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Researcher’s Companion to Ghamidi’s Surah al-Baqarah (1-7)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Dr. Shehzad Saleem

I Meaning & Morphology (الصرف و اللغة)

1. ‘الم

In religious parlance, these letters and others similar to them are called the Hurūf-i-Muqatta’āt (the separated letters). They are found at the beginning of some twenty-nine sūrahs of the Qur’ān. Rāzī, in his exegesis on the Qur’ān has enlisted some twenty one opinions about what these letters represent. He has pointed out that most scholars and researchers regard them to be the names of the respective sūrahs in which they occur. He says that grammarians like Khalīl and Sībwayh and most theologians are of this view. He quotes Qifāl in the following words:

و قد سمت العرب بهذه الحروف أشياء, فسموا بلام والد حارثة بن لام الطائي, و كقولهم للنحاس: صاد, و للنقد: عين, وللسحاب :غين. و قالوا: جبل قاف, و سموا الحوت نونا

The Arabs would name things after such letters. They called the father of Hārithah Ibn Lām Al-Tā’ī as ‘لام’ (lām). They called ‘brass’ as ‘ص’, ‘money’ as ‘ع’ and ‘clouds’ as ‘غ’. Similarly, they called a mountain ‘ق’ and ‘fish’ as ‘ن’.1

 Ghāmidī is also of the opinion that these letters are the names of respective surāhs (ref. 1). His words are:

The way they are placed in the beginning of some twenty nine surahs of the Qur’ān and the way they are referred to by the demonstrative pronouns ‘ذَلِكَ’ (dhālika) and ‘تِلكَ’ (tilka) show that they are names of the respective surāhs.

Consequently, many of these sūrahs are generally referred to according to this pattern, for example Tāhā, Yāsīn, Suād , Qāf and Nūn (all these letters are actually the Hurūf-i-Muqatta’āt of the respective sūrahs). However, there remains the question of why the sūrahs are named in this way. Many scholars have attempted to answer the question, but what they have proposed is far from being satisfactory. Farāhī (d: 1930 AD), a scholar of the sub-continent, has presented an explanation which might hold the key to the problem.2 The following paragraphs briefly discuss his theory.3

Those who are aware of the history of the Arabic alphabet know that it has been derived from the Hebrew alphabet, which itself has its roots in the alphabet used in ancient Arabia. Farāhī is of the view that the letters of this parent alphabet, unlike English and Hindi, do not represent phonetic sounds only, but, like the Chinese alphabet, symbolize certain meanings and objects which usually assume the shape of the objects and meanings they convey. He goes on to assert that it was these letters which the early Egyptians adopted and after adapting them according to their own concepts created the Hieroglyphic script from them. The remnants of this script can be seen in the tables of the Egyptian Pyramids.

There are some letters whose meanings have persisted to this day, and the way they are written also somewhat resembles their ancient forms. For example, it is known about the Arabic letter ‘ا’ that it is used to mean a cow and was represented by a cow’s head. The letter ‘ب’ in Hebrew is called Bayt and means Bayt (house) as well. The Hebrew pronunciation of ‘ج’ is Jaymal which means Jamal (camel). ‘ط’ stands for a serpent and is written in a serpent’s shape. ‘م’ represents a water wave and also has a related configuration.

Farāhī presents Sūrah Nūn in support of his theory. The letter ‘ن’ even in today’s alphabet denotes its ancient meaning of fish. In this sūrah, the Prophet Jonah (sws) has been addressed as Sāhibu’l-Hūt (Companion of the Fish). Farāhī opines that it is because of this reference that the sūrah is called ‘ن’. He goes on to say that if one keeps in consideration the examples given above, it is quite likely that the abbreviated letters by which other sūrahs commence are placed at the beginning of the sūrahs to symbolize a relation between the topics of a particular sūrah and their own ancient connotations.

