¡ Nūn. By the pen and that which they inscribe,
1 Nūn is the Arabic letter n and is among the separated letters (al-muqaṭṭaʿāt) at the beginning of several sūrahs, whose meaning is not specified outwardly and, according to many, is known only to God (IK). This is the earliest sūrah in the chronological order of revelation in which the separated letters appear. Nūn is also an Arabic word for “fish”; some commentators thus relate it to an old Arab myth that holds that the earth is upon the back of a mythical fish (Bg, Q, Ṭ, Z).
), others say it refers to theةIn light of its cup-shaped form in Arabic script ( “inkwell” from which the pen draws the ink with which it inscribes (Bg, Z). In Islamic metaphysics, the Pen is often taken as a symbol for the Divine Intellect or Logos, through which God brought all things into being. What is “written” by the Pen then means existiation of beings in the created order, and the nūn is seen to symbolize the reservoir that contains all the possibilities that are manifested in creation. In this regard, a famous ḥadīth qudsī states, “The first thing God created was the Pen. Then he said to it, ‘Write!’ It responded, ‘What shall I write?’ He said, ‘Write the decree (al-qadar) of what will be until the Hour is come’” (AH, Bg, IK, Q, Ṭ).
Here the nūn is also seen as an allusion to one of the Divine Names, because it points to the n (nūn) at the end of al-Raḥmān (“the Compassionate”) or at the beginning of al-Nūr (“the Light”) or al-Nāṣir (“the Helper”; Bg, Q). Others see it as a reference to God’s helping the believers (naṣr al-muʾminīn; Bg, Q), a phrase that occurs in 30:47. Some attribute to the Prophet the saying: “Nūn is a tablet of light” (Āl, IK, Q).
The pronoun they in that which they inscribe may be seen as a reference to the angels who record all human deeds (Bg, IK, JJ, Q); see 43:80; 50:17-18c; 80:15-16;
82:10-12; 86:4. According to al-Qurṭubī, pens are of three principal types: the one that God commanded to write all that would be until the Day of Resurrection; those with which the angels record the deeds of human beings (see 18:49c); and those with which human beings write (Q on 96:4-5).