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The Mystery of ALIF LAM MIM in Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow)

This article specifically deals with the function of the mystery letters ‘Alif-Lam-Mim’ in connection to the Surah Al-Baqarah of the Quran. It attempts to further the concepts mentioned in my previous article “The Mystery Letters of Quran (Huroof-al-Muqattaat)” by elucidating them in detail with respect to the textual contents of the Surah.

The initial synopsis for deciphering the meanings of the mystery abbreviated letters is given my article “The Mystery Letters of Quran (Huroof-al-Muqattaat)”, which I would strongly recommend the readers to first go through in order to have the background understanding of the subject of this discussion. Here I would interpret the 2nd Chapter of Quran from the standpoint of mystery letters ‘Alif-Lam-Mim’ to describe their role as the summary of this chapter from a Hermetic mystical perspective.

The Letters ‘Alif-Lam-Mim’ (Aries, Taurus, Gemini)

The signs of Aries, Taurus, and Gemini together form the first astrological quadrant of the zodiac. This quadrant represents the spring season, and the birth of a new astrological cycle which culminates at the summer solstice in the sign of Cancer. These three signs cause the conditions that prepare human consciousness for the rest of the cycle. Therefore, they act as a school whereby the talents of potential candidates are modulated and streamlined to serve the grand plan of nature. As a consequence, human beings rise to their individual excellence through self-empowerment, conducive environment, and integrated behaviour. Also, the apparent objective of this chapters is to train humans to play a constructive role in the dissemination of justice, equity, and order in a society.

The Letter ‘Alif’ (Aries)

Aries is the first sign of the astrological zodiac, and appropriately so this chapter starts with an attitude of the sign of Aries. It states in the verse (2),

2. This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil).

The sign of Aries demonstrates clarity of thoughts necessary to undertake effective actions. It is also the cardinal (initiatory) sign of the spring season, and therefore in astrological traditions it represents warlike proactive attitudes to initiate a new cycle of life in existence. Aries is ruled by the astrological planet Mars, which is known for causing the attributes of enterprising self-confidence and aggressiveness in its influence on human minds. Thus, the chapter begins by shedding away the attitudes of doubt in regards to its message, which it proposes to be of a positive nature. The chapter states regarding the significance of the sign of Aries,

238. Be guardians of your prayers, and of the midmost prayer, and stand up with devotion to Allah.

The midmost prayer in the verse (238) is a metaphor for the sign of Aries, as it begins at the vernal equinox point when the day/night duration is exactly the same. The Muslims observe the ‘Noon prayers (Zuhr)’ to signify this as a daily ritual. Aries ushers into the birth of a new cycle of life on earth because duration of the daylight here gets greater than the night darkness, and therefore the Quran symbolizes it with a change of altar or prayer direction (the qiblah). It states,

142. The foolish of the people will say: What hath turned them from the qiblah which they formerly observed? Say: Unto Allah belong the East and the West. He guideth whom He will unto a straight path.

143. Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness against you. And We appointed the qiblah which ye formerly observed only that We might know him who followeth the messenger, from him who turneth on his heels. In truth it was a hard (test) save for those whom Allah guided. But it was not Allah’s purpose that your faith should be in vain, for Allah is Full of Pity, Merciful toward mankind.

144. We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven (for guidance, O Muhammad). And now verily We shall make thee turn (in prayer) toward a qiblah which is dear to thee. So turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship, and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be, turn your faces (when ye pray) toward it. Lo! Those who have received the Scripture know that (this revelation) is the Truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do.

It is interesting to note that the term ‘middle nation’ in the verse (143) by symbolizing the vernal equinox point of the zodiac suggests that people who work for a positive change act as witness against mankind because they are responsible for a new cycle of life. The Aries is also a sign of war, and therefore we find commandments of fighting the holy war (Jihad) in this chapter. It states,

190. Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.

191. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.

216. Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not.

244. Fight in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is Hearer, Knower.

The reasons for taking up an arms fight is further explained in the chapter that it should only be for self-defence and retaliation.

178. O ye who believe! Retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the murdered; the freeman for the freeman, and the slave for the slave, and the female for the female. And for him who is forgiven somewhat by his (injured) brother, prosecution according to usage and payment unto him in kindness. This is an alleviation and a mercy from your Lord. He who transgresseth after this will have a painful doom.

179. And there is life for you in retaliation, O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil).

In the following verses, the Quran makes it clear that the practice of right directives is in the best interests of mankind because such actions would result in the fulfilment of the Divine plan. Nevertheless, human beings also have their options to exercise the free-will, which is actually the test of humans for the worth of their intelligence.

