A Thematic Tafsīr of Surah Yūsuf

A Thematic Tafsīr of Surah Yūsuf

Surah Yūsuf is one of the most beautiful and oft-studied Surahs of the Quran. In this short article, I hope to discuss the Surah from a different angle; Thematic Tafsīr.

Thematic Tafsīr is a modern method of Tafsīr in which the author/teacher analyzes a Surah for repeated themes and lessons. It is done by studying the Surah as a whole and cross-analyzing the various verses of the Surah for common themes. In applying this method to Surah Yūsuf, we can deduce four core themes that run throughout this Surah. Before we discuss these four themes, here is a brief summary of the Surah.

A Summary of Surah Yūsuf

Surah Yūsuf is unique in that the entire Surah tells a single story from beginning to end. This is not the usual method of storytelling in the Quran. The reason for this is that the entire story forms a single narrative full of important lessons, the beginning, and the end of the stories are equally needed to derive these lessons.

The Surah narrates the story of Prophet Yūsuf (Joseph). As a child, he has a dream of the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing to him. His brothers grow jealous of him and plot against him. They throw him in a well to get rid of him. He is taken away as a slave and ends up in the home of a minister in Egypt.

There he grows up. As a young man, he faces new trials. The minister’s wife tries to seduce him, but he resists and for this, he is wrongly imprisoned. He spends the next few years in prison, where he meets other prisoners and interprets their dreams. One of these prisoners is eventually released and ends up serving the king of Egypt.

At this point, the king has a dream and the ex-prisoner asks Yūsuf (s) to interpret it. Impressed by Yūsuf ‘s interpretation and piety, the king releases him from prison and makes him a finance minister. A drought causes Yūsuf’s brothers to seek financial assistance from the minister of Egypt which brings them into the court of Yūsuf. There, he confronts them, reveals his true identity, and ultimately forgives them.

Prophet Yūsuf’s family migrates to Egypt accepting Yūsuf as their leader. Thus his dream comes true, and the story ends. In this story, which is told in a lot more details in the Quran, are thousands of lessons. Most of these lessons revolve around one of four core themes.

Good triumphs in the end

The first theme we derive from this Surah is the importance of having hope in a good ending. As long as we are on the straight path, sincerely striving to please Allah, victory will come eventually. For some, it will be in this world, and for others, it will be in the next world, but it will eventually come.

This lesson inspires us with hope, no matter how bleak our situation may be. The Surah was revealed during the Makkan Era when the Prophet (s) did not yet control any lands or have a huge following yet. In many ways, it serves as a prophecy that Prophet Muhammad (s) was eventually going to triumph over the Arabs and attain power in those lands. It came through over a decade later.

The lesson for us all is straightforward; work hard for the sake of Allah and never lose hope. Victory will eventually come to the righteous.

Trials in the lives of the righteous

Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ reported that he said, “O Messenger of Allah, which people are tested most severely?” The Messenger of Allah (s) said, “They are the prophets, then the next best, then the next best. A man is tried according to his religion. If he is firm in his religion, his trials will be more severe. If he is weak in his religion, he is tried according to his strength in religion. The servant will continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sin.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2398, Grade: Ṣaḥīḥ)

This narration summarizes the second theme of Surah Yūsuf; the righteous face the most difficult trials in life. Islam teaches us that life is a test. Every single human being is tested to determine their placement in the Afterlife. The intensity of the test depends on the spiritual state of the individual. The stronger a person is in faith, the more difficult their trials will be.

This is why the prophets had the toughest tests, due to their closeness to God. Prophet Yūsuf (s) faced both the trials of hardship (abandonment, slavery, imprisonment) and the trial of temptation (seduction). This teaches us the two manners in which we are constantly tested in life. Each phase of life is a trial through hardship, a trial through temptation, or a mixture of both. We must prepare for both types of trials if we want to earn a high rank in the Afterlife.

True Dreams

The third theme that runs throughout this Surah is the theme of true dreams. In this story, Yūsuf, two prisoners and a king all have dreams that come true. This is evidence that true dreams predicting the future are real and should be taken seriously.

Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī reported that the Prophet (s) said, “When one of you sees a dream he likes, it is from Allah so let him praise Allah for it and speak about it. When one of you sees something else he dislikes, it is from Satan so let him seek refuge from its evil and not mention it to anyone. It will not harm him.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6584)

Abū Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (s) said, “When the end of time approaches, the dream of a believer can hardly be false. The dream of a believer is one of forty-six parts of prophecy and whatever is from prophecy cannot be false.” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6614, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2263)

The above narrations confirm that true dreams will continue until the end of time. In fact, they will increase in frequency towards the end of time. True dreams are a gift from God showing people a glimpse of the future, as glad tidings if the future is good, or as a warning, if the future is an upcoming calamity. The ability to interpret dreams is innate and gifted to a few by God. It cannot be taught formally and relies on intuition and deep piety.

The Danger of the Nafs

The final theme of Surah Yūsuf is the importance of spiritual development. Every human possesses a Nafs (soul/desires) which can incline towards sin. The Nafs goes through various phases, the lowest of which is mentioned in this Surah, al-nafs al-ammāra bi-l-sūʾ (The soul that is inclined towards sin).

Our goal in life is to be aware of the temptations of the soul. We see two examples in this Surah of people who gave in to these temptations; the brothers of Yūsuf who threw him in a well out of jealousy, and the wife of the minister who tried to seduce him. These two examples show two different ways in which the soul can be corrupted; jealousy and lust. We must protect ourselves against both of these sources of corruption.

Purification of the soul is an essential part of Islam. Some Muslim groups ignore this aspect of Islam, due to their obsession with other parts of Islam like theology, legal rulings or political revival. By doing so, they allow corruption to slowly sneak into their souls and ruin it. Purification of the soul is something that no true believer can afford to neglect.

This ends my brief thematic Tafsīr of Surah Yūsuf. To learn more thematic Tafsīr, purchase my book ‘Themes of the Quran’ from one of the links below:

1. PDF Edition
2. Kindle Edition
3. Paperback Edition

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 0 comments
7 Self Help Lessons from Sūrat al-ʿAṣr

7 Self Help Lessons from Sūrat al-ʿAṣr

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Gracious
By Time.
Indeed mankind is in a state of loss.
Except for those who believe, work righteous deeds, assist each other towards the truth and assist each other in being steadfast. (Qurʾān 103:1-3)

This is a brief reflection on Sūrat al-ʿAṣr from a Self Help perspective. It is not a Tafsīr or an interpretation of the Sūrah. Just a reflection on some lessons I thought about while reflecting on this Sūrah. Here are seven self-help lessons that came to mind when pondering over Sūrat al-ʿAṣr.

1. Time is the most important resource

My first self-help book was focused on time management. This is because time is our most valuable resource. Allāh takes an oath on time, to show its importance in attaining our goals. Every moment lost is a moment we will never get back. You cannot go back in time and make up for your teenage years or your early twenties. They are gone, and all that is left to use the time remains wisely. Time Management is essential for success. Wasting time is extremely foolish.

2. Losing is the default setting

In this life and the next, people lose is they don’t take action. If you don’t work, you fail at earning your sustenance. If you don’t study, you fail your exams. And if you don’t live a righteous life, you can fail the test of life itself. Failure is easy. All that is required is doing nothing, and wasting time. Success (whether worldly or afterworldly) requires effort and hard work. This is why so few people are successful, because we aren’t willing to put in the effort to get things done.

3. Belief before action

In Islam, our beliefs are more important than our actions. Some wrong beliefs are so major that they nullify the rewards of any actions that we do. This is why the Qurʾān always mentions believing before doing righteous deeds. Correct belief is the condition for the acceptance of any deed.

The same applies to worldly goals. If you believe you are going to fail, you will. You need to believe that you can achieve a goal first, then only will you have the motivation and drive to actually work to success. So whether it comes to religion or worldly goals, believing is essential to success.

4. But action is also required

However, belief itself is not enough to achieve our goals. In order to attain Paradise, the believer must have the correct beliefs and work righteous deeds. Similarly, in order to achieve our worldly goals, believing is not enough, we need to take action and work hard. There is no replacement for hard work when pursuing a worthy goal.

5. We can accomplish more together

Twice in this Sūrah, the Arabic word for ‘assist each other‘ is mentioned as a condition for success. This is because everything worth achieving requires teamwork. It is very difficult to achieve any important goal on your own. Interdependence is necessary. To get to Paradise, we must assist each other in recognizing the truth and being patient upon it. Similarly, to achieve a worldly goal we must work together by utilizing each person’s strengths and talents.

