Islam is peaceful, Islam is merciful, Islam allows
freethinking, Islam allows freedom of speech, Islam allows freedom of
expression ……..and what not. These are the words we are constantly
being bombarded with for 24/7/365. To
add more to this, we are continuously reminded that there were many Muslim
poets who wrote great poems. Islam
produces great poets, authors and writers.
Pious and sincere Islamists are dying to demonstrate these great
intellectual achievements of Islam. They
even give examples of essays written by Occidental charlatans from famous
universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, SUNY (State University of New
true are those claims?
Recently, a very lively discussion/debate took place
in a popular Internet forum (Mukto-mona).
Many erudite authors published their good works for the benefit of
all. Some supporting Islamic
tolerance for poems while many other refuting the claim that Islam allows
composing poems according to the poet’s freedom of thought.
Some of those cyber posts also pointed out that most of those
Islamic poets were not Muslims at all (like Omar Khayyám, Jalal Al Din
Rumi, Al-mari…etc.) in the true sense.
Thus, the claim that Islam had produced many great poets is rather
Indeed, the issue of poetry in Islam is not that
simple to tackle. The prophet
was very clever on this matter. On
certain occasions, he termed the poets and their poetry as evils.
Conversely, he encouraged poets when that suited his purposes.
This shifty and opportunistic attitude of the prophet of Islam
towards poets has made the issue of poetry in Islam rather murky. You will
see some verses in the Holy Qur’an and many references especially in Ahadith
that denigrate poets. At the
same time, you will find some instances when the prophet was quite
positive to the poets and poetry.
So what is the correct situation? This short essay makes an attempt to remove this confusion
and see what is the true position of poetry in Islam.
Many people erroneously think that the Holy Quran is
the most beautiful poetry given to mankind by Allah. Is this really true?
The Qur’an is very clear on this.
It says without any confusion whatsoever that it is not poetry and
the prophet of Islam did not recite any poetry.
Mohammed does not recite any poetry; the Qur’an is
a clear message…36:69
YUSUFALI: We have not
instructed the (Prophet) in Poetry, nor is it meet for him: this is no
less than a Message and a Qur'an making things clear:
The Qur’an is also very clear in saying that
Mohammed is not a poet possessed but he confirms the messages of apostles
sent before him…37:36-37
YUSUFALI: And say: "What!
shall we give up our gods for the sake of a Poet possessed?"
Nay! he has come with the (very) Truth, and he confirms (the Message of)
the messengers (before him).
Qur’an is not the words of a poet...69:41
YUSUFALI: It is not the word of
a poet: little it is ye believe
people thought that Mohammed was a poet...52:30
YUSUFALI: Or do they say:-
"A Poet! we await for him some calamity (hatched) by Time!"
those so-called ‘Dark Days’ of Arabia, poetry was a passion with the
Arabs. There used to be regular poetry festivals in Mecca where all the
best poets from all over Hejaj used to meet in an annual gathering and
recite their poetical verses. The best of all those selected were then
hung on the walls of Kaba. They were called ‘golden verses’ because
they used to be written in gold. There were seven such “golden” poems.
The names of their authors are Zuhair, Tarafah, Imrul-Qais, Amru ibn
Kulsum, al-haris, Antarah and Labid. These poets also used to listen to
Mohammad’s recitation but were not highly impressed. Out of those seven
great poets only Labid embraced Islam (Ref: Dictionary of Islam by
T.P.Hughes, Published by Kazi Publications, Inc. 3023-27 West Belmont
Avenue, Chicago, IL; page 460). Many of those poetries were based on
idolatry and worshipping of various pagan gods and goddesses. So Muhammad
developed a strong disdain for those poets and their compositions.
Later, when Muhammad started to disparage the
idolatry of the Quraish, the Quraish decided to commission their poets to
ridicule Mohammad. One of those poets was Al-nadir al Harith . He was a
sophisticated genius of the Quraish. He faced Mohammad in a debate in
Mecca during a pilgrimage season.
When Muhammad found out that it was quite difficult
to face the challenges of those literary stalwarts of those days he
started to engage some poets to hurl abuse to those learned poets. Two
such poets hired by Muhammad were Hasan and Labid (Ref: ibid; page 460).
We get a glimpse of this behaviour of Mohammad from these ahadith.
Muhammed requested to lampoon the pagans in verse
with Gabriel's help...8.73.174
Volume 8, Book 73, Number 174:
The Prophet said to Hassan, "Lampoon them (the
pagans) in verse, and Gabriel is with you."
Mohammed asked Hassan bin Thabit to abuse Banu
Quraiza people with poem and that Gabriel will be with Hassan bin Thabit...5.59.449
Volume 5, Book 59, Number 449:
The Prophet said to Hassan, "Abuse them (with
your poems), and Gabriel is with you (i.e, supports you)." (Through
another group of sub narrators) Al-Bara bin Azib said, "On the day of
Quraiza's (besiege), Allah's Apostle said to Hassan bin Thabit, 'Abuse
them (with your poems), and Gabriel is with you (i.e. supports you).'
