything with Him (shirk), so it
is makrooh for him to use the same name lest it come under the heading of
shirk. There is no differentiation in this case between the free man and the
slave. As for other things, animals and inanimate objects, which are not
obliged to do acts of worship, it is not makrooh to use this word in the
genitive with reference to them, such as saying rabb al-daar (owner of the
house) or rabb al-thawr (owner of the bull).
Ibn Battaal said: It is not permissible to call anyone except
Allaah rabb (lord), just as it is not permissible to call anyone else ilaah
(god). What is to be used exclusively for Allaah is the word al-Rabb (the
Lord) with the definite article, without mentioning anything in conjunction
with it. But when it is used in conjunction with another word, in the
genitive, it is it permissible to use it, such as when Allaah tells us that
Yoosuf (peace be upon him) said: “Mention me to your Lord” and he
said: “Return to your lord” [Yoosuf 12:50], and when the Prophet
(peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, describing the portents of
the Hour, “When the slave woman gives birth to her lord (i.e., master,
rabbaha).” This indicates that the prohibition on using this word
applies only to its use with the definite article (al-Rabb), and it is
possible that the prohibition is aimed at avoiding usage with reference to
human beings of words that are befitting only for Allaah. Reports which
indicate otherwise may be taken as meaning that it is permitted. Or it may
be that it is not allowed to do that a great deal and take that usage as a
habit, and it does not mean that it is forbidden in all cases. End quote.
Fath al-Baari (5/179).
To sum up:
The word al-Rabb (the Lord) which applies only to Allaah is
that which appears with the definite article, but when the word is used in
conjunction with something else, especially if it is something that has no
power of rational thought and is not obliged to worship Allaah, then it is
permissible. That includes this verse.
It may also be said that the interpretation is that he was
addressing them in their language that they knew, or that this was
permissible for them.
And Allaah knows best.