In Viewing Different Identities, the Most Fundamental Measure Is To Refrain From Making Generalizations: Perspective on Poets

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What Does The Qouran Say About The Poetry and Poets

To prevent generalization and maintain balance in the perception of poets and poetry, the Almighty revealed a new verse:

“Except for those who believe, engage in righteous deeds, frequently remember and mention God, and stand up for justice after being wronged”

The universe, especially the Earth, is characterized by astonishing diversity and vibrancy. The Almighty God has presented His art, reflecting His existence, unity, names, and attributes, not in a singular or monotonous manner but in tremendous richness. Sounds, colors, sizes, dimensions, patterns, coverings, genes, planets—everything is inherently different. Moreover, all these diversities are interconnected. Unless externally disrupted, the ecosystem functions harmoniously and in balance, drawing nourishment from these differences. This state is natural and a divine decree.

This richness and diversity also apply to individuals and societies. The Qur’an emphasizes this reality, stating, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another…”. 1 Additionally, it points to the diversity in languages and colors as signs of God’s creation: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed, in that are signs for those of knowledge.”. 2

It further underscores that if God had willed, He could have made all people adhere to the same religion: “And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed, all of them together. “. 3 Thus, the Qur’an draws attention to this reality and asserts that it is part of divine decree.

First and foremost, every individual has their own unique identity. Similarly, societies and communities are composed of various distinct identities. This human, historical, and social reality is now more pronounced than ever. The living conditions of today’s world have prompted diverse identities in almost every country and institution to coexist, collaborate, travel, and receive education together. The factors contributing to this diversity in identity include differences in personality, race, religion, language, history, culture, profession, opportunities, and perspectives.

However, unlike in ecosystems, the harmonious coexistence of diverse identities in individuals and societies requires willpower, education, sensitivity to rights, proper positioning of counterparts, tolerance, and a balanced perspective.

In this context, the Qur’an and the Sunnah, taking into account human realities, historical experiences, and the psychology of individuals and societies, provide believers with fundamental principles on how to coexist humanely with diverse identities—balanced, just, and without compromising their values.

The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) and his companions serve as examples by addressing various identities, offering a roadmap, and presenting universal perspectives applicable to interactions with all identities. At the forefront of these principles is the commitment to “avoiding generalizations.”

According to this principle, whether in a religious, professional, or any other identity formed around a common point, individuals within that identity do not necessarily share the same feelings, thoughts, intentions, practices, philosophies of life, or past experiences. Even if they live under the same roof and belong to the same overarching identity, there are differences in their understanding, attitudes, behaviors, and approaches to addressing issues.

Therefore, one should neither view everyone positively nor label them negatively. Each should be recognized for their merits or demerits. Caution should be exercised towards those with negative tendencies, and connections should be established with those who exhibit positive traits. This is required by reason, humanity, neighborly rights and responsibilities, as well as the universality of Islam.

What Does The Qouran Say About The Poetry and Poets

In the Qur’an, God addresses various identities such as Muslims, Jews, Christians, Bedouins, idolaters, hypocrites, poets, etc., considering their actions and behaviors.

However, God never generalizes; He distinguishes between the good and the bad within each group. If presenting a general overview, exceptions are always mentioned, preventing readers from making unwarranted generalizations. Starting with poets, we will explore the principle of “avoiding generalizations” that the Qur’an highlights in its approach to various identities:

Poets

In the society of the pre-Islamic period (Jahiliyya), poetry held great significance. During that time, expressing emotions, thoughts, sensations, and excitement, as well as disseminating news, dreams, and goals throughout the Arabian Peninsula, found its most effective, rapid, and enduring means through poetry. Since society was not literate and lacked formal education, oral culture was vibrant, with poetry at its center. Becoming the subject of poetry, whether in a negative or positive context, meant leaving a mark on history.

Poetry served a role similar to what the press and media fulfill today. Furthermore, it was the most influential weapon in the cold war of that era. Simultaneously, due to its lineage, it also served as an archival function for the history of the Arab society and language, being closely connected to their heritage.

