Quranic Reflection No 604. Āyāt 12:3 – Importance of Stories

نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ الْقَصَصِ بِمَا أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآن

Nahnu naqussu ‘alayka ahsanal-qasasi bimā awhaynā ilayka hādhal-qur’ān

We relate to you the best of stories in what We have revealed to you of this Quran

(Surat Yusuf, No.12, Āyat 3)

Before beginning the story of Prophet Yūsuf ‘alayhis-salām in Sūrat Yūsuf, the Almighty says He relates the best stories through the Quran. ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in Tafsīr al-Mīzān says this could refer to the story of the Prophet itself, since it is an outstanding narration of how God helps and protects His sincere believers. Or it could refer to the storytelling itself. The story of the Prophet Yūsuf is narrated in an engaging and appropriate style.

The verse is also taken to mean that the entire Quran has been revealed in the best style. Many Hadith talk about the Quran as Ahsanul-Qasas. Imam Ali (a) says: The best of stories, and the most noble of advice, and the most effective reminder, is the Book of Allah (al-Kāfī, v 8, p175). According to Tafsīr-e Namūneh the words Ahsanul-Qasas in the above verse could refer both to the story of Prophet Yusuf (a) as well as the style of the entire Quran.

Stories have always been an important part of human life. They connect people and are important in passing on information in a creative and interesting manner. Stories help people derive meaning from the experiences of others. The Quran narrates many real stories of the past. These stories are a means for educating and training the believers. The history of the Prophets is narrated through the stories of their experiences. Some stories are repeated with a focus on different aspects of life experience to reveal various dimensions of the same story.

In Quran, various words have been used to describe stories that are narrated:

1) Qasas (Stories, narratives) – We narrate to you the best of stories, by Our revealing to you this Quran, though before this you were certainly one of those who did not know (Q 12:3)

2) Naba’ (News, tiding, account, information)

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِنْ أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الْآخَرِ

Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons, When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. (Q 5:27)

3) Hadith (Tradition, Discourse, Narration)

وَهَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ مُوسَىٰ ‎

إِذْ رَأَىٰ نَارًا فَقَالَ لِأَهْلِهِ امْكُثُوا إِنِّي آنَسْتُ نَارًا لَّعَلِّي آتِيكُم مِّنْهَا بِقَبَسٍ أَوْ أَجِدُ عَلَى النَّارِ هُدًى ‎

And has the narration of Mūsā come to you? When he saw fire, he said to his family: Wait, Indeed I see a fire, Maybe I will bring you a brand from it, or find some guidance at the fire. (Q 20:9-10).

Let the above verse remind you that the Quran is the best of stories. Experiences of past people have been narrated in it to help us learn from history. The stories inspire us as well as warn us from repeating the mistakes others did in the past. As Imam Ali (a) explains in his letter to his son, investigating and learning from the past enables one to discern the impure from the clean and the benefit from the harm. (Document 31, Nahjul Balāgha).Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.