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See Muqata'ah for the Ottoman instrument for financing state expenses.

Muqatta`at (Arabic): مُقَطَّعات ,are unique letter combinations that begin certain chapters of the Qur'an. Muqattaat literally means abbreviated or shortened. They are also known as Fawatih (فواتح) or openers as they form the opening verse of the respective chapters.

Other names include broken, disconnected, initial, and isolated letters.



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

  1. Alif Lam Mim Sura Al Baqarah
  2. Alif Lam Ra Sura Yunus and Surah Hud
  3. Alif Lam Mim Ra Sura Ar Raa'd
  4. Ha Mim Sura Ha Mim Sajda
  5. Kaaf Ha Ya Ain Saad Surah Maryam

Of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, exactly one half appear as muqattaat, 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).


A tree diagram of the Qur'anic initial letters, labelled with the respective numbers of occurrences. To be read right to left.

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].

Classical Opinions

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 Andalusi 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.

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a classical commentator of Quran, 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'). [1]

Modern Research

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[2], which is mentioned in Sura 74:30[3] of the Quran. 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 Quran, all related to what he describes as the "mathematical miracle of the Qur'an."

Amin Ahsan Islahi, a renowned exegete of the Quran, has mentioned that since Arabs once used such letters in their poetry, it was only appropriate for Quran 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 Quran 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.[4]

Western scholars have only occasionally attempted to explain them. 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 .[5] 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.

A more recent explanation [expand] has newly been given by Christoph Luxenberg (the pseudonymous author of Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran. Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache, Berlin 2000, engl. translation: The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran. A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran, Berlin 2007) in his essay "Die syrische Liturgie und die 'geheimnisvollen' Buchstaben im Koran. Eine liturgievergleichende Studie" in Markus Groß & Karl-Heinz Ohlig (eds.), Schlaglichter. Die beiden ersten islamischen Jahrhunderte, Berlin 2008, pp. 411-456.

The complete Muqatta'at letters and their appearance in the Quran

  1. Chapter 2, The Cow: Alif Laam Mim
  2. Chapter 3, Ale-Imran: Alif Laam Mim
  3. Chapter 7, al-A’araaf: Alif Laam Mim Suad
  4. Chapter 10, Yunus: Alif Laam Ra
  5. Chapter 11, Hud: Alif Laam Ra
  6. Chapter 12, Yusuf: Alif Laam Ra
  7. Chapter 13, Ra'd: Alif Laam Mim Ra
  8. Chapter 14, Ibrahim: Alif Laam Ra
  9. Chapter 15, Hijr: Alif Laam Ra
  10. Chapter 19, Maryam: Kaf Ha Ya Ain Suad
  11. Chapter 20, Ta-Ha: Ta Ha
  12. Chapter 26, The Poets: Ta Sin Mim
  13. Chapter 27, The Ant: Ta Sin
  14. Chapter 28, Qasas: Ta Sin Mim
  15. Chapter 29, The Spider: Alif Laam Mim
  16. Chapter 30, The Romans: Alif Laam Mim
  17. Chapter 31, Luqman: Alif Laam Mim
  18. Chapter 32, The Adoration: Alif Laam Mim
  19. Chapter 36, Ya-Sin: Ya Sin
  20. Chapter 38, Suad: Suad
  21. Chapter 40, The Believer: 7a Mim
  22. Chapter 41, Fussilat: 7a Mim
  23. Chapter 42, Shuraa: 7a Mim; Ain Sin Qaf
  24. Chapter 43, The Embelishment: 7a Mim
  25. Chapter 44, The Smoke: 7a Mim
  26. Chapter 45, The Kneeling: 7a Mim
  27. Chapter 46, The Sandhills: 7a Mim
  28. Chapter 50, Qaf: Qaf
  29. Chapter 68, The Pen: Nun

Note: 7a denotes the Arabic letter ح.

Muqatta'at in the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths

The Báb, who Bahá'ís see as the immediate forerunner of their religion, uses Muqatta'at in his Qayyúmu'l-Asmá'.[6][7]

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).[8][9] 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.[8]


  1. ^ Michael R. Rose; Casandra L. Rauser; Laurence D. Mueller; Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Shehzad Saleem (July 2003). "Al-Baqarah (1-7)". Renaissance. 
  2. ^ Rashad Khalifa, Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle, Islamic Productions International, 1982. ISBN 0-934894-30-2
  3. ^ Qur'an, Chapter 74, Verse 30
  4. ^ Islahi, Amin Ahsan (2004). Taddabur-i-Quran. Faraan Foundation. pp. 82–85. 
  5. ^ Massey, Keith (1996). "A New Investigation into the “Mystery Letters” of the Quran" in 'Arabica', Vol. 43 No. 3. pp. 497–501. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ a b Marshall, Alison. "What on earth is a disconnected letter? - Baha'u'llah's commentary on the disconnected letters". Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  9. ^ 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)".'-ALLAH/L-hurufat.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 

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