The unanswered question of the significance of the Muqaṭṭa’āt, in spite of the unambiguous prohibition of mystical interpretation in the Qur’ān, has provided Sufis and Baha’is in particular with both devotional material and evidence of the mystical nature of the Holy Book.
Sufis, whose worship involves intense devotional rituals, have meditated on the meaning of the Muqaṭṭa’āt and interpreted their significance and prime position prefixing the twenty-nine chapters. The meanings they assign to them differ from Ṭarīqah to Ṭarīqah (Sufi chapter or movement), but their essential import remains the same: the Muqaṭṭa’āt are attributes of the Divine. They prefix the various chapters as both a demonstration to the Prophet of their authentic origin during the revelation, and as a message to all who hear them concerning His qualities. Sufis see them as an adjunct to the well-documented ninety-nine Asmā’ al-Ḥusnā (glorious names) found throughout the Qur’ān, and a further manifestation of Allāh’s virtues.
Numerous Sufi clerics and adherents have advanced theories as to the meaning of the disconnected letters. Many suggest that by expounding on their ‘hidden’ meaning, one can attain a closer relationship with God. One such interpretation advanced by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir Jilani of the Naqshabandīyah, employing the letters in an invocation together with their posited meanings, is given below.
“O Allah! Bestow blessings, peace and honour; and give nobility, power and greatness; and have mercy on the one who is lofty in power and towering in grandeur, and is the high-aspiring light and the clear truth:
The letter “Alif” is for might and power,
“Ḥā’” is for the realm of mercy,
“Mīm” is for sovereignty,
“Lām” is for hidden kindness,
“Rā’” is for hidden compassion,
“Noon” is for perfect benevolence,
“‘Ayn” is for care and concern,
“Kāf” is for sufficiency,
“Yā’” is for headship and becoming master,
“Sīn” is for happiness,
“Qāf” is for nearness,
“Ṭā’” is for the sultanate,
“Hā’” is for the tie or bond (of friendship)
And “Ṣād” is for preservation…”
This appears to be an arbitrary allocation of attributions to the various letters rather than the establishment of concrete meanings, based on the first letter of the attribute in Arabic, for example:
“Wa ‘ayn il-‘ināyah wa kāf il-kifāyah و عين العناية و كاف الكفاية”
As for the Bahā’is, they too attach a mystical significance to these letters, drawing on the teachings of the central figures in their religion, Baha’u’llah and the Bab.
Bahā’u’llāh wrote a commentary on the Muqaṭṭa’āt in response to a request from one of his adherents, Mirza Aqay-i-Rikab-Saz. This commentary became known as the Lawḥa-i-Ayiy-i-Nūr (Tablet of the Verse of Light) in Persian, and has remained the subject of serious scholarship amongst Bahā’is to this day. In it, Bahā’u’llāh comments on the creation of the letters themselves; something of a departure from traditional scholarship. He then proceeds to relate their formation to the so-called ‘Verse of Light’ (24:35) in the Qur’ān, before offering an explanation of their meanings. His central preoccupation, and that to which he ascribes the most important role, is with the letter Alif. Bahā’u’llāh, in his Kitāb-i-Iqān, writes:
“In the beginning of His Book He saith: “Alif. Lām. Mīm. No doubt is there about this Book: It is guidance unto the God-fearing (Qur’ān 2:1).” In the disconnected letters of the Qur’an, the mysteries of the divine Essence are enshrined, and within their shells, the pearls of His Unity are treasured. For lack of space, we do not dwell upon them at this moment. Outwardly, they signify Muhammad Himself, Whom God addressed saying: “O Muhammad, there is neither doubt nor uncertainty about this Book which hath been sent down from the heaven of divine Unity. In it is guidance unto them that fear God.” Consider how He hath appointed and decreed this self-same Book, the Qur’an, as guidance unto all that are in heaven and on earth. He, the divine Being, and unknowable Essence, hath, Himself, testified that this Book is, beyond all doubt and uncertainty, the guide of all mankind until the Day of Resurrection.”
For Bahā’u’llāh, the Alif, being a single vertical stroke, forms the basis for all the other letters and hence represents Allāh. The other Muqaṭṭa’āt are not so much qualities of the Divine Himself, but outward manifestations of his guidance and trusteeship on the temporal plane; the other Muqaṭṭa’āt sometimes represent His prophets and sometimes represent other facets of his worldly manifestations.
A constant metaphor employed by Bahā’u’llāh throughout his writing is that of the ‘Primordial Pen’. He uses it to encapsulate all aspects of Allāh’s Creation. According to Bahā’u’llāh, it is this Pen that through God’s will orchestrates all that is Creation. By means of this metaphor, Bahā’u’llāh theorises that all of Creation testifies to its conception through its own reality; that this is their purpose for being. Therefore, the Muqaṭṭa’āt are but further examples of God’s omneity, placed in the Holy Qur’ān to bear witness to His Presence (See Qur’ān 51:56).
The Bāb, who was the forerunner to the Bahā’i faith, wrote a literary composition entitled Qayyūm al-Asmā’ (Maintainer of the Divine Names). In it, he includes a set of disconnected letters in the third verse of almost all of the 111 chapters. Some of these letters mirror the Muqaṭṭa’āt in the Qur’ān, whilst others are composed of different combinations. What is clear is that the Bāb, who claimed to have received a revelation, is trying to mimic the style of the Qur’ān; perhaps in order to engender support for his prophethood.
Evidently, amongst Sufi orders and Bahā’is, the Muqaṭṭa’āt form part of the authentic revelation. Their utilization in invocations and in literature has enshrined their mystic function; any interpretation of their meanings has been largely arbitrary and has not sought to explain their relative positions, frequency or co-occurrence.
 Abdurrahman Habil. 1987. ‘Traditional Esoteric Commentaries on the Quran’. Islamic Spirituality: Foundations. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Ed.). State University of New York Press: New York. pp.24-47.
 Baha’u’llah. 1994. The Kitab-i-Iqan: The Book of Certitude. Shoghi Effendi (Trans.). Wilmette: Baha’I Publishing Trust. pp.202-204.
 Elmer H. Douglas (Trans.) and Abu Rabi. 1993. The Mystical Teachings of al-Shadhili – A translation from the Arabic of Ibn al-Sabbagh’s Durrat al-Asrar wa Tuhfat al-Abrar. New York: State University of New York Press. pp.24-25.
 Juan R.I. Cole. 1994. ‘The World as Text: Cosmologies of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’I’. Studia Islamica 80. pp.9-10.
 Ibid., p.10.
 Siddiq Osman Noormuhammad. 2004. Salawaat by Sufi Mashaaikh. Chapter 1: Salawaat of Gauth u’l A’zam Muhyudeen (Shaykh ‘Abdul Qadir Jilani). Nairobi: Iqra Islamic Publications.
 Smith, Peter. 1987. The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions – from messianic Shi’ism to a world religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp.76-77.
 Stephen N. Lambden (Trans.). 2004. Tafsīr al-ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`āt (Commentary on the Isolated Letters) or Lawḥ-i āyah-yi nūr (Tablet about the Light Verse). http://www.hurqalya.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/BAHA’-ALLAH/L-hurufat.htm (3 January 2008)
 Baha’u’llah, op.cit., pp.203-204.
 Bahá’u’lláh. 1988. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.
 Todd Lawson. 1997. ‘Reading Reading Itself: The Bab’s Sura of the Bees. A Commentary on Qur’an 12:93 from the text of Sūrah Joseph. Translation and Commentary’. Occasional Papers in Shaykhi, Babi and Baha’i Studies 1/5.