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Muqattaat - the disjointed letters
Author/Source:   Posted by: M Rashid Hai
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(The disjointed letters in Qur'an) M. Rashid Hai

The 29 surah(verses) of Qura’n start with some disjointed letters called ‘huruf-e-muqatta’at’ – disjointed letters. Some of these muqatta’at comprises of simply 1 letter, some of 2 letters, some 3 letters, some 4 letters and a few comprises 5 letters. The surah starting with these muqatta’at are listed below:

There are 3 surah that start with simply one muqatta (singular of muqatta’at)

1- Surah 38, Suad: Suad
2- Surah 50, Quaf: Quaf
3- Surah 68, Al-Qalam: Noon

There are 9 surah that start with 2 muqatta’at
1- Surah 20, Ta-Ha: Ta Ha
2- Surah 27, Al-namal: Ta Seen
3- Surah 36, Ya-Sin: Ya Seen
4- Surah 40, Al-momin: ha Meem
5- Surah 41, Al-hameem Sejda: ha Meem
6- Surah 43, Al-Zukhruf: ha Meem
7- Surah 44, Al-Dukhan: ha Meem
8- Surah 45, Al-Jaseya: ha Meem
9- Surah 46, Al-Ahqaf: ha Meem

There are 13 sura that start with 3 muqatta’at
1- Surah 2, Al-Baqra: Alif Laam Meem
2- Surah 3, Ale-Imran: Alif Laam Meem
3- Surah 10, Yunus: Alif Laam Ra
4- Surah 11, Hud: Alif Laam Ra
5- Surah 12, Yusuf: Alif Laam Ra
6- Surah 14, Ibrahim: Alif Laam Ra
7- Surah 15, Al-Hijr: Alif Laam Ra
8- Surah 26, Al-Sho’ara: Ta Sin Meem
9- Surah 28, Al-Qasas: Ta Sin Meem
10- Surah 29, Al-ankaboot: Alif Laam Meem
11- Surah 30, Al-Room: Alif Laam Meem
12- Surah 31, Luqman: Alif Laam Meem
13- Surah 32, Al-Sejda: Alif Laam Meem

Following 2 start with 4 muqatta’at
1- Surah 7, al-A’araaf: Alif Laam Meem Suad
2- Surah 13, al-Ra'd: Alif Laam Meem Ra

And following 2 start with 5 muqatta’at
1- Surah 19, Maryam: Kaf Ha Ya Ain Suad
2- Surah 42, al-Shuraa: ha Meem; Ain Seen Quaf
The 14 letters used as muqattaat are as follows:


ح -ن - ق - س - ط - ص - ع - ى - ە - ک - ر - م - ل - ا


1) Some one has coined a phrase by joining these words:


سر لحكيم نصه قطعا

"A secret of a sage who explained it in piecemeal."

This phrase can be considered as a key to the fawateh of the Qur'an

2) A shi'ite has joined the 14 letters and formed a phrase:

صراط علي حقه نمسكه

"Ali is on the path of truth and we are also on the same path ".

3) A sunnite formed the following phrase as a counter:


صح طريقك مع السنة

"Follow the path of Sunnah.”

A large number of scholarly books have been written over the centuries on the possible meanings and probable significance of these disjointed letters the muqatta’at. Opinions have been numerous but without a final conclusion. There is no reliable report of Hazrat Muhammad SWA having used such expressions in his ordinary speech, or his having thrown light on its usage in the Qur'an. And, more importantly, none of his Companions seemed to have asked him about it. This apparent lack of inquisitiveness is cited as proof that such abbreviations were well known to the Arabs of the time and were in vogue long before the advent of Islam. However the use of such letters faded away from Arabic literature with the passage of time.

