ACCORDING to all the authoritative sources, this surah was revealed in its entirety in Mecca, almost immediately after the preceding one. The contention of some of the early commentators that the first three verses were revealed at Medina is, in the words of Suyuti, "entirely baseless and cannot be seriously considered".

The story of the Prophet Joseph, as narrated in the Qur'an, agrees in the main, but not completely, with the Biblical version (Genesis xxxvii and xxxix-xlvi); the more important differences between the two accounts are pointed out in my notes. But what distinguishes the Qur'anic treatment of the story in a deeper sense is its spiritual tenor: contrary to the Bible, in which the life of Joseph is presented as a romantic account of the envy to which his youthful innocence is first exposed, of the vicissitudes which he subsequently suffers, and, finally, of his worldly triumph over his brothers, the Qur'an uses it primarily as an illustration of God's unfathomable direction of men's affairs -an echo of the statement that "it may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know'.' (2: 216). The whole of this surah might be described as a series of variations on the theme "judgment [as to what is to happen] rests with none but God", explicitly enunciated only in verse 67, but running like an unspoken leitmotif throughout the story of Joseph.


(1) Alif. Lam. Rd.'

THESE ARE MESSAGES of a revelation clear in itself and clearly showing the truth :2 (2) behold, We have bestowed it from on high as a discourse in the Arabic tongue, so that you might encompass it with your reason.'

(3) In the measure that We reveal" this Qur'an unto

thee, [O Prophet,] We explain it to thee in the best


1 See Appendix II.

2 The participial adjective mubin may denote an attribute of the noun which it qualifies ("clear", "manifest", "obvious", etc.) as well as its function ("making clear" or "manifesting", i.e., the truth), either of which meanings is dictated by its context. In the consensus of authoritative opinion, both these meanings are comprised in the above instance; consequently, a compound phrase is necessary in order to render the term appropriately.

3 This, according to Zamakhshari, is the meaning of la'allakum ta'gilun in the above context. Although they were in the first instance addressed to the Arabian contemporaries of the Prophet, these two verses apply to all people, whatever their origin, who understand the Arabic language. They are meant to impress upon everyone who listens to or reads the Qur'an that its appeal is directed, primarily, to man's reason, and that "feeling" alone can never provide a sufficient basis of faith. (See also 13 : 37 and 14: 4, as well as the corresponding notes.)

4 Or: "By Our having revealed".




possible way,' seeing that ere this thou wert indeed among those who are unaware [of what revelation is].'

(4) LO!' Thus spoke Joseph unto his father: "O my father! Behold, I saw [in a dream] eleven stars, as well as the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrate themselves before me!"

(5) [Jacob] replied: "O my dear son!$ Do not relate thy dream to thy brothers lest [out of envy] they devise an evil scheme against thee; verily, Satan is man's open foe!9 (6) For, [as thou hast been shown in thy dream,] even thus will thy Sustainer elect thee, and will impart unto thee some understanding of the inner meaning of happenings,'° and will bestow the








If 4sA Z

5 Lit., "with the best explanation (ahsan al-igtisds)". This rendering is very close to the interpretation given by Zamakhshari: "We set forth this Qur'an unto thee in the best way in which it could be set forth." According to Razi, it may safely be assumed that the adjective "best" refers not to the contents of "that which is set forth--i.e., the particular story narrated in this surah -but rather to the manner in which the Qur'an (or this particular surah) is set forth: and herein he agrees with Zamakhshari. It should be borne in mind that the verb gassa (the infinitive nouns of which are qasas and igtisas) signifies, primarily, "he followed step by step" or "by degrees", and, subsequently, "he related [a piece of news or a story] as though he followed its traces": hence, "he expounded [it] gradually" or "he explained [it]" (cf. Lane VII, 2526, quoting the Qdmas and the Tai al= Aras with specific reference to the above verse). If, on the other hand, the infinitive noun gasas is regarded as synonymous, in this context, with gissah ("story" or "narrative"), the above sentence might be rendered as "We narrate unto thee the best of narratives", i.e., the subsequent story of Joseph. In my opinion, however, the rendering "We explain it [i.e., the Qur'an] in the best possible way" is preferable inasmuch as it fully coincides with the two opening verses of this surah, which state, in effect, that the Qur'an is selfexplanatory.

6 At this point in his commentary, Razi draws the reader's attention to 42: 52 - "thou didst not know what revelation is, nor what faith [implies]": a passage similar in purport to the closing words of the above verse; hence my addition, between brackets, of the phrase "of what revelation is".

7 The particle idh is usually a time-reference, and can in most cases be translated as "when". Occasionally, however, it is used as a corroborative particle meant to draw the reader's (or hearer's) attention to the sudden occurrence of a thing (MughnF, Qdmas, Tdj al= Aras), or-as is often the case in the Qur'an-to a turn in the discourse: and in such instances it is suitably rendered as "lo" or "now".

8 See surah 11, note 65.

9 As in the Biblical account of Joseph's story, the Qur'an shows that Jacob did not fail to understand the meaning of his son's dream-vision of future greatness, with the eleven stars symbolizing his brothers, and the sun and the moon his parents. But whereas the Bible quotes the father as "rebuking" his son (Genesis xxxvii, 10) in the obvious assumption that the dream was an outcome of wishful thinking, the Qur'an makes it clear that Jacob - who was himself a prophet - at once realized its prophetic quality and its deeper implications.

10 Lit., "sayings". or "tidings" (ahddith). Most of the commentators assume that this refers specifically to Joseph's future ability to interpret dreams; but Razi points out that in this context the term hadfth (of which ahadith is the plural) may be synonymous with hadith ("something that newly comes into existence", i.e., "an event" or "a happening"). This is, to my mind, much more convincing than a mere reference to dream-interpretation, the more so as the term ta'wrl is often used in the Qur'an (e.g., in 3 : 7, 10: 39 or 18: 78) in the sense of "final meaning", "inner meaning" or "real meaning" of a happening or statement or thing, as distinct from its outward, prima-facie appearance. The use of the particle min ("of") before the term ta'wil indicates that absolute


full measure of His blessings upon thee and upon the House of Jacob -even as, aforetime, He bestowed it in full measure upon thy forefathers Abraham and Isaac. Verily, thy Sustainer is all-knowing, wise!"

