Muslims and Poetry:
National Poetry Month
From left, Sa’di in a Rose garden from a manuscript of his work, Gulistan (Rose garden); a page from the Divan of Persian poet Hafez (d. 1390).
In addition to being Arab-American Heritage Month, April is also National Poetry Month. Muslims have a long and rich history of poets who impacted not only Islamic culture but Western culture, including here in the United States. 19th century philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was an admirer of two famous Persian poets, Sa’di (1184-1291) and Hafiz (1325-1390), whom he not only read, but quoted in his own works. In a 2009 speech, President Obama quoted Sa’di on the interconnectedness of humanity from the Persian poet’s Gulistan, or The Rose Garden. Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) was one of the most popular literary pieces of the 19th century.
From left, depiction of Omar Khayyám (d. 1131) from the translation of Rubaiyat by Edward FitzGerald; a miniature of Rumi (d. 1273) in a Sufi gathering.
In recent decades one of the most popular poets in America has been Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273). Rumi was a master of the Persian language and renowned as a Sufi (spiritual) leader. His poetry about the love of God and other topics influenced generations of Sufis as well as seekers in other traditions. His poetry as been translated into many languages, including English, and today he is widely read and quoted in the United States. English translations of Rumi’s poetry have been quoted by Demi Moore and Donna Karan and appeared on scores of Hallmark cards.
Contemporary Muslim Poets
Mahmoud Darwish (1941 –2008) was a poet and author; he is regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He won numerous awards for his writing and has been described as incarnating and reflecting “the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry”.
Ahmed Shawqi (1868–1932) was an Egyptian poet of mixed background who is said to have pioneered the modern Egyptian literary movement, introducing the genre of poetic epics to the Arabic literary tradition.
Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), commonly known as Allama Iqbal, was a famous poet, philosopher, and politician, credited with the vision which lead to the creation of Pakistan. Known as the “Poet of the East” and National Poet in Pakistan, he wrote in both Urdu and Persian.
This and other facts about Muslim contributions to literature are included in ING’s presentation, Muslim Contributions to Civilization.