Reasons behind the Revelation of the Story of Joseph in the Qur’an

Although it is the fact that the Qur’an addresses all times, its verses were revealed at a certain time and in specific circumstances. In order to understand the message of the Qur’an properly, it is crucial to have the knowledge about the reasons of the revelations called asbab al-nuzul, and distinguish the historical events from the events that have broader implications by clarifying these events and circumstances. In this sense, we take a look at the reports about asbab al-nuzul of the story of Yusuf in this section.

The whole surah was revealed in Makkah. The first three verses emphasize that “it is a revelation from on high, in Arabic, refuting the idolaters’ accusation that a non-Arab taught it to the Prophet.

They state that prior to receiving this revelation, the Prophet was totally unaware of its message and the subject it addressed.” According to the report of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Mafatih al-ghayb, the story of Yusuf has been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad when “the some Jewish scholars in Makkah had persuaded the Makkan idolaters to ask the Prophet about certain details pertaining to Joseph’s life and legacy.”

Another report on the reason behind the revelation of (Q, 12:3) is that Ibn Jarir At-Tabari recorded that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas said, “They said, ‘O, Allah’s Messenger! Why not narrate to us stories?’ Later on, this Ayah was revealed:

‘We relate unto you the best of stories…’ ”  

There is another relevant hadith that Imam Ahmad recorded a narration from Jabir bin ‘Abdullah that “ ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab came to the Prophet with a book that he took from some of the People of the Book. ‘Umar began reading it to the Prophet who became angry. He said,

‘Are you uncertain about it Ibn al-Khattab? By the One in Whose Hand is my soul! I have come to you with it white and pure. Do not ask them about anything, for they might tell you something true and you reject it, or they might tell you something false and you believe it. By the One in Whose Hand is my soul! If Musa were living, he would have no choice but to follow me.’ ”

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