Overview - Surah 12: Yusuf (Joseph)

Surah Introduction

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The basic theme of the Surah is to emphasize that all Prophets were human beings and their messages were similar. They were also highly moral beings. This is the way all believers should be. The Prophets trusted in Allah and in the end Allah's plans did succeed.


  1. Prophet Yusuf's dream
  2. Prophet Yusuf suffered the bad treatment of his brothers.
  3. Prophet Yusuf was sold in Egypt, his firmness in piety against the temptations
  4. Prophet Yusuf in prison.
  5. Prophet Yusuf preaches to the inmates.
  6. The King's dream and Prophet Yusuf’s interpretation.
  7. Prophet Yusuf was cleared of the false charges against his character. He became a high official in Egypt.
  8. The famine in Palestine brought Prophet Yusuf's brothers to Egypt.
  9. Prophet Yusuf meets his real brother
  10. Prophet Yusuf disclosed his identity to his brothers.
  11. Prophet Jacob's family comes to Egypt. Prophet Yusuf honors his parents and forgives his brothers.
  12. In the histories of the Prophets there are many lessons for us to learn and follow.

This Surah, like the previous 2, is named after a Prophet – in this case, Yusuf [Joseph].

There are 111 Ayat in this Surah.


Total Ayat111
Total Words *1777
Root Words *347
Unique Root Words *22
Makki / MadaniMakki
Chronological Order* 53rd (according to Ibn Abbas)
Year of Revelation* 8th year of Prophethood
Events during/before this Surah*
Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 2, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 1, 2nd Migration to Abyssinia, Physical beating and torture of some Muslims - 1st Migration of Muslims to Abyssinia, Public Invitation to Islam - Persecution of Muslims; antagonism - ridicule - derision - accusation - abuse and false propaganda., Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam
Events during/after still to occur*
Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 3,Death of Abu Talib - Death of Khadijah - Stoning at Ta'if - al-Isra wal Mi'raj - Night Journey,1st Pledge of Aqabah,2nd Pledge of Aqabah,,Migration from Makkah to Madinah - Building of Masjid Nabi in Madinah - Treaty with Jews of Madinah - Marriage of Prophet to Aishah,Change of Qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah - Battle of Badr,Battle of Uhud,,Battle of Ahzab - Expedition of Banu Quraydhah,Treaty of Hudaiybiyah - Letters to Kings and Rulers,,Conquest of Makkah - Battle of Hunain,Hajj led by Abu Bakr - Expedition of Tabuk,Farewell Hajj by Prophet - Death of Prophet - End of Divine Revelation
Names of Prophets Mentioned
Ibrahim, Ishaq, Yaqub, Yusuf
Surah Index
Abraham, Adversity (patience during) , Iblis, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joseph (attempted seduction of) , Joseph (sold to an Egyptian) , Judgement (Day) , Knowledge, Knowledge (obligation upon man to obtain and impart) , Prayer (of Joseph) , Prophet (only mortal human) , Qur’an, Qur’an (revealed in Arabic) , Religion, Resurrection (of soul) , Revelation

Central Theme

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The story of Joseph is not a mere narrative but God uses it, as usual, for the propagation of the Message in the following ways:

Throughout the narrative, the Qur’an has made it clear that the faith of the Prophets Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph (God’s peace be upon them all) was the same as that of Prophet Muhammad and they invited the people to the same Message as Muhammad was inviting the Quraysh.

Then it places the characters of Prophet Jacob and Prophet Joseph side by side with the characters of the brothers of Joseph, the members of the trade caravan, the court dignitary, Al Aziz of Egypt, his wife, the women and the rulers of Egypt. It’s as if a silent question is posed to the reader to contrast the former characters moulded by Islam on the worship of One God and belief in the Hereafter, with the latter moulded by disbelief (Kufr) and ignorance and decide which of these two patterns you should emulate.

The Qur’an has used this story to bring forth another truth: God carries out whatever He wills and man can never change God’s plan or prevent it from happening. Nay, often man adopts a plan to carry out his evil designs but to his dismay he only finds that he has done something which is contrary to fulfilling his objectives and only conducive to the divine plan.

