Poetry is a word of Greek origin. It comes from a verb with means “to make, to create”. A poem is “something made or created”. The poet is the one who writes poetry. Turning our attention to the art of poetry that existed in the region of Arabic countries, we come to know that the poets existed among Arabs also in vast numbers, even during the times of Muhammad ﷺ. But it will be interesting to find out what status did they (the poets) enjoy in those days?
When Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad ﷺand he used to preach Islam to the disbelievers, they used to attack Messenger of Allah ﷺin many ways. One of the ways they adopted to counter Allah’s Messenger ﷺinvitation to Islam was to propagate that Muhammad is a poet and what he recites (i.e. Qur’an) is a poetry.
“And we have not taught him (Muhammad) poetry, nor is it suitable for him. This is only a Reminder and a plain Qur’an.”Qur’an Surah Ya-Seen 36: 69
All such persons should concentrate on the ayath above, where Allah categorically states that poetry is not suitable for the Prophetﷺ. Someone may ask, “What does this statement means: Poetry is not suitable for Muhammad, ﷺ?” The answer is that poetry is a thing of such a low cadre; on the other hand Allah’s Messengerﷺis the greatest personality among humans on the earth ever;
In another Surah of Qur’an, Allah has explained about what is poetry all about and what the status of poets is. Refer to following: “As for the poets, the erring(deviators) ones follow them,” “See you not that they speak about every subject (praising people – right or wrong) in their poetry?” “And that they say what they do not do.” “Except those [poets] who believe and do righteous deeds and remember Allah often and defend [the Muslims] after they were wronged. And those who have wronged are going to know to what [kind of] return they will be returned.” Quran Surah Ash-Shua’ra, 26: 224 to 227
The first three aayaath mentioned above show Allah’s dislike of poets. The fourth ayath tells us about an exception i.e. there is one category of poets that are permissible in Islam. We shall discuss this exceptional category in the end;
The ayath ‘As for poets, the erring ones follow them’ should be good enough for a man of reasonable understanding to get the message. Qur’an states that those who follow poets (i.e. praise poetry, write poetry, listen poetry, sit in the company of poets etc.) are the ones who are in error.
Another aspect of poetry being disliked by Allah is the fact that Allah does not like people who say something which they do not do (or cannot do). And the poets are one such group of people who keep on saying things which they do not do or cannot do or the things which are beyond a man’s control.
Here is a hadith which leaves no doubts remaining regarding dislike of poetry: It was narrated that Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri (RA) said: “While we were travelling with the Messenger of Allahﷺin Al-Arj, we were met by a poet who was reciting poetry. The Prophetﷺsaid: ‘Catch the devil’ or ‘Restrain the devil’ – ‘If the belly of a man were to be filled with pus, that would be better for him than being filled with poetry.”Book of Poetry, Sahih Muslim, Vol. 6: 2259 (Book no. 28 Hadith No. 5611) A poet and his poetry have been termed as devil above.
Going back again to Aayah No. 227 of Surah Ash-Shua’ra in Qur’an; Allah has given an exception to the type of poetry that can be done. The conditions under which poetry is allowed are: The one saying poetry should be a believer, doing righteous deeds and remembering Allah excessively; and the poetry is said as a response to poetry of disbelievers who attack Islam and Muslims in their poetry.
There is a hadith where Allah’s Messengerﷺasked one of the Sahabis to use his poetry against the disbelievers. Narrated Al-Bara’ (RA): The Prophetﷺsaid to Hassan bin Thabit (RA), “Lampoon them (the pagans etc.) in your poetry, and Jibril (AS) is with you.”Book of Al-Adab, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8: Hadith No. 6153
‘Lampoon’ means to attack verbally or an attack in written form.
Apart from this, Prophet ﷺhas given one more exception for poets.
Following two ahadith shall explain about these exceptions:
1. Narrated Ubai bin Kaab: Allah’s Messengerﷺsaid, “Some poetry contains wisdom.”Book of Al-Adab, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8: 6145
2. Narrated Abu Hurairah (RA): The Prophetﷺsaid, “The truest words said by a poet were the words of Labid. He said: ‘Verily, except Allah everything is Batilu (perishable) and Umaiyya bin Abi As-Salt was about to embrace Islam.”Book of Al-Adab, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 8: 6147
These ahadith tell us that poetry said in praise of Allah is allowed. Also, poetry containing wisdom is permissible in Islam. This last exception is a thing which contemporary poetry lovers may use in their defense. The poetry used to spread the message of Allah is the best poetry which comes under the category of ‘poetry containing wisdom’.
Poetry is an act which is disliked by Allah and His Messengerﷺ. Three exceptions have been clearly identified where poetry is allowed –
1. To respond to attacks from non-believers which they do in form of their poetry to malign Islam & Muslims.
2. To praise Allah.
3. Poetry which contains wisdom.