(7) Indeed, in [the story of] Joseph and his brothers there are messages for all who search [after truth]."

(8) NOW [Joseph's brothers] spoke [thus to one another:] "Truly, Joseph and his brother [Benjamin] are dearer to our father than we, even though we are so many. 'Z Behold, our father is surely suffering from an aberration!""

(9) [Said one of them:] "Slay Joseph, or else drive him away to some [faraway] land, so that your father's regard may be for you alone: and after this is done, you will be [free to repent and to live once again as] righteous people!„"

(10) Another of them said: "Do not slay Joseph, but -rather - if you must do something - cast him into the dark depths of this well, [whence] some caravan may pick him up.""

(11) [On this they agreed; and thereupon] they spoke [thus to their father]: "O our father! Wherefore wilt thou not trust us with Joseph, seeing that we are indeed his well-wishers? (12) Let him go out with us tomorrow, that he may enjoy himself and play: and, verily, we shall guard him well!"

(13) [Jacob] answered: "Behold, it grieves me indeed [to think] that you might take him with you, for I dread lest the wolf devour him at a moment when you are heedless of him!"

(14) Said they: "Surely, if the wolf were to devour him notwithstanding that we are so many-then, behold, we ought ourselves to perish!"

(15) And so, when they went away with him, they decided to cast him into the dark depths of the well.


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knowledge of what a thing or event implies rests with God alone (cf. 3 : 7 - "none save God knows its final meaning"), and that even God's elect, the prophets-albeit their vision is much wider than that of ordinary men-are granted only a partial insight into the mysteries of God's creation. 11 Lit., "those who inquire".

12 Lit., "a company" or "group". Benjamin was Joseph's full brother-both being sons of Jacob's wife Rachel-whereas the other ten were only his half-brothers.

13 Lit., "is in most obvious error".

14 The phrase interpolated by me within brackets -reflecting the unconscious irony in the attitude of Joseph's brethren-is based on the consensus of most of the classical commentators.

15 Sc., "and take him with them to a faraway land" (cf. the preceding verse). The term jubb - rendered by me as "well" - is usually applied to a desert well simply cut through the earth

or through rock and not cased with stone: the implication being that this particular well did not

contain enough water to drown Joseph, but was deep enough to hide him from sight.




And We revealed [this] unto him: "Thou wilt yet remind them of this their deed at a time when they shall not perceive [who thou art] !"'6

(16) And at nightfall they came to their father, weeping, (17) [and] said: "O our father! Behold, we went off racing with one another, and left Joseph behind with our things; and thereupon the wolf devoured him! But [we know that] thou wouldst not believe us even though we speak the truth" - (18) and they produced his tunic with false blood upon it.

[But Jacob] exclaimed: "Nay, but it is your [own] minds that have made [so terrible] a happening seem a matter of little account to you!" But [as for myself,] patience in adversity is most goodly [in the sight of God]; and it is to God [alone] that I pray to give me strength to bear the misfortune which you have described to me."'s

(19) AND THERE CAME a caravan;'9 and they sent forth their drawer of water, and he let down his bucket into the well - [and when he saw Joseph] he exclaimed: "Oh, what a lucky find,' this boy!"

And they hid him with a view to selling him: but God had full knowledge of all that they were doing. (20) And they sold him for a paltry price - a mere few silver coins: thus low did they value him.

(21) And the man from Egypt who bought hiMZ' said to his wife: "Make his stay [with us] honourable; he may well be of use to us, or we may adopt him as

a son.

And thus We gave unto Joseph a firm place on earth; and [We did this] so that We might impart unto him some understanding of the inner meaning of happenings. For, God always prevails in whatever be His purpose: but most people know it not.












16 See verses 89-90 of this surah.

17 Apparently Jacob did not believe the tale of the wolf but, knowing his sons' envy of Joseph, at once realized that it was they themselves who had done grievous harm to him. Nevertheless - as is evident from Jacob's expression of hope in verse 83 of this surah -he was not quite convinced that Joseph was really dead.

18 Lit., "it is to God that I turn for aid against what you are describing".

19 According. to the Bible (Genesis xxxvii, 25), they were "Ishmaelites" - i.e., Arabs - who "came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt". (Gilead is the Biblical name for the region east of the Jordan.)

20 Lit., "O good news!"

21 The Qur'an does not mention his name or position; but a later reference to him (in verse 30 below) as al= azfz ("the great [or "mighty"] one") points to his having been a high official or a nobleman.

22 See note 10 above.




(22) And when he reached full manhood, We bestowed upon him the ability to judge [between right and wrong], as well as [innate] knowledge: for thus do We reward the doers of good.

(23) And [it so happened that] she in whose house he was living [conceived a passion for him and] sought to make him yield himself unto her; and she bolted the doors and said, "Come thou unto me!"

[But Joseph] answered: "May God preserve me! Behold, goodly has my master made my stay [in this house]! Verily, to no good end come they that do [such] wrong!"

(24) And, indeed, she desired him, and he desired her; [and he would have succumbed] had he not seen [in this temptation] an evidence of his Sustainer's truth:' thus [We willed it to be] in order that We might avert from him all evil and all deeds of abomination -for, behold, he was truly one of Our servants.'"

(25) And they both rushed to the door; and she [grasped and] rent his tunic from behind-and [lo!] they met her lord at the door!

Said she: "What ought to be the punishment of one who had evil designs on [the virtue of] thy wife - [what] but imprisonment or a [yet more] grievous chastisement?"

(26) [Joseph] exclaimed: "It was she who sought to make me yield myself unto her!"

Now one of those present, a member of her own household, suggested this: "If his tunic has been torn from the front, then she is telling the truth, and he is a liar; (27) but if his tunic has been torn from behind, then she is lying, and he is speaking the truth."

