Imam al-Suyūṭī and Symmetry in the Qur'an: Understanding the Connection Between the Beginning and Ending of Surahs

Published: June 27, 2024 • Updated: June 27, 2024

Author: Sh. Mohammad Elshinawy

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

The Qur’an is a shoreless ocean of treasures. The combined lifespans of humanity are insufficient to collect all its pearls. Yet, every sincere Muslim should desire to become better skilled at diving into its wondrous depths. It enhances your ability to transform your spirit through deeper tadabbur (contemplation) of the Qur’an in general, and in particular, through recognizing some of the possible secrets behind how each sūrah (chapter) of the Qur’an begins and ends.
For half a millennium and counting, the leading scholars of Islam have regarded the great Imam Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d. 911H/1505CE, Allah grant him mercy) as a towering super-expert on the Qur’an, and hold his seminal project, al-Itqān fī ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān, as one of the most authoritative, indispensable references on the Qur’anic sciences. After summarizing in al-Itqān earlier scholarship on the ten brilliant styles of “opening statements” that every sūrah falls within, and how the “closing remarks” of every sūrah are perfectly suited to retain its most important themes, al-Suyūṭī dedicated a standalone treatise called Marāṣid al-Maṭāliʿ (Capturing the Beginnings) to demonstrate the evident symmetry or parity between the introduction and conclusion of each sūrah.
This translation is based on a digitally imaged (PDF) print of al-Marāṣid published in 1426H. No substantial departures were made from the original text, aside from some discretionary incorporations of parenthetical detail to help readers locate verses by number or the like. As for the commentary, it consists of selections from the source publication’s footnotes, unless otherwise cited.

The Text of Marāṣid al-Maṭāliʿ

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy
All praise be to Allah, who guides those who seek Him to their aims, and grants us insights about the fundamentals of His Book and its subtleties. May salutations and peace be upon our master, Muhammad, and upon his family, companions, and supporters. To begin:
Among the sciences of the Great Qur’an are the correlations between how its sūrah(s) begin and end. I have previously explained that in al-Itqān, and also in the book Asrār al-Tanzīl. It has also been mentioned by the muḥaqqiqūn (critical verifier scholars), such as the author of al-Kashshāf, his teacher Maḥmūd ibn Ḥamzah al-Karmānī (the author of al-Burhān fī Mutashābih al-Qurʾān and al-Gharāʾib wal-ʿAjāʾib) in his book on tafsīr, Imam Fakhr al-Dīn [al-Rāzī] (d. 606H/1209), and al-Aṣbahānī (d. 430/947), among others. In this short treatise, I have chosen to demonstrate this [correlation between how sūrahs begin and end] in the chronological order of the sūrah(s), based on my own personal reflections (except where I expressly cite others). I have named this work Marāṣid al-Maṭāliʿ fī Tanāsub al-Maqāṭiʿ wal-Maṭāliʿ (Capturing the Beginnings: The Correspondence of Chapters’ Endings and Beginnings).


Al-Iṣfahānī said, “Its end matches its beginning in terms of identifying the qualities of the believers, and then alluding to the qualities of the disbelievers.”

Āl ʿImrān

It begins by mentioning the Qur’an being sent down, and the Torah and Evangel prior to that. It then concludes with that as well, in His words, “Indeed, there are some among the People of the Book who truly believe in Allah and what has been revealed to you [believers] and what was revealed to them.” (3:199)
Similarly, it begins with, “Allah does not break His promise.” (3:9) and concludes with, “You never fail in Your promise.” (3:194)


It begins by mentioning how creation (and childbirth) began and concludes with the rulings related to death.
It also begins with the verses of inheritance and kalālah (when the deceased leaves no parents or children) and concludes with the same theme.


It begins with the prohibition of hunting while in iḥrām (a sanctified state), and [by mentioning] the sacred months, the sacrificial animals, and the qalāʾid (those adorned for sacrifice), and concludes with that as well.
It also begins with declaring grazing livestock permissible, and ended with lamenting those who prohibited some livestock which Allah never prohibited.
Also, in its beginning: “Allah made a covenant with the Children of Israel.” (5:12) In its end: “Indeed, we took a covenant from the Children of Israel.” (5:70)
Also, in its beginning: “Indeed, those who say ‘Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary’  have disbelieved.” (5:17) In its end is something similar.


It begins with, “Yet the disbelievers set up equals to their Lord.” (6:1) and ends with “and set up equals with their Lord.” (6:150)
It begins with, “Have they not seen how many [disbelieving] people We destroyed before them? We have made them more established in the land than you. We sent down abundant rain for them and made rivers flow at their feet. Then We destroyed them for their sins and replaced them with other peoples.” (6:6) And its ending is: “He is the One Who has placed you as successors on earth.” (6:165)


In its beginning: “As a reminder to the believers.” (7:2) and in its end: “They remember [their Lord] then they start to see [things] clearly.” (7:201)
In its beginning: “Follow what has been sent down to you from your Lord,” (7:3) and in its end: “Say, I only follow what is revealed to me from my Lord.” (7:203)
In its beginning: “And do not take others as guardians besides Him,” (7:3) and in its end: “But [the devils] persistently plunge their [human] associates deeper into wickedness, sparing no effort.” (7:203)
Likewise, it begins by describing Iblīs (Satan) as being arrogant and concludes by describing the angels as not being too proud [to worship Allah].
Also, in its beginning: “Call upon your Lord in humility and secretly,” (7:55) and in its end: “Remember your Lord inwardly with humility and reverence.” (7:205)


It opens with His statement, “It is they who are the true believers. They will have elevated ranks, forgiveness, and an honorable provision [from their Lord],” (8:4) and is sealed with His statement, “…they are the true believers. They will have forgiveness and an honorable provision.” (8:74)

Barāʾah (Al-Tawbah)

It opens with His statement, “But if you turn away, then know that you will have no escape from Allah,” (9:3) and concludes with His statement, “But if they turn away, then say, [O Prophet] ‘Allah is sufficient for me.’” (9:129)


In its beginning, “…that We have sent revelation to a man from among them,” (10:2) and in its end, “And follow what is revealed to you.” (10:109)

Hūd, Yūsuf,8 Al-Raʿd, Ibrāhīm, Al-Ḥijr

All of them commence and conclude by mentioning [the Qur’an].


