“And whoever is mindful of Allah, He will make a way out for them, And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.”
رَبِّ السِّجْنُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا يَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ ۖ وَإِلَّا تَصْرِفْ عَنِّي كَيْدَهُنَّ أَصْبُ إِلَيْهِنَّ وَأَكُنْ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ
Rabbis sijnu ahabbu ilaiya mimma yad’oo naneee ‘ilaihi wa illaa tasrif ‘annee kaidahunna asbu ilaihinna wa akum minal jaahileen
“My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and [thus] be of the ignorant.”
Surah Yusuf Ayat 33
- One thing we can learn from Yusuf (as) is that we should always strive to do the right thing, whether we are despised or honored. It sounds so simple but really it is not an easy thing to do. Yusuf (as) did the right thing yet was falsely imprisoned despite being innocent.
- When faced with a difficult decision the way of a rational person would be to try and determine which decision would produce the best long-term outcome. This is like the concept found in Economics known as primary and secondary order consequences. It’s a study of the long-term domino effects an individual action can have.
- The mistake people make is they tend to overweigh the first-order consequence and are ignorant of the second and subsequent consequences. Often these have complete opposite outcomes which may not be obvious and explains why people make bad decisions. The first-order consequence can seem beneficial at first (like eating a bunch of sugary treats) but the second order will be bad (obesity and diabetes), or first-order will seem bad (like in the case of lifting weights) but the second-order will be good (you’ll be more healthy because of it).
This article picks up from the story of Prophet Yusuf (as) where Zulaikha, Aziz’s wife, made advances towards him. But to understand how we got here we highly encourage you to read Surah Yusuf with english translation.
In Sahih Muslim 162a, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) briefly met Yusuf (as) as he ascended to the fourth heaven on the night journey.
“(The gate) was opened for us and I saw Yusuf (peace of Allah be upon him) who had been given half of (world) beauty. He welcomed me prayed for my well-being. Then he ascended with us to the fourth heaven.”
Zulaikha could not resist Yusuf (as), she fell in love with him and because of Prophet Yusuf (as) infallible character, not being able to tempt him made her want him even more.
One day she trapped Yusuf (as) in a room by themselves and tried to seduce him. In the Qur’an it mentions how if he denied her advances, he would have to face false allegations and potentially a prison sentence, “And I certainly sought to seduce him, but he firmly refused; and if he will not do what I order him, he will surely be imprisoned and will be of those debased.” (12:31)
Yusuf (as) cultivated a character of being an honest hard worker who was now faced with a situation where his public reputation would be under attack. What was he supposed to do, commit Zina, or go to prison? In those moments of contemplation and reflection, he turned to Allah (swt) and pleaded with this supplication.
Rabbis sijnu ahabbu ilaiya mimma yad’oo naneee, “Prison is more to my my liking than that which they invite me”. Some mistakenly interpret this as he liked or saw some benefit in the other option, but this is not the correct interpretation. Rather between the two options, Yusuf (as) would choose prison.
He then continues, ilaihi wa illaa tasrif ‘annee kaidahunna asbu ilaihinna, “And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them” he is asking Allah for his help, if Allah doesn’t provide him with the strength and will power that is needed in those moments, he will be a victim to what they ask, and Wa akun minal jaahileen, “be among the ignorant”.
Yusuf (as) was vindicated but Zulaikha convinced her husband that to save her honor he would have to put Yusuf (as) in prison. Aziz knew Yusuf (as) was an honorable worker, loyal servant, and was innocent but he felt compelled to keep Yusuf (as) out of Zulaikha sight and sent him to prison.
Avoiding Zina – Weighing the pros and cons
The way of a rational person is to measure and weigh the risk of a decision and to follow what you believe would produce the best long-term outcome.
This is like a concept in Economics known as primary and secondary order consequences. It’s a study of the long-term domino effects an individual action can have. We often mistakenly overlook or neglect to inquire about the long term impacts of a single decision.
For example, there are two ways we can look at weight-training or exercise in general. You may see it as a painful exercise that involves lifting heavyweights or wasted time that could be better spent.
In this analysis we only see the immediate effects of exercising, we fail to recognize the secondary consequences. After you train, your muscles rebuild themselves to be more resilient and you’ll be able to lift more the second time around. We can take it even further, research shows that by exercising you lower the chance of developing Alzheimer’s in your old age, reduce the risk of heart disease, it improves your mental health and mood. People who exercise also tend to sleep better and have more energy to be productive. What seemed to be a time suck at first glance actually lends itself to you becoming more productive.
This is a similar thought process Prophet Yusuf (as) likely did in his head, he could either give in to this moment of “short-term gratification” but suffer for an eternity in the afterlife. Or he would suffer 20, 30, 40 years in prison which is relatively short compared to an eternity of happiness in the afterlife.
Also, since Yusuf (as) was a knowledgeable man poised with good judgement, even if he conceded with her demands, he would live with regret in his heart knowing the decision he made was not right. When you examine the primary and secondary consequences of your actions it becomes clear what path you should take.
The mistake people make is they tend to overweigh the first-order consequence and are ignorant of the second and subsequent consequences.
Often these have complete opposite outcomes which may not be obvious and explains why some people make bad decisions. The first-order consequence can seem beneficial at first (like eating a bunch of sugary treats) but the second order will be bad (obesity and diabetes), or first-order will be bad (like in the case of lifting weights) but the second-order is good (you’ll be more healthy because of it).
This is why Yusuf (as) asks Allah to protect himself from being among the jaahileen, meaning ignorant, because they are short-sighted and make the wrong decisions because they simply do not understand.