What Does Ayah Mean in Islam?

by Alison Lake

Muslims regard their holy book, the Qur'an, as a miracle, or ayah. In its plural tense, ayah is called ayat. They believe that the Qur'an, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 7th century A.D., comprises thousands of signs and miracles. In the Islamic worldview, the concept of ayah is central to the Islamic faith as it exemplifies Allah's spiritual messages to mankind.

In Language and in Faith

Muslims believe that each ayah is a sign from Allah. Ayah, in the Arabic language and among Arab speakers of all faiths, has several common meanings: sign, miracle, evidence and verse. These various definitions of ayah are also relevant in the religion of Islam. The Qur'an is divided into 114 chapters of unequal size called surahs. Each surah is composed of individual verses, each called an ayah, or ayat in plural form. When citing text from the Qur'an, one refers to chapter and verse, or surah and ayah (verse) or ayat (verses) by number.

Textual and Life Signs

In addition to being divided into verses called ayat, the Qur'an uses the words ayah and ayat to demonstrate that mankind will see many signs in the universe of God's presence: "We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth." (Surat Fussilat, 41:53) The words ayat and ayah appear many times in the Qur'an. For example, the Qur'an explains in several places that Mary and Jesus were 'signs' for Muslims of God's miracles: "'Iesa (Jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary) [are] clear signs." (Surat al-Baqara, 2:87)

Recitation

Rhythm and cadence in Qur'an recitation is synonymous with each ayat's structure. An ayah can vary from part of a sentence to many sentences, while usually, there is a pause in meaning at the end of the ayah. An individual ayah can also contain many meanings, especially depending upon the interpretation or person who has translated the book from Arabic.

Direct Truth or Allegory

The ayat of the Qur'an fall into two categories: those with clear and direct meanings and those with multiple interpretations. The Qur'an states that "It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise -- they are the foundation of the Book -- and others unspecific... and no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah." (Surat 'Ali 'Imran, 3:7) According to various methods of counting, the Qur'an contains more than 6,000 ayat.

About the Author

Alison Lake has been a journalist and editor since 2001, working with numerous newspapers and magazines. She has served on the world news desk of the "Washington Post" and contributed to The Atlantic, Foreign Policy Online, Al Jazeera English and GlobalPost.

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