THE THEMES IN RELIGIOUS POETRY
The Historical Evidence
All praise is for Allah, the Glorified and the Exalted, and may He shower His choicest peace and blessings in perpetuity on His most beloved of all creations, Sayyidina wa Nabiyyina wa Habibina wa Mawlana Muhammad ibn 'Abdillah, Nurin min Nurillah, Sallallahu 'alayhi wa 'alaa aalihi wa sahbihi wa Sallim.
When we study the Ahaadith Shareef (noble sayings) of our beloved Prophet Sayyidina wa Mawlana Muhammad Mustafa, Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam and his seerah (blessed biography) to research the subject of religious poetry, we are blessed with obtaining the following historical facts:
1. The Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam said that there is wisdom in poetry.
2. He was greeted with madeeh (eulogy) when he entered Madina.
3. He recited some verses as he carried stones together with his sahaba (blessed companions), Rady Allahu 'Anhum to build Masjid an-Nabawi in Madina.
4. He encouraged the recitation of the Holy Qur'an al-Karim, the inimitable, incomparable and uncreated Word of Allah, in a melodious voice.
5. He encouraged wedding songs and allowed songs with musical instruments on the day of 'Eid.
6. He had a pulpit erected in the mosque for Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu to stand upon and reply to the enemies of Islam in poetry.
7. He recited some verses at Ghazwa-i-Khandaq (the battle of the Trench) while digging the trench together with his sahaba, Rady Allahu 'Anhum.
8. He supplicated for Hadrat 'Amir bin al-Akwa' Rady Allahu 'Anhu who recited a qasida (religious poem) while they were marching to Khaybar to fight the Jews.
9. He appointed Sayyidina 'Ali Rady Allahu 'Anhu to lead in the battle of Khaybar and Sayyidina 'Ali Rady Allahu 'Anhu replied to his opponent in verse.
10. He gave his personal mantle (burda) to Hadrat Ka'b ibn Zuhair Rady Allahu 'Anhu after he had versified on him and on the Muhajireen (the Emigrants from Makkah) and expressed the wish that he would versify on the Ansar (the Helpers in Madina) too.
11. He praised Labid, the pre-Islamic poet, for praising Allah in his poetry.
12. He requested 'Amr bin Sharid's father to recite the poetry of Umayya bin Abu as-Salt. 'Amr bin Sharid's father obliged by reciting a couplet whereupon the beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam continued to request him to recite more and more until he had recited 100 couplets!
To study each of these universally historic events in a little more detail, the main sources referenced are:
(a) kutub (books) of Hadith, especially:
Sahih al-Bukhari(translated by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan),
Sahih al-Muslim (translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqi),
Mishkat u'l Masabih (Niche For Lamps) of Imam al-Baghawi (translated by Al-Hajj Mawlana Fazlul Karim);
(b) classics of Muslim spirituality, such as:
Ihya 'Ulum al-Deen (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) by Hujjatul Islam Imam Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (translated by Al-Hajj Mawlana Fazlul Karim),
It'haaf-is-Saail (Gifts For The Seeker) by Qutb u'l Irshad Sayyidunal Imam al-Habib Abdallah bin 'Alawi al-Haddad (translated by Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi), and
Miftah u'l Jannah (Key To The Garden) by Sayyidunal Imam al-Habib Ahmad Mash'hur bin Taha al-Haddad (translated by Dr. Mostafa al-Badawi); and
(c) books of history such as the biography of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam by Martin Lings.
[Rady Allahu 'Anhu / Naf'anAllahu Bih / Rahmatullahi 'alayh is recited after the name of the sahaba (companions) and the mashaayikh (spiritual masters) as appropriate].
The word qasida means a poem, the plural is qasaaid. This paper deals only with religious poetry, the non-Muslims obviously wrote on various other matters as well.
When we study the Hadith Shareef, we find that the qasaaid (religious poems) recited in the time of the noble Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam contain:
There is Wisdom in Poetry
The noble Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam is reported to have said that there is wisdom in poetry, according to a Hadith agreed upon by both Imam Bukhari (194-256 A.H) and Imam Muslim (206-261 A.H). Such a Hadith is said to be Muttafaqun 'alayh (agreed upon). It is reported in Miskhkat u'l Masabih, Book 2, Chapter 12, p. 187. (The numbering of the Hadith, chapter and so on will be as in the translation).
