Alif lām mīm
According to some people, these isolated letters at the beginning of the sūra are among the ambiguous [verses], the interpretation (taÌwīl) of which is known only to God. They say every book has a mystery and the mystery of God in the QurÌān is these isolated letters.
According to other people they are acronyms for His names: the alif is from the name “Allah,” the lām indicates His name al-LaṬīf (“the Subtle”), and the mīm indicates His names al-Majīd (“the Glorious”) and al-Malik (“the King”).
It is said that God made an oath by means of these letters, an honor they hold because they are the basic elements of His names and His speech.
It is said that they are the names of sūras [of the QurÌān].
It is said that the alif indicates the name Allāh, the lām indicates the name Jibrīl (Gabriel), and the mīm indicates the name Muḥammad ﷺ, since this Book descended from God on the tongue of Gabriel to Muḥammad ﷺ.
Among the [Arabic] letters, alif is independent (infaradat) in its form because it does not connect to other letters in writing; all but a few of the letters connect. By contemplating this quality, the servant becomes aware of the need of all creation for Him and His self-sufficiency from all.
It is said that the sincere servant remembers from the status of the alif the absolute freedom of the Real (سبحانه وتعالى) from being particularized by place. All of the letters have a place in the throat, the lip, or the tongue, etc., for articulation, except alif. It is His “He-ness” (huwiyya),and is not ascribed
to any place.
It is said that the allusion in [the alif] is to the servant's standing alone (infirād) for the sake of God (سبحانه وتعالى) so that he would be like the alif which is not connected to any letter, and [he] would not abandon the state of standing straight and upright before Him.
It is said that by His address alif, the servant is called in his innermost self to withdraw (infirād) [his] heart to God most high. At His address lām, he is asked to yield (līn) to Him in considering His due. On hearing the mīm he is asked to conform (muwāfaqa) to His command regarding that which has been entrusted to him.
It is said that each letter has a specific form and the alif is alone (infara- dat) in its being a vertical line, set apart from connection with other letters like it, so He assigned the beginning of the Book for it. This is an allusion to the fact that anyone who has renounced [their] connection with simulacra (amthāl) and distractions (ashghāl) will attain the good fortune of sublime rank and will win the ultimate degree. He becomes worthy of speaking with the detached letters (al-ḥurūf al-munfarida) which are not combined, following the custom of lovers (sunnat al-aḥbāb) in veiling the state and hiding the affair of [their] story from strangers. Their poet said:
I said to her, “stop” (qultu lahā qifī) She said, “qāf.” (qālat qāf)
She did not say, “I have stopped (waqaftu)” so that no onlooker would see, nor did she say, “I will not stop (lā aqif)” out of respect for the heart of the beloved, but rather she said [only] “qāf.”
It is said that there are many expressions (ʿibārāt) for ordinary people (ʿumūm) and [many] symbols (rumūz) and allusions (ishārāt) for the elect (khuṣūṣ). He made Moses hear His words in a thousand (alf) places while He said to our Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ, “Alif. . .” and [Muḥammad] said, “I was given the all-comprehensive words (jawāmiʿ al-kalim) and then the
speech (kalām) was shortened for me.”
Someone said: My master said to me, “What afflicts you?” I said, “Do you dislike me?” He said, “Lām alif.”