6. Truth should never be ignored

People often fail because they choose to ignore or hide the truth. We see this in how people react to religious truths. When someone recognizes the truth but is not willing to submit to it, they may hide it, ignore it, or twist it. But, in the end, they only hurt themselves because the truth remains the truth and rejecting it can only lead to pain.

Likewise, in business and work, there are many people who choose to ignore facts that conflict with their egos. Perhaps someone else is more suited to a job. Maybe another person’s idea is better. Whatever the cause, ignoring the truth in these issues guarantees the failure of the project. Embracing the truth is essential for success.

7. Patience is everything

The Arabic word used in this verse is ṣabr which can be translated as patience, resiliency, restraint, perseverance, or persistence. All of these means are relevant here. A believer cannot get to Paradise without being patience through trials, resilient in the face of adversity, resistant to temptation, and persistent in doing good deeds. It is from the miraculous nature of the Qurʾān that one word contains so many messages.

Success at any worldly goal requires all of these qualities as well. On the path to achieving your goals, you will need to be patient with obstacles, resilient in the face of adversity, resistant to short-cuts and illegal routes, and persistent in working towards that goal. Success, in both this world and the next, is dependent on ṣabr.

To learn more Tafsīr of the Qurʾān, check out my eBook ‘Themes of The Quran’ available here.

Themes of the Quran
Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Time Management, 0 comments
10 Time Management Tips for Ramadan – Part 2

10 Time Management Tips for Ramadan – Part 2

Ramadan Time Management Tips – Part 2

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

This is Part 2 of my series on Time Management Tips for Ramadan, click the above link if you haven’t read Part 1 yet.

4. Allocate time to each goal

Now that your goals for Ramadan are clearly defined and you know how much time you have daily for Ibaadah, the next step is to combine this by allocating specific times daily for chasing each goal. Eg: If you have the goal of reading 30 pages of Tafsir daily and that will take you an hour, and you know that you have an hour a day free every evening before Tarawih, then allocate that time to be your Tafsir time.

Likewise, allocate specific times of each day things for each important act of worship. This means that you will set a specific time of the day for reciting Qur’an (perhaps before or after Fajr), making dua (before Iftar), having a family Halaqa (perhaps after Asr or after Tarawih) and any other goals you are working towards. Be specific as possible and stick to your times.

There may be days when you are unable to stick to the times completely due to elements beyond your control, but at least by having such a schedule, even on such days, you will make time to get these things done. If you are having an unusually busy day, instead of abandoning these goals completely, try halving them. So instead of not reading Tafsir at all for a day, try reading for half an hour or at least twenty minutes. In this way, you stay on track, even on your busiest days.

5. Utilize the early hours of the morning

Depending on whether Ramadan falls in Summer and Winter in your country, this would refer to the time before or after Suhoor. In Summer countries, Suhoor is quite early and many people can’t wake up too early before it. In that case, I recommend utilizing an hour after Suhoor for Ibaadah.

In Winter countries, Suhoor is quite late so waking up an hour before it is easier. In such countries, I recommend waking up an hour earlier (or at least half an hour early) and dedicating that time to Qiyam Al-Layl (Tahajjud), dua and reciting Qur’an.

The reason I emphasize the early mornings is because it is a time known for having Barakah. It is a time when we are not preoccupied with work and family obligations. Making it the best time of the day to dedicate to intense ibaadah, a private time alone with Allah.

6. Schedule in a family Halaqa

If this is not already one of your established habits, I recommend starting it this year. Ramadan is the perfect time for the family to bond and grow in Imaan together. The devils are locked up and everybody is more spiritual. This spirituality needs to be nurtured so that we can benefit from it after Ramadan. One way to do this is to establish a family Halaqa (study circle).

This can be done by getting to together before Iftar or after Taraweh, reading a chapter of an Islamic book (or listening to a lecture) then discussing its contents with each other. Involve every member of the family in the discussion. This will train the younger minds of the family to think and reflect, helping them grow into practicing thinking Muslims. The habit of having a family Halaqa is one that should continue after Ramadan.

7. Dedicate time daily for Qur’an

Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an and so it is obvious that time must be dedicated daily to the Qur’an. In some communities, the practice exists of reciting the Qur’an very quickly each Ramadan to get it over with. Instead of doing this, focus on reciting properly, studying the Tafsir and reflecting on its meanings. This will have a longer lasting effect on one’s Imaan and Taqwa.

In Part 3 of this series, we will discuss some more time management tips for staying on schedule and getting things done this Ramadan. 

