More than a fourth of the Qur’ānic
Sūrahs begin with certain abbreviated letters (huroof-i-muqatta`aat). These are
actually the names of the respective sūrahs, as is evident from the Qur’ān. Many
traditions as well as the pre-Islamic Arabic literature endorse this fact.
There, however, remains the question of why the sūrahs are called so. Many
scholars have attempted to answer the question but what they have come up with
is not very satisfactory. Farāhī (d: 1930 AD) has presented an explanation which
might hold the key to the problem. We shall briefly discuss his theory.
Those who are acquainted with the
history of the Arabic alphabet know that it has been derived from Hebrew.
The Hebrew alphabet itself has its roots in the alphabet which was in use in
ancient Arabia. Farāhī is of the view that the letters of this parent alphabet,
like English and Hindi, do not represent phonetic sounds only, but like the
Chinese alphabet symbolize certain meanings and certain objects, and usually
assume the shape of the objects or meanings they convey. He goes on to assert
that it were these letters which the early Egyptians adopted and after adapting
them according to their own concepts founded the hieroglyphic script from them.
The remnants of this script can be seen in the tablets of the Egyptian Pyramids.
The science which deciphers the meanings
of these letters is now extinct. However, there are some letters whose meanings
have persisted to this day, and the way they are written also some what
resembles their ancient forms. For example, it is known about the Arabic letter
alif that it used to mean a cow and was represented by a cow’s head. The letter
bay in Hebrew is called bait and means bait (house) as well. The Hebrew
pronunciation of jeem is jaimal which means jamal (camel). Tuai stands for a
serpent and is written in a serpent’s shape also. Meem represents a water wave
and also has a similar configuration.
Farāhī presents Sūrah Noon in support of
his theory. The letter noon still denotes its ancient meaning of a fish. In this
sūrah, the Prophet Jonah (sws) has been addressed as Saahib-ul-Hoot ie. he who
is swallowed by a whale. Farāhī opines that it is because of this reference that
the Sūrah is called Noon. He goes on to say that if one keeps the above example
in consideration, it is quite likely that the abbreviated letters by which other
sūrahs commence are placed at the begining of the sūrahs to symbolise a relation
between the topics of a particular sūrah and their own ancient connotations.
Some other names of the Qur’ānic Sūrahs
reinforce Farāhī’s theory. Sūrah Taaha, for example, begins with the letter tuai
which represents a serpent, as has been indicated before. After a brief
introduction the tale of Moses and his staff which is transformed into a snake
has been depicted in it. Other sūrahs like Taaseen and Taaseen Meem, which begin
with the letter tuai also portray this miraculous episode.
Sūrah Baqarah which begins with the
letter alif is another example which further strengthens Farāhī’s claims. It has
been indicated before that the letter alif had the meaninng of a cow associated
with it and was represented by a cow’s head. Sūrah Baqarah, as we all know,
contains the anecdote of a cow and its sacrifice.
Another aspect of the sūrahs which
begins with the same letter is a similarity in their topics and even in their
style and construction. For example, sūrahs which begins with alif all basically
deal with Tauheed (monotheism). It would be appropriate here to point out that
the letter alif also stood for Allah, the One and Alone.
We have presented here Farāhī’s theory
only because it is substantiated to some extent with sound arguments. Yet it
must be conceded, that the theory needs to be developed and verified still
further if it is to be accepted as the only logical explanation of why the
Qur’ānic Sūrahs are so named.