The Muqattaʿāt (Arabic: حُرُوف الْمُقَطَّعَات ḥurūf al-muqaṭṭaʿāt, "disjoined letters" or "disconnected letters";[1] also "mysterious letters") are combinations of between one and five Arabic letters figuring at the beginning of 29 out of the 114 surahs (chapters) of the Quran just after the Bismillah.[2] The letters are also known as fawātiḥ (فَوَاتِح) or "openers" as they form the opening verse of their respective surahs.

Four surahs are named for their muqattaʿāt: Ṭā-Hā, Yā-Sīn, Ṣād and Qāf.

The original significance of the letters is unknown. Tafsir (exegesis) has interpreted them as abbreviations for either names or qualities of God or for the names or content of the respective surahs.


Muqatta'at occur in Surahs 23, 7, 1015, 1920, 2632, 36, 38, 4046, 50 and 68. The letters are written together like a word, but each letter is pronounced separately.

Surah Muqattaʿāt
al-BaqarahʾAlif Lām Mīm الم
Āl ImrānʾAlif Lām Mīm الم
al-AʿrāfʾAlif Lām Mīm Ṣād المص
YūnusʾAlif Lām Rā الر
HūdʾAlif Lām Rā الر
YūsufʾAlif Lām Rā الر
Ar-RaʿdʾAlif Lām Mīm Rā المر
IbrāhīmʾAlif Lām Rā الر
al-ḤijrʾAlif Lām Rā الر
MaryamKāf Hā Yā ʿAin Ṣād كهيعص
Ṭāʾ HāʾṬā Hā طه
ash-ShuʿārāʾṬā Sīn Mīm طسم
an-NamlṬāʾ Sīn طس
al-QaṣaṣṬā Sīn Mīm طسم
al-ʿAnkabūtʾAlif Lām Mīm الم
ar-RūmʾAlif Lām Mīm الم
LuqmānʾAlif Lām Mīm الم
as-SajdahʾAlif Lām Mīm الم
Yāʾ SīnYā Sīn يس
ṢādṢād ص
GhāfirḤā Mīm حم
FuṣṣilatḤā Mīm حم
ash-ShūrāḤā Mīm; ʿAin Sīn Qāf حم عسق
Az-ZukhrufḤā Mīm حم
Al DukhānḤā Mīm حم
al-JāthiyaḤā Mīm حم
al-AḥqāfḤā Mīm حم
QāfQāf ق
Al-QalamNūn ن

Structural analysis

There are 14 unique combinations; the most frequent are ʾAlif Lām Mīm and Ḥāʾ Mīm, occurring six times each. 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: ʾalif أ, هـ, ḥā ح, ṭā ط, ي, kāf ك, lām ل, mīm م, nūn ن, sīn س, ʿain ع, ṣād ص, qāf ق, ر. The six final letters of the Abjadi order (thakhadh ḍaẓagh) are unused. The letters represented correspond to those letters written without Arabic diacritics plus yāʿ ي.[3] It is possible that the restricted set of letters was supposed to invoke an archaic variant of the Arabic alphabet modeled on the Aramaic alphabet.[4]

Certain co-occurrence restrictions are observable in these letters; for instance, ʾAlif is invariably followed by Lām. The substantial majority of the combinations begin either ʾAlif Lām or Ḥāʾ Mīm.

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 surat al-‘Ankabūt, ar-Rūm and al-Qalam); and some argue that even these three cases should be included, since mention of the revelation is made later on in the surah. 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 surat (the exceptions are surat al-Baqarah, Āl ʾImrān and ar-Raʻd.)

Lām and Mīm are conjoined and both are written with prolongation mark. One letter is written in two styles.[5][6] Letter 20:01 is used only in the beginning and middle of a word and that in 19:01 is not used as such. Alif Lām Mīm (الم) is also the first verse of Surah Al-Baqara,[7] Surah Al-Imran,[8] Surah Al-Ankabut,[9] Surah Ar-Rum,[10] Surah Luqman,[11] and Surah As-Sajda.[12]



Abd Allah ibn Abbas and Abdullah ibn Masud, as cited by Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati in his Bahr al-Muhit, are said to have favored the view that these letters stand for words or phrases related to God and His Attributes. The Ahmadi author Muhammad Ali, in his 1917 translation The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, follows this tradition, giving the following interpretations the letters:

