Surat Yusuf is a single, complete unit with a clear Makkan character reflected in its subject matter, message, and ambience. It reflects the nature of the critical period in which it was revealed. Prophet Muhammad was enduring a time when he felt lonely and alienated from his social surroundings, and his followers felt the strains of isolation. With the revelation of this surah, God tells His noble Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) the story of a noble brother, one Yusuf (Joseph) ibn Ya`qub (Jacob) ibn Ishaq (Isaac) ibn Ibrahim (Abraham) (peace be upon them all).
Yusuf too had to endure a series of tests and trials: first, his brothers schemed to get rid of him, then he was thrown into the well where he found himself in fear of his life. This was followed by his becoming a slave sold like an inanimate object, having no say in the matter and losing all the care and love of his parents. He then faced temptation and seduction, followed by the wicked scheming of his master’s wife and her fellow women. He then had to endure long imprisonment after having lived comfortably in a palace. A change of fortunes then saw him in a position of power where he had full control of people’s basic food requirements and their lives. He subsequently faced a trial of a totally different nature when he met his brothers whose plot against him had started this whole scenario.
Throughout, however, Yusuf remained a steadfast believer, using these trials to propagate the divine message. He emerged triumphant at the end, reunited with his parents and family, witnessing the realization of his early dream in perfect relief:
[Joseph said to his father: ‘Father, I saw in a dream eleven stars, as well as the sun and the moon; I saw them prostrate themselves before me.] (Yusuf 12:4)
At this point, all Yusuf’s thoughts and concerns are focused on turning to God, his Lord, with pure devotion and dedication, giving little importance to worldly considerations:
[When they all presented themselves before Joseph, he drew his parents to himself, saying: “Enter Egypt in peace, if it so pleases God.” And he raised his parents to the highest place of honor, and they fell down on their knees, prostrating themselves before him. He said: “Father, this is the real meaning of my dream of long ago. My Lord has made it come true. He has been gracious to me, releasing me from prison, and bringing you all from the desert after Satan had sown discord between me and my brothers. My Lord is gracious in whatever way He wishes. He is All-Knowing, truly Wise. My Lord, You have given me power and imparted to me some understanding of the real meaning of statements. Originator of the heavens and the earth. You are my guardian in this world and in the life to come. Let me die as one who has surrendered himself to You, and admit me among the righteous.”] (Yusuf 12:99-101)
This was his ultimate request at the moment when he was in a position of power and affluence, reunited with his family. All he wanted was that God should let him die in a state of complete self-surrender to Him and to admit him among the righteous. To him, this was the crowing jewel after long series of trials, endurance, and then triumph.