The Letter Symbols in the Holy Quran


SHAFAQNA- In the Holy Qur’an, there are twenty-nine suras (chapters) that begin with al-huroofe-Muqatiaat (abbreviated letters or letter symbols). The following is the list of these suras with the symbols, in the order of the Qur’an:

1. Chapter 2, The Cow: Alif Laam Mim
2. Chapter 3, Ale-Imran: Alif Laam Mim
3. Chapter 7, al-A’araaf: Alif Laam Mim Suad
4. Chapter 10, Yunus: Alif Laam Ra
5. Chapter 11, Hud: Alif Laam Ra
6. Chapter 12, Yusuf: Alif Laam Ra
7. Chapter 13, Ra’d: Alif Laam Mim Ra
8. Chapter 14, Ibrahim: Alif Laam Ra
9. Chapter 15, Hijr: Alif Laam Ra
10. Chapter 19, Maryam: Kaf Ha Ya Ain Suad
11. Chapter 20, Ta-Ha: Ta Ha
12. Chapter 26, The Poets: Ta Sin Mim
13. Chapter 27, The Ant: Ta Sin
14. Chapter 28, Qasas: Ta Sin Mim
15. Chapter 29, The Spider: Alif Laam Mim
16. Chapter 30, The Romans: Alif Laam Mim
17. Chapter 31, Luqman: Alif Laam Mim
18. Chapter 32, The Adoration: Alif Laam Mim
19. Chapter 36, Ya-Sin: Ya Sin
20. Chapter 38, Suad: Suad
21. Chapter 40, The Believer: Ha Mim
22. Chapter 41, Ha-Mim: Ha Mim
23. Chapter 42, Shuraa: Ha Mim; Ain Sin Qaf
24. Chapter 43, The Embelishment: Ha Mim
25. Chapter 44, The Smoke: Ha Mim
26. Chapter 45, The Kneeling: Ha Mim
27. Chapter 46, The Sandhills: Ha Mim
28. Chapter 50, Qaf: Qaf
29. Chapter 68, The Pen: Nun

Do the revelation of these letters have an explanation?

Allah has said:

…and We have revealed the Book to you explaining clearly everything, and a guidance and mercy and good news for those who submit. (16:89)

The above verse shows that the whole Qur’an has a purpose and there is an explanation for everything and “everything” should include the abbreviated letters.

But Allah has also said:

He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation. but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord; and none do mind except those having understanding. (3:7)

Based on verse 3:7, some exegetes say that only Allah and His pure servants know the interpretation of the whole Qur’an including these letter symbols.

Looking at these two verses, there is a difference between the words “explanation” and “interpretation”.

Allamah Tabataba’I, the great 20th century exegete said in his tafseer al-Mizan:

“at-Ta’wil (interpretation) is that reality to which a verse refers; it is found in all verses, the decisive and the ambiguous alike; it is not a sort of a meaning of the word; it is a real fact that is too sublime for words; Allah has dressed them with words so as to bring them a bit nearer to our minds; in this respect they are like proverbs that are used to create a picture in the mind and thus help the hearer to clearly grasp the intended idea.”

As far as explanation of these letters is concerned, Allamah Tabataba’I says that there is evidence of a link between the context of the chapters and these letters. After all, there is an explanation for everything in the Qur’an. We know that the Qur’an is not dependent on extraneous sources for its explanation.

The Allamah mentions very briefly the significance of these letter symbols at the beginning of the tafseer (exegesis) of sura Maryam (chapter 19) although a comprehensive discussion about the letter symbols appear in the exegesis of sura ash-shoora (chapter 42). He says:

“…those suras (chapters) of Holy Qur’an that start with huroofe-muqatiaat ( letter symbols) have a common link between their context through these letters. In other words, those letter symbols that are common in different chapters tell us that the context of those surahs has some common link also. The proof of the above statement is the link and the similarity that can be seen between this surah (Maryam) and surah Suad in which it talks about the story of the Prophets.”