It begins with a prohibition of being hasty (16:1) and ends with a command to be patient. (16:127)


It begins with tasbīḥ (glorifying Allah) and concludes with taḥmīd.

Al-Kahf, Maryam, & ṬāHā

They all open and conclude by mentioning the Qur’an and dhikr (remembrance).


In its beginning, “The [time of] people’s judgment has drawn near,” (21:1) and in its end, “And [when] the true promise (i.e., the resurrection) has neared.” (21:97)


It begins by mentioning the Hour (22:1), and is sealed with His statement, “… so that the Messenger may be a witness over you, and that you may be witnesses over humanity” (22:78)—and that occurs on the Day of Resurrection.


Its start: “Successful indeed are the believers.” (23:1) Its end: “Indeed, the disbelievers will not succeed.” (23:117) This was noted by al-Zamakhsharī.


In its beginning, with regard to women, “Let them draw their veils over their chests, and not reveal their [hidden] adornments.” (24:31) Then, in its end, with regards to al-qawāʿid (elderly women past the age of marriage), “there is no blame on them if they take off their [outer] garments, without revealing their adornments.” (24:60)


It begins with “Blessed [is the One],” (25:1) and ends with that. (25:61)


It begins by mentioning “The Book” (26:2) and concludes with His statement, “This is certainly a revelation from the Lord of all the world.” (26:192)


It begins by mentioning the Book, and it being Guidance (27:1-2) and concludes with His statement, “‘…and to recite the Qur’an.’ Then whoever chooses to be guided, it is only for their own good.” (27:92)


In its beginning, “I will never side with the wicked,” (28:17) and in its end, “So never be an aid to the disbelievers [in their disbelief].” (28:86) Also, it begins with the migration of Moses from his homeland and then his return to it, and in its end is the Prophet’s ﷺ migration from his homeland and his return to it. (28:85)


It was sealed with migration and jihad, due to His statement in the beginning, “Do people think once they say, ‘We believe,’ that they will be left without being put to the test?” (29:2)


It starts with, “On the Day the Hour will arrive, the wicked will be dumbstruck.” (30:12) And it ends with, “And on the Day the Hour will arrive, the wicked will swear…” (30:55)


It begins with, “…and scattered throughout it all types of creatures. And We send down rain from the sky,” (31:10) and in its end, “He sends down the rain, and knows what is in the wombs.” (31:34)


In its beginning, “… to warn a people to whom no warner has come before you,” (32:3) and in its end, “So turn away from them, and await! They too are waiting.” (32:30)


It begins with His statement, “O Prophet, [always] be mindful of Allah,” (33:1) and in its conclusion is an address to his wives, “And be mindful of Allah.” (33:55)


It begins with the unseen world (34:3), and concludes with the Knower of the Unseen. (34:48)


In its beginning, “As for those who plot evil, they will suffer a severe punishment. And the plotting of such [people] is doomed [to fail],” (35:10) and in its end, “But evil plotting only backfires on those who plot.” (35:43)


It begins with describing the Qur’an [as wise] (36:2) and ends with that as well in His statement, “We did not teach him poetry.” (36:69) It also begins with His statement, “It is certainly We Who resurrect the dead,” (36:12) and concludes with establishing the proof for that by Him saying, “And they argue with Us forgetting they were createdsaying, ‘Who will give life to decayed bones?’” (36:78)


Its beginning is “By those lined up in ranks,” (37:1) and they are the angels. The ending is also about them: “We are indeed the ones lined up in ranks [for Allah].” (37:165)


Its beginning is “Ṣād. By the Quran, full of reminder!” (38:1) and it ends with, “It is only a reminder to the whole world.” (38:87) This was stated by al-Karmānī.


In its beginning, “So worship Allah [alone] being sincerely devoted to Him,” (39:2) and in its end, “Rather, worship Allah [alone].” (39:66) Also, its opening is the beginning of creation (39:6), and its ending is the Hour and Resurrection (39:68-75). Also, its opening describes how the heavens and earth were created with ḥaqq (rightful purpose) (39:5) and its conclusion describes the very end of the resurrection, “Judgment will conclude with ḥaqq (fairness).” (39:75)


In its beginning, “Have they not traveled throughout the land…” (40:21) and in its end, “Have they not traveled throughout the land.” (40:82) Also, in its beginning, “So call upon Allah with sincere devotion,” (40:14) and in its end, “Your Lord has proclaimed, ‘Call upon Me.” (40:60)


In its beginning, “Yet most of them turn away,” (41:4) and in its end, “…they turn away, acting arrogantly.” (41:51)


In its beginning, “And so you [O Prophet] are sent revelation, just like those before you,” (42:3) and in its end, “And so We have sent to you [O Prophet] a revelation by Our command.” (42:52)


In its beginning, “If you ask them [O Prophet] who created the heavens and the earth, they will certainly say, ‘They were created by the Almighty, All-Knowing,’” (43:9) and in its end, “If you ask them [O Prophet] who created them, they will certainly say, ‘Allah!’” (43:87) Also, in its beginning, Ṣafḥan (fully overlooking)” (43:5) and in its end, Faṣfaḥ (So overlook) them…” (43:89)


It begins by mentioning the Qur’an (44:2) and concludes with that as well. (44:58) Also, in its beginning, “Wait then [O Prophet] for the day [when] the sky will be veiled in haze, clearly visible,” (44:10) and in its end, “Wait then! They too are certainly waiting.” (44:59)


In its opening, “And whenever they learn anything of Our revelations, they make a mockery of it,” (45:9) and in its end, “This is because you made a mockery of Allah’s revelations.” (45:35)


It begins by mentioning the creation of the heavens and earth (46:3), and concludes with that (46:33) as well.