The brothers of Prophet Joseph cast him into the well, believing they had removed the obstacle which distracted their fathers love from them.  In fact they had only paved the way for the divine purpose of making him the ruler of Egypt, before whom they would eventually humble themselves. Likewise, the wife of Aziz had caused Prophet Joseph to be sent to prison, thus providing the opportunity for him to become the ruler of Egypt and for her to eventually confess her plot publicly and shame herself.

These are not the only examples which prove that if the whole world were united to bring about the down fall of one whom God willed to raise high it would never succeed. The plan that was devised by the brothers to degrade Prophet Joseph was only used by God for the success of Joseph (and for the humiliation and disgrace of his brothers). Equally, if God willed the downfall of someone, no amount of support could save him.

Moreover, the story contains other lessons for those who intend to follow the way of God. Firstly, it teaches that one should remain within the limits prescribed by the divine Law since success and failure is the decision of God. Therefore, if one adopts pure aims and lawful measures but fails, at least one will escape humiliation and disgrace. On the other hand, the one who adopts an impure aim and unlawful measures shall not only meet with humiliation and disgrace in the hereafter but also runs the risk of humiliation and disgrace in this world.

Secondly, it teaches us that those who exert themselves for the cause of truth and righteousness and entrust all their affairs to God, receive consolation and comfort from Him. This helps them face their opponents with confidence and courage and they do not lose heart when they encounter the apparently terrifying measures employed by their powerful enemies. They will persevere in their task without fear and trust the results to God.

Lastly, the greatest lesson in the story 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. The marvellous example of Prophet Joseph teaches us that a man of high and pure character comes out successful even in the most adverse circumstances. When Prophet Joseph was taken to Egypt, he was only a teenager of seventeen years, a foreigner, all alone, without any provisions and sold there as a slave. And the horrible condition of the slaves during that period is known to every student of history. He was then charged with a heinous moral crime and sent to prison for an indefinite term. But throughout this period of affliction, he reflected the highest moral qualities which raised him to the highest rank in the country. 

Connection of the name of the Surah and its Ayaat

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  • The story of Yusuf is mentioned completely in this Surah as a whole and his story is not repeated in any other Surah.  

Connection between the beginning and the ending of the Surah

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In the beginning of the Surah, Ayat 3 “We relate to you, [O Muhammad], the best of stories….” and the last Ayat  “There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding…..”

Manuscripts / Inscriptions

Connection of the Surah to the Surah before/after it

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The Virtues of the Surah

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Allah Almighty has described the story of Yusuf as ‘ahsan al-qasas’ – the best of stories – containg beneficial lessons in worldly and religious affairs, for the rulers, scholars, those being tested etc.

Ibn Kathir mentions a weak hadith that the Prophet is reported to have said, ‘“Teach your relatives Surah Yusuf, for any Muslim who recites it or teaches it to his family or right hand possess, Allah shall ease for him the agony of death, and give him the strength that will prevent him from envying a fellow Muslim."

Special Features of the Surah

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Important key and unique words of the Surah

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Total Word Count per Ayat (shows how many words per Ayat) *

Unique Root Words to this Surah only

22 unique root words that do not appear in any other Surah *

Top 10 Most Frequent Root Words used in this Surah

Root Word Frequency
in Surah
in Qur'an
ق و ل 79 1722
أ ل ه 44 2851
ع ل م 33 854
ك و ن 31 1390
أ ب و 28 117
إِلَّا 21 663
إِلَىٰ 20 742
أ خ و 19 96
ر ب ب 19 980
أ ت ي 19 549

Period of Revelation

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The subject matter of this Surah indicates that it was revealed during the last stage of the Prophet’s residence at Makkah when the Quraysh were considering the question of killing, exiling or imprisoning him. At that time, some of the disbelievers asked a question to test his claim to prophethood: “Why did the Israelites go to Egypt?” They knew that the story was not known to the Arabs, since there was no mention of it in their traditions, and the Prophet had never referred to any knowledge of it in the past. Therefore they expected that he would not be able to give a satisfactory answer or would evade it and enquire about it from the Jews, which would expose him as a fraud. Contrary to their expectations, God revealed the whole story of Prophet Joseph and the Prophet recited it on the spot. This put the Quraysh in a very awkward position because it not only foiled their scheme but also cautioned them to consider their behaviour and compare it to the treachery displayed by the brothers of Prophet Joseph.

