INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS THE SCHOOL OF YUSUF?
"… And he languished in
prison for a number of years more." (Surah Yusuf, 42). According
to an exegesis of this verse, Joseph (Peace be upon him) is the patron
of prisoners, and prison is a sort of School of Joseph. (Madrasa-i Yusufiya)1.
This interpretation was offered by one of the greatest Islamic scholars
of the 20th century, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, who devoted much of his life
to the teaching of the morality of the Qur'an, and because of that earned
the animosity of certain circles. Ultimately, he spent 30 years of his
life in prison and exile.
The reason for Bediuzzaman referring to prison as "the school of Yusuf"
and our using this phrase as the title of this book is the following for
certain sincere Muslims, who call the people to serve Allah alone, and
to be of good character, prisons are places they are confined to from
time to time, without any wrongdoing on their part. These places of confinement
become for them classrooms (madrasah) by which they learn self-discipline.
The reason for these schools to be referred to as the School of Yusuf,
is that, as the Qur'an reveals, Yusuf (as), known for his faith and good
character, spent many years of his life in them, despite his innocence.
Yusuf (as) was chastised for teaching Allah's religion. Throughout the
period of his confinement, he remained aware that everything that had
happened to him was for some ultimate good. Despite this adversity, he
continued to teach Islam to fellow prisoners, telling them of the existence
of Allah and proper morality. For not having complained at any time during
his term, he is a role model for all Muslims.
In addition to Yusuf (as), Imam A'zam, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and more
recently Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Suleyman Hilmi Tunahan and Mehmet Efendi
of Gonen, known to be devout Muslims, all who strove to propagate the
morality of the Qur'an, were similarly chastised by those who deny Allah
and His religion, failing to appreciate the sincerity of these Muslims.
These courageous men were vilified, wrongly accused through fabricated
evidence, and punished with imprisonment. These Islamic leaders, like
Yusuf (as) before them, knew hardship to be an opportunity to earn rewards
in the Hereafter, and therefore faced them in submission. They regarded
the difficulties of prison life as a form of education, as well as an
opportunity to retreat. In other words, they recognized themselves to
be in the School of Yusuf, rather than prison.
Bediuzzaman spent a great part of his life in the School of Yusuf, and
this book therefore contains many excerpts from his published reflections.
He states, in his "Fruits of Belief," written while in the Denizli prison,
that he regarded prison as the School of Yusuf. He wrote:
… [A]lthough I could never stand the slightest
insult or to be dominated, I swear that the light and strength of belief
in the Hereafter afforded me the patience, endurance, solace, and steadfastness;
indeed, it filled me with enthusiasm to gain greater reward in the profitable,
instructive exertions of this ordeal, for as I said at the beginning of
this treatise, I knew myself to be in a good madrasah or school worthy
of the title of "Madrasa-i Yusufiya".2
Sincere believers have been consistently assailed by those who deny the
true religion, merely for seeking to live by the morality of the Qur'an,
and striving to teach others to do the same. Throughout history, among
the methods applied to weaken the believers has been slander, according
to fabricated evidence, and false witnesses, in order to make them appear
guilty in the eyes of the people and the law, and thus to have them imprisoned.
Believers, who are punished with imprisonment, as a result of such actions,
are considered by others, who are deficient in their understanding, to
be confined. In reality, however, they have an opportunity to concentrate
on their spiritual development, to deepen their insight. Ultimately, it
is a chance to come closer to Allah. They can also gain strengths in many
further aspects, as one spending time to meditate at a retreat, as did
the Companions of the Cave, over the passage of so many years. Therefore,
those who seek to harm Muslims, and to inhibit their efforts in the service
of the faith, in reality, only end up helping the Muslims in the earning
of a great reward.