Some other names of the Qur’ānic Sūrahs reinforce Farāhī’s theory. Sūrah Tāhā, for example, begins with the letter ‘ط’ which represents a serpent, as has been indicated before. After a brief introduction the tale of Moses (sws) and his rod, which is transformed into a snake, has been depicted in it. Other Sūrahs as ‘طس’ and ‘طسم’, which begin with the letter ‘ط’ Tuay, also portray this miraculous anecdote.

Sūrah Baqarah, which begins with the letter ‘ا’, is another example which further strengthens Farāhī’s claims. It has been indicated before that the letter ‘ا’ had the meaning of a cow associated with it and was represented by a cow’s head. Sūrah Baqarah, as we all know, contains the anecdote of a cow and its sacrifice.

Another aspect of the sūrahs which begin with the same letter is a similarity in their topics and even in their style and construction. For example, all sūrahs which begin with ‘ا’ basically deal with Tawhīd (monotheism). It would be appropriate here to point out that the letter ‘ا’ also stood for Allah, the One and Alone.

2. The Antecedent of ‘ذَلِكَ

The demonstrative pronoun ‘ذَلِكَ’ in ذََلِكَ الْكِتَابُ’ refers to the name of the sūrah mentioned in the previous verse. It is common in Arabic to refer to entities mentioned previously by demonstrative pronouns as ‘ذَلِكَ’ and ‘تِلْكَ’. In the Qur’ān, examples of this usage can be seen in the following verses:

قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّنْ لَنَا مَا هِيَ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لَا فَارِضٌ وَلَا بِكْرٌ عَوَانٌ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ فَافْعَلُوا مَا تُؤْمَرُونَ(٦٨:٢)

تِلْكَ آيَاتُ اللَّهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِالْحَقِّ وَإِنَّكَ لَمِنْ الْمُرْسَلِينَ تِلْكَ الرُّسُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى (٢: ٢٥٢)

قَالَ لَا يَأْتِيكُمَا طَعَامٌ تُرْزَقَانِهِ إِلَّا نَبَّأْتُكُمَا بِتَأْوِيلِهِ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَأْتِيَكُمَا ذَلِكُمَا مِمَّا عَلَّمَنِي رَبِّي إِنِّي تَرَكْتُ مِلَّةَ قَوْمٍ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَهُمْ بِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ كَافِرُونَ (٣٧:١٢)

3. ‘اَلْكِتَابُ

As pointed out by the author, the word ‘اَلْكِتَابُ’ means the ‘Book of God’. This usage is common in the Qur’ān. The following verses, for example, can be cited in this regard:

وَالَّذِينَ يُمَسِّكُونَ بِالْكِتَابِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ (١٧٠:٧)

And those who hold fast to the Book and establish the prayer. (7:170)

فَإِنْ كُنْتَ فِي شَكٍّ مِمَّا أَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ فَاسْأَلْ الَّذِينَ يَقْرَءُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِكَ (٩٤:١٠)

So if you [O Muhammad] are in doubt concerning that which We have revealed unto you, then ask those who are reading the Book before you. (10:94)

الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمْ الْكِتَابَ يَعْرِفُونَهُ كَمَا يَعْرِفُونَ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ (٢٢ :١٤٦)

Those to whom We have given the Book recognize him [— Muhammad —] as they recognize their sons. (2:146)

Also this usage is not new. The words ‘Bible’ and ‘Scripture’ both are used for Books of God. In Greek, ‘Bible’ means ‘book’. and in Latin, ‘Scripture’ also means ‘book’.

4. ‘فيه

The antecedent of the genitive pronoun ‘ه’ in‘فيه’ is what is evident from the previous sentence and the understood meaning is: ‘لا ريب في كونه كتابا منزلا من الله تعالى’ (There is no doubt in it being the Book revealed from God).