154. And call not those who are slain in the way of Allah “dead.” Nay, they are living, only ye perceive not.

256. There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.

257. Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide therein.

In the verse (257), the movement in the direction of light is attested to be the right direction, and the consequences of failing to follow this direction would result in the consumption by the element of Aries, i.e. ‘Fire’.

The Letter ‘Lam’ (Taurus)

Taurus is the fixed sign of spring, and the second sign of zodiac. Astrologically, Taurus represents the luxury that results from the abundance of material wealth and resources. The fruits here are ripe in the trees and the spring has come into its full bloom, which makes Taurus to be ideally suited for the celebratory tendencies of nature. This chapter of Quran speaks extensively on the issues related to food, wealth, and resources that directly make subjects of discussion for the sign of Taurus. I had briefly dealt with Taurus in my previous article on the mystery letters from the standpoint of the Moses story, due to which this chapter is named ‘the Cow’; and indeed there are many more instances in this chapter of Quran with regards to the stories of the children of Israel like worship of the golden calf, and foods in the form of Manna and quails descending from the heaven etc. But here I shall be referring to the verses of archetypal Taurus character that are concerned with the business activities in a Muslim society. The Quran states,

172. O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He Whom ye worship.

173. He hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swineflesh, and that which hath been immolated to (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

In the verse (172), humans are encouraged to partake of the good things, whilst the verse (173) suggests the names and attributes of the unclean foods. At the same time, flexibility is permitted in the case of extreme necessities in order to render these laws for the utmost benefits of human beings.

215. They ask thee, (O Muhammad), what they shall spend. Say: that which ye spend for good (must go) to parents and near kindred and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer. And whatsoever good ye do, lo! Allah is Aware of it.

In the verse (215), the method of spending ones wealth is prescribed with an emphasis on the social uplift of standards and well being by supporting the people who are desperately in need of them.

155. And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and crops; but give glad tidings to the steadfast,

The verse (155) tells humans to be wary of the dangers of luxury, because extravagant lifestyles of total dependence on the material wealth may lead to severe trials at times of scarcity. And in order to prevent that condition from happening, the Quran suggests ‘fasting’ in the verse (183),

183. O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil);

In the following verses, the Quran suggests that humans should bequeath their wealth and properties to the near-relatives.

180. It is prescribed for you, when death approacheth one of you, if he leave wealth, that he bequeath unto parents and near relatives in kindness. (This is) a duty for all those who ward off (evil).

The Quran further guides about the mode of business in a society by condemning the practice of usury in the following verses.

276. Allah hath blighted usury and made almsgiving fruitful. Allah loveth not the impious and guilty.

278. O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah, and give up what remaineth (due to you) from usury, if ye are (in truth) believers.

279. And if ye do not, then be warned of war (against you) from Allah and His messenger. And if ye repent, then ye have your principal (without interest). Wrong not, and ye shall not be wronged.

280. And if the debtor is in straitened circumstances, then (let there be) postponement to (the time of) ease; and that ye remit the debt as almsgiving would be better for you if ye did but know.

The Quran also encourages the wealthy to practice charity without involving the vanity in it by spending for the general good of human society.

271. If ye publish your almsgiving, it is well, but if ye hide it and give it to the poor, it will be better for you, and will atone for some of your ill­deeds. Allah is Informed of what ye do.

272. The guiding of them is not thy duty (O Muhammad), but Allah guideth whom He will. And whatsoever good thing ye spend, it is for yourselves, when ye spend not save in search of Allah’s Countenance; and whatsoever good thing ye spend, it will be repaid to you in full, and ye will not be wronged.

273. (Alms are) for the poor who are straitened for the cause of Allah, who cannot travel in the land (for trade). The unthinking man accounteth them wealthy because of their restraint. Thou shalt know them by their mark: They do not beg of men with importunity. And whatsoever good thing ye spend, lo! Allah knoweth it.

274. Those who spend their wealth by night and day, by stealth and openly, verily their reward is with their Lord, and their shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve.

In the following verses, the Quran suggests that spending of wealth in the right way would result in great personal, social, and spiritual benefits to the humans.

195. Spend your wealth for the cause of Allah, and be not cast by your own hands to ruin; and do good. Lo! Allah loveth the beneficent.

207. And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen.

254. O ye who believe! spend of that wherewith We have provided you ere a day come when there will be no trafficking, nor friendship, nor intercession. The disbelievers, they are the wrong­doers.

261. The likeness of those who spend their wealth in Allah’s way is as the likeness of a grain which growth seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains. Allah giveth increase manifold to whom He will. Allah is All­-Embracing, All-­Knowing.