(28) And when (her husband] saw that his tunic was


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23 The interpolated phrase "and he would have succumbed", is, according to Zamakhsharl, implied in the above sentence. In his commentary on this verse, he further points out that the moral significance of "virtue" consists in one's inner victory over a wrongful desire, and not in the absence of such a desire. Cf. the well-known saying of the Prophet, recorded, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, by Bukharl and Muslim: "God, exalted be He, says: 'If a servant of Mine [merely] desires to do a good deed, I shall count this [desire] as a good deed; and if he does it, I shall count it tenfold. And if he desires to commit a bad deed, but does not commit it, I shall count this as a good deed, seeing that he refrained from it only for My sake..."' -i.e., in consequence of a moral consideration (which, in the present instance, is described as "an evidence of God's truth").

24 Lit., "he was among Our sincere servants".

25 Lit., "a present one (shdhid) from her household testified" - i.e., suggested a test on these lines. Here, again, the Qur'anic narrative differs from the story as told in the Bible, since according to the latter (Genesis xxxix, 19-20), the husband immediately believed the false accusation and cast Joseph into prison; the episodes related in verses 26-34 of this surah do not appear in the Biblical account.


torn from behind, he said: "Behold, this is [an instance] of your guile, O womankind! Verily, awesome is your guile! (29) [But,] Joseph, let this pass!Z6 And thou, [O wife,] ask forgiveness for thy sin-for, verily, thou hast been greatly at fault!"

(30) NOW the women of the city spoke [thus to one another]: "The wife of this nobleman is trying to induce her slave-boy to yield himself unto her! Her love for him has pierced her heart; verily, we see that she is undoubtedly suffering from an aberration!"r (31) Thereupon, when she heard of their malicious talk, she sent for them, and prepared for them a sumptuous repast, and handed each of them a knife and said [to Joseph]: "Come out and show thyself to them!"

And when the women saw him, they were greatly amazed at his beauty,' and [so flustered were they that] they cut their hands [with their knives], exclaiming, "God save us! This is no mortal man! This is nought but a noble angel!"

(32) Said she: "This, then, is he about whom you have been blaming me! And, indeed, I did try to make him yield himself unto me, but he remained chaste. Now, however, if he does not do what I bid him, he shall most certainly be imprisoned, and shall most certainly find himself among the despised!"

(33) Said he: "O my Sustainer! Prison is more desirable to me than [compliance with] what these women invite me to: for, unless Thou turn away their guile from me, I might yet yield to their allure 3' and become one of those who are unaware [of right and wrong]."

(34) And his Sustainer responded to his prayer, and freed him from the threat of their guile :32 verily, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing. (35) For, presently it













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26 Lit., "turn aside from this". According to almost all the commentators, the meaning is, "do not mention this to anyone", the implication being that the husband was prepared to forgive and forget.

27 Lit., "we see her indeed in obvious error".

28 The expression muttaka'-lit., "a place where one reclines [while eating]", i.e., a "cushioned couch" - seems to have been used here tropically to denote a "luxurious [or "sumptuous"]


29 Lit., "they deemed him [i.e., his beauty] great". 30 Lit., "become one of those who are humiliated".

31 Lit., "incline towards them"; it should, however, be borne in mind that the verb sabd combines the concepts of inclination, yearning and amorous indulgence (cf. Lane IV, 1649); hence my rendering.

32 Lit., "turned away their guile from him".




occurred to the nobleman and his household 33 _ [even] after they had seen all the signs [of Joseph's innocence] - that they might as well imprison him for a time."

(36) NOW two young men happened to go to prison at the same time as Joseph.

One of them said: "Behold, I saw myself [in a dream] pressing wine."

And the other said: "Behold, I saw myself [in a dream] carrying bread on my head, and birds were eating thereof."

[And both entreated Joseph:] "Let us know the real meaning of this! Verily, we see that thou art one of those who know well [how to interpret dreams]."36

(37) [Joseph] answered: "Ere there comes unto you the meal which you are [daily] fed, I shall have informed you of the real meaning of your dreams,;' [so that you might know what is to come] before it comes unto you: for this is [part] of the knowledge which my Sustainer has imparted to me.

"Behold, I have left behind me the ways of people who do not believe in God,'s and who persistently refuse to acknowledge the truth of the life to come; (38) and I follow the creed of my forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is not conceivable that we should [be allowed to] ascribe divinity to aught beside God: this is [an outcome] of God's bounty unto us and unto all mankind" -but most people are ungrateful.



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33 Lit., "it occurred to them".

34 Thus, according to the Qur'an, Joseph was imprisoned not because his master believed him to be guilty, but because, in his weakness, he wanted to appease his wife, "being entirely submissive to her, and behaving like a riding-camel whose reins she held in her hand" (Zamakhsharl).

35 Lit., "entered the prison with him". According to the Biblical account (not contradicted by the Qur'an), they were the King's cup-bearer and baker, both of them imprisoned for unspecified offences.

36 This is the meaning given by Baghawi, Zamakhshari and Baydawi to the expression al-muhsinfn in the above context, adopting the tropical use of the verb ahsana in the sense of "he knew [something]" or "he knew [it] well". Thus, the Qur'an indicates here in its elliptic manner that Joseph's reputation for wisdom and dream-interpretation preceded him to prison.

37 Lit., "the real meaning thereof".

38 Joseph wants to avail himself of this opportunity to guide his two fellow-prisoners towards the true faith; and so, while promising that he would explain their dreams presently, he asks them to listen first to a short discourse on the oneness of God.

39 Since God is almighty and self-sufficient, it is not for His sake that man is warned not to ascribe divine qualities to aught beside Him: the absolute condemnation of this sin is solely designed to benefit man by freeing him from all superstition, and thus enhancing his dignity as a conscious, rational being.




(39) "O my companions in imprisonment! Which is more reasonable:' [belief in the existence of numerous divine] lords, each of them different from the other"' -or [in] the One God, who holds absolute sway over all that exists?

(40) "All that you worship instead of God is nothing but [empty] names which you have invented' - you and your forefathers- [and] for which God has bestowed no warrant from on high. Judgment [as to what is right and what is wrong] rests with God alone-[and] He has ordained that you should worship nought but Him: this is the [one] ever-true faith; but most people know it not °'

(41) "[And now,] O my companions in imprisonment, [I shall tell you the meaning of your dreams:] as for one of you two, he will [again] give his lord [the King] wine to drink; but as for the other, he will be crucified, and birds will eat off his head. [But whatever be your future,] the matter on which you have asked me to enlighten you has been decided [by God]."

