Thursday 21 February 2019

Surah Yusuf (Joseph): Overview of the 12th Chapter of the Holy Quran

Sūrat Yūsuf  is the twelfth surah with 111 ayahs with two rukus, part of the 12th-13th Juzʼ  of the Holy Qur'an.

Like some of the exclusive chapters of the Holy Qur'an which are specifically dedicated and named after the prophets of Allah or chapters wherein mention of prophets of Allah is made, Surah Yusuf is one such surah which entirely and exclusively narrates the story of Prophet Yusuf (Biblical Joseph, peace be upon him). It is said to have revealed in one go.

Prophet Yusuf was one of the sons of Prophet Ya'qub (Biblical Jacob, peace be upon him) and was gifted with the ability to interpret dreams. He was also extraordinarily handsome and beautiful which led him into trouble with the wife of his master.

This chapter of the Holy Qur'an can easily be divided into four sections as per the subject matter and we would deal with each  section separately since the ayahs / ayats are rather long and in one post it may not be possible to give out the tafsir / exegesis. These sections would include:
  • Part 1:The initial dream by young Yusuf and describing it to his father who takes it as indication of Yusuf being tipped to be a future prophet, and the jealousy of his brothers for him being specially liked by their father and his tacit abandonment by them in a well. His ultimate retrieval from the well by a passing caravan, and adoption by a merchant
  • Part 2: Seduction of Yusuf by the lustful wife of the merchant which Yusuf resisted. Although a witness defended innocence of Yusuf, the merchant's wife had him poisoned till he acceded to her dirty desires
  • Part 3: His stay in the prison and interpretation the dream seen by the king of the time. His timely interpretation comes true and saves Egypt from the ensuing drought since the King had made arrangements as forecast by Yusuf. 
  • Part 4: As a reward, Yusuf is released from the prison and the King also investigates the false case against him The wife who tried to seduce Yusuf testifies that he was innocent, and the truth unveils. Yusuf is given authority in Egypt. He then meets his brothers who had come to Egypt in search of food and is subsequently reunited with his ailing father.
Every chapter of Qur'an has been revealed for s specific purpose or to point towards a specific incident. This surah too was revealed in one go for it was the time when Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was passing through a very difficult time of his life. Although, it cannot be said with certainty the time of revelation of this surah, but many agree that it was either in the 10th or 11th year of open proclamation of Islam. This year was a sad and depressing time for the Prophet of Allah, normally referred to as 'Am al Huzun' (the year of Sorrow or Despair). He (ﷺ) was going through several hardships and three of those are the most significant. The first one is the death of his uncle Abu Talib.  Though very old, Abu Talib protected his orphan nephew from the harm that powerful pagan of Makkah could have inflicted on Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). The second tragedy was the death of his beloved first wife, Khadijah. She was the first to believe in his message and she was his comfort. The two deaths were a significant loss to him as they were the people in his life that motivated and protected him through his journey. Later on in Makkah after his uncle's death, the pagans made him face excessive hardships while he tried to call the people to Islam. Expecting a better reply from the city of Ta'if, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) went to Ta'if but was treated even more severely than people of Makkah. And was chased out of the city by throwing rocks on him. Injured and bleeding, he came back in a high state of disappointment and low morale. 

It was thus the time when this surah is said to have been revealed to show to the Prophet of Allah how difficulties came the way of Prophet Yusuf one after the other, but it was his steadfastness and resilience that ultimately made him an honourable man and ruler over his people. This surah  thus was meant to elevate his spirits and comfort Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) in his time of rejection.

The surah was also revealed to help Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) to answer questions of the pagans of Makkah who wanted to test him for knowledge of previous prophets and people could only be known to true prophets. The story of Yusuf and his brothers, was one that was not heard of by the people of Makkah. Only the Christian and Jewish had known about Prophet Yusuf (as Joseph) through their scripture. When Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was questioned, the revelation of this surah helped him to satisfy the questioning pagans of Makkah. 

In the third ayat of the Surah Yusuf, Allah tells His Prophet that he is being told what he did not know before:
نَحۡنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيۡكَ اَحۡسَنَ الۡقَصَصِ بِمَاۤ اَوۡحَيۡنَاۤ اِلَيۡكَ هٰذَا الۡقُرۡاٰنَ ​ۖ  وَاِنۡ كُنۡتَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِهٖ لَمِنَ الۡغٰفِلِيۡ
(O Muhammad), by revealing the Qur'an to you We narrate to you in the best manner the stories of the past although before this narration you were utterly unaware of them

It was another thing that they still did not believe in what he was preaching  - the word of Islam. 

Thus the possible objectives of revelation of Surah Yusuf could be two fold:
  • To provide proof that Muhammad's Prophethood, and his knowledge is not based on unsubstantiated information, rather but was gained through revelation.
  • It applies the theme of the story to the people of Quraysh (The tribe of the leaders in Makkah) and warns that the conflict between them and the Prophet would end in his victory over them. As stated in verse 7: "Indeed there are signs in this story of Yusuf and his brothers for the inquirers"
Please read our upcoming posts separately dealing with the exegesis of the Surah Yusuf in four parts as mentioned above.

You may now like to listen to prominent Muslim scholar Nouman Ali Khan giving away an enlightening overview of the Sūrat Yūsuf  in English in very eloquent and easy manner:
You may refer to our post "114 Chapters (Sūrahs) of the Holy Qur'an" for translation, meaning and summary of other chapters (Though not complete but building up from 30th Part backwards for chapters in 30th Part are shorter and easier to understand). 

Photo | References: | 12 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
An effort has been made to gather explanation of the surahs of the Holy Qur'an from authentic souses and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. However, those wanting detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to sites the references of which are given above.

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