2 - Al Baqara (The cow)

9 Tafsir(s) related to verse 2.1


Alif lām mīm: God knows best what He means by these [letters].


Alif lām mīm.

According to some people, these isolated letters at the beginning of the sura are among the ambiguous [verses], the interpretation (taÌwīl) of which is known only to God. They say every book has a mystery and the mystery of God in the QurÌān is these isolated letters.

According to other people they are acronyms for His Names: the alif is from the Name 'Allah', the lām indicates His Name al-laṭīf ('the Subtle'), and the mīm indicates His Names al-majīd ('the Glorious') and al-malik ('the King').

It is said God made an oath by means of these letters, an honor they hold because they are the basic elements of His Names and His Speech.

It is said that they are the names of suras [of the QurÌān].

It is said that the alif indicates the Name Allāh, the lām indicates the name Jibrīl (Gabriel), and the mīm indicates the name Muḥammad (ṣ), since this Book descended from God upon the tongue of Gabriel to Muḥammad (ṣ).

Among the [Arabic] letters, alif is independent (infaradat) in its form because it does not connect to other letters in writing; all but a few of the letters connect. By contemplating this quality, the servant becomes aware of the need of all creation for Him and His Self-sufficiency from all.

It is said that the sincere servant remembers from the status of the alif the absolute freedom of the Real (swt) from being particularized by place. All of the letters have a place in the throat, the lip or the tongue, etc., for articulation, except alif. It is His 'His-ness' (huwiya) without being ascribed to any place.

It is said the allusion in [the alif] is to the servant's standing alone (infirād) for God (swt) so that he will be like the alif which is not connected to any letter, and will not abandon the state of standing straight and upright before Him.

It is said that at His address alif, the servant is called in his innermost self to withdraw (infirād) the heart to God Most High. At His address lām, he is asked to yield (līn) to Him in considering His due. Upon hearing the mīm he is asked to conform (muwāfaqa) to His command regarding that which has been entrusted to him.


Alif Lām MīmSahl said:Alif Lām Mīm is a name of God, Mighty and Majestic is He, and within it are meanings and attributes that people of understanding (fahm) know, not to mention the many meanings that it holds for the people of outward [knowledge]. If these letters are read separately, Alif stands for God"s assembling [things in their creation] (taʾlīf), Mighty and Majestic is He, for He brought together all things as He willed. The Lām stands for His pre-eternal grace (luṭfuhu al-qadīm) and the Mīm stands for His great glory (majduhu al-ʿaẓīm).Sahl said:Each book that God, Exalted is He, sent down contains a secret, and the secret of the Qurʾān is contained within the letters which open the sūras, because they are names and attributes, such as when He says Alif Lām Mīm [2:1; 3:1; 29:1 and 31:1], Ṣād [38:1], Alif Lām Rā [10:1; 11:1; 13:1; 14:1 and 15:1], Kāf Ḥā Yā ʿAyn Ṣād [19:1], Tā Sīn Mīm [26:1 and 28:1], Ḥā Mīm [41:1], ʿAyn Sīn Qāf. When these letters are brought together they make up the Greatest Name of God " that is, if a letter is taken from each [group] of the opening letters of the sūras, one after the other in the order that the sūras were revealed, that is, Alif Lām Rā, Ḥā Mīm, and Nūn, they form the divine name al-Raḥmān." Ibn ʿAbbās and Ḍaḥḥāk, on the other hand, said that Alif Lām Mīm means "I am God and I know"; while ʿAlī said that these are names [in the form of] "disconnected" [letters], but if a letter is taken from each of the opening groups of letters, on the condition that it is not the same as the letter adjacent to it, and then they are assembled, they form one of the names of the Merciful. If this name is known and used in supplication, it will be the mightiest name by which the prayer of the supplicant who uses it will be answered.Sahl said:In the words Alif Lām Mīm,! That Book [2:1"2], Alif stands for God (Allāh), Lām stands for the servant (ʿabd), and Mīm stands for Muḥammad.

Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi

(Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Scripture) [2:1-2]. Abu "Uthman al-Thaqafi al-Za"farani informed us> Abu "Amr ibn Matar> Ja"far ibn Muhammad ibn al-Layth> Abu Hudhayfah> Shibl>Ibn Abi Najih> Mujahid who said: "Four verses from the beginning of this Surah were revealed about the believers, and two verses after these four were revealed about the disbelievers and thirteen verses after these last two were revealed about the hypocrites".