(42) And [thereupon Joseph] said unto the one of the two whom he considered saved: "Mention me unto thy lord [when thou art free]!"

But Satan caused him to forget to mention [Joseph] to his lord, and so he remained in prison a few [more] years.















(43) AND [one day] the King said:" "Behold, I saw [in a dream] seven fat cows being devoured by seven emaciated ones, and seven green ears [of wheat] next to [seven] others that were withered. O you nobles!

40 Lit., "better", obviously in the sense of "better conforming to the demands of reason".

41 The expression mutafarrigan connotes plurality ds well as separateness-in this context, separateness in respect of qualities, functions and degrees.

42 Lit., "names which you have named" -i.e., "figments of your own imagination".

43 Cf. the last sentence of 30: 30.

44 This king seems to have been one of the six Hyksos rulers who dominated Egypt from about 1700 to 1580 B.C., after having invaded the country from the east by way of the Sinai Peninsula. The name of this dynasty, which was undoubtedly of foreign origin, is derived from the Egyptian hiq shasu or heku shoswet, meaning "rulers of nomad lands", or - according to the late Egyptian historian Manetho - "shepherd kings": all of which points to their having been Arabs who, despite

the fact that before their invasion of Egypt they were already well-established in Syria, had to a

large extent preserved their bedouin mode of life. This would explain the confidence which the king mentioned in this story was later to place in Joseph, the Hebrew, and the subsequent settlement of the latter's family (and, thus, of what in due course became the Israelite nation) in Egypt: for it must be borne in mind that the Hebrews, too, descended from one of the many bedouin tribes who some centuries earlier had migrated from the Arabian Peninsula to Mesopotamia and later to Syria (cf. sarah 7, note 48); and that the language of the Hyksos must have been very akin to Hebrew, which, after all, is but an ancient Arabian dialect.




Enlighten me about [the meaning of] my dream, if you are able to interpret dreams!"

(44) They answered: "[This is one of] the most involved and confusing of dreams,' and we have no deep knowledge of the real meaning of dreams."

(45) At that, the one of the two [erstwhile prisoners] who had been saved, and [who suddenly] remembered [Joseph] after all that time,° spoke [thus]: "It is I who can inform you of the real meaning of this [dream]; so let me go [in search of


(46) [And he went to see Joseph in the prison and said to him:] "Joseph, O thou truthful one! Enlighten us about [the meaning of a dream in which] seven fat cows were being devoured by seven emaciated ones, and seven green ears [of wheat appeared] next to [seven] others that were withered - so that I may return [with thy explanatiion] unto the people [of the court, and] that they may come to know [what'manner of man thou art]!"

(47) [Joseph] replied: "You shall sow for seven years as usual; but let all [the grain] that you harvest remain [untouched] in its ear, excepting only a little, whereof you may eat: (48) for, after that [period of seven good years] there will come seven hard [years] which will devour all that you shall have laid up for them, excepting only a little of that which you shall have kept in store. (49) And after that there will come a year in which the people will be delivered from all distress," and in which they will press [oil and wine as before]."

(50) And [as soon as Joseph's interpretation. was conveyed to him,] the King said: "Bring him before me!"

But when the [King's] messenger came unto him, [Joseph] said: "Go back to thy lord and ask him [first to find out the truth] about those women who cut their hands-for, behold, [until now it is] my Sustainer [alone who] has full knowledge of their guile!" (51) [Thereupon the King sent for those women;

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45 Lit., "confusing medleys (adghath) of dreams".

46 According to almost all the authorities, the noun ummah denotes here "a time" or "a long period of time".

47 The cup-bearer obviously addresses the assembly as a whole, and not the King alone: hence the plural "you".

48 Or: "will be granted rain"-depending on whether one connects the verbal form yughath with either of the infinitive nouns ghayth ("rain") or ghawth ("deliverance from distress"). Although the crops of Egypt depend entirely on the annual Nile floods, the water-level of the river is, in its turn, contingent upon the quantity of rainfall at its upper reaches.




and when they came,] he asked: "What was it that you hoped to achieve when you sought to make Joseph yield himself unto you?"`9

The women asnwered: "God save us! We did not perceive the least evil [intention] on his part!" [And] the wife of Joseph's former master" exclaimed: "Now has the truth come to light! It was I who sought to make him yield himself unto me - whereas he, behold, was indeed speaking the truth!" (52) [When Joseph learned what had happened, he said:` "I asked for] this, so that [my former master] might know that I did not betray him behind his back ,s2 and that God does not bless with His guidance the artful schemes of those who betray their trust. (53) And yet, I am not trying to absolve myself: for, verily, man's inner self does incite [him] to evil," and saved are only they upon whom my Sustainer bestows His grace .54 Behold, my Sustainer is muchforgiving, a dispenser of grace!"

(54) And the King said: "Bring him unto me, so that I may attach him to my own person."

And when he had spoken with him, [the King] said: "Behold, [from] this day thou shalt be of high standing with us, invested with all trust!"

(55) [Joseph] replied: "Place in my charge the store-houses of the land; behold, I shall be a good and knowing keeper. ,15









49 Evidently, the King wanted to find out whether they had previously been encouraged by Joseph, or whether he was truly innocent. The noun khatb denotes "something that one has in view" or "desires" or "seeks to obtain"; and so the expression and khatbukunna (lit., "what was it that you [really] had in view") may be suitably rendered as above.

50 Lit., "the wife of the great one (al= azrz)".

51 Some of the commentators (e.g., Ibn Kathir and, among the moderns, Rashid Rida' in Mandr XII, 323 f.) regard this and the next verse as a continuation of the woman's confession; but the great majority of the classical authorities, including Tabari, Baghawi and Zamakhsharl, attribute the speech that follows unequivocally -and, in my opinion, most convincingly-to Joseph: hence my interpolation at the beginning of this verse.

