In A Nutshell
Like the Bible, the Quran is meant to be the direct word of God (or Allah), a perfect text delivered from a perfect being. But this interpretation raises several mysteries; chief among them why 29 chapters begin with a cascade of random letters.
The Whole Bushel
If you’ve ever flicked through an Arabic copy of the Quran, you’ll know about the mysterious letters. Starting 29 separate chapters of Islam’s holy text, including the first, they’re seemingly disjointed, random, and very confusing.
Known as the Muqatta’at, these “disjointed letters” have been puzzling scholars for centuries. Taken together, they make up exactly half of all letters in the Arabic alphabet, but spread out on the page they make literally no sense. Imagine if we’d opened this article with “AQRFF KGEX” and then acted like you all knew what it meant and you’ll get some idea of the weirdness involved.
Aside from being a puzzle, the Muqatta’at have historically been used to disparage Mohammed. Christian writers have at different times accused the founder of Islam of suffering from a stutter or even having 29 separate epileptic attacks while writing. Although nobody takes these theories seriously anymore, debunking them still leaves the central mystery of why a “perfect” text would start with an unreadable mess.
Some Islamic scholars think there’s a secret message encoded in the letters, revolving around the number 19 (based on a verse that they think is connected to it). Others think the letters are evidence of the inherent mysteries in the Quran and can only be understood by Allah. Yet others think they’re simply poetic, a means for the author to show how divine truth can be assembled from the raw building blocks of imperfect human language. Short of Allah himself dropping by to clear things up, it’s doubtful we’ll ever know for sure.