THERE ARE MOMENTS in our lives when we may feel lost, confused, alone. There may be days when we feel completely abandoned. And there are losses that are sometimes so great, so devastating, that we wonder if we will ever recover.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ lost his best friend, his supporter, his comfort and his love, Khadîjah, and he lost his protector, his father-figure uncle, Abû Tâlib. This came after years of boycott, isolation, and persecution of the Muslims because of their faith. After the loss of his two biggest supporters, the Prophet ﷺ went to Ṭâ’if looking to gain the support of a new group of people. The people of Ṭâ’if not only rejected his message, but they also turned him out by having the most vulnerable of their population throw rocks at him. His feet bled so much that the sound of his footsteps sloshed in his own blood.
But there is no way Allah would abandon the greatest of His creation. In the midst of this year of trial and tribulation, Allah –Al-Rahman, the All Merciful, who is the gentlest with His worshipping servants– revealed a narration to uplift the Prophet ﷺ. In the Year of Sadness, Allah revealed to him the entirety of Sûrat Yûsuf, the twelfth chapter of the Quran. Ibn ʿAbbâs and Qatâdah have noted that Allah revealed the entire sûrah, with the exception of four verses.
Sûrahs revealed in the Makkan period (like Sûrat Yûsuf), typically discuss the Hereafter and focus on building the îmân of the Muslims. Frequently, though, when sûrahs of the Quran were revealed, they would come piecemeal, with individual verses being put together in their final order and composition only once the entire corpus of that sûrah had come down. Sometimes, stories of certain Prophets –such as in the case of Mûsa (Moses)– are picked up again in scattered places across a number of sûrahs; various parts of his blessed life are narrated under a more focused lens and serialized in one part or another of the Quran.
By contrast, Sûrat Yûsuf was revealed all at one time and the story of Prophet Yûsuf (Joseph) is not presented in fragments throughout the Quran. Al-Qurṭubi remarked that Allah typically returns in the Quran to the stories of the Prophets, each time with different words and different perspectives but with one thrust. Not so with Sûrat Yûsuf.
The revelation of Prophet Yûsuf’s story was sent down during the most difficult time of the life of the Prophet ﷺ. Al-Ṣâbûni reminds us that it is as if Allah is saying to the Prophet ﷺ –
Don’t be sad, don’t take the way your people act towards you too hard, for after hardship is an opening, after narrowness an opening. Look at your brother Yûsuf. Look at the many, various different types of difficulty he experienced. Look at how he was patient through all of it. Allah took him from a prison to a castle, and made him a ruler in Egypt, and gave him the treasury to be in charge of. And that is how I take care of My special friends and whoever is patient over trials. Take comfort and follow those who came before you of the Messengers. As Allah says, And be patient, [O Muhammad], and your patience is not but through Allah. And do not grieve over them and do not be in distress over what they conspire. [Sûrat Al-Nahl, 16:127] And, Therefore, patiently persevere, as did (all) messengers of inflexible purpose; and be in no haste about the (unbelievers) [Sûrat Al-Aḥqâf, 46:35].
ʿAṭâ’ said that no one hears Sûrat Yûsuf and are sad, except that they find comfort in it.
Al-Ṣâbûni elaborates on this, saying,
This is the theme of the sûrah… glad tidings with the [promise] of victory being close for the one who hangs tight to patience and travels on the path of the Prophets and Messengers.
Yûsuf’s story was meant to comfort the Prophet ﷺ, but it was also meant to bring relief to the believers. The Companions were suffering through mental, physical and emotional persecution. It was incredibly painful and difficult for them and they asked the Prophet ﷺ for stories; they were looking for uplifting. And that comfort came in the form of the story of Yûsuf, revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Yûsuf was abandoned by his brothers: Not only did they contemplate murdering him, but they also forced their young brother into a well and deserted him. He was sold into slavery. He consistently dealt with the flirtations of his master’s wife, culminating in her unabashed calling him to have a sexual relationship with her. He was the subject of gossip in an entire town; he dealt with the interest of an entire group of women; he was thrown into jail and then forgotten there. He dealt with trial upon trial, test upon test. When one difficulty passed, in its place came another. And yet, in the end (as we will discuss, inshâ’Allah, in this tafsîr series), he not only became a ruler, but also he was reunited with his entire family in love, in dignity and honor, and in wholesome acceptance by the very brothers who forced him out of their lives.
