Current Date:

Wednesday, 18 January 2017
 

THE ABBREVIATED LETTERS (AL-MUQATA’AT)

Certain Surats have certain initials prefixed to them, which are called the “Abbreviated Letters”. A number of conjectures have been made as to their meanin

g. Opinions are divided as to the exact meaning of each particular letter or combination of letters, but it is agreed that they have a mystic meaning.
Mystic meaning -not intelligible at first sight- is not inconsistent with the character of the Qur’an as a “Plain Book”. The book of nature is also a plain book, but how few can understand it? Everyone can get out of the Qur’an plain guidance for his life according to his capacity for spiritual understanding. As his capacity grows, so his understating will grow. The whole Book is a Record for all time. It must necessarily contain truths that only gradually unfold themselves to humanity. So even the parables and tales of mystic meaning employ symbolism. The plain man may find the symbolism helpful – as a Soldier finds his National Flag helpful. This is not a mystery of the same class as [mysteries] by which we are asked to believe against the dictates of reason. If we are asked to believe that one is three and three is one, we can give no intelligible meaning of the words. If we are asked to believe that certain initials have a meaning which will be understood in the fullness of time or of spiritual development, then we are asked to draw upon Faith, but we are not asked to do any violence to our reason.
Let us try to discuss some of the probable meanings of any particular abbreviated letter or set of abbreviated letters on the first occasion on which it appears in the Qur’an. But it may be desirable here to take a general view of the facts of their occurrence to help us in appreciating the various views which are held about them.
There are 29 letters in the Arabic alphabet (counting al-hamza and alif as two letters), and there are 29 Surats which have abbreviated letters prefixed to them. One of these Surats is (Al-Shura 42- Meccan) has two sets of abbreviated letters, but we need not count this Sura twice. If we take the half of the alphabet, omitting the fraction, we get 14, and this is the number of the letters which actually occur in the Muqata’at.
The 14 letters, which occur in the various combinations, are:-

ه

ك

ص

أ

ى

ل

ط

ح

 

م

ع

ر

 

ن

ق

س

The science of phonetics tells us that our vocal sounds arise from the expulsion of the air from the lungs, and the sounds are determined by the way in which the breath passes through the various organs of speech, e.g. the throat (guttural), or the various positions of the tongue to the middle or front of the palate or to the teeth, or the play of the lips. Every one of these kinds of sounds is represented in these letters.
Let us now examine the combinations.
The combination of one letter alone occurs in three Surats alone, prefixed each to only one Sura. The letters and Surats are:

38

SAD

ص

50

QAFF

ق

68

AL-QALAM

ن

The combinations of two letters occur in ten Surats as shown below. Three of them occur only once each, but the fourth (حم) occurs in seven consecutive

20

Taha

طه

27

Al-Naml

طس

36

Yassin

يس

40

41

42

43

44

45

46

Ghafir

Fussilat

Al-Shura

Al-Zukhruf

Al-Dukh’an

Al-Jathiya

Al-Ahqaff

حم

* Note that Surat (Al-Shura 42) has a double combination of abbreviated letters, one of two followed by one of three. [See under the combination of five].
There are three combinations of three letters each, occurring in 13 Surats as follows:-

2

3

29

30

31

32

Al-Bagara

Al-Imran

Al-Ankabut

Al-Ruum

Luqman

Al-Sajda

ألم

10

11

12

14

15

Yunus

Hudd

Yusuf

Ibrahim

Al-Hijr

ألر

26

28

Al-Shua’ara’

Al-Gassas

طسم

The combination of four letters occurs twice, each only once:-

7

Al-A’araf

ألمص

13

Al-Ra’ad

ألمر

*Note that the three preceding and the two following Surats have the triple letters (ألر).
Finally there remain the combinations of five letters, each of which occurs once only, as follows:-