Al-Qitāl (Muḥammad)

It starts with the command to fight (47:4) and ends with it. (47:38)


It begins with describing the Prophet ﷺ and the believers and what they were promised (48:1-5). It concludes with a similar motif as well. (48:29)


It begins with the prohibition of proceeding ahead of Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ)(49:1), and concludes with the prohibition of mentioning your favor to Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ)(49:17). It also begins with describing Allah as fully knowing (49:1), and ends with that as well. (49:18)


It begins by mentioning resurrection (50:3), and concludes with that as well. (50:44)


It begins with His statement, “Indeed, what you are promised is true,” (51:5) and concludes with His statement, “Woe then to the disbelievers when they face their Day which they are warned of!” (51:60)


It begins with His statement, “Indeed, the punishment of your Lord will come to pass,” (52:7) and concludes with, “Also, the wrongdoers will certainly have another torment before that [Day].” (52:47)


It begins by speaking of al-najm (53:1), the star, and ends with a reference to al-shiʿrā (53:49), which is also a star (Sirius).


It begins with the hour “drawing near” (54:1) and ends with, “Better yet, the Hour is their appointed time….” (54:46)


It begins with the Majestic, Divine Name of Allah (55:1), and concludes with it again in His statement, “Blessed is the Name of your Lord, full of Majesty and Honor.” (55:78)


It begins by mentioning the three categories of the creation: those of the right hand, those of the left hand, and the forerunners. It concludes with those [three classes] in His statement, “So, if [the deceased] is one of those brought near [to Us]...” (56:88)


It begins by describing Allah (57:1), and concludes with that as well. (57:29) Also, in its beginning, “Believe in Allah and His Messenger,” (57:7) and in its end, “Fear Allah and believe in His Messenger.” (57:28) Its opening (57:6) and its ending (57:28) both mention light.


At its beginning is the mention of those Allah heard of His allies (58:1), and at its end is Allah’s pleasure with those He loves. (58:22)


It starts, “Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth glorifies Allah. For He is the Almighty, All-Wise,” (59:1) and ends, “Whatever is in the heavens and the earth [constantly] glorifies Him. And He is the Almighty, All-Wise.” (59:24)


It starts, “O believers! Do not take My enemies and yours as trusted allies,” (60:1) and ends, “O believers! Do not ally yourselves with a people Allah is displeased with.” (60:13)


It starts, “Why do you say what you do not do?” (61:2) which was revealed about jihad, and it ends with mentioning the Anṣār (Supporters) of Allah from among the followers of Jesus (as) who partook in jihad. (61:14) Also, it starts, “Surely, Allah loves those who fight in His cause in [solid] ranks,” (61:4) and ends with “and fight in the cause of Allah,” (61:11). Also, in its beginning is “…and giving good news of a messenger,” (61:6) and its end states, “Give good news [O Prophet] to the believers.” (6:13)


It begins with describing Allah, the Glorified, (62:1) and concludes with that as well. (62:11)


In its beginning, “...so they hindered [others] from the Way of Allah,” (63:2) and in its end, “Do not let your wealth or your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah.” (63:9) Also, in its beginning, “When the hypocrites come to you,” (63:1) and in its end, “…yet the hypocrites do not know.” (63:8) Also, in its beginning, “And surely Allah knows that you are His Messenger—but Allah bears witness that they hypocrites are truly liars,” (63:1) and in its end, “And Allah is all aware of what you do.” (63:11)


In its beginning, “For Allah knows best what is [hidden] in the heart,” (64:4) and in its end, “[He is the] Knower of the seen and unseen—the Almighty, All-Wise.” (64:18)


In its beginning, “And count it accurately” (65:1) and His statement, “You never know, perhaps Allah will bring about a change [of heart] later,” (65:1) and its end, “And Allah certainly encompasses all things in [His] knowledge.” (65:12)


It begins by mentioning the Prophet’s ﷺ wives, and concludes by mentioning his wives in Paradise: Āsiyah bint Muzāḥim, the wife of Pharaoh, and Maryam bint ʿImrān. Also, in its beginning is the collaboration of his wives against him, and its end describes the betrayal of Nūḥ and Lūṭ by their wives to caution and frighten the Mothers of the Believers.


It begins with mentioning His great power, (67:1) and concludes with the same concept—namely the creation’s inability by asking, “Who [else] could then bring you flowing water?” (67:30)

Nūn (Al-Qalam)

It begins with His statement, “By the grace of your Lord, you [O Prophet] are not insane,” (68:2) and concludes with, “And they say, ‘He is certainly a madman.’” (68:51)


It begins with Al-Ḥāqqah (The Inevitable Truth),” (69:1) and concludes with “And indeed, this [Day] is the absolute truth.” (69:51)

Saʾala (Al-Maʿārij)

It begins by promising the Day of Resurrection, and concludes with that as well. (70:44)


It begins by threatening “a painful torment,” (71:1) and concludes with this by stating, “They were drowned, then admitted into the Fire.” (71:25)


It begins with the Revelation (72:1) and concludes with mentioning it by stating, “Except messengers of his choice. Then He appoints angel-guards before and behind him.” (72:27)


It begins with the night prayer (73:2) and concludes with that as well. (73:20)


It begins with a warning (74:2) and concludes with another warning: “Now, what is the matter with them that they are turning away from the reminder?” (74:49)


It begins by mentioning the dead being returned to life (75:1-4) and concludes with that as well. (75:40)


It begins by mentioning those grateful and those ungrateful, (76:3) then concludes with that [same dichotomy] by stating, “He admits whoever He wills into His mercy…” (76:31) to the end of the verse.


In its beginning, “Surely, what you are promised will come to pass,” (77:7) which implies it will occur soon, and how little they will stay [in this life], and in its end, “Eat and enjoy yourselves for a little while.” (77:46)

ʿAmma (Al-Nabaʾ)

Its end, “Indeed, We have warned you of an imminent punishment,” (78:40) which is the “Momentous News” that He deemed close in His statement, “But no! Sa-yaʿlamūn (They will soon come to know).” (78:4) This is because the sīn (س) indicates the near future , unlike sawfa (سوف).


