Names of the Qur’ānic Surāhs
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

I have a query about the names of Qur’ānic sūrahs. I have come to note that the name of a sūrah usually has no link with its contents. This is indeed quite strange. Please clarify.


Most sūrahs of the Qur’ān were named by the Prophet (sws) and some by his companions. Being Arabs, they naturally followed the Arab tradition in this regard. According to this tradition, the Arabs would name some of their literary compositions after some unique or conspicuous word found within the text of these compositions. Generally, this word had no relation to the overall theme.

Suyūtī, while recording the opinion of Zarkashī writes:

The general Arab custom of naming things was that they would name things after some unique or unusual characteristic that may be intrinsic or extrinsic to a particular thing … they would name writings and compositions after some prominent aspect the work possessed. The sūrahs of the Qur’ān were also named on this basis. For example Sūrah Baqarah is so called because of the cow incident mentioned in it. (Suyūtī, Itqān Fī ‘Ulumi’l-Qur’ān, 2nd ed., vol. 1, [Qum: Manshurāt, 1967], p. 197)

While sometimes the word selected for the title of the sūrah is the very first word of the sūrah, mostly this word is from within the sūrah. Examples of the former are Tāhā (20), Yāsīn (36), Rahmān (55), Nāzi‘āt (79), and of the latter are Baqarah (2), Mā’idah (5), An‘ām (6), Nūr (24), Shu‘arā (26), Zukhruf (42), Hadīd (57) and Mā‘ūn (107).


For Questions on Islam, please use our