The ruling and history on Poetry and Singing in Islam.

Over the last decade we have seen a huge increase in the phenomenon of singing and performing in the field of Nasheeds and have been asked to make available for those who take an interest in this art some proofs from the Qur’an and the Sunnah and historical background to this genre.

From our personal experiences we have found that singing the praises of Allah (swt) and His beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) is a rich tradition of Islamic heritage, which would only be denied by one who has not studied Islamic History or had any exposure to the Islamic world at large. We have seen this art of singing combined with the use of the hand drum from the top of the Arabian Peninsula, in countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine all the way to the south in Yemen. This is also the case for the African continent from the East in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya all the way across Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania and Mali.

In a narration, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘My Ummah does not come together in consensus on misguidance.’

This rich Islamic art form, which we have learnt and are sharing with the West, is nothing new or alien to the Muslims in the East although it might be the case for some Muslims in the West because they have never been exposed to it. We hope that the following few paragraphs will help to explain and clarify any questions which might arise with regards to singing or the use of the hand drum.

The Arabs would author words, parts of which would be on rhythmic meters. Some of which would be consisting of certain structures, some of which would end in rhyme (SAJA’) others would be normal prose and some lines of poetry would end with each line on a consistent letter. An example of this is the classical Qasida Burdah by Imaam Busayri (ra), where each line ends with the letter meem. Often some forms of poetry would have a repetitive pattern all the way through. This is a science which was traditionally taught throughout the classical educational systems, from the prestigious Islamic centres of learning on the Arabian Peninsula in Baghdad, Damascus, Mecca, The Al-Azhar in Cairo, as well as throughout Africa from the East in Ethiopia and Sudan, all the way throughout the north like Morocco and West Africa, including the great Islamic Empires like Mali and Shinqit in Mauritania. The study of this science was developed and called (U’ROOD) or prosody. But alas, the studying of this science has all but practically died out.

‘’It was the custom of the Bedouin Arabs that when they would be on their long journeys through the deserts which would sometimes last for months, they would sing or recite poetry whilst traversing the vast emptiness of the desert. Whilst one person would recite, the rest of the caravan would listen, thus making the journey less burdensome for them and their camels’.” (1)

It was said by Umar ibn al Khattab (may Allah be well pleased with him) that: (alghinaa)”singing is the increase of the riding traveller.” (2)

The definition of singing

Abu Sulaimaan al Khatabi (3) (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

“Anyone who raises their voice by something, and was repeated over time or continuously, is considered singing in the language of the Arabs”.

So, (it can be said) (anshaad) singing or recitation of the Arabs in their differing and diverse states is termed (Ghinaa) or singing. Other Scholars like Abu Bakr Tartushi and Qadi I’yyad were from a similar opinion and said that: ‘‘ The truth of singing as far as the Arabs are concerned is raising the voice and what it specifically entails in itself.”

The majority of which, entails arduously raising the voice with a sorrow or grief which is expressed through a melody or an intone repetitive tune. Later on when the usage of this word became integrated into the customs and practices of Muslims the word (Ghinaa) took on a different meaning; which was to melodise or compose. (4)

The use of poetry in an expressive form in the presence of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)

1) Sayyidata Aisha (may Allah be well pleased with her) the wife of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon Him) and also the daughter of Abu Bakr As Siddiq (May Allah be well pleased with him) was considered to be the most knowledgeable of the Muslim women from amongst the Quraysh in matters of religion and etiquette. It was narrated Sayyidata Aisha (May Allah be well pleased with her) said:

“The companions of the messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) would sing (Yatanaashidun) and he would be smiling”. (5).

This is a prime example of the usage of the word Nasheed in hadith literature. The word Nasheed is an Arabic word which comes from the root word NA-SHA-DA, which means to SING, CHANT or RECITE.

2) In a hadith narrated by Imam Muslim in his famous collection of Prophetic traditions it says: “One hundred lines of poetry by Umayaah bin Abi S’alt (may Allah be well pleased with him) were sung in front of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Every time the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) heard a line he would say: “HAYHA” more, more. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said about him:

“It seems almost from his poetry that he is a Muslim”. (6)

The fact that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used the word “Muslim” indicates that it was after the onset of Islam. Even if this was before the onset of Islam, the Prophets are “Ma’suum” (infallible) they are protected by Allah from committing mistakes or committing Haram.

