Principles of Literary Criticism
Translation of Verses 224-227, Chapter 26, the Quran
And the Poets― it is those straying in Evil, who follow them:
Do you not see that they wander distracted in every valley?
And that they say what they practise not?
Except those who believe, work righteousness, engage much in the remembrance of Allah, and defend themselves after they are unjustly attacked. And soon will the unjust assailants know what vicissitudes their affairs will take!
"Once at the end of a workshop on creative writing which I conducted in Mauritius, I was asked by an old school teacher, “Can you describe literature in a single word?” I said, “Yes,Quran.”
A veteran Muslim poet was also on the panel with me and he hastened to contradict me from the bottom of his heart. He said something to the effect, “The Quran is just a religious book and it denounces poets in general. Therefore we cannot accept it as a guide for literary criticism.”
Over the years, I have heard other fellow Muslims saying the same thing – especially those who otherwise want to be seen as more religious than the mainstream. Regardless of how strictly they follow the injunctions of religion in other walks of their lives, they fail to acknowledge that the Quran or Islam may also have some guidance to offer for creating world class literature which can also be appealing to the masses.
This leads to two kinds of attitudes in our contemporary Muslim societies. On one extreme are those who believe that literature should be based on atheism and should have nothing to do with religious emotions (despite the fact that almost all successful literature throughout the history has been religiously inclined).
On the other extreme those who only want to respect those writers and artists who were “good Muslims” according to the definition of these people. Consequently, they debunk Nezami as a poet of amorous love; Rumi as too mystical; Ghalib as an alcoholic; and so on.The result is eventually the same as that desired by the other group: Muslim societies have been rid of the greatest of their literary heritage.
This “cleansing” operation has been in force in the Muslim world at least since 1953, and has created the widest gulf between us and Iqbal. Those who recognize Iqbal as a poet of Muslim renaissance fail to acknowledge that his dying advice to the youth was, “take Rumi as a guide just as I took him.” While giving advice to his son and the Muslim youth in The Blow of Moses (1936), Iqbal quoted from Layla and Majnun of Nezami Ganjavi. Throughout his life he regarded himself to be a humble disciple of Mirza Ghalib – who was depicted in Javid Nama as someone to whom paradise was offered but when he chose something else instead, even that wish of his was granted."
(an excerpt taken from our course; "The Art Of Joseph" prepared and conducted by Sir Khurram Ali)