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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Fine words, fine meanings: y Rumi, Iqbal in Islam|
|06/01/02 at 00:56:40|
|Fine words, fine meanings|
Edited by Adil Salahi, Arab News Staff
Ever since the start of human life, people have loved fine style and the ability to express one’s thoughts and ideas clearly, in fine words. In all cultures, poets and men of eloquence have been highly respected. In the past, a fine orator could make the difference between winning and losing a battle. William Shakespeare has attained unrivaled fame, lasting over the centuries, on account of his exceptional dexterity with words and expressions, in addition to his several other literary gifts. But the highest position given to language excellence is that God has put his final message to mankind in the most superb literary style ever known in any human language, which we find in the Qur’an.
Considering this clear importance given to fine expression, it is only natural that Islam should recognize such importance and encourage the use of fine style for fine purposes. We find such recognition in the Hadith in which Ubai ibn Kaab quotes the Prophet as saying: “Some poetry is pure wisdom.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah).
This short Hadith states what people have always known about fine poetry, but expresses it in the clearest way. Furthermore, it distinctly implies a directive to anyone with fine poetic gifts to use such talent in an appropriate manner. All people praise wisdom and highly esteem a wise person. Therefore, when a poet expresses wisdom in his poetry, people are bound to appreciate his meaning and put it into practice. This helps to improve values in society. Indeed many a poet has influenced practical behavior in his community and encouraged it to aspire to a higher standard of values. It is this type of help the Prophet is implying in this Hadith.
Gifted poets are likely to use their talent to express fine meanings just as much as they are able to use it to express profane feelings and thoughts. In every language poets harp on desire and passion more than they dwell on other themes. This is normal because a poet is a sensitive person to whom feeling and passion are very important. He gives them vivid expression, painting images that aim to generate the same feelings in his listeners. If his feelings give rise to fine and sound thoughts, his poetry will be of the good type that Islam approves. On the other hand, if a poet’s feelings are generated by profane and carnal passions, his poetry will try to arouse similar feelings that encourage people to resort to actions that may be forbidden in Islam.
Scholars have considered the most common purposes poets have. They say that when poetry is devoted to the expression of wisdom and encourage people to remain committed to good values and proper behavior, and when it praises God for His blessings, then it is fine. If it dwells on events, describes places and scenery, paints sound feelings, then it is permissible. On the other hand, if it defames opponents or expresses carnal desires, it is forbidden. When description of beauty and human figures is the purpose, without any clear or implicit encouragement of forbidden actions, it is discouraged, and may even be prohibited, depending on the poem itself. But we also need to make it clear that this applies to all human speech, whether poetry or prose. It is the meaning and the ideas that make certain speech worthy of God’s reward or forbidden.
This was clearly understood by the Prophet’s companions who encouraged only the type of poetry that is consistent with Islamic values. A well known poet called Iyas ibn Khaythamah visited Abdullah ibn Umar, a highly learned companion of the Prophet. He said to him: “Would you like me to recite some of my poetry?” Ibn Umar said: “This will be fine, provided you recite only what is good poetry.” He recited some poems, but when he included something that Ibn Umar disliked, he told the poet to stop. (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad.)
It is clear in this report that Ibn Umar was only referring to what is acceptable or prohibited by Islamic standards. Otherwise, his responses would not be clear. What is good poetry to one man may be not so good to another. A literary critic may appreciate a poem which ordinary listeners may find average, simply because the critic finds it reflecting clear insight in human feelings. This may not be readily apparent to ordinary listeners. Hence they give the poem a lower rating than the literary critic who has appreciated its merits.
Muslim poets have also devoted much of their poetry to God’s praises and to pointing out the fine character of the Prophet. One such poet who was the Prophet’s own contemporary was Al-Aswad ibn Sariee. One day, he came to the Prophet and said: “Messenger of God, I have praised the Lord in some poems of mine.” He said: “Your Lord loves to be praised.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad.)
We all know that glorifying and praising God is one of the acts of worship Islam recommends. The Prophet has also clarified that God gains nothing by our glorification or worship. It is we who benefit by it, because such praise will give us a clear sense that whatever blessing we have and enjoy is granted to us by God. It is not the result of our own endeavor. It is what God bestows on us of His grace. God has also promised us that He will give us an increase of His blessings if we show gratitude to Him for what He has given us.
Another version of this last Hadith is reported by the poet himself, Al-Aswad ibn Sariee, who says: “I went to the Prophet and said, ‘Messenger of God, I have praised God in some poems and praised you.’ He said to me, ‘Your Lord loves to be praised.’ I went on and recited some poetry. A tall, bald man sought permission to see the Prophet, and he said to me to stop. The man came in and spoke to the Prophet for a while before leaving. I then resumed reciting my poems, but the man came again and the Prophet told me to stop. This was repeated two or three times. I asked the Prophet: ‘Who is this man for whose sake you told me to stop.’ He said, ‘This is a man that hates falsehood’.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Ahmad and Al-Hakim.)
We need to point out here that the last statement by the Prophet does not imply that what the poet was reciting might have included some falsehood. The Prophet would not have allowed him to continue if this was the case. The Prophet merely pointed out a quality of the man which highlighted why the Prophet was keen to attend to his purpose as soon as he came in. If a man takes such an attitude to falsehood, he is worthy of being honored. Some reports mention that the man was Umar ibn Al-Khattab. Umar was certainly a man who hated falsehood.
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board