Ibn Al Kathir

The Discussion of the Individual Letters

The individual letters in the beginning of some Surahs are among those things whose knowledge Allah has kept only for Himself. This was reported from Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, `Ali and Ibn Mas`ud. It was said that these letters are the names of some of the Surahs. It was also said that they are the beginnings that Allah chose to start the Surahs of the Qur'an with. Khasif stated that Mujahid said, "The beginnings of the Surahs, such as Qaf, Sad, Ta Sin Mim and Alif Lam Ra, are just some letters of the alphabet.'' Some linguists also stated that they are letters of the alphabet and that Allah simply did not cite the entire alphabet of twenty-eight letters. For instance, they said, one might say, "My son recites Alif, Ba, Ta, Tha... '' he means the entire alphabet although he stops before mentioning the rest of it. This opinion was mentioned by Ibn Jarir.

The Letters at the Beginning of Surahs

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.

So glorious is He Who made everything subtly reflect His wisdom.

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 does 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,

ءَامَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا

(We believe in it; all of it (clear and unclear verses) is from our Lord) (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, he is obliged to follow it, otherwise it is better to refrain from making any judgment on this matter. Allah knows best.

These Letters testify to the Miraculous Qur'an

The wisdom behind mentioning these letters in the beginning of the Surahs, 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. 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. KAz-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). Sometimes, one letter at a time was mentioned, such as Sad, Nun and Qaf. Sometimes two letters were mentioned, such as


(Ha Mim) (44:1) Sometimes, three letters were mentioned, such as,


(Alif Lam Mim (2: 1)) and four letters, such as,


(`Alif Lam Mim Ra) (13:1), and


(Alif Lam Mim Sad) (7:1).

Sometimes, five letters were mentioned, such as,


(Kaf Ha Ya `Ayn Sad) (19:1), and;

حـم - عسق

(Ha Mim. `Ayn Sin Qaf) (42:1-2).

This is because the words that are used in speech are usually comprised of one, two, three, four, or five letters.''

Every Surah that begins with these letters demonstrates the Qur'an's miracle and magnificence, and this fact is known by those well-versed in such matters. The count of these Surahs is twenty-nine. For instance, Allah said,

الم ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لاَ رَيْبَ فِيهِ

(Alif Lam Mim) This is the Book (the Qur'an), wherein there is no doubt (2:1-2),

الم - اللهُ لا إلَهَ إلاَّ هُوَ اَلْحَيُّ القَيُّومُ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَٰـبَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقاً لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ

(Alif Lam Mim. Allah! La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), Al-Hayyul-Qayyuum (the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists). It is He Who has sent down the Book (the Qur'an) to you (Muhammad ) with truth, confirming what came before it.) (3:1-3), and,

المص كِتَٰـبٌ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ فَلاَ يَكُن فِى صَدْرِكَ حَرَجٌ مِّنْهُ

(Alif Lam Mim Sad. (This is the) Book (the Qur'an) sent down unto you (O Muhammad ), so let not your breast be narrow therefrom) (7:1-2).

Also, Allah said,

الر كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَٰـهُ إِلَيْكَ لِتُخْرِجَ النَّاسَ مِنَ الظُّلُمَـتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ

(Alif Lam Ra. (This is) a Book which We have revealed unto you (O Muhammad ) in order that you might lead mankind out of darkness (of disbelief and polytheism) into the light (of belief in the Oneness of Allah and Islamic Monotheism) by their Lord's leave) (14:1),

الم - تَنْزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ لاَ رَيْبَ فِيهِ مِن رَّبِّ الْعَالَمينَ

(Alif Lam Mim. The revelation of the Book (this Qur'an) in which there is no doubt, is from the Lord of the `Alamin (mankind, Jinn and all that exists)!) (32:1-2),

حـم - تَنزِيلٌ مِّنَ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

(Ha Mim. A revelation from (Allah) the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful) (41:1-2), and,

حـم - عسق- كَذَٰلِكَ يُوحِي إِلَيْكَ وَإِلَى اَلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكَ اللهُ اَلْعَزِيزُ اَلْحَكَيمُ

(Ha Mim. `Ain Sin Qaf. Likewise Allah, the Almighty, the Wise sends revelation to you (O Muhammad ) as (He sent revelation to) those before you.) (42:1-3).

There are several other Ayat that testify to what we have mentioned above, and Allah knows best.


