In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Surah Aal-Imran begins with a reminder of Tawheed [Oneness of Allah]. This is the main difference between Islam and other religions. While Muslims believe in only One God and only submit to Him, other religions have several deities and some revere their prophet, scholars and elders more than Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala committing Shirk. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala begins the Surah by describing some of His attributes.
The Surah begins with Haroof ul Muqataat. We have previously explained in Surah Al-Baqarah that no one knows their meaning except Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. As a believer, we believe every word of the Qur’an to be from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and accept it as it is presented to us without any doubts. If Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala did not intend to tell us the meaning of these words then there is no need for us to delve deeper or give meanings to them on our own.
For the new readers, we will briefly mention what these letters mean. Haroof ul Muqataat means the disjointed letters because these letters are read individually. They will always be written together but they are void of any harakah. For example, Alif-Laam-Meem cannot be read as alam. Twenty nine Surahs of the Qur’an begin with the Haroof ul Muqataat.
Many scholars have attempted to give meanings to these letters; however, the truth is that only Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala knows what they mean. The scholars’ opinions can be summarized as follows:
-Some scholars believe that these letters have an actual meaning. Some are of the view that these letters are abbreviations of the Names of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. For example, Alif is for Allah. Other scholars differed and said these are not abbreviations of some of the Names of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala but the names of the Surahs in which they appear. Some scholars have also said that these are names of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam such as Ta-Ha and Ya-Seen. The truth is that we do not have any evidence from the Qur’an or Sunnah to support these opinions. Therefore, we cannot accept it.
-Second opinion is that the Arabic alphabet does not have a meaning such as the letter alif [ا] on its own does not have a meaning.
-The third opinion is that these letters have a meaning because there is nothing in the Qur’an that does not have a meaning. But because we have not be informed of it therefore it is incorrect to speculate and attribute a meaning on our own. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala alone knows what they mean.
-The fourth opinion is that we must take these letters as they are without going beyond reciting them. It means that we should only recite them and as for their meaning we should say Allahu Alam [only Allah knows best]. We should neither say they have a meaning nor that they do not have a meaning. We should remain silent.
It has also been said that these words were a kind of a challenge for the pagan Arabs who doubted the prophethood of Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and claimed that he speaks the Qur’an on his own. By placing these in the Qur’an, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala challenged the pagan Arabs that this is your language (Arabic), you speak this language and are well-versed in it. If you believe that an illiterate man can speak so eloquently then you should be able to produce a book similar to the Qur’an. If not the entire book then at least a few pages or even an ayah. The pagan Arabs of course failed the challenged. Many attempts have been made, even today, but no one has been able to produce anything that matches the eloquence of the Qur’an.
Whenever Haroof ul Muqataat appear in the Qur’an, it will be noted that they are followed by an ayah that either exalts the status of the Qur’an or an ayah that explains some miraculous feature of the Qur’an.
For example, in Surah Al-Baqarah and Surah Aal-Imran, we note that the ayah 2 and 3 respectively, exalt the status of the Qur’an: “That is a Book in which there is no doubt,” (2: 2) and “It is He Who has sent down the Book to you with truth…” (3: 3). And Surah Ar-Rum: “Alif-Laam-Meem. The Byzantines have been defeated,” (30: 1- 2). This was a prediction of the Qur’an, the Romans were later conquered. Also in Surah Mariam, it appears: “Kaf-Ha-Ya-Ayn-Saad. [This is] a mention of the mercy of your Lord to His servant Zakariya [Zechariah],” (19: 1- 2). This was a miraculous event that took place in the past. The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was not present at that time; Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala informed him through revelation.
“Allah” this is the personal and Grand Name of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. He is the only true God.
“La ilaha illa Huwa,” there is no God but Allah. No one has the right to be worshiped but Him. Explaining the word ilah, Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that it is what everything worships and turns to. Therefore, nobody else deserves this title except Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
If He is the Only One that has the right to be worshiped then we need to let go of all the false deities that we have allowed to enter our lives.
How have we allowed the false deities?
We mentioned in the story of the calf that what stopped the Children of Israel from slaughtering the calf was their love for it. Living with the Egyptians (who worshiped cows), the Children of Israel started taking calf as their idol. It was their reverence for this other creation that stopped them from obeying Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
In our lives, it is our love for other things or another human being that stops us from obeying Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. In our hearts, we know that we are in error and we must not do so but we are so afraid of losing or offending the other person that we continue to disobey Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Sometimes we value the opinion of our scholars or Shaikh so much that even if it contradicts with the authentic tafaseer [exegeses] and ahadeeth [Prophetic traditions] we refuse to acknowledge that our scholar or Shaikh could be wrong.
It is for us to look into our lives and see what false deities we have taken. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala protect us from associating partners with Him. May He allow us to become sincere believers like Prophet Ibraheem [Abraham] ‘alayhi salaam, ameen.
Worship means to present oneself before somebody in utter submission and humility. It requires that the one being worshiped must occupy the highest point of honor and power and who has to be perfect from all angles. Anything which cannot sustain its own being, rather is dependent upon somebody else for its existence, could hardly claim to have any honor or power in its own right. Therefore, all things in this world which have no power to come into being by themselves, nor can they sustain it – be they idols carved in stone, or water, or trees, or angels and apostles – none of them is worthy of worship. The only Being worthy of worship is the One who has always been Alive and Present and shall always live and sustain. Such a Being is none but Allah; there is none worthy of worship but Him.