Poetry is an art that is part of every culture and every religion. Poetry in its absolute sense is not haram (unlawful). It can be used for good purposes and bad. It becomes haram only when it transcends the boundaries and guidelines set in Islam.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states the following: Poetry in general can never be described as either halal (lawful) or haram (unlawful) unconditionally, for it is not like any other medium or means of communication, electronic or print, or like any genre of literature, either fiction or non-fiction.
As is the case with any of the above, its religious status (hukum shar`i) is solely dependent on its precise use, function, or purpose. When used for the specific purpose of conveying truth, upholding justice, spreading virtue and good, it is considered halal, or is even recommended or obligatory. If, on the other hand, it is used for disseminating falsehood, injustice, corruption, and evil, it is deemed haram.
The Qur’an was revealed in a milieu that considered poetry as the hallmark of literate Arabs. The Arabs cherished poetry very highly. The status of poetry then can be compared to that of television and newspapers in the contemporary world. Poets could bring down tribes or kingdoms, or bolster them and boost their fame and glory.
The poets in those days often used poetry for vulgar themes such as glorifying war, drinking orgies, and sexual exploits of women. The Qur’an criticizes poets who use poetry for profane purposes. However, the Qur’an never condemns poetry unconditionally; rather it singles out for praise the minority of poets who used poetry for promoting the cause of truth and sowing righteousness and virtue:
[And as for the poets – [they, too, are prone to deceive themselves: and so, only] those who are lost in grievous error would follow them. Art thou not aware that they roam confusedly through all the valleys [of words and thoughts], and that they [so often] say what they do not do [or feel]? [Most of them are of this kind –] save those who have attained to faith, and do righteous deeds, and remember God unceasingly, and defend themselves [only] after having been wronged, and [trust in God’s promise that] those who are bent on wrongdoing will in time come to know how evil a turn their destinies are bound to take!] (Ash-Shu`araa’ 26:224-227)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) enlisted some of the best poets of the time in the service of truth. He not only approved of their work; he went a step further to say that they were being supported in their work by the Holy Spirit.
Examples of poetry in the service of God, spirituality, and ethics are the following:
Burdah of Imam Busiri; poetry of Mawlana Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi; poetry of Allamah Iqbal.The latter considered Rumi his mentor who was instrumental in turning him away from the sway of materialism to the path of spirituality. By reflecting on the poetry of the above luminaries,
you can surely turn poetry into a means of guiding people to Allah. Profane poetry may temporarily satisfy the carnal soul, but it will definitely render the spiritual soul sick or dead. On the other hand, the poetry we mentioned above continues to nourish souls and sustain them. So you can never go wrong in following their role model.
May Allah guide us unto the truth, guide others through us, and make us all instruments of guidance. Ameen.