Despite Muhammad’s hostility towards the pagans of
Mecca and his vitriolic verbal attack on them a few pagan poets during
this time were quite appreciative of the beautiful verses of the Quran
Mohammad claimed to be from Allah. Some of these Quraish poets even
embraced Islam after hearing those poetic verses of the Qur’an (This is
the claim by the Egyptian biographer of the Prophet, Husayn Haykal. There
are question marks on this claim of Haykal). However, Mohammad was quite
unhappy in facing these poets and finally decided to call the poets as
evils. Allah promptly sent a suitable verse to his Messenger to this
YUSUFALI: And the Poets,- It is
those straying in Evil, who follow them:
Here are some ahadith that clearly demonstrates Mohammad’s hatred for the poets
It is better to fill one's inside body with pus than
to fill it with poetry...8.73.175, 176
Volume 8, Book 73, Number 175:
Narrated Ibn 'Umar:
The Prophet said, "It is better for a man to
fill the inside of his body with pus than to fill it with poetry."
Volume 8, Book 73, Number 176:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle; said, "It is better for anyone
of you that the inside of his body be filled with pus which may consume
his body, than it be filled with poetry."
It is better for a man’s stomach to be stuffed with
pus than to fill one’s mind with frivolous poetry…28.5609
Book 028, Number 5609:
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be
upon him) as saying: It is better for a man's belly to be stuffed with pus
which corrodes it than to stuff one's mind with frivolous poetry. Abd Bakr
has reported it with a slight variation of wording.
Can't do buying and selling in a mosque, can't
announce aloud about lost items, can't recite poems and can't sit in a
circle in a mosque on Fridays before the prayer...3.1074
Dawud Book 3, Number 1074:
Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As:
The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) prohibited
buying and selling in the mosque, announcing aloud about a lost thing, the
recitation of a poem in it, and prohibited sitting in a circle (in the
mosque) on Friday before the prayer.
What happened to those
golden days of poetry in Mecca? When Mohammad conquered Mecca those
exciting days of poetry and poets were over. This is what the
‘Dictionary of Islam’ writes. “It is generally admitted by Arabic
scholars that the golden age of Arabic poetry was that immediately
preceding or contemporaneous with Muhammad, and that from the time of
Muhammad there was a gradual decline. This is not surprising, inasmuch as
the Qur’an is considered the most perfect model of composition ever
revealed to mankind, and to be written in the language of Paradise”
(Ref: ibid, page 460).
Muhammad was quite clever
in realising the potential power of poetic verses if used to his
advantage. That was why he did not put a complete ban on poetry but
started to appreciate those poetries that glorified Allah and Muhammad and
helped him in battlefields. In the Khaibar war, a poet called Amr composed
poems eulogising Allah and asking Allah’s blessings in winning the war,.
Muhammad immediately blessed Amr and guaranteed his martyrdom. Here is the
hadith from Sahih Bukhari.
Mohammed praised the poems of a poet...5.59.509
Volume 5, Book
59, Number 509:
Narrated Salama bin Al-Akwa:
We went out to Khaibar in the company of the Prophet.
While we were proceeding at night, a man from the group said to 'Amir,
"O 'Amir! Won't you let us hear your poetry?" 'Amir was a poet,
so he got down and started reciting for the people poetry that kept pace
with the camels' footsteps, saying:-- "O Allah! Without You we Would
not have been guided On the right path Neither would be have given In
charity, nor would We have prayed. So please forgive us, what we have
committed (i.e. our defects); let all of us Be sacrificed for Your Cause
And send Sakina (i.e. calmness) Upon us to make our feet firm When we meet
our enemy, and If they will call us towards An unjust thing, We will
refuse. The infidels have made a hue and Cry to ask others' help Against
us." The Prophet on that, asked, "Who is that (camel) driver
(reciting poetry)?" The people said, "He is 'Amir bin Al-Akwa'."
Then the Prophet said, "May Allah bestow His Mercy
on him." A man amongst the people said, "O Allah's Prophet! has
(martyrdom) been granted to him. Would that you let us enjoy his company
longer." Then we reached and besieged Khaibar till we were afflicted
with severe hunger. Then Allah helped the Muslims conquer it (i.e. Khaibar).
