Significance of Huroof-Muqataat (حروف مقطعات)
I heard ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud saying: ‘The Messenger of Allah pbuh said: “[Whoever recites a letter] from Allah’s Book, then he receives the reward from it, and the reward of ten the like of it. I do not say that Alif Lam Mim is a letter, but Alif is a letter, Lam is a letter and Mim is a letter. (Tirmidhi)
The names of letters of the Arabic alphabet, called huruf muqatta’at, occur at the beginning of several surahs of the Qur’an. At the time of the Qur’anic revelation the use of such letters was a well-known literary device, used by both poets and orators, and we find several instances in the pre-Islamic Arabic literature that has come down to us. A divine secret, the meaning of these letters is known to no one but Allah. 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.
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.
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).
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
Those who are Mulims and true believers it should be our firm belief that these letters the muqatta’at are revealed from Allah, further neither these letters are extraneously nor carelessly introduced in Qur’an, but are based upon absolute realities. It should be particularly noted that it is neither obligatory for us to know the meanings and details of these letters nor it is a matter of shariah.
In conclusion, that right guidance from the Qur’an does not depend on grasping the meaning of these vocables, and that anyone who fails to understand them may still live a righteous life and attain salvation. The ordinary reader, therefore, need not delve too deeply into this matter.The final, confirmed significance of these alphabets is only known to Allah, The Almighty.