264. O ye who believe! Render not vain your almsgiving by reproach and injury, like him who spendeth his wealth only to be seen of men and believeth not in Allah and the Last Day. His likeness is as the likeness of a rock whereon is dust of earth; a rainstorm smiteth it, leaving it smooth and bare. They have no control of aught of that which they have gained. Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk.

265. And the likeness of those who spend their wealth in search of Allah’s pleasure, and for the strengthening of their souls, is as the likeness of a garden on a height. The rainstorm smiteth it and it bringeth forth its fruit twofold. And if the rainstorm smite it not, then the shower. Allah is Seer of what ye do.

266. Would any of you like to have a garden of palm­trees and vines, with rivers flowing underneath it, with all kinds of fruit for him therein; and old age hath stricken him and he hath feeble offspring; and a fiery whirlwind striketh it and it is (all) consumed by fire. Thus Allah maketh plain His revelations unto you, in order that ye may give thought.

267. O ye who believe! Spend of the good things which ye have earned, and of that which We bring forth from the earth for you, and seek not the bad (with intent) to spend thereof (in charity) when ye would not take it for yourselves save with disdain; and know that Allah is Absolute, Owner of Praise.

268. The devil promiseth you destitution and enjoineth on you lewdness. But Allah promiseth you forgiveness from Himself with bounty. Allah is All-­Embracing, All-­knowing.

The Letter ‘Mim’ (Gemini)

Gemini is the first ‘mutable sign’ of the zodiac which astrologically represents symbols and languages used for communication purposes between two distinct entities. The symbol of this sign is ‘the twin’ imagery that describes the duality of every phenomena in material/physical existence despite of having essentially the same form common in each one of them. The Gemini therefore, recognizes the inherent universe in the multiverse, the macrocosm in the microcosm, the heaven in the earth, the consciousness in the space, and the logic in the chance. The sign of Gemini is the one which makes the mystery possible by analyzing the unknown, and the argument possible by questioning the facts; also it makes the hearsay possible by creating the hysteria, and the vanity possible by hiding the truth. Over everything else, it causes the identification complex in human psychology that makes one to associate with the image of his personality and to categorize others on the basis of past experiences. Therefore, the Gemini archetype though being advantageous in a number of ways, also causes dissent, duplicitous behaviours, and hypocrisy. The Quran states,

213. Mankind were one community, and Allah sent (unto them) prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and revealed therewith the Scripture with the truth that it might judge between mankind concerning that wherein they differed. And only those unto whom (the Scripture) was given differed concerning it, after clear proofs had come unto them, through hatred one of another. And Allah by His Will guided those who believe unto the truth of that concerning which they differed. Allah guideth whom He will unto a straight path.

The verse (213) suggests that conflicts in the community of man is caused by the spiritual corruption which occurs when human beings refuse to take guidance from the heaven. It says that egotism and hatred of humans have led to their ignorance of acknowledging the truth of a spiritual unity of all beings whose purpose is far higher than troubles caused by the materialistic tendencies. Also, the Quran believes in the concept of monotheism which simply implies that everything in existence is effected by the same Divine principle, and that principle being the heaven has to be always supreme. The Quran explains this by an allegory of the mount in this chapter,

63. And (remember, O Children of Israel) when We made a covenant with you and caused the mount to tower above you, (saying): Hold fast that which We have given you, and remember that which is therein, that ye may ward off (evil).

The mount in verse (63) is a metaphor for the heaven, which is illuminated by the path of the Sun from the rising point on its way to the top, till its descent at the setting place. This path covers the ecliptic of the zodiac, and thus forming the zodiac signs that give impetus for life on the earthly existence. Now the life can be full of conflicts and corruptions, or it can be orderly and constructive according to the Divine plan. But in order for it to have a meaningful existence, the humans will have to rise above their self-destructive animal behaviours, and embrace an attitude of higher consciousness. The covenant with the children of Israel in verse (63), is the very divine trust which must be embodied in the human lives for the fulfilment of human potentials. The darkness of hypocrisy and corruption has to cease in order for the light of truth to impart its glory. The Quran further explains,

8. And of mankind are some who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not.

9. They think to beguile Allah and those who believe, and they beguile none save themselves; but they perceive not.

10. In their hearts is a disease, and Allah increaseth their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie.

11. And when it is said unto them: Make not mischief in the earth, they say: We are peacemakers only.

12. Are not they indeed the mischief­makers? But they perceive not.

13. And when it is said unto them: believe as the people believe, they say: shall we believe as the foolish believe? are not they indeed the foolish? But they know not.

14. And when they fall in with those who believe, they say: We believe; but when they go apart to their devils they declare: Lo! we are with you; verily we did but mock.

