‘Will you interpret our dreams for us?’ asked the two prisoners to Prophet Yusuf who was in prison because of the wrong accusations made by the minister’s wife.
“Will you interpret our dream for us? We think you are one of the Muhsinoon (doers of good).” Prophet Yusuf agreed to do so. He assured them that he would tell them the meaning of their dreams before their food arrived. However, he wanted to discuss something far more important with them before that.
Prophet Yusuf proceeded to inform them about Allah and monotheism. He gave a short and precise introduction of Islam and concluded his talk by interpreting their dreams for them.
This incident, mentioned in Surah Yusuf, verse 36-40, later paved a way for Prophet Yusuf’s release from prison and appointment as a minister of Egypt.
Allah mentioned several stories throughout the Qur’an, describing how the prophets and messengers preached, how some people accepted their message and how others haughtily rejected it. These stories are ingrained with several lessons that we can study and benefit from. Allah says:
“There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding. Never was the Qur’an a narration invented, but a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of all things and guidance and mercy for a people who believe.” [Qur’an, 12:111]
Here are some lessons we can derive from the incident of Prophet Yusuf with his prison inmates regarding the way he introduced them to Islam.
Character precedes words
When the two prisoners approached Prophet Yusuf, they said “… Inform us of the interpretation of this. Verily, we think you are one of the Muhsinun (doers of good).” [Qur’an, 12:36]
Though Prophet Yusuf was in prison, his inmates were able to recognize that he was a person with good character. Even before he spoke to them about Islam, he had already conveyed a silent message of da’wah to them.
Da’wah of actions speak louder and clearer than da’wah of words. Calling people to Islam and asking non-practicing Muslims to begin practicing is one aspect of da’wah. The other and more important aspect is to do and show it to them. By being consistent in good actions and conduct, one portrays a practical picture of what it is like to be a sincere Muslim and onlookers learn about Islam just by observing.
Grab the opportunity
When the prisoners asked about the interpretation of their dreams, Prophet Yusuf did not just answer them and let them go. He wisely used this opportunity to teach them about monotheism too. He seized the opportunity even though it was in the darkness of the prison. One does not need to set a stage or have a pre-arranged plan for doing da’wah. A well-read Muslim can give subtle da’wah within daily talk among people.
Wisely direct the conversation
Prophet Yusuf acknowledged that he has the ability to interpret dreams. He said:
“You will not receive food that is provided to you except that I will inform you of its interpretation before it comes to you. That is from what my Lord has taught me. Indeed, I have left the religion of a people who do not believe in Allah, and they, in the Hereafter, are disbelievers.” [Qur’an, 12:37]
Prophet Yusuf made it clear to them that his noble character and in-depth knowledge was due to his belief in Allah. He then goes on to speak about Allah.
He wisely directed the conversation to da’wah after promising the questioners that their dreams will be interpreted before their meals arrive. Similarly, one can wisely use his interactions with people as opportunities to do da’wah. However, one must be careful not to overdo this and force the people to listen to him or else he will drive them away.
Be short and precise
Prophet Yusuf was precise in his talk. He preached about the most crucial matter, monotheism, and left it there. He did not go into the details of Aqeedah or the rules and regulations of the religion. Instead he focused on the primary and the most fundamental issue that separates a believer from a non-believer – belief in the oneness of Allah. One must prioritize the topics that need to be discussed according to the situation and the audience. Filling the audience with overwhelming details in a short time will make the religion seem too difficult to follow and instead drive people away.
Engage the audience
Prophet Yusuf made sure that his listeners were engaged and interested in what he had to say. Even through the preaching, he asked them questions.
“O [my] two companions of prison, are separate lords better or Allah, the One, the Prevailing?” [Qur’an, 12:39]
He engaged the prisoners. He made them think and reflect about it.
Do not force
Prophet Yusuf did his duty by inviting the prisoners to the religion of Allah. He made it clear to them how their beliefs were wrong and their forefathers were in error. However, he did not force them in anyway. He simply gave a short and precise talk, which left a lasting impression on their minds, and then interpreted their dreams. The work of the Muslim is to guide the people and invite them to Islam. The ultimate guidance to accept that invitation comes from Allah. Thus the job of the da’ee is to keep preaching and not forcing people to accept it.
Prophet Yusuf had the ability to interpret dreams and attributed that ability to Allah. Even when speaking to the prisoners about their wronged beliefs, he maintained his humbleness. There was no bitterness or pride in his tone, even though he was a prophet speaking to someone who were clearly in wrong.
One should not look down upon people when giving da’wah. It is very easy to fall in the trap as a flattered mind can easily be filled with pride and arrogance. It is important to constantly review intentions and stay humble.