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Why do certain Surahs in the Qur'an begin with Alif Laam Meem, Haa Meem, Yaa Seen. What is the significance of such terms or phrases?

;1. Abbreviated Letters

Alif Laam Meem, Ya Seen, Ha Meem', etc. are known as Al-Muqattaat i.e. the abbreviated letters. There are 29 letters in the Arabic Alphabet (if hamza and alif are considered as two letters) and there are 29 surahs i.e. chapters in the Glorious Qur'an that have the abbreviated letters prefixed to them. These abbreviated letters some times occur alone, sometimes in a combination of two letters and sometimes in a combination of three, four or five letters.

 

a. Three surahs are pre-fixed with only one letter:

(i) Surah Sad chapter 38 with Sad

(ii) Surah Qaf chapter 50 with Qaf

(iii) Surah Nun or Qalam chapter 68 with Nun

 

b. The combination of two letters occurs in 10 surahs:

Three of them occur only once each:

(i) Surah Ta Ha chapter 20 has Ta Ha

(ii) Surah Al Naml starting with chapter 27 has Ta Seen

(iii) Surah Ya Seen chapter 36 has Ya Seen

Ha Meem occurs in seven consecutive Surahs from Surah 40 to Surah 46:

(i) Surah Ghafir or Al-Mu'min chapter 40

(ii) Surah Fussilat or Ha Meem chapter 41

(iii) Surah Al Shura chapter 42

(iv) Surah Al Zukhruf chapter 43

(v) Surah Al Dukhan chapter 44

(vi) Surah Al Jathiyah chapter 45

(vii) Surah Al Ahqaf chapter 46 

 

c. There are three combinations of three letters each occurring in 14 surahs.

Alif Laam Meem occurs in six surahs

(i) Surah Al Baqarah chapter 2

(ii) Surah Ali 'Imran chapter 3

(iii) Surah Al 'Ankabut chapter 29

(iv) Surah Al Rum chapter 30

(v) Surah Luqman chapter 31

(vi) Surah Al Sajdah chapter 32

Alif Laam Ra occurs in six consecutive surahs: Surah 10 to Surah 15:

(i) Surah Yunus chapter 10

(ii) Surah Hud chapter 11

(iii) Surah Yusuf chapter 12

(iv) Surah Al Rad chapter 13

(v) Surah Ibrahim chapter 14

(vi) Surah Al Hijr chapter 15

Ta Seen Meem occurs in two Surahs:

(i) Surah Al-Shura chapter 26

(ii) Surah Al-Qasas chapter 28

 

d. Combination of four letters occurs twice:

(i) Surah Aaraf chapter 7: Alif Laam Meem Sad

(ii) Surah Anfal chapter 8: Alif Laam Meem Ra

 

e. Combination of five letters occurs twice:

(i) Surah Maryam chapter 19 begins with Kaf Ha Ya Ayn Sad

(ii) Surah Al-Shura chapter 42 begins with Ha Meem Ayn Seen Qaf

Surah Al-Shura chapter 42 has a double combination of abbreviated letters one set of two letters followed by one set of three letters.

 

2. Meanings of these abbreviated letters

The meaning and purpose of these letters is uncertain. There have been a variety of explanations offered by Muslim scholars through the ages. A few among them are:

i. These letters might be abbreviations for certain sentences and words for instance, Alif Laam Meem means Ana-Alahu -a'Laam or Nun meaning Noor (light), etc.

ii. These letters are not abbreviations but symbols and names of Allah or something else.

iii. These letters were used for rhyming.

iv. These letters have some numerical significance as the semitic letters also have numerical values.

v. These letters were used to attract the attention of the Prophet (and later his audience).

Several volumes have been written on the significance of these abbreviations.

 

3. Best explanation of abbreviated letters:

Of all the explanations given by various scholars, the one which is authentic and also supported by Tafsir of Ibne-Kathir, Zamakshari and Ibne-Taiymiyah is the following:

The human body is composed of various fundamental elements that are found in nature. Clay and dust are composed of the same fundamental elements. Yet it would be absurd to say that a human being is exactly the same as the dust.

