Interpreting the Disjointed Letters of the Holy Quran (1/4)

Interpreting the Disjointed Letters of the Holy Quran (1/4)


Applying Hameed ud Din Farahi’s Theory of Intrinsic meanings of Hebrew and Arabic Alphabets

ABSTRACT

Disjointed letters (Arabic: Huroof Muqatta’at, حروف مقطعات) are opening letters of some chapters of the Holy Quran. Despite many efforts by past and contemporary scholars the meanings of these letter-combinations have always remained a mystery. Hameed-ud-din Farahi, a scholar from the subcontinent of India in the 20thcentury posited that these letters are actually root alphabet from which Hebrew and Arabic spawned. These root alphabet not only represented sounds, but also contained intrinsic meanings. These meanings were a function of the fact that these alphabet were modelled on real world objects. This fact has been confirmed by Hebrew and Arabic lexicologists and philologists and by continuing archaeological finds. This article applies this theory of intrinsic meanings of Hebrew/Arabic alphabet to the Disjointed Letters and finds that the theory is sound and able to solve this eternal mystery consistently.

Interpreting the Disjointed Letters of the Holy Quran

Applying Hameed ud Din Farahi’s theory of Intrinsic meanings of Hebrew and Arabic Alphabets

1 Introduction

Some chapters[1]in the Holy Quran begin with an arrangement of letters/characters that are pronounced separately, reading out the full phonetic name of each alphabet; like Aleph Lam Mem (الم)[2], Ha Mem (حم)[3]etc. (meaning, had Quran been revealed in English, ALM would’ve been read as Alpha, Lima, Mike.) That is why in Islamic tradition they are known as the Disjointed Letters (حروف مقطعات). However, it is a fact that the meaning and purpose of these letters is not known conclusively, and therefore has been a subject of great mystery, debate and conjectures among Islamic scholars throughout history.In source books of Quranic exegesis called the Tafasir (Singular Tafsir) we find opinions as regards to their meanings attributed to disciples of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and scholars belonging to subsequent generations, up until this very era we are living in. However, these opinions are tantamount to mere speculations and guesswork, even by their proposers’ own explicit proclamations. It was so because none of these opinions were based on any established field of knowledge. They were based on arbitrary assumptions that did not provide any consistent way of interpreting these letters in a principled, coherent and testable manner[4].

However, one opinion appeared to have some potential as it was based on a pre-existing field of knowledge. That was the opinion of a famous scholar from the early 20thcentury, Hamid ud Din Farahi[5].

People who are familiar with the history of development of Arabic alphabet/script know that the Hebrew and Arabic alphabets came from a common root. This root consisted of some basic alphabets that were used by dwellers of ancient Arabia. Hence, Farahi posited that these ancient alphabets not only represented sounds like English and Hindi etc., but also denoted “things” and “meanings” – like for instance the Chinese alphabets[6]­­­- and hence were written as symbols resembling figures/outlines of these “things” they denoted. And the example he gave in support of this claim was so gripping, i.e. of ‘Nun’ (ن), that it appeared to hold some value worth pursuing. Although it was the only example that he gave that was demonstrably reasonable, nevertheless the underlying hypothesis was so academically sound and coherent that it stimulated me to carry out this research.

Before I divulge my findings, a little background is presented in ensuing paras so that the average reader can also make sense out of this discussion.

2 Hebrew and Arabic Alphabets[7]

The objects that served as origin for the Hebrew Alphabets are generally known and mentioned in authentic Hebrew lexicons. According to one estimate the history of these Alphabets dates back about 4000 years. By pondering on the actual objects these alphabets signified, it transpires that these were prominent things in the immediate vicinity of the ancient man. Various archaeological finds have corroborated the fact that the ancient forms of these alphabets used to resemble their source objects with greater fidelity. However as time passed the Hebrew alphabets/scripts kept on evolving/changing (ktav ibri, ktav ashuri etc.), and hence the present script has departed much from the original form.

Even a little research confirms that Arabic alphabet and its current script has a striking resemblance with older scripts of the Hebrew alphabet. Both alphabets are very similar. Hebrew lexicologists often resolve various syntactic and semantic difficulties by comparing Hebrew with Arabic[8]. Phonetics/Sounds of corresponding alphabets in either language are very similar too; perhaps identical in most cases. Complete names of alphabets (also known as phonetic alphabets) are alsoalmostsame. In fact, if certain formulaic adjustments are adopted to interface both languages with each other, the wordalmostcan be replaced byexactlyin the previous sentence.