These letters- the muqatta’at fall into the category of ‘mutashabihat’ and what Qur’an says about ‘mutashabihat in surah Aal-e-Imran verse 5-7: “ Nothing in the earth or the heavens is hidden from Allah, It is He Who shapes you in the wombs of your mothers as He wills. There is no deity but He, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. It is He who sent down this Book for you. There are two kinds of verses in this Book: muhkamat’: they are the essence of the Book, and others, ‘mutashabihat’. Those who are perverse of heart, always go after the ‘mutashabihat’ in pursuit of mischief and try to interpret them arbitrarily, whereas, in fact none save Allah knows their real meaning. In contrast to them, those who possess sound knowledge, say, :We believe in them because all of them are from our Lord”. And the fact is that only the people of insight can learn lessons from such things”.[1]
There is not a single saheeh(authentic) hadith that could provide the meanings, details or explanations of these disjointed letters- the muqatta’at. “Allah knows the best” could only be the most proper refrence regarding these letters. However there is a saheeh hadith in which Allah’s Rasool SWA says ‘ I don’t say that alif, laam, meem ia single word but alif is a letter, laam is a letter and meem is aletter, and there is a ‘naikee’ (good-deed) to recite one letter and each naikee (good-deed) is rewarded ten times’.[2]

Allāh states clearly in the text that the Qur’ān is, ‘A Book whereof the Verses are explained in detail – a Qur’ān in Arabic for people who know.’ (Sūrat al-Fuilat /ha meem sejda – 41:3). The Qur’ān is referred to as a ‘clear proof’ (6:157) ‘a manifest light’ (4:174; 42:52) and it has been ‘fully explained to mankind’ (17:89; 18:54; 39:27) readers are also encouraged to ‘think deeply’ (47:24) about the text. In this particular verse, the Arabic verb ‘تدبر’ is used: it means ‘to consider, reflect or meditate upon’. In other words, although Allāh has stated categorically that the Qur’ān is a comprehensively revealed, unambiguous text, readers are encouraged to reflect on it. Hence, scholars have put forward a number of views regarding the significance of the muqatta’at, their co-occurrence and placement.[3] Traditional scholars have their opinions to account for their(muqatta’at) meaning as follows:[4]

These letters contain the names of Allah SWT. Contradicting this opinion, scholars say that as per saheeh hadith there are 99 names of Allah SWT and those names have no relevance with these letters.
Hazrat Ibn Abbas RA has said that in these muqatta’at the Ism-e-Azam is hidden and ‘alif laam meem’ is an Ism-e-Azam. (Tafseer Ibn Kathir)

These letters when joined together with different combinations they emerge as Allah’s name. For example when alif, laam,meem and ha, meem are joined with noon, it makes Al-Rahman. It makes sense in this case but no second name can be made with any other set of combinations.

These are the name of Rasool Allah SWA, while referring to ‘Ta-ha’ and ‘ya-seen’. However this can also not be taken as very correct, because Rasool Allah SWA himself told his names as Muhammad, Ahmad, Mahi and Hashir (Saheeh Bukhari).

These letters represent different names of Qur’an. Whereas Qur’an has itself named as Al-kitab, Kitab-e-Mubeen, Qur’an, Qur’an majeed, Qur’an kareem, Qur’an azeem, Firqan, Al-zikr, Al-hadith and Ahsanul hadith.

These letters are the names of different surahs. To some extent it appears to be correct as ‘Suad’, Quaf, Taha, Yaseen are also the names of surahs. Sura ‘Al-Qalam’ is also called surah ‘noon’.
Abdul Rehman bin Zaid bin Aslam is also of this opinion. Allama Abul Qasim Mehmood bin Umar Zamhashiri in his tafseer has written that a number of scholars are also in agreement with this opinion. (Tafseer Ibn Kathir)

These letters refer to entire Islamic system. For example, ‘alif’ stands for Allah, ‘laam’ stands for Jibraeel (Gabriel) and ‘meem’ stands for Muhammad SWA. But this logic does not seem to be applicable to other letters.

