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Significance of Huroof-Muqataat (حروفمقطعات)


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Author Topic: Significance of Huroof-Muqataat (حروفمقطعات)  (Read 4519 times)
Heba E. Husseyn
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« on: December 24, 2014, 12:54:52 am »

As-Salam Alaikum dear everyone  :)

Here is a lovely topic we discussed with close family and friends at an informal supper last weekend.  I wouldn't highlight its necessity in connection with the precise understanding of the Quranic contents.  However, it's in regard to certain Quranic terms, the relevance of which has apparently not been disclosed to us by the Divine Power, yet people have speculated much about these letters.  So let us take a close look what those letters are and how far can we go to interpret them. 

Huroof Muqataat are unique letter or alphabet combinations that appear at the beginning of 29 Surahs (Chapters) of the Noble Quran.  Huroof is the plural of Harf meaning word and Muqattaat literally means abbreviated or shortened but is usually explained as disjoined Arabic letters. Their meanings remain unclear and are considered by most Muslims to be Divine secrets.

Muqataat are also known as Fawatih   (فواتح) or "openers" as they form the opening verse of the respective Surahs.  In simple terms these Arabic alphabets are referred to as  'isolated letters of the Quran.'

In the Arabic language, these letters are written together like a word, but each letter is pronounced separately.  For example, Arabic alphabets alif lam meem will be written in Arabic as  الم .  But while reading, you don't pronounce it as "alm," rather it will be read separately as 3 alphabets - "alif lam meem."

Huroof Muqataat has been the subject of extensive research and discussions in the field of Quranic studies.  But researchers have not been able to arrive at a conclusive decision concerning the significance of these alphabets. There have been several opinions, but little consensus in those opinions.

According to a 20th century Pakistani scholar, Amin Ehsan Islahi, use of Arabic alphabets in a similar manner was a poetic tradition among Arabs in the past and therefore the Quran used the same style.  But this is only a conjecture.  It can be retained as an opinion but there's no reliable evidence to confirm it.

There being no historical data that the Prophet (pbuh) explained the meaning of these alphabets is again interpreted by some exegetists that the alphabets must have been an accepted tradition of Arabic literature and so the Prophet (pbuh) didn't need to explain them.  This is another presumption and certainly no confirmation.  The more likely reason why the Prophet (pbuh) didn't explain the significance of the alphabets might have been that the Prophet (pbuh) did not know it's precise relevance either .... because Allah Almighty decided not to disclose its details to anyone including the Prophet (pbuh).  Moreover, the Arabs have hardly spoken of such a tradition existing in their literature.  If this literary or poetic tradition was really that common, then it's unlikely that there would have been so many differing opinions from different sources to begin with.

Another 18th century South Asian scholar, Hamiduddin Farahi, suggested that in Arabic literature alphabets also carried symbolic meanings, that is, they represented specific things.  For instance, Farahi says the Arabic alphabet Nun (ن)  symbolized a 'fish' and so, Surah Al-Qalam (Chapter 68) begins with alphabet "Nun" and refers to Prophet Jonah (Yunus) in Verse 48 who was swallowed by the fish (as stated in Verse 37:142 and is also referred as "Dhul Nun" in Surah 21:87).  Farahi cites another example mentioning the Arabic alphabet Ta or Tuay (ط) which represented a 'serpent.'  Farahi's opinion is based on his observation that all Surahs that begin with Tuay (ط)  mention the story of Prophet Moses (Musa) and the snake.  But citing this reason as the significance of Muqataat is again the personal opinion of Hamiduddin Farahi.  There is no further evidence to confirm his view.  There are altogether 29 Surahs that begin with Muqataat, and in most of those Surahs, we don't know what objects are symbolized by the respective Muqataat.

Those interested in probing into the numerical miracles of the Noble Quran, find Muqattaat an interesting aspect for the same reason.  Altogether the Arabic language consists of 28 alphabets and half of that number, that is, 14 alphabets appear as Muqataat in different Surahs, sometimes in groups of 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or sometimes just a lone alphabet like in Surah Qaf ( ق ) or Surah Saad ( ص ).   The list of 14 Arabic alphabets that are included in Muqataat are: أ ح ر س ص ط ع ق ك ل م ن ه ي (alif, ha, ra, sin, sad, ta, ain, qaf, kaf, lam, mim, nun, ha, ya).

Quoting the comment of the well-known English translator of the Quran, Muhammed Marmaduke Pickthall, on Muqataat:  "Many Surahs begin thus with the letters of the alphabet.  Opinions differ as to their significance.  The prevalent view is that they indicate some mystic words.  Some have opined that they are merely the initials of the scribe.  These alphabets are always included in the text and recited as part of it."