'Ubai bin Ka'b reported that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: "There is wisdom in poetry". (Agreed)
Imam al-Ghazali (450-505 A.H/1058-1111 C.E) has also reported this in his Ihya': "When poems were recited before the Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam), he used to say: There is surely wisdom in poetry". (Vol. 2, p. 207)
For this reason, many kutub (books) of Muslim poetry print this
of the blessed Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam on the very
A Qasida Greets The Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam
As reported by Imam u'l Bayhaqi in Dalaail u'n Nubuwwa (Proofs
of Prophethood), when our blessed Prophet Sayyidina Muhammad Mustafa Sallallahu
'alayhi wa Sallam
entered Madina, he was greeted with the following
memorable eulogy which since then has been engraved in the hearts and minds
of Muslims and is recited with love and devotion all over the world, especially
in majalis (spiritual gatherings) of mawlid to celebrate
Imam al-Ghazali has reported it in the Ihya' 'Ulum al-Deen (The
Revival of the Religious Sciences, Vol. 2, Book 8, p. 302),
and Imam Yusuf ibn Ismail an-Nabahaani has expounded on it in Anwaaru'l
Muhammadiyyah (The Muhammadan Lights, p. 60).
While Building Masjid an-Nabawi
Al-Habib Ahmad Mash'hur bin Taha al-Haddad (1325-1416 A.H) narrates
in Miftah u'l Jannah (Key To The Garden, p. 121) that the
beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam himself carried stones
together with his companions to build the mosque in Madina, and as he did
that, he recited:
Melodious Recitation of Qur'an Encouraged
The Glorious Qur'an Karim is the eternal uncreated Word of Allah. It is mu'jiz (inimitable), meaning it cannot be imitated. It is to be recited in a melodious voice according to the following Ahaadith (sayings) of Rasul Allah Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam.
Abu Hurairahr eported that the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: Allah does not listen attentively to anything more than what he listens to the Prophet chanting the Qur'an with a melodious and loud voice. (Bukhari and Muslim) . . . (From Mishkat u'l Masabih, Book 3, Chapter 36, p. 696)
Bara' bin 'Aazib reported that the Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: Adorn the Qur'an with your voice. (Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, and Darimi). . . .(From Mishkat u'l Masabih, Book 3, Chapter 37, p. 69).Sayyidi wa Murshidi al-Habib Ahmad Mash-hur bin Taha al-Haddad has expounded on this in his own pure and precise style:
"Means are to be judged according to their purposes. When a proper melodiousness
is used, the recitation of the Qur'an becomes a delight, and we have been
ordered to recite it thus. The Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace)
said, "Embellish the Qur'an with your voices!" meaning that one should
recite it melodiously. And he once said, after listening to the recitation
of Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, "He has been given one of the flutes of
the House of David". When this was reported to Abu Musa, he said, "O Messenger
of God! Had I known that you were listening, I would really have embellished
it!" (p. 120)
Songs Encouraged at Weddings and Allowed on 'Eid Days
The following two narrations from Mishkat u'l Masabih, Book 2, Chapter 27, p. 654 show that the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam encouraged songs at wedding ceremonies.
Mother of faithful believers, 'A'isha reported: I had a girl of the Ansar who I gave away in marriage. The Holy Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: O 'A'isha! Why did you not sing, because this tribe of the Ansar loves songs. (Ibn Hibban)
We also learn that the beloved Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) allowed two small Ansari girls to sing with musical instruments on the day of 'Eid as narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 2, Hadith number 72, p. 38. This Hadith has been received from Sayyidatina 'A'isha Rady Allahu 'Anha who said Sayyidina Abu Bakr as-Siddiq Rady Allahu 'Anhu was also present at that time.To you we have come, to you we have come!
Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Replies in Poetry
As reported in Mishkat u'l Masabih (Book 2, Chapter 12, p. 187), the beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam used to ask Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu to answer his enemies on his behalf. Indeed, he had a pulpit erected within the mosque for him to stand upon and recite poetry deprecating the unbelievers and praising the beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam.