We can all have access to the elements that are found in the human body, and add a few gallons of water, which is the constitution of the human body. We know the elements in the human body and yet we are at a loss when asked the secret of life.

Similarly the Qur'an addresses those people who reject its Divine authority. It tells them that this Qur'an, is in your own language, and over which the Arabs took pride. It is composed of the same letters that the Arabs used to express themselves most eloquently.

The Arabs were very proud of their language and Arabic was at its peak when the Qur'an was revealed. With the letters Alif Laam Meem, Yaa Seen, Ha-Meem, etc., (in Engllish we would say A, B, C, D) the Qur'an challenges mankind to produce a Surah at least somewhat similar to the Qur'an in beauty and elegance, if they doubt its authenticity.

Initially, the Qur'an challenges all the men and jinn to produce a recital like the Qur'an and adds that they would not be able to do it even if they backed each other. This challenge is mentioned in Surah Isra chapter 17 verse 88 and in Surah Tur chapter 52 verse 34.

Later the Qur'an repeats the challenge in Surah Hud chapter 11 verse 13 by saying produce ten surahs like it and later in Surah Yunus chapter 10 verse 38 produce one surah like it and finally the easiest challenge is given in Surah Al-Baqarah chapter 2 verses 23 and 24.

"And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Surah like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (if there are any) besides Allah if your doubts are true.

But if ye cannot and of a surety ye cannot then fear the Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones which is prepared for those who reject faith." [Al-Qur'an 2:23-24]

To compare the skill of two artisans, they must be given samples of the same raw material and their performance evaluated in performing the same task. If they are tailors they must be provided with the same fabrics. The raw materials of the Arabic language are these letters Alif Laam Meem, Ya Seen (in English it is A, B, C, D, etc.) The miraculous nature of the language of the Qur'an does not lie only in the fact that it is the Word of Allah, but also in the fact that although made up of the same letters in which the pagan Arabs took pride, it has not been rivalled.

The Arabs are noted for their rhetoric ability, eloquence and meaningful expression. Just as the constituents of the human body are known to us and can be obtained by us, the letters comprising the Qur'an, such as Alif Laam Meem are known to us, and used frequently to formulate words. Life cannot be created by us, even if we possess knowledge of the constituents of the human body. Similarly we cannot capture the same eloquence and beauty of expression that we find in the Qur'an, despite knowing the letters that constitute the Qu'ran. The Qur'an thus proves its Divine origin.

 

4. Miraculous quality of Qur'an mentioned immediately after these broken letters

Therefore immediately after these broken letters are mentioned in the Qur'an, the following verses speak about the miracle of the Qur'an, and its authority

e.g. in Surah Baqarah Chapter 2 verse 1-2:

"Alif Laam Meem.

This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah." [Al-Qur'an 2:1-2]

 

Qur'an says that Allah has made the earth for you as a carpet. This gives an indication that the earth is flat. Does this not contradict established modern science?


1. Earth made as a carpet

The question refers to a verse from the Qur'an in Surah Nuh:

"And Allah has made the earth for you as a carpet (spread out)." [Al-Qur'an 71:19]

But the sentence in the above verse is not complete. It continues in the next verse, explaining the previous verse. It says:

"That ye may go about therein, in spacious roads." [Al-Qur'an 71:20]

A similar message is repeated in Surah TaHa:

He Who has made for you the earth like a carpet spread out; has enabled you to go about therein by roads (and channels)...." [Al-Qur'an 20:53]

The surface of the earth i.e. earth's crust is less than 30 miles in thickness and is very thin as compared to the radius of the earth which is about 3750 miles. The deeper layers of the earth are very hot, fluid and hostile to any form of life. The earth's crust is a solidified shell on which we can live. The Qur'an rightly refers to it like a carpet spread out, so that we can travel along its roads and paths.

 

2. Carpet can also be spread on other than an absolute flat surface

Not a single verse of the Qur'an says that the earth is flat. The Qur'an only compares the earth's crust with a carpet. Some people seem to think that carpet can only be put on an absolute flat surface. It is possible to spread a carpet on a large sphere such as the earth. It can easily be demonstrated by taking a huge model of the earth's globe covering it with a carpet.