Due to all these reasons, being a poet was a distinct and privileged identity. However, poets often utilized their positions for personal ambitions and agendas. Their poetry had the tendency to fuel conflicts, stoke feelings of revenge, detach people from reality, and transport them into realms of imagination. It consistently propagated worldly desires, stimulated personal whims and desires, portrayed life as mere play and entertainment, belittled those they disliked, elevated their gained benefits, praised the oppressor, and kicked the oppressed. Truth, virtue, and wisdom took a backseat. With their poetry, they could either exacerbate or alleviate moral decay, corruption, and disorder in both individuals and society.

When the invitation to Islam began, these poets started using their power and ability effectively against the Muslims. They circulated poems that mocked the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and the believers, diverted people from faith, knowledge, and worship towards entertainment and frivolity, incited the public against Muslims, and encouraged the armies mobilized to destroy the believers.

The severe defeat that the polytheists experienced at the Battle of Badr, in particular, had driven these poets to extreme measures. In Mecca, Abdullah ibn Ziba’a and Abu Sufyan ibn Harith, along with Hubayra ibn Abi Wahb and Abu Uzza al-Jumahi, were using their poetry to tarnish the reputation and honor of the believers, aiming to cause grief to Muslims for their selfish motives. In Medina, Ka’b Ibn Ashraf used poetry as a dirty weapon, targeting the dignity and chastity of Islam and the Muslims.

Due to the impact of poets on social life, their accusatory, imaginary, whimsical, and insulting poems inevitably had a serious effect on the morale and motivation of the Muslims.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) gathered his companions and, referring to such poems, said, “It is better for one of you to have his belly filled with pus than to have it filled with poetry!”4 He urged the Muslims to stay away from poems that contained slander, tarnished people’s reputation, evoked base emotions, polluted the memory, and poisoned the minds.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and the Companions, while combating those who hid behind the poet’s identity and attacked them within the bounds of human decency, were closely monitored by the Qur’an. The Qur’an informed and educated the Muslims about poets who used poetry as a virus and a fragmentary bomb: “As for the poets, [only] those deviators follow them. Do you not see that they roam every valley [of falsehood] and say what they do not do?” 5

The Qur’an reflected a reality. However, some who did not fully grasp the divine purpose generalized and concluded from this verse that all poets were objectionable and poetry was forbidden. In response to the atmosphere that had been created, some poet companions came to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) in tears, expressing that they would henceforth abstain from poetry. However, the intention of the Qur’an was not to criticize poets or poetry as a whole but to draw attention to poetry that led people away from the path, hindered service to the truth, and prevented support for the Prophet.

To prevent generalization and maintain balance in the perception of poets and poetry, the Almighty revealed a new verse:

“Except for those who believe, engage in righteous deeds, frequently remember and mention God, and stand up for justice after being wronged.”

With this verse, the Qur’an emphasizes that poets who have faith, do good for others, frequently remember God, and stand up for public rights after being wronged are exempt, indicating that poems with such content are permissible.

After the revelation of the above verses regarding poets, the companion and poet the respected Ka’b ibn Malik came and asked, ‘O Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him)! As you know, God has revealed His judgment on poetry. What is your opinion on this matter?’ Upon this, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, ‘Indeed, a believer engages in jihad for the sake of God with his life, sword, and tongue. By the power in whose hand my soul is, your recitation of poetry will leave a greater impact on the disbelievers who sit and rise with enmity than an arrow released from the bow!’”6

“God’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), despite criticizing certain poets and poems, did not generalize the condemnation, and he carefully assessed the situation. He valued and listened to poems filled with wisdom and expressing the truth.7

On one occasion, after hearing a poem, he remarked, ‘Some poems are filled with wisdom,’8 and regarding Umayya ibn Abi’s Salt, whose poetry he admired, he said, ‘His poetry accepted faith, but he himself did not!’ Once, he asked a young companion named Shurayh if he knew any poetry. When Shurayh affirmed, the Prophet requested him to recite. Throughout the journey, Shurayh recited a hundred verses composed by a polytheist, Umayya ibn Abi’s Salt. 9

Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) employed poets such as Ka’b ibn Malik, Abdullah ibn Rawaha, and Hassan ibn Thabit, who sought to break the negative perceptions created by poets serving oppression and injustice.

