Most sūrahs of the Qur’ān were
named by the Prophet (sws) and some by his companions. Being Arabs, they
naturally followed the Arab tradition in this regard. According to this
tradition, the Arabs would name some of their literary compositions after some
unique or conspicuous word found within the text of these compositions.
Generally, this word had no relation to the overall theme.
Suyūtī, while recording the opinion of
The general Arab custom of naming
things was that they would name things after some unique or unusual
characteristic that may be intrinsic or extrinsic to a particular thing … they
would name writings and compositions after some prominent aspect the work
possessed. The sūrahs of the Qur’ān were also named on this basis. For example
Sūrah Baqarah is so called because of the cow incident mentioned in it. (Suyūtī,
Itqān Fī ‘Ulumi’l-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Qum: Manshurāt, 1967], p. 197)
While sometimes the word selected for
the title of the sūrah is the very first word of the sūrah, mostly this word is
from within the sūrah. Examples of the former are Tāhā (20), Yāsīn (36), Rahmān
(55), Nāzi‘āt (79), and of the latter are Baqarah (2), Mā’idah (5), An‘ām (6),
Nūr (24), Shu‘arā (26), Zukhruf (42), Hadīd (57) and Mā‘ūn (107).