Quoting the Qur'an in Arts: Permissible?

Arts in Islam (Q & A)
By Culture & Entertainment Editor


Editor's Note: In our series Arts in Islam (Q & A), OnIslam.net's Culture & Entertainment section will attempt to find answers to many questions that spark controversy about arts in Islam. For example, what kind of arts is permitted? And what kind is not?

On a monthly basis, we will highlight a question from one of our readers along with its answer by Wael Shihab, managing editor of the Shari`ah Department (English) of Onislam.net (OI).

Shihab graduated from Al-Azhar University and later received his MA in Islamic Studies, with a major in Islamic jurisprudence and its principles. Now as a PhD student, he is working on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence at the same university.

OI: To what extent does Islam permit the use of expressions or complete verses from the Qur'an in an artistic context?

Shihab: In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and may Allah's peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad, his family, his Companions, and all those who follow his guidance until the Day of Judgment.  

First of all, I would like to thank my dear sisters who are in charge of Art & Culture dept. for raising such important questions that preoccupy the minds of many of the Muslim youth.

Second, as the question is so general and does not specify a certain type of artistic work or context, my answer will be general too. If some of our readers have a more specific question, they should not hesitate to send it to me.

Coming to the issue of quoting Qur'anic verses in Artistic work such as in poems, novels, stories, etc., I would like first to highlight the following guiding criteria:

1. The Qur'an is Allah's Word, that is Divine and Sacred

2. Human speech and work are not comparable to Allah's Word

3. The Qur'an should be revered and sanctified

4. The Qur'an is a Book for guidance, not for entertainment or play.

5. Any quotation from the Qur'an should be in compliance with the goals of the Qur'an itself, within a good context, and in a respectable way.

In The Kuwaiti Encyclopedia of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), we read the following:

"Generally speaking, the majority of scholars see that it is permissible to quote from the Qur'an in people's speeches and talks as long as this is done for valid acceptable reasons and in contexts that are in harmony with the objectives of Shari`ah. Thus, quoting from the Qur'an could serve aesthetic purposes [for the writer, the preacher, or the poet].

However, if the context or the work is generally evil or corrupt (such as the talks of the innovators, immoral, and indecent people) quoting from the Qur'an will be impermissible.

Imam as-Suwti said, "Early scholars from among the Shafi`i school of thought and most of their late scholars have not dealt with this question though it was common at their times. Poets used to do this in the past and present.

However, some of the late scholars have dealt with this issue. For example, the prominent jurist al-`Izz ibn `abd as-Salam was asked in this regard and he said this case is permissible [in good talks, work, and contexts], and he stated as an evidence the following:

a) The Prophet (peace be on him) quoted some Qur'anic verses in some of his supplications. For example, the Prophet (peace be on him) used to say at the beginning of the Prayer, "I have turned my face toward Him Who created the heavens and the earth, as one by nature upright, and I am not of the idolaters, " [quoting the Qur'anic verse No.79 of the chapter of Al-An`am] . . .

b) Abu Bakr said in one of his sermons, "Those who do wrong will come to know by what a (great) reverse they will be overturned, " [quoting part of the Qur'anic verse No.227 of the chapter of Ash-Shu`ra']

c) In one of his talks, ibn `Umar said, "Verily in the messenger of Allah you have a good example, " [quoting part of the Qur'anic verse No.21 of the chapter of Al-Ahzab]"

Some Maliki scholars dislike quoting in poems and allow it in good prose. From among the Maliki scholars, al-Qadi `Iyad and ibn Daqiq al-`Id used to quote from the Qur'an in prose. Also, the Hanafi scholars used to do so in their books of jurisprudence.

Imam as-Suwti further elaborated that ibn Hujjah said that quoting from the Qur'an is of three types:

1. Acceptable: In khutbas (religious sermons), preaching and contracts.

2. Permissible: In stories and letters.

3. Disapproved: The disapproved quotation of the Qur'an is of two types:

a) To attribute to a person what Allah confines to Himself, e.g., if a person says, "To Us is their return, and Ours is their reckoning, " [quoting the Qur'anic verses No.25 and 26 of the chapter of Al-Ghashiyyah]

b) Quoting Qur'anic verses in immoral and indecent work or talk.

Then, as-Suwti said, "This classification is good and I myself adopt it".

Given the above, I could say that quoting Qur'an in poetry or prose would be permissible if the following conditions are met:

1. The context, the goal, and the subject matter of the work is good

2. It does not attribute to humans or any other creature what is peculiar to Allah Almighty

3. There is not contempt or disrespect to the Qur'an in whatever way

4. Delivering such a work is not accompanied or surrounded by unlawful practices or actions.

Finally, I seize this chance to encourage my Muslim brothers and sisters who have the talents and skills to write or compose literary works to spare no efforts to promote faith, justice, security, morals, and values.

I advise them to take as a good example to follow the Prophet's Companion Hasan ibn Thabit who defended Islam and the Prophet (peace be on him) by means of his poems.

Allah Almighty knows best, and He is the source of success.

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