Ulum al Qur'an
CONTENTS ONLINE LIBRARY
The so-called 'abbreviated letters' are an important section of the mutashabihat' [Itqan, II, p.8f. A summary of the orientalists' efforts on this topic is in Jeffery. Arthur: The Mystic Letters of the Quran, MW, 14 (1924), pp. 247-60. Some of the orientalists suggested that the letters are abbreviations of the names of the various Companions who used to write the Qur'an for Muhammad. Still others say that the letters are simply symbols employed to distinguish the Sura from others before the now common names were introduced. Sura Ta Ha would be a case in point. This is also based on some Muslim scholars' views (Itqan, 11, p.10). Watt, the Edinburgh priest-orientalist, writes 'We end where we began; the letters are mysterious, and have so far baMed interpretation' (Watt, M.: Bell's Introduction to the Qur'an, Edinburgh, 1977, p.64).] insofar as their meanings are not known.The word is derived from the root 'qata'a' - to cut, and means 'what is cut', and also 'what is abbreviated'.
In technical language the word is used for certain letters found at the beginning of several suras of the Qur'an, called 'the abbreviated letters'.