Quranic Reflection No 653. Āyat 26:224 to 227 – Poetry and Resistance


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وَالشُّعَرَاءُ يَتَّبِعُهُمُ الْغَاوُونَ … إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَذَكَرُوا اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَانتَصَرُوا مِن بَعْدِ مَا ظُلِمُوا …

As for the poets, [only] the deviators follow them … Except those who have faith, do righteous deeds, and remember Allah much, and defend themselves after they have been wronged. 

(Sūrat al-Shu‘arā, Āyat 224-227)

One of the artistic abilities of human beings is that of composing poetry. As with other artistic skills, beautiful poetry indicates a certain gentleness and tenderness in the soul of its composer. Contrary to what many may think, Islam does not merely condone such artistic talents, but goes beyond that! The purity and softness that comes with true taqwā can nourish and encourage such artistic abilities in believers. Hence many of the most outstanding poets in the Muslim world were people of piety and spirituality, who encapsulated profound Islamic teachings in beautiful eloquent poetry. For example, regarding the poet Rūmī (often known as Mawlavī in Persian), the late Shahīd Mutahharī said, “Mawlavī does not have anything to say other than the Quran. Whatever he says is the tafsīr of the Quran, but from a mystical perspective”.

However, poetry is a skill that can be used towards either a good goal or a bad one. When such talent is used to further noble causes and instill godly values in people, then it is praiseworthy. In a narration quoted by the Shī‘ah and the Sunni alike, the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him and his family) is quoted to have said: Indeed, some poems contain wisdom, and indeed some speech is magic.

On the other hand, poetry is often used towards a bad end, misguiding people from the truth and encouraging them to commit indecent actions. For this reason, the above verses from Sūrat al-Shu‘arā initially disparage poets as being those that deviated individuals follow. But the verses are not speaking ill about all poets! This is clearly seen when in verse 227 Allah ‘azza wajall says that those poets who have faith, do righteous deeds, and remember Allah much, and defend themselves after they have been wronged are an exception to this evil group.

During the lives of the Holy Imams, reciting and appreciating poetry was something deeply rooted in Arab culture. In an era before social media and the internet, poetry was a means of quickly and effectively passing messages and ideas. All members of society enjoyed beautiful poetry. In this environment the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them) made use of this means, highly encouraging those brave Shī‘ah who recited poetry in praise of the Ahl al-Bayt, and at times criticizing those who chose to recite poetry in praise of the oppressive caliphs. Imam al-Sādiq (a) is narrated to have said: One who reads one verse of poetry about us, Allah the Exalted builds a house for him in the Garden.

As our brothers and sisters in Palestine undergo immense suffering during these days, believers whom God has blessed with the ability to compose poetry should use it to further their cause. Different types of skills can be used to support the oppressed and expose the oppressors. Such brave and noble efforts would be the cause of honour in this world and the hereafter.

By the Quran that our dear brethren in Palestine recite, and by the Noble Prophet (s) whom they love and follow, we beg Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā to bring about the best of ends to this dire situation that they have been afflicted with.

Resources: Āyatullāh Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsir-e Namūne.