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 purposes. It becomes haram only when it transcends the boundaries and guidelines set in Islam.
Focusing on this issue, Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America, states: “In the Qur’an, Allah says, ‘And the poets, it is those straying in evil who follow them. See you not that they wander distractedly in every valley? And they say what they practice not. Except those who believe, work righteousness, engage much in the remembrance of Allah and defend themselves when they are unjustly attacked. Soon the unjust assailants know what vicissitudes their affairs will take.” (Ash-Shu`ara’: 224-227)
These Qur’anic verses make it very clear that there are two types of poets and two types of poetry. Some poets are believers and they use this talent for the cause of good, justice and righteousness. Their poetry is good and is praiseworthy in Islam. However, there are some other poets who misuse this talent. They themselves go astray and they also mislead others. The poetry that misleads and misinforms is a bad poetry and is condemned by Islam.
As the Qur’an makes a distinction between good poetry and bad poetry, so do the Hadith and Sunnah. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to listen to good poetry. He encouraged Hassan ibn Thabit (may Allah be pleased with him) to say poetry in the praise of Allah, His Messenger, and His religion. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also used to give reward to some poets. But the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also criticized bad poetry and told us to avoid it.
In Islam, there is neither a general approval of all poetry and poets, nor a general disapproval. Some poetry is acceptable and it is called ‘wisdom’ (hikmah); while some poetry is not acceptable and it is called the work of Satan. It all depends upon the content.” [Excerpted, with slight modifications, from:
Shedding more light on this thorny issue, we would like to cite the following fatwa issued by Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Islamic lecturer and author:
“The clear authentic religious texts indicate that it is permissible to recite poetry and listen to it. It was narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his noble Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) listened to verse, recited it (as nashid) and asked others to recite it, both when they were traveling and when they stayed at home, in their gatherings and whilst they were working, individually, as in the case of Hassan ibn Thabit, `Amir ibn Al-Akwa` and Anjashah (may Allah be pleased with them).
They also used to do it in unison, as in the hadith of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) which describes the digging of the ditch (al-Khandaq) at the well-known battle of Al-Khandaq. Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saw that fatigue and hunger had taken their toll of us, he said (in verse): ‘O Allah, there is no life except the life of the Hereafter, so forgive the Ansar and the Muhajirin.’ And they (the Companions) said in response: ‘We are the ones who have pledged allegiance to Muhammad, to make Jihad for as long as we live.’ (Reported by Al-Bukhari, 3/1043)
Ibn Abi Shaybah narrated that Abu Salamah ibn `Abdur-Rahman said: ‘The Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would never speak in devious tones or in a soft manner. They used to recite verses in their gatherings, denouncing the affairs of their jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era), but if it was the matter of their religion, they would become very serious and cautious (8/711).
This evidence indicates that nashids (poetry) are permissible, whether recited individually or in unison. The word nashid in Arabic means raising the voice when reciting verse and making the voice sound beautiful and gentle.”