The History of The Prophets
When we examine the history of the prophets, we encounter one striking truth. The great majority of them were descended from the same line. This is revealed in a number of verses in the Qur'an:
Those are some of the Prophets Allah has blessed, from the descendants of Adam and from those We carried with Nuh, and from the descendants of Ibrahim and Isra'il and from those We guided and chose... (Surah Maryam: 58)
As can be seen from this verse, the superior individuals who were sent as prophets were specially chosen by Allah and called by Him to the true path. It is of course an enormous honour to be selected by Allah. The prophets are therefore very worthy individuals, both because they were chosen by Allah and because of their fine upright natures.
After the first prophet, Adam, the oldest Prophet mentioned in the Qur'an is Nuh (as). As we know, Nuh (as) demonstrated great patience and determination in explaining the existence and oneness of Allah to an unbelieving tribe, and when that tribe insisted in their denial, they were drowned in a huge downpour Allah has sent. Only Nuh (as) and those believers with him were saved, surviving the downpour by means of the ark they had built, as Allah had promised.
Allah praises the Prophet Nuh (as) in the Qur'an:
"Peace be upon Nuh among all beings!" That is how we recompense the good-doers. He truly was one of Our servants who believed. (Surat as-Saffat: 79-81)
In another verse Allah reveals that the Prophet Nuh's line (as) will be "enduring," in other words that it will never die out:
Nuh called out to Us and what an excellent Responder We are! We rescued him and his family from the terrible plight and made his descendants the survivors. (Surat as-Saffat: 75-77)
Generations came and went after Prophet Nuh (as), and people again turned from the true path, beginning to worship idols and turning their backs on Allah. At that time Prophet Ibrahim (as) was given the gift of prophethood and charged with calling people back to Allah and the true path. Prophet Ibrahim (as) was one of those of the line of Prophet Nuh (as) which had remained "enduring" on earth. Allah reveals this in the Qur'an in these words:
One of his followers in faith was Ibrahim. (Surat as-Saffat: 83)
Prophet Ibrahim (as) was a most pure and holy man, and one Allah praised. In one verse, Allah states:
Who could have a better religion than someone who submits himself completely to Allah and is a good-doer, and follows the religion of Ibrahim, a man of pure natural belief? Allah took Ibrahim as an intimate friend. (Surat an-Nisa': 125)
Again as revealed in the Qur'an concerning Prophet Ibrahim (as):
• Ibrahim was forbearing, compassionate, penitent. (Surah Hud: 75)
• Ibrahim was a community in himself, exemplary, obedient to Allah, a man of pure natural belief. He was not one of the idolators. (Surat an-Nahl: 120)
• He was thankful for His blessings. Allah chose him and guided him to a straight path. (Surat an-Nahl: 121)
• Or do they in fact envy other people for the bounty Allah has granted them? We gave the family of Ibrahim the Book and Wisdom, and We gave them an immense kingdom. (Surat an-Nisa: 54)
• And among his descendants were Dawud and Sulayman, and Ayyub, Yusuf, Musa and Harun. (Surat al-An'am: 84)
• And of Ibrahim, who paid his dues in full. (Surat an-Najm: 37)
With Prophet Ibrahim (as) there began an uninterrupted line of descent. Although he carried out his role as a messenger to the deniers of Allah with great sincerity and determination, most people around him (with the exception of his relative, Prophet Lut (as)) failed to heed his message. At this point, Prophet Ibrahim (as) requested from Allah a pure believer to be his heir and to continue to represent the religion of Allah on earth. Allah responded to the Prophet Ibrahim's prayer (as) with a miracle, giving his wife a pure child, even though she was old and barren. In this way Prophet Ibrahim (as) became the father of the Prophet Ishaq (as), who was a distinguished prophet in the sight of Allah, possessed of understanding, faith and God concsiousness. In time, Prophet Ishaq (as) also had a son and called him Ya'qub. Both were gifts of Allah to the Prophet Ibrahim (as):
When he had separated himself from them, and what they worshipped besides Allah, We gave him Ishaq and Ya'qub, making each of them a Prophet. (Surah Maryam: 49)
We gave him Ishaq and Ya'qub and placed prophethood and the Book among his progeny. We gave him his reward in this world and in the hereafter he will be among the righteous. (Surat al-'Ankabut: 27)
Another son of Prophet Ibrahim (as) was the Prophet Isma'il (as). Together they constructed the first "house," or place of worship, the Ka'aba. The prayer they uttered at this time is recorded in the Qur'an in these terms:
And when Ibrahim built the foundations of the House with Isma'il: "Our Lord, accept this from us! You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing. Our Lord, make us both Muslims submitted to You, and our descendants a Muslim community submitted to You. Show us our rites of worship and turn towards us. You are the Ever-Returning, the Most Merciful." (Surat al-Baqara: 127-128)
Allah responded to this prayer, and created from the line of Prophet Ibrahim (as) a community completely surrendered to Allah. The sons and grandsons of Prophet Ibrahim (as), and their own children, were blessed people who included prophets among their number, believed in Allah and lived in accordance with His commandments despite living in a largely pagan environment. The prophets Musa (as), Harun (as), Dawud (as), Sulayman (as), Ya'qub (as) and Yunus (as), and many more like them were all pure and perfect individuals of the line of Prophet Ibrahim (as). Allah says of the line of the prophets:
We gave him Ishaq and Ya'qub, each of whom We guided. And before him We had guided Nuh. And among his descendants were Dawud and Sulayman, and Ayyub, Yusuf, Musa and Harun. That is how We recompense the good-doers. And Zakariyya, Yahya, 'Isa and Ilyas. All of them were among the righteous. And Isma'il, al-Yasa', Yunus and Lut. All of them We favoured over all beings. And some of their forebears, descendants and brothers; We chose them and guided them to a straight path. That is Allah's guidance. He guides by it those of His servants He wills. If they had associated others with Him, nothing they did would have been of any use. They are the ones to whom We gave the Book, Judgement and prophethood. If these people reject it We have already entrusted it to a people who did not. They are the ones Allah has guided... (Surat al-An'am: 84-90)
Many verses in the Qur'an speak of the Prophet Ibrahim (as), the Prophet Ya'qub (as) and the Prophet Yusuf (as). Sura 14 bears the name 'Ibrahim,' and Sura 12 "Yusuf."