For example, first character in Hebrew and Arabic respectively ‘א’ and ‘ا’, is pronounced as ‘Alef’ and produces the same phonetic sound. Second character, i.e. ‘ב’ and ‘ب’, is pronounced as ‘Bet’ and ‘Ba’ respectively and produces the same sound. ‘ץ’ and ‘ص’ is pronounced as ‘Tsadi’ and ‘Tsade’ respectively and produces the same sound.

Apropos it has to be accepted that either Arabic alphabet are exactly the same as Hebrew alphabet, or both emanated from the same source. Thus whatever objects or ‘pictograms’ the latter originated from, the former also originated from the same.

3 Relationship between Letters, Objects and Meanings

As stated above, every letter in the Hebrew/Arabic alphabet was modelled from a real-life object.

For example: ‘א’ (Hebrew) or ‘ا’ (Arabic) is the first letter in both alphabets. The pictogram[9]that represented it historically was, which was a crude depiction of an ox/bull’s head. The letter’s full name is also ‘Aleph’[10]in both alphabets, which means ‘ox’ in both languages.

Similarly ‘ב’ and ‘ب’, is pronounced as ‘Bet’ and ‘Ba’ in Hebrew and Arabic respectively. The representative pictogram is, which is a crude drawing of a house. In both languages ‘Bet’ means house/home.

The same goes for all alphabets in both languages.

Hence, it becomes manifest that each letter, its pictogram/pictographic description, its complete phonetic name, and the meaning of the name, all can be integrated to conclusively point to the real-life object the letter was modelled from.

Another aspect of this, however, still needs to be imbibed. These pictograms of source objects the letters of Hebrew and Arabic alphabet were modelled from, were used not only to depict the physical objects themselves, but could also be used to depict symbolic traits those objects signified. This is a very important point. In linguistic jargon, we can say that each letter could be used as a ‘logogram’: a symbol representing a physical object, or as an ‘ideogram’: a symbol representing an idea or a concept.

For instance, since ox/bull was considered as a symbol of Might and Power – and it still is considered so in various places around the globe – it could be used in writing to depict Might/Power. Hence, the letter Aleph, could either be used to mean ‘Ox’ or ‘Power’ in writing. The letter Ayin could either mean ‘Eye’ or ‘Vision/to See’ in writing. Similarly, two or more letters/pictograms could be combined to depict a simple, compound or complex meaning.

This practice of depicting compound meanings with the help of a combination of letters could be better understood by studying any ancient writing system that combined both logographic and alphabetic elements, such as the Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Ancient Egyptians combined pictograms to express complex thoughts and then invented ‘mute characters’ like Determinatives[11]to signify if particular logograms were required to be read as phonograms or ideograms, and whether literal or figurative meaning was implied. Although the study of Hieroglyphic languages is not necessary to comprehend this paper’s findings, nevertheless it will be helpful in easing-in the readers who are completely unfamiliar with pictographic languages.

Notwithstanding, it appears that widespread adoption and promulgation of alphabetic languages obviated the need for regurgitating logographic and ideographic roots of the letters, as phonetics was all that was expected from a letter. Hence Aleph was merely reduced to a sound, i.e. to produce the sound of ‘A’, Bet for the sound of ‘B’ etc. However, the form of the written script and the complete phonetic name of each alphabet in both Hebrew and Arabic kept representing its source object with more or less fidelity. In fact, it would be more appropriate to say that while Arabic retained the phonetic sounds and script forms more faithfully, Hebrew retained the pictographic roots by keeping the history and phonetic names of each letter intact.

4 Considering Pictographic Roots of Hebrew/Arabic to Interpret the Disjointed Letters of the Quran

There are chapters in the Holy Quran that begin with one or a combination of disjointed letters. In most places this beginning is considered a complete verse in itself. Each of these letters is recited separately in its complete phonetic form. These cues hence insist that each letter must have been used considering intrinsic semantics.

As per the aforementioned discussion, it is known that each alphabetic character started its journey from a real-life object. The object was symbolized through a pictograph in writing which later transformed into the letter used in both Hebrew and Arabic. The source object is thus seminal in determining the meaning each letter inherited.