Alif lām mīm. That Book: these three letters constitute an allusion to the entirety of existence qua totality, because alif alludes to the essence of the one who is the first of existence, as has been mentioned; lām [alludes] to the active intellect, called Gabriel, who is the middle of existence receiving emanation from the principle [of existence] and overflowing upon the end [of existence]; mīm [alludes] to Muḥammad who is the last of existence with whom the cycle [of existence] comes full circle and [its last] is joined to its first, which is why he [Muḥammad] is the seal. He said, 'Verily time has come full circle back to its form on the day when God created the heavens and the earth'. According to one of the [pious] predecessors, 'The lām is made up of two alifs', in other words, analogous to the Essence together with its attribute of knowledge, which together constitute two of the three divine realms we have alluded to. It is thus one of God's Names, for each Name is made up of the Essence together with some [particular] attribute. As for mīm, this is an allusion to the Essence together with all of the attributes and the acts that have been veiled therein in the Muḥammadan form, which is God's Greatest Name, so that none knows this [Name] except the one who knows it. Do you not know how mīm, which is the form of the Essence, is veiled by It? Mīm has a yāÌ and the yāÌ has an alif. The mysterious aspect of the letters of the alphabet is that there is no letter that does not contain an alif. This [explanation] is similar to the statement that the meaning [of these letters] constitutes an oath by God, the Knowing, the Wise. For Gabriel is the locus of manifestation of knowledge and is thus His Name the Knowing, while Muḥammad is the locus of manifestation of wisdom and is thus His Name the Wise. From this becomes manifest the meaning of the statement, 'In every one of His Names there are an infinite number of names. In the realm of wisdom, which is the realm of cause and effect, knowledge is not complete and is not perfected unless it is combined with the act whereupon it becomes a wisdom.

Kashf Al-Asrar

Alif lām mīm.

Addressing one another with individual letters is one of the customs of lovers in their love. These are the lovers' secrets with each other so that no one watching will be aware.

Between them lovers have a secret not disclosed

by word, nor does creation have a pen to record it.


Of the sort of hidden message that He gave

not one will be given up for a hundred thousand lives.

In the scroll of friendship there is the imprint of a script whose interpretation none but the passion- ate read. In the secluded cell of friendship, there is mystery between friends whose murmur none but the recognizers know. In the picture-gallery of friendship there is a color of colorlessness that none but the enraptured have the eyes to see.

If you want to see the beauty of the beloved's face,

blind the eyes of your head and look with the eye of your intellect! [DS 495]

Though Moses heard a thousand words in a thousand languages, this mystery was given over to MuḤammad in the seclusion of Or closer [53:9] on the carpet of expansiveness: "Alif."

I said to her, "Halt [qifī]." She said, "qāf."

Those thousands of words came to Moses, but the veil stayed in place. This mystery came to MuḤammad at the moment of face-to-face vision. Moses heard the words but did not see the Speaker, MuḤammad heard the mystery while gazing on the Keeper of the Mystery. Moses in seeking was delighted with the seeking; MuḤammad in the Presence was delighted with the Friend. Moses had not found the pleasure of contemplation, so he did not know its taste. He had not gone beyond listening and remembering; his repose was in hearing, which is why He spoke so much to him. But MuḤammad had gone beyond the limit of hearing to the center point of togetherness. The jealousy of the Remembered did not leave him in the remembrance and the wave of light lifted him up from love, so remembrance became lost in the Remembered and love in the Light. The spirit was lost in face-to-face vision, and face-to-face vision is far from explication. When a heart finds delight in His grasp and is inundated by face-to-face vision, what will it do with reports? When the spirit rests in the embrace, why should it busy itself with much remembrance?

For him who must have face-to-face vision, reports are the bane.

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an

Letters of the Arabic alphabet like Alif, Lam, Mim, called the mugatta'at, which are pre-fixed to a number of the Surahs of the Qur'an, were in common use in the Arabic literature of the period when the Qur'an was. revealed. The poets and rhetoricians made use of this style, and instances of this can even be found in the pre-Islamic prose and poetry which has survived. As their significance was appreciated by all concerned, none objected to or questioned their use, because it was no enigma to them. Even the bitterest opponents of the Qur'an, who never missed an opportunity, did not raise any objection against their use. But as their use was abandoned with the passage of time" it became difficult for the commentators to determine their exact meaning and significance. An ordinary reader, however, need not worry about their meanings because they make no difference as tar as the Guidance of the Qur'an is concerned.

Its simple meaning is: "No doubt, this is the Book of Allah", but it may also imply that this is the Book which contains nothing doubtful. It is not like the common books on metaphysics and religion which are based on mere speculation and guess-work. Therefore even their authors cannot be free from doubts concerning their own theories, in spite of their assertion that they are convinced of them. In contrast to them, this Book is based on the Truth: its Author is He Who possesses full knowledge of the Reality. Therefore, there is indeed no room for doubt about its contents.

