This is the “Introduction” to The Prophet Joseph In The Qur’an, The Bible, And History
The full knowledge contained in the Qur’an will always be beyond what anyone can encompass. This is due to the depth and breadth of the knowledge imbedded in the divine text, on the one hand, and the limitedness of how much any person can fathom of that knowledge, on the other. It is virtually impossible for any interpretation of the Qur’an, regardless of the degree of knowledge of the exegete, to claim to be complete and inclusive of all meanings of a Qur’anic text, or to have the final say on its meanings. There will always be an opportunity to learn something new from and about this divine Book. This is one fact underlined by Prophet Muhammad’s description of the Qur’an as a Book “whose lessons never end and whose miracles never vanish.” The depth of the knowledge contained in the Qur’an combined with the limited means of any exegete mean that the attempts to study and interpret the Qur’anic text must never cease.
Since the revelation of the Qur’an fourteen centuries ago, numerous scholars have assiduously studied it. These tremendous efforts resulted in countless studies and interpretations of the Qur’an that helped and will continue to help billions of people study this divine text. However, unlike the unerring text that was revealed by Allah, exegeses of the Qur’an reflect the understanding and views of their human authors, and human beings do err.
Many exegetical books of the Qur’an suffer from a serious methodological flaw. When interpreting the Qur’anic text, these books systematically rely on information whose accuracy and authenticity are unverifiable or questionable, or that is simply incorrect and inauthentic. Because of this fundamental shortcoming, which is discussed in Chapter 1, many interpretational attempts read into the Qur’anic text meanings that it does not really have.
In addition to abandoning this flawed method completely, exegetes also need to make as much use as possible of the well known methodology of using the Qur’anic text to interpret itself. This double approach, which I have diligently followed in this book, protects the exegetical attempt against many potential errors and inaccuracies.
It is necessary for the person who studies any Qur’anic text to be acquainted with previous interpretational attempts. More important, the exegete needs to be able to look at the Qur’anic text and examine it independently of its common interpretations. This is essential to ensure that the exegete reads the Qur’anic text directly, rather than through a particular understanding of that text. Unfortunately, most exegetes show undue influence by particular interpretations. This prevents them from approaching the Qur’anic text with impartiality and open mindedness.
Each of the 114 Qur’anic “suwar (chapters)” has its special characteristics, and so has the “sura (chapter)” of Joseph. Through relating a unique story whose episodes were carefully and skillfully weaved by the subtle hand of Allah, this sura offers great lessons that capture the heart with its beauty and humble the mind with its wisdom. Like all other Qur’anic suwar, which scholars have been studying since the revelation of the Qur’an, the sura of Joseph has had its share of research and interpretational attempts by the exegetes of the Qur’an. Offering another analysis and interpretation of this sura must, therefore, be justified by the interpretation being genuinely new and significantly different from or adding to the already existing interpretations. The interpretation in this book differs considerably from the classical interpretations of the sura of Joseph. Its analysis of the Qur’anic verses leads to many conclusions that are different from views that are commonly accepted by exegetes.
I stated above that the success of an interpretational attempt of a Qur’anic text does not mean more than a success in unveiling some of its meanings. Naturally, any exegetical attempt is also subject to failure. I cannot claim that this interpretation is free of mistakes, or that I have succeeded in interpreting all the Qur’anic text that I studied. No doubt, this study has its own mistakes and shortcomings, as is the case with any modest, limited human attempt to study the sublime divine text. The most that I can say in favor of this interpretation is that it has avoided many of the flaws that are common in interpretations of the Qur’an in general and of the sura of Joseph in particular. I think that this attempt is, in general, more accurate than previous attempts to interpret this sura.
While I explained in detail how each interpretation of a Qur’anic text was arrived at, I highlighted in many places my inability to choose between more than one possible interpretation. I have also carefully distinguished between interpretations that I see “possible,” i.e. are apparently consistent with the text but lack supportive evidence, and those that I consider “probable,” i.e. possible interpretations that are supported by evidence.
This exegetical journey may be described as an attempt to relive the story of Joseph with all of its explicit and implicitly details in the Qur’an. I have found it at times useful, or even necessary, to mention possible details that could be linked with the story of Joseph, although they are not supported by Qur’anic evidence. I hope I have worked hard enough to differentiate between such possible details and those that the Qur’anic text mentions explicitly or implicitly.
I have not restricted myself to giving my interpretation, but mentioned also the most important or common alternatives that have been suggested by others. Furthermore, I have not concentrated exclusively on arguments that support my interpretation, but also mentioned what might be seen as counter arguments and explained what made me discard them.
The material of this book occupies twelve chapters which are briefly reviewed here.
The first Chapter tackles two topics that are essential to cover before embarking on the attempt to interpret the sura of Joseph in the following chapters. The first topic is the Qur’an’s special style in relating history. The second concerns common problems that many interpretational attempts of the Qur’anic text suffer from. Examples of common flaws in the interpretations of the sura of Joseph are given. The chapter also contains a brief outline of the story of Joseph.
