Surah Yusuf

How one of the greatest stories of the Quran is organized

We’ve looked at how the greatest ayah and the greatest surah of the Quran are organized, so now we’ll turn our attention to one of the greatest story of the Quran, Surah Yusuf (Joseph).

Recently, a number of scholars have observed that the narrative of Surah Yusuf is a ring composition, in which the conflicts of the story lead up to a central turning point - Joseph’s interpretation of the king’s dream - and are then resolved in the opposite order.

We highly recommend you read the surah once (at least in translation) before continuing below. The following breakdown will make most sense if you know the story beforehand.

For the sake of making the material presentable, the original Arabic has been omitted, though the relevant ayah numbers are shown in parentheses. Please refer back to the Quran if you’d like to check the specifics of what is presented here:

The center (F) contains a key passage, which is itself structured as a ring:

In the center of this passage (I), Joseph invites his prison-mates to reflect on whether they should worship many deities or only serve the One who is characterized by unity and might. These attributes, singled out for mention at the center of the surah, are key to the themes and purposes of Surah Yusuf

وَاللهُ أَعلَمُ – And Allah knows best

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Sources

Mir, “The Qur’anic Story of Joseph: Plot, Themes, And Characters,” Muslim World 76.1 (1986)

Cuypers, “Semitic Rhetoric.” 15-19. The outline presented above is from Cuypers.

Ali Khan, Nouman and Sharif Randhawa. Divine Speech: Exploring the Quran as Literature. Bayyinah Institute, 2016.