03 Nov What is meant by the Qur’anic letters ( huruf al-muqatta’at) and why are they used at the beginning of certain chapters?.Part1
The Qur’anic term huruf al-muqatta’at is used for certain Arabic letters that are found at the beginning of several chapters in the Qur’an. There are fourteen different Arabic letters making up thirteen different sets of Qur’anic initials found in various combinations at the beginning of twenty-nine chapters; these are either in the form of single letters at the beginning of some chapters or are found in different combinations of up to five letters at the beginning of other chapters. There are basically two different opinions pertaining to the meanings of these letters. According to the first opinion, these letters are considered to be a kind of cipher between God and His Messenger, the exact and complete meaning of which is unknown to anyone but God Almighty and His Messenger. According to another opinion, the Qur’an was revealed in order to be understood and thus, these letters should have some meanings. Nevertheless, there is quite a variety of different views about what is meant by these letters. The different views are basically as follows:
- These letters refer to the names of certain chapters when used singly like qaf, as in Sura Qaf and sad, as in Sura Sad.
- These letters denote certain attributes of God.
- These are the letters by which God swears, as in: “ By the Qur’an most sublime” (Qaf 50:1).
- With such letters, God, the Supreme Creator, openly challenges both the Arabs of the time and all future generations about the matter of the revelation of the Qur’an.
God’s Messenger was an illiterate person who did not know how to read or write. It is impossible for an illiterate person to recite these letters.
As since these letters do not belong to the Prophet himself, the Qur’an does not belong to him either and he is teaching the Qur’an to us after having received it from God, the All-Wise, the All-Knowing. Secondly, the Qur’an uses the letters of the Arabs. Had the Prophet, as they alleged, learned the Qur’an from a human being, they themselves as well would have been able to produce one chapter like it, as the Meccans of this time were superior in Arabic eloquence and rhetoric. Hence, these letters challenged them and proved their impotence in a style with which they were not familiar.
These letters are an indication of the Qur’an’s uniqueness which is displayed in the following manner:
- The inimitability of the Qur’an: Evidence for the inimitability of the Qur’an and its divine authorship is presented in the Qur’an in the form of a challenge; it is stated that humankind is not able to produce anything like the Qur’an. God has warned us with these letters, saying, “The Qur’an is composed of letters which you already know well, you who are at the peak of Arabic eloquence. Come and invent a similar book, if you can!” When the Qur’an was revealed, eloquence, oration and poetry were held in the highest regard among the Arabs, and therefore they should have been able to utilize these mere letters with which they were familiar and from which the Qur’an had been miraculously composed of, thus gaining a victory over the Prophet and the Qur’an, both of which they regarded as prime enemies. However, they were unable to produce anything that was even like one of its chapters. This fact clearly shows that the Qur’an is the Word of God, not that of any human.
- The authenticity of the Qur’an: Arabs used to attribute certain meanings to letters and utilize them as abbreviations though this was not a frequent practice. The use of such letters in the Qur’an at the beginning of certain chapters was still a novel practice, and was not in imitation of any poet or preacher. The Qur’an also proves its inimitability in this respect.
- The uniqueness of the Qur’an due to the interrelation of these letters with the relevant chapters: The single letters found at the beginning of some chapters have a close interrelation with the general contents of the related chapters. Such interrelations are valid in both their words and meanings. If we look at Sura Qaf, which starts with the line, “Qaf: Wal-Qur’anil-Majid,” (“Qaf. By the Qur’an most sublime”) for instance, we see that many rhymes are based upon the letter qaf and that this letter frequently appears in the words used in the sura. Likewise, the letter sad has been used often in Sura Sad. Also in this chapter another feature of this letter becomes apparent; it has been used for words that imply khusuma, or opposition and enmity. This is present throughout the whole sura.
First and foremost, the enmity and opposition of the unbelievers towards the Prophet is expressed in the initial verses of Sura Sad. Later, the dispute of two men who came to Prophet David is mentioned in verses 21 and 22 in the same sura. Then, the discussions of the people of hell are given in verses 63 and 64. Finally, we see Satan’s disobedience to the command of God to prostrate before Adam in verse 76 of Sura Sad.