The next nine chapters, from the second to the tenth, include an analysis and interpretation of the whole of the sura of Joseph. The verses are studied sequentially. Each verse is first cited in full and then followed with my commentary. The verses under study have been highlighted with a special printing style.
The sura of Joseph starts with three and ends with ten general verses that are not part of the story of Joseph. Chapter two has been dedicated to the study of the first three (1.3) verses, and Chapter ten to the last ten (102.111). The story of Joseph, which occupies ninety eight (4.101) verses, is studied in Chapters 3.9. Each one of these seven chapters focuses on a particular stage of the story.
Chapter three analyzes verses 4.14 which describe events that took place when Joseph was still living in his father’s house. The fourth Chapter interprets verses 15.20 which recount how Joseph was taken to Egypt.
The period from the entry of Joseph into Egypt until he was put in jail, which is related in verses 21.35, is studied in Chapter five. Verses 36.53, which cover the time that Joseph spent in prison, are analyzed in Chapter six.
In Chapter seven, verses 54.68 are examined. These verses describe Joseph’s release from prison and his subsequent appointment to a high office in Egypt. The chapter also studies the visit of Joseph’s half brothers to him during the years of drought and his attempt to make them bring his brother to Egypt. Verses 69.79 are covered in Chapter eight which looks at Joseph’s meeting with his brother and how he kept him in Egypt.
Chapter nine focuses on the last verses of the story of Joseph, 80.101. These verses describe how Jacob, Joseph’s father, lost his sight because of his grief, how his sight was miraculously restored by Joseph’s shirt, and finally how he came with the rest of his extended family to live with Joseph in Egypt. The last ten verses of the sura of Joseph, 102.111, which contain general sermons, are studied in Chapter ten.
Chapters 2.10 study miraculous aspects of the Qur’an through analyzing its text. Chapter eleven takes a different approach to the study of the miraculousness of the Qur’an. It compares information from the story of Joseph with historical information about ancient Egypt. The chapter attempts to determine the time and place in Egypt in which Joseph lived. The research approach of this chapter is the same one used to study the story of prophet Moses and the early history of the Israelites in our book History Testifies to the Infallibility of the Qur’an: Early History of the Children of Israel (Malaysia: A. S. Noordeen, 1999).
A third approach to studying the miraculous nature of the Qur’an is represented by comparing the Qur’anic text with other religious texts. The most suitable text to compare the sura of Joseph with is the Biblical story of this prophet. This is dealt with in Chapter twelve, which is the last chapter of the book.
The book has two appendices containing the transliteration conventions and the Qur’anic terms and names used in the book.
Although this book contains a great deal of linguistic analysis of Qur’anic text, reading it does not require familiarity with the Arabic language or the Qur’an. I have taken every effort to explain everything that needs explaining to the reader who is unfamiliar with the Qur’an and/or Arabic.
I have tried my best to make this book as complete and comprehensive as it should be while maintaining the readability and smooth flow of the text. Additional details and background information have, therefore, been put in endnotes.
Each cited verse has been followed by a combination of two numbers identifying its sura and its position in that sura. For instance, the combination 12.11 refers to the 11th verse of the 12th sura.
In recognition of the fact that the deep Qur’anic text can be translated only with limited accuracy, I have included the original Arabic text in addition to my suggested translation. Those who understand Arabic can refer to the original instead of relying completely on the provided translation.
I have also added in square brackets any explanatory text needed to clarify the translation. Round brackets have been used to add alternative texts, such as the English meaning of a term that is cited in its Arabic origin.
A number of different printing styles are used in the book. A special font has been used for the English translation of the Qur’anic text. The same font, but in italics, is also used for the Roman transliterations of the Qur’an. Roman transliterations of non Qur’anic Arabic text use the same font of the ordinary text, but in italics.
Writing this book has been a dream that I have had for a long time. I thank Allah who has made it come true. Ever since Allah guided me to the Qur’an I have found in the sura of Joseph special beauty that took over my heart, and deep knowledge and insightful wisdom that captured my mind.
Among the people who helped me with this book, I would like to thank in particular my wife Dr Shetha Al Dargazelli for her many invaluable comments on earlier drafts. I would also like to thank my brothers Duraid and Faiz for their important comments. Shetha, Duraid, and Faiz have also kindly made the Qur’anic text very close to the Uthmani script. I am also deeply indebted to my friends Tariq Chaudhry and Alessandro Ansa for their excellent reviews of the book.
Allah is the source of every good, and all thanks are due to Him. I thank Allah Almighty for any success this book has had in its interpretation of the Qur’anic text whose full meanings are beyond the comprehension of any creature. I ask Him for forgiveness for every mistake that I have made. The Messenger of Allah, our Master Muhammad, said: “Deeds are judged by the intentions behind them, and every person earns according to what he has intended.” May Allah make this book the fruit of good intention.
Prayer and peace be upon the Prophet of the Qur’an our Master Muhammad and upon his lineage and companions.
Copyright © 2007 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved