Frances Purcell: Literary Devices and Qur’anic Efficacy

Literary Devices and Qur’anic Efficacy: A Strong Correlation

My take on the significance of the intertextuality and context in Surat al-Rahman is that these two devices are employed, most importantly, from a literary standpoint. This sura concerns the appreciation of God’s gifts to the world, and what becomes of those who do or do not recognize these bounties. I believe that intertextuality and a specific context are necessary to keep this sura short and to the point, while still being full of meaning and inspiration to the Muslim people.

Surat al-Rahman follows a fairly rigid structure throughout: each idea is briefly presented, usually in pairs such as trees and shrubs, and then followed by the question “so which of your Lord’s blessings will the two of you deny?” Intertextuality is necessary in order to maintain this terse, but effective structure throughout the sura. With most ideas, such as that of the trees and shrubs, “what is given briefly in one place is expanded in another” (Ibn Taymiya, Qur’an Explains Itself, 160). Continuing this example, sura 55 states that the “shrubs and trees bow down [to God]” (55:6). This seems like a fairly inconsequential mention of nature worshiping God, however, when one references other suras it is clear that this is meant to signify a much greater reverence for God: “Do you not see how to God bows down all who are in the heavens and on earth…” (22:18). Thus the intertextuality present throughout the Qur’an allows this sura to be concise and follow structure, while still implying great meaning.

The context of the sura is also key in determining what material is present and focused on. Much of the Qur’an focuses on the significance and permanence of the next life, so I take this to be the main message of this sura. This is summarized in one line, which reads that when all life on earth perishes, “there remains the face of your Lord, Majestic and Noble” (55:27). A large portion of the sura describes what life after earth will be like for believes and sinners, respectively. The sinners are described as being surrounded by Hell fire and held in place from every direction, which correlates to the bounties that surrounded them on earth that they did not acknowledge (listed in the first portion of the sura). Therefore “…context…has affected the way the treatment of the guilty is presented” (Qur’an Explains Itself, 174).

The aforementioned treatment of the sinners is much shorter than the description of that of the believers. I believe this is due to the context of the sura, and the overall focus on the condition of Heaven, which can be discussed as a final example of intertextuality and context as literary devices. The images of the two heavenly gardens are brief but poignant (i.e. “their mattresses of brocade”), maintaining the structure of the sura, and the context calls for the believers to be surrounded by magnificent treasures, which evokes a powerful desire for this afterlife in the reader.