5. The ‘ب’ in ‘بالغيب

In Ghamidi’s opinion (ref. 5), the particle ‘ب’ in the expression ‘يؤمنون بالغيب’ denotes a ‘ظرف’ (nomen locus). Examples of this usage can be seen in the following verses:

الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَيْبِ وَهُمْ مِنْ السَّاعَةِ مُشْفِقُونَ (٤٩:٢١)

Those who fear their Lord though they cannot see Him and dread the Day of Judgment. (21:49)

إِنَّمَا تُنْذِرُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالغَيْبِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ (١٨:٣٥)

You can warn only those who fear God, though they cannot see Him. (35:18)

It is thus against the above usage to regard the particle ‘ب’ as a preposition of the verb ‘يُؤْمِنُونَ’.

6. ‘سَمْعٌ

As pointed out by Ghamidi (ref. 13), the word ‘سَمْعٌ’ is a verbal noun, which of course is never plural. This explanation is in order because ‘سَمْعٌ’ is used with two other words, both of which are plural and, thus according to usage, it should have been plural as well. It also needs to be pointed out that both other words ‘اَبْصَار’ and ‘قُلُوْب’ are actually nouns, which of course take a plural.

II Syntax & Declensions & (النحو و الاعراب)

1. Parsing of ‘ذََلِكَ الْكِتَابُ

Zamakhsharī has discussed several ways in which the initial verses of Sūrah Baqarah can be parsed3. In Ghamidi’s opinion, the most appropriate grammatical construction of verse 2 is that ‘ذَلِكَ’ is ‘مبتدا’ (inchoative) and ‘الْكِتَابُ’ is the ‘خبر’ (enunciative). The following parallel clearly shows that the Qur’ān itself has ‘الْكِتَابُ’ as ‘خبر’ in such a construction:

المر تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ (١٣: ١-٢)

This is Sūrah Alif Lām Mīm Rā. These are the verses of the Book. (13:1-2)

2. Parsing of 2:1-2

The first two verses of the sūrah are four independent sentences as pointed out by Ghamidi in his translation. Zamakhsharī also favors this interpretation4. ‘الم’ is the ‘خبر’ (enunciative) of a suppressed ‘مبتدا’ (inchoative). Consequently, the first verse can be parsed as ‘هذه الم’. Similarly, ‘لِلْمُتَّقِينَ هُدًى’ is the enunciative of a suppressed inchoative. The verse can be parsed as ‘لِلْمُتَّقِينَ هُدًى هو’, with the pronoun referring to the word ‘اَلْكِتَابُ


III  Style & Eloquence (الاساليب و البلاغة)

1. Use of the verb ‘كَفَرُوا

In classical Arabic, a verb can be used in various stages (مدارج). Thus the same verb can be used to express intention, decision, and severity of the actual meaning it conveys. For example the verb ‘أمَنُوْا’ can mean ‘they intend to believe’, ‘they have decided to believe’ or ‘they fully believed’. It depends on the context and usage as to which meaning is implied. Here, as pointed out by Ghamidi (ref. 12), it is obvious that the word ‘كَفَرُوا’ is used to mean ‘they have decided to deny’: The reason for this is that the punishment which is mentioned is reserved for such rejecters only.

Here is another example of a verb being used to express decision of the verb itself:

وَحَرَامٌ عَلَى قَرْيَةٍ أَهْلَكْنَاهَا أَنَّهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُونَ (٢١: ٩٥)

And it is forbidden for a population which we have destroyed that they shall not desist [from evil]. (21:95)

The verb ‘destroyed’ of course if interpreted in its actual sense will render the verse ambiguous. A destroyed nation can obviously never desist from evil. Actually the verb ‘destroyed’ in this verse expresses strong decision on the part of the Almighty to destroy people who do not deserve to live since they have knowingly denied the truth. So the verse can be translated as: And it is forbidden for a population which We have decided to destroy [in accordance with Our law] that they shall not desist [from evil]. (21:95)

2. The Implication of a Noun Sentence

In Arabic, a noun sentence does not have a time frame. Its time frame is determined by the context and by other intrinsic factors. Thus the verse ‘أُوْلَئِكَ عَلَى هُدًى مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ وَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ الْمُفْلِحُونَ’ has been translated by the author keeping in view the fact that those who were accepting faith at that time were among the righteous even before the advent of Islam and were searching for the truth. After the revelation of the Qur’ān they accepted its message; hence they shall be among the successful.


