Quranic Reflection No. 356 Āyat 12:55 – Pursuing Responsibility

قَالَ اجْعَلْنِي عَلَىٰ خَزَائِنِ الْأَرْضِ ۖ إِنِّي حَفِيظٌ عَلِيمٌ
Qāla-j‘alnī ‘alā khazā’inil-ardhi, innī hafīzun ‘alīm
He said, ‘Put me in charge of the store houses of the land,
I am indeed reliable, well-informed.’

(Sūrat Yūsuf No.12, Āyat 55)

When the Egyptian king tells Nabī Yūsuf (a) that he would like to appoint him to a special position so he can guide in doing what is best for the country, Nabī Yūsuf seizes the opportunity. His quick thinking and sincerity are evident in his answer. He suggests a specific position for himself and describes the qualities that make him suitable for the job. He asks him to make him in charge of the store houses, the granaries that will store the crops grown by the farmers. He would then manage them such that there would be food left for the seven years when there would be no crops, as interpreted from the king’s dream. He took upon himself that huge responsibility.

This short answer of Nabī Yūsuf (a) has a lot of lessons for us:
1. Knowing what is wrong and needs improvement – Nabī Yūsuf was acutely aware of the economic factors that led to oppression of the people. The society needed financial cleansing and now that the opportunity had arisen he was quick to ask to be put in charge of it. He would work at eliminating discrimination that was present in the society and give back the rights to the oppressed.
2. Realizing personal capability – When a person knows his own abilities it becomes easier to channel them into appropriate work. Nabī Yūsuf knew that he could do a good job of being in charge of the granaries and he did not hesitate to suggest it.
3. Not being afraid of hard work – Nabī Yūsuf was willing to undertake the hard task of organizing reserves of the granaries in times of plenty, to prepare for the difficult years to come. He would have to encourage the people to farm more, use less of what they grew so it could be stored, and manage overall the resources of the country. That would be a lot of work and carry much responsibility. But he wanted to do serve society for the sake of Allah and was not going to bypass the opportunity.
4. Positive self-promotion – It is not appropriate to sing one’s own praises. But certain situation demand that a person introduces himself and puts forth his special qualities, for a purpose higher than himself. This helps people know him and derive benefit from what he has to offer. Nabī Yūsuf explains that he would be right for the job as he is reliable and would guard the granaries well. He is also well informed about it. According to Tafsīr Namūne when Imam al-Sādiq (a) was asked if it was allowed to praise oneself he replied: Yes, if he has to. Have you not heard the words of Yūsuf ‘Put me in charge of the store houses of the land, I am indeed reliable, well-informed (Q 12:55)’ and the words of ‘Abdus Sālīh [Nabī Hūd] ‘I am a sincere and trustworthy advisor to you (Q 7:68)’

The verse also shows that it not wrong to seek a high position. It was used by Imam al-Sādiq (a) to dissuade a group of people who had become ascetics and were encouraging others to join them. He told them: Tell me what you think of Nabī Yūsuf who told the king of Egypt ‘Put me in charge of the store houses of the land …’ and he reached a position where he controlled the land under the king and the surrounding lands till Yemen and yet I have not seen anyone take issue with that?

Let this verse remind you of the need to know how best you can serve society and to take the opportunity when it arises. It could be your calling and may have tremendous impact on those around you, as it did in the life of Nabī Yūsuf.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr-e Nūr; Agha H. M. M. Pūya Yazdī and S. V. Mir Ahmed Ali, The Holy Quran – Text, Translation and Commentary; http://www.alketab.org/