52 Lit., "in [his] absence" or "in secret" (bi'l-ghayb).

53 Lit., "is indeed wont to command [the doing of] evil"-i.e., is filled with impulses which often conflict with what the mind regards as a moral good. This is obviously a reference to the statement in verse 24 above - "she desired him, and he desired her; [and he would have succumbed,] had he not seen [in this temptation] an evidence of his Sustainer's truth" - as well as to Joseph's prayer in verse 33, "unless Thou turn away their guile from me, I might yet yield to their allure". (See also note 23 above.) Joseph's stress on the weakness inherent in human nature is a sublime expression of humility on the part of one who himself had overcome that very weakness: for, as the sequence shows, he attributes his moral victory not to himself but solely to the grace and mercy of God.

54 Lit., "except those upon whom...", etc. According to most of the commentators, the pronoun and (lit., "that which") is here synonymous with man ("he who" or "those who").

55 By making this request, Joseph wanted to assure an efficient build-up of grain reserves during the coming years of plenty, knowing well that they would be followed by seven years of scarcity.




(56) And thus We established Joseph securely in the land [of Egypt]: he had full mastery over it, [doing] whatever he willed.

[Thus do] We cause Our grace to alight upon whomever We will; and We do not fail to requite the doers of good. 16 (57) But in the eyes of those who have attained to faith and have always been conscious of Us, a reward in the life to come is a far greater good [than any reward in this world]."

(58) AND [after some years,] Joseph's brothers came [to Egypt]" and presented themselves before him: and he knew them [at once], whereas they did not recognize him.

(59) And when he had provided them with their provisions, he said: "[When you come here next,] bring unto me that brother of yours from your father's side.s9 Do you not see that I have given [you] full measure and have been the best of hosts? (60) But if you do not bring him unto me, you shall never again receive a single measure [of grain] from me, nor shall you [be allowed to] come near me!"

(61) They answered: "We shall try to persuade his father to part with him, and, verily, we shall do [our utmost]!"

(62) And [Joseph] said to his servants: "Place their merchandise' in their camel-packs, so that they may find it there when they come home, and hence be the more eager to return. -61

(63) And so, when they returned to their father, [Joseph's brothers] said: "O our father! All grain 62 is




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It is obvious from the sequence that his request was granted, and that he was able to fulfil the task which he had set himself.

56 I.e., sometimes in this world as well, but invariably in the hereafter, as the sequence shows.

57 Lit., "for those who have attained to faith...", etc.

58 Le., to buy wheat from the stores which Joseph had accumulated during the seven years of plenty: for all the countries in the vicinity of Egypt were by now affected by the famine which he had predicted, and Egypt alone had a surplus, the distribution of which he supervised personally (cf. Genesis x1i, 54-57).

59 Lit., "a brother of yours from your father"-i.e., their half-brother Benjamin, who was Joseph's full brother (their mother having been Rachel, Jacob's favourite wife), whereas the other ten had different mothers. Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob's children, had not accompanied his brothers on their first journey to Egypt, but they had presumably mentioned him in the course of their conversation with Joseph.

60 I.e., the goods which they had bartered for wheat (Ibn Kathir): a very plausible explanation in view of the fact that barter was the most common form of trade in those ancient times.

61 Lit., "so that they may perceive them when they come back to their family, [and] that they may return".

62 Lit., "measure [of grain]", here used metonymically in an allusion to Joseph's words (verse 60).


[to be] withheld from us [in the future unless we bring Benjamin with us]: send, therefore, our brother with us, so that we may obtain our measure (of grain]; and, verily, we shall guard him well!"

(64) [Jacob] replied: "Shall I trust you with him in the same wayb' as I trusted you with his brother (Joseph] aforetime? [Nay,] but God's guardianship is better [than yours], for He is the most merciful of the merciful!"

(65) Thereupon, wken they opened their packs, they discovered that their merchandise had been returned to them; [and] they said: "O our father! What more could we desire? Here is our merchandise: it has been returned to us! [If thou send Benjamin with us,] we shall (again] be able to bring food for our family, and shall guard our brother [well], and receive in addition another camel-load of grain' That [which we have brought the first time] was but a scanty measure."

(66) Said [Jacob]: "I will not send him with you until you give me a solemn pledge, before God, that you will indeed bring him back unto me, unless you yourselves be encompassed [by death]!"

And when they had given him their solemn pledge, [Jacob] said: "God is witness to all that we say!" (67) And he added: "O my sons! Do not enter [the city all] by one gate, but enter by different gates. Yet [even so,] I can be of no avail whatever to you against [anything that may be willed by] God: judgment [as to what is to happen] rests with none but God. In Him have I placed my trust: for, all who have trust [in His existence] must place their trust in Him alone."

(68) But although they entered [Joseph's city] in the way their father had bidden them, this proved of no avail whatever to them against [the plan of] God6' [His request] had served only to satisfy Jacob's heartfelt desire [to protect them]:6 for, behold,









63 Lit., "not otherwise than".

64 It would seem that Joseph used to allot to foreign buyers of grain one camel-load per person.

65 Probably in order not to attract undue attention in the foreign land and possibly fall prey to intrigues. See in this connection note 68 below.

66 Lit., "when".

67 As is shown in the sequence, they and their father were to suffer severe distress before their adventures came to a happy conclusion.

68 Lit., "it (i.e., his request that they should enter the city by different gates] had been but a desire in Jacob's heart (nafs), which he [thus] satisfied". In other words, when he gave his sons this advice, he followed only an instinctive, humanly-understandable urge, and did not really expect that any outward precaution would by itself help them: for, as he himself pointed out on




thanks to what We had imparted unto him, he was indeed endowed with the knowledge [that God's will must always prevailbl; but most people know it not.

AND WHEN [the sons of Jacob] presented themselves before Joseph, he drew his brother [Benjamin] unto himself, saying [to him in secret]: "Behold, I am thy brother! So grieve thou not over their past doings!""

(70) And [later,] when he had provided them with their provisions, he placed the [King's] drinking-cup in his brother's camel-pack. And [as they were leaving the city,] a herald" called out: "O you people of the caravan! Verily, you are thieves !,,71

(71) Turning towards the herald and his companions, the brothers asked:" "What is it that you miss?"

