Ramadan: Insights from the Story of Joseph and his Brothers

Mounir Birouk

July 29, 2013

In one of his illuminating insights, Ibn al-Jawzi [God be pleased with him] likens the month of Ramadan to God’s messenger Joseph [peace be upon him]. In his book Bustan al-Wa’idhin wa Riyadh al-Sami’in [can be loosely translated as: The Orchard of the Preachers and the Garden of the Listeners], he said that “the month of Ramadan to the other months is like Joseph to his brothers. So, just as Joseph was the most beloved son to Jacob, God’s peace be upon them both, Ramadan is likewise the most beloved month to Allah” (230). Drawing on Ibn Al-Jawzi, let us explore the metaphor a little further and see what we can learn from the comparison.

Just like Joseph [peace be upon him], Ramadan is a month which sweeps clean our messes in the other months of the year. Did not Joseph kindheartedly acquit his brothers of their mischievous act, telling them (No blame will there be upon you today. Allah will forgive you; and He is the most merciful of the merciful)? (12:92). Just as Jacob’s children rushed to their brother Joseph [peace be upon him], we, burdened with our wrong deeds, likewise rush to Ramadan, looking forward to the Prophet’s glad tidings: “whoever fasts Ramadan out of sincere faith and expectation of Allah’s rewards, all his previous sins are forgiven” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. With his/her Book overloaded with sins, the believer is in dire need and deep longing for the advent of Ramadan to be relieved of those wrong deeds he/she committed out of ignorance, whim or passion. And it is by the sheer will of the Merciful and the Forgiver that Ramadan erases the believer’s sins provided that the latter rolls up his/her sleeves in its days and nights praying, reciting the Quran, blessing God and doing whatever would bring him/her closer to God’s pleasance. As it occurs only once a year, missing the blessings of Ramadan is certainly an incomparable loss. As reported by Abu Hurairah, the Prophet [God bless him and grant him peace] said: “the interval between the five prayers, between two consecutive Friday Prayers, and between two consecutive months of Ramadan are expiations for all that has happened during that period, provided that one has avoided the grave (major) sins” [Muslim].

Generosity is another virtue which is also characteristic of both Ramadan and Joseph [peace be upon him]. Despite his siblings’ rancor and malice, Joseph [peace be upon him] did not turn his back to them at the time of distress; indeed, he countered their malice with benevolent generosity, and abundantly provided his brothers with their supplies while he was in charge of Egypt’s treasures. Similarly, Ramadan is a month when we are called upon to be open-handed, and transcend the worldly material attractions, money being one such strong temptation. On the footprints of the preceding prophets, God’s messenger Mohammed [God bless him and grant him peace] was, as reported by Ibn Abbas [may God be pleased with him], “the most generous of all people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan” [Al-Bukhari]. So sister and brother, stretch your sight forward and sideways, and look for the needy and the destitute; fasting and charity, we are told by the our dear Prophet [God bless him and grant him peace], are shields and protection from hellfire.

Ramadan is, as was Joseph [peace upon him], a school from which the believer imbibes the virtue of patience. From the betrayal of his siblings to his steadfast resistance to sexual temptation and his imprisonment later on, Joseph [peace upon him] stands out for countless generations of believers as a shining example of patience and sole reliance on God the Almighty. To be sure, Ramadan as well offers us Muslims a full month-intensive course in patience and endurance, virtues which will not be acquired unless one wholeheartedly applies himself a little harder than he usually does in ordinary days. “Ramadan”, the Prophet [God bless him and grant him peace] says, “is the month of patience, and the reward for patience is Paradise”. The fruits of Ramadan would not be reaped without effort and perseverance more than Joseph [peace be upon him] would have gained God’s graces without patience. In addition to the basic abstinence from food, drink and sex, a Muslim makes the most of his fasting when he/she restrains the senses- tongue, gaze . . . etc- from whatever would spoil the transparency of the soul and its purity. It is that self-restraint and conscious resistance to temptations which rank the servant of God among the blessed and the successful in that holy month.

Did I say success? Yes, think of Ramadan as a school where you take tests which you either pass or- God forbids- fail. After a series of trials and tests, the Almighty’s graces were bestowed upon Joseph [peace upon him]; glory and power in this life, and that which the Almighty reserved for the pious in the Hereafter: (They said, ‘Are you indeed Joseph?’ He said ‘I am Joseph, and this is my brother. Allah has certainly favored us. Indeed, he who fears Allah and is patient, then indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good’) [12: 90]. Just as Joseph [peace upon him] was the best of his brothers, physically, spiritually and morally, Ramadan is as well the jewel of all the months of the year. It is so because God’s very word- the Holy Quran- was revealed in it. It is also the crown of the rest of the months of the year not the least for the occurrence of the Night of the Decree which is to be sought in its [Ramadan] last ten days: (Indeed, We sent the Qur’an down during the Night of Decree. And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months) [97: 1-3]. And it is the best of all months because it is sealed with Eid Al-Fitr, a glorious day when the believer receives the God’s rewards and rejoices in His bounties.

I leave it to the reader to extend the metaphor further and draw more parallels. If the narrative of Joseph is sealed, and perpetuated in the Quran for us to draw lessons (There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding) [12: 111], my story and yours have not finished yet. Ramadan is about to leave, and one of your story’s chapters, entitled “Me and Ramadan”, is being written these days; featuring as its triumphant hero is absolutely up to you!

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