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Muqatta'at (Arabic: مقطعات) are unique letter combinations that appear in the beginning of 29 suras (chapters) of the Qur'an. Muqatta'at literally means abbreviated or shortened. Their meanings remain unclear and are considered by most Muslims to be divine secrets.
They are also known as fawātih (فواتح) or "openers" as they form the opening verse of their respective suras. Other names include the broken, dis-joined, initial, or isolated letters of the Qur'an.
In the Arabic language, these letters are written together like a word, but each letter is pronounced separately. Muqatta'at have been and continue to be a topic of intense research and academic discussions in Islamic literature and Qur'anic studies.
A few examples of Muqatta'at:
- Alif Lam Mim (الم) Sura Al Baqarah, Sura As-Sajda, etc.
- Alif Lam Ra (الر) Sura Yunus and Surah Hud
- Alif Lam Mim Ra (المر) Sura Ar Raa'd
- Kaaf Ha Ya Ain Saad (كهيعص) Sura Maryam
- Ya Seen (يس) Sura Ya Seen
- Ha Mim (حم) Sura Ha Mim Sajda
Of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, exactly one half appear as muqatta'at, either singly or in combinations of two, three, four or five letters. The fourteen letters 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).
Certain co-occurrence restrictions are observable in these letters; for instance, alif is invariably followed by lam. The substantial majority of the combinations begin either alif lam or ha mim. See the diagram for fuller information.
In all but 3 of the 29 cases, these letters are almost immediately followed by mention of the Qur'anic revelation itself (the exceptions are suras 29, 30, and 68); and some argue that even these three cases should be included, since mention of the revelation is made later on in the sura. More specifically, one may note that in 8 cases the following verse begins "These are the signs...", and in another 5 it begins "The Revelation..."; another 3 begin "By the Qur'an...", and another 2 "By the Book..." Additionally, all but 3 of these suras are Meccan suras (the exceptions are suras 2, 3, 13.)
The suras that contain these letters are: sura 2, sura 3, sura 7, sura 10, sura 11, sura 12, sura 13, sura 14, sura 15, sura 19, sura 20, sura 26, sura 27, sura 28, sura 29, sura 30, sura 31, sura 32, sura 36, sura 38, sura 40, sura 41, sura 42, sura 43, sura 44, sura 45, sura 46, sura 50, sura 68.
Laam and Meem are conjoined and both are written with prolongation sign/Mark. One letter is written in two styles. [Refer 19:01 and 20:01] Letter 20:01 is used only in the beginning and middle of a word and that in 19:01 is not used as such. الم is also the First Ayah of Sura 3, 29, 30, 31 and 32 [total 6].
Tomes have been written over the centuries on the possible meanings and probable significance of these 'mystical letters' as they are sometimes called. Opinions have been numerous but a consensus elusive. There is no reliable report of Muhammad having used such expressions in his ordinary speech, or his having thrown light on its usage in the Qur'an. And, more importantly, none of his Companions seemed to have asked him about it. This apparent lack of inquisitiveness is cited as proof that such abbreviations were well known to the Arabs of the time and were in vogue long before the advent of Islam.
One well-known opinion is that these letters stand for words or phrases related to God and His Attributes. The famous Companions Ibn Abbas and Ibn Mas'ud are said to have favored this view, as cited by Abu Hayyan Al Gharnati in his Bahr Al Muhit. As plausible as it may sound, this opinion does not find favor among other classical commentators, because the possible combinations of letters are virtually infinite and the Attributes they represent seem to be chosen arbitrarily. For example, the translator Maulana Muhammad Ali translates these letters in his editions of the Holy Qur'an as follows:
- Alif (ا): an abbreviation for Ana (أنا, I am)
- Ḥā (ح): an abbreviation for Al-Ḥamīd (الحميد, the Praised),
- Rā (ر): an abbreviation for the Seeing,
- Sīn (س): as either an abbreviation for Man or an abbreviation for As-Samī' (السميع, the Hearing),
- Ṣād (ص): an abbreviation for As-Ṣādiq (الصادق, the Truthful),
- Ṭā (ط): as either an abbreviation for the Benignant or an interjection equivalent to O (in dialect),
- ʿAyn (ع): an abbreviation for Al-'Alīm (العليم, the Knowing),
- Qāf (ق): an abbreviation for Al-Qādir (القادر, the Almighty),
- Kāf (ك): an abbreviation for Al-Kāfi (كافي, the Sufficient),
- Lām (ل): an abbreviation for Allāh (الله, using the second letter),
- Mīm (م): as either an abbreviation for Al-'Alīm (العليم, the Knowing, using the ending letter) or for Al-Majīd (المجيد, the Glorious),
- Nūn (ن): a word meaning Inkstand,
- Hā (ه): as either an abbreviation for Al-Hādīy (الهادي, the Guide) or an abbreviation for Man (in dialect), and
- Yā (ي): an interjection equivalent to O.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a classical commentator of the Qur'an, has noted some twenty opinions regarding these letters, and mentions multiple opinions that these letters present the names of the Surahs as appointed by God. In addition, he mentions that Arabs would name things after such letters (for example, 'money' as 'ع', clouds as 'غ', and fish as 'ن'). 
