I Meaning & Morphology (الصرف و
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
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’
Ghāmidī is also of the
opinion that these letters are the names of respective surāhs (ref. 1). His
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.
The following paragraphs briefly discuss his theory.
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’
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
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)
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
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
Those to whom We have
given the Book recognize him [— Muhammad —] as they recognize their sons.
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’.
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 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’.
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:
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 interpretation.
‘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
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
And it is forbidden for
a population which we have destroyed that they shall not desist [from evil].
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
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
1. Subtle Reference to the
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
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
الم تَنزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ مِنْ رَبِّ
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
This is [Sūrah] Hammīm.
The revelation of this Book is from Allah, the All-Mighty, the Knowing.
For more references see
3. Implication of ‘يُؤْمِنُونَ
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. Tabarī in his
exegesis also refers to this deliberate denial on the part of the Jews in
denying Muhammad (sws).
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
فَبِمَا نَقْضِهِمْ مِيثَاقَهُمْ وَكُفْرِهِمْ بِآيَاتِ
اللَّهِ وَقَتْلِهِمْ الْأَنْبِيَاءَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ وَقَوْلِهِمْ قُلُوبُنَا
غُلْفٌ بَلْ طَبَعَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهَا بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ إِلَّا
[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:
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:
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
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
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.
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)