3) In another sound narration the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said:

“The truest word which Labeed ever said: ” Is it not, everything other than Allah, is falsehood. Labeed was a poet, see below (7).

This demonstrates that not only was poetry recited in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him), but he also cited it himself.

One of the most famous examples of poetry being recited in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is of Hassaan Ibn Thabit. (8) The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) specifically placed a pulpit in Masjid an-Nabawi for Hassaan Ibn Thabit. He would stand on it and recite poetry in praise of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). He would also use his poetry on the pulpit to defend the Prophet (peace be upon him) against slanders which the non-muslims would make against him. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) upon hearing this would say:

“Verily, Allah gives aid to Hassaan by the divine spirit, whilst he defends or praises the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon Him)”. This was narrated by Tirmidhi and others.

4) It is also narrated by Imaam Qushayri (9) in his famous work called the “Risala” (The Epsistle), with an unbroken chain of narration to Jabir Ibn Abdullah Al-Ansari from Sayyidata Aisha (may Allah be pleased with them). Sayyidata Aisha (May Allah be well pleased with her) had a close member of the family who married one of the Ansaar. When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon Him) arrived he asked: “Have you given a gift to the girl?” she replied: “Yes” Then He (peace be upon Him) asked: “Have you sent anyone to sing?” and Sayyidata Aisha replied; “No”. Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“There are people from amongst the Ansaar who have (Ghazl), If only you were to send who can recite: “We have come to you, we have come to you, so may we be given life, and may you be given life.” The word Ghazl means ‘love poetry’.

Imam Ahmed narrates the same hadith with a slight variation, but to the same effect, in his Musnad Volume 3/391.

5) It was also narrated by Imaam Qushayri in his Risala that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) once passed by a servant girl in the shade of the walls of the city of Madina. She was singing a line of poetry, “If I fall in love with what has been revealed upon you, am I to blame” to this the Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “There is no blame upon you, (InshAllah)” God willing.

6) It was also narrated by Bukhari from Salma Ibn al Akwa’ who said we went out to the battle of Khaibar with the Prophet (peace be upon him), we set out during the night, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Let us hear something of your pleasant words, or your melodies.”

He then prompted them to recite with Him the famous line of poetry:

“Oh Allah was it not for you, we would not have been guided, nor would have given out charity, nor would have prayed, so forgive us for the sake of what we are carrying out, and make our feet (firm) if we have an encounter (with the enemy), and cast a tranquillity over us, we are those, whom when they are called upon.. We come, by their yelling out (for us) we are relied upon”

This was narrated by Bukhari in the chapter of Jihad.

In the narration of Imam Muslim, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked: “Who is reciting that?” They said: “Amir ibn Al Awka’ “. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied:

“May Allah Have Mercy on him”

His full name is Amir ibn Al Awka. He was a poet and a companion of the (prophet peace be upon him). He Lived until the Battle of Khaybar and died in that same Battle, in the 7th year of the Hijra.

We can see from these examples cited above that the Prophet (peace be upon him) would listen to the singing of poetry and would not forbid it. So it is permissible to compose, recite and sing poetry. The Prophet (peace be upon him) even had his own Poets, such as: Hassaan ibn Thabit, Ka’b ibn Malik and Abdullah ibn Rawwah’a (May Allah be pleased with them all). The Prophet (Peace be upon him) would Praise them and even gave his own cloak (Burdah) to Ka’b ibn Zuhayr when he recited the famous Qasida Lamiyya to Him which is called Baanit Su’aad.

The Scholars have set down principles for the ruling of poetry, with regards to what is considered prohibited, permissible, disliked, recommendable, and what is considered Apostasy (Kufr).

The ruling of poetry is like the ruling of normal speech; this principle is based on the Prophetic tradition narrated by al Bukhari, Tabarani and Abu Ya’la from Ibn Umar:

“Poetry is at the class of speech, the beauty of it is like the beauty of speech, the ugliness of it is like the ugliness of speech”

In another Hadith narrated by Imaam Ahmed and Abu Dawud from Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), it is mentioned:

“Verily in Speech there is a magic, and in poetry there is wisdom.”

References and bibliography

(1) Section taken from Ibn khaldun’s book Muqaddama or Introduction.

