“The Most Beautiful of Stories”

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is God’s message to all humans in all times and in every situation of their lives. The absolute Oneness (Tawhid) of God is the Qur’an’s central message. This sacred Scripture deals with the realities of creation, human nature and history. An essential part of Muslim faith and practice is to regard the Qur’an as the guide to being God’s servant and doing God’s will in every aspect of life.

The Qur’an guides believers to their ultimate goal beyond life in this world and to prepare us for the life to come. The Qur’an’s ethical teachings provide the criteria to help believers distinguish between good and evil as well as standards that cultivate virtues. Likewise, the Qur’an’s economic and political teachings are guides for individuals and societies. Since the Qur’an is the basis for all aspects of a Muslim’s life, it is a spiritual source of serenity that enlightens Muslims as they make their ways to the Reality who is God.

In addition, Muslims regard the Qur’an as the most reliable resource to know the sacred history revealed about prophets and messengers of God whose stories still teach people, Muslims and others, ethical and spiritual lessons. All of these factors are present in Surah12, the Story of Yusuf.

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the living Word of God in which even every letter has a meaning. The Qur’an states that it was revealed in the Arabic language (12:2; 20:113; 39:28; 41:3; 42:7; 43:3), so that people can comprehend it better.[1] Arabic language is considered the closest to the original and primordial Semitic language. From this point of view, the Qur’an is the last revelation, and affirms the first revelation.[2] Besides its sacred presence and theophanic reality, the Arabic language also allows the multiple levels of meaning contained in the verses of the Qur’an (57:3), which are impossible to translate into another language fully.

Despite the fact that the content of the Qur’anic revelation quickly shifts attention to another concern in the various styles, the Qur’an remarkably forms inner unity and consistency in its entirety, and conveys its message eloquently. Due to the inimitability of its linguistic features and the construction of its contents, The Qur’an is considered to be the grandest miracle of Prophet Muhammad.

In order to illustrate its message, the Qur’an often uses the stories of earlier prophets, such as Edem/Adam, Nuh/Noah, Ibrahim/Abraham, Musa/Moses, and Isa/Jesus, who also appear in the Bible. One of them is the story of Prophet Joseph, the twelfth surah of the Qur’an, which is the longest and most continuous single narrative in the Qur’an. It is described as ‘the most beautiful of stories’ (ahsan al-kasas) in the Surah Yusuf (12:3). The general outline of Joseph/Yusuf’s story is common to both the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 37-50) and the Qur’an. However, there are substantial differences between the two versions of the story.

I analyze the two accounts of the story in terms of their contents, linguistic features, and functions in order to distinguish the Qur’anic selection of material and the treatment given to it from that of the Biblical approach to it.


[1] Citations from the Qur’an are from the Study Qur’an translation and from the Bible I use the New Revised Standard Version translation. The references for the Qur’an’s authenticity are .12:2; 20:113; 39:28; 41:3; 42:7; 43:3.

[2] Study Qur’an, pg. xxxi.

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