IV. Exegesis and Explanation (الشرح و التفسير)

1. Subtle Reference to the Jews

The initial verses of the sūrah mention certain attributes of the righteous who had accepted faith in the prophethood of Muhammad (sws). These attributes are directly opposite to the ones that were possessed by the Jews, as a nation, in that period. At various places, the Qur’ān has alluded to these attributes. They proposed that they would believe in God only if they were allowed to see Him (2:55). They abandoned the prayer (19:59) and instead of spending in the way of Allah went as far in its negation as urging people to miserliness (4:37). They openly acclaimed disbelief in other Books of God and maintained that they would only profess faith in what was revealed to them (2:91). Their belief in the Hereafter was nothing more than a dogma and in fact possessed a great greed for immortality in this life (2:92-4).

2. Implication of ‘لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ

This verse is generally taken to mean that there is no doubt in this book: whatever it says and claims is the absolute truth. If parallels of this verse are taken into consideration, one comes to the conclusion that this meaning is not implied here. On the contrary, what is implied is that there is no doubt in the divinity of the Book; it is revealed by none other than the Almighty and it is the very Book that the Jews had been promised. Some of the parallel verses are:

الم تَنزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ مِنْ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ (٣٢: ١-٢)

This is Alif Lām Mīm. The revelation of the Book is no doubt from the Lord of the world. (32:1-2)

حم تَنْزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ مِنْ اللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْعَلِيمِ (٤٠: ١-٢)

This is [Sūrah] Hammīm. The revelation of this Book is from Allah, the All-Mighty, the Knowing. (40:1-2)

For more references see 45:1-2, 46:1-2.

3. Implication of ‘يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ

The implication of the above expression is that these people accept certain facts without observing them because these realities can be intellectually deduced. For example, they may not be able to see God, the Day of Judgment is concealed from their eyes, and they have not witnessed Gabriel revealing the Divine Message to the Prophet (sws). Yet, they believe in all these because present in the Qur’ān, in their nature and intuition and in the various phenomena of nature are signs which testify to these realities. These may be beyond sensory perception, but are certainly not beyond reason.

4. Implication of the verb ‘كَفَرُوا

As pointed out earlier, the verb ‘كَفَرُوا’, actually refers to people in the time of the Prophet (sws) who had made up their minds to deny the Book of God. The implication being that in spite of being convinced of its veracity they had taken to deliberate denial. Imām Rāzī quotes two different opinions regarding the people referred to by the words ‘الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا’. According to one group, it refers to the leaders of the Jews and according to another, a group from among the Idolaters. The common feature of both these opinions is that both suggest that the denial was deliberate.5 Tabarī in his exegesis also refers to this deliberate denial on the part of the Jews in denying Muhammad (sws).6

5. Law of Guidance

The law of guidance that verse 7 alludes to is explained in the Qur’ān at a number of places. Some of them are

فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِمْ مِيثَاقَهُمْ وَكُفْرِهِمْ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَقَتْلِهِمْ الْأَنْبِيَاءَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ وَقَوْلِهِمْ قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ بَلْ طَبَعَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهَا بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا(١٥٥:٤)

[They have incurred divine displeasure] because they broke their covenant, rejected the signs of Allah, slew the Messengers in defiance of right and said: ‘Our hearts are closed’ – no, Allah has set the seal on their hearts because of their blasphemy, and few will believe. (4:155)

