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Some people take the words of the Qur'ân and hadîth and use them in their poems and speeches as if they were their own words. They use the same words, but for different meanings than they were originally intended, as if it was something clever, since everyone listening can recognize the original and see how the speaker or poet is using it. Is this practice disrespectful of the Qur'ân and the Prophet (peace be upon him)?

Answered by

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
There are numerous examples in Arabic poetry, throughout the ages, where a Muslim poet takes selected phrases or sequences of words from the Qur'ân or hadîth, or other well-known source, and incorporate them in various ways into verse. Scholars of Arabic rhetoric refer to this stylistic device as tadmîn or iqtibâs.

One example takes from the verse: "O you who believe! When you contract a loan for a stated term, then write it down. Let a scribe record it in writing between you in (terms of) equity." [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 282]

The poem reads:
Truly God's the Creator of all.
Faces are turned to Him in awe.

He says that when you contract a loan
For a stated term, then write it down.
Another famous example takes a phrase from the verse: "Yet it may be, if they do not believe in this statement, that you (O Muhammad) will pine your soul in grief behind their traces." [Sûrah al-Kahf: 6]

The poet here employs almost the same sequence of words in a completely different context:
They've gone. I'll not inquire about their places.
I'll pine my soul in grief behind their traces.
Allah says: "Those unto whom men said: Lo! the people have gathered against you, therefore fear them. (The threat of danger) but increased their faith and they cried: God is enough for us! Most excellent is He to trust!" [Sûrah Al `Imrân: 173]

A poet uses the final words of this verse as follows:
If you now choose to shun us, treat our friendship like a joke
When we have done no wrong, then we will bear it as we must.
So go ahead. Exchange our friendship for some other folk.
God is enough for us! Most excellent is He to trust!
Allah says, conveying to us Abraham's supplication: " Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity within a valley that's devoid of cultivation, near Your Holy House, our Lord, that they may establish proper worship; so make the hearts of some people incline toward them. Provide them with fruits in order that they may be thankful. " [Sûrah Ibrâhîm: 37]

A poet writes:
I'd settled all my hopes, upon my trepidation,
Within a valley that's devoid of cultivation.
Allah says: "And when you look, you will see there blissfulness, and a high estate." [Sûrah al-Insân: 20] A poet writes:
I came upon their settlement of late,
And saw there blissfulness, and a high estate.
These are all examples of iqtibâs, the rhetorical device of taking a sequence of words from some other source and incorporation them into the metrical sequence of a poetic verse can use words from any source that is well-known and recognizable to the listener. It may be from the Qur'ân, from a hadîth, from the words of a famous speaker, or from some famous literary work.

Islamically, there is no objection to using a phrase from the Qur'ân in this way, as long as the verse is not made into a subject of ridicule as a result. The effect should not be to recast the verse as something silly or trite. The meaning of the poem does not have to reflect he meaning of the verse, but the verse's meaning should not be something questionable or dubious. All of the examples given above are quite acceptable.

Changes in the original wording are allowed as well, where the poet takes the easily recognizable original phrase and modifies its wording to fit his or her poetic purposes. Again, sequences of words from the Qur'ân can be used in this way, as long as no disrespect is intended and the verse is not being used in a manner that satirizes it or makes it the brunt of ridicule.

And Allah knows best.