Interpretation of the Abbreviated Letters in the Holy Quran

Answered according to Shafi'i Fiqh by Darul Iftaa Jordan
Is the interpretation of the abbreviated letters in the Quran open for Ijtihad{ Independent reasoning }, or none knows their meaning but Almighty Allah ?

Praise be to Allah; and may His blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Mohammad and upon his Family and Companions.

Almighty Allah has begun twenty nine chapters of His Honorable and Respected Book with abbreviated alphabetical letters; the total of which is twenty four letters: half the Arabic Alphabet. Some of these chapters begin with one, two, three, four or five letters. They are from the allegorical type upon whose interpretation scholars have disagreed. There were two opinions as regards this issue:

First: Tafweed. The proponents of this opinion opted for not interpreting these abbreviated letters because they couldn`t produce a clear evidence to base their interpretation upon, and because interpreting the Book of Allah without sound knowledge is considered one of the grave major sins as clearly stated in the Quranic verses and the Prophetic tradition. According to these scholars, the alphabetical letters at the beginning of chapters are allegorical; none knows their meaning but Allah. We believe in them and entrust Allah with the Knowledge of their meaning. Mentioning them in the Quran is a test to the believers.

Second: Ta`weel{interpretation}. The proponents of this opinion have differed a lot in the interpretation of these letters. Some of them said that they were the names of chapters, some said they were the names of Allah, some said Allah swore by them and some said they were alarm particles unfamiliar to the Arabs such as: “ I`lla, amma, and the “Ha`” in Haza and Ha`ola`.”

These letters came in this particular form to attract the attention of the polytheists. Thus, they started listening to the Quran and comprehending the message that Allah is delivering to them. Other scholars(Ta`weel) said that the Holy Quran comprises from the alphabet spoken by the Arabs, so had our Prophet(PBUH) learned it{Quran} from a human being, as they(polytheists) falsely assume, then why couldn`t they have brought a chapter like it, since they consider themselves the most eloquent. As if these letters are challenging them in a manner which they are not familiar with.

Anyway, this issue is open to Ijtihad, so it shouldn`t be restricted to a certain opinion. Interpreting it without a clear proof from the Quran, or the Prophetic tradition entails a sense of mannerism that Arabic can`t afford to undertake. And since there is no explicit evidence that we can rely on in the interpretation of these abbreviated letters, then we opt for the first opinion(Tafweed). And Allah knows best.

This answer was collected from the official government Iftaa Department of Jordan.

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