Last week I followed the linear events of Surah Yusuf up until ayah 57. We saw Joseph guided by God through favorable and unfavorable seasons, ultimately leading to his appointment to a position in Pharaoh’s court. Throughout these times Joseph was sustained by divine inspiration from God that protected him from fear, sin, and doubt. That first half concluded with a two-ayat epilogue which connected Joseph’s worldly ascendancy with God’s promise to never neglect rewarding people’s goodness, and also gave a reminder that the after-life will provide the ultimate reward for those who hold the right beliefs and attitudes for God.
Although living out his earthly reward, Joseph still has two divine revelations to see fulfilled –one in which his family bows before him, and another in which he gets to indict his brothers of their sins. In this second half of the narrative, Joseph is going to become more active in God’s plan. Whereas before he survived trials while sustained by divine inspiration, now his divine inspiration is going to show up implicitly as he uses his new political power to bring God’s promises into fruition.
If I’ve complained about repetition in the last two suwar, Surah Yusuf is the answer. If I’ve ever complained about the scatterplot layout of material in the Quran, Surah Yusuf is the answer. Today’s surah deliberately and entirely focuses on a narrative telling of one person, Joseph (Yusuf) the son of Jacob. The first three ayat are almost endearing, as God winds Muhammad up by telling him that he is getting “the best of stories in what We have revealed to you.”
Now, the Biblical story of Joseph can be found in Genesis 37, 39-50. It has the benefit of luxurious length, fuller detail, and the context of its preceding history. From a literary standpoint I would call it the most narratively and emotionally satisfying story in the Bible. Surah Yusuf shares with the Genesis account the timeline points: dream of future ascendancy, betrayal by jealous brothers, enslavement in Egypt, jailed on false pretenses after rejecting attentions of his master’s wife, interprets dreams, gains place in Pharoah’s court for his wisdom and insight, tests brothers but ultimately refuses chance of avenging past wrongs, reunites and protects entire family. The details in almost every point are so different in the surah that the characters are quite changed in its telling. In my next two posts I am going to walk through the story blow-by-blow in order to think through those details.
I’d encourage you to read both accounts for yourselves. The surah is only 111 ayat and it’s shorter to read the surah itself than my analysis. One reason that I’m doing this blog is that I was tired of reading about the Quran and wanted to get direct with the materials. This blog is just my processing of those materials. That being said, I know by writing this that I’m just perpetuating the cycle of more people reading about the Quran and borrowing someone else’s opinions. I’m thankful that you’re reading my opinions! But I still would hope that you’re testing mine with your own.
Surah [of the Prophet] Hud (123 ayat long) has been a little bit of a stumbling block in my writing cycle. In here we find the same sequence of early prophets lined out in Surah al-A’raf, and which I glossed through in this post. This repetition means that I don’t have large quantities of new material to tell you. Because I know that not many of you are reading through the Quran yourselves, I cannot not summarize the bulk of today’s content. Thus I’ve been stuck trying to come up with content that is minimally redundant and yet thorough. On the plus side, this quandary has forced me to rest on this surah and look longer at it, which is one of the reasons why I find blogging my experiences with the Quran so useful. If I was just reading the book straight through by myself, I definitely would just glaze over this surah and push forward for something more drastically interesting. Having to develop a presentable opinion and impression brings me at least a little closer to the people who read this surah ritually over and over again and delve out meaning.
While al-A’raf skimped on the earlier prophets and spent most of its time on Moses, Hud will inverse the emphasis by glossing Moses’s account and telling more about the people before. This will provide us with more details and a few more themes, particularly about who is saved and how faith shapes relationships. As for general context, this surah comes from the Meccan phase and includes the basic Meccan themes: the perfectness of the Quran, the worship of The God, the reality of judgement, the pagans’ disbelief.