Joseph and Jacob in Rumi's Poetry

The Biblical Story of Joseph which is known to Muslims within its Quranic Teachings and Islamic perspective as "The most beautiful of stories", has been poetically embedded in numerous verses throughout Rumi's vast poetry works. In the following poems that I've translated from Persian, Rumi has beautifully alluded to the universally known episodes from Joseph's amazing story: Joseph being the most handsome and favorite of Jacob's sons, his brothers' jealousy, Joseph being thrown into a well by his brethren, his siblings' lying to Jacob that he had been devoured by the wild wolves and showing his bloody coat as the proof, Jacob's losing his sight in longing and grieving for his son, Joseph being sold into slavery in exchange for few coins, his incredible journey to Egypt and his rise to prominence in the Court of Pharaoh due to his "Dream interpreting" talent, and his final humanistic act of forgiveness and reunion with his family.

The Story of Joseph, who believed in peace and forgiveness, is found in the Hebrew Bible, in the Qur’an, and in the Bahá’í writings. A brief synopsis of the story is as follows:

  • Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son by his favorite wife.
  • Joseph had a dream in which his brothers bowed down to him, and Jacob told him not to tell his brothers about the dream, for they would be jealous.
  • Joseph’s father gave him a beautiful coat (the coat of many colors in some versions).
  • Joseph was betrayed by his jealous brothers, who threw him in a well, put animal blood on his coat, and returned it to their father, telling him that an animal had killed Joseph.
  • Traders found the young Joseph in the well and sold him into slavery in Egypt.
  • His Egyptian “stepmother” (the wife of the Egyptian who bought him), drawn to his handsomeness, tried to violate him.
  • Joseph was exonerated because his shirt was torn from the back, not the front.
  • But he was put in prison for a long time anyway, where he interpreted dreams of his fellow prisoners, some of whom were released.
  • The king had troubling dreams that none of the learned at court could interpret. They told the king that his dreams were unintelligible.
  • The ex-prisoner, who had returned to court, finally remembered Joseph, who was brought back to court, where he interpreted the dream as meaning seven prosperous years followed by seven years of drought.
  • The king elevated Joseph and put him in charge of the royal storehouses of grain.
  • During the years of famine, Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers from Canaan to Egypt for grain.
  • Joseph recognized his brothers who did not recognize him and, on one trip, sent back a shirt with his brothers to restore his father’s sight (which he had lost weeping for the loss of his two beloved sons, Joseph and the younger Benjamin.
  • Jacob smelled the fragrance of the shirt long before the brothers returned home.
  • Even though Joseph had suffered horribly at his brothers’ hands, he forgave them, provided them with grain, and eventually united his family under his protection in Egypt.

"The Story of Joseph" is considered as an important source of inspiration for the followers of Sufism, the mystical dimensions of Islam. The Sufis believe that Joseph's suffering, endurance, trials and tribulations, renunciations of both physical and materials comforts, and his ultimate noble act of forgiveness out of love, are the shining examples of a true Sufi's life and deeds. Joseph's separation, arduous journey, and his final reunion with Jacob are the manifestations of the "Stations" or "Valleys" of the Sufi mystical path that a Sufi seeker must journey upon in his or her quest for self purification and ultimate union with God."

In his outstanding book, All the King's Falcons: Rumi on Prophets and Revelation, John Renard (Professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University) beautifully explains Rumi's poetic treatment of Joseph (Yosef for Muslims) and Jacob (Yakob for Muslims). I've embedded the entire Chapter titled 'Joseph and His Family' below. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety...Here is also the direct link to the above mentioned Chapter, if you wish to read it online at Google eBook:  All the King's Falcons: Rumi on Prophets and Revelation (Chapter 4)

O Joseph, 
Come back to the blind Jacob.
O youthful Joseph, come,
Poor Jacob has grown too old.

ای یوسف سوی این یعقوب نا بینا بیا----یعقوب مسکین پیر شد ای یوسف برنا بیا
مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

Tell Joseph to find his separated Jacob.

Hanging on to his coat of many colors,
Joseph's triumphs are Jacob's tribulations.

بگو بیوسف یعقوب هجر را در یاب----که بی زپیرهن نصرت تو حبس اوست
مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

Just like Joseph, my Coat is also torn to pieces 
By the large paws of the savage wolves.
But I also feel well protected
By Jacob's indomitable spirit.

چون یوسف از کف گرگان دریده پیرهنم----ولی زهمت یعقوب پاسبان دارم
مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

Though there was only Joseph
Surrounded by a hundred savage wolves,
The fatherly goodwill wishes
Were pouring and pouring
From Jacob's breath.

گرچه یکی یوسف و صد گرگ بود----از دم یعقوب کرم رست رست
مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

How could Jacob be disappointed with Joseph,
If to his other sons
Joseph was always a huge burden?

یعقوب کجا رمد ز یوسف----گر بر پسرانش بار باشد
مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

O honest and innocent Joseph,
You were sold so dirt cheap b
y your brothers,

Making you worth virtually nothing.

ای یوسف امانت آخر برادرانت----بفروختندت ارزان واندک بها کردند
مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

Hurry Up! 
Get off the the Well and hand me the rope.
Like the rising water,
Joseph of Canaan is also resurfacing
To the top of the Well.

زود ازین چاه تن دست بزن در رسن----برسر چاه آب گو یوسف کنعان رسید
مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

From the scent of Joseph,
Jacob regained his sight.
O Lord,
From which Canaanite
That scent was coming from?

چشم یعقوبی ازین بو باز شد----ای خدا این بوی ازکنعان کیست

مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

You are also the pride of Egypt
Just like Joseph, interpret our dreams.
Joseph of Egypt is on his way,
You all better get ready
For your honest confessions!

فخر مصرید چو یوسف هله تعبیر کنید----می رسد یوسف مصری همه اقرار دهید

مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

Look at Joseph of Canaan
Leaving his father's side,
Journeying all the way to Egypt, and
Then transforming himself
Into an exceptional Egyptian Prince.

نگر یوسف کنعان که از کنار پدر----سفر فتادش تا مصر و گشت مستثنا

مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

I've heard that Joseph didn't sleep at nights
For ten consecutive years,
Pleading every night with the Almighty 
On behalf of his brothers:
"O Lord, forgive my brothers
Or I'll fill the foundations of this Palace
With a hundred more brotherly cries of mine."

شنیده ایم که یوسف نخفت شب ده سال---برادران رااز حق بخواست آن شه زاد
که ای خدای اگر عفوشان کنی کردی---گرنه درفکنم صدفغان درین بنیاد

مولانا جلال الدين بلخي رومي

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Thank you for visiting Maulana Rumi Online, a blog dedicated entirely to the life, works and teachings of Maulana Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi better known simply as Rumi here in our beloved America. Just as a memory refresher, all articles, e-books, images, links and reading materials listed in this Blog are solely for Educational purposes. This Blog is designed and maintained by yours truly, your comments, critiques or suggestions are quite welcome and greatly appreciated. As for my own Rumi Translations, you are welcome to copy and use them as long as it's not for commercial purposes. For best viewing, please try this Blog on Google Chrome Browser. This is a very long Blog though, so please make sure to use the Scroll To Top or Bottom Buttons at the left side, or Back To Top Button at the bottom right corner of your screen for smooth navigation. If you have any question, comment, critique or suggestion, please contact me by clicking the Contact Box embedded at the right middle corner. As Rumi would say, "Come, come, whoever you are, come back again.."!

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