Bara' reported that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said to Hassaan bin Thabit at the battle of Quraizah: "Satirize the polytheists for Gabriel is with you". Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) was saying to Hassaan: "Respond on my behalf. O Allah! Help him with the Holy Spirit". (Bukhari and Muslim)Sayyidi wa Murshidi al-Habib Ahmad Mash'hur bin Taha al-Haddad talks about this in his classical masterpiece Miftah u'l Jannah (Key To The Garden) and sums it up as follows:
"This was done through poetry, and in the mosque, so see what rank a poet may reach who rises to defend religion and make known the good qualities of the Master of the Messengers - his degree is not less than that of a preacher who summons and guides, for they both stand on the pulpit of summoning to God, defending religion and subduing its enemies". (p. 120)In fact, the whole of Chapter 1026 in Sahih al-Muslim is about "The Merits Of Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu". And in the following (part of a longer) Hadith from that chapter (Vol. 4, Book 29, p. 1328), we get a glimpse of how Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu actually replied.
(6081) (Sayyidatina) 'Aisha said: I heard Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) as saying to Hassaan: "Verily Ruh ul Quds would continue to help you as long as you put up a defence on behalf of Allah and His Messenger". And she said: I heard Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) as saying: "Hassaan satirized against them and gave satisfaction to the Muslims and disquieted the non-Muslims".
The transliteration of these verses is:
We notice that the qasida (religious poem) in this Hadith is a Hamziyya all of whose verses rhyme in the letter "Hamza". Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu composed it on the occasion of Fat'h Makkah (victorious peaceful entry into Makkah) in 8 A.H. when our beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam magnanimously forgave all his enemies in Makkah who had for years persecuted him and driven him out.
Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu composed so many poems that they have been compiled in book form by numerous Muslim scholars who have then written a sharh (appreciative explanation) on it. Such a book of collected poems is called a Diwan. One such Diwan has been compiled by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Barquqi together with his sharh (explanation). This Diwan has 238 poems arranged in alphabetical order, beginning with those that rhyme in the letter "Hamza" and ending with those that rhyme in the letter "Yaa".
Out of all these qasaaid, the verses that are universally popular
are those in praise of our beloved Prophet Muhammad Mustafa Sallallahu
'alayhi wa Sallam.
It is reported in the same Diwan (p. 299-308) that in 9 A.H. a deputation of Arabs from Banu Tamim came to the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam to challenge him to oratory and poetry. Their orator was 'Utarid bin Hajib. After he had his say, the Beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam asked Hadrat Thaabit bin Qays bin Shammas Rady Allahu 'Anhu to reply to him.
Then the poet of Banu Tamim, al-Zibriqan bin Badr sang in praise of his tribe. Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu was absent at the time and the Noble Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam sent a messenger to tell him to come and answer the Banu Tamim's poet. Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit came and answered him with an 'ainiyyah consisting of 22 verses all rhyming in the letter 'ain. He praised the sahaba (companions), their nobility, charity, generosity, chastity, purity, valour in battle, and faithfulness, and emphasized that all these beautiful attributes were derived from keeping company with the beloved of Allah, Muhammad u'r Rasulullah, Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam. At the end of it all, the deputation of Banu Tamim accepted Islam and Rasul Allah Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam gave them many valuable gifts.
When we recite the Diwan, we find that the themes in the religious poems of Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit Rady Allahu 'Anhu are about:
Another remarkable fact that strikes us as we recite the Diwan is the unshakeable iman (faith) and yaqeen (deep conviction and certainty) that the sahaba (companions) had in Allah Ta'ala and in His Beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam. The poems urge the non-believers to accept Islam, assert with certainty that Allah was helping the Muslims as borne out by the Qur'anic verses, that Allah had blessed them with the presence of the noble Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam who had brought them the true religion of Islam, that Hadrat Jibril 'Alayhissalam was with them, that they had been persecuted and driven from their homes but that they were prepared to lay down their lives for Allah and his beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam, and there was no way any soldier could stand against their bravery and valour, so there was no use even trying. This was done to achieve a psychological victory even before the battle started. And after the jihad (battle), the martyrs were mourned with the conviction that they had attained Paradise.
It was indeed one of the greatest miracles of our beloved Prophet Sallallahu
'alayhi wa Sallam that he changed people's hearts. He started alone,
was persecuted as no one has ever been persecuted before or after, but
won over people to the True Faith to such an extent that those who were
his bitterest enemies became his greatest friends, adopted his faith and
his life-style and were prepared to lay down their lives at his command.
The Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam recited some verses together with his companions while digging the trench (khandaq) around Madina to ward off the attack of the Quraysh of Makkah in 5 A.H. We learn of this from a Hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol 4, p. 169.
Chapter (161). The recitation of poetic verses in war and raising the voice while digging the trench.
(272) Narrated Al-Bara': I saw Allah's Apostle (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) on the day (of the battle) of the Trench carrying earth till the hair of his chest were covered with dust and he was a hairy man. He was reciting the following verses of 'Abdullah (bin Rawaha):
The wording of this qasida (in transliteration) is:
Lo behold! We find that Imam Yusuf ibn Ismail an-Nabahaani has used the same (first four and sixth) verses in his Waseelatu-sh-Shaafiy (The Means To Healing). After all, could he do any better than borrow from the beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam and his blessed companions?
A similar Hadith has been reported in Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol 4, Chapter 34, p. 65.
CHAPTER (34) The digging of the TrenchWhen we study the verse quoted in this Hadith, we find that the first hemistitch (half verse) contains nasiha (advice) while the second is munaajaat (supplication). Hence, two themes, of advice and supplication are woven into just one verse.
This incident is also reported in Hadith numbers 4442, 4444 and 4448 in Sahih al-Muslim, Vol 3, Chapter 746.
Martin Lings, in his biography of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) summarises, in part, what happened at the Battle of the Trench.
"One of them, Bara' of the Harithah clan of Aws, would tell in after years of the great beauty of the Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) as he remembered him at the trench, girt with a red cloak, his breast sprinkled with dust and his black hair long enough to touch his shoulders. "More beautiful than him I have not seen", he would say."As we are all aware, within a short time, these prophecies of our beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam were fulfilled as Islam spread to these countries and beyond in all four directions. This narration shows, like all such narrations, the miraculous powers of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam and how all his prayers were answered instantly.
The Hadith Sharif by Hadrat al-Bara' Rady Allahu 'Anhu on the handsomeness of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam that Martin Lings refers to are to be found in Sahih al-Bukhari as well (Vol 4, Hadith numbers 749 and 752, p. 488).
Narrated Al-Bara': The Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) was the handsomest of all people, and had the best appearance. He was neither very tall nor short. (Bukhari)
While Marching to Khaybar
While marching to Khaybar which is about 200 miles north of Madina, the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam prayed for Hadrat 'Amir bin al-Akwa' Rady Allahu 'Anhu who recited a qasida. This is reported in Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, p. 357-359, in a very long Hadith, the beginning of which reads:
(509) Narrated Salama bin Al-Akwa': We went out to Khaybar in the company of the Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam). 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 camel's footsteps, saying:
The Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) on that asked, "Who is that (camel) driver (reciting poetry)?" The people said, "He is 'Amir bin Al-Akwa'". Then the Prophet (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: May Allah bestow His Mercy on him". A man among the people said, " O Allah's Prophet! (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam). Has (martyrdom) been granted to him?  Would that you let us enjoy his company longer". (Bukhari)The transliteration of Hadrat 'Amir bin Al-Akwa's qasida as given in Sahih al-Bukhari is as follows:
This Hadith is also reported in Sahih al-Muslim, Volume 3, Chapter 745.
A Hadith in the same chapter of Sahih al-Muslim informs us that the person who said martyrdom is reserved for Hadrat 'Amir bin al-Akwa' Rady Allahu 'Anhu was Sayyidina 'Umar ibn al-Kattab Rady Allahu 'Anhu. This shows us the unshakeable iman (faith) that Sayyidina 'Umar Rady Allahu 'Anhu and indeed all the sahaba (companions) had in the words of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam. No sooner had the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam said, "May Allah bestow His Mercy on him", Sayyidina 'Umar Rady Allahu 'Anhu concluded he would be martyred. And indeed, Hadrat 'Amir bin al-Akwa' Rady Allahu 'Anhu was martyred at Khaybar as we learn from another Hadith in Sahih al-Muslim.