Prophet Ibrahim (as) handed his beliefs on to his sons, a process that was repeated by his grandson Ya'qub (as). Allah describes this in the Qur'an:
When his Lord said to him, "Become a Muslim!" He said, "I am a Muslim who has submitted to the Lord of all the worlds." Ibrahim directed his sons to this, as did Ya'qub: "My sons! Allah has chosen this religion for you, so do not die except as Muslims." Or were you present when death came to Ya'qub and he said to his sons, "What will you worship when I have gone?" They said, "We will worship your God, the God of your forefathers, Ibrahim, Isma'il and Ishaq—one God. We are Muslims submitted to Him." That was a community which has long since passed away. It has what it earned. You have what you have earned. You will not be questioned about what they did. (Surat al-Baqara: 131-134)
However, being descended from the line of Prophet Ibrahim (as) does not, of course, mean that someone will automatically turn to the true path. In the same way that the line has included prophets and devout and God fearing people, it has also produced those who have failed to grasp the concept of religion or to find the true path. This fact is also revealed in the Qur'an. Speaking, for example, of the line of Prophet Ibrahim (as) and his son Prophet Ishaq (as), Allah says:
We showered blessings upon him and upon Ishaq. Among their descendants are good-doers and also people who clearly wrong themselves. (Surat as-Saffat: 113)
Of course, the prophets were chosen, superior people, but as we shall see in the chapters that follow, among their grandchildren, brothers, sons, fathers and even their wives, there emerged people who behaved contrary to the will of Allah, went beyond the bounds He set and opposed His religion. Allah reveals this in another verse:
We sent Nuh and Ibrahim and placed prophethood and the Book among their descendants. Some of them are guided but many of them are deviators. (Surat al-Hadid: 26)
Among those who behaved in this way despite being from the line of the prophets were some of the sons of Prophet Ya'qub (as).
Allah speaks of Prophet Ya'qub (as) many times in the Qur'an, describing him as sincere, strong, man of inner sight, chosen and favoured. Allah speaks of Prophet Ya'qub's superior qualities (as), in these verses:
And remember Our servants Ibrahim, Ishaq and Ya'qub, men of true strength and inner sight. We purified their sincerity through sincere remembrance of the Abode. In Our eyes they are among the best of chosen men. (Surah Sad, 45-47)
And in addition to that We gave him Ishaq and Ya'qub and made both of them righteous. We made them leaders, guiding by Our command, and revealed to them how to do good actions and perform prayer and pay the welfare tax, and they worshipped Us. (Surat al-Anbiya': 72-73)
In addition to this, Allah also reveals in Surah Yusuf that Prophet Ya'qub (as) was a man of knowledge, who had had special knowledge imparted to him:
… He [Ya'qub] had knowledge which We had taught him, but most of mankind simply do not know. (Surah Yusuf: 68)
… He [Ya'qub] said, "Did I not say to you before, I know things from Allah you do not know?" (Surah Yusuf: 96)
One of the sons of Prophet Ya'qub (as) was the Prophet Yusuf (as), who best understood the faith and moral virtues that Ya'qub (as) encouraged in his children. We can see this from his words as Allah relates to us in the Qur'an:
I hold fast to the creed of my forebears Ibrahim and Ishaq and Ya'qub. We do not associate anything with Allah. And that is how Allah has favoured us and all mankind, but most do not give thanks. (Surah Yusuf: 38)
However, not all of Yusuf's brothers were like him. Apart from his younger brother, who closely resembled him, his other brothers failed to grasp the concept of faith, were prisoners of their own selfish desires and went beyond the bounds Allah set. Hence, it was these brothers who laid a cruel trap for Prophet Yusuf (as).
The following chapters of this book will describe this trap that was set for Prophet Yusuf (as), what happened afterwards, and his exemplary behaviour in the face of all these events.