أَوَلَمْ يَهْدِ لِلَّذِينَ يَرِثُونَ الْأَرْضَ مِنْ بَعْدِ أَهْلِهَا أَنْ لَوْ نَشَاءُ أَصَبْنَاهُمْ بِذُنُوبِهِمْ وَنَطْبَعُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ فَهُمْ لَا يَسْمَعُونَ  تِلْكَ الْقُرَى نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ مِنْ أَنْبَائِهَا وَلَقَدْ جَاءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُهُمْ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَمَا كَانُوا لِيُؤْمِنُوا بِمَا كَذَّبُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ كَذَلِكَ يَطْبَعُ اللَّهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِ الْكَافِرِينَ  وَمَا وَجَدْنَا لِأَكْثَرِهِمْ مِنْ عَهْدٍ وَإِنْ وَجَدْنَا أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَفَاسِقِينَ (٧: ١٠٠-٢)

To those who inherit this land in succession to its [previous] possessors, is it not a guiding [lesson] that, if We so willed, We could punish them [too] for their sins, and seal up their hearts so that they could not hear? Such were the towns whose stories We [thus] related to you. Indeed there came to them their Prophets with clear [signs], but they would not believe what they had rejected before. Thus does Allah seal up the hearts of those who reject Faith. Most of them We found were not men [true] to their covenant: most of them We found rebellious and disobedient. (7:100-2)

مَنْ كَفَرَ بِاللَّهِ مِنْ بَعْدِ إِيمَانِهِ إِلَّا مَنْ أُكْرِهَ وَقَلْبُهُ مُطْمَئِنٌّ بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَكِنْ مَنْ شَرَحَ بِالْكُفْرِ صَدْرًا فَعَلَيْهِمْ غَضَبٌ مِنْ اللَّهِ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ  ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ اسْتَحَبُّوا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا عَلَى الْآخِرَةِ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ  أُوْلَئِكَ الَّذِينَ طَبَعَ اللَّهُ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ وَسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ وَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ الْغَافِلُونَ (١٦: ١٠٦-٨)

Anyone who, after accepting faith in Allah rejects Him – except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in faith – but open their breast to disbelief: on them is wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful chastisement. This is because they love the life of this world more than the Hereafter: and Allah will not guide such rejecters of faith. They are those whose hearts, ears, and eyes Allah has sealed up, and they take no heed. (16:106-8)

فَلَمَّا زَاغُوا أَزَاغَ اللَّهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ (٥:٦١)

Then when they went wrong, Allah let their hearts go wrong. (61:5)


V. Scriptures and Testaments (العهود  و الصحف)

The law of guidance referred to in 2:7 is mentioned in the Bible in the following words:

My people would not hearken to my voice … So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust; and they walked in their own counsels. (Ps. 81:11-12)

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts. (Ro. 1:24)

Hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes have they closed. (Ac. 28:25-27)

They have not known nor understood for he has shut their eyes that they cannot see and their hearts that they cannot understand. (Is. 44:18)






1. Rāzī, Imām Fakhru’l-Dīn, 2nd ed., vol. 2, (Tehran: Dāru’l-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah), p. 5

2. Farāhī, Hamīdu’l-Dīn, Tafsīr Nizāmu’l-Qur’ān/ Sūrah Baqarah, 1st ed. (Azam Garh: Dāi’rah Hamīdiyyah, 2000), pp. 96-9)

3. Translated and summarized from Islāhī, Amīn Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), pp. 82-5

4. Kashshāf, Zamakhsharī, 1st ed., vol. 1, (Beirut: Dāru’l-Ahyā al-Turāth al‘Arabī, 1997), pp. 74-5

5.Kashshāf, Zamakhsharī, 1st ed., vol. 1, (Beirut: Dāru’l-Ahyā al-Turāth al‘Arabī, 1997), p. 78

6. يكتمون الحق و هم يعلمون’ (hiding the truth in spite of knowing it) and ‘و انكروا بعد المعرفة’ (and they rejected even though they were convinced of the truth) are the words quoted by Imām Rāzī from the proponents of these two views respectively. See: Rāzī, Imām Fakhru’l-Dīn, 2nd ed., vol. 2, (Tehran: Dāru’l-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah), p. 40

7. Tabarī, Ibn Jarīr, 1st ed., vol. 1, (Beirut: Dāru’l-Ahyā al-Turāth al- ‘Arabi, 2001), p. 127

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