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ISAAC

Sura Joseph is, by and large, the only chapter of the Qur

) an in which the issue

of ( ishq comes to the surface of the text.

The wife of an Egyptian nobleman ( Aziz

(known by the later tradition as Zulaykha) and Joseph’s father Jacob both passionately love Joseph. However, the character of their love is very different: Jacob’s love is deep, wise and unselfish; the love of the wife of

( Aziz is intense

and violent, lacking the depth and wisdom

that Jacob has achieved through suffering and self-renunciation. The exact words used to describe the

feeling of the wife of ( Aziz are shagha-

faha hubban (Joseph ‘filled her with love’) (12.30). This expression, paradoxically, shows her as the victim of Joseph’s beauty; this impression is later supported by the scene of Egyptian ladies cutting their hands at the sight of Joseph. In the case of the wife of

( Aziz,(

ishq appears as an uncontrollable and irresistible force that overwhelms the human being. This force is generated by contemplation of absolute and divine beauty as it appears in a particular created form (another human being). In a way, the wife of

( Aziz imitates

Allah, described in the famous hadith as ‘beautiful’ and ‘loving beauty’ (see, for example, Muslim 1915: Iman 147). In the Sufi tradition, the wife of

( Aziz is

regarded as an epitome of worshippers of beauty, contemplating the divine beauty in its earthly manifestations. As for Jacob, Joseph is said to be

ahabb (more loved) (12.8) by him than Jacob loved his other sons. After Joseph’s disappearance, Jacob loses his eyesight out of grief over Joseph. Taking Joseph’s disappearance as Allah’s trial sent to test his god-wariness and patience, Jacob nonetheless never believes his son is dead. In return for his patience, Allah gives him a deep spiritual intuition that can be described as( irfani (mystical) by its nature: when Jacob’s sons leave Egypt, carrying with them Joseph’s shirt, Jacob immediately feels the aroma of Joseph, although the caravan is still hundreds of miles away. When the messenger bringing the shirt arrives and casts it over Jacob’s face (12.96), the old man regains his eyesight. Judging by its effects (infallible spiritual

intuition and powerful grief), Jacob’s love for Joseph is a much deeper feeling than that of the wife of

( Aziz: the sufferings

of separation give the lover a spiritual wisdom that cannot be acquired by mere worship of beauty. Both stories (that of Jacob and that of(

Aziz’s wife) contain some of the most mystical passages of the Qur

) an. As such,

they have been subject to (attempts at) symbolic interpretation almost since the beginning of the exegetic tradition in Islam. However, the first commentaries attempting to read the entire Qur

) an as

the Scripture of ( Ishq did not appear

before the beginning of the twelfth century CE.