Carpet is generally put on a surface, which is not very comfortable to walk on. The Qur'an describes the earth crust as a carpet, without which human beings would not be able to survive because of the hot, fluid and hostile environment beneath it. The Qur'an is thus not only logical, it is mentioning a scientific fact that was discovered by geologists centuries later.

 

3. Earth has been spread out

Similarly, the Qur'an says in several verses that the earth has been spread out.

"And We have spread out the (spacious) earth: how excellently We do spread out!" [Al-Qur'an 51:48]

Similarly the Qur'an also mentions in several other verses that the earth is an expanse:

"Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse"

"And the mountains as pegs?" [Al-Qur'an 78:6-7]

None of these verses of the Qur'an contain even the slightest implication that the earth is flat. It only indicates that the earth is spacious and the reason for this spaciousness of the earth is mentioned. The Glorious Qur'an says:

"O My servants who believe! truly. spacious is My Earth: therefore serve ye Me (And Me alone)!" [Al-Qur'an 29:56]

Therefore none can give the excuse, that he could not do good and was forced to do evil because of the surroundings and circumstances.

 

4. Earth is geospherical in shape

The Qur'an mentions the actual shape of the earth in the following verse:

"And we have made the earth egg shaped". [Al-Qur'an 79:30]

The Arabic word Dahaha means egg shaped. It also means an expanse. Dahaha is derived from Duhiya which specifically refers to the egg of an ostrich which is geospherical in shape, exactly like the shape of the earth.

Thus the Qur'an and modern established science are in perfect harmony.

 

The Qur'an says that only Allah knows the sex of the child in the womb of the mother but now science has advanced and we can easily determine the sex of the child in the womb by ultrasonography. Isn't this verse of the Qur'an conflicting with medical science?


Allah is Omnipotent and Omniscient. Allah has granted knowledge of certain things to humankind. But Allah has knowledge of the seen as well as the unseen.

1. Allah has knowledge of all things

Many people believe that the Qur'an claims that Allah alone knows the sex of the child in the mother's womb. The Glorious Qur'an says:

"Verily the knowledge of the Hour is with Allah (alone). It is He who sends down Rain, and He who knows what is in the wombs." [Al-Qur'an 31:34]

A similar message is given in the following verse:

"Allah doth know what every female (womb) doth bear, by how much the wombs fall short (of their time or number) or do exceed. Every single thing is before His sight, in (due) proportion." [Al-Qur'an 13:8]

 

2. Sex can be determined by Ultrasonography

Today science has advanced and we can easily determine the sex of the child in the womb of a pregnant mother, using ultrasonography.

 

3. The word 'sex' is not mentioned in the verse of the Qur'an

It is true that many translations and commentaries of this verse of the Glorious Qur'an say that only Allah knows the sex of the child in the mother's womb. If you read the Arabic text of this verse, there is no Arabic word corresponding to the English word 'sex'. In fact the Qur'an says the knowledge of what is in the womb is with Allah alone. Many commentators have misunderstood it to mean only Allah knows the sex of the child in the womb, which is a mistake.

 

4. No one besides Allah can determine the nature of the child

This verse does not refer to the sex of the child in the womb but it refers to, how the child in the mother's womb will be. How will his nature be? Will he be a blessing or a curse to his parents? Will he be a boon or a bane to the society? Will he be good or evil? Will he go to heaven or hell? The complete knowledge of all things is with Allah alone. No scientist in the world, no matter how advanced his equipment, will ever be able to accurately determine the knowledge of these things about the child in the mother's womb.

 

According to the Qur'an when a man enters paradise, he will get hoor, i.e. beautiful maidens. What will a woman have when she enters paradise?


