Signs in the Letters – A reflection upon the first ayah of surah baqarah (the cow)
Like every other thing in this universe, we humans, are also created by God with a purpose. God reveals knowledge in his books so that we may become aware of the meaning of life and death and whatever is before and after it.
The Qur’an is the final revelation and it is unique in every sense. Other books have got chapters, paragraphs, sentences, verses etcetera, whereas this book of God has got ‘surahs’ and ‘ayahs’. Typically, an ‘ayah’ is translated as a ‘verse’ but that’s not entirely correct because ‘verses’ are usually used in poetry but the Qur’an is not poetry. An ayah can’t be called a sentence either because there are some ayaat which are combined together to make a complete sentence. For example first two ayaat of surah Rahman (surah 55) are “It is the lord of Mercy who taught the Qur’an”. Here, two ayaat are combined to make a complete sentence and thus concluding the point that an ayah is not a sentence.
The Arabic word ‘ayah’ (plural form: ‘ayaat’) literally means a ‘sign’. Thus, every single ayah in the book of God, is a clear sign from the God to man-kind.
There is an ayah which is so long that it almost covers the entire page and there is an ayah which only consists of one single word. There are ayaat which are just a Group of Arabic letters read separately. Out of many such ayaat one is the first ayah of surah baqarah (surah 2). The ayah says:
Alif laam meem. (2:1)
Where, ‘alif’, ‘laam’ and ‘meem’ are Arabic alphabets which are equivalent to A, L and M respectively.
Now the question is how this ayah is a sign to mankind and what does it mean?
It is historically proven that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was an illiterate man which means that he did not know how to read and write. The people of the book (Jews and Christians) of Madina thought of themselves as extremely knowledgeable, so they used to mock Arabs of being Ummi (illiterate). Now here is the thing, if I am an illiterate in the English language (supposing its my mother tongue) and I have to say ‘zebra’, I can say that easily irrespective of the fact that I don’t know English. But can I spell word ‘zebra’ too? The answer is negative. Why? Because I don’t know that there is a letter ‘Z’ read as ‘zed’ or there is a letter ‘R’ read as ‘aar’. An illiterate person does not know the names of the alphabets . Since the prophet was an illiterate man and Jews and Christians of Madina used to mock at him for this, therefore when he uttered the ayah ‘Alif laam meem’, the ones who thought that they had full knowledge of language became shocked because how could a people who are illiterate use such letters which are only used in texts. Therefore these letters became a clear sign for them that the Qur’an is not his own handiwork. (explanation of Ash-Sha’rawi)
One more rhetorical benefit was quoted by Az-Zamakshari. Allah (swt) challenges the disbelievers that why don’t they come up with a similar Qur’an and he says these letters (Alif laam meem) to make them realize that these are the same letters which they use in their daily speech so why they are not able to produce a similar Qur’an if it is not from Allah. This made them think that this profound book cannot be from any human.
However, the famous scholar Ar-razi said: In surah Fatiha (surah 1), we asked Allah to ‘guide us to the upright path.’ Showing that we cannot be guided by our own will, we need Allah’s help. The letters: Alif laam meem – show that we cannot know and understand everything, so we should put more hope and reliance upon Allah.
Every scholar has his own perspective to see this ayah but nobody knows the meaning of these letters in the ayah except Allah. No matter how much knowledge we gain in this world and no matter how many degrees and theses we get but whenever we open the Qur’an, the very first ayah of the second surah makes us realize that we don’t know anything except what Allah has taught us. Hence, making us even more humble towards our creator who is the source of all knowledge and wisdom.
Who can imagine so much wisdom in just three letters?
This book is indeed a miracle!