(2) This saying of U’mar Ibn Al Khattab is what the scholars call (Muttafiq a’layhi) or a general consensus by the scholars of hadith on its authenticity. Mullah A’li Qari therefore does not provide a reference.

(3) His full name is Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn al Khattab al Basti. Abu Suleiman was a great jurist and hadith scholar of his time. He was from the people of Bast which is an area near Kabul. He was a direct descendant of Zayd ibn Al Khattab the brother of U’mar ibn Al Khattab. He had authored books such as the Mua’lam as sunnan, which is a collection of hadith literature. He also authored books such as: “Biyaan I’jaaz al Quran” or Clarification on the miraculous incapacitating virtues of Quran, “Is’laah’ al Ghalt al Muhaddithieen” (The rectification of the mistakes of the hadith Scholars), Gharib Hadith (Strange prophetic narrations) he also had a collection of poetry which was narrated by Tha’labi the great famous poet. He died in Bast in the Ribat not far from the shore of Heramand. (319-388 hijra) or 931-998 AD. See: “Al Wafiyyat al A’yaan wa anbaa’ az zamaan” (The passing away of the great notables and the people of the time) the book of obituaries by Ibn khallikaan Ahmed ibn Muhammad ibn abu bakr. Vol 1/ page 166 printed by Daar Saadir Beirut. Also see the “A’laam” Vol 2/ page 273 (Book of worthy notables) by Khayr ad deen AZ zarkali. Printed by dar al I’lm al milaayeen Beirut.

(4) Extract taken from the “Al imtaa’ wal intifaa’ bi massa’lati simaa as simaa ”The provision and the benefiting on the issue of listening to singing” by Ibn Darraj Assabti.

(5) Previous reference “A’LAAM”.

(6) His full name was Umayyah ibn A’bdullah ibn Abi s’alt ibn Rabia’ ibn A’wf Athqafi. He was a wise pre- Islamic poet from the people of Ta’if. He settled in Damascus before the onset of Islam and had knowledge of the previous old scriptures. He was from those people who prohibited themselves from drinking alcohol and worshipping idols during the pre Islamic period. Umayyah wanted to take on Islam but when he heard the news that his paternal cousin was killed in the battle of Badr, it changed something in him. He refrained from taking Islam and remained in Ta’if until he died. He was one of the first people to start his poetry with “Bismik Allah humma” (In your name, Oh Allah!). He had a total amount of 101 poems. This hadith was narrated by Imaam Ahmed in his famous voluminous collection of hadith titled: Musnad. Hadith number: 18654. This hadith was also narrated by Imam Muslim in his Sahih, in the ‘section of poetry’ Hadith number: 4185.

(7) Labeed ibn Rabia’ bin Malik was one of the pre-Islamic poets and was from a noble lineage from amongst the Arabs. He became a Muslim in the time of the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) and is considered to be from amongst the Companions. He was a great knightsman, he came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) after his brother Arbid died. When he took on Islam he excelled in its practicing. He left reciting poetry altogether and did not recite any verses except for that one line. See “Assima’ wal ghinaa” Listening to poetry and singing, Mullah A’li Qari.

Printed by Dar al Farfur 2002 edition. Damascus.

(8) Hassaan Ibn Thaabit was one of the poets of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). His lineage goes back to the tribe of Kahzraj al Azdiyyah. The majority of the scholars who wrote about him in their biography say he lived until the age of 120 years old. Half of his life was in the pre-Islamic period and the latter in Islam. See “Is’aaba” Accurately measuring the companions. Ibn Hajar A’sqalani. In one narration by Abu Dawud in the “Kitab al Adab” The book of literature, the prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Verily the divine spirit is with Hassan whilst he remains to defend or praise the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).

(9) His full name is Abdurraheem ibn A’bdul Kareem ibn Hazwaan. He was a great scholar of Nisapur from the Bani Qushayr. His fame spread just like his fathers. He was known to be a genius with a tremendous intellect, a great preacher of incredible eloquence. He had mastered the outward as well as the inward sciences of Islam.

His Epistle or (Risla) as it is known is a manual based on the Quran and Hadith dealing with the method of the purification of the Heart and its diseases. It’s considered to be the first text of its kind. It is still taught in the traditional schools of learning of Damascus. See “A’laam” (previous reference).