Why Do Some Suras in the Quran Begin with Disjointed Letters? What Are Their Meanings?

Answered by Shaykh Anas al-Musa


Why do some suras in the Quran begin with disjointed letters? What are their meanings?


In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate,

The Disjointed Letters (Huruf Muqatta‘at)

The disjointed letters (huruf muqatta‘at) are consonants with which some of the suras of the Quran begin. Examples include:

  • Alif – Lam – Mim
  • Ha – Mim
  • Ta – Ha
  • Ya – Sin

Why Do Suras Begin with These Letters?

The scholars mention many opinions about the secret behind beginning the suras with these letters. Imam Suyuti reports from Imam Zarkashi some of these wisdoms, pointing out, for example, that in the suras which begin with particular letters, most of the words therein contain those letters. So every sura only matches with the letters it begins with. It would not be possible to begin Sura Qaf with the letter Nun, as it would not be suitable according to the divine speech. [Suyuti, Mu‘tarak al-Aqran; al-Itqan]

This opinion is strengthened by the fact that when these letters are mentioned, the mention of the Quran usually follows shortly thereafter. Consider, for example: “Alif-Lam-Mim. This is the Book!” [Quran, 2:1-2]; “Ta-Ha. We have not revealed the Quran to you ˹O Prophet˺ to cause you distress.” [Quran, 20:1-2]. This is the case for all but three suras: al-Ankabut, al-Rum, and Nun. [Suyuti, Mu‘tarak al-Aqran]

Some scholars say that the wisdom of the disjointed letters is to alert us to the inimitability of the Quran, despite it being made up of these letters—the same letters that any speech is made up of. The suras and verses are nothing more than letters and words.

The Two Opinions Regarding the Disjointed Letters

Imam Zarkashi points out that the scholars are split into two camps regarding the disjointed letters: One who says that this is hidden knowledge that only Allah has. This is why Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (Allah be pleased with him) said, “Every book has a secret, and the secret of the Quran is the beginning of the Suras.” Imam Sha‘bi said that these ayas are unknowable (mutashabih), so we believe in them at face value and relinquish the knowledge of them to Allah.

The second opinion holds that the intended of these meanings can be known. They mentioned over twenty possible meanings, some farfetched, and some plausible. [Zarkashi, al-Burhan fi ‘Ulum al-Quran]

Possible Meanings of the Disjointed Letters

Most scholars of tafsir and language say that these are meant to be the names of the suras with which they begin. [Tafsir Ibn Sa‘ud; Suyuti, al-Itqan] There is evidence to support this in the Sunna, wherein the suras are referred to by the letters they begin with.

Some scholars mention that the intended meaning is to clarify and allude to the inimitability of the Quran. It is as if the Quran is addressing the Arabs, who were masters in eloquence, saying, “This Quran is made up of the same letters you speak with, and still you are unable to bring forth anything similar. Were it not of divine origin, you would not have failed to match it.” [Zuhayli, al-Tafsir al-Munir]

Ibn Qutayba lists several opinions on the interpretation of the disjointed letters, including those mentioned above, as well as the opinion that they are forms of swearing an oath. He mentions that some scholars interpret them to be letters from the names of Allah, thus combining man attributes Allah in one instance.

Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him), for example, said about “Kaf – Ha – Ya – ‘Ayn – Sad” [Quran, 19:1], “The Kaf is from [the name] al-Kafi (the Sufficient), the Ha from al-Hadi (the Guide), the Ya from al-Hakim (the Wise), the ‘Ayn from al-‘Alim (the Knowing), and the Sad from Sadiq (truthful). Imam Kalbi said that it refers to the Quran itself being sufficient, guiding, wise, full of knowledge, and truthful. [Ibn Qutayba, Ta’wil Mushkil al-Quran; Baqillani, al-Intisar lil-Quran]

He also says, regarding the opinion that the letters are a form of swearing a vow, “Allah swore by the letters of the alphabet because of their honor and virtue. They are the components of the scriptures that were sent down in the various languages, and the components of His beautiful names and lofty attributes. They are the foundations of all language with which people come to know one another and remember Allah.” [Ibn Qutayba, Ta’wil Mushkil al-Quran; Makki Ibn Abi Talib, al-Hidaya ila Bulugh al-Nihaya]


Whether or not we know the wisdom behind the suras beginning with the disjointed letters, the Quran remains our scripture. It is our guide to life and our lantern. It remains our means of protection, elevation, and guidance, and it is our way to happiness and security.

All praise is due to Allah for the blessing of the Quran, with sweet and plentiful praise, blessed therein.
[Shaykh] Anas al-Musa

Shaykh Anas al-Musa, born in Hama, Syria, in 1974, is an erudite scholar of notable repute. He graduated from the Engineering Institute in Damascus, where he specialized in General Construction, and Al-Azhar University, Faculty of Usul al-Din, where he specialized in Hadith.

He studied under prominent scholars in Damascus, including Shaykh Abdul Rahman al-Shaghouri and Shaykh Adib al-Kallas, among others. Shaykh Anas has memorized the Quran and is proficient in the ten Mutawatir recitations, having studied under Shaykh Bakri al-Tarabishi and Shaykh Mowfaq ‘Ayun. He also graduated from the Iraqi Hadith School.

He has taught numerous Islamic subjects at Shari‘a institutes in Syria and Turkey. Shaykh Anas has served as an Imam and preacher for over 15 years and is a teacher of the Quran in its various readings and narrations.

Currently, he works as a teacher at SeekersGuidance and is responsible for academic guidance there. He has completed his Master’s degree in Hadith and is now pursuing his Ph.D. in the same field. Shaykh Anas al-Musa is married and resides in Istanbul.