In the evening of the day of the conquest of the city, the Muslims made
huge fires. The Prophet said, "What are these fires? For cooking
what, are you making the fire?" The people replied, "(For
cooking) meat." He asked, "What kind of meat?" They (i.e.
people) said, "The meat of donkeys." The Prophet said,
"Throw away the meat and break the pots!" Some man said, "O
Allah's Apostle! Shall we throw away the meat and wash the pots
instead?" He said, "(Yes, you can do) that too." So when
the army files were arranged in rows (for the clash), 'Amir's sword was
short and he aimed at the leg of a Jew to strike it, but the sharp blade
of the sword returned to him and injured his own knee, and that caused him
to die. When they returned from the battle, Allah's Apostle saw me (in a
sad mood). He took my hand and said, "What is bothering you?" I
replied, "Let my father and mother be sacrificed for you! The people
say that the deeds of 'Amir are lost." The Prophet said,
"Whoever says so, is mistaken, for 'Amir has got a double
reward." The Prophet raised two fingers and added, "He (i.e.
Amir) was a persevering struggler in the Cause of Allah and there are few
'Arabs who achieved the like of (good deeds) 'Amir had done."
Mohammad listened to the recitation of
Book 028, Number 5602:
'Amr b. Sharid reported his father as saying: One day
when I rode behind Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), he said (to
me): Do you remember any Poetry of Umayya b. Abu Salt. I said: Yes. He
said: Then go on. I recited a couplet, and he said: Go on. Then I again
recited a couplet and he said: Go on. I recited one hundred couplets (of
his poetry). This hadith has been reported on the authority of Sharid
through another chain of transmitters but with a slight variation of
Mohammed said that some poems contain
Volume 8, Book 73, Number 166:
Narrated Ubai bin Ka'b:
Allah's Apostle said, "Some poetry contains
was free to drink an antidote, tie an amulet or compose a poetry…28.3860
Book 28, Number 3860:
Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As:
I heard the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say:
If I drink an antidote, or tie an amulet, or compose poetry, I am the type
who does not care what he does.
In eloquence there is magic and in poetry there is
Dawud Book 41, Number 4993:
Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas:
A desert Arab came to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him)
and began to speak. Thereupon the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him)
said: In eloquence there is magic and in poetry there is wisdom.
eloquence there is magic, in knowledge there is ignorance, in poetry there
is wisdom and in speech there is heaving…41.4994
Dawud Book 41, Number 4994:
Buraydah ibn al-Hasib:
heard the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) say: In eloquence there is
magic, in knowledge ignorance, in poetry wisdom, and in speech heaviness.
ibn Suhan said: The Prophet of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) spoke the truth.
His statement "In eloquence there is magic" means: (For
example), there is a right due from a man who is more eloquent in
reasoning than the man who is demanding his right. He (the defendant)
charms the people by his speech and takes away his right. His statement
"In knowledge there is ignorance" means: A scholar brings to his
knowledge what he does not know, and thus he becomes ignorant of that. His
statement "In poetry there is wisdom" means: These are the
sermons and examples by which people receive admonition. His statement
"In speech there is heaviness" means: That you present your
speech and your talk to a man who is not capable of understanding it, and
who does not want it.
Do those quotes from the Holy Scriptures confuse you?
Surely they do. So, what could we finally say about the position of poetry in
Islam? To get a clear picture
of this affair we need to turn to Sharia.
We always think that Sharia means Hudud punishments like cutting
off hands and feet, beheading, lashing etc.
But this is just a part of Sharia.
Islamic Sharia contains rules and injunctions for every aspect of
your life that you could think of or even possibly that you could not
think of! Some rules of
Sharia are incredibly unbelievable. If you thought that the Talibans have
interpreted the merciful Islam wrongly, then please turn to Sharia laws. What Talibans did in Afghanistan and what ‘real Islam’ is
doing in many parts of the world are mind boggling, unbelievable,
unconscionable, unthinkable and completely uncivilised…you may think so.
But have a look at Sharia and you will surely find where is the
root source of these actions. There is a very good book on Sharia
(concise) based on the Shafii and Hanafi school of Jurisprudence. This
Reliance of the Traveller (Umdat al-Salik by Ahmad
ibn Naqib al-Misri)
Edited and Translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Revised
Published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland
In this Sharia book we get the following Islamic
rulings on poetry and their composers. Mind you this is not ahadith or Qur’an. This is a legal document and its provisions are
completely enforceable in an Islamic Paradise. If you want to be a poet in
an Islamic Paradise, then please memorise these Shraria provisions so that
you may be able to save your neck by taking advance precautions.
As per Sharia, knowledge is divided into three
classes: viz: Unlawful, Offensive and Permissible. The status of poetry
depends upon the content of the poem a poet composes. If his composition
is to praise Allah and His messenger then that is fine. Any other type of
poetry (like philosophical, love, romance, patriotism, nationalism, free
and secular thinking….etc.) are completely illegal or haram.
If you are a poet and you depend on your pen and
poems for your livelihood, then you must change your profession. In Islam,
earning a living by using pen to write poetry is unlawful. Ditto for
poetry lovers. If you spend too much time on poetry, then you are engaged
in a haram (unlawful) activity.