Apropos, this research is based on interpreting the disjointed letters of the Holy Quran with reference to their pictographic roots vis-à-vis inherent meanings, i.e. considering each letter as a logogram or an ideogram.

5 List of References

Sources consulted for determining the history, scripts, pictograms, meanings of Hebrew Alphabet and their relation with Arabic Alphabet are as follows:

  • 1.Authentic Hebrew lexicons. All claims, unless explicitly mentioned, are based on alphabet references found in these lexicons. Namely:
  • a.A Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament with a short history of Hebrew Lexicography by Dr. Julius Fuerst, Third Edition; Published by Leipzig, Bernard Tauchnitz; London, Williams & Norgate; 1867. (Referenced hereinafter as Fu)
  • b.A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English, by Ernest Klein; Published by Carta Jerusalem, The University of Haifa; Copyright 1987 by The Beatrice & Arthur Minden Foundation & The University of Haifa. (Referenced hereinafter as Kl)
  • c.Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, by Wilhelm Gesenius; Translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles; Published by Samuel Bagster & Sons Limited, 15 Paternoster Row, London; 1851. (Referenced hereinafter as Ges)
  • d.Students’ Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary to the Old Testament, Compiled by Alexander Harkavy; Published by Hebrew Publishing Co. 77-79 Delancey Street, New York, USA. (Referenced hereinafter as Har)
  • 2.Encyclopaedias, namely:
  • a.Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Web version at:http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/.
  • b.Encyclopedia Judaica, Second Edition, 22 Volumes; Macmillan Reference USA (Thomson Gale) in association with Keter Publishing House Ltd., Jerusalem; 2007.
  • c.Wikipedia.
  • 3.Various websites found through the Google search engine. None of such unauthentic resources were used as basis for any claim/finding, though.

6 Idiosyncrasies of Hebrew Alphabet

Before applying this theory to individual instances of Disjointed Letters in the Holy Quran it is necessary to understand some difficulties inherent in discerning the logographic and ideographic values of the Hebrew Alphabet. These are:

  • 1.Most pictograms/logograms for letters of the Hebrew Alphabet are known and undisputed. Usually these logograms are described in graphic detail and point unambiguously to the source objects they were modelled from. The complete phonetic name of each letter also confirms the object. However, roots and pictograms for a few letters are disputed and debated among lexicologists.
  • 2.While logograms are almost always described and sometimes even drawn by lexicologists, ideograms (like Bull representing Might) on the other hand seldom find mention in authentic lexicons. Whether ideograms exist or not is quite a debatable subject itself, as much of this knowledge was lost to history and is in the process of being reconstructed through archaeological finds and research. However this research paper assumes that the source pictographic symbols represented things as well as ideas for the simple reason that the number of these ancient characters is far too less to convey even the most simplest of messages if their semantics is restricted to physical objects only.
  • 3.For purposes of application of Farahi’s theory a parallel has to be drawn between Hebrew and Arabic; that is to say it has to be discerned that which character in Hebrew is which character in Arabic. While this has already been done by philologists/lexicologists[12], still sometimes it becomes necessary to manually confirm by independent comparison in order to attain certainty. This anomaly occurs in those letters in particular which phonetically produce somewhat similar or nearby sounds, or have gotten jumbled up historically. For instance: ‘Ayin and Aleph’, ‘He and Chet’, ‘Bet and Vav’, ‘Samekh and Shin’ and ‘Tav and Tet’ etc. Hence, in order to allay any such doubts the usage of corresponding words in both languages often needs to be studied to pinpoint the corresponding homophonic character.
  • 4.A few characters that occurred in pairs – of which both used to be represented by a single letter – also create confusion when correlating Hebrew with Arabic. For example, the Hebrew ‘Shin’ historically represented ‘Sin’ and ‘Shin’, the consonant and its sibilant, with the same alphabetic character. Later Hebrew lexicologists adopted dots (dagesh) to distinguish one from the other. The point to note here is that since plain letters – i.e. without the dagesh – were the original ones in inception, this means that pictograph only existed for one of them – the original one. Or it can be rephrased to mean that both phonemes had the same pictogram despite their phonetic distinctions. This means that the Hebrew ‘Shin’ is congruent to both Arabic ‘Seen’ and ‘Sheen’. Other such pairs are: ‘Hey and Chet’ (Hebrew Chet), ‘Ayin and Ghayin’ (Hebrew Ayin), ‘Tsadi and Tdadi’ (Hebrew Tsade), ‘Tua and Zua’ (Hebrew Tet) etc. This issue however does not affect the present research, since Quran only employs the original one out of the pair, the non-dagesh character, which ipso facto strengthens Farahi’s theory.

