What is a Sūra?

The Holy Quran is arranged in 114 Surahs of very unequal size. A Surah is usually spoken of as a Chapter in English, but that translation is hardly satisfactory. If you examine the order of the Quran you will find that each Surah is a step in a gradation.

The word سورة in Arabic is best used untranslated, as a technical term in Islamic literature often spelled ‘Surah’ in today’s use of the term. It may also be written as Sūra (where ū gives the sound of ‘oo’) as demonstrated by the use of the term Sūra in this copy of The Holy Quran Translation by A. Yusuf Ali.

Surahs are numbered and the consecutive number is shown just before the title of the Surah. Each Surah consists of a number of Āyāt آيات (plural) or Verses. For example, Sūra 1: Fātiha contains 7 Āyāt and Sūra 2: Baqara contains 286. The most convenient form of quoting an Āyah آية (singular) is to name the Surah and the Āyāh, thus 2: 120 means the 120th Āyāh of the second Surah of the Quran.

The Āyah or verse division is usually different. Sometimes an Āyah contains many sentences. Sometimes a sentence is divided by a break in an Āyah. But usually there is a pause in meaning at the end of an Āyah.

Further, a division of the Surah takes place in the form of Sections (paragraphs of the Quran of varying lengths) and is shown in all Arabic Texts, called a ‘Ruku’ رُكوع‎. Rukus are logical divisions of a Surah according to the meaning conveyed, more broadly grouped by subject. These are distinctly marked ‘Section’ followed by a number, e.g. Section 23 and may be used for citation. The word ‘Ruku’ also means a bowing of the head, and it’s representation is best seen as one of the components of the Muslim prayer.

In this online rendering of the Holy Quran’s Translation by A. Yūsuf Ali, we chose to use the word Sūra where the original copy of The Holy Quran Translation by A. Yūsuf Ali published by The Islamic Propagation Centre International used the word Sūra. In other content on this website we have used the word ‘Surah’ which is more colloquial use of the term today (Aug 24, 2018).