That is, though there is nothing but guidance in this Book, there are a few pre-requisites for benefiting from it. The first pre-requisite is that one should be inclined to avoid vice, and should seek and practise virtue. But there is no guidance in the Qur'an for the people who do not bother to consider whether what they are doing is right or wrong, who follow the ways of the world or their own whims and lusts or move aimlessly in the ways of life.

The second condition for obtaining guidance from the Qur'an is that one must believe in the "unseen" -- those realities which cannot be perceived by the senses and which do not come within human experience and observation, e.g. the essence and attributes of Allah, Angels, Revelation, Heaven, Hell, etc. These things must be taken on trust from the experts (Prophets) just as we do in many cases in the physical world. Therefore, only such a person, who believes in the "unseen", can benefit from the Guidance of the Qur'an. As for the one who believes only in those things which can be seen, tasted and smelt, or can be measured and weighed, cannot get any guidance from this Book.

The third condition to benefit from the Qur'an is that one should be willing and ready to put into practice the teachings of the Qur'an. As the Salat ( Prayer) is the first and foremost obligatory duty enjoined by the Qur'an, it is the practical proof and permanent test of the sincerity of one's Faith. Therefore, after a person's profession of Islam, the moment he hears the call to the Prayer (which sounds regularly five times a day from every mosque in the Muslim world), he should join the congregation for the Salat, because this determines whether he is sincere in his profession or not. If he does not attend to the call and join the congregation, it is an indication that he is not sincere in his profession. It must also be noted that "iqama-tus-Salat¦(the establishment of Prayer is the comprehensive term. It means that Salat should be performed in congregation and that permanent arrangements should be made for it in every habitation; otherwise Salat will not be considered to have been established, even if every inhabitant of a place offers the Salat individually.

The fourth condition to benefit from the Qur' an is that one should be willing to part with one's money according to the instructions of the Book in order to render the rights of Allah and Man and should make monetary sacrifices for the cause of Islam which he has accepted.

The fifth condition is that one should believe in the truth of all those Books which Allah sent down by Revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be His peace and blessings) and the Prophets before him at different times in different countries. Those who do not believe in any kind of guidance from Allah, cannot at all benefit from the guidance of the Qur'an. Likewise those who profess to believe in the necessity of guidance from Allah but do not turn to Revelation and the Prophets for it, or who dub their' own theories as "divine light", cannot obtain any guidance from it. Moreover, guidance is also denied to those who believe only in that revealed Book or Books in which their forefathers believed and reject all other guidance received from the same Source. Apart from all such people, the Qur'an guides only those who believe that they stand in need of Divine Guidance as well as admit that it does not come to every man individually but reaches humanity only through the Prophets and revealed Books.Then those who want guidance should not be slaves to any racial or national prejudices but should be seekers after truth and should submit to it wherever and in whatever form they find it.

This is the sixth and last condition. "Hereafter" is a comprehensive word which applies to the collection of many beliefs, which are as follows: (a) Man has not been created irresponsible in the world but he is answerable to Allah for all his deeds here. (b) The present world order is not everlasting, but has to come to an end at a time only known to Allah. (c) After the present order has been brought to an end, Allah will create a new world, when He will bring back to life all human beings, born from the beginning of creation till Resurrection, simultaneously and will call them to account for their deeds, and then will reward them justly accordingly to what they had done in the world. (d) Those, who will be judged as good by Allah, will go to Paradise, and those who will be judged as bad will be cast into Hell. (e) The criterion of success or failure is not the prosperity or adversity of this worldly life, but successful in actual fact will be he who comes out successful in Allah's final judgement, and failure he who is a failure there. Those who do not believe in the life-after-death with the above implications, cannot benefit from the Qur'an because the one who entertains' even the slightest doubt about these; not to speak of rejecting them, can never follow the way of life which the Qur'an prescribes.

Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs

And on his authority>'Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak>'Ali Ibn Ishaq al-Samarqandi>Muhammad Ibn Marwan>al-Kalbi>Abu Salih that Ibn 'Abbas said, concerning Allah's saying, Exalted is He, (Alif. Lam. Mim): 'Alif stands for Allah, Lam for the Archangel Gabriel (Jibril) and Mim for Muhammad. It is also said Alif stands for Allah's blessings (ala'uh), Lam for His kindness (lutfuh) and Mim for His dominion (mulkuh). It is also said that Alif stands for the beginning of the Name Allah, Lam for the beginning of His Name the Kind (al-Latif) and Mim for the beginning of His Name the Glorious (al-Majid). It is also said that only Allah knows the meaning of these disjointed letters; while some maintain that it is an oath that He made.