7 Principles of Research

Keeping in view the aforementioned idiosyncrasies of Hebrew Alphabet, following guiding principles have been adhered to for consistent interpretation of Disjointed Letters in the Holy Quran:

  • 1.In order to discover the meaning of any single Arabic disjointed letter, first and foremost it is determined as to which Hebrew character is its counterpart. In most cases there is one to one correspondence between both alphabets and hence the exercise was as trivial as the result was certain. However, as highlighted earlier, if confusion arose in some alphabets, matching counterpart characters were determined after consulting authentic lexicons, their tables of comparative alphabets, and manual research considering usage of those characters in similar words in both languages.
  • 2.What real-life object served as the basis for a letter is finalized after integrating both, i.e. the pictographic description as well as the complete phonetic name of the letter. This has been necessitated by the fact that lexicologists have claimed different or multiple roots for some letters. In such cases onus is automatically transferred to the researcher to make a decision as to which root is more accurate. Hence this research uses the complete phonetic name of the alphabet and its meaning as the determinant[13]in such cases[14].
  • 3.After identifying the pictographic root/source object for a letter the next step is of ascertaining the idea or concept it represents. Since this aspect has yet not become an exact science hence it demands a certain degree of imagination and extrapolation. However, in this regard the ambit of plausible meanings has only been restricted to the most obvious candidates[15].
  • 4.After ascertaining the logographic and ideographic values of each individual letter out of a particular combination of disjointed letters occurring in the Holy Quran letters are then made to interact with each other. Thus it is also determined that whether two or more letters and their logographic or ideographic meanings can be combined to reach to a single cumulative concept or idea.
  • 5.Finally the obtained/transpired meaning(s) of the combination is correlated with the following verses and the subject matter of the incident chapter at large, or a group of chapters if the same combination is repeated in them, in order to determine the combination’s locational significance and logic. This correlation also renders credibility to the obtained interpretation of the disjointed letters.

8 Findings

Before individual combinations of disjointed letters are interpreted, a table containing all unique letters used as disjointed letters in the Holy Quran (in order of occurrence in the Quran), along with their corresponding Hebrew letters, logograms and ideograms are presented in the table below. The derivation and explanation of each will follow in ensuing paras.

Ser.

Disjointed Letter
(Arabic)
Hebrew Letter
(Current, Ancient, Phonetic alphabet)
Pictogram, DescriptionLogogram | Ideogram
1.‘ا’ (Alif)‘א’,, Aleph, Ox/Bull’s headOx/Bull | Power, Might
2.‘ل’ (Lam)‘ל’,, Lamed, Shepherd’s staff, Ox goadShepherd’s staff, Ox goad | Shepherd, To guide or teach
3.‘م’ (Mem)‘מ’,, Mem, Wave of waterWater | Water
4.‘ص’ (Tsade)‘צ’,, Tsadi/Tsadiq, Fishing hook, Flower[16]Fishing hook | Fishing hook, to hunt, Pious person
5.‘ر’ (Ra)‘ר’,, Resh, Human headHuman head | Head, Human, Intelligence, Wisdom
6.‘ک’ (Kaf)‘כ’,, Kaf, Hand/Palm, Hollow of the bent handSpread hand | Hand, Palm of hand, To spread one’s hand, To beg
7.‘ھ’ or ‘ہ’ (Ha)‘ה’,, He, Man raising hands or WindowMan raising hands/window | Lo & behold
8.‘ی’ (Ya)‘י’,, Yod, Arm/HandArm | Arm, Working hand with fist closed
9.‘ع’ (Ayin)‘ע’,, Ayin, EyeEye | Vision, to see
10.‘ط’ (Tua)‘ט’,, Tet, Basket or SnakeBasket or Snake | Basket, Snake, Twisting
11.‘س’ (Seen)‘ש’,, Shin and Sin, Teeth, Bow[17]Tooth/Bow | Tooth, Teeth, Bow, To bite or cut
12.‘ح’ (Cha)‘ח’,, Chet, Wall, FenceWall/Fence | Wall, A line of bricks in a wall, Fence, To surround and enclose
13.‘ق’ (Qaf)‘ק’,, Qof, Hole of an axe/ Eye of a needle/Back of the head and neckHole of axe/needle or Back of head & neck | Back of head and neck, Eye of needle or axe
14.‘ن’ (Nun)‘נ’,, Nun, Fish or SnakeFish/Snake | Fish

