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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Muqaddimah (16): Names of the Sūrahs and their Central Themes

Though sometimes names reflect the meaning of things they symbolize yet many names do not even give a slightest hint to that effect. Four factors seem to have been considered in naming the sūrahs of the Holy Qur’ān.
1. Some of the sūrahs have been named using incipits. Imām Suyūṭī has recorded that following sūrahs have been named this way: Ḥamd (the Praise 1), Barā’ah (the Acquittal, 9), Subḥān (Gloryfied, 17), Ṭāhā (20), Ḥawāmīm (collectively) (40-46), Yāsīn(36), Iqtaraba (It approached, 21), Raḥmān (the Merciful, 55), Tabāraka (Exalted, 67), Sa’ala (He enquired, 70), ‘Amma (About what, 78), Al-nāzi‘āt (Those that snatch away, 79), ’Ara’ayta (Have you seen, (107), Tabbat (Perished, 111) and the like. Many books in the Hebrew Bible have been named in Hebrewusing incipits.
2. Some sūrahs have been given names after some conspicuous words used in them, for example Zukhruf(Ornaments of Gold, 43), Shu‘arā’ (the Poets, 26), Ḥadīd (Iron, 57), Mā‘ūn (Neighborly Needs, 107) etc. These words do not indicate the intended message of the sūrahs. They have been, however, conspicuously placed in the sūrahs as distinguishing marks. Arabs would sometimes name places and even people considering this element. Names like Mutalammis (the seeker) and Tābbaṭa Sharran (he carried a snake under his arm) have been given on this principle. Another analogical case is the practice of logicians. They sometimes relate the meaning of a thing to some of its specific condition which in fact has no bearing on its real meaning.
3. Some names of the sūrahs allude to a conspicuous theme discussed in them. SūrahNūr (light, 24), for example, has been named considering the verse of Nūr(24:35). Sūrahs like ’Ᾱl-i ‘Imrān (Family of ‘Imrān, 3), Nisā’ (Women, 4), Ibrāhīm (Abraham, 14) and Yūnus (John, 10) have been named this way. 
4. Names of some of the sūrahs however, reflect their ‘umūd. Sūrah Fātiḥah(the opening, 1) has also been named Sūrah Salāh. Similarly, Sūrah Barā’ah(Acquittal, 9), Sūrah Banī Israel (Children of Israel, 17) and Sūrah Muḥammad (47) have all been referred to as sūrahs of war. The last two sūrahs, referred to as Mu‘awwadhatayn (i.e. the two seeking refuge) (113-4) and Sūrah Ikhlāṣ (112) also provide an example of such names.
The last method of naming the sūrahs noticeably considers the basic theme of the sūrahs. Had all the sūrahs been named following this principle the coherence in all of them would have been discernable to the readers. I do not, therefore, see any problem in naming all the sūrahs considering their ‘amūdso that their basic purpose is highlighted provided the Sharī‘ahdoes not prohibit us. Now let us take this issue…...  [1]

[1]. This discussion too remained unfinished. Apparently the author intended to discuss the question of naming the sūrahs  afresh keeping in consideration the fourth aspect discussed above and whether doing this would be in compliance with the Sharī‘ah or not. (Iṣlāḥī)