Out of the 114 Surahs (Chapters) of the Noble Quran, 29 Surahs begin with the Muqataat.  Those 29 Surahs with the Muqataat are:

 1.   Chapter 2, Surah Al-Baqara (The Cow)  : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
 2.   Chapter 3, Surah Āl-Imran  : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
 3.   Chapter 7, Surah Al-Aʿarāf  : ʾAlif Lām Mīm Ṣād
 4.   Chapter 10, Surah Yunus  : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
 5.   Chapter 11, Surah Al-Hood  : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
 6.    Chapter 12, Surah Yusuf  : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
 7.   Chapter 13, Surah Al-Raʿd  : ʾAlif Lām Mīm Rāʾ
 8.   Chapter 14, Surah Ibrahim  : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
 9.    Chapter 15, Surah Al-Ḥijr  : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
10.   Chapter 19, Surah Maryam  : Kāf Hāʾ Yāʾ ʿAin Ṣād
11.   Chapter 20, Surah Ṭāʾ-Hāʾ  : Ṭāʾ Hāʾ
12.   Chapter 26, Surah Al-Shua'ra (The Poets)  : Ṭāʾ Sīn Mīm
13.   Chapter 27, Surah Al-Namal (The Ant)  : Ṭāʾ Sīn
14.   Chapter 28, Surah Al-Qaṣaṣ  : Ṭāʾ Sīn Mīm
15.   Chapter 29, Surah Al-Ankabut (The Spider)  : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
16.   Chapter 30, Surah Al-Rom (The Romans)  : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
17.   Chapter 31, Surah Luqmān  : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
18.   Chapter 32, Surah Al-Sajda (The Adoration) : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
19.   Chapter 36, Surah Yāʾ-Sīn  : Yāʾ Sīn
20.   Chapter 38, Surah Ṣād  : Ṣād
21.   Chapter 40, Surah Al-Mu'min (The Believer) : Ḥāʾ Mīm
22.   Chapter 41, Surah Fuṣṣilat  : Ḥāʾ Mīm
23.   Chapter 42, Surah Al-Shūrā  : Ḥāʾ Mīm; ʿAin Sīn Qāf
24.   Chapter 43, Surah Al-Zukruf (The Embellishment) : Ḥāʾ Mīm
25.   Chapter 44, Surah Al-Duqqan (The Smoke)  : Ḥāʾ Mīm
26.   Chapter 45, Surah Al-Jasiya (The Kneeling)  : Ḥāʾ Mīm
27.   Chapter 46, Surah Al-Ahqaf (The Sandhills)  : Ḥāʾ Mīm
28.   Chapter 50, Surah Qāf  : Qāf
29.   Chapter 68, Surah Al-Qalam (The Pen)  : Nūn

In conclusion, all varying opinions expressed by different researchers as the significance or reason for Muqataat are their personal views which cannot be taken as final authentications nor endorsements. The final, confirmed significance of these alphabets is only known to Allah, The Almighty.


(This topic was taken up in a summarized discussion 2 years ago in the thread Quranic Surahs beginning with Arabic alphabets).
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« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2014, 02:01:57 pm »

Walaikum As-Salaam dear Sis.  As usual, you've again compiled a very interesting bunch of information that tell us precisely that the conclusion must be left to Allah only. 

So if we list the possibilities, which can only be maintained as possibilities or views of different people, NOT confirmations nor verifications .. none of them .... we can put up the following opinions in serial order:-

1)  Some think it was a cultural style of Arabic literature  (I don't at all agree with this point as the Quranic style is unique and does NOT imitate any human works).

2)  The disjoined alphabets represented specific things in old Arabic like "fish" or "serpent."  (This doesn't make much sense either.  As you rightly stated, 29 Surahs contain Muqataat.  How do we explain the rest?)

3)  Representation of numerical miracle of Arabic alphabets - out of 28 alphabets, 14 are included in Huroof Muqataat.  (This too doesn't seem to connect with any significant aspect but Allah knows best).

4)  Probably indicate some mystic words with hidden meanings.  (This is definitely a big possibility but Allah knows best).

5)  That the words are initials of the scribe.  (This too sounds like a possibility and since writing the initials isn't important or mandatory, thus many Surahs don't contain them.  But again, only Allah knows best).

As in Pickthall's statement, I would surmise that the last two points are more probable than the others.

