alif laam meem.
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
(i) Surah Ghafir or Al-Mu’min chapter 40
(ii) Surah Fussilat or Ha Meem chapter 41
Surah Al Shura chapter 42
Surah Al Zukhruf chapter 43
Surah Al Dukhan chapter 44
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
Surah Ali ‘Imran chapter 3
(iii) Surah Al ‘Ankabut chapter 29
(iv) Surah Al Rum chapter 30
Luqman chapter 31
Al Sajdah chapter 32
Alif Laam Ra occurs in six consecutive surahs: Surah 10 to
(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
Surah Al-Shura chapter 42 has a double combination of
abbreviated letters one set of two letters followed by one set of three
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
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
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
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
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
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."