Singing Rhymes and Poems
Adil Salahi, Arab News
The Prophet (peace be upon him) appreciated poetry, and admired fine poetry that steered away from exaggeration and self- indulgence. It is only to be expected that someone like the Prophet, who had a fine style that fully expressed the intended meaning in a short statement, should appreciate poetry and be moved by fine expression. However, the message of Islam, with its full and coherent system of values, was inseparably blended with the Prophet’s character. Hence, his reactions to events and statements always reflected Islamic values and endorsed Islamic principles.
An example of this is the authentic Hadith that quotes the Prophet as saying: “The most truthful word said by a poet is Labeed’s: ‘Indeed everything other than God is false.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and Al-Tirmidhi.)
Labeed was a fine poet who achieved wide fame in pre-Islamic days, with one of his better poems being posted inside the Kaabah. Only poems of the best order earned this honor. Indeed, only ten poems were so posted. That Labeed’s poem earned that privilege was testimony of his excellence. Labeed was still alive at the advent of Islam and he soon embraced the new faith and was a good Muslim. Indeed Umar ibn Al-Khattab sent him to Kufah in Iraq to educate people there about Islam.
Apparently someone was reciting one of Labeed’s poems at a short distance from the Prophet. When the reciter said the first half of the line quoted above, the Prophet said: “The poet speaks the truth.” But then the reciter said the second half of the same line, which read: “And every type of enjoyment will one day be over.” The Prophet said in comment: “The poet is saying a lie; for the enjoyment in heaven will never be over.” This is a clear case of how the Prophet reacted. Because the poet’s two statements are at opposite ends of the Islamic value system, the Prophet gave two different reactions.
Very rarely, if at all, did the Prophet quote a full line of poetry. He might quote a portion of a line, if it formed a full sentence. This is a manifestation of the Qur’anic verse that says in reference to him: “We have not taught him poetry, nor does it become him to be a poet. This is a message and a Qur’an that makes things clear.” (36: 69)
We explained this verse fully in a previous article, but we may say here that as he delivered God’s message embodied in the Qur’an, it did not become of him to compose poetry in order to remove any confusion that might creep into some people’s minds associating the Qur’an with poetry. If the Prophet quoted any statement made in poetry, it must be something either particularly relevant to a situation he was looking at, or something of general nature that is absolutely true. One sentence forming one half of a line of poetry the Prophet often quoted goes as follows: “News will come to you through people you have not commissioned for the purpose.” This sentence occurs in the penultimate line of a poem by Tarafah ibn Al-Abd that formed one of the famous poems, posted in the Kaabah in pre-Islamic days. Needless to say, the Prophet might have quoted this sentence when he heard something that was totally unexpected.
But the Prophet did not allow poetry that indulged in superlatives to be recited in his presence, particularly if it conflicted with Islamic values. Al-Rubayyi’ bint Mu’awwidh reports: “The Prophet visited me on the night of my wedding, sitting not far from me. We had a number of maids playing the tambourine and singing poems in praise of my people who were killed in the Battle of Badr. One of them said in her singing: ‘Among us is a Prophet who knows what will happen in future.’ The Prophet said to her: ‘Do not repeat this, but continue with what you were saying earlier.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Ahmad and Abu Dawood.)
The Prophet objected to what was said about him, but he did not object to the music or the singing, as the fact that he told the girl to continue with what she was saying in her song before she spoke about him. It should be noted that he did not correct the girl concerning the substance of what she said about him, because in his position as God’s Messenger, he could be informed by God about future events and developments. He informed his companions and Muslims generally about many future things, and he also gave a number of hints and references to what was going to happen in certain areas. All this relied on accurate information given to him by God. This means that what the girl said was not false, and the Prophet did not stop her from saying it on that basis. He only did so because he did not like to be personally praised in front of an audience. The occasion was a wedding, when many people are present with girls singing and people enjoying themselves. He felt it inappropriate that he should be personally praised on such an occasion. He was very modest indeed.
Some people may be surprised to read this Hadith, particularly when they are often told that singing and music are forbidden, but the Prophet is reported to have listened to such music or singing on other occasions. Aishah, his wife, reports this incident concerning her own father: “Abu Bakr came into my compartment when I had two girls from the Ansar singing some poetry of what the Ansar said about the Battle of Bu’ath. They were not good singers. However, Abu Bakr rebuked them, saying: ‘How can you play Satan’s instruments in the Prophet’s own home?’ This was on the day of the Eid. The Prophet said to him: ‘Abu Bakr! Every community has days of celebration, and today is our Eid when we celebrate.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and Al-Nassaie.)
Abu Bakr found it strange that singing should take place in the Prophet’s home and he was quick to rebuke the girls, describing their action as playing Satan’s music. This is indicative of the serious approach to life that Islam instills in the Muslim community. However, such seriousness should not stop people from celebrating an occasion like the Eid. The celebration could include anything that is lawful and decent. The girls were singing poetry of the kind that is composed after a great event such as the Battle of Bu’ath that took place a few years before the first group of people from Madinah met the Prophet and accepted Islam. This was a fierce battle between the two Madinah tribes, the Aws and the Khazraj, leading to much killing among them and weakening them in comparison with the Jews who lived in the same city. Such poetry normally speaks of the bravery of fighters and the determination of communities. The Prophet did not sanction Abu Bakr’s objection and allowed the girls to continue with their singing.