The Disjointed Letters

The disjointed letters or the muqatta'aat, occur at the beginning of twenty-nine soorahs in the Quran. These letters, fourteen in number, comprise exactly half the letters of the Arabic alphabet. Three soorahs begin with only one letter, ten with two letters,twelve with three letters, two with four letters, and two with five. The most common letter is meem, in seventeen soorahs. The least common are kaaf and noon, which both occur only once. There have been numerous interpretations as to the meaning and purpose of these letters, ranging from the ludicrous (some orientalists claim that these letters are the initials of the scribes who wrote the Quran for the Prophet (sallallallahu alayhi wa sallam), to the sensible. Some of the more common interpretations and opinions are:

1. These letters are from the Mutashaabih (unclear), and only Allaah knows their meanings. This opinion is a very common one, and it is definitely the safest opinion. However, it does not rule out the possibility-that these letters have some purpose and meaning. Fakhr ad-Deen ar-Raazee (RAH) said, commenting on this view, "it is not possible that Allaah would include something in His Book that His Creation would not understand, because Allaah is the one who has commanded us to reflect over this Book, and seek guidance from it. This cannot be done except by understanding its meanings." (Az-Zarkashee) .

2. These are from the names of Allaah. There are reports from ibn Abbas (RA) to this effect, such as Alif-Lam-Meem indicates the three names: Allaah, Lateef and Majeed, all of which are from the names of Allaah. However; all of these are not authentic.

3. Allaah has sworn by these letters. In other words, these letters have the same purpose as the other oaths in the Quran, such as By the Dawn. (Q89{Fajr]:I). This view is refuted since this is not the proper way Arab used to swear.

4. They are acronyms for phrases. For example, Alif-Lam-Meem stands for Ana Allaahu Alam (I, Allaah, Know), or Allaah, Jibreel and Muhammad.

5. They are from the names of the Quran. Most of the scholars have rejected this view, as the Quran is not referred to as Alif-Lam-Meem.

6. They are names of soorahs.Thus it is possible to say Soorah Ya-Seen etc. Although this might be one of the purposes the muqattaaat can be used for, it does not really explain their meaning. Also less than a third of the Soorahs actually begin with these letters, therefore this cannot be their primary purpose.

7. They are meant to demonstrate man's limited knowledge. By including the muqattaaat as the first verse of the Quran after Soorah al-Fatihah, man is being reminded of his limited knowledge, and the infinite knowledge of his Creator.

8. They are a reference to the other half of the alphabet. In other words, the Arabs are being reminded that this Quran is composed of their letters, and the words are the same as their words, and yet it cannot be imitated in its style and prose.

9. They are used to attract attention. The muqattaaat are not a phenomenon started by the Quran; the Arab poets of Jahiliyah occasionally used disjointed letters at the beginning of their poetry to attract attention to the poem that was to follow. In a topic of this nature, it is impossible to authoritatively say which of these opinions is the correct one, since there does not exist absolute proof for any of them (hence in a way, this aids the first opinion!)


This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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