The Republic of Rumi: A Novel of Reality
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The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

Chapter 4

Joseph


By Khurram Ali Shafique

Joseph had a dream. His father, the prophet Jacob, advised him not to share it with his stepbrothers because Satan was a confirmed enemy of the human being.

Still, the stepbrothers found out and felt insecure. They cast Joseph into a well from where he was picked up by a caravan, sold into slavery in Egypt and eventually sent to prison on false accusation. There he interpreted a dream of the King, got vindicated and was elevated to high office where he eventually received his brothers and parents as a benefactor. This was what he had seen metaphorically in his dream, and which had at last come true.

This is the gist of the events as narrated in the Quran. In the subsequent literature of Islam, he has become a metaphor for closely guarded secrets.

In the works of Iqbal we find references to not one but many Josephs. Joseph of the West has come out of prison and occupied the throne. On Moon, ancient Hindu sage Vishvamitra is informed by an angel that Josephs of India are also about to be released.

Out of all these many Josephs, there is one to which Iqbal repeatedly refers as “my Joseph” and it seems as if this one is not going to come out in Iqbal’s lifetime. In the prelude of the very first book, Iqbal tells us: “My own age does not know the secrets; My Joseph is not for this market.”

The same Joseph becomes “our Joseph” when Iqbal is conversing with fellow Sufis. For instance, in a ghazal addressed to an unnamed Sufi, Iqbal says, “Do not talk as yet about Joseph we have lost: the warmth of Zulaykha’s heart neither you have nor I.” Likewise, it is the same person about whom Rumi says later, “Even if the wolves take away our Joseph it is better than his getting sold to the unworthy.”

Its identity is never fully revealed. Instead, we only get five hints, which are (a) Rumi and Iqbal; (b) kings; (c) Joseph itself; (d) Sufism; and (e) Time. These five ideas surround this intriguing character that happens to be the main thing to be found through these writings. Can we find him with the help of these?

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Joseph is an intriguing figure in the works of Iqbal and seems to be a mystery that could be solved by the discerning reader.