1. Hoor mentioned in the Qur'an

The word hoor occurs in the Qur'an in no less than four different places:

(1) In Surah Dukhan chapter 44, verse 54 "Moreover, We shall join them to companions with beautiful, big and lustrous eyes." [Al-Qur'an 44:54]

(2) In Surah Al-Tur chapter 52 verse 20 "...And We shall join them to companions, with beautiful, big and lustrous eyes." [Al-Qur'an 52:20]

(3) In Surah Rahman chapter 55 verse 72 "Companions restrained (as to their glances), in goodly pavilions." [Al-Qur'an 55:72]

(4) In Surah Al-Waqiah chapter 56 verse 22 "And (there will be) companions with beautiful, big and lustrous eyes." [Al-Qur'an 56:22]

 

2. Hoor Translated as Beautiful Maidens

Many translators of the Qur'an have translated the word hoor as 'beautiful maidens' especially in the Urdu translations. If hoor means 'beautiful maidens' or girls, then they are meant only for the men. Hence, what will the women get if they enter Paradise?

 

3. Meaning of Hoor

The word hoor is actually the plural of ahwar (applicable to man) and of haura (applicable to woman) and signifies a person having eyes characterized by hauar a special quality bestowed upon a good soul, male or female in paradise and it denotes the intense whiteness of the white part of the spiritual eye.

The Qur'an describes in several other verses that in paradise you will have azwaj which mean a pair or spouse or companion which means you will have spouses or companions pure and holy (mutaharratun means pure, holy).

"But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: "Why, this is what we were fed with before", for they are given things in similitude; and they have therein companions pure (and holy); and they abide therein (forever)". [Al-Qur'an 2:25]

"But those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, We shall soon admit to Gardens, with rivers flowing beneath their eternal home; therein shall they have companions pure and holy: we shall admit them to shades, cool and ever deepening". [Al-Qur'an 4:57]

Therefore the word hoor has no specific gender. Mohammad Asad has translated the word hoor as spouse and Abdullah Yusuf Ali as companion. Therefore according to some scholars a man in paradise will have a hoor that is a beautiful maiden with beautiful big and lustrous eyes and a woman in paradise will get a man with beautiful big and lustrous eyes.

 

4. Women will get something exceptional in Paradise

Many scholars say that in context, the word hoor used in the Qur'an refers only to ladies since gents are addressed. A reply that would be accepted by all types of people would rather be the answer given in the Hadith when a similar question was posed that if a man gets a hoor, a beautiful Maiden in Paradise, then what will the women get? The reply was that the women will get that which the heart has not desired for, the ear hasn't heard off and the eye hasn't seen, indicating that even the women will get something exceptional in Paradise.

 

If Allah has sealed the hearts of the kafirs i.e. non-Muslims, then why are they to be blamed for not accepting Islam?


1. Allah has sealed the hearts of those who are continuously bent on rejecting the truth

Allah (swt) mentions in Surah Al Baqarah chapter 2 verses 6 and 7

"As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them Whether thou warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe.

Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they (incur)." [Al-Qur'an 2:6-7]

These verses do not refer to common kafirs who reject faith. The Arabic words used are al-lazina kafaroo, those who are bent on rejecting the truth. It will not make any difference to such people whether you warn them or not, they will not believe. Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing and on their eyes is a veil. It is not because Allah has set a seal on their hearts that these kafirs do not understand and believe, but it is the vice-versa. It is because these kafirs are bent on rejecting the truth and whether you warn them or not they will not believe, that Allah has set a seal on their hearts. Therefore Allah is not to blame, but these kafirs who are bent on rejecting the faith are responsible.

2. Example of teacher predicting a student will fail

Suppose an experienced teacher, before the final examinations, predicts that a particular student will fail in the exams, since the student is very mischievous, not attentive in class and does not do his homework. If after the student appears for the examination, he fails, who is to be blamed for the student failing: the teacher or the student? Just because the teacher predicted, it does not mean that the teacher is to be blamed but the student himself is responsible for his failure

Similarly Allah (swt) knows in advance that there are some people who are bent on rejecting the faith and Allah has put a seal on their hearts. Thus these non-Muslims themselves are responsible for rejecting the faith and not Allah (swt).

 

The Qur'an mentions in several places that the heavens and the were earth created in 6 days but in Surah Fussilat it says that the heavens and the earth were created in 8 days. Isn't this a contradiction? The same verse also says that the earth was created in 6 days and then later on the heavens were created in 2 days. This is against the Big-Bang theory that the heavens and the earth were created simultaneously.