Their mission was to cleanse minds, build a true and accurate narrative, expose the injustices against Muslims, and advocate for truth and justice. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) had a pulpit constructed inside the Mosque of the Prophet for Hassan ibn Thabit, where he would recite poems defending Muslims. The Prophet even mentioned that God supported him with the Holy Spirit (Ruhu’l-Quds). 10

“When the news arrived that the formidable and powerful people of Khaybar were preparing to attack Medina, soldiers on their way to Khaybar asked the poet Amir ibn al-Akwa to recite poems that would boost their morale and motivate them. In response, the respected poet Amir, dismounting from his horse, recited a poem that conveyed the message:

‘Oh God! Had Your guidance and mercy not enveloped us,

Certainly, misguidance and deviation would have overwhelmed us!

When the oppressors advance upon us with mischief and corruption,

Grant tranquility to our hearts and steadfastness to our feet!

Even if they try to frighten us with shouts and cries,

We join the expedition with enthusiasm, and there is no turning back!’

Noticing the increased vigor among the soldiers, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) asked, ‘Who recited poetry to speed up the soldiers?’ The companions replied, ‘Amir ibn al-Akwa!’ Expressing his satisfaction for Amir’s actions in encouraging the companions during a challenging and dangerous period, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) prayed, ‘May God treat him with His mercy! 11

Conclusion

Poetry was highly valued and quite relevant in the Arab society where the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) emerged and where the Kaaba’s walls were adorned with verses. Therefore, being a poet was a distinctive identity, and poets held a special position.

As mentioned earlier, they used poetry as a virus and a weapon in places where it suited them; elevating some and denigrating others. They stirred sensual emotions, detached people from reality, and engaged in slander, accusations, and whimsical poetry. Post-Prophethood, they maintained the same attitude, seeking to offend and even incite violence against Muslims. Due to their intentions and the content of their poetry, poets were considered dangerous and harmful. In response, first Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and then the Qur’an warned the believers about them.

However, poets and poetry were an integral part of cultural life. Some poets and poems served the truth, and goodness, sought wisdom, nurtured beautiful feelings in people, and were filled with wisdom. Each poet and poem couldn’t be lumped together; careful and balanced evaluation was necessary when considering them.

For this reason, the Qur’an, through a new statement, and Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), through his words and actions, emphasized the exceptionality of a poet who articulates the truth and a poem filled with wisdom. They showed that forming a general judgment about poets and poems based on a single statement, poet, or poem was not accurate.

It was the responsibility of a believer, whether it be in their hands, language, or life, to recognize and appreciate the truth. Seeking truth and wisdom and staying away from falsehood and baseless accusations were crucial.

Because the truth binds everyone, while false words only concern the one who utters them. Making sweeping generalizations, excluding, and demonizing entire groups of people based on their identity is not only inaccurate but also a great injustice.

Author: Yücel Men

Footnotes

1.Surah al-Hujurat (49:13).

2.Surah ar-Rum (30:22).

3.Surah ash-Shura (42:8).

4.Bukhari, Adab 92; Muslim, Shi’r 7–9.

5.Surah ash-Shu’ara (26:224-226).

6.Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad 3/456 (15823); 6/387 (27218).

7.Tirmidhi, Adab 70.

8.Abu Dawud, Adab 95; Tirmidhi, Adab 63.

9.Muslim, Shi’r 1.

10.Bukhari, Adab 91; Abu Dawud, Adab 95; Tirmidhi, Adab 70.

11.Bukhari, Adab 90. Upon this, the respected Umar immediately approached the Prophet and said, “By God, O Messenger of God, with your supplication, you opened the way to Paradise for Amir. I wish you had forgiven him, so we could benefit from him a little longer!” The respected Umar had noticed a truth from his observations until that day: whenever Prophet Muhammad prayed for someone who rendered good services, that person would soon become a martyr. Indeed, the same happened again, and the respected Amir ibn Awra, after the Battle of Khaybar, became a martyr and walked towards the afterlife as a poet and martyr. See Bukhari, Adab 90; Muslim, Jihad and Siyar 132.

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