(72) They answered: "We miss the King's goblet; and he who produces it shall receive a camel-load [of grain as reward]!"

And [the herald added:] "I pledge myself to this _ [promise]!"

(73) Said [the brothers]: "By God! Well do you know that we have not come to commit deeds of corruption in this land, and that we have not been thieving!"







parting, "judgment as to what is to happen rests with none but God". This stress on man's utter dependence on God - a fundamental tenet of Islam - explains why Jacob's advice (which in itself is not relevant to the story) has been mentioned in the above Qur'anic narrative.

69 This interpolated clause is based on Zamakhshari's interpretation of the above reference to Jacob's having been "endowed with knowledge".

70 Thus, contrary to the Biblical account, Joseph is stated here to have disclosed his identity to Benjamin long before he revealed himself to his ten half-brothers. The words "their past doings" obviously refer to their treacherous behaviour towards himself which Joseph had now presumably disclosed to Benjamin.

71 Lit., "an announcer" (mu'adhdhin) - a noun derived from the verbal form adhdhana ("he announced" or "proclaimed" or "called out publicly").

72 Commenting on this verse, Razi says: "Nowhere in the Qur'an is it stated that they made this accusation on Joseph's orders; the circumstantial evidence shows rather (al-agrab ilazahir al-hal) that they did this of their own accord: for, when they had missed the drinking-cup, [these servants of Joseph remembered that] nobody had been near it [except the sons of Jacob], and so it occurred to them that it was they who had taken it." Analogous views are also advanced by Tabari and Zamakhshari in their comments on the last words of verse 76 below. This extremely plausible explanation contrasts sharply with the Biblical account of this incident (Genesis xliv), according to which the false accusation was part of an inexplicable "stratagem" devised by Joseph. If we discard-as we must-this part of the Biblical version, it is far more logical to assume that Joseph, who had been granted by the King full authority over all that belonged to the latter (see verse 56 above), had placed the royal cup as a present in the bag of his favourite brother; and that he did this secretly, without informing his servants, because he did not want anyone, least of all his ten half-brothers, to know his predilection for Benjamin. For a further explanation of this incident and of its ethical relevance within the context of Joseph's story, see note 77 below.

73 Lit., "They said, turning towards them".







(74) [The Egyptians] said: "But what shall be the requital of this [deed] if you are [proved to be] liars?" (75) [The brothers] replied: "Its requital? He in whose camel-pack [the cup] is found-he shall be [enslaved as] a requital thereof! Thus do we [ourselves] requite the doers of [such] wrong. 04

(76) Thereupon [they were brought before Joseph to be searched; and] he began with the bags of his half-brothers'' before the bag of his brother [Benjamin]: and in the end he brought forth the drinkingCUP'S out of his brother's bag.

In this way did We contrive for Joseph [the attainment of his heart's desire]: under the King's law, he would [otherwise] not have been able to detain his brother, had not God so willed. We do raise to [high] degrees [of knowledge] whomever We will - but above everyone who is endowed with knowledge there is One who knows all."

(77) [As soon as the cup came to light out of Benjamin's bag, the brothers] exclaimed: "If he has stolen-well, a brother of his used to steal afore_time !"'8

Thereupon Joseph said to himself, without revealing his thought to them:'9 "You are far worse in







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74 Most of the commentators (relying, perhaps on Exodus xxii, 3) assume that this was the customary punishment for'theft among the ancient Hebrews. Raz1, however, suggests that this last sentence may not be a part of the brothers' answer but a confirmatory remark made by the Egyptian herald, meaning, "[In fact,] thus do we [Egyptians] requite the doers of such wrong".

75 Lit., "with their bags".

76 Lit., "he brought it out".

77 The meaning of this story is now clear: it is a further illustration of the basic doctrine that "judgment [as to what is to happen] rests with none but God" (verse 67 above). Joseph had wanted to keep Benjamin with himself, but under the law of Egypt he could not do this without the consent of his half-brothers, who were the legal guardians of their minor brother; and they -bound as they were by the solemn promise given to their father-would certainly not have agreed to Benjamin's remaining behind. The only other alternative open to Joseph was to disclose his identity to them; but since he was not yet prepared td go so far, he was obliged to allow Benjamin to depart with his brothers. The accidental discovery of his gift, entirely unexpected by Joseph (see note 72 above), changed everything: for now Benjamin appeared to be guilty of theft, and under the law of the land Joseph was entitled to claim him as his slave, and thus to keep him,in his house. The words, "In this way did We contrive (kidnd) for Joseph [the attainment of his heart's desire]", referring to the incident of the cup, indicate that its final outcome was neither planned nor even foreseen by Joseph.

78 The reference is obviously to Benjamin's full brother, Joseph. In the absence of any indication that the latter had ever before been accused of theft, it is reasonable to assume that the brothers, unaware of the fact that they were standing before Joseph, simply wanted to vilify him in order to dissociate themselves more effectively from Benjamin, who now appeared to have been convicted of theft.

79 Lit., "Joseph concealed it within himself and did not reveal it to them; he said. . .", etc. According to almost all the commentators, the pronoun "it" refers to Joseph's subsequent "saying" or, rather, thought, indicated by the verb "he said" (i.e., within himself); hence my free rendering of this phrase.




this respect, and God is fully aware of what you are saying."'

(78) They said: "O thou great one! Behold, he has a father, a very old man: detain, therefore, one of us in his stead. Verily, we see that thou art a doer of good!"

(79) He answered: "May God preserve us from [the sin of] detaining any other than him with whom we have found our property-for then, behold, we would indeed be evildoers!"

(80) And so, when they lost all hope of [moving] him, they withdrew to take counsel [among themselves].

The eldest of them said: "Do you not remember" that your father has bound you by a solemn pledge before God - a9d how, before that, you had failed with regard to Joseph? Hence, I shall not depart from this land till my father gives me leave or God passes judgment in my favour:" for He is the best of all judges. (81) [And as for you others,] return to your father and say: `O our father! Behold, thy son has stolen-but we [can] bear witness to no more than what has become known to us;" and [although we gave you our pledge,] we could not guard against something that [lay hidden in the future and, hence,] was beyond the reach of our perception." (82) And ask thou in the town in which we were [at the time], and of the people of the caravan with whom we travelled hither, and [thou wilt find that] we, are indeed telling the truth!"'






