By Sharif Randhawa
Chiastic Structures in Sūrat al-Kahf (Part 3): Verses 7-8
The final chiastic structure in this section is āyas 7 and 8:
A. إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى الْأَرْضِ زِينَةً لَّهَا
B. لِنَبْلُوَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا
A’. وَإِنَّا لَجَاعِلُونَ مَا عَلَيْهَا صَعِيدًا جُرُزًا
A. Truly, We made what is on the earth a beautification for it,
B. To test which of them are the best in deed,
A’. And truly, We will make what is on it into barren ground.
This is a simple ring composition, which consists of a center surrounded by two complementary parts. The beginning of A, “Truly, We have made what is on the earth…” (إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى الْأَرْضِ) corresponds to the beginning of A’, “And truly, We will make what is on it…” (وَإِنَّا لَجَاعِلُونَ مَا عَلَيْهَا). Yet, the outcomes are the opposite: “a beautification for it” (زِينَةً لَّهَا) vs. “barren ground” (صَعِيدًا جُرُزًا). This reflects another recurring theme in the sūra, the transience of the worldly life.
The centerpiece (B) explains the purpose of this divine scheme of creation and destruction (A and A’): to test who will perform righteous deeds—recalling “those who perform righteous deeds” (الَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ الصَّالِحَاتِ) in āya 2. It is significant that only the “best in deed” (أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا) are mentioned, and not evil deeds. This highlights that the purpose of the test is to bring about good deeds, the good effects of which are permanent—recall āyas 2-3, “For them is a good reward, in which they will remain forever” (أَنَّ لَهُمْ أَجْرًا حَسَنًا مَّاكِثِينَ فِيهِ أَبَدًا)—while everything else will eventually expire. The use of “truly” (إِنَّ) removes any doubt about this and reinforces it. The āyah also shifts the Prophet’s attention away from people’s evil deeds and unbelief to people’s faith and good deeds. Phonetically, there is also consonance and rhyme throughout verses 6-8 that produce a pleasant sound, particularly with the repetition of ‘ayn and lām.
In the next article, we will look at three more examples of chiastic structures in Sūra 18, in shā’a ’llāh.