Table 1: Disjointed Letters and their corresponding Hebrew Letters with Logographic and Ideographic RootsNow let’s have a look at individual findings with respect to unique occurrences of Disjointed Letters in chronological order.

Interpreting the Disjointed Letters of the Holy Quran (2/4)

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[1]Chapter is a generic translation of the term signifying Quranic compositions. Actual Arabic term used to denote these units is ‘سورہ’ (pronounced Surah) which is more akin to meanings like Construction, Wall, and Composition etc. The word ‘Chapter’ has certain semantic and syntactic connotations that do not apply to Quranic compositions. Notwithstanding, it is retained in this research, much like other comparative religious publications, to facilitate comprehension of Non-Muslims.

[2]Chapter 2 Verse 1

[3]Chapter 40 Verse 1

[4]For instance, one popular assumption driving almost all opinions was that these are perhaps abbreviations. Hence, one scholar would posit that Aleph Lam Mem (الم) stands for ‘I am Allah, the knowing’ (انا اللہ اعلم), while another would form a completely different phrase/sentence, with no testability or recourse to any formulaic derivation whatsoever.

[5]For details, visit:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamiduddin_Farahi,http://www.hamid-uddin-farahi.org/

[6]Amin Ahsan Islahi,Tadabbur-e-Quran, Volume 1; Page 82-85; Published by Faran Foundation in November 2009.

[7] For introduction and history of the Hebrew Alphabet, and for derivation of claims under this heading, I have consulted the following places:
a. Page 689-728, Volume 1; Page 554, Volume 8; Encyclopedia Judaica, Second Edition, 22 Volumes, Macmillan Reference USA in association with Keter Publishing House Ltd. Jerusalem.
b. Jewish Encyclopedia 1906, Web version, page at:http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1308-alphabet-the-hebrew.
c. Wikipedia, Web version, page at:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_alphabet.
d. How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs, page at:http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=36&Issue=02&ArticleID=06.
e. Prefatory pages of authentic Hebrew lexicons, some of which have been referenced in this article.

[8] Any etymological lexicon of the Hebrew language may be consulted to corroborate this claim.

[9] Authentic sources usually only describe these pictograms. Actual pictograms, barring for a few letters, are not explicitly drawn therein. However, by comparison/correlation of evolving scripts and the description provided, reaching at the pictogram becomes fairly trivial. Moreover, archeological finds have also substantially corroborated these descriptions. Anyhow, this research paper bases its findings not on the pictogram itself, but on the pictographic description explicitly mentioned in authentic sources. Pictograms are provided for mere convenience of the readers.

[10] Variant spellings are used in different sources, which is of no consequence. The reason is that transliterating certain phonemes in other languages is difficult to phonetically represent in English. Hence, Aleph, Alef, Alif etc. are all legitimate transliterations.

[11]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_hieroglyphs#Determinatives

[12] For example see ‘A Comparative Table of Ancient Alphabets’, prefatory pages, Ges.

[13] Not to be confused with determinative. Determinant means a factor which decisively affects the nature or outcome of something.

[14] For instance, regarding ‘Tet’ (ط), Fuerst and some other lexicologists have preferred ‘Basket’ and ‘Twisting’, while Gesenius has explained multiple roots including ‘Snake’. Hence, this research has preferred ‘Snake’ owing to Tet’s (طیط) meaning which is ‘Big snake/Serpent’.

[15] For instance, Power/Might for Ox (Aleph).

[16] This particular meaning was only found in Encyclopedia Judaica, 2ndEdition, Volume 17, Page 655, See ‘Sade’.

[17] This meaning was only found in Encyclopedia Judaica, 2ndEdition, Volume 18, Page 483-483, See ‘Shin’.

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