Seyyed Hossein Nasr
It’s not accidental that poetry plays such an important role even today in the Islamic world, not only in the Persian speaking or Arabic speaking countries, but in all the other countries. For example, if you are in the US Congress trying to pass a bill about next year’s budget, nobody is going to recite a verse of poetry, but in Islamic parliaments, oftentimes the arguments in political science is settled by quoting a poem. This has happened when — poetry plays a very, very important role in every day life in most Islamic societies. As I said not only the Arabic and Persian, but Urdu, Malay, God knows what. But specially my own country, Iran, poetry plays a very, very central role in about everything, and the greatest Sufi poets globally, those who have the most universal message, most of them are Persians, like Rumi and Hafez and people like that. But also very great Sufi poets, Arab poets like Ibn Arabi and Ibn al-Farid also other languages like Turkish and Urdu and so forth.
The Koran has a chapter called The Poets, and that’s fooled many people, because in there the poets are criticized. The reason they’re criticized is because before Islam there were Arab poets who you would pay to say anything. You pay them a few gold coins, they’ll make right panegyrics about you or your uncle. You pay the men a few gold coins, they will write something against your uncle. Sort of paid speakers like the Sophists in Ancient Greece, you could pay, they could argue for or against anything. They did not believe in anything. That’s why we have the word Sophism in English. Now it’s in that pejorative sense that the Koran criticizes the poets, and says that the Koran is not poetry. But if you look at the word poetry in the English language without this particular pre Islamic or Arabian context, of course the Koran is pure poetry of the highest kind.1 Parts of it are ecstatic poetry with unbelievable rhymes and rhythms. And no one could read the Koran without having a kind of rhythm created in his soul, which is very conducive to poetry.