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(83) [AND WHEN they returned to their father and told him what had happened,] he exclaimed: "Nay, but it is your [own] minds that have made [so terrible] a happening seem a matter of little account to you! But [as for myself,] patience in adversity is most goodly; God may well bring them all [back] unto me:" verily, He alone is all-knowing, truly wise!"

80 Lit., "of what you attribute", i.e., to Joseph and Benjamin-sc., "since you yourselves have stolen Joseph from his father".

81 Lit., "know" -but since this expression denotes here remembrance in the proper sense of the word, it can be suitably translated as above.

rather than knowledge

82 I.e., "enables me to win back my brother Benjamin".

83 I.e., the finding of the King's cup in Benjamin's bag (Baghawf and Zamakhshari).

84 Lit., "We were not guardians over that which was beyond the reach of [our] perception": i.e., "at the time when we gave you our pledge regarding Benjamin; we did not know that he would steal" (Zamakhshari).

85 I.e., Benjamin and the eldest son (who had remained in Egypt) as well as Joseph, of whose alleged death Jacob was never fully convinced (cf. note 17).


(84) But he turned away from them and said: "O woe is me for Joseph!"-and his eyes became dim" from the grief with which he was filled.

(85) Said [his sons]: "By God! Thou wilt never cease to remember ,Toseph till thou art broken in body and spirit or art dead!"

(86) He answered: "It is only to God that I complain of my deep grief and my sorrow: for I know, from God, something that you do not know.8' (87) [Hence,] O my sons, go forth and try to obtain some tidings of Joseph and his brother; and do not lose hope of God's life-giving mercy: verily, none but people who deny the truth can ever lose hope of God's life-giving mercy."







(88) [AND THE SONS of Jacob went back to Egypt and to Joseph;] and when they presented themselves before him, they said: "O thou great one! Hardship has visited us and our folk, and so we have brought but scanty merchandise; but give us a full measure [of grain], and be charitable to us: behold, God rewards those who give in charity!"

(89) Replied he: "Do you remember" what you did to Joseph and his brother when you were still unaware [of right and wrong]?"9'

(90) They exclaimed: "Why - is it indeed thou who art Joseph?"

He answered: "I am Joseph, and this is my brother. God has indeed been gracious unto us. Verily, if









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86 Lit., "white": i.e., dim with the tears that filled them (Razi). Although Jacob was now deprived of three of his sons, his grief for Joseph was the most acute because he was the only one of the three of whom Jacob did not know whether he was dead or alive.

87 Namely, that "judgment as to what is to happen rests with none but God", and that "all who have 'trust [in His existence] must place their trust in Him alone" (verse 67): the twin ideas which underlie the whole of this siirah, and which Jacob now seeks to impress upon his sons. In addition to this, his remembrance of Joseph's prophetic dream (verse 4) and his own conviction at the time that his beloved son would be elected by God for His special grace (verse 6), fills Jacob with renewed hope that Joseph is still alive (Razi and Ibn Kathir): and this explains the directives which he gives his sons in the next sentence.

88 According to most of the commentators, especially Ibn `Abbas (as quoted by Tabari and others), the term rawh is here synonymous with rahmah ("grace" or "mercy"). Since it is linguistically related to the noun rah ("breath of life" or "spirit"), and has also the metonymic significance of "rest" (rdhah) from grief and sadness (Tdj al- Aras), the most appropriate rendering would seem to be "life-giving mercy".

89 I.e., goods which they intended to barter for grain (see note 60 above).

90 Lit., "know" (see note 81).

91 By coupling his own name with that of Benjamin he possibly hinted at his brothers' early envy and hatred of the two sons of Rachel (cf. verse 8 of this sarah and the corresponding note 12); alternatively, the mention of Benjamin may have been due to the readiness with which they accepted the "evidence" of the latter's guilt (verse 77).




one is9Z conscious of Him and patient in adversitybehold, God does not fail to requite the doers of good!"

(91) [The brothers] said: "By God! Most certainly has God raised thee high above us, and we were indeed but sinners!"

(92) Said he: "No reproach shall be uttered today against you. May God forgive you your sins: for He is the most merciful of the merciful! (93) [And now] go and take this tunic of mine and lay it over my father's face, and he will recover his sight.93 And thereupon come [back] to me with all your family."

(94) AND AS SOON as the caravan [with which Jacob's sons were travelling] was on its way,94 their father said [to the people around him]: "Behold, were it not that you might consider me a dotard, [I would say that] I truly feel the breath of Joseph [in the air]!" (95) They answered: "By God! Thou art indeed still lost in thy old aberration!"

(96) But when the bearer of good tidings came [with Joseph's tunic], he laid it over his face; and he regained his sight, [and] exclaimed: "Did I not tell you, `Verily, I know, from God, something that you do not know'?"9s

(97) [His sons] answered: "O our father! Ask God to forgive us our sins, for, verily, we were sinners." (98) He said: "I shall ask my Sustainer to forgive you: He alone is truly forgiving, a true dispenser of grace!"

(99) AND WHEN they [all arrived in Egypt and] presented themselves before Joseph, he drew his parents unto himself," saying, "Enter Egypt! If God so wills, you shall be secure [from all evil]!"


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92 Lit., "whoever is...", etc.

93 Lit., "he will become seeing [again]"-i.e., "he will cease to weep for me and the dimness of his sight caused by unhappiness and constant weeping will disappear on learning that I am alive": thus may be'summed up Rfizi's explanation of the above sentence. According to him, there is no compelling reason to assume that Jacob had become really blind from grief. -The phrase "lay it over my father's face" could also be rendered as "lay it before my father", since the term wajh (lit., "face") is often used in classical Arabic to denote, metonymically, one's whole personality, or whole being.          '

94 Lit., "had departed", i.e., from Egypt.

95 See verse 86 above.

96 According to the Biblical account - not contradicted by the Qur'an - Joseph's mother Rachel had died while giving birth to Benjamin. We may, therefore, assume that the "mother" implied in the term "parents" was another of Jacob's wives, who had brought up Joseph and Benjamin; this would be in consonance with the ancient Arabian custom of applying the designation "mother" to a foster-mother.




