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Period of Revelation and Why Revealed

This Surah was revealed during the last stage of the Prophet's residence at Makkah. It was a time when the Qureysh were considering the question of killing, exiling, or imprisoning him. The Jews instigated the unbelievers to test the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) by asking him: "Why did the Israelites go to Egypt?" The history of the Israelites was not known to the Arabs, and the Prophet had no means knowing their traditions. Therefore, they thought that the Prophet would not be able to give a satisfactory answer, and thus, would be totally exposed. But, contrary to their expectations, the tables were turned on them, when Allah revealed the whole story of the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) then and there. To their astonishment, the Prophet recited it to them on the spot. This put the Qureysh in a very awkward position because, it not only ruined their scheme, but also warned them by applying the example of Yusuf's brothers to their case, as to say, "As you are behaving towards this Prophet, exactly in the same way the brothers of the Prophet Yusuf behaved towards him; therefore, you should expect to meet with the same end."

Major Issues, Divine Laws, and Guidance
  1. All Rasools were human beings.
  2. Yusuf's prayer to live and die as a Muslim.
  3. The faith of Prophets Ibrahim (Abraham), Ishaq (Isaac), Ya'qoob (Jacob) and Yusuf (Joseph), may Allah's peace be upon them all, was the same as that of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and they invited the people to the same Message to which Muhammad (pbuh) was inviting them.
  4. Characters moulded by Islam (based on the worship of Allah and accountability in the hereafter) are compared to characters moulded by disbelief and ignorance (based on the worship of false gods and the material world). Then the addressees are asked to decide for themselves between these two patterns.
  5. It is made clear that, whatever Allah wills, He fulfills it, and no one can defeat His plan or prevent it from happening.
  6. The believers are advised to remain within the limits prescribed by Divine Law while pursuing their aims, because success and failure are entirely in the hands of Allah.
  7. The believers are advised to exert their efforts towards the Truth and put their trust in Allah. This will help them face their opponents with confidence and courage.
  8. Allah taught the believers through this story that one who possesses true Islamic character can conquer the world with the strength of his character. The marvellous example of the Prophet Yusuf shows how a man of high and pure character comes out successful even under the most adverse circumstances.
  9. Moreover, the revelation of this Surah accomplished the following two objectives:
    1. It provided proof of Muhammad's (pbuh) Prophethood, and that his knowledge was not based on mere hearsay, but was gained through revelation.
    2. It applied the theme of this story to the Qureysh and warned them that ultimately the conflict between them and the Prophet would end in his victory over them. As is stated in verse 7: "Indeed there are signs in this story of Yusuf and his brothers for the inquirers from among the Qureysh."

In fact, by applying this story to the conflict between the Prophet and the Qureysh, the Qur'an had made a bold and clear prophecy which was fulfilled literally by the events that happened in the succeeding ten years. Hardly two years had passed after its revelation when the Qureysh, like the brothers of the Prophet Yusuf, conspired to kill the Prophet forcing him to emigrate from Makkah to Al-Madinah, where he gained power similar to that gained by the Prophet Yusuf in Egypt. Again, in the end, the Qureysh had to humble themselves before him just as the brothers of the Prophet Yusuf humbly requested, "Show mercy to us for Allah rewards richly those who show mercy," (Verse 88) and the Prophet Yusuf generously forgave them - though he had complete power to inflict his vengeance upon them. He said: "Today no penalty shall be inflicted on you. May Allah forgive you. He is the greatest of all those who forgive." (Verse: 92) The same story of mercy was repeated when, after the conquest of Makkah, the defeated Qureysh stood meekly before the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who had full power to inflict his vengeance upon them for each and every cruelty committed by them. But instead, he merely asked them: "What treatment do you expect from me?" They replied, "You are a generous brother and the son of a generous brother." At this, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forgave them very generously, saying: "I am giving the same answer to your request that Yusuf gave to his brothers: "Today, no penalty shall be inflicted upon you: you are forgiven."