Ch 12 of Quran is more unique than most. It contains the only narrative of the Quranic personality yusuf. While there are chapters which contain very long narratives(like that of musa in Ch 20) the personality yusuf is not expounded anywhere else. He is mentioned yes and every mention is important but his narrative is only in Ch 12.
Our philosophy in QG is to ask why any story is told at all. We believe that stories are not told except towards the purpose of salvation. The story of yusuf must therefore not only have a purpose but one unique to the overall philosophy of Quran. Therefore, a literal reading of this story would not meet this purpose. Rather we will extract metaphorical elements from this story. In doing so, we find that it, more than any other story, is the metaphor for self-realization.
There are a number of elements in Ch 12 for us to see it as a deep metaphor for self-realization. The personality yusuf comes from the word ‘asafa’ which means anger or sadness. In the form ‘yusuf’, it seems that he is able to passively handle these negative feelings from the events of his life. He is able to do continuously. Perhaps this is the key to his success.
Vs 1-3: Ch 12 begins with the letters ALR which for QG refers to the process of Questioning, Focussing and Reliance. This process will bring down a measure of the faultless reading (quranan ‘arabiyan) for systematic thinking. It is also said here that Allah relates upon the Reader the best of stories by inspiring him the entire Quran. This beginning tells us that Quran itself is connected to the story of yusuf. Perhaps the point of Quran itself is for us to achieve the yusuf state.
Vs 4-7: This passage introduces the beginning of the story. yusuf has the vision of a single society living as a planet (ahada ‘ashara kawkaba). This unity is the key in understanding yusuf’s story. His father tells him not to relate this story to his brothers for they would contrive a plan against him. However, in this vision, Allah would choose him and inform him of the inner meaning of this event and complete His favour upon yusuf and the people of the guardians and those of ibrahim and ishaq. Here the story of yusuf and his brothers are said to be for the seekers. This is another unique phrase.
Vs 8-10: This is the first dialogue by the brothers of yusuf. The source of their discontent is that yusuf and his brother are loved more by their father. They then plot to neutralise him or to remove him to another land. Interestingly here, after this process, they consider themselves becoming ‘righteous people’ (qawmun saaliheen). This portion of the chapter may symbolise our dog-eat-dog world and how our own brethren may seek to neutralise your progress or expel you from their own space.
Vs 11-18: This is where yusuf’s brothers convince him to allow them to take him for enjoyment. His father has reservations although was convinced in the end. His brothers then placed him in the bottom of the well. This phase shows the plots and machinations of people against us. Although our parent may protect us, even his watchfulness may not be enough. We may then find ourselves in a problematic situation.
Vs 19-21: yusuf is seen by a company of travellers. Although they rescue him, they trade him off. The one who buys him is from the city and sees that he may potentially bring he and his wife benefit. At this point, Allah tells us that this is how He establishes yusuf in the land and teaches him the inner meaning or essentialisation of the event. Here we can see yusuf’s interaction with the world. Far from the selfless care of his father, he is shunted from here to there. However, with Allah’s due care, he finds himself in the correct position to fulfil his initial mission.
Vs 22-35 starts with yusuf achieving the peak of his intensity. This is due to his own works of ihsan. The wife of his master, who symbolizes the worldly pleasures in life has intentions for him. He is able to conquer his own needs for them. Through this conquest , he is able to become ‘malakun kareem’ (a higher being filled with power and honour). However, instead of surrendering to his temptations (symbolized by the wife of his master), he chooses imprisonment. This symbolizes his inability to transcend from social needs for a time
Vs 36-57 yusuf then relies on his ability to provide essentialization of visions. This is due to him following the millah of ibrahim, ishaq and ya’qub which symbolizes Quranic monotheism, a sense of remote being and protection. Through his ability, yusuf becomes a favourite of the king who calls him ‘sideeq’ (one who confirms, that is he confirms what is about to happen). The king then chooses yusuf for himself thus giving him being (makaan) in the land. This shows how we ourselves can attain self-actualization
Vs 100-102: yusuf triumphs over his brothers and establishes the principle of ibrahim and ishaq on the throne (thus bringing peace to the land). This is the interpretation of his earliest vision, the unification of his people and the sun and the moon all prostrating to him .
Vs 103-107: this begins by saying most people will not believe, showing that this process is how we come to attain belief. Although this process vivifies the world, most people simply pass by the signs. This is equated with shirk (association with Allah) a means of being secure against His punishment.
Vs 108-111: This part begins with the totality of the path and how it is based on evidence which is clear as the eyes can see (baseerah), it is also the path which there is no association. The messengers are mentioned at this point (Vs 109-110) and finally, a very unique verse telling us about the essence of their stories. This inextricably links the Quran, the journey of yusuf and the blueprint of the messengers together.
If we look from the point of view of self-actualization, we may be able to discern many elements from this chapter which contributes to the notion of self-realization. Yusuf, his name showing emotional drive yet a passive acceptance of events, eventually gets to the highest point in society by understanding the essentialization of events.