Question # 540: Dear Brother, Assalamualikum Wa Rahmutullhe Wa Barakatuhu. My question is that Is it possible to provide the meaning of ALIF LAM MEEM
bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: Although some of the mufassireen among the Sahaabah, Taabi’een, and other scholars tried interpreting al-huroof al-muqatta’ah (letters that appear at the beginning of some soorahs) in the way that they believed was sound according to their knowledge, they differed as to their interpretation. However, since it was not narrated that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) interpreted, it is preferable for us to say that they are part of the Knowledge of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), which He reserved for Himself.
Long Answer: If one removes the repetitive letters, then the number of letters mentioned at the beginning of the Surahs is fourteen: Alif, Lam, Mim, Sad, Ra, Kaf, Ha, Ya, `Ayn, Ta, Sin, Ha, Qaf, Nun. And there are 27 Quranic Soorahs that begin with disjointed letters.
A group of scholars, such as the Rightly Guided Khulafah (رضي الله عنهم) and others among the Sahaabah, Taabi’een, and their followers, refrained from interpreting this ayah …which contain al-huroof al-muqatta’ah [letters which appear at the beginning of some soorahs]. It was not narrated that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) interpreted them, so it is preferable for us to say Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best what they mean. But it was narrated that some of the mufassireen among the Sahaabah, Taabi’een, and their followers did interpret them, and they differed as to their interpretation. (Al-Saheeh al-Masboor min al-Tafseer bi’l-Ma’thoor by Dr Hikmat Basheer)
…Some said that they are the names of some Chapters, as we say Chapter Hal Ataa Ala Al-Insaan (which is the first verse of chapter Al-Insaan (Chapter 76); Chapter Alif Laam Meem Al-Baqarah (Chapter 2), Alif Laam Meem As-Sajadah (Chapter 32) and so on and so forth.
Others are of the opinion that these letters stand for some Names of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى). Others think that such letters stand for some different names from which they were taken. Al-Qurtubi reported from Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه), who said that Alif stands for Allah, Laam stands for Jibreel, and Meem stands for Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم). However, a different interpretation was reported from Ibn ‘Abbas (رضي الله عنه) himself. To conclude, each scholar of Tafseer (interpretation of the meaning of the Quran) interpreted these letters in a way that he believed was sound according to his knowledge. However, those who returned the interpretation of these letters to the Knowledge of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) have chosen the best interpretation.
In fact, this was reported from the four Khulafah and from Ibn Mas’ood (رضي الله عنهم), who said that they are part of the Knowledge of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), which He reserved for Himself.
According to Ma’ariful-Qur’an:
The great commentator Al-Qurtubi has adopted this view of the matter, which is summarized below: “According to ‘Amir Al-Sha’bi, Sufyan Al-Thawri and many masters of the science of hadith, every revealed book contains certain secret signs and symbols and mysteries of Allah; the isolated letters too are the secrets of Allah in the Holy Qur’an, and hence they are among the Mutashabihat (of the hidden meaning), the meaning of which is known to Allah alone, and it is not permissible for us even to enter into any discussion with regard to them. The isolated letters are not, however, without some benefit to us. Firstly, to believe in them and to recite them is in itself a great merit. Secondly, in reciting them, we receive spiritual blessings from the unseen world, even if we are not aware of the fact.
Al-Qurtubi adds: “The Blessed Khulafah Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Othman and ‘Ali, and most of the Companions like ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’iid (رضي الله عنهم), firmly held the view that these letters are the secrets of Allah, that we should believe in them as having descended from Allah and recite them exactly in the form in which they have descended, but should not be inquisitive about their meanings, which would be improper”. Citing Al-Qurtubi and others, Ibn Kathir too, prefers this view. On the other hand, interpretations of the isolated letters have been reported from great and authentic scholars. Their purpose, however, was only to provide symbolical interpretation, or to awaken the minds of the readers to the indefinite possibilities of meanings that lie hidden in the Holy Qur’an, or just to simplify things; they never wished to claim that these were the meanings intended by Allah Himself. Therefore, it would not be justifiable to challenge such efforts at interpretation since it would go against the considered judgment of veritable scholars.
According to Tafseer Ibn Kathir:
Moreover, the scholars said, “There is no doubt that Allah did not reveal these letters for jest and play.” Some ignorant people said that some of the Qur’an do not mean anything (meaning, such as these letters), thus committing a major mistake. On the contrary, these letters carry a specific meaning. Further, if we find an authentic narration leading to the Prophet that explains these letters, we will embrace the Prophet’s statement. Otherwise, we will stop where we were made to stop and will proclaim, “We believe in it; all of it (clear and unclear verses) is from our Lord” (Soorah Ali Imran, 3:7)
The scholars did not agree on one opinion or explanation regarding this subject. Therefore, whoever thinks that one scholar’s opinion is correct, is obliged to follow it, otherwise, it is better to refrain from making any judgment on this matter. Allah knows best.
The wisdom behind mentioning these letters at the beginning of the Soorahs, regardless of the exact meanings of these letters, is that they testify to the miracle of the Qur’an. Indeed, the servants are unable to produce something like the Qur’an, although it is comprised of the same letters with which they speak to each other. [Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says in the Qur’an: “Say, if mankind and the jinn gathered in order to produce the like of this Qur’an, they could not produce the like of it, even if they were to each other assistants.” (Soorah Al-Isra, 17:88)] This opinion was mentioned by Ar-Razi in his Tafsir who related it to Al-Mubarrid and several other scholars. Al-Qurtubi also related this opinion to Al-Farra’ and Qutrub. Az-Zamakhshari agreed with this opinion in his book, Al-Kashshaf. In addition, the Imam and scholar Abu Al-`Abbas Ibn Taymiyyah and our Shaykh Al-Hafiz Abu Al-Hajjaj Al-Mizzi agreed with this opinion. Al-Mizzi told me that it is also the opinion of Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah. Az-Zamakhshari said that these letters “Were not all mentioned once in the beginning of the Qur’an. Rather, they were repeated so that the challenge (against the creation) is more daring. Similarly, several stories were mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an, and also the challenge was repeated in various areas (i.e., to produce something like the Qur’an).
(The above reply is based on the following sources:
- Tafseer Ibn Kathir;
- Islamqa.info; and
- Islamweb.net, a website belonging to the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in the State of Qatar)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.