15. Allah (Himself) doth mock them, leaving them to wander blindly on in their contumacy.

77. Are they then unaware that Allah knoweth that which they keep hidden and that which they proclaim?

Since the sign of Gemini deals with symbols that are used for communication purposes, the Quran emphasizes upon the realization of the sanctity of Divine scriptures and laws. It admonishes humans that if they trifle with the celestial ordinances, then they would face the Divine justice.

78. Among them are unlettered folk who know the Scripture not except from hearsay. They but guess.

79. Therefore woe be unto those who write the Scripture with their hands and then say, “This is from Allah,” that they may purchase a small gain therewith. Woe unto them for that their hands have written, and woe unto them for that they earn thereby.

44. Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)? And ye are readers of the Scripture! Have ye then no sense?

101. And when there cometh unto them a messenger from Allah, confirming that which they possess, a party of those who have received the Scripture fling the Scripture of Allah behind their backs as if they knew not,

102. And follow that which the devils falsely related against the kingdom of Solomon. Solomon disbelieved not; but the devils disbelieved, teaching mankind magic and that which was revealed to the two angels in Babel, Harut and Marut. Nor did they (the two angels) teach it to anyone till they had said: We are only a temptation, therefore disbelieve not (in the guidance of Allah). And from these two (angles) people learn that by which they cause division between man and wife; but they injure thereby no­one save by Allah’s leave. And they learn that which harmeth them and profiteth them not. And surely they do know that he who trafficketh therein will have no (happy) portion in the Hereafter; and surely evil is the price for which they sell their souls, if they but knew.

The verse (102) is very significant with respect to the metaphorical symbolism used in the context of Gemini. It is related to Gemini because the verse (101) talks about the duplicitous behaviour of people in regards to the scriptures or messages, and further it states that such people follow the two angels of Babel, Harut and Marut. Now Babel is a symbolic allegory of the celestial city which metaphorically refers to the zodiac, and Harut/Marut are the two twins of zodiac in the sign of Gemini called Castor and Pollux. The verse (102) is actually implying here that the Gemini twins are responsible for teaching the languages to humans, and the treacherous or insidious usage of languages are responsible for the divisions and conflicts of the world (man and wife). Therefore, any activity that utilizes the languages for subversive purposes shall be strongly dealt with by the Divine laws. The Quran states regarding the authenticity of its message,

23. And if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a surah of the like thereof, and call your witness beside Allah if ye are truthful.

135. And they say: Be Jews or Christians, then ye will be rightly guided. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Nay, but (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the upright, and he was not of the idolaters.

146. Those unto whom We gave the Scripture recognise (this revelation) as they recognise their sons. But lo! a party of them knowingly conceal the truth.

The Gemini characteristics are best expressed in communications when there is decency, clarity, and intelligence in the speech. For instance, the Quran states the following regarding the mode of communication.

104. O ye who believe, say not (unto the Prophet): “Listen to us” but say “Look upon us,” and be ye listeners. For disbelievers is a painful doom.

171. The likeness of those who disbelieve (in relation to the messenger) is as the likeness of one who calleth unto that which heareth naught except a shout and cry. Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they have no sense.

186. And when My servants question thee concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright.

221. Wed not idolatresses till they believe; for lo! a believing bondwoman is better than an idolatress though she please you; and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe, for lo! A believing slave is better than an idolater though he please you. These invite unto the Fire, and Allah inviteth unto the Garden, and unto forgiveness by His grace, and expoundeth His revelations to mankind that haply they may remember.

In the verse (221), the difference between believers and idolaters is mentioned in the backdrop of Gemini (Twin) archetype. By idolaters it refers to those people who would consider the communication symbols to be real, and vanity to be the truth. Therefore, the company of such folks would be based on illusory or idealistic relationships, rather than constructive and fruitful conditions. Thus, humans are admonished of the associations that do not contribute to their spiritual growth and well being, but rather they should seek the connection with the Divine, even if that does not offer materialistic objectives.

The End Note

The world is a school for the spiritual growth of human beings, though it carries an illusion due to which it appears to be a place of permanent residence. This growth cannot occur in the presence of hypocrisy, materialism, and conflicts that are all contrary to the Divine plan of human excellence in the universe, and therefore these fallacies must perish. I should end this article by quoting the following verse from the Quran.

Bethink thee of him who had an argument with Abraham about his Lord, because Allah had given him the kingdom; how, when Abraham said: My Lord is He Who giveth life and causeth death, he answered: I give life and cause death. Abraham said: Lo! Allah causeth the sun to rise in the East, so do thou cause it to come up from the West. Thus was the disbeliever abashed. And Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk. (2, 258)