Islam is the religion of creativity. It urges its followers to be active, creative and imaginative, all the while never forgetting that they are living on the earth with the vocation and noble mission to stand up for truth and support right. Our literature should not be frivolous or immoral or despairing. Rather, it should be the voice of our reality, the image of our selves, the depiction of our maladies, but with hope and a prescription for remedies.
Islam calls upon Muslims to make use of every branch of knowledge to enhance their link to their Ummah and their sense of belonging. It cries for poets and men and women of letters and stresses that their works should be dedicated for the benefit of the total tapestry of the Muslim nation and serve its causes. In this context, it is notable that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) supported Hassan ibn Thabit, the well-known Muslim poet who defended Islam. The Prophet used to say: “Say! And Gabriel supports you!” This shows the high esteem Islam gives to poets and authors who use these talents to serve their Ummah and benefit people, not those who use the Divinely given talents to attack decency, demolish morality, and spread vice in the Muslim society.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: “Poetry that deals with themes that are acceptable, responsible and beneficial fall into the category of halal (lawful) or even highly recommended meriting great rewards; while poetry that deals with the frivolous, the idle, and the harmful, can become either makruh (undesirable) or even clearly forbidden (haram), and, therefore, sinful.
Generally speaking, poetry in the pre-Islamic days primarily dealt with themes such as women, wine and war. Anyone familiar with the Seven Odes (Al-Mu`allaqat As-Sab`) can vouch for this. It is precisely for this reason that Allah in the Qur’an denounces such poets in the strongest terms: “As for poets, the erring follow them; have you not seen how they stray in every valley, and how they say that which they do not do?” (Ash-Shu`ara’: 224-226)
In other words, they are mostly dabbling in fictitious materials or exaggerated tales, occupying the minds of the listeners with the frivolous or the trivial, thus taking their minds away from their real purpose in life.
But after having censured such poets, Allah makes an exception: “Save those who believe and do good works, and remember Allah much, and vindicate themselves after they have been wronged. The unjust will come to know what end will be theirs!” (Ash-Shu`ara’: 227)
In other words, the poets who defended Islam against the slanders of the pagans and thus used poetry in service of the noble cause are a different class in themselves; their work is to be appreciated and applauded.
It was based on the above distinction made by the Qur’an that we find the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was always appreciative of poetry that dealt with the sublime ethical or moral themes, even that belonging to the pre-Islamic era. We also know from the sources that he always commended or applauded Muslim poets who used their poetry in the service of Islam. Thus he set up a pulpit for the famous poet Hassan ibn Thabit in the mosque to recite poetry in defense of Islam. He bestowed on Ka`b ibn Zuhayr his own cloak for his famous poem
in praise of Prophethood.
In light of the above, we can safely conclude the following: Whether we are dealing with poetry or fiction or non-fiction, the same rule applies. One should ask, what precise benefit does my work serve? Does it help to make the world a better place in terms of morals, ethics, peace, God-consciousness? Or rather, does it contribute to wickedness, corruption, and loose morals? Allah says, “There is no good in much of their secret conferences except (in) him who enjoins charity or kindness or peace-making among the people. Whoever does that, seeking the pleasure of Allah, We shall bestow on him an immense reward.” (An-Nisa’: 114)
To conclude: If your poetry deals with beneficial themes of contributing to a higher moral and spiritual vision or perfection, then it is highly recommended. If, on the contrary, it has the opposite effects, then it is haram. If, still on the other hand, it is neither of the above, but constitutes a simple, innocent entertainment that entails no harmful effect whatsoever, then it will be deemed as permissible — provided it does not take you away from your higher mission of worshiping Allah, the Creator.”