Why Are There Disjointed Letters in The Quran?

21 January, 2018
Q Some chapters of the Quran begin with some letter such as alif, lam, meem, and alif, lam, meem, sad, etc., are these letters part of the Quran? What is their significance? How to place them in their historical context?


Short Answer:  They were meant to prove to the Arabs their inability to imitate it, or compose something similar, although they have the same alphabet and they do not lack the linguistic excellence. The disjointed letters were giving a message to the unbelievers of Arabia and to all people in all ages that the Quran cannot be imitated.


Salam (Peace) Todd,

Thank you very much for contacting About Islam with your question.

To Muslims, the Quran represents the source of faith and practice; the inimitable Divine revelation which is necessary for a Muslim to know his way in this world as well as in the Hereafter.

The Quran itself speaks of its main objective as guidance to the righteous at the very onset of its second chapter, as Almighty Allah says:

{This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah } (Quran 2:2)

This guidance requires people to take it as a Divine book, coming from God; and therefore, believe it in.

When the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) nearly fifteen hundred years ago in the middle of Arabia, the Arabs were masters of the Arabic language.

They could weave words and letters with such beautify that it would give Shakespeare a run for his money.

In this art of poetry, they would gather to compete with each other and show off their linguistic excellence in annual and seasonal gatherings.

The Challenge of the Quran

They were the masters of eloquence, no doubt.

Coming as a miracle and a book of guidance, the Quran was a challenge to them on both the linguistic and, more importantly, the spiritual level.

The Arabs around the Prophet (peace be upon him) had many nefarious reasons to challenge the Quran, to try to refute it, to attempt to imitate it so as to prove that Muhammad was not a true prophet, and that the Quran was not from God.

Yet, they could not imitate, refute, or disprove any of the Quran; not even a verse.

The Quran even challenged them, when it asked them to produce ten chapters, then one chapter, and even just one verse similar to it. They failed to stand up to the challenge.

Almighty Allah says:

{Or, do they say: He has forged it. Say: Then bring ten forged chapters like it and call upon whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.} (Quran 11:13)

Then, Allah in the Quran ended the issue, saying:

{Say: If men and jinn should combine together to bring the like of this Quran, they could not bring the like of it, though some of them were aiders of others.} (Quran 17:88)

Coming to the issue of the disjointed letters which you have referred to, this is another challenge that was given to Arabs at that times and even till today.

They were meant to prove to them their inability to imitate it, or compose something similar, although they have the same alphabet and they do not lack the linguistic excellence.

The disjointed letters were giving a message to the unbelievers of Arabia and to all people in all ages that the Quran cannot be imitated, and the secrets of these letters cannot be solved. This shows people how limited our intellect is.

Scholars’ Opinions

The linguistic and the phonetic harmony in the disjointed letters is obvious and inimitable.

And even though humans possess intellect and linguistic skill, we cannot come close to replicating the Quran’s mastery of language and subject matter.

These letters have actually added to the miracles of the Quran and opened the door for innovative attempts to discover its beauty.

Some scholars have tried though, to uncover the secrets of these miraculous letters. Some said these letters are the names of the chapters they are in. For instance, the chapter that starts with ‘Nun’ is called Surat (chapter) Nun, or Surat Al-Qalam (the Pen) alternatively, and so on.

Other scholars say that the revelation of disjointed letters to an illiterate prophet (peace be upon him), who would not have known the alphabet or the names of individual letters, was a proof to the people that the revelation to Prophet Muhammad was not from Muhammad’s own invention, but in fact from God. 

Yet, some other scholars have approached it from another perspective, saying that such letters have meanings that are known only to the erudite. Yet, if true, this postulation does not negate the view that they may be names or proofs of Muhammad’s Prophethood.

The crux of the matter is that such letters are from the Arabic alphabet and even Arabs of the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) were unable to challenge them, confessing that they were excellent and amazing.

The miracles embedded in them are beyond description, and the doors of ijtihad (personal reasoning) they open are indisputable.

This is an example of the vitality of the Quran and adds more certitude to the hearts of believers that it is a revelation from Almighty Allah.

The saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) described the Quran as being always fresh. That is, the more you approach it, the greater meanings and newer concepts you will get from it.

Very Important Lesson

One more very important lesson remains.

When we are unable to realize the exact meaning of something, this should not lead us to deny it, or reject it, or adopt unusual ways to force a meaning onto it.

Rather, this should enable us to see its beauty, the challenge in it, our limitedness as opposite to its divineness, and encourage us to explore it more and more.

This is something particular to Divine revelation and will remain for all time. Whether submitting its understanding to Allah completely, or attempting to explore some of its meanings, people should be reminded to repeat the words of Allah:

{You have not created this in vain! Glory be to You; save us then from the chastisement of the fire.} (Quran 3:191)

I hope this answers your question. Please stay in touch.


(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

The Quran: Whose Word Is It?

Brief Introduction of the Quran

Quran Chapters: Divinely Revealed Names?

The Quran’s Order Why Has It Changed?