The following is from the English translation of a section of the abridged tafsir based on the book ‘tayseer ila usul it-tafsir’ by Shaykh Ata bin Khalil Abu Rishta.
بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
1. “Alif, Lam, Mim”
This verse, and the rest of the separated letters at the beginning of the surahs, are all from the mutashaihaat i.e. from the ayaat that have more than one meaning, so they require exerting some effort to interpret their meaning, i.e. to determine the preferred meaning. Therefore, certainty is not possible with the meanings of the mutashabih, or else it would have been muhkam.
Many opinions have come about them, with the preferred being that they are names for the surahs carrying the sense of a challenge to the Arabs.
(أسماء للسور تحمل معنى التحدي للعرب)
As for why it is preferable that they are names for the surahs, it is because the name for the Arab is what pulls the ears and turns the sight to the named thing. If you said ‘Muhammad’ when a man walked past, the one who hears turns to the passing man. Beginning the surahs with these separated letters pulls the ears to what is being recited and turns the sight towards it.
Therefore, pronouncing الم at the beginning of a surah in front of some people who are listening, pulls their ears to the surah that will be recited. In that is the meaning of a name to indicate the named thing, so that is why we said that they are names of the surahs, so we say: surah Alif lam Mim al-baqarah, surah Ya Sin and so on.
Among the indicators of the name in Arabic language is the definite article ال, the يا of calling and referring back to it. The last of these is considered to be of the most important indicators for them. It is applied here with these separated letters, as ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ is referring back to الم
As for them carrying the sense of a challenge to the Arabs, it is because they touch their hearing initially with letters from their own speech. Yet, with that, they are not able to come with the like of the Qur’an, or even a single surah from it. Let alone the fact that the illiterate do not utter letters, instead they say: آ إل إم,, but they do not say ألف لام ميم except if they are learned. Rasul Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم was illiterate, they knew him and he lived among them. All of this only increases their censure, establishes the proof against them and is challenging them.
ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
2. “This is the Book in which there is no doubt, a guidance to Al-Muttaqûn”
After pulling their ears to meet what is recited to them, as we mentioned about the first verse, Allah سبحانه وتعالى teaches them the reality of this book.
It is from Allah in truth and its ayaat are a guidance for the pious God fearing al-muttaqoon, as the ones who are guided and benefit from it are al-muttaqoon. That is the explicit meaning. As for the implicit meaning, it is that the one who is guided by this book becomes one of al-muttaqoon.
So the God fearing Muslims are guided by the ayaat of this book and are increased in guidance. The disbelievers who are guided by its ayaat, i.e. they become believers, so they become of al-muttaqoon. With that meaning the pause in recitation is on لاَ رَيْبَ …
i.e. ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ … فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
Also, the meaning is that the Qur’an that is recited to you has no doubt in its ayaat, its ayaat are definitely from Allah. And the book is a guidance for al-muttaqoon. With this meaning the recitation is paused at فِيهِ …
i.e. ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ … هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
With the first pause the negation of doubt is about the whole book ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لاَ رَيْبَ and the guidance is in its ayaat فِيهِ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ i.e. inside it is guidance.
With the second pause the negation of doubt is about the ayaat of Allah لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ i.e. no doubt inside of it, which means no doubt in its ayaat. The guidance is in the whole book هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِين referring back to ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ.
Both of the pauses are authentic and the overall meaning is one, because the book of Allah is the collection of his ayaat, and being definite about is ayaat is to be definite about the book, and the guidance in the ayaat is the guidance in the book.
الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنْفِقُونَ
3. “Who believe in the Ghaib and perform As-Salât, and spend out of what we have provided for them.”
وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ مِنْ قَبْلِكَ وَبِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ يُوقِنُونَ
4. “And who believe in what has been sent down to you and in what was sent down before you, and they believe with certainty in the Hereafter.”
أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَىٰ هُدًى مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
5. “They are on guidance from their Lord, and they are the successful.”
After Allah mentioned al-muttaqoon in the second verse, He mentioned in these verses some of their characteristics that made them among the guided and successful. So He سبحانه وتعالى mentioned their Iman in the ghayb (the unseen) and in what Allah sent of books to His messengers. Then He mentioned their Iman in the akhirah (afterlife). Likewise, He سبحانه وتعالى mentioned their establishing of as-Salah and their spending of what He provided for them.
The one who contemplates on these verses finds the following:
1. Allah سبحانه وتعالى made success the consequence of two matters:
The first linked on Iman:
يُؤْمِنُونَ بِمَا أُنْزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنْزِلَ مِنْ قَبْلِكَ وَبِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ يُوقِنُونَ
and the second linked to the al-‘amal as-Salih (good actions).
وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنْفِقُونَ
just as Allah سبحانه وتعالى connected al-Iman and good actions in many verses:
الَّذِين آمَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ الصَّالِحَاتِ
2. After Allah سبحانه وتعالى mentioned the iman in the ghayb, He came back to mentioning iman in the akhirah which is a part of the ghayb. This is from the style of mentioning the specific after the general, in order to make its importance stand out. Iman in the ghayb is from the aqeedah and Iman in the akhirah is an important matter of it. The Muslim should remember the akhirah continuously striving for it multiples of multiples more than his striving for the dunya.
3. When Allah سبحانه وتعالى mentioned al-ghayb, al-akhirah and the revealed book, explicitly mentioned iman in them. But, when He mentioned the good actions and spending, He mentioned performing them, i.e. al-qiyam bihaa, which indicates that iman is other than the shariah rules. Iman is confined to at-Tasdeeq al-jazim (decisive belief) like Iman in Allah, the day of judgment, the angels, the book, the Prophets and the decree (al-qadr) the good and the bad of it.
The practical shariah rules are in that which its implementation was requested, i.e. doing the action. What confirms that iman is other than action, is that Allah سبحانه وتعالى mentioned a series of matters in the previous verses: the ghayb, the prayer, spending, the revealed book, the akhirah. When He mentioned the requested stance towards them, He mentioned iman in the ghayb, the revealed book and the akhirah; i.e. in relation to what has decisive belief in it. But, he mentioned performance in relation to that which action was requested, like the prayer and spending, despite the fact that the mention of prayer and spending in the verse came between the types of iman.