Amin Ahsan Islahi, a renowned exegete of the Qur'an, has mentioned that since Arabs once used such letters in their poetry, it was only appropriate for the Qur'an to use that same style. He agrees with Razi and mentions that since these letters are names for Surahs, they are proper nouns. As such, they do not necessarily refer to other matters. At the same time, he cites research from Hamiduddin Farahi, a Quranic scholar from the Indian subcontinent, on how these letters must be appropriately chosen according to the content and theme of the surahs. Farahi links these letters back to Hebrew alphabet and suggests that those letters not only represented phonetic sounds but also had symbolic meanings, and Qur'an perhaps uses the same meanings when choosing the letters for surahs. For instance, in support of his opinion, he presents the letter Nun (ن), which symbolizes fish and Surah Nun mentions Prophet Jonah as 'companion of the fish'. Similarly, the letter Ta or Tuay (ط) represents a serpent and all the Surahs that begin with this letter mention the story of Prophet Moses and serpents.
Western scholars have only occasionally attempted to explain them. In 1973, it was proposed that the letters are the remnants of abbreviations for the Bismillah. In 1996, Keith Massey proposed new evidence for an older theory that the "Mystery Letters" were the initials or monograms of the scribes who originally transcribed the suras . As evidence for this, he demonstrated that the letters themselves occur in a specific order, suggesting a hierarchy of importance. This idea has not yet gained wide acceptance. Other explanations have similarly failed to satisfactorily explain the letters.
Mathematical Structure based on 19 [74:30] within Initialed Suras (Chapters with Muqatta'at)
In 1974, an Egyptian biochemist named Rashad Khalifa claimed to have discovered a mathematical code in the Qur'an based on these initials and the number 19, which is mentioned in Sura 74:30 of the Qur'an. According to his claims, these initials, which prefix 29 chapters of the Qur'an, occur throughout their respective chapters in multiples of nineteen. He has noted other mathematical phenomena throughout the Qur'an, all related to what he describes as the "mathematical miracle of the Qur'an." Some of his findings relating to Sura (Chapters) with initials (Muqatta'ats) are:
2. Between the first and last initialed sura there are 19 sets of alternating “initialed” and “uninitialed” suras.
The complete Muqatta'at letters and their appearance in the Quran
- Chapter 2, Surah Al-Baqara (The Cow) : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
- Chapter 3, Surah Āl-Imran : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
- Chapter 7, Surah Al-Aʿarāf : ʾAlif Lām Mīm Ṣād
- Chapter 10, Surah Yunus : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
- Chapter 11, Surah Al-Hud : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
- Chapter 12, Surah Yusuf : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
- Chapter 13, Surah Al-Raʿd : ʾAlif Lām Mīm Rāʾ
- Chapter 14, Surah Ibrahim : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
- Chapter 15, Surah Al-Ḥijr : ʾAlif Lām Rāʾ
- Chapter 19, Surah Maryam : Kāf Hāʾ Yāʾ ʿAin Ṣād
- Chapter 20, Surah Ṭāʾ-Hāʾ : Ṭāʾ Hāʾ
- Chapter 26, Surah Al-Sha'ra (The Poets) : Ṭāʾ Sīn Mīm
- Chapter 27, Surah Al-Namal (The Ant) : Ṭāʾ Sīn
- Chapter 28, Surah Al-Qaṣaṣ : Ṭāʾ Sīn Mīm
- Chapter 29, Surah Al-Ankabut (The Spider) : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
- Chapter 30, Surah Al-Rom (The Romans) : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