It begins with al-Rājifah (the Quaking Blast), (79:6) and is sealed with al-Ṭāmmah (the Supreme Disaster). (79:34)


It begins with a facial description, “He frowned,” (80:1) and ends with another description of faces: “On that Day [some] faces will be bright, laughing and rejoicing.” (80:38-39)


Its beginning, “When the sun is put out,” (81:1) and its end, “So what [other] path would you take?” (81:26)


Its beginning, “When the sky splits open,” (82:1) and its end, “For all authority on that Day belongs [entirely] to Allah.” (82:19)


Its beginning, “Woe to the defrauders,” (83:1) and its end, “Have the disbelievers [on this Day] been paid back for what they used to do?” (83:36)


It begins with mention of the skies, (84:1) and concludes with that in His statement, “You will certainly pass from one platform to another.” (84:19) If you recite it with fatḥ al-bāʾ (لتركبَنَّ), it would be referring to the Prophet ﷺ, climbing one sky after another on the Night of al-Isrāʾ.


It begins by mentioning “the sky full of constellations,” (85:1) and ends with “in a Preserved Tablet,” (85:22), which are both from the upper worlds. Also, in its beginning, “And the promised Day [of Judgment],” (85:2) and in its end, “But Allah encompasses them from all sides.” (85:20)


Its beginning is a discussion on al-Ghāshiyah (the Overwhelming Event), (88:1) which is the Resurrection, and its end mentions the “return” (85:25) and “reckoning.” (85:26)


In its beginning, “And by every parent and what they birthed!” (90:3) and in its end, “those who have faith,” (90:17) and “those who deny Our signs,” (90:19) which comprise the two types of people.

Iqraʾ (Al-ʿAlaq)

Its beginning, “Read [O Prophet] in the Name of your Lord,” (96:1) and its end, “Prostrate and draw near [to Allah].” (96:19) It is no secret what a wonderful connection there is between these two.


It begins by mentioning the night (97:1) and ends with the emergence of dawn. (97:5)

Alhākum (Al-Takāthur)

It is no secret that takāthur (competing for increase)” in this world (102:1) is pleasurable. For this reason, it was sealed with His statement, “Then, on that Day, you will definitely be questioned about [your worldly] pleasures.” (102:8)


It starts with wayl (woe)” (104:1) which is the name of a valley in the Hellfire, and ends with al-Ḥuṭamah (the Crusher)” [another name of Hellfire] and descriptions of it. (104:4-9)


It begins with aḥad (one and only),” (112:1) and also concludes with aḥad.” (112:4)


It begins with “the people” (114:1) and concludes with “the people.” (115:6) Also, this term is repeated five times in this [sūrah], with different meanings, and hence it is considered among the examples of tajānus (homonymy).
From Allah comes all success. This is the conclusion of the book, and all praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the salutations and peace of Allah be upon our leader and master, Muḥammad, and upon his family, and all his companions.

