Published on 09 Feb 2014 | over 3 years ago
Yūsuf ibn Yaʿqūb ibn Isḥāq ibn Ibrāhīm (estimated to have lived in the 16th century BCE  Arabic: يوسف) is an Islamic prophet found in the Qurʾān, the holy scripture of Islam. The figure corresponds to a character from the Jewish religious scripture, the Tanakh and the Christian Bible. It is one of the common names in the Middle East and among Muslim nations. Of all of Jacob's children, Joseph was the one given the gift of prophecy. Although the narratives of other prophets are mentioned in various suras, the complete narrative of Joseph is given only in one sura, Yusuf, making it unique. It is said to be the most detailed narrative in the Qur'an and bears more details than the Biblical counterpart.
Yusuf is believed to have been the eleventh son of Jacob (Yaʿqūb), and, according to many scholars, was his favorite. According to Ibn Kathir, "Jacob had twelve sons who were the eponymous ancestors of the tribes of the Israelites. The most noble, the most exalted, the greatest of them was Joseph." Of all of Jacob's children, most scholars believe that Joseph was the one given the gift of prophecy. The story begins with Joseph revealing a dream to his father, which Jacob recognizes as a vision. In addition to the role of God in his life, the story of Yusuf and Zulaikha (Potiphar's wife of the Old Testament) became a popular subject in Persian literature, where it became considerably elaborated over the centuries.
The story of Joseph in the Qurʾān, a continuous narrative, is considered one the most beautifully written suras. There are less than one hundred verses but they encompass many years and "present an amazing variety of sciences and characters in a tightly-knit plot, and offer a dramatic illustration of some of the fundamental themes of the Qurʾān." The Qurʾān itself relates to us the importance of the story in the third verse: "and We narrate unto you the best (or most beautiful) of stories (aḥsan al-qeṣaṣ)." Most scholars believe this is referring to Joseph's story, while others, including Ṭabari, argue it is a reference to the Qurʾān as a whole. It documents the execution of God's rulings despite the challenge of human intervention ("And Allah hath full power and control over His affairs; but most among mankind know it not."
This is what the story of Yūsuf confirms categorically, for it ends with comfort and marvels, which is described in Qurʾān. Along with the story there is also some commentary from some leading scholars of Islam.
Joseph before the dream
Muhammad Ṭabari provides exquisite detail and commentary of this narrative in his chapter on Joseph relaying the opinions of well-known scholars. In Ṭabari's chapter, we are first introduced to the physical beauty of Joseph and his mother Rachel, in fact they are said to have had "more beauty than any other human being."  His father, Jacob, had given him to his oldest sister to be raised. Ṭabari comments that there was no greater love than what Joseph's aunt felt for him as she had raised him as her own. And she was very reluctant to give him back to Jacob and kept him until her death. The reason, according to Ṭabari, that she was able to do this was because of a belt that had been passed to her from her father, Isaac. Ṭabari notes "if someone else acquired it by guile from the person who was supposed to have it, then he would become absolutely subject to the will of the rightful owner."  This is important because Joseph's aunt puts the belt on Joseph when Jacob is absent and then accuses Joseph of stealing it and he thus stays with her until her death. Jacob was very reluctant to give up Joseph and thus favors him when they are together. This is commentary but, as is the profession of commentators, this provides an interesting set up to Joseph's personal story and also lays a foundation for a future interaction with his brothers, particularly Benjamin.
The story begins with a dream and ends with its interpretation. As the sun appeared over the horizon, bathing the earth in its morning glory, Joseph, son of Jacob awoke from his sleep, delighted by a pleasant dream he had. Filled with excitement he ran to his father and reported what he had seen.
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