Alif (ا): an abbreviation for Anā (أنا, I am)
Hā (ه): as either an abbreviation for al-Hādī (الهادي, the Guide) or an abbreviation for Man (in dialect), and
Ḥā (ح): an abbreviation for al-Ḥamīd (الحميد, the Praised),
Ṭā (ط): as either an abbreviation for the Benignant or an interjection equivalent to O (in dialect),
Yā (ي): an interjection equivalent to O.
Kāf (ك): an abbreviation for al-Kāfī (كافي, the Sufficient),
Lām (ل): an abbreviation for Allāh (الله, using the second letter),
Mīm (م): as either an abbreviation for al-ʿAlīm (العليم, the Knowing, using the ending letter) or for al-Majīd (المجيد, the Glorious),
Nūn (ن) (occurring only as the name of al-Qalam): a word meaning "Ink-stand",
Sīn (س): as either an abbreviation for Man or an abbreviation for As-Samī' (السميع, the Hearing),
ʿAin (ع): an abbreviation for al-ʿAlīm (العليم, the Knowing),
Ṣād (ص): an abbreviation for as-Ṣādiq (الصادق, the Truthful),
Qāf (ق): an abbreviation for al-Qādir (القادر, the Almighty),
Rā (ر): an abbreviation for the Seeing (رائي / رأى / رؤيا / يرى / بصير)

Sura content

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, 'eye' as 'ع', clouds as 'غ', and whale as 'ن'). [13][14] Amin Ahsan Islahi supported al-Razi's opinion, arguing that since these letters are names for Surahs, they are proper nouns. Hamiduddin Farahi similarly attaches symbolic meanings to the letters, e.g. Nun (ن) symbolizing "fish" identifying the sura dedicated to Jonah, or Ta (ط) representing "serpent" introducing suras that mention the story of Prophet Moses and serpents.[15]

Ahsan ur Rehman (2013) claims that there are phonological, syntactic and semantic links between the prefixed letters and the text of the chapters.[16]

Scribal intrusion or corruption

Among Western orientalists, Theodor Nöldeke (1860) advanced the theory that the letters were marks of possession, belonging to the owners of Qur'ānic copies used in the first collection by Zayd ibn Thābit during the reign of the Caliph 'Uthmān. The letters ultimately entered the final version of the Qur'ān due to carelessness. It was also possible that the letters were monograms of the owners. Nöldeke later revised this theory, responding to Otto Loth's (1881) suggestion that the letters had a distinct connection with the mystic figures and symbols of the Jewish Kabbalah. Nöldeke in turn concluded that the letters were a mystical reference to the archetypal text in heaven that was the basis for the revelation of the Qur'ān.[17] However, persuaded by Nöldeke's original theory, Hartwig Hirschfeld (1902) offered a list of likely names corresponding to the letters.[18] Keith Massey (1996), noting the apparent set ranking of the letters and mathematical improbability that they were either random or referred to words or phrases, argued for some form of the Nöldeke-Hirschfeld theory that the "Mystery Letters" were the initials or monograms of the scribes who originally transcribed the sūras.[19]

The Hebrew Theory[20] assumes that the letters represent an import from Biblical Hebrew. Specifically, the combination Alif-Lam would correspond to Hebrew El "god". Abbreviations from Aramaic or Greek have also been suggested.

Bellamy (1973) proposed that the letters are the remnants of abbreviations for the Bismillah.[21] Bellamy's suggestion was ciriticized as improbable by Alford T. Welch (1978).[22]

Christoph Luxenberg in The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran (2000) proposed that substantial portions of the text of the Qur'an were directly taken from Syriac liturgy. His explanation of the disjoined letters is that they are remnants of indications for the liturgical recitation for the Syriac hymns that ended up being copied into the Arabic text.[23]


There have been attempts to give numerological interpretations. Loth (1888) suggested a connection to Gematria.[24] Rashad Khalifa (1974) claimed to have discovered a mathematical code in the Qur'an based on these initials and the number 19. According to his claims, these initials occur throughout their respective chapters in multiples of nineteen.[25] which is mentioned in Sura 74:30[26]