The same is the case with the chapter 26 (The Poets), chapter 27 (The Ant), chapter 28 (al-Qasas) and chapter 20 (Ta-Ha)  in the story of Moses (a.s.) and his encounter with the Pharaoh and the link is through the letter “Ta” which is the common letter in all these four chapters.

Let us now take a scrupulous look at the link between the contexts of the surahs Maryam and Yasin:

The contextual link between sura Maryam and sura Yasin through the letter Ya

The theme of surah Maryam:

The theme is mentioned at the end of the surah by the verse:

So We have made this (the Qur’ân) easy in your own tongue (O Muhammad sawa), only that you may give glad tidings to the Muttaqûn  and warn with it the Ludda people, which is to give warning and glad tidings. This theme has been carried on in an innovative and exciting manner. In the beginning it starts by pointing to the adventures of Ibrahim, Ishaq, Yakoob (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the incident of Haroon and Musa (Aaron and Moses) and the story of Isma’il (Ishmael) and Idris (Elijah) and their share of the blessed and ordained leadership that has been given to them, that is, either by being a prophet or having sincerity and truthfulness. The surah goes on to mention some examples of the mistakes of the people in the state of delusion and their oppression and their unreasonable ideas such as denying resurrection and the future life in the Hereafter, accusing God for having a son, idol worship, etc. The punishment for this behaviour is also mentioned.

The theme of surah Yasin:

Surah Yasin repeats and links the theme of surah Maryam in the same exciting manner. The surah begins by affirming the Messengership of Muhamamad (pbuh&hf) who came as a warner and then talks about those who belied the Messengers, rejected the communications of Allah and disbelief had settled deep, thus creating a seal in their hearts. Then the surah talks about the various signs of Allah for which no one should have the excuse of rejecting Him and then the description of the event of resurrection unfolds. At this stage, the recompense and condition of the pious people (those who guard against evil) and the evil people (those who belied the Messengers and reject the signs of Allah) are explained with some details. Some powerful arguments are presented to those who doubt and deny the event of resurrection and finally the surah ends with a profound reminder that with Allah is the reality (malakut) of the whole creation and everyone will eventually return to Him to account for their deeds. This reminder ties in perfectly with the statement in the beginning that the deeds of the people are sent in advance and the same are written (recorded) in the manifesting Imam (Guarded Tablet or the Book of Deeds).

The letter symbols:

Kaf Ha Ya Ain Suad. (19:1)

Ya Seen. (36:1)

Polytheism and The Command of Allah:

It beseems not Allah that He should take to Himself a son, glory to be Him; when He has decreed a matter He only says to it “Be,” and it is. (19:35)

And they have taken gods besides Allah that they may be helped. (36:74)

His command, when He intends anything, is only to say to it: Be, so it is. (36:82)

Serving Allah, the Right Path:

And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore serve Him; this is the right path. (19:36)

And that you should serve Me; this is the right way. (36:61)

Serving Shaytan, your enemy:

O my father! serve not the Shaitan, surely the Shaitan is disobedient to the Beneficent Allah: (19:44)

Did I not charge you, O children of Adam ! that you should not serve the Shaitan? Surely he is your open enemy. (36:60)

The Return to Allah

Surely We inherit the earth and all those who are on it, and to Us they shall be returned. (19:40)

Therefore glory be to Him in Whose hand is the malakut (reality) of all things, and to Him you shall be brought back. (36:83)

The Resurrection:

And says man: What! when I am dead shall I truly be brought forth alive? Does not man remember that We created him before, when he was nothing? (19:66-67)

And he strikes out a likeness for Us and forgets his own creation. Says he: Who will give life to the bones when they are rotten? Say: He will give life to them Who brought them into existence at first, and He is cognizant of all creation. (36:78-79)

Destruction of previous generations:

And how many of the generations have We destroyed before them who were better in respect of goods and outward appearance! (19:74)

And how many a generation have We destroyed before them! Do you see any one of them or hear a sound of them? (19:98)

Do they not consider how many of the generations have We destroyed before them, because they do not turn to them? (36:31)



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