MUSIC, POETRY AND THE MUSLIMS
In some of the pre-Islamic poetry of jaahiliyyah, there were glimpses of wisdom (hikma) and truths. The Prophet (SAWS) was not a poet per se. However, there are several instances when he himself uttered poetry, and many where he sanctioned it. However, when he did use it himself, he would either say something else before it, or something after it, or both, so he wouldn’t be characterized as a poet and so that poetry would not be confused with wahy (revelation).
The Prophet (SAWS) did not make any attempt to rid the Arabs of their poetry. Poetry continued to be an expression of the Arabs after Islam. Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was a poet in jaahiliyyah, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, and Aisha, the wife of Rasoolillaah (SAWS), all recited poetry. Hassaan ibn Thabit was a famous poet of Hijaz before his conversion to Islam. Afterwards, he became a scribe of the Prophet (SAWS), and a staunch, anti-jaahiliyya poet at the command of the Prophet (SAWS).
Imam Shaafi’ee was a poet before and after he became a scholar of Islam, and in Sahih Muslim, in the hadith of Abu Huraira, the Prophet (SAWS) said, “The most truthful word spoken by a poet are the words of al-Labeeb; “It is not that everything besides Allah is falsehood (baatil)”. The Arabs used to refer to their poetry as shi’r, and as hikam (aphorisms). Still, the Muslims were advised not to be followers of poets, “It is the feeble minded who follow the poets” 26:224. However, we can still benefit from some of their words. It should be noted that music and song never left Muslims or the Arabs either. The Muslims were singing when the Prophet (SAWS) first entered the precincts of Madinah, they were singing about him (SAWS).
The annual Arab Music has been going on for nearly 30 years in different parts of the Arab world, mainly Egypt, but also held in the United States. In 2017 it lasted a full 10 days with 41 concerts at five different theaters including Alexandria and Cairo . In 2019 they set an attendance record with “Ninety-two singers and musicians from seven Arab countries performed in the festival with a total of 114 hours of musical enchantment’ [Egyptian newspaper al-Ah’ram]
In American pre-Islamic poetry, and song, there were, and are, many truths, as well as falsehood, just like with the Arabs. The Mighty Temptations spoke of the “ball of confusion”. And Earth Wind and Fire said, “And after the love game has been played, all our illusions were just a parade”. The group, the Undisputed Truth, said, Beware of the handshake, that has a face. The Arab poet al-Mutanabbi (915-965 CE) said, “And there is of friendship, that which can harm, and cause pain”, and no scholars opposed him in that. Marvin Gaye once said, “picket signs, and picket lines, don’t punish me, with brutality, come on talk to me, so you can see, what’s going on” Even in love songs and love poetry, there are lessons and wisdom. Smokey Robinson said, “and it would hurt, hurt me so, if you ever, were untrue”, and the visionary Muslim activist and philanthropist, Kenny Gamble, AKA Luqman Abdul-Haqq, wrote the song, “I’ll Always Love My Momma”, performed by the Intruders. Tupac, rapped about his mother. Honoring the mother is a high-level righteous deed in Islam.
As much as poetry was a means of expression amongst the Arabs of the Hijaz during the time of the Prophet (SAWS), music, and poetic expression, is, and has been an undeniable means of communication and narrative amongst Black American descendants of slaves in the United States.
Harriet Tubman used the song, “Wade in the Water” to help direct Black slaves, escaping to freedom, navigate away from slave catchers. Music, and poetry has been a major gateway to Islam amongst Black American converts. Even if credible arguments can be made to prohibit various kinds of music, poetry, or lyrics, there is not a single credible argument to be made that can prohibit all of it, or that can prohibit a people’s history or the telling of it. One more reason why we need to tell and understand our own history. And Allah knows best