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A sura (also spelled surah, surat; Arabic: سورة sūrah) (pl. Arabic: سور suwar) is a division of the Quran, although it can be approximately referred to as a chapter. The term chapter is sometimes avoided, as the suras are of unequal length; the shortest sura (Al-Kawthar) has only three ayat (verses) while the longest (Al-Baqara) contains 286 ayat. Of the 114 suras in the Quran, 86 are classified as Meccan while 28 are Medinan - this classification is only approximate as regards location of revelation - in fact, any sura revealed post-Hijrah is termed Medinan and any revealed before that event is termed as Meccan. The Meccan suras generally deal with faith and scenes of the Hereafter, while the Medinan suras are more concerned with organizing the social life of the (then) nascent Muslim community. The word sura is derived from the Pahlavi word suri meaning red color, also the walls around the cities, castles, etc. for protection.
According to the theory of Nazm-e-Quran proposed by Hamiduddin Farahi, each sura has a central theme (umud) around which the ayat of the sura revolve. Notable scholars like Irfan Ahmad Khan and Mohammed al-Ghazali have also supported this view. The Quran is composed of 114 suras of very unequal lengths. The word "sura" is sometimes roughly translated as "chapter" in English, but this is not universally supported. Thus it is often used untranslated as a technical term in Islamic literature. Sometime in early Islamic history suras were divided into rukus (each comprising several ayat) to improve readability.
Suras are recited during the standing portions (Qiyam) of Muslim prayers (salah). Sura Al-Fatiha is recited in every unit of prayer. Some units of prayer also involve recitation of all or part of any other sura. Islamic tradition holds that there are some suras, or parts thereof, that have certain benefits when recited. For example, several hadith recommend reciting sura Al-Fatiha when someone is ill.
Suras in the Quran are not arranged in the chronological order of revelation. The first sura Al-Fatiha, meaning opening, is brief; the next sura is the longest, and the remainder are in descending order of length. Amin Ahsan Islahi says that the order of revelation has no significance for the present times, and the present arrangement is divinely ordained. Suras are identified either by their sequential number or by name.
The verses and suras when revealed to Muhammad in the Quran did not come with a label attached to them. Muhammad, as we find in many hadith, used to refer to shorter suras not by name, rather by their first verse. For example: Abu Hurairah quoted Muhammad as saying, "Al-Hamdu Lillahi Rabb il-`Aalameen is the Mother of the Qur'an, the Mother of the Book, and the seven repeated Ayat of the Glorious Qur'an." (Tirmidhi). We also find hadith in which Muhammad used to refer to them by their name. For example, 'Abdullah bin Buraydah narrated from his father, "I was sitting with the Prophet and I heard him say, 'Learn Surat ul-Baqarah, because in learning it there is blessing, in ignoring it there is sorrow, and the sorceresses cannot memorize it."' (Ahmad ibn Hanbal)
Arab tradition, similar to other tribal cultures of that time, was to name things according to their unique characteristics. They used this same method to name suras. Most sura names are found in hadith. Some suras were named according to their central theme, such as Al-Fatiha (The Opener) and Yusuf (Joseph), and some were named for the first word at the beginning of the sura, such as Qaf, Ya Sin, and ar-Rahman. Some suras were also named according to a unique story or topic within the sura, such as al-Baqara (The Cow), An-Nur (The Light), while other suras were named according to a unique word used in them, such as Az-Zukhruf (The Ornaments of Gold), Al-Hadid (The Iron), and Al-Ma'un (The Small Kindness).
Most names of the suras are still used to this day. Several are known by multiple names: sura Al-Masadd (The Palm Fibre) is also known as al-Lahab (The Flame). Sura Fussilat (Explained in Detail) is also known as Ha-Meem Sajda ("...it is a surah that begins with Ha Mim and in which a verse requiring the performance of sajdah (prostration) has occurred.")
The Miracle of 19 researched by Rashad Khalifa is a claim that the Quran is characterized by a unique phenomenon wherein the suras are mathematically structured based on the number 19. His work was initially accepted and endorsed by mainstream Muslims but was rejected later. Here are a few of the facts highlighted by Dr Khalifa:
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