The Báb used the muqatta'at in his Qayyúmu'l-Asmá'.[27][28] He writes in an early commentary and in his Dalá'il-i-Sab'ih (Seven Proofs) about a hadith from Muhammad al-Baqir (the fifth Shi'i Imam) where it is stated that the first seven surat's muqatta'at have a numerical value of 1267, from which the year 1844 (the year of the Báb's declaration) can be derived.[29][30]


Sufism has a tradition of attributing mystical significance to the letters. The details differ between schools of Sufism; Sufi tradition generally regards the letters as an extension to the ninety-nine names of God, with some authors offering specific "hidden" meanings for the individual letters.[31]

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).[32][33] 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 (wilayah) and the prophethood (nubuwwah) of Muhammad. He emphasizes the central role of the alif in all the worlds of God.[32]

By removing the duplicate letters (leaving only one of each of the 14 initials) and rearranging them, one can create the sentence "نص حكيم قاطع له سر " which could translate to: "a wise and sharp text that has a secret".


  1. مقطعات is the plural of a participle from قطع "to cut, break".
  2. Massey, Keith. "Mysterious Letters." in Jane Dammen McAuliffe (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Vol. 3 (205), p. 472 (
  3. nun ن and qaf ق have no variant written without dots in modern script; Steward (2012): "the mysterious letters include no letters with dots. There is an apparent exception to this rule, the occurrences of ya in [suras 19 and 36 ...]"
  4. Devin J. Steward, "The mysterious letters and other formal features of the Qur'an in light of Greek and Babylonian oracular texts", in: New Perspectives on the Qur'an ed. Reynolds, Routledge (2012), 323-348 (p. 341).
  5. Quran 19:01
  6. Quran 20:01
  7. Quran 2:1
  8. Quran 3:1
  9. Quran 29:1
  10. Quran 30:1
  11. Quran 31:1
  12. Quran 32:1
  13. Michael R. Rose; Casandra L. Rauser; Laurence D. Mueller; Javed Ahmed Ghamidi; Shehzad Saleem (July 2003). "Al-Baqarah (1-7)". Renaissance.
  14. Amatul Rahman Omar and Abdul Mannan Omar, "Derivation of Vocabulary from its Root Alphabets", Exegesis of the Holy Qur'an - Commentary and Reflections, 2015
  15. Islahi, Amin Ahsan (2004). Taddabur-i-Quran. Faraan Foundation. pp. 82–85.
  16. Ahsan ur Rehman Archived 26 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine., "Morpho Phonemic Patterns in the Prefixed Chapters of the Qur'an: A Stylistic Approach" (2013) A stylistic study of the consonant Șād (ﺹ) in three Qur’anic chapters:Șād (38), Maryam (19) and Al A‘rāf (7) (2013)
  17. Nöldeke, Theodor; Schwally, Friedrich; Bergsträßer, Gotthelf; Pretzl, Otto (2013). The History of the Qur'ān. Translated by Behn, Wolfgang. Boston: Brill. pp. 270–273. ISBN 9789004212343.
  18. Hirschfeld, Hartwig (1902). New Researches into the Composition and Exegesis of the Qoran (2010 reprint ed.). London: Royal Asiatic Society. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-1-166-29458-8.
  19. Massey, Keith (1996). "A New Investigation into the "Mystery Letters" of the Qur'an" in 'Arabica', Vol. 43 No. 3. pp. 497–501.
  20. "Muqatta'at". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  21. 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.
  22. A. Welch, "al-Ḳurʾān" in: Encyclopedia of Islam 2nd ed. (1978).
  23. Luxenberg, Christoph (2009). The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran 1st Edition.
  24. Otto Loth, "Tabaris Korankommentar" ZDMG 35 (1888), 603f.
  25. Rashad Khalifa, Quran: Visual Presentation of the Miracle, Islamic Productions International, 1982. ISBN 0-934894-30-2
  26. Quran 74:30
  27. 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 19 March 2007.
  28. 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.
  29. 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 Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine..
  30. Saiedi, Nader (2008). Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Báb. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 978-1-55458-035-4.
  31. An example is given by Siddiq Osman Noormuhammad of the Naqshbandi order in Salawaat by Sufi Mashaaikh Nairobi (2004).
  32. 1 2 Marshall, Alison. "What on earth is a disconnected letter? - Baha'u'llah's commentary on the disconnected letters". Retrieved 19 March 2007.
  33. 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 19 March 2007.
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