The Prophet Joseph; The Beauty of Soul

The whole Surah Yusuf (Joseph) revealed in the late Makkan period of Islam. The time of this revelation falls between the time known as the year of sorrow when the Prophet Muhammad lost his abiding supporters, his uncle Abu Talib and his wife Khadijah, one by another, and the time when the first and second pledges of loyalty and support of the Ansar, new Muslims of Madina, at ‘Aqabah; as the great event of theHijrat, the gradual migration of the Prophet and his companions to Madina, was approaching down.

Chronologically, this surah is placed as the third in a series of consecutive Surah 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 whose opening verses contain certain initial prefixed, the combination of alif,lam,ra, which are called the abbreviated letters “al-muqatta’at.” It should be noted that the Book (the Qur’an) is mentioned in all cases the abbreviated letters occur, and Surah Yusuf is one of them.

Like these six surahs which were also revealed toward the end of the Makkan period, Surah Yusuf too closely connected with the critical and threatening period of Prophet Muhammad’s life when he and his companions felt loneliness and the strains of isolation deeply. In order to understand the message of this surah better, it is important to know when it was revealed, so that the characters of Makkan Qur’an, which are reflected in the content, messages, and linguistic features of Surah Yusuf, may be seen in it. The name of Surah Yusuf comes from Prophet Yusuf /Joseph[1], who is the son of Ya’qub/Jacob, the grandson of Ishaq/Isaac, the great-grandson of Ibrahim/Abraham. He had to bear a series of trials and tribulations as did Prophet Muhammad.

In subject-matter, this surah is concerned primarily with relating the entire story of the prophet Yusuf, recapitulating his life and mission. Surah Yusuf is comprised 111 verses, and 100 of them are about the story of Yusuf. However, as Surah Yusuf focuses on the bold outline of the story of Yusuf, it does not concern with the specification of exact names, times, locations and quantities. It primarily concentrates on the historical, psychological, moral, and spiritual meaning to be drawn from it.

One of the reasons that it is described as “the most beautiful of stories” by the Qur’an may be that it contains the truths about both one’s religious life, such as the Oneness of God, the natures of prophets, being righteous or evil, being knowledgeable or ignorant, dream interpretation; and one’s worldly affairs, such as kingship, earthly trials and punishments, human love, travel, business transactions, social etiquette, politics, and human deception.[2]

It may also be noted here that along with the content, the language, and the eloquence of this surah, this description spontaneously reminds Prophet Yusuf, who is mostly associated with his exceptional physical beauty, and the beauty of his soul. As Prophet Muhammad stated, “Yusuf and his mother were given half of all the beauty in the world.”[3] It is narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari that when asked who is the most honorable in Allah’s sight, the Prophet Muhammad said, “…Yusuf, Allah’s Prophet, the son of Allah’s Prophet, the son of Allah’s Prophet, the son of Allah’s Khalil (i.e. Ibrahim).”[4]


[1] Outside Surah 12, Prophet Joseph is only referred to in 6:84 and 40:34 in the Qur’an.

[2] The Study Qur’an, pg. 591.

[3] Tabari

[4] Sahih al-Bukhari

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