Addendum: Excerpt From Al-Suyūṭī’s al-Itqān30

Type Sixty: How sūrah(s) begin

Ibn Abī al-Iṣbaʿ authored a piece on this which he entitled al-Khawāṭir al-Sawāniḥ fī Asrār al-Fawātiḥ (Light Reflections on the Secrets Behind the Openings). I will summarize here what he mentioned therein, and supplement it with some contributions from others.
Know that Allah, the Exalted, began the sūrah(s) of the Qur’an with one of ten styles of speech. Not a single sūrah is an exception:
  1. Praising Allah, the Exalted. Praise is two types: either affirming His praiseworthy attributes, or negating and exonerating Him from any imperfections. The first happens as taḥmīd (declaring His praiseworthiness) in five sūrah(s), and as tabārak (Blessed is He)” in two sūrah(s). The second happens as tasbīḥ (being glorified above flaws) in seven sūrah(s). In Mutashābih al-Qurʾān, al-Kirmānī said, “Tasbīḥ is a term that Allah fully reserved for Himself. He used its verbal noun form in [the chapter of] Banī Isrāʾīl (aka al-Isrāʾ) because that is the [grammatical] default, then the past tense in al-Ḥadīd and al-Ḥashr because that is the earlier of the two intervals, then the present tense in al-Jumuʿah and al-Taghābun, and then finally as a command verb in al-Aʿlā. As such, He employed this term in all of its uses.”
  2. The [disjointed] letters of the alphabet in twenty-nine sūrah(s), and we have previously discussed this at length under the section on mutashābih, and how they relate [to their respective contexts] will be thoroughly discussed under the section on munāsabāt.
  3. Calling out (nidāʾ), and this occurs in ten sūrah(s). Five call out to the Messenger ﷺ: al-Aḥzāb, al-Ṭalāq, al-Taḥrīm, al-Muzzammil, and al-Muddathir. Five [others] call out to the ummah: al-Nisāʾ, al-Māʾidah, al-Ḥajj, al-Ḥujurāt, and al-Mumtaḥanah.
  4. Declarative (khabarī) statements such as, “They ask you about the spoils,” “A discharge from all obligations by Allah,” “The command of Allah is at hand,” “People’s judgment has drawn near,” “Successful indeed are the believers,” “A sūrah which We have revealed,” “The revelation of this Book [is from Allah],” “Those who disbelieve,” “We have granted,” “The Hour has drawn near,” “The Most Compassionate taught…,” “Indeed, Allah has heard,” “The Inevitable Hour,” “A challenger has demanded,” “Indeed, We sent Noah…,” “I do swear….” in two places, “He frowned,” “Indeed, it is We who sent this [Qur’an] down,” “The Striking Disaster,” “You have been distracted,” and “Indeed, We granted you…” These occur in twenty-three sūrahs.
  5. Oaths (aqsām) which occur in fifteen sūrahs. In one sūrah, namely al-Ṣāffāt, He swears by the angels. In two sūrahs, al-Burūj and al-Ṭāriq, the celestial spheres (aflāk) are sworn by. In six sūrahs, their implications [are sworn by]; al-Najm is an oath by the Pleiades (Thurayyā), al-Fajr is by the start of the morning, al-Shams is by the [Divine] sign of daylight, al-Layl is by half of time, al-Ḍuḥā is by half of the daytime, and al-‘Aṣr by its other half or by time in general. In two sūrahs, al-Dhāriyāt and al-Mursalāt, the air is sworn by, which is one of the elements. In one sūrah, al-Ṭūr, the earth is sworn by which is also among them (the elements). In another sūrah, al-Tīn, the plants are sworn by. In one sūrah, al-Nāziʿāt, intelligent beings are sworn by. In one sūrah, al-ʿĀdiyāt, animals are sworn by.
  6. Conditional statements (sharṭ) occur in seven sūrahs: al-Wāqiʿah, al-Munāfiqūn, al-Takwīr, al-Infiṭār, al-Inshiqāq, al-Zalzalah, and al-Naṣr.
  7. Command verbs (amr) occur in six sūrahs; “Say, ‘It has been revealed…,” “Recite,” “Say, ‘O you disbelievers,” “Say, ‘He is Allah, the Uniquely One,” and “Say, I seek refuge,” [twice between] al-Muʿawwidhatayn (The Two Protectors).
  8. Interrogatory statements (istifhām) occur in six sūrahs; “About what are they asking,” “Has there come,” “Have we not expanded,” “Have you not seen,” and “Have you seen.”
  9. Supplication [against people] in three [sūrahs]; “Woe to the defrauders,” “Woe to every backbiter,” and “May they perish.”
  10. Causal relations (taʿlīl) in, “Due to the security Quraysh is accustomed to….”
This is how Abū Shāmah compiled them, and said, “What we mentioned about supplication could also fall under declarative. Similarly, the category of praise is entirely declarative, except for sabbiḥ which would fall under command verbs, and subḥān which can be a command, a supplication, or a declaration.” He then captured that in these two couplets:
He praised Himself, glorified be He,
By either affirming His perfection or by negation [of any flaw],
To begin every sūrah, or some causation [it would draw],
[Or by] a command, call-out, stipulation, oath, elucidation,
[Or by] disjointed letters, invocation, question, or declaration.
The specialists of Arabic expression say that a part of rhetorical eloquence is having an exceptional beginning (ḥusn al-ibtidāʾ), meaning to beautify one’s first words since they are what first strike people’s ears. If these are precisely chosen, the listener allots his full attention to what is being said and retains it. If not, he ignores what is being said, even if what follows is supremely eloquent. For this reason, it must always invoke the best, wisest, most delicate, most salient, most accurate, and clearest of phrases; those void of any complex, confusing transposition, or those that are unsuitable. These (rhetoricians) assert that all the sūrahs do in fact begin in the best, most eloquent, most perfect way, such as their phrases of taḥmīd, the disjointed letters, the call-outs, and otherwise.
A particular subset among the best beginnings is called barāʾat al-istihlāl (literally: a brilliant landing), which is when a discussion begins with something that suits the context being discussed, and alludes to the objective of that discussion. Sūrat al-Fātiḥah is the apex of all examples on this, which is itself the beginning of the whole Qur’an, and hence it contains all its objectives as al-Bayhaqī said in Shuʿab al-Īmān:
Abūl-Qāsim ibn Ḥabīb narrated to us: Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ ibn Hāniʾ narrated to us: al-Ḥusayn ibn al-Faḍl narrated to us: ʿAffān ibn Muslim narrated to us, on behalf of al-Rabīʿ ibn Ṣubayḥ, on behalf of al-Ḥasan who said, “Allah sent down 104 scriptures. Within four of them, He included all the [sacred] sciences they contained: the Torah, Evangel, Psalms, and Furqān. Then, He included the sciences of the Torah, Evangel, and Psalms into the Furqān (Qur’an). Then, He included the sciences of the Qur’an into the Mufaṣṣal. Then, He included the sciences of the Mufaṣṣal into the Opening of the Book (al-Fātiḥah). Hence, whoever learns its interpretation is like someone who learned the interpretation of every revealed scripture.”
This has been explained to mean that the sciences contained in the Qur’an, and what the four religious systems all upheld, is foundational knowledge that centers on knowing Allah and His qualities, which is alluded to in, “...Lord of the worlds. Most Compassionate, Most Merciful”; knowing prophethood, which is alluded to in, “...those whom You have favored”; knowing the final destination, which is alluded to in, “Owner of the Day of Resurrection”; knowing the devotional acts, which is alluded to in, “It is [only] You we worship”; knowing morality, or getting oneself to align with Islamic ethics and submit to the Lord of creation, which is alluded to in, “...with You we seek strength. Guide us to the straight path”; and knowing the stories, or discovering the accounts of the prior nations and past generations, so that the discoverer of such may realize the prosperity of those who obeyed Allah and the doom of those who defied Him, which is alluded to in His statement, “...the path of those whom You have favored, not those who incurred [Your] anger, nor those misguided.” By that, He has made a reference in al-Fātiḥah to every objective of the Qur’an, and this is the epitome of barāʾat al-istihlāl, in addition to its content of beautiful wordings, lovely segmentation of phrases, and other forms of rhetorical richness.
Similarly, the beginning of Sūrat Iqraʾ is comparable to al-Fātiḥah in terms of the barāʾat al-istihlāl it enjoys, and that is due to it being the very first revelation from the Qur’an. Hence, it contains the command to recite, and to begin that by first mentioning the name of Allah. It also contains an allusion to knowing the rulings [of Allah], and to the oneness of the Lord, to affirming His uniqueness as a [supreme] being, and His qualities; both the attributes of essence and the attributes of actions. These are all references to the foundations of the religion. It also refers to the accounts [of others] in His statement, “He taught the human being what he did not know.” For this reason, it has been said that this [sūrah] qualifies to being called the Title of the Qur’an (ʿUnwān al-Qurʾān), because the Qur’an’s title summarizes its objectives in brief terms at the very beginning.

Type Sixty-One: How sūrahs conclude

This is also like the beginning in terms of its eloquence, since it is the last thing to strike the ears. For that reason, it comes carrying profound meanings while also hinting to the listener that the discussion is ending, so that the souls do not remain longing for what will be mentioned thereafter. Hence, it consists of supplications, closing advice, duties, taḥmīdtaḥlīl, exhortations, promises, threats, and so forth.
One example is elaborating on the desired objective at the conclusion of al-Fātiḥah. The ultimate objective is faith that is not tarnished by sins that elicit the anger of Allah and misguidance, yet He expounded on that in His statement, “...those whom You have favored.” What is intended here are the people of faith, and hence he left the “favor” unqualified, so that every favoring would fall under it, because those whom Allah favored with faith have been granted every favor by Him. This is because it is what generates every favor. Then, He described them with His words, “Not those who incurred [His] anger, nor those misguided.” In other words, they combined both the ultimate favor, namely the favor of faith, and safety from the anger of Allah, the Exalted, and the misguidance that causes defying Him and breaching His boundaries.
Another [example] is the supplications in the final two verses of Sūrat al-Baqarah.
Another is the entrustments with which Sūrat Āl ʿImrān concludes; “O you who have believed, be patient, and endure…”
Another is the estate distributions with which Sūrat al-Nisāʾ is sealed. It perfectly concludes with these due to the rulings pertaining to death which it contains, which is the conclusion of every living person. Additionally, it is due to it being the last of the rulings to be revealed.
Another is the veneration and glorification with which al-Māʾidah concluded.
Another is the promises and threats with which Sūrat al-Anʿām concluded.
Another is urging [people] to worship by describing the angels’ condition (of perpetual devotion) with which al-Aʿrāf concluded.
Another is urging [people] to jihad and upholding family ties with which al-Anfāl concluded.
Another is describing the Messenger, praising him, and the oneness of Allah with which Barāʾah (al-Tawbah) concluded.
Another is consoling him ﷺ with which Yūnus concluded, and similar to it is the conclusion of Hūd.
Another is describing the Qur’an and praising it, as He did to conclude Yūsuf.
Another is the threat and response to those who belied the Messenger, as He did to conclude al-Raʿd.
One of the clearest declarations of an ending is the conclusion  of Ibrāhīm; “This is a notification for humanity…” until the end of the verse. Similar to this is the conclusion of al-Aḥqāf, and likewise al-Ḥijr being concluded with His statement, “And worship your Lord until certainty reaches you.” This is interpreted as “death,” and is supremely brilliant.
Also, note Sūrat al-Zalzalah which begins with the horrors of the Day of Resurrection, and then concludes with His statement, “So whoever does a speck’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does a speck’s weight of evil will see it."
Also, note the brilliance of the final verse ever revealed, which is His statement, “And fear a day in which you will be returned to Allah, and then…” and how it carries a feeling of farewell, which suggests [impending] death.
Also, there is the final sūrah ever revealed, namely Sūrat al-Naṣr. It too intimates the [Prophet’s impending] death. Corroborating this, al-Bukhārī reported from Saʿīd ibn Jubayr, on behalf of Jubayr, on behalf of Ibn ʿAbbās, that ʿUmar asked them about His statement, “When the victory of Allah comes and the conquest.” They all explained it as cities and palaces being conquered. He then said, “What do you say, O Ibn ʿAbbās?” [Ibn ʿAbbās] said it was Muḥammad’s time of death; his passing away was announced to him.
He (al-Bukhārī) also reported from him (Ibn ʿAbbās) that he said: ʿUmar used to admit me among the elders of Badr, and it appeared that some of them were offended by this, and said, “Why do you admit this one among us, when we have sons like him [in age]?” ʿUmar responded, “You know who this is.” Thereafter, he invited them all one day and asked them their opinion about Allah’s words, “When the victory of Allah comes and the conquest.” Some of them said, “We were instructed to praise Allah and seek His forgiveness when He grants us victory and conquest.” Others remained silent, and he did not say anything. He then said to me, “Is this your view, O Ibn ʿAbbās?” I said, “No.” He said, “Then what do you say?” I said, “It is the death of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. He was notifying him about it.” He said, “When the victory of Allah comes and the conquest,” then this is a sign of your passing, “So glorify with the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness, for He is certainly the Oft-Forgiving.” To that, ʿUmar said, “I do not know about it other than what you have stated.”
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1 This summary is translated below as an addendum to this publication.
Al-Dahlawī (d. 1176 AH/1762 CE, Allah grant him mercy) similarly argues that just as it is customary for the sultans of the world to end their messages to their subjects with some rare word of wisdom, or reiterating the gravity of violating his commands, Allah (the Blessed and Exalted) concludes every sūrah with succinct phrases of profound wisdom, or the most eloquent emphasis on the necessity to take His promises and warnings seriously. Waliyyullāh Aḥmad ‘Abdul-Raḥīm al-Dahlawī, al-Fawz al-kabīr fī uṣūl al-tafsīr (Cairo: Dār al-Ṣaḥwah, 1986), 143.
2 Although, in this work, he does not cover Sūrat al-Fātiḥah and twenty-one others (all between al-Ṭāriq and al-Falaq).
3 ‘Abdul-Muḥsin ibn ‘Abdil-‘Azīz al-‘Askar, Marāṣid al-maṭāli‘ fī tanāsub al-maqāṭi‘ wal-maṭāli‘ (Riyadh: Dār al-Minhāj, 1426 AH).
4 In his commentary on Tafsīr al-Bayḍawī, al-Suyūṭī also highlights another parallel in this sūrah; it begins with “Beautified for people is enjoying their desires. . . . That is but the enjoyment of this worldly life. Say [O Prophet], ‘Shall I inform you of something better than that? For those who fear Allah will be gardens. . . .” Al-Suyūṭī, Tafsīr al-Bayḍawī, 3:14–15. This concept is then mirrored at the end with, “Do not be deceived by the prosperity of the disbelievers throughout the land. It is but a brief enjoyment. . . . But those who feared their Lord will have gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding eternally therein, as accommodation from Allah. And what is with Allah is best for the righteous.” Al-Suyūṭī, Tafsīr al-Bayḍawī, 3:196–98. Jalāl al-Dīn ‘Abdul-Raḥmān ibn Abī Bakr al-Suyūṭī, Nawāhid al-abkār wa shawāhid al-afkār: Ḥāshiyat al-Suyūṭī ‘alā tafsīr al-Bayḍāwī (Mecca: Umm al-Qurā University, 2005), 3:201.
5 In his tafsīr, al-Alūsī credits al-Suyūṭī with identifying another wonderful subtlety to these being the final verses. This sūrah ends by discussing the end of every living person (death and its related rulings), and these were also the very last laws altogether revealed in the Qur’an. Furthermore, the sūrah ends with “and Allah has perfect knowledge of all things” (4:176), meaning He is most capable of telling you what is actually in your best interests regarding both the affairs of your lives and your deaths. Shihāb al-Dīn Maḥmūd ibn ‘Abdillāh al-Ḥusaynī al-Alūsī, Rūḥ al-ma‘ānī fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-‘Aẓīm wal-sab‘ al-mathānī (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmīyah, 1415 AH), 3:218.
6 This (5:82) is quite far from the end of al-Mā’idah, which is 120 verses, just as its counterpart (5:17) is rather far from the beginning of al-Mā’idah. However, al-Rāzī offers a stronger correlation in his tafsīr; this sūrah begins (5:1) with the duty to fulfill our contracts as a fundamental part of a believer’s servitude to Allah. Then, it ends (5:120) with all dominion belonging to Allah—as if to denote that full servitude is what befits a perfect Master.
7 Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (d. 1416 AH/1996 CE) says, “This sūrah begins by illustrating how Satan succeeded at expelling Adam from Paradise (7:24), and explained that his attempts to misguide his descendants will never stop (7:27)! However, all Satan can do is whisper. So long as the person is a believer, the whispers will backfire and be ultimately futile. ‘If the pious are touched by an impulse from Satan, they remember [Allah] and at once become insightful’ (7:201). As for those who are deprived of that vigilant heart, they will follow Satan and be driven by him to their doom. Remembrance of God (dhikr) is the greatest armor a person can shield themselves with, for it safeguards a person against faltering and keeps them at an elevated station. The greatest dhikr of all is the Noble Qur’an: ‘So when the Qur’an is recited, listen to it attentively and be silent, so that you may be shown mercy’ (7:204). This dhikr is not solely an exercise of the tongue while the heart remains heedless and the thoughts wander. Dhikr is a complete state of consciousness and a function of the intellect above all else. It must also be continuous, not sporadic, permeating our public and private lives, driving one’s hopes and fears. ‘And remember your Lord inwardly with humility and reverence, in a moderate tone of voice, both morning and evening. And do not be one of the heedless’ (7:205). It is only through dhikr of that caliber that a believer harmonizes with the entire universe, as he [like the angels] celebrates the praises of his Lord (7:206).” Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, Naḥw tafsīr mawḍū‘ī li-suwar al-Qur’ān al-Karīm (Cairo: Dār al-Shurūq, 2000), 125, slightly adapted.
8 Yūsuf also begins with “We relate to you [O Prophet] the best of stories” (12:3), and ends with “In their stories is truly a lesson for people of reason” (12:111).
9 Hūd begins with “a book whose verses are well perfected” (11:1), and ends with “And We relate to you [O Prophet] the stories” (11:120). Yūsuf begins with “These are the verses of the clear Book” (12:1), and ends with “This message cannot be a fabrication” (12:111). Al-Ra‘d begins with “These are the verses of the Book” (13:1), and ends with, “...as is whoever has knowledge of the Scripture” (13:43). Ibrāhim begins with, “A Book We revealed to you [O Prophet] to lead people out of darkness into the light” (14:1), and ends with, “This [Qur’an] is a sufficient notification for humanity” (14:52). Al-Ḥijr begins with, “These are the verses of the Book and a clear recital” (15:1), and ends with, “We have certainly given you the seven often-repeated verses and the Great Qur’an” (15:87).
10 Al-Kahf begins by praising Allah for revealing the Scripture (18:1), and ends by asserting that ink as abundant as the oceans, even if the oceans were doubled, would still fall short of capturing Allah’s words (18:109). And then, in the very last verse, it asserts that even the Prophet ﷺ himself was but a human recipient of this Scripture (18:110). Maryam begins with “the mention of the mercy of your Lord” (19:2) in terms of how He granted Zakarīyā (as) a child despite his old age. At its conclusion, we hear of how “the Most Merciful will grant love [from Him and others] to those who believe and work righteousness” (19:96). ṬāHā begins with, “We have not revealed the Qur’an to you [O Prophet] to cause you distress. It is but a Reminder. . . .” (20:2–3) and ends with, “Have they not already received a confirmation of what is in the earlier Scriptures?” (20:133) and “They would have said, ‘If only you had sent us a messenger, we would have followed your Revelations’” (20:134). Ibn ‘Āshūr argues that this ending for Sūrat ṬāHā is exceptionally beautiful because it suggests that he ﷺ conveyed the message, and hence should not be “distressed” since by communicating the “Reminder” he has succeeded at his mission. Muḥammad al-Ṭāhir Ibn ‘Āshūr, Tafsīr al-taḥrīr wal-tanwīr (Tunisia: al-Dār al-Tūnisīyah, 1984), 349.
11 Ibn ‘Āshūr also notes that this sūrah begins with, “O humankind” (22:1), and ends in a similar fashion, referring to, “O humanity, an example has been presented so listen to it” (22:73). Abū al-Faḍl al-Ghumārī also notes that this sūrah “launches” by enjoining taqwā (being conscious of Allah) upon humanity in general (22:1), and then “lands” by enjoining the particular acts of piety (taqwā) upon the believers (22:77).
12 Taḍāḍḍ (contrast) is a fundamental feature of the Qur’anic style highlighted by many scholars, whether in terms of contrasting this life and the afterlife, Paradise and Hellfire, forgiveness and punishment, believers and disbelievers, angels and devils, life and death, secrecy and openness, or otherwise. In fact, many of these contrasts occur precisely the same number of times, underscoring their thematic significance in the Qur’an. See: Muhammad Abdel Haleem, “Rhetorical Devices and Stylistic Features of Qurʾanic Grammar,” in The Oxford Handbook of Qur’anic Studies, eds Mustafa Shah and Muhammad Abdel Haleem, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 337.
13 These are quite far from both the beginning and end. Perhaps a better correlation, which Abū Ḥayyān identifies in his tafsīr, is that we find in the beginning, “A sūrah which We have revealed and made [its rulings] obligatory, and revealed in it clear commandments” (24:1). Then, after prescribing to His Prophet ﷺ various duties and penalties for his nation, Allah ends the sūrah with this nation’s duty to concede to, comply with, and support the Prophet (24:47–54), in addition to consulting him before decisions (24:62) and showing him the utmost reverence and respect (24:63).
14 Al-Biqā’ī identified that this sūrah begins by consoling the Prophet ﷺ in Allah’s statement, “Perhaps [O Prophet] you will grieve yourself to death over their disbelief” (26:3). This is coupled, at the very end, with a standing threat to those insisting on disbelief: “The wrongdoers will come to know what [evil] end they will meet” (26:227). Al-Alūsī noted that both al-Furqān and al-Shu‘arā’ began with praising the Qur’an and concluded with threatening those who rejected the Qur’an. Al-Alūsī, Rūḥ al-Ma‘ānī, 10:58.
15 Jihad (striving) was also expressly stated quite early (29:6) in this sūrah.
16 Al-Ghumārī and others noted that the sūrah begins with “Allah’s promise” that Rome would soon be victorious (30:6) and ends with His command “So be patient, for the promise of Allah is certainly true, and do not be disturbed by those who have no sure faith” (30:60).
17 Furthermore, we find later His statement, “O believers, be mindful of Allah and say an accurate word” (33:70). It begins with instructing the Prophet ﷺ with taqwā, and concludes by instructing his nation with the same.
18 It also begins with praising Allah and glorifying Him in His statement, “Surely, your God is One. [He is] the Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything in between, and the Lord of all points of sunrise (37:4–5). That is later reflected in the concluding statements, where He says, Glorified is your Lord—the Lord of Honour and Power—above what they claim! Peace be upon the messengers. And praise be to Allah—Lord of all worlds (37:180–82).
19 A potentially stronger parallel is how the sūrah begins by highlighting the deluded, prideful nature of those who stubbornly argue about Allah’s signs (40:4), then ends with a direct warning to them about their wealth and power being insufficient to save them if they continue to disbelieve in Allah (40:82–85).
20 The sūrah also begins (41:3) and ends (41:52) with talking about the Qur’an.
21 Another parallel worth noting is how the same two great names of Allah, al-‘Azīz (the Almighty) and al-Ḥakīm (the Most Wise) are at the beginning (45:2) and conclusion (45:37) of this sūrah.
22 It also begins by praising the Qur’an as descending from the “All-Mighty, All-Wise” (46:2), and ends by declaring the Qur’an as being a “sufficient notification” (46:35). It also begins with “the disbelievers turning away from the warning” (46:3), and ends with the deniers being “destroyed for their rebellion” (46:35).
23 It also begins by describing the Qur’an as glorious (50:1) and ends by saying, “So remind with the Qur’an whoever fears My threat” (50:45).
24 Hadith scholars have contested the authenticity of the reports asserting that these virtuous women will be married to the Prophet ﷺ in Paradise.
25 Al-Biqā’ī also noted that the sūrah began with the command to “arise and warn” (74:2), then ended by coupling that with glad tidings: “He is worthy to be feared and adequate for forgiveness” (74:56).
26 Al-Rāzī also noted that Allah “went to such lengths in this sūrah, from its beginning to its end, chastising the disbelievers and cautioning them in the ten ways which we have [just] explained... and [hence] He concluded with marveling at the disbelievers and declaring that—if they don’t believe in these wonderful proofs despite how clear and evident they are—then ‘what message after this [Qur’an] would they ever believe?’” (77:50). Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn ‘Amr al-Rāzī, Mafātīh al-ghayb al-tafsīr al-kabīr (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1982), 30:284.
27 The reading referenced here by al-Suyūṭī (la-tarkabanna) is according to the readings of Ibn Kathīr, Ḥamza, al-Kisāʾī, and Khalaf. In this reading, the addressee is understood to be either the Prophet ﷺ or humanity. When referring to the Prophet ﷺ, it suggests his ascent from one sky to another during the miraculous journey of al-Isrāʾ wal-Miʿrāj. The alternative canonical reading (la-tarkabunna), which is followed by the remaining six reciters (qurrāʾ), implies the transition of all human beings from one phase of existence to another.
28 Al-Biqā’ī noted that this sūrah both begins and ends with command verbs (“read” and “prostrate”), and that the instruction to read at the onset is most suitable since only with knowledge first can one take the path to correct action.
29 Some scholars have held that this is a warning, and not necessarily a designated place in the Hellfire.
30 Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, al-Itqān fī ‘ulūm al-Qur’ān, ed. Markaz al-Dirāsāt al-Qurʾāniyya, 7 vols.  (Medina: Mujammaʿ al-Malik Fahd li-Ṭibāʿat al-Muṣḥaf al-Sharīf, 2005), 5:1827–32.
31 He intends here the four elements that were anciently presumed to be the fundamental components of the universe: earth, water, fire, and air.
32 While some have interpreted the nāzi‘āt (literally: pullers) as the angels who pluck the souls at death, it seems that al-Suyūṭī chose the alternative view of it being human archers pulling back their bows during battle.
33 From faṣl (separation), the Mufaṣṣal (extensively separated) is the established name for the latter section of the Qur’an composed of shorter sūrahs. This is usually a reference to Sūrat Qāf (50) through Sūrat al-Nās (114).

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