It is worth noting that this was not the only time that poetry was recited to the Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam while on a journey. Sayyidunal Imam al-Habib Ahmad Mash-hur bin Taha al-Haddad narrates in Miftah u'l Jannah (Key To The Garden) that it was common practice for the sahaba to recite poetry while on a journey:
"Al-Tirmidhi has reported - and declared the report sound - that Jabir ibn Samura said that the Prophet (may God bless him and his Family and grant them peace), had poetry chanted to him when he travelled, and that Anjasha the Abyssinian chanted for the women, and al-Bara' ibn Malik for the men, and that the Messenger of God (may God bless him and his Family and grant them peace) said to Anjasha, "Be gentle when driving the riding beasts of the delicate vessels (the women)!" (p. 119)
Sayyidina 'Ali Rady Allahu 'Anhu Replies To Marhab
The valour of Sayyidina 'Ali Rady Allahu 'Anhu in the battle
of Khaybar (7 A.H) against the Jews as in all battles he fought is legendary.
It is captured in a Hadith in Sahihal-Muslim, Vol
3, Chapter 747, part of which is quoted here.
(4450) It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn Salama. He heard the tradition from his father (Salama bin al-Akwa') who said: …..
The narrator said: (Sayyidina) 'Ali struck at the head of Marhab and killed him, so the victory (capture of Khaibar) was due to him. This long tradition has also been handed down through a different chain of transmitters. (Muslim)From this Hadith, we learn that:
The transliteration of the verses of Sayyidina 'Ali Rady Allahu 'Anhu from the Hadith in Sahih al-Muslim is as follows:
The Burda of Hadrat Ka'b bin Zuhair Rady Allahu 'Anhu
The three most famous versifiers among the sahaba (companions) were Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit, Hadrat Ka'b bin Malik and Hadrat 'Abdallah ibn Rawaha Rady Allahu 'Anhum. After Hadrat 'Abdullah ibn Rawaha Rady Allahu 'Anhu was martyred at Mu'ta, another poet, Ka'b bin Zuhair who previously used to satirize against the Muslims, now accepted Islam and recited an ode which he had especially composed for the occasion. It is know as Baanat Su'aad and has been included in the kitab (book) titled Baaqatun 'Atirah (The Perfumed Bouquet, p. 199-201) by Imam As-Sayyid Muhammad bin 'Alawi al-Maliki. It is his longest qasida with 58 verses all of which rhyme in the letter "laam", hence it is a "laamiyyah". Four of these verses have become so popular that they are quoted by many scholars in their books. Their transliteration and translation is:
When Hadrat Ka'b had finished reciting the poem, our beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam drew off his burda (cloak) and put it over his shoulders in appreciation, and it became the most valuable piece of clothing ever since, informs Imam Shihabuddin as-Suhrawardi (passed away 632 A.H/1235 C.E) in his spiritual classic 'Awaarif u'l Ma'aarif (The Illuminative Knowledge of the Spiritual Masters, p. 158).
For this reason, the Baanat Su'aad is called the original "Burda", distinct from the famous Burda tu'l Madeeh of Imam Sharafuddin Muhammad al-Busiri (608-695 A.H/1212-1296 C.E), who also received a Burda from the noble Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam in a dream after he had composed a qasida in his praise.
After listening to the Baanat Su'aad in which the Muhajireen
(Emigrants) had been praised by Hadrat Ka'b, the beloved Prophet Sallallahu
'alayhi wa Sallam agreed with the Ansar (Helpers) that it was only
fair that he should versify on them too. Hadrat Ka'b obliged by composing
a "raaiyyah" in praise of the Ansar with 33 verses all rhyming in
the letter "raa" whose opening verse is:
Hadrat Ka'b bin Zuhair Rady Allahu 'Anhu composed many qasaaid,
all of which have been presented alphabetically in his Diwan (Collected
Poems), beginning with the
qasaaid that rhyme in the letter
"alif'". Imam Abu Sa'id al-Hasan al-Husayn al-Sukkari (212-275
A.H/827-888 C.E) has written a sharh (appreciation) of this Diwan,
published by al-Maktabatul 'Arabiyyah in Cairo.
Another famous Diwan of a sahabi (companion) is
the Diwan Ka'b ibn Malik al-Ansari Rady Allahu 'Anhu. The
Diwans classify the qasaaid (poems) by sadru'l bayt (the
first word of the opening verse), qaafiyah (rhyme) and bahr (poetical
meter). The most popular poetical meters at that time were at-taweel,
and ar-rajaz; while
al-waafir, and al-mutaqaarib
were also used. When we go through these Diwans, we come to the inevitable
conclusion that qasaaid (religious poetry) really and truly flourished
in the time of our beloved Prophet Muhammad Mustafa Sallallahu 'alayhi
Labid Praises Allah Sub'hanahu wa Ta'ala In Verse
The beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam praised Labid bin Rabi'ah, a famous pre-Islamic poet for praising Allah in his poetry, as we learn from the following Hadith in Mishkat-ul-Masabih, Book 2, Chapter 12, p.188.
(4) Abu Hurairah reported that Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) said: The truest words (ever) uttered by a poet is the saying of Labid: "Behold! Everything besides Allah is vain". (Abu Dawud)
Good Poetry Encouraged But Frivolous Poetry Condemned
Sahih al-Muslim, Vol. 4, devotes a whole book on the subject of poetry (Kitab al-Shi'r) from which we learn that frivolous poetry is prohibited while good, wholesome poetry is commended as the following three Ahaadith show.
(5609) Abu Hurairah reported Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam) 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. Sayyidina AbuBakr has reported it with a slight variation of wording. (Muslim) (p. 1221)
(5602) 'Amr bin Shareed reported his father as saying: One day when I rode behind Allah's Messenger (Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam), he said (to me): Do you remember any poetry of Umayya bin Abu as-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 wording. (Muslim) (p. 1220)When there is such overwhelming evidence from the life history of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam in support of good, wholesome, sound and beneficial poetry, it is easy to understand that verses 224 to 227 in Surah ash-Shu'ara of the Holy Qur'an deprecate only those poets who do not believe in Allah Sub'hanahu wa Ta'ala but commend those poets "who believe and do good deeds".
And as for the poets, the misguided ones follow them.
Except those who believe and do good deeds and remember Allah much, and vindicate themselves after they have been wronged; and those who act unjustly, will come to know to which (final) place of turning they shall return (after death). (Qur'an 26:224-227)Imam al-Ghazali explains these verses in the Ihya' as follows:
"Allah says: And as for the poets, the misguided ones follow them. By this verse, only the infidel poets have been mentioned. It is not understood from this that good poetry has been banned". (Vol. 2, p. 214)And according to Tafsir Jalaalain, that is the Commentary on the Qur'an by al-'Allamah Jalaaluddin Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Mahalli and Imam Jalaaluddin 'Abd-ir-Rahman bin AbiBakr as-Suyuti, the words "Except those who believe and do good deeds", refers to Muslim poets.
This should also convince us more and more that the blessed Hadith
Shareef of the beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam
is a commentary on the Holy Qur'an Kareem and that without the Hadith,
it is difficult if not impossible to understand the Word of Allah, the
Glorified and the Exalted.
What is Recommended and Prohibited About Poetry?
It is instructive at this juncture to turn to Imam al-Ghazali, a master
of ma'rifa (spiritual knowledge) to differentiate for us the types
of poems that are recommended from those that are prohibited. According
to Imam al-Ghazali in the Ihya', poetry is recommended in
Imam al-Ghazali's reference to kashf (spiritual ecstacy) is interesting because many Sufi mashaayikh (spiritual masters), including Hadrat Data Ganj Bakhsh 'Ali al-Hujwiri (passed away 465 A.H) in his Kashf al-Mahjub (Unveiling The Veiled Spiritual Aspects of Islam) also expound about kashf in sama'. It is a common observation that many eyes well up with tears and some start flowing when the blessed Names of Allah Sub'hanahu wa Ta'ala and of his beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam are mentioned, or when there is discourse on Islam in a way that touches one's heart.
When we study the historical evidence of religious poetry in the time of our beloved Prophet Muhammad Mustafa Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam we realise that it was but natural for the 'ulama (learned scholars) of Islam since that time to have written on Islam in both prose and in verse. One such spiritual luminary was Qutb-ul-Irshad Sayyidunal Imam al-Habib 'Abdallah bin 'Alawi al-Haddad (1044-1132 A.H). He wrote more than ten kutub (books) in prose (with a sprinkling of qasaaid) and composed more than one hundred qasaaid (religious poems), all collected and arranged in alphabetical order by scholars who followed him in a Diwan which they lovingly titled Ad-Durrul Manzum Li-Dhawil 'Uqul wa'l Fuhum (Poetic Pearls For Discerning and Understanding Minds). According to him what anyone gains out of audition will depend on the motive behind it. He therefore advises in It'haaf-is-Saail (Gifts For The Seeker):
"The motive must therefore be a true one, free from capricious and passional desires, and one should listen only to what is deemed permissible by religious criteria. Audition is most beneficial when one listens to the Qur'an, Sunnah or appropriate discourses, however, the effects of listening to poetry, fine voices, and rhythmic melodies are also praiseworthy when related to religion; otherwise, they are (simply) permissible (mubah), and there is no harm in listening as long as they do not depart from the lawful". (p. 39)Al-Habib Ahmad Mash'hur bin Taha al-Haddad has summed up the beneficial effects of sama' (audition) most beautifully in Miftah-u'l-Jannah (Key To The Garden).
"It is obvious that rhythmic harmonies shake hard hearts, move dormant souls, and have the effect of making character gentler and perceptions more subtle. They may turn cowards into heroes, misers into philanthropists, ease sorrows, and make misfortunes more bearable. The Sufis have always known the effect of audition (sama') on souls, and have therefore used it to refine them, attract them to virtue, remind them of their origin, and of their First Beloved and of His most beautiful address to them in the 'World of Atoms and Witnessing' ('alam al-dharr wa'l-ishhad)" (p. 119)This is how the Sufi saints, the true spiritual masters have tried both to preserve Islam and to spread it.
We come to the broad conclusion then, on which everyone is agreed, that the composition, recitation and audition of qasaaid (religious poems)is meritorious. The only difference of opinion is about whether music should or should not be used in rendering qasaaid. And on this issue as on all such issues, there has been mutual respect through centuries among disciples in the various turuq (spiritual paths leading to Allah). Those who prohibit music in rendering religious poems, like the Qaadiriyya and the Rifa'iyya do not attack those who do use music like the 'Alawiyyah and the Chishtiyya. Neither do those who use music insist that this is the only way it can be done. This illustrates and exemplifies the splendid diction of "Unity in diversity" among the Ahl-us-Sunnah wa'l Jama'ah, those who are on the Sunnah (lifestyle)of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam and the Jama'ah (congregation) of his sahaba (companions) Rady Allahu 'Anhum, and those who faithfully followed them.
Let us then summarise the thematic content of the religious poetry in the time of our beloved Prophet Muhammad Mustafa Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam as contained in Hadith Shareef. We find that it has
We learn above all that one of the greatest miracles of our beloved Prophet Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam was that he changed people's hearts. He was all alone when he started; and when he preached Islam, everyone turned against him and many wanted to kill him. He was persecuted and oppressed as no one has ever been persecuted before or after, yet he won over people to the True Faith of Islam to such and extent that even those who were his bitterest enemies became his greatest friends, adopted Islam and were prepared to lay down their lives at his command.
May Allah Sub'hanahu wa Ta'ala increase in our hearts love for Him and for His beloved Prophet Sayyidina wa Mawlana Muhammad Mustafa, Sallallahu 'alayhi wa Sallam. Aameen Yaa Rabbal 'Aalameen.
Mawlaaya Salli wa Sallim daaiman abadaa
Note: This article was first serialised in The Islamic Times of the Raza Academy, U.K. as well in The Message International of the World Islamic Mission, Canada, 1414/1994. Since then, it has been much augmented.
Acknowlegements: I am grateful to Ustadh Harith Swaleh of Mombasa, Kenya; and Syed Mumtaz Ali saheb of Toronto, Canada for their helpful comments and dua.
1. Translation, by al-'Allamah Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, Kutub Khana Isha'at al-Islam, Delhi, n.d.
1. Imam Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, translation (tr) by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Kazi Publications, Lahore, 1979.
Diwans (Collected Poems)
1. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Barquqi, Sharh Diwan Hassaan bin Thabit al-Ansari (An Appreciative Explanation of the Collected Poems of Hadrat Hassaan bin Thabit, RadyAllahu 'Anhu), Daru'l Ankas, Beirut, 1978.
Ancient and More Recent Classics
1. Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad bin Muhammad al-Ghazali, Ihya' 'Ulum al-Deen (The Revival of the Religious Sciences), tr. By Al-Hajj Mawlana Fazal-ul-Karim, The Book House, Lahore, 1963.