Thank you Sister Heba.
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« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2014, 03:05:49 pm »

Wa'salam dear Sister Heb  :)   Interesting, interesting, yar!  :)

My knowledge on this topic was brief.  It's now pretty comprehensible.  But it's most important to remember that the conclusion rests with Allah.  The thing I'm most eager to avoid is speculations developing into gossips and then into stories and then masquerading as "Islam."  You've put it very well Sis.  Combined with Sister Zeynab's re-cap, it's quite clear that what we have are simply opinions. 

Let me also mention, the Hadith has interfered into this issue as well.  Have any of you read the article "Disjoined letters in the Quran" by Pervez Khan.  I have no idea who he is.  But I read this piece by him long ago, the link sent via a relative's email.  He mentions several views, all based on Hadith.

(1)  According to a 12th century Sunni Persian theologian, Fakhraddin Razi, since the Quran is a Book of guidance thus Allah will not put anything that we will not understand.  However, Razi has missed out on the diversity or versatility of Quranic contents.  The Quran contains hukum or commandments which constitute guidance, it contains historical narrations in full, it also contains similar narrations in part, it contains biographies of former Prophets but only as much as Allah wants us to know and it contains several aspects which Allah has preferred not to disclose e.g. details about the human soul and how Allah preserves it after death, the precise date in the month of Ramadan when the Quran began being revealed, the exact number of Prophets sent and several other similar points.  Similarly, Muqataat might also be one of those aspects which Allah does not want to disclose to us.  Only He knows best.   I think the reason why Razi came up with his opinion was because he wanted to push ahead with speculations.

(2)  According to Tabari's tafsir Ibn Abbas said alif lam meem
 stands for  Ana Allahu Alam  (I, Allah, Know).  In other words this tafsir says that Muqataat are abbreviations.  In Surah Al-Araf  Alif lam mim sad  means I, Allah, am the best Knower, the Truthful. Sad  stands for Sadiq, meaning Truthful, Whose promise would not fail, or for  Afsal, the Best Decider, or for Sabur, meaning the Patient God Who gives respite to the wicked. More such abbreviations are given at the end of the article.  Now, we all know that Allah knows everything, that He is the Most Truthful, His promise never fails, He is Most Patient who bears with the wrongdoers until a fixed time.  But there is no concrete evidence for connecting the above Muqataat with these Divine qualities.  Tabari has obviously picked up the sounds of the alphabets and connected them with words involving those alphabets.

(3)  Another opinion of Razi is that Muqataat is to confuse the disbelievers.  Again, Razi has presented no rational argument nor any compelling evidence connecting his opinion with Muqataat.

(4)  Yasir Qazi, a modern Pakistani "scholar" claims that the purpose of Muqataat is to tell the Arabs that the Quran is in their language using the same Arabic letters. 

(5)  A 10th century Imam named Baqillani said that Muqataat is meant to prove the miracle of the Quran, quoting him:  These letters are exactly half the alphabet, as if its being said; Whoever presumes that the Quran is not a miracle, let him take the other half and form a speech that can compete with the Quran.  But I really don't see the connection Baqillani mentions.  We all know Quran is a miracle for which we don't need to understand the Muqataat.   I don't know how this Imam has connected the aspect of Muqataat with miracle.  They never explain what they mean properly except for a collection of disjoined words making their opinions look inexplicable or garbled.

(6)  And finally this is the only point that made sense.  According to Ibn Kathir's tafsir, Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali all agreed and said that the full knowledge of the disjoined letters in the beginning of some Surahs is with Allah only.  Of course, we didn't need Ibn Kathir to tell us this.  It has been our approach since the beginning.  And regardless of Ibn Kathir's tafsir, I have no doubt that the 4 righteous Caliphs would have expressed the view that only Allah knows best.

So, except for the last point which is the only one that's acceptable based on its inconclusive nature, as usual Hadith has added quite a variety of other guesswork to this topic by trying to assert them beyond just opinions.  Needless to say that's anything but a good idea.
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« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2014, 03:38:16 pm »

Ow really?  Hadith never backs off, does it?  Well, the final point is the one I uphold and to me it didn't come from the Hadith rather it came from my respect for Allah that we must not make stories about His Book without knowledge.  As for all the other points making their way through Hadith, I really don't see their connections with Huroof Muqataat.  You're so right, they never explain anything in a forthright manner .... just a collection of unconnected sentences, unconnected with each other and unconnected with the topic they're supposed to be discussing. 

Many thanks Sister Ruhi for taking the time to add these points.  It gives a chance to the readers to understand for themselves and pick the right information.
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