وَشَرَوْهُ بِثَمَنٍ بَخْسٍ دَرَاهِمَ مَعْدُودَةٍ وَكَانُوا فِيهِ مِنَ الزَّاهِدِينَ
And they sold him for a paltry price—a few silver coins—so little did they value him. (Yūsuf 12:20)
“Zuhd,” the noun form of the verb Za-Ha-Da, means “having no desire, giving no value, and abandoning.” It is well-known that “zāhid,” derived from this verb as the present participle, refers specifically in Sufi terminol-ogy to the one who renounces the world and dedicates themselves to wor-ship of God. Therefore, the expression, “wa kānū fīhi minaz-zāhidīn,” in the verse means: “They gave no value (to Joseph) and behaved as if ascetics.” However, their behaving like ascetics is a disapproval and condemnation here, not praise.
Here there is a question that needs to be answered: Who were they who sold little Joseph “for a paltry price”? Were they his brothers, who sold him to a caravan, or were they the members of the caravan, who sold him in the capital of Egypt? The answer can be either, as the Qur’ān did not specify their identities. It is because of this that the Qur’anic interpreters have expressed different opinions regarding this matter. If they were Joseph’s brothers, since they did not know that he would be a Prophet in the future and acted hastily in order to “get rid of” him as soon as possible due to their jealousy of him, “they sold him for a paltry price” although he was of world-worth, and their loss and frustration continued until they saw the truth and repented. The paltry price they got was also unlawful because Joseph was a free man, the sale of whom the Religion forbids. While Joseph’s brothers were selling him, they were not in a position to think about the consequences. They were acting so hurriedly that they instantly sold Joseph for “a few silver coins” in an “ascetic” manner (i.e., giving no value to him and with no desire for him). This description makes it more probable that those who sold Joseph for a paltry price were Joseph’s brothers.
As for the caravan on the way to Egypt, they found Joseph in the well where he had been thrown by his brothers. When they saw a boy holding onto the bucket they had let down the well and climbing upwards, they exclaimed:
Good luck! There is a youth here! (Yūsuf 12:19)
If it was not Joseph’s brothers who sold him when they saw the caravan take him out of the well, the caravan might have sold him in Egypt “for a paltry price” without delay because he had no value to them. If they had waited to sell him for a high price, they might have lost even the little money they earned.