Literary CornerThe structure of dreams (1/3) [Archives:2005/862/Culture]

July 25 2005

By Abu Alkalmah Al-Tayyibah
Subject Book: The Structure of Dreams (in the Story of Joseph and His Brethren)

Author: Dr. Riyadh Al-Qirshy

Language: Arabic

Publisher: Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Year Published: 2004

Number of Pages: 140

The Holy Qur'an is indeed a literary masterpiece unequalled by any published human or otherwise originating manuscript. The critic would not delve into the Holy Qur'an as a whole here, for it would take far more than this corner has room for and would be meaningless in the light of the topic under analysis here. But it is important, before getting into the book under review here to point out that the Holy Qur'an delivers the Heavenly Message to mankind in a unique style (actually many unique styles packed into one) that allows for the sustainability of the Heavenly Revelations as an unalterable document, while at the same time, keeping its beauty and power of expression attractive to the reader, no matter how many times it is read.

One of the most fascinating features of the Holy Qur'an is the way the Lord reveals His ordinances to the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and hence to all of mankind. To underscore the interrelationships of the major monotheistic faiths of Christianity and Islam, the Holy Qur'an is embedded with many stories about the very same prophets and messengers that are revealed in the Old and New Testaments (including the Jewish Scriptures). This includes the long list of prophets of the Ancient Nation of Israel, starting from Ibrahim (Abraham or Avraham) down to Jesus Christ (PBAUH), who is also a revered Prophet of Islam. It is important to emphasize that Islam actually views Christianity and Judaism as really part of the continuing development of religious doctrinaire that eventually led to Islam. In other words, they are all the same religion, per se, while man made intrusions have brought on the current differences between them.

The stories of the different prophets and nations of history as told in the Holy Qur'an are not merely a narrative biographical description. They are actually texts that flow and blend into the mainstream of Heavenly revelations, either to manifest the relevant text as example or to emphasize the many ways the Lord Al-Mighty has nurtured mankind to see the light of succumbing to the will of God. Some of the prophets were mandated with certain missions of delivery to their people (i.e., messengers of Allah), and some, by their lives and behavior, provided exemplary human behavior to guide mankind as to the kind of faith and submission to His will that God expects of mankind. In a true masterpiece of language structure and semantics, the Qur'an makes these stories so full of movement and human inspiration, that one does not merely read a plot and maybe a theme thrown in here and there. One is compelled to see movement, emotions and spiritual guidance all thrown in, in just a few arranged words, which evoke a wide spanning meaning and enlightenment to the reader.

Most of the prophetic jopurneys of the Qur'an are broken down in more than context in the book, and quite often to be in harmony with the context under discussion. One will find Moses, Ibrahim, and even Jesus Christ in a number of Surahs or Chapters of the Qur'an1. The only Prophet, who has one chapter fully dedicated to his full spiritual journey in this world is Joseph, in the Chapter that bears his name. The story is a beautiful masterpiece of literary finesse. This is not so much from a linguistic point of view, but from the overhanging spiritual implications intended to be reflected, as we follow the pure and innocent Joseph evolve from a favored son of an already established Prophet, to a boy thrown into slavery and a whole new life and culture that is different from that of his original nomadic horticultural background.

The plot of the story and all the spiritual, social and psychological venues are given in 111 verses of superb prose that certainly give this chapter its unique distinction. It is a tragic tale of a family that is tied by strong spiritual orientation to be broken up, as interrelationships between members in the family become sources of jealousy and contempt between the brothers, not so much for the mundane or the material basis for such jealousy, but for the paternal love of a father, Ya'acoub (Jacob), son of Ishaq (Isaac), son of Ibrahim, who has already obtained the favor and blessings of the Lord, and is bound to have someone inherit him for the leadership of a rapidly growing favored nation of God, then.

Many readers of the Old Testament will recall that Joseph (or Yusif, in Arabic) is the next to last son of Jacob's twelve sons. Being as he was accorded a greater affinity by his father than all the other sons, the other brothers plotted to remove him away from his father. They conspired to kill him at first. Then they decided to simply throw him away in some well to either die or get picked up by any wanderers who perchance make use of the well, which is apparently situated along a frequently traveled route. They would excuse themselves from their father's anger, by claiming that he was eaten by wolves, bringing a shirt stained with the blood of a sheep home to back their alibi.

The reader is also familiar that Joseph was eventually taken in bondage to the land of Egypt where he was purchased as a slave by a wealthy member of the ruling establishment in Egypt. There Joseph grew up to be a handsome young man, with whom the wife of the Egyptian noble that bought him has become irresistibly infatuated. Seeing him resist her attempts to seduce her, just as her husband entered the chamber, she accused him of attempting to seduce her. Thanks to the wisdom of a member of the household, Joseph was vindicated, when it was seen that the back of his shirt was torn meaning that he was really trying to avoid her. When it was found that all the other Egyptian women of high society then were also infatuated by Joseph, the young, but already pious and conscientious man, Joseph asked his Lord to allow him to be imprisoned, rather than to be allowed to be insulted by such persistent sensual prodding. The rest follows in the next issue.

1The critic is actually more inclined to call them “themes” rather than chapters, because they are not really a partition based on size or number of verses, etc, but tend to evolve around a certain theme evoked by the relevant Surah.