The fact is that by applying this story to the conflict, 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 Quraysh conspired to kill the Prophet like the brothers of Prophet Joseph and he had to emigrate from Makkah to Madinah where he gained the same kind of power as Prophet Joseph had gained in Egypt. Again in the end the Quraysh had to humble themselves before him just like the brothers of Prophet Joseph when they humbly requested ‘Show mercy to us for God rewards richly those who show mercy’ (v. 88) and Prophet Joseph generously forgave them (even though he had complete power to wreak vengeance on them) saying ‘today no penalty shall be inflicted on you. May God forgive you: He is the greatest of all those who forgive’ (v. 92). The same story of mercy was repeated when after the conquest of Makkah the fallen Quraysh stood meekly before the Prophet who had the power to inflict vengeance on them for their cruelty towards him. But instead he merely asked them ‘What treatment do you expect from me now?’ They replied ‘You are a generous brother and the son of a generous brother’. At this he very generously forgave them, saying ‘I will give the same answer to your request that Joseph gave to his brothers: ‘. . . 'today no penalty shall be inflicted on you, you are forgiven.’

Background Reasons for Revelation

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Qurtubi mentions that the Jews asked the Prophet about the story of Yusuf and hence this surah was revealed.

Relevant Hadith

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Abdullah ibn Mas'ood said, "I was in Hims when some of the people asked me to recite the Qur'an to them. So I recited Surah Yusuf to them. One of the persons among the people said: By Allah, this is not how it has been sent down. I said: Woe upon you! By Allah, I recited it to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and he said to me: You have (recited) it well. I was talking with him (the man who objected to my recitation) that I sensed the smell of wine from him. So I said to him. Do you drink wine and belie the Book (of Allah)? You would not depart till I would whip you. So I lashed him according to the prescribed punishment (for the offence of drinking wine)." Sahih Muslim no. 1753


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  • Stories of the Prophets have been spread in different Surahs, the story of Yusuf only occurs in this surah. Only his name is mentioned in another surah, al-Ghafir 40:34
  • Hasad [jealousy] of people, albeit from family members.
  • Ihsan [perfection of faith] is mentioned a number of times in describing Yusuf.
  • The repurcussions of lying as in the case of the brothers of Yusuf and also the wife of al-Azeez.
  • The virtue of knowing the interpretation of dreams.
  • Trials and tribulations are part of the life of being a Prophet and those who follow their way.
  • The feelings a father has for his son is far stronger than a brothers have for each other. We learn this from قَالَ يَا بُنَيَّ لَا تَقْصُصْ رُؤْيَاكَ عَلَىٰ إِخْوَتِكَ فَيَكِيدُوا لَكَ كَيْدًا ۖ إِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لِلْإِنسَانِ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ "He said, "O my son, do not relate your vision to your brothers or they will contrive against you a plan. Indeed Satan, to man, is a manifest enemy." (12:5)
  • Virtue of forgiveness - Yusuf forgave his brothers despite them harming so much.
  • Dangers of despairing from the mercy of Allah.
  • Allah mentions what Yusuf said, وَقَدْ أَحْسَنَ بِي إِذْ أَخْرَجَنِي مِنَ السِّجْنِ وَجَاءَ بِكُم مِّنَ الْبَدْوِ مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزَغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي " And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from bedouin life after Satan had induced [estrangement] between me and my brothers...." (12:100) Yusuf does not mention here that Allah took him out of the well and saved him, as this could potentially humiliate his brothers, but rather mentions Allah saving him from Prison. We also learn that being freed from prison was one of the greatest blessings felt by Yusuf even though he was blessed with many others.
  • Surah Yusuf is one of the surahs which exclusively deal with one primary story whereas other similar surahs mention a number of stories in one surah
  • All Messengers were human beings.
  • Yusuf's prayer to live and die as a Muslim.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • It is made clear that, whatever Allah wills, He fulfills it, and no one can defeat His plan or prevent it from happening.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Moreover, the revelation of this Surah accomplished the following two objectives:
  • It provided proof of Muhammad's (pbuh) Prophethood, and that his knowledge was not based on mere hearsay, but was gained through revelation.
  • 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."

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