Shaykh Ismail Kamdar is the author of Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management, available exclusively through this website. Learn more Time Management Tips by purchasing this ebook.

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PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3


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10 Time Management Tips for Ramadan – Part 1

10 Time Management Tips for Ramadan – Part 1

Time Management Tips for Ramadan

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

The countdown has begun and we have less than one and half months left until the greatest month of the year, Ramadan! I’m sure by now most of you are stock-piling the goodies for iftaar and downloading as many resources as possible for Ramadan preparation (which I hope includes my past articles) but the question remains “How can I manage my time well enough to get it all done?” That is what this series of articles is going to assist you with, inshaa Allah. Without any further intro, let’s jump right into our Time Management Tips for Ramadan:

1. Plan in Advance

Time Management is divided between planning and application. Without adequate planning, there isn’t anything much to apply and the result is another Ramadan that just flies by. Don’t allow this to be such a Ramadan. You have a few weeks to plan this properly, so let’s start working on our plans now.

To plan for Ramadan, we need to be clear regarding the goals (Maqasid) of Ramadan. As per the Qur’an, we know that fasting has been obligated on us to increase our Taqwa (God-consciousness) and that the Qur’an was revealed in Ramadan as a guidance for mankind. (See Surah Al-Baqarah, verses 183 and 185)

This means our overall objective of Ramadan should be an increase in Guidance and Taqwa. Every goal you formulate must work towards these two ends. With this end goal being clear, let’s move on to the next step.

2. Calculate how much Ibaadah time you will have daily

Ideally, we all want to spend Ramadan performing acts of worship 24/7, but this isn’t realistic and most of us have other obligations that we need to take care of as well. As the zeal dies down towards the middle of Ramadan, many people get caught up in their work, family responsibilities and rest, resulting in less Ibaadah (acts of worship) being done than initially desired.

This can be avoided by working out in advance how much time you will have daily for Ibaadah, then setting goals to get that much Ibaadah done minimum daily. The formula is simple: 24 Hours – (Sleep time, Work Time, Family Responsibility) = Ibaadah time.

For example, if you need six hours sleep daily, work an eight hour job every day and spent at least an hour helping the children with their homework, add in time for eating Suhoor and Iftaar, time spent in traffic and rest time after eating. The average person can free up between four to six hours a day for Ibaadah in Ramadan. (Makes me wonder why we can’t do the same outside Ramadan)

Let’s work with a smaller number though, as many people have other responsibilities like preparing meals and visiting relatives. Let’s bring it down to a minimum three hours Ibaadah daily. If you work out that you just have three hours for extra Ibaadah everyday in Ramadan, that is still enough time to accomplish some major goals. Multiply three by 29 and you get 87 hours of Ibaadah. 87 hours of optional Ibaadah in one month can transform your life and increase your Taqwa dramatically.

This means if you just schedule in an hour of Qur’an reciting, an hour of studying Islam and an hour for dua and Dhikr, you can really get a lot done if you stick with that for the entire month. This brings us to point number three.

3. Set Clear Goals

Now that you know the overall goals of Ramadan and how much time you have available daily to chase these goals, the next step is to set S.M.A.R.T goals to dedicate this time to. S.M.A.R.T means that the goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Let me give you an example.

If you make it a goal to study some Tafsir this Ramadan, the problem with this goal is that it is too vague (which Tafsir), not measurable (How many pages), and not attainable or realistic (does one page of Tafsir fulfil the goal or five books of Tafisr?)

A S.M.A.R.T goal would be: I want to complete studying this 800-page book of Tafsir this Ramadan. In order to complete 800 pages in 29 days, I need to read an average of 28 pages a day. This goal is:

Specific – It is a specific book of Tafsir you plan to read
Measurable – It is easy to measure and keep track of 28 pages daily
Attainable – It is possible to read 28 pages of Tafsir every day if you dedicate an hour to reading daily
Realistic – The book is at your level so it won’t be too difficult to read
Time-Bound – Ramadan takes care of this naturally as all Ramadan goals are time-bound to 29 days

Set a series of goals like this and you will have clear concrete plan to follow for the entire month of Ramadan. As for which times of the day to dedicate to each goal, that will be discussed in Part 2 of our tips for Ramadan.

Shaykh Ismail Kamdar is the author of Getting The Barakah: An Islamic Guide to Time Management, available exclusively via Islamic Self Help.

Buy Now

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Goal Setting, Time Management, 1 comment