Qur’anic Surahs’ Names

A Study on their Origin and Multiplicity

  • Ali Yunis Aldahesh The University of Sydney
Keywords: Quranic surahs' names, Multiplicity, Origin, Tawqifi, Etymologies


The titles given to the 114 surahs that constitute the Qur’an have been the spark of a heated debate among stakeholders. There is no unanimous agreement amongst Qur’anic scholars, exegetes and translators with regard to a number of issues pertinent to such a thorny topic. They are, in particular, of varying opinions as to the origin and multiplicity of surahs’ names. This study concerns itself with investigating those opinions. The main objective here is to come up with a number of fruitful insights that may help enhance our understanding of this vital aspect of the Muslims’ Scripture. The study argues that the term ‘surah’ is very Qur’an-specific, which may overlap, in a number of its features, with the scholastic term of ‘chapter’. Yet, it is not necessarily to be considered or translated as such. The article also argues that, traditionally speaking, most Qur’anic surahs have multiple names. However, not all of these names are tawqifī ‘revelational’ nor are all of them ijtihādī ‘derived through reasoning’. That is to say, at least one of the titles given to the surahs with multiple names is tawqifī while the other titles are ijtihādī. The study ends with a comprehensive table showing the names allocated to the 114 Qur’anic surahs along with detailed notes on the origin of their naming. It is hoped that the insights provided in this study will help illuminate the confusion and be of benefit to scholars studying the Qur’an and, by extension, to the Qur’an translators into other languages. 


Al-Aṣfahānī, Abulqāsim al- Ḥasan Ibn Muḥammad. Al-Mufradāt fī Gharīb al-Qur’an. Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah, n.d.
Abdel Haleem, Muhammad. The Qur’an: English Translation and Parallel Arabic Text. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Abdel Haleem, Muhammad. Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style. London and New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2002.
Abdul-Raof, Hussien. Qur’an Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis. UK: Curzon, 2001.
Arberry, Arthur John. The Koran Interpreted. London: George Allan & Unwin LTD., 1955.
Bakhtiar, Laleh. Concordance of the Sublime Qur’an. Chicago: Library of Islam, 2011.
Bakhtiar, Laleh. The Sublime Quran: English Translation. Chicago: Kazi Publications, 2012.
Bell, Richard. Introduction to the Qur’an. UK: Edinburgh University Press, 1953.
Esack, Farid. The Qur’an: A User’s Guide. UK: Oneworld. Oxford, 2005.
Al-Dūsarī, Mūnīrah. ‘Asmā’ Sūwar al-Qur’ān Wa Faḍā’iluhā. Saudi Arabia: Dār Ibn al-Jawzī, 2005.
Al-Hilālī, Muhammad Taqī-ul Dīn and Khān, Muhammad Muhsin. Translation of the Meaning of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language. Madinah: King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, 1996.
Jarrar, Bassam. Min ʾAsrār al-ʾAsmāʾ Fi al-Qur’ān al-Karīm. Palestine: Noon Centre for Qur’anic Studies, 2003.
Jeffery, Arthur. The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an. Baroda: Oriental Institute,1938.
Ibn Kathir, I. U. Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged). Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore: Darussalam Publishers & Distributers, 2003.
Kassis, Hanna. A Concordance of the Qur’an. Berkely, Loss Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1983.
Neuwirth, Angelika. Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān. “Sūra(s)”. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2006.
Palmer, E. H. The Qur’ān. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970.
Robinson, Neal. Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text. UK: SCM Press, 2003.
Sale, George. The Koran. New York: Garland Publishing. (This is a reprint of the 1734 edition which has the following details: (London: C. Ackers for J. Wilcox, 1734), 1984.
Al-Ṣālih, Ṣubḥī. Mabāḥith fī ʿUlūmi al-Qur’an. Beirut: Dār al-ʿIlmi Lilmelāyīn, 1977.
Shahbah, Muhammad. Al-Madkhal lidirāsat al-Qur’ān al-Karīm (Introduction to Study the Glorious Qur’an). Saudi Arabia: Dār al-liwāʾ, 1987.
Shakir, Muhammad Habib. The Qur’an: Translation. Elmhurst: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 2011.
Al-Suyūṭī. Jalāluddīn. Al-Itqān fī ʿUlūmi al-Qurʾān. Beirut: Al-Maktabah Al-ʿAṣriyah, 1997.
Al-Ṭabarī, Muhammad. Jāmiʿ al-Bayān ʿAn Taʾwīli ʾĀi al-Qur’an. Egypt: Dār Hajar, 2001.
Wādī, ʿIsā and Muhannā, Mahmoud. Min Dilālāt ʾAsmāʾ al-Sūwar fī al-Qur’ān al-Karīm. Jourdan: Radwan publisher, 2012.
Zafrullah Khan, Muhammad. The Quran: The Eternal Revelation vouchsafed To Muhammad the Seal of the Prophets. London and Dublin: Curzon Press, 1971.
Al-Zamakhshārī, Jarullāh. Al-Kashshāf ʿan Ḥaqāʾiq Ghawāmiḍ al-Tanzīl wa ʿUyūn al-ʾAqāwīl fī Wujūi al-Tʾwīl. Riyadh: Maktabat Al-ʿUbaykān, 1998.
Al-Zarkashī, Badrulddīn. Al-Burhān fī ʿUlūm al-Qurʾān. Beirut. Al-Maktabah Al-ʿAṣriyah, 1972.