(100) And he raised his parents to the highest place of honour;' and they [all] fell down before Him, prostrating themselves in adoration.

Thereupdn [Joseph] said: "O my father! This is the real meaning of my dream of long ago, which my Sustainer has made come true. And He was indeed good to me when He freed me from the prison, and [when] He brought you [all unto me] from the desert after Satan had sown discord between me and my brothers. Verily, my Sustainer is unfathomable in [the way He brings about] whatever He wills:" verily, He alone is all-knowing, truly wise!

(101) "O my Sustainer! Thou hast indeed bestowe4 upon me something of power,'°' and hast imparted unto me some knowledge of the inner meaning of happenings." Originator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art near unto me in this world and in the life to come: let me die as one who has surrendered himself unto Thee, and make me one with the righteous!"

(102) THIS ACCOUNT of something that was beyond the reach of thy perception We [now] reveal unto thee, [O Prophet:] for thou wert not with Joseph's brothers'°3 when they resolved upon what they were going to do and wove their schemes [against him]. (103) Yet - however strongly thou mayest desire it -most people will not believe [in this revelation], (104) although thou dost not ask of them any reward for it: it is but [God's] reminder unto all mankind. (105) But [then] -how many a sign is there in the heavens and on earth which they pass by [unthinkingly], and on which they turn their backs!




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97 Lit., "onto the throne (al= arsh)", in the metaphorical sense of this word.

98 According to `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas (as quoted by Razi), the personal pronoun in "before Him" relates to God, since it is inconceivable that Joseph would have allowed his parents to prostrate themselves before himself.

99 The fulfilment of Joseph's childhood dream consisted in the high dignity with which he was now invested and in the fact that his parents and his brothers had come from Canaan to Egypt for his sake: for "no reasonable person can expect that the fulfilment of a dream should be an exact replica of the dream itself" (Razl`, alluding to the symbolic prostration of the eleven stars, the sun and the moon mentioned in verse 4 of this sarah).

100 As regards my rendering of latff as "unfathomable", see sarah 6, note 89. In the present instance, this term supplies a further accent, as it were, on the theme "judgment as to what is to happen rests with none but God" (verse 67).

101 Lit., "of dominion", indicating that absolute power and absolute dominion belong to God


102 See note 10 on verse 6 of this sarah. 103 Lit., "with them".




(106) And most of them do not even believe in God without [also] ascribing divine powers to other beings beside Him. (107) Do they, then, feel free from the fear that there might fall upon them the overwhelming terror of God's chastisement, or that the Last Hour might come upon them of a sudden, without their being aware [of its approach]?

(108) Say [O Prophet]: "This is my way: Resting upon conscious insight accessible to reason, I am calling [you all] unto God'°°-1 and they who follow me."

And [say:] "Limitless is God in His glory; and I am not one of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him!"

(109) And [even] before thy time, We never sent [as Our apostles] any but [mortal] men, whom We inspired, [and whom We always chose] from among the people of the [very] communities [to whom the message was to be brought]. 105

Hav6, then, they [who reject this divine writ] never journeyed about the earth and beheld what happened in the end to those [deniers of the truth] who lived before them?-and [do they not know that] to those who are conscious of God the life in the hereafter is indeed better [than this world]? Will they not, then, use their reason?

(110) [All the earlier apostles had to suffer persecution for a long time;] but at last"-when those apostles had lost all hope and saw themselves branded as liars'°' - Our succour attained to them:









104 It is impossible to render the expression `ala basirah in a more concise manner. Derived from the verb basura or basira ("he became seeing" or "he saw"), the noun basirah (as also the verb) has the abstract connotation of "seeing with one's mind": and so it signifies "the faculty of understanding based on conscious insight" as well as, tropically, "an evidence accessible to the intellect" or "verifiable by the intellect". Thus, the "call to God" enunciated by the Prophet is described here as the outcome of a conscious insight accessible to, and verifiable by, man's reason: a statement which circumscribes to perfection the Qur'anic approach to all questions of faith, ethics and morality, and is echoed many times in expressions like "so that you might use your reason" (la'allakum ta'gilan), or "will you not, then, use your reason?" (a fa-ld ta'gilan), or "so that they might understand [the truth]" (la'allahum yafgahan), or "so that you might think" (la'allakum tatafakkaran); and, finally, in the oft-repeated declaration that the message of the Qur'an as such is meant specifically "for people who think" (U-gawmin yatafakkanan).

105 This is an answer to the objection often raised by unbelievers that a mortal like themselves could not have been entrusted with God's message to man.

106 Lit., "until" (hattd). This connects with the reference to earlier apostles in the first sentence of the preceding verse: the implication being (according to Zamakhshari) that they used to suffer for a long time before they were vindicated by God.

107 Lit., "thought that they had been given the lie--i.e., either by their people, who regarded the apostles' expectation of God's succour as mere wishful thinking, or by the harsh reality which seemed to contradict those apostles' own hopes of speedy help from God (Zamakhshari). Commenting on this verse, `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas used to quote 2 : 214-"so shaken were they that


whereupon everyone whom We Milled [to be saved] was saved [and the deniers of the truth were destroyed]: for, never can Our punishment be averted from people who are lost in sin.

(111) Indeed, in the stories of these men 108 there is a lesson for those who are endowed with insight.

[As for this revelation,"] it could not possibly be a discourse invented [by man]: nay indeed,"° it is [a divine writ] confirming the truth of whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations], clearly spelling out everything,"' and [offering] guidance and grace unto people who will believe.


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the apostle, and the believers with him, would exclaim, 'When will God's succour come?"'(ibid.) 108 Lit., "in their stories" -i.e., the stories of the prophets.

109 I.e., the Qur'an as a whole (Baghawi and Zamakhshari). The passage that follows connects

with verses 102-105.

110 Lit., "but"-denoting here the impossibility of its having been invented by Muhammad. III I.e., everything that man may need for his spiritual welfare. See also 10:37 and the

corresponding note 60.






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