Please note that study of Philosophy is haram too. If you are a
Philosopher (or want to be one) then forget about living in an Islamic
Paradise. You would surely end up losing your head. Isn’t this the
reason why the Islamic army of Pakistan killed the then Head of Philosophy
Department of Dhaka University, Dr.G.C. Dev?
With BNP-Jamaat in power in Bangladesh, all Philosophers (and
poets) watch out! It could be that your days are numbered.
No kidding. Let Mr. Omar Farooq of Upper Iowa University rebut my
are excerpts from the Sharia
a7.2 Unlawful knowledge includes: (page-14)
learning sorcery, since according to the most reliable position, it
is unlawful, as the vast majority of scholars have decisively stated;
magic (sha’badah, meaning sleigh of hand, etc.);
the sciences of the materialists
and anything that is a means to create doubts (n: in internal
truths). Such things vary in their degree of unlawfulness
a7.3 Offensive knowledge includes such things as
post-classical poetry which contain romance and uselessness (page-14)
a7.4 Permissible knowledge includes post-classical
poetry which does not contain stupidity or anything that is offensive,
incites to evil, hinders from good; nor yet that which urges one to do
good or helps one to do it (n: as the latter would be recommended)
r40.3 (ibn Hajar Hayatami) As for listening to
singing that is not accompanied by instruments, one should know that
singing or listening to singing is offensive except under the
circumstances to be mentioned in what follows. Some scholars hold that
singing is sunna at weddings and the like, and of our Imams, Ghazali and
Izz ibn Ábd al-salam say that it is sunna if it moves one to a noble
state of mind that makes one remember the hereafter. It is clear that from
this that all poetry which encourages good deeds, wisdom, noble qualities,
abstinence from this-worldly things, or similar pious traits such as
urging one to obey Allah, follow the sunna, or shun disobedience, is sunna
to write, sing or listen to, as more than one of our Imams have stated is
obvious, since using a means to do good is itself doing good (Kaff al-raá’án muharramat al-lahw wa al-sama’ (y49), 2.273
Who was Ibn Hajar Hayatami?
Whatever he was he was not a ‘timber mullah’. Neither was he a
Mullah like Mullah Omar of Afghanistan having a Madrassa dropout
qualification. Ibn Hajar Hayatami was an Egyptian Shafii Imam. He was a
brilliant Islamic scholar during his time and prepared an in-depth
application of sacred laws that are used as the foremost resource for
legal opinion and fatwa purposes. He has prepared an extensive list of
grossly offensive items in Islam. In fact, his huge list contains more
than four hundred items that are grossly offensive in Islam The list
includes music, musical instrument, dancing……..any thing and
everything you could think of that make modern life enjoyable,
pleasurable, pleasant and comfortable. Guess what? All these are grossly
offensive in Islam. If you have time then you could go through this list
and amaze yourself with the Islamic rules. You will then understand why
the Talibans did what they did. Here I am including only part of the list
that concerns poetry.
w52.0 IBN HAJAR HAYATAMI’s LIST OF ENORMITIES
w52.1 (432-38) embellishing a poetic ode by
mentioning a particular woman, even without indecency, or mentioning an
unnamed woman indecently or to sing an ode; (page-989)
(434-37) poetry that contains mockery of a Muslim,
obscenity, or lying; or singing such poetry and spreading it; (page-989)
(438) composing panegyrics with poetic figures of
speech that exceed normal bounds, earning one’s living thereby and
spending most of one’s time at it; (page-989)
I hope that this short essay will help you to remove
from your mind the cobweb that you might have regarding poetry in Islam.
If we go by the Islamic rules then only Hamd
and Naat (some of them
written by the great Islamic poet Golam Mostafa) are the only poems
allowed in Islam. Almost all the poems written in Bangladesh are unIslamic
and all most all the poets are engaged, in many cases, in blasphemy acts
whether they realise this or not. Although there is no specific hudud
punishment specified in Sharia for writing poetry, please know that if a
poetry is considered grossly offensive and/or blasphemous then the
punishment is death by beheading.
As one can see, the message is now very clear.
Most of the poets of Bangladesh (or any other country) are the
potential targets for capital punishment if an Islamic Paradise is
established and ‘real Islam’ is practiced in Bangladesh.
Finally, we must realise that Islam is not what the
great Universities from the West (like Cornell, Oxford, Cambridge…etc.)
try to portray. The ‘real
Islam ’is not in those places . The ‘real Islam’ is not even what
the minds of the great majority of the Muslims (like Bangladesh) would
like it to be. The ‘real
Islam’ is in the Holy Qur’an, the ahadith
and the Sharia. Therefore,
take it (in its totality) or leave it.
Abul Kasem writes from Sydney, Australia.
Comments can be directed at - [email protected]