These letters are challenges to infidels that you people also start your writings and literature with such letters but look and realize the difference between your literature and Qur’an and that you and all your companions togathert can not present even a single sura like in Qur’an. Imam Bezavi stands with this opinion. But this opinion does not seem to be logical because when the meanings of these letters are not clear then how these letters could be termed as challenge.

By counting and summing up the numerical values, through the science of numerology, of these letters the time for the dooms day and the age of the humanity can be determined. This opinion also does not hold ground, as at the first instance to have faith on numerology is against shariah, and secondly the humans can never, whatsoever, determine the time the day of judgment will occur. Even Rasool Allah SWA was told about the timings of this day by Allah SWT.

These letters stand for words or phrases related to Allah and His attributes and only the prophet Hazrat Muhammad SWA knows their meanings and details. It means that these letters depict the private conversations between Allah SWT and Hazrat Muhammad SWA. For this opinion it can be said that ‘Allah knows the best’.

These letters are based upon hard facts and are the secrets of Allah SWT. It is not possible for the mankind to explore their realities and factualness. In these such attributes of Allah SWT are hidden which are beyond human perceptions.

These letters were used to attract the attention of the Prophet and later his audience. (Marhoom Dr. Israr Ahmad of Tanzeem-e-Islami was of this view.)

Imam Fakhar uddin Al Razi (1149 – 1209) opined that Arabs used to name things after such letters (for example, 'money' as 'ع', clouds as 'غ', and fish as 'ن').[5]

Opinion -13:
These letters are the abbreviations of the names of ‘katib-e-wahi’ (the companions of Rasool Allah SWA to whom he SWA used to dictates the ‘wahi’ – the Qur’anic revelations.

This opinion is also presumptuous and have no authentic basis. There were not less than 42 ‘katib-e-wahi’ whereas there are only 14 different muqatta’at. Moreover the Qur'an was dictated by the Prophet and the ‘katibs’ wrote under his direct supervision of Hazrat Muhammad SWA and they had no more connection with the text nor there was any reason to permanently relate the text with their names.
Modern Research

One suggestion offered by an Qur'anic scholar Dr. Hashim Amir Ali (1903 – 1987) From Hyderabad India deserves consideration. According to him:
“A simple explanation, but one which has not been offered by a single commentator, is that each and every one of these 29 openings, without exception, are vocatives or forms of address to the Prophet similar to “Ta Ha!” (S. 20), “Ya –Sin!” (S. 36), “O thou, who is ordained!” (S. 73) or “O thou, on whom has fallen the mantle!” (S. 74): their general sense can be conveyed by replacing them with “O Muhammad!’’
The following facts go to prove or support the above thesis

(a) Every one of these 9 instances occur in the beginnings of the Surahs and have, in fact, been referred to in early commentaries as al-Fawatih, or ‘openings’ of the Surahs. It is therefore, logical to regard them as forms of address. This assumptionis confirmed by the fact that the text which follows the ‘Fawatih’ in each of the 29 cases, without exception, is couched in the second person, singular.

(b) Only with one or two exceptions the immediately following words consist of one or more of the following four reassuring statements so often addressed to the Prophet in the Qur’an:

i. That the Qur’anic message is Truth manifest

ii. That the Addressee is ordained by the Divine and not by any other agency;

iii. That the righteous will accept the Message:
the Addressee must not consider his mission in vain and

iv. That failure to convince the hard-hearted must not daunt the Addressee.

(c) The fact that these letter-openings do not affect the meaning of the text that follows supports the thesis that they are mere vocatives.

(a) The thesis is also supported by the fact that, by far the majority of the Surahs beginning with such openings, 25 out of 29, were revealed during the period when ostracized by people, the Prophet was sorely in need of reassurance.

