Was Prophet Muhammad against Arab Poerty? Allama Iqbal’s rare 1917 article explain

To July 1917 issue of the “New Era” [Naya Daur], Allama Iqbal contributed an article entitled “Our Prophet’s Criticism of Contemporary Arabian Poetry”. Dr. Iqbal observed that history had preserved some of the criticisms of the Holy Prophet on contemporary poetry. Two of these criticisms were most profitable to Indian Muslims whose literature had been chiefly the work of the period of their national decadence, and who were then in search of a new literary ideal. One of such criticisms of the Holy Prophet indicated what poetry should be, and the other indicated what poetry should not be.


allama iqbal at cordova - masjid e qartaba


Imra-ul-Qais was a famous Arabic poet who flourished about forty years before Islam. In the choicest expression of old Arabia. He sang of sparkling wine, and love. He moaned over the ruins of habitations long swept away by stormy winds. He painted superb pictures of the inspiring scenery of silent deserts. The Holy Prophet said about him “He is the most poetic of all poets and their leader to Hell.” The Holy Prophet was critical of Imra-ul-Qais as his poetry appealed more to imagination than to will, and acted as a narcotic on the mind of the reader.

Allama Iqbal said:

“The Prophet’s criticism reveals this most important art principle—that the good in art is not necessarily identical with the good in life; it is possible for a poet to write fine poetry, and yet lead his society to Hell. The poet is essentially a seducer; woe to his people, if instead of making the trials of life look beautiful and attractive he embellishes decadence with all the glories of health and power, and seduces his people to extinction. Out of the richness of his nature he ought to lavish on others something of the super-abundance of life and power in him, and not ideal away, thief-like, the little they already, happen to possess.”

Another poet was Antra of the tribe of Abs. Once, the following verse of Antra was read to the Holy Prophet SAW:

“Verily I pass through whole nights of toil to merit a livelihood worthy of an honourable man.”

The Holy Prophet <whose mission was to glorify life and to beautify all its trials was immensely pleased on hearing the verse, and said to his companions:

“The praise of an Arabian has never kindled in me a desire to see him, but I tell you I do wish to meet the author of this verse.”

Dr. Iqbal said:

“Imagine the man, a single look at whose face was a source of Infinite bliss to the looker desiring to meet an infidel Arab for his verse. What is the secret of this unusual honour which the Prophet wished to give to the poet? It is because the verse is so healthful and vitalising; it is because the poet idealises the pain of honourable labour. The Prophet’s appreciation of this verse indicates to us another art-principle of great value—that art is subordinate to life, not superior to it. The ultimate end of all human activity is Life-glorious, powerful, exuberant. All human art must be subordinated to this final purpose and the value of everything must be determined in reference to its life-yielding capacity. The highest art is that which awakens our dormant will-force, and nerves us to face the trials of life manfully. All that brings drowsiness and makes us shut our eyes to reality around—on the mastery of which alone life depends—is a message of decay and death. The dogma of Art for the sake of Art is a clever invention of decadence to cheat us out of life and power. Thus the Prophet’s appreciation of Antra’s verse gives us the ultimate principle for the proper evaluation of all Art.”




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