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Sūrat Yūsuf (Arabic: يوسف) is the 12th chapter of the Quran and has 111 verses. It is said to have been revealed in a single sitting, being unique in this respect. The text narrates the story of Yusuf (the biblical Joseph). While other surahs tend to jump between topics, this sura is special in sticking to its central theme throughout, telling a coherent story in chronological order. The Surah after this is Surah Ar-Ra’d (The thunder). The Surah before this is Surah Hud.
The chapter was first translated into Latin by Thomas van Erpe in 1617 and later in the 17th century published synoptically in Arabic and Latin as part of the Lutheran efforts at translating the Qur’an.
A witness, after Yusuf defends his innocence, testifies “if his shirt is torn from the front, then she has told the truth, and he is of the liars but if his shirt is torn from the back, then she has lied, and he is of the truthful.” The shirt was indeed torn from the back. Soon after this accident, the women of the city talk of how the wife is seeking to seduce Yusuf. The wife of ‘Al-Aziz invites them to a banquet, gives each of them a knife, and then tells Yusuf to come out. The women cut their hands in astonishment. ‘She said, “That is the one about whom you blamed me. And I certainly sought to seduce him, but he firmly refused; and if he will not do what I order him, he will surely be imprisoned and will be of those debased.” http://quran.com/12/32′ Yusuf prefers prison to what they call him so he prayed to God. Yusuf is sent to prison.
In the prison, Yusuf met two other men and interprets one of the prisoner’s dreams. The prisoner is then released and Yusuf asked the prisoner to mention his talent to the king. One day, the King had a dream, and the prisoner who had been released mention Yusuf. He interprets the King’s dream, which is about Egypt having a seven-year drought. To reward him, the King requests his release from jail and the King also investigates his case. The wife who tried to seduce Yusuf testifies that he was innocent, and the truth unveils. Yusuf is given authority in Egypt.
During the seven-year drought, Yusuf’s brothers visit Egypt to get food for their family. Upon seeing his brothers, Yusuf recognizes them though they did not recognize him. Yusuf, in a high position of authority, requests that the next time they come, they bring their youngest brother Benjamin with them. When the brothers returned with their youngest brother, Yusuf takes him aside and tells him his identity. Yusuf plots a theft case where his youngest brother is found guilty of theft when he is truly innocent and is detained from his family, so he could stay with him. Later, when the father and brothers face poverty they come back to Yusuf and Yusuf then helps them and reveals his identity asking them to come and live with him.
There is no confirmed time when surat Yusuf was revealed, but it is estimated to be either in the 10th or 11th year of dawah. In other words, it is known to have been revealed 2 or 3 years before the hijrah (Migration) from Makkah to Madina which is close to the end of the Makkan era and Makkan journey. This Sura was revealed after a year the scholars of seerah call ‘am al huzun’ (the year of Sorrow or Despair). This year was a sad and depressing time for Muhammad. He was going through several hardships and three of those are the most significant. The first one is his uncle Abu Talib’s death. Abu Talib was the only father figure he had left and one of the people who protected him from the harms of society. The second tragedy would come with his beloved first wife, Khadijah’s death. 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, Muhammad departs Makkah. However, to his disappointment the people of Ta’if did not welcome him, gave him a hard time and chased him out of the city by throwing rocks at him. He was injured, bleeding and left with nothing but disappointment from the people of Ta’if. This sura was meant to uplift his spirits and comfort him in his time of rejection.
Along with the three crucial events that marked the revelation for Muhammad, scholars have mentioned other incidents that led to the revelation of the sura. The Quraysh wanted to test Muhammad, as they were in disbelief of his knowledge and spiritual capabilities. They did not believe him to be a prophet and planned to trick him by asking a question that only a true prophet would be able to answer. The story of Yusuf and his brothers, was one that was not heard of, as the people of Makkeh held no knowledge of this story. Also translated as Joseph (son of Jacob) it was known to the Christian and Jewish cultures and not heard of by the Quraysh. To recite this story would show true prophecy, but people had no faith that Muhammad would possess this gift. When Muhammad was questioned, he revealed through his revelation all his knowledge about the untold story. Following the hardships faced within the city of Makkah, the story of Yusuf was later revealed to uplift people’s spirits. They questioned, “O messenger of Allah, why don’t you tell us the stories of those before us who also suffered?” This was a time of abrupt chaos as the Muslims were being persecuted and later forced to leave. This posed as the second conclusion to the revelation.
It has been narrated by Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, a great grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, that the individual who recites Surah Yusuf during every day or during every night will be resurrected on the Day of Judgement with beauty resembling the beauty of Yusuf. He will not fear the Day of Judgement and will be among the best of the believers.
Prophet Muhammad is reported to have encouraged the teaching of Surah Yusuf to slaves, claiming that “whenever a Muslim recites it and teaches it to his family and slaves, Allah would ease for him the pangs of death and make it so that no Muslim would envy him”.
Major themes in Sura Yusuf
The faith of the Prophets
The faiths of the Prophets before Muhammad were the same as his. Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), Ishaaq (Isaac), Ya’qoob (Jacob) and Yusuf (Joseph) invited the people to the same message as Muhammad.
Character of a Muslim
- Has awareness of Allah and accountability of one’s deeds
- Pursues one’s goals while remaining under the limits prescribed by the Divine Law
- Believes that success and failure are entirely in the hands of God, whatever Allah wills happens and no one can prevent it
- Applies their efforts towards the truth and puts one’s trust in Allah
Confidence and courage
Through out the story of Yusuf, Allah taught the believers that a person who possesses true Islamic character can master the world with the strength of their character. The example of the Prophet Yusuf shows that a person of high and pure character can overcome severe circumstances and be successful.
Objectives of this Surah
- 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 Makah) 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”.