This solution does not offer the actual words or meanings which these letters in each case represent. But that is of secondary or even negligible importance. Vocation, particles, forms of address, terms of esteem or appreciation, sobriquets, aliases all these need have no specific meaning attached to them. Since they do not affect the sense of the message that follows. It is enough to know that they are only forms of address to Muhammad varying according to the circumstances and contents of the message. Perhaps Muhammad himself understood the words which the letters in each case represented but was too modest to repeat them to the scribes; perhaps he merely felt their appreciative import but was too sincere to replace the feeling with words. In any case this solution does away with the innumerable far-fetched conjectures each of which has been discountenanced by the exponents of others and have together contradicted the claim of the Qur’an that its contents are clear and explicit to all who have approach to it.(The message of Quran -1974-by Dr Hasim Amir Ali)

In 1974, an Egyptian biochemist named Rashad Khalifa claimed to have discovered a mathematical code in the Qur'an based on these initials and the number 19, which is mentioned in Sura 74:30 (“the hell fire ‘saqar’ is guarded by 19 angles”) of the Quran. According to his claims, these initials, which prefix 29 chapters of the Qur'an, occur throughout their respective chapters in multiples of nineteen. He has noted other mathematical phenomena throughout the Quran, all related to what he describes as the "mathematical miracle of the Qur'an."

Amin Ahsan Islahi (1904-1997), a renowned exegete of the Quran, has mentioned that since Arabs once used such letters in their poetry, it was only appropriate for Quran to use that same style. He agrees with Razi and mentions that since these letters are names for Surahs, they are proper nouns. As such, they do not necessarily refer to other matters. At the same time, he cites research from Hamiduddin Farahi (1863-1930), a Quranic scholar from the Indian subcontinent, on how these letters must be appropriately chosen according to the content and theme of the surahs. Farahi links these letters back to Hebrew alphabet and suggests that those letters not only represented phonetic sounds but also had symbolic meanings, and Quran perhaps uses the same meanings when choosing the letters for surahs. For instance, in support of his opinion, he presents the letter Nun (ن), which symbolizes fish and Surah Nun mentions Prophet Younus 'companion of the fish'. Similarly, the letter Ta or Tuay (ط) represents a serpent and all the Surahs that begin with this letter mention the story of Prophet Musa and the serpents.[6]

Western scholars have only occasionally attempted to explain them. In 1996, Keith Massey[7] proposed new evidence for an older theory that the muqatta’at the "Mystery Letters" were the initials or monograms of the scribes who originally transcribed the suras . As evidence for this, he demonstrated that these letters themselves occur in a specific order, suggesting a hierarchy of importance. This idea has not yet gained wide acceptance. Other explanations have similarly failed to satisfactorily explain these letters.[8]

Ibn Kathir in his ‘tafseer’ while commenting upon these muqatta’at says: ‘If Hazrat Muhammad SWA has described some meanings to these letters, then it is final and unquestionable. If Rasool Allah SWA has not explained any meanings to these letters then we should also refrain in giving any meanings to these letters and will have to believe that these are the letters from Allah SWT.

For us as mulims and true believers it should be our firm belief that these letters the muqatta’at are revealed from Allah SWT, further neither these letters are extraneously nor carelessly introduced in Qur’an, but are based upon absolute realities. It should be particularly noted that it is neither obligatory for us to know the meanings and details of these letters nor it is a matter of shariah.

1- English translation of ‘Tafheem ul Qur’an’ by Syed Abul Aala Maududi
2- Tafseer Ibn Kathir
3- Al-huroof Muqattaat by Dr. Zakir A Naik
4- Tafseer ‘Taisurul Quran’ by Abdul Rahman Kelani
5- ‘Renaissance’ (july 2003) – A monthly publication of Al-Mawrid
6- ‘Renaissance’ (july 2003) – A monthly publication of Al-Mawrid
7- Massey, Keith (1996). "A New Investigation into the “Mystery Letters” of the Quran" in 'Arabica', Vol. 43 No. 3. pp. 497–501.
8- wikipedia.com

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