In Yûsuf’s life is a message for the Prophet ﷺ, for his Companions, and a message for us: There will be people who hurt us, who want nothing less than to destroy us. There will be groups of Islamophobes who will want to shackle us mentally and will even call for our expulsion physically. We might have to deal with family strife, with physical isolation, with depression and frustration. And yet, through it all, keep in mind who went through even more situations of heartache and headache and yet still came out victorious. If Yûsuf, a Prophet of God, was enslaved, then who are we to complain when we feel trapped in our lives? With hardship comes ease, and we see that in the triumphal ending to the story of Yûsuf, one which we must take as a lesson for the toils within our own.
Additionally, Sûrat Yûsuf was revealed in response to a challenge which the Quraysh gave to Al- Ṣâdiq Al-Amîn, “the Truthful and Trustworthy One” ﷺ. The Quraysh wanted to find a way to trip up the Prophet ﷺ, to exploit his ‘lies’ and prove their staunch claim that he was not a Prophet. They sent a delegation to Yathrib — later to be called Madinah– in order to strategize with the Jews who lived there for solidarity in accomplishing their task. The Quraysh knew that the Jews had books which they considered revelations, just as the Quran is considered a revelation. The Quraysh had no such book and sought knowledge from those who did have one. The Jews told the Quraysh to ask the Prophet ﷺ about Yûsuf (Joseph), telling the Quraysh that the Prophet ﷺ wouldn’t know his story. When the Quraysh asked the Prophet ﷺ, not only was he able to describe who Yûsuf was, but furthermore the revelation of Prophet Yûsuf’s life came in complete, powerful detail! Al-Bayhaqi narrates in his Dalâil that when a group of Jews heard this, they accepted Islam.
Yûsuf went through trial and hardship, but did he know that his own tests and the relief which came afterwards would be used as a comfort for his own noble brother-prophet, Muhammad ﷺ? Could he have guessed that his experiences would be used as a means of uplifting the Companions? Would he have fathomed that today, in the year 2016, in a land which he had never heard of, on the other side of the earth, there would be Muslims who didn’t speak his language and had no idea what he looked like, and yet would be memorizing the very words which he had said in the privacy of the house of the wife of Al-ʿAzîz when he sought Allah’s refuge, or in jail when he gave daʿwah to his fellow prisoners, or in his private conversations with his blessed, noble father, Yaʿqûb (Jacob)?
Not only was his patience rewarded in his own lifetime, but also his sincerity was documented, revealed and then spread across the globe. Yûsuf did not rise from abandonment out of a well with only the destiny of becoming a greater ruler of Egypt. He rose, unshackled from the chains of this life, to become a source of comfort and nurturing healing for Muslims all around the world.
So, too, in your life, remember: What happens will happen for a reason. With difficulty comes ease. And even if you do not remember the good you utter and do within the most strenuous of times, Allah never forgets it. And perhaps He will use your actions as an example to guide, comfort and support believers of the future, even when you yourself are long gone and forgotten.
 Tafsîr Al-Qurtubi: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=48&surano=12&ayano=1
 Safwat atTafâsîr, Al-Sabuni, Book 2, pp.39-40
 Tafsîr Al-Qurtubi: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?flag=1&bk_no=48&surano=12&ayano=1The Best of Stories Pearls from Surat Yusuf by Shaykh Yasir Qadhi Part 1 Video 1 of 5
 Tafsîr ibn Kathîr: http://library.islamweb.net/newlibrary/display_book.php?idfrom=811&idto=811&bk_no=49&ID=825