Literary CornerThe Structure of Dreams in the Story of Joseph and His Brethren (3 of 3) [Archives:2005/866/Culture]

August 8 2005

Abu Alkalmah Al-Tayyibah
Author: Dr. Riyadh Al-Qirshy

Language: Arabic

Publisher: Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Year Published: 2004

Number of Pages: 140

With this surprising statement to his brothers, they answered, “Then, aren't you indeed Yusuf or Joseph?” He then gave them a robe to take back to their father to place it on his face, by which he will retain his vision again. He asked them to bring his parents and the rest of the clan to Egypt. When they all arrived, Joseph told his parents to step up to the pedestal where he was sitting and all of a sudden the parents and eleven brothers bowed and prostrated to him in praise. With this dramatic climax, the Qur'an brings us right back to the beginning of the story, after the introduction: “We herein relate to you the best of tales or stories1 (Holy Qur'an XII/v. 2): The story starts with the coming of young Joseph to his wise father revealing to him a peculiar dream he had: “Then, Joseph said to his father: 'My dear father, I visualized2 11 planets and the sun and the moon – I saw them for me, in prostration'” (Holy Qur'an XII/v.3). Yes, the story of Joseph began with a dream, and it is clear from the outset that the story revolves around dreams and the interpretation of dreams. Of course, for prophets of God, dreams have far more significance than those of laymen. Dreams are either predictions of what may come to be seen as a reality in real life, or are Heavenly instructions that must be fulfilled [the Patriarch Ibrahim's (PBAH) dream that he was slaying his son Ishmael, for which the Lord later had absolved Ibrahim, accepting an animal sacrifice instead, after testing the faith of both the father and son, who both obediently acceded]. Thus, the author of the book gives great importance to the number of dreams that arise in the story. He makes the dreams the axis on which the story revolves. In this first dream, the author suggests that this beginning entry into dream brings Joseph his first encounter with the supernatural or the spiritual, and this was clearly noticed by his father Jacob: “Son, do not relate your dream to your brothers, lest they plan some mischief against you” (Holy Qur'an XII/v.4. With a heritage of prophecy, Jacob knew that his son was speaking of a destiny that will be laid out in the Heavens and feared that his brothers might be driven by jealousy to harm Joseph. At the same time, the author notes that in relating this dream to his father, Joseph, even at such a young age was feeling a sense of pride, to the extent that he didn't even bother to ask his father for an interpretation, but related it as a way of affirming his claim to some distinction – for the ego anyway. By the time Joseph was in prison, he had developed sufficient wisdom and knowledge to be able to decipher the mysteries of slumber vision and thus, when two of his prison mates revealed dreams that they simultaneously had: One dreamt to be brewing wine for his master and the other one was carrying bread from which birds were nibbling. Joseph's prognosis: the former will be serving his master wine, while the latter will be crucified and birds will be eating from his head. With this dream over with, years pass by and one of the inmates is found serving in the Court of the Pharaoh. At this juncture the Pharaoh has his seven good years and seven bad years dream. Remembering his good fortune with Joseph in prison, the former inmate then suggests to the Court to bring on Joseph to interpret the dream. With this dream convincingly interpreted, after all the advisors and officials of the Pharaoh could not find any interpretation thereof, Joseph's life changes from an era of torment and suffering to a new period of his life where he will be a member of the nobility and instead of being owned and submissive to the will and dictates of others (as a slave), he will be dictating the fate of others and delivering the mission of justice and equity that his faith in God would compel him to fulfill. With Joseph being far away from his folks, he was convinced that serving as Trustee for the Stores of the Pharaoh, he will again be able to have fate work for him to resolve his yearning for his folks. Perhaps his own dream, which he related to his father was still in his mind and he knew that something had to come out of it.

The author analyzes each of these dreams rather deeply. For Joseph, the first dream was an eye-opener for him to the world and to himself. Although we could not get an interpretation of the dream revealed to Joseph by his father, we are clearly convinced that the dream was projecting a great destiny for the lad, so anything that happens in between was merely a stepping stone towards this destiny. He accepted being a slave, without contest, through which he was able to relish in the learning experience of being a part of the entourage of a great nobleman. He prayed to God to allow him to go to jail, because this way he can maintain his purity and innocence and not be overtaken by the evil and temptations that had tested his will to resist, otherwise he would loose the chance of a heavenly guided destiny he was still awaiting.

Then the dream of the two inmates is analyzed, but given a rather low keyed significance by the author, except that they provided a medium by which Joseph's fate was to evolve later. At this juncture, I am not in agreement with the author, as he gives a low grading for the dreams of the inmates. How a dream becomes the pathway to greater inroads into life should not be downplayed, as the dreams of the inmates are the middle and pivotal rudder in the ladder of dreams in the story. The twin dreams of the inmates is the turning point in the fate of Joseph and without them, he would have never been able to have reached the Pharaoh's Court.

With Joseph in the aristocracy, after the coming and going he has subjected his brothers to, it was time to lock up the story, with the return to the original dream. The bowing of his parents and brothers to Joseph finally revealed to the reader of the Qur'an the interpretation of the initial dream that started it all. Furthermore, all the jealousies and evils that his brothers sought amongst themselves also have been climaxed with an atmosphere of goodness and forgiveness, for the Lord has made a happy conclusion for all involved – all of which made Joseph the proud beneficiary of a fate decided by dreams – a little deja vu with spiritual spicing.

1 This is not to imply that these narrations given are fiction, but because of their beauty and emblematic implications and the spiritual aura around them, they are like tales of enjoyable fiction.

2 I.e., I dreamt