Religious texts are fascinating. Yet I am constantly perplexed as to how the beautifully crafted words and lessons found on scrolls and leaves – from the Bhagavad Gita to the Talmud to the Qu’ran – are often overlooked by the self-righteous. I cringe whenever I hear someone assert that religion is a tool used to blind the masses, convincing them they are heading down a path towards peace and calm when in actuality they are being led towards a pool of so-called sadistic acts and beliefs perpetuating intolerance.
However, before I cringe myself into convulsion, I am tempted to agree with the extremely basic and general idea behind an otherwise erroneous statement. Belief – in God, Marx, or any other doctrine – is always going to be used for both the good and the bad, which in turn becomes the ugly. Oscar Wilde said it best when he said that nothing “is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” Everything can be made to look ugly, and when it comes to belief, people do a pretty decent job of creating these “conditions.” We’re good at many things, and making nouns look ugly is one of them. With words, actions or stares, we are able to diminish the intrinsic worth of something beautiful.
In the Qur’an there is a chapter called “The Poets,” or “Ash Shu’arâ.” At face value, the chapter concerns the struggle Moses faces against the Pharaoh. While there’s an obvious theological lesson in the chapter, I personally see a second meaning which seems especially relevant today. I am no Sheikha (yet!), but I believe that if you see something beautiful – share it.
When I read the English interpretation of “The Poets,” I was initially confused about why it was so named, since it only seemed to discuss the Prophets and their struggles to convince their people to turn away from self-indulgent and ruinous ways. Then, I hit the 224th verse, where poets are actually mentioned. Suddenly, it all came together. The chapter discusses the fatal effect of false poets; those who are able to make ugly things sound beautiful and thus desirable – poets who manipulate words and beliefs and those who take the wrong and twist it into the right. It’s easy to descend into the abyss of poetic verses which appeal to our lusts but destroy our physical and epistemological selves. But there are always other poets, who are able to show us truth with their words. These are the poets who take beautiful lessons and make them into beautiful verses. Of course, I’m not only talking about religious poets; every belief and cause is supported by some kind of writer. Equally, every belief and cause is forwarded by those who manipulate and those who inspire.
Islamic Awareness Week, which begins today, is meant to allow some of Islam’s aspiring poets to represent it. This is why this year the Muslim Students’ Association has taken a different approach to spreading the word, with their two-day photo exhibition showcasing Muslims in various lights through the lens of both local and international, amateur and professional photographers. This is why this year, once again, the week will include a night of poetry, free verse, spoken word and song.
We’re just a bunch of poets looking to spread the real beauty, one we believe that other poets have diminished.
Sana Saeed is external relations coordinator of the Muslim Students’ Association.