19

Mariam

كهيعص

42

Al-Shura

حم عسق

In Surat (Al-Shura -42) the {حم} and {عسق} are put in separate verses. From the point of view they may be considered two separate combinations. The first combination has already been listed under the group of two-letter combinations.
This arithmetical analysis brings cert5ain facts into prominence. I do not know how far they have a bearing on the inner meaning of the Muqata’at.
The combinations of the abbreviated letters that run in a series in consecutive Surats are noticeable.  For example {حم} occurs in seven consecutive Surats from 40 to 46.
The combination {ألر} occurs in six consecutive Surats from 10 to 15, but in one of them (S. 13) it is modified to (ألمر) connecting it with the {ألم} series. The {ألم} series covers 6 Surats, it begins with S. 2 and S.3, which are practically the beginning of the Qur’an, and ends with the four consecutive Surats from 29 to 32. We call Surat Al-Bagara 2, and Surat Al-Imran 3 practically the beginning of the Qur’an, because Surat Al-Fatiha 1 is considered a general introduction to the Qur’an, and the first verse is commonly known as [ألم], the first verse of Surat Al-Bagara- 2.
The combination of [طسم] is prefixed to Surat Al-Shua’ara’ -26 and Surat Al-Gassas -28, but the intervening Surat Al-Naml -27 has the combination of [طس], which may be considered a syncopated form, or the three-letter combination [طسم ] may be considered an extended form of [طس ]. Again the question arises: Does the (م – Meem) in (ألم – Alif – Lam – Meem) and (حم – Ha-Meem) and (طسم – Ta- Seen – Meem) stands for the same significance, or does it mean a different thing in each case?          We may generalize and say that there are series of six, and one series of three, and the others occur all singly.
We should logically look for common factor in the Surats bearing the same initials, and the factor should be different for Surats bearing other initials. In all cases where the abbreviated letters occur, there is some mention of the Qur’an or the Book. And if some scholars makes an exception in the case of three Surats (Al-Ankabut -29, Al-Ruum -30 and Al-Qalam -68). But a close perusal will show that these Surats are no exception. In S. 29 verse 27 we have a reference to the Book remaining in the family of Abraham, and later on we have verses devoted to the Book, with special reference to the continuity of revelation in the previous Books and the Qur’an verses 45-51. In Surat Al-Ruum -30 verse 58 there is express mention of the Qur’an, and the whole argument of the Sura leads up to the intimate relation between God’s “Signs” in nature (S. Al-Ruum 30 verses 20-27)and His revelation in the Qur’an. In Surat Al-Qalam -68, the very first verse begins the theme with the Pen as an Instrument of writing, exhorts Al-Mustafa (PPBUH) to stand forth boldly to proclaim the Message, and ends the Surat Al-Qalam 68 verse 52 with the declaration that it is a Message for all the worlds.

Those to whom We have sent the Book study it as it should be studied; they are the ones that believe therein. And those who disbelieve /reject the Faith therein; those are the losers/the loss is their own.  (Al-Bagara -2)

 

الَّذِينَ آَتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَتْلُونَهُ حَقَّ تِلَاوَتِهِ أُولَئِكَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ اللَّهِ مِنْ وَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بِهِ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ (121)

 

He it is Who has sent down to (O’ Muhammad) the Book (the Qur’an) in it are verses entirely clear/basic or fundamental [of established meaning]; they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meaning except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: {We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord}, and none will grasp the Message/receive admonition except men of understanding. (Al-Imran -3)       

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آَيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آَمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِنْ عِنْدِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ (7)

 

Verily, those who disbelieved/reject the Message (the Qur’an) when it came to them (are not hidden from us). And verily it is indeed and honorable –well-fortified Book of exalted power. 

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِالذِّكْرِ لَمَّا جَاءَهُمْ وَإِنَّهُ لَكِتَابٌ عَزِيزٌ (41)

No falsehood can approach to it from before or behind it; (it is) sent down by All-Wise/Full of Wisdom, worthy of all praise.

لَا يَأْتِيهِ الْبَاطِلُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَلَا مِنْ خَلْفِهِ تَنْزِيلٌ مِنْ حَكِيمٍ حَمِيدٍ (42))

Nothing is said to you (O’ Muhammad) except what was said to the Messengers before you. Verily your Lord is the Possessor of Forgiveness, and (also) the Possessor of painful punishment/ grievous penalty.

مَا يُقَالُ لَكَ إِلَّا مَا قَدْ قِيلَ لِلرُّسُلِ مِنْ قَبْلِكَ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لَذُو مَغْفِرَةٍ وَذُو عِقَابٍ أَلِيمٍ (43

And if We had sent this as a Qur’an in foreign language (other than Arabic), they would have said: “why are not its verses explained in detail (in our language)? (Say) What! a Book not in Arabic and the Messenger is an Arab? Say “It is for those who believe a guide and a healing. And for those who disbelieve there Is deafness in their ears, and it is [the Qur’an] blindness for them -in their (eyes). They are the those who are called from a place far distant/away (so they neither listen nor understand) . (Fussilat -41)     

وَلَوْ جَعَلْنَاهُ قُرْآَنًا أَعْجَمِيًّا لَقَالُوا لَوْلَا فُصِّلَتْ آَيَاتُهُ أَأَعْجَمِيٌّ وَعَرَبِيٌّ قُلْ هُوَ لِلَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا هُدًى وَشِفَاءٌ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ فِي آَذَانِهِمْ وَقْرٌ وَهُوَ عَلَيْهِمْ عَمًى أُولَئِكَ يُنَادَوْنَ مِنْ مَكَانٍ بَعِيدٍ (44))

*EXCERPTION FROM [THE HOLY QUR’AN] TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY BY: SCOLAR ABDALL YUSUF ALI.