An Introduction to Surat Yusuf (Joseph)
Name of the Surah
It was named after Yusuf (Joseph) due to the mention of the story of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him).
Period of Revelation
This surah is a Makkan revelation, and it follows Surat Hud in the chronological order of revelation. This means that it belongs to the critical period as Surahs Jonah and Hud, respectively. This is the intervening period between what is known as the year of sorrow, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) lost his uncle Abu Talib and his wife Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her), both of whom gave him unfailing support, and the time when the new Muslims of Madinah, the Ansar, gave the Prophet their first and second pledges of loyalty and support at `Aqabah. These pledges brought in new support and heralded a far reaching change in the fortunes of the Islamic message and the Muslim community, beginning with the migration of the Prophet and his Companions to Madinah.
Reason of Revelation
When the people of Quraysh were considering the question of killing or exiling or imprisoning him, the unbelievers put this question (probably at the instigation of the Jews) to test him: “Why did the Israelites go to Egypt?” This question was asked because they knew that their story was not known to the Arabs for there was no mention of it whatever in their traditions and the Prophet (peace be upon him) had never even referred to it before.
Therefore they expected that he would not be able to give any satisfactory answer to this question or would first evade it, and afterwards try to inquire about it from some Jew, and thus he would be totally exposed. But, contrary to their expectations, the tables were turned on them, for Allah revealed the whole story of Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) then and there, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) recited it on the spot. This put the Quraysh in a very awkward position because it not only foiled their scheme but also administered a warning to them by aptly applying it to their case, as if to say, “As you are behaving towards this Prophet, exactly in the same way the brothers of Prophet Joseph behaved towards him; so you shall meet with the same end.”
Objectives of Revelation
This Surah was sent down for two objectives:
The first objective was to give the proof of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), and that too, the one demanded by the opponents themselves so as to prove conclusively that his knowledge was not based on mere hearsay, but was gained through revelation. This aspect has been stated explicitly in its introductory verses and explained plainly in its concluding portion.
The second objective was to apply it to the Quraysh and warn them that ultimately the conflict between them and the Prophet would end in his victory over them. As they were then persecuting their brother, the Prophet, in the same way the brothers of Prophet Joseph had treated him. The Quraysh were told indirectly that they would also fail in their evil designs just as the brothers of Prophet Joseph had failed in his case, even after casting him into the well. This is because none has the power to defeat the Divine will.
Topics of the Surah
1- The story starts with relating Joseph’s dream and ends with its realization. To give a partial account here, comprising one or a few episodes, and completing it in another surah would have been unsuitable. Besides, this approach fulfills all artistic aspects while, at the same time, serves the purpose for which the story is included in the Qur’an.
2- Joseph’s story provides the perfect example of the Islamic method of story-telling while enhancing its psychological and educational effects that aim to reinforce faith and strengthen trust in its line of action.
3- The story does not only relate events and draw characters. It goes beyond this to point out the period in history when these events took place, and describes its general features.
4- A father’s love is clearly seen in varying degrees. We see it in Jacob’s love of Joseph, his brother and also in his love for the rest of his sons. His love is also reflected in the way he reacts to events involving Joseph, from the beginning of the story up to its last line.
5- It teaches is that those who exert for the cause of truth and righteousness and put their trust in Allah and entrust all their affairs to Him, get consolation and comfort from Him, for this helps them face their opponents with confidence and courage and they do not lose heart, when they encounter the apparently terrifying measures of the powerful enemies. They will persevere in their task without fear and leave the results to Allah.
6- The story shows the way for future literary works that benefit from fine artistic features and remain faithful to reality, without indulging in any vulgarity that is unbecoming to human art.
7- The greatest lesson this story teaches is that if the believer possesses true Islamic character and is endowed with wisdom, he can conquer a whole country with the strength of his character alone.
Sayyed Abu A`la Maududi’s Tafhim Al-Qur’an.
Sayyid Qutb’s Fi Zhilal Al-Qur’an.