وَالشُّعَرَۤاءُ يَتَّبِعُهُمُ الْغَاوُۧونَۘأَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّهُمْ ف۪ي كُلِّ وَادٍ يَه۪يمُونَۙوَأَنَّهُمْ يَقُولُونَ مَا لَا يَفْعَلُونَۙإِلَّا الَّذ۪ينَ اٰمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَذَكَرُوا اللّٰهَ كَث۪يرًا وَانْتَصَرُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا ظُلِمُوا
As for poets, only the misguided follow them. Do you not see that they roam confusedly through all the valleys (of falsehoods, thoughts, and currents). And they say what they themselves do not do. Except those who believe and do good, righteous deeds, and remember God much, and vindicate themselves when they have been wronged. (Ash-Shu‘arā’ 26:224–227)
One of the most outstanding characteristics of the Qur’anic verses is that while they seem to be referring to some persons or events specifically, they also refer to many others indirectly. Both their direct and indirect addressees take their lessons from the verses. For example, the verses above are about the poets of the pre-Islamic Age of Ignorance. In that period, poets were the ones who claimed that they got information from the Unseen, who charmed the people around them with their rhymed words, and who had contact with the jinn like contemporary mediums or fortune-tellers. When the Qur’ān began to be revealed, those who opposed it continued to be regarded as poets. In the verses above the Qur’ān refers to those poets. The fact that those who followed them were the misguided ones gives us enough clues to understand their characteristics.
The verses above, which refer to the poets of the pre-Islamic Age of Ignorance directly, also make an indirect reference to those who resemble them in every age and place. If we view the verses from this perspective, the following realities will appear before us:
“As for poets, only the misguided follow them.” That is, those who “deify” their lusts and desires and reject or ignore the religion and everything related to the religion, follow the poets who wander distracted in every valley and get lost in the maze.
Such poets “roam confusedly through all the valleys (of false-hoods, thoughts, and currents).” Following every vain thought, fancy, and whim and diving into the valleys of verse and prose such as romanticism, realism, rationalism, and naturalism, they neglect the basic issues of humanity and human existence. They roam confusedly and aimlessly through valleys of falsehood.
“They say what they themselves do not do.” Like lying hunters, such poets always lie in the name of literature; in the name of poetry and poetical currents.
“Except those who believe and do good, righteous deeds.” Those who are referred to in this part of the verse are believing poets. They believe in God, the Prophet, and the Qur’ān; follow the Qur’ān and the Prophet in their lives; and therefore do not deviate into other, misleading ways and are not confused. Therefore, those who follow them share the same thoughts and feelings with them. Indeed, they never tell lies because they consider saying what they do not do as one of the biggest sins in God’s sight. They do not sacrifice their values for the sake of rhyme or what they consider literary merits. They are believers; they are embodiments and representatives of safety, security, and confidence, inspiring assurance and safety around them. In fact, their speeches are in accord or harmony with their actions, and they always act in virtuous circles in which one virtue follows another. Thus, nothing else is to be expected from these people who remember God morning and night and vindicate themselves when they have been wronged.
Obviously, a very important condition of benefiting from the Qur’ān is that, bearing its universality in mind, all people should approach it with the conviction that the Qur’ān addresses them directly. Then the Qur’ān will express and address itself to anybody who approaches it, and the door to its blessings and benefits will be opened.
To sum up, like many other occupations, literature—whether it be in prose or verse—varies according to those who are occupied with it. In the hands of those who believe and do good deeds; explain and advocate faith, good deeds, and virtues in their verse and prose; use their artistic capacities and skills in the service of truth and its exaltation without wasting them on fantasies; and support right and the rightful and vindicate themselves when they have been wronged while supporting right and truth—in the hands of those men of letters (like Hansā, Ka‘b ibn Zuhayr, Ka‘b ibn Mālik, Hassan ibn Thābit, ‘Abdullāh ibn Rawāha and similar others) who are confirmed and supported with the Spirit of Holiness, any literary work, whether in prose or verse, will be an influential voice or a “magic” that captivates people in the name of truth as a means to defend and advocate it. But in the hands of human lusts, desires, and fantasies, literature turns into a means of misguidance and deception. Literary men or women who follow their lusts and fantasies and roam in the valleys of misguidance deceive people, regard something which they declared yesterday to be generosity as wastefulness today, disparage today those whom they exalted yesterday, present the brightest truths as whims or fantasies, stir up carnal appetites by praising outer beauty and ignoring the real, abstract beauty. They deify nature while describing it and show something impossible as possible and something possible as impossible. They make art and literature into means of deception, exaggeration, and demagogy. All of these behaviors and manners are devilish.