- Chapter 31, Surah Luqmān : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
- Chapter 32, Surah Al-Sajda (The Adoration) : ʾAlif Lām Mīm
- Chapter 36, Surah Yāʾ-Sīn : Yāʾ Sīn
- Chapter 38, Surah Ṣād : Ṣād
- Chapter 40, Surah Al-Mu'min (The Believer) : Ḥāʾ Mīm
- Chapter 41, Surah Al-Fuṣṣilat : Ḥāʾ Mīm
- Chapter 42, Surah Al-Shūrā : Ḥāʾ Mīm; ʿAin Sīn Qāf
- Chapter 43, Surah Al-Zukruf (The Embellishment) : Ḥāʾ Mīm
- Chapter 44, Surah Al-Duqqan (The Smoke) : Ḥāʾ Mīm
- Chapter 45, Surah Al-Jasiya (The Kneeling) : Ḥāʾ Mīm
- Chapter 46, Surah Al-Ahqaf (The Sandhills) : Ḥāʾ Mīm
- Chapter 50, Surah Qāf : Qāf
- Chapter 68, Surah Al-Qalam (The Pen) : Nūn
Muqatta'at in the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths
The Báb, whom Bahá'ís see as the immediate forerunner of their religion, uses Muqatta'at in his Qayyúmu'l-Asmá'. He writes in his Dalá'il-i-Sab'ih (Seven Proofs) about a hadith from Muhammad al-Baqir (the fifth Shia Imam) where it is stated that the first seven sets of Muqatta'at have a numerical value of 1267, from which the year 1844 AD (the year of the Báb's declaration) can be derived.
In 1857-58, Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote his Commentary on the Isolated Letters (Tafsír-i-Hurúfát-i-Muqatta'ih, also known as Lawh-i-Áyiy-i-Núr, Tablet of the Light Verse). In it, he describes how God created the letters. A black teardrop fell down from the Primordial Pen on the "Perspicuous, Snow-white Tablet", by which the Point was created. The Point then turned into an Alif (vertical stroke), which was again transformed, after which the Muqatta'at appeared. These letters were then differentiated, separated and then again gathered and linked together, appearing as the “names and attributes” of creation. Bahá'u'lláh gives various interpretations of the letters "alif, lam, mim", mostly relating to Allah, trusteeship (wilaya) and the prophethood (nubuwwa) of Muhammad. He emphasizes the central role of the alif in all the worlds of God.
- Michael R. Rose; Casandra L. Rauser; Laurence D. Mueller; Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Shehzad Saleem (July 2003). "Al-Baqarah (1-7)". Renaissance.
- Islahi, Amin Ahsan (2004). Taddabur-i-Quran. Faraan Foundation. pp. 82–85.
- Bellamy, James A. (1973) The Mysterious Letters of the Koran: Old Abbreviations of the Basmalah. Journal of the American Oriental Society 93 (3), 267-285. 
- Massey, Keith (1996). "A New Investigation into the "Mystery Letters" of the Qur'an" in 'Arabica', Vol. 43 No. 3. pp. 497–501.
- Rashad Khalifa, Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle, Islamic Productions International, 1982. ISBN 0-934894-30-2
- Quran 74:30
- Quran the final Testament, Translated from the Original, by Rashad Khalifa, ISBN 978-1-890825-00-3, Library of Congress: 2007938221, Simple Facts
- Lawson, Todd. "Reading Reading Itself: The Bab's `Sura of the Bees,' A Commentary on Qur'an 12:93 from the Sura of Joseph". Retrieved 2007-03-19.
- See the following source for more about Bábí letter symbolism: Editors (2009). "Letters of the Living (Hurúf-i-Hayy)". Bahá’í Encyclopedia Project. Evanston, IL: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States.
- Lambden, Stephen N. A note upon the messianic year 1260 / 1844 and the Bābī-Bahā'ī interpretation of the isolated letters of the Qur'an.
- Marshall, Alison. "What on earth is a disconnected letter? - Baha'u'llah's commentary on the disconnected letters". Retrieved 2007-03-19.
- Lambden, Stephen N. "Tafsír-al-Hurúfát al-Muqatta'át (Commentary on the Isolated Letters) or Lawh-i Áyah-yi Núr (Tablet of the Light Verse) of Mírzá Husayn 'Alí Núrí Bahá'-Alláh (1817-1892)". Retrieved 2007-03-19.