1. Heavens and the Earth created in Six days

I do agree that the Qur'an says that the heavens and the earth were created in 6 days i.e. 6 epochs and it is mentioned in Surah Al A'raf chapter 7 verse 54, Surah Yunus chapter 10 verse 3, Surah Hud chapter 11 verse 7, Surah Al Furqan chapter 25 verse 59, Surah Al Sajdah chapter 32 verse 4, Surah Qaf chapter 50 verse 38, Surah Al Hadid chapter 57 verse 4. The verses of the Qur'an which according to you say that the heavens and the earth were created in 8 days are Surah Fussilat chapter 41 verses 9 to 12

"Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in two days? And do ye join equals

With him? He is the Lord of (all) the Worlds;

He set on the (earth) mountains standing firm, High above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measured therein all things to give them Nourishment in due proportion, in four days, in accordance with (the needs of) Those who seek (sustenance)."

Moreover, He Comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke. He said to it and to the earth. "Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly. They said: "We do come (Together), in willing obedience."

So He completed them as seven firmaments in two days and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command and We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the decree of (Him) the exalted in might, full of knowledge." [Al-Qur'an 41:9-12]

On the face of it, it seems that these verses of the Qur'an give the initial impression that the heavens and the earth were created in 8 days.

Allah says in the beginning of this verse that those who exploit this information contained in this passage to raise doubts about its authenticity are equally interested in promulgating blasphemy and denying His unity. Allah is telling us that in course of time, there will emerge unbelievers who will make use of this apparent contradiction.

 

2. Summa means moreover

If you analyse these verses carefully, it speaks about 2 different creations: the earth and the heaven. The earth excluding the mountains was created in 2 days and the mountains were set on the earth standing firm and blessed and measured its sustenance in 4 days. Therefore the earth along with the mountains was created in 6 days according to verse 9 and 10. Verse 11 and 12 says, moreover the heavens were created in 2 days. The Arabic word used in the beginning of verse 11 of Surah Fussilat is summa which means; 'then' or 'moreover'. There are certain Qur'anic translations, which have, used 'then' for the word summa which, indicates 'afterwards'. If 'then' is wrongly used for summa then the total of the creation of heaven and earth will be 8 days which will conflict with other verses of the Qur'an which says heavens and earth were created in 6 days and will also conflict with the Big Bang Theory as well as the verse of the Qur'an Surah Al Ambiya chapter 21 verse 30 which says that heavens and the earth were created simultaneously.

Therefore the correct translation of the word summa in this verse would be 'moreover'. Abdullah Yusuf Ali has rightly translated the word summa or moreover which clearly gives an indication that while the earth along with the mountains, etc. was created in 6 days simultaneously the heavens were created in 2 days. Therefore the total does not come to 8 days but 6 days.

If a builder says that he will construct a 10 storey building and surrounding compound wall in 6 months and after completion of his project he gives a more detailed account saying that the basement of the building was built in 2 months and the 10 storeys took 4 months and simultaneously, while the basement and the building was being constructed, he also constructed the surrounding of the building along with the compound wall which took 2 months. Therefore both his first and second descriptions are not contradicting but the second statement gives a more detailed account for the construction.

 

3. Heavens and the Earth created simultaneously

The Qur'an describe the creation of the universe in several places, sometimes it says the heavens and the earth (7:54, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59, 32:4, 50:38, 57:4) while in other places it says earth and the heaven (49:9-12, 2:29, 20:4) thus further supplementing the verse of Surah Al Ambiya chapter 21 verse 30 which speaks about the Big-Bang and that the heavens and the earth were created simultaneously.

Similarly in Surah Al-Baqara chapter 2 verse 29 "It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth; Then He turned to the heaven and made them into seven firmaments. And of all things He hath perfect knowledge." [Al-Qur'an 2:29]

"It is who has created for you all things on the earth summa simultaneously made the heaven into seven firmaments".

Here also if you wrongly translate summa as 'then' only then would this verse contradict the Big-bang theory and other verses of the Qur'an. Therefore the correct translation of the word summa is 'moreover' or 'simultaneously'.

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