Aya (pl. ayat) actually means 'sign'. In technical language it is the shortest division of the Qur'anic text, i.e. a phrase or sentence. The revelation is guidance from God to mankind and it is therefore not at all surprising to find that its smallest divisions are called (guiding) 'signs'. The term 'verse' is not appropriate since the Qur'an is not poetry.
Sura (pl. Suwar) means literally 'row' or 'fence'. In technical language, it is the passage-wise division of the Qur'anic text,i.e. a chapter or part, set apart from the preceding and following text.
The Qur'an has 114 suras of unequal length, the shortest consisting of four and the longest of 286 ayat.
All suras (with the exception of Sura 9) begin with the words bismillahir rahmanir rahim. This is not a later addition to the text, but was already used, even before Muhammad's call to prophethood. ' [See Sura 27: 30.]
All 114 suras in the Qur'an have names, which serve as a sort of heading. The names are often derived from an important or distinguishing word in the text itself, such as e.g. al-anfal (8) or al-baqara (2). In other cases it is one of the first few words with which the sSra begins e.g. ta-ha (20) or al-furqan (25).
Both the order of the ayat within each sura and the arrangement of the suras were finally determined by the Prophet under guidance from the Angel Gabriel in the year of his death, when Gabriel twice came to revise the text with him. [See above. transmission of the Qur'anic revelation, p. 31.]
Scholars have also grouped the suras into four kinds:
- al-tiwal (long ones): 2-10.
- al-mi'un: suras with approximately 100 ayat: 10-35.
- al-mathani: suras with less than 100 ayat: 36-49.
- al-mufassal: the last section of the Qur'an beginning with Sura qaf: 50-114.
Juz' (pl. ajza') literally means part, portion. The Qur'an is divided into 30 portions of approximately equal length for easy recitation during the thirty nights of a month, especially of the month of Ramadan. Usually they are indicated by the word and the number of it given alongside, (e.g. juz' 30 beginning with Sura 78).
Some copies of the Qur'an have the suras divided into paragraphs called ruku'. They are indicated by the symbol and the explanation of the Arabic numerals written with each is as follows, e.g. 2:20:
- The top figure (2) indicates that this is the second completed ruku ' in the respective sura (here Sura al-baqara) .
- The middle figure (13) indicates that this completed ruku' contains 13 ayat.
- The lower figure (2) indicates that this is the second ruku' in the respective juz' (here first juz').
Copies of the Qur'an printed in the Middle East in particular have each juz' subdivided into four hizb indicated by the sign e.g. 2:74 is the beginning of the second hizb of the Qur'an, indicated by the figure 2:
Each hizb is again subdivided into quarters, indicated as follows:
- First quarter of the hizb: XXX
- Half of the hizb: XXX
- Third quarter of the hizb: XXX
The Qur'anic text is also divided into seven parts of approximately equal length, called manzil, for recitation over seven days, indicated in some copies by the word manzil and the respective number in the margin. The following table shows the division of the text into juz' and manzil: [Hamidullah, Muhammad: Le Saint Coran. Traduction integraleetnores. Paris: Club Francais du Livre, n.d., p.XLI.]
The ends of the various manzil according to Qatada are 4:76, 8:36, 15:49, 23:118, 34:54, 49:18 and 114:6 [Ibn Abi Dawud, p. 118.]