Islam and poetry in Iran
The Sasanian state (227-635 AD) finally disintegrated at the hands of the armies of Islam. Extending their conquest beyond the Oxus river  they were to rule the country for many years. Years of war had enfeebled the country. Iran was unable to resist the Arab attacks with an exhausted army, a people in dire straits, an enfeebled religion, years of savagery and slaughter, the massacre and persecution of the Manichaeism and Mazdaism  at the instigation of the Zoroastrian priesthood, an increasingly gloomy and angry people, and a dearth of new thinking in their politics and beliefs.
Finally with two battles at Qadysiyya (635) and Nahavand (642) which the Arabs designated the victory of victories the Sasanian empire collapsed. Thereafter there was no governmental resistance against the Arabs. And in 652 with the fall of Gilan and Tabaristan  the last resistance of the people against the Arabs collapsed and they were in control of the entire country. But Iranian civilisation and culture, being more advanced than that of the conquerors, not only survived, but was passed on to the Arabs.
The official language of Iran during the Sasanian dynasty, and in the Zoroastrian religious establishment, was Pahlavi-Parsi. After the Arab conquest the Pahlavi language could not survive more than another three centuries. Yet "for some time in all the official writings [divan] of the Arab rulers in Iraq, Iran and the Transoxania the Pahlavi script and dialect was used" . The Pahlavi script, like many other practices and traditions could not ultimately compete against Arab culture. Because of the difficulty in reading and writing Pahlavi gradually gave way to the Arabic script, which was also the script for the Dari-Farsi language. It was only in the Zoroastrian temples that the Pahlavi script and language survived for a few more centuries.
The Arab conquest was followed by almost "two centuries of silence" over Iran. During this period nothing was seen from the new conquerors, bearers of a new culture and religion, but military and social violence. It took two centuries for the Iranians slowly, as a people with an independent identity, to come to themselves. Some accepted Islam, and seriously worked for it, translating remaining Pahlavi texts into Arabic and occupied important positions in the administrative and cultural system of the Arabs. Some of the same people tried to bring together Islam (the Qur'an) and ancient Iranian myths. Various histories relate that Zoroastra was the same as Abraham, or that Jamshid is another name for Solomon.
Arabic gradually replaced Pahlavi as the language of politics and religion. With decline of Pahlavi, other Iranian languages began to blossom. The Iranians did not bow to Islam easily. Such movements as Sho'ubieh, Shi'ism, mysticism and others, signify the cultural resistance. We also see military resistance and revolts right up to the fourth Islamic century such as the uprisings of Babak Khorramdin and Al-Moqanneh. It was through these encounters that the Iranians finally preserved their individual Iranian identity through, and under the cover, of the Farsi language. This was a great victory after the colossal defeat that had been inflicted on them.
With military resistance made impossible and with a foreign culture dominating the very being of the country, other ways were experimented with. Language became a sanctuary where the past history of Iran was celebrated so as to maintain national identity. The writing of many shahnameh (book of kings) came into vogue. And it was in these times that another group, the non-Muslims who had preferred paying tax and levy to accepting Islam , attempted to marshal their heritage. We find the efforts of the first group in such works as Khodainamak Garshaspnameh and ultimately in the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) by the epic poet Ferdowsi. The second group gathered and edited such works as Bandehash and Bahman Posht. In this way language and verse took on the most delicate role in expressing national feeling and Iranian identity. Language became a tool giving meaning to the very existence of Iranians. Farsi became the common sensibility of all Iranians.
The more Islam took roots in Iran and spread, the more Arabic words entered the Iranian languages including the Farsi language and literature. Dari-Farsi came into more general use during the reign of Ya'qub Leith Saffari (dynasty began 867c), although it had already been the language of court and courtly letters. Its interaction with other local languages, as well as Arabic, allowed it to prosper, develop and spread. Poets began writing in this tongue. In a few decades Farsi literature - verse - found itself on par with Arabic poetry.
The history of Arabic literature prior to Islam was mostly oral and the Arabs on he whole saw no need to research or record their language. Pre-Islamic Arabic had little use for books though poetry had such a broad base that the best poems was hung on the walls of Ka'ba - the holiest shrine - a place of pilgrimage and worship. The pre-Islamic Arabs were electrified by poetry. They paid special heed to its pronunciation and diction. They paid even greater attention to the conjugation, syntax, vocabulary, and grammar of Arabic once Islam came to rule and relations with other languages widened.
The main themes of Arabic poetry were love, and physical pleasure which were described without any moralistic concerns or limitations. If the praise of war functioned to boost the combative spirit, women and wine were of the world of peace and of a life that could be pleasurable without any fear of the afterlife. The poet was held in high esteem and popularity. The poet was the pride of the tribe. Poetry was the most important pastime of the bedouin and a source of pride and honour. "The tribal poet had the task of spreading the glories of the tribe and supporting its designs. And because of the impact poetry had on these situations, the sheikh, the high born, the tribesmen and the people feared the poet's satire and were thrilled by his praise."
The poets saw that Islamic strictures inhibited their creation of poetry. In return Mohammad, in the name of God, called poets liars and Ali, Mohammad's son-in-law, refers to Amro al-Queiss, known as the "king of Arabic poets" as "king of the lost" . The Qur'an had little time for poets. From the beginning Islam was suspicious of them. The mystery and enigmas poetry has no place in the framework of Islamic laws. So we see that the Qur'an repudiates poetry and absolves the Prophet from being tainted by it. It calls on the learned men of its religion to distance themselves from it. Poetry is contemptible and the poet is a liar; "The Qur'an is in truth the revelation of God, and the utterance of a noble messenger. It is no poet's speech: scant is your faith! It is no soothsayer's divination: how little you reflect!" .
In the chapter Al-Shua'ra (the poets) the poet is equated with the unbeliever, the enemy of Islam: "poets (…) are followed by none save erring men. Behold how aimlessly they roam in every valley, preaching what they never practice. " . In the chapter Ya Sin the Qur'an emphasises the worthlessness of poetry "We have taught Mohammad no poetry, nor does it become to him to be a poet. This is but a warning: an eloquent Qur'an, to admonish the living and pass judgement on unbelievers" .
When the Prophet was told the Qur'an is like poetry he is reported to have become angry. There are many hadith (authenticated sayings) in which enmity with poetry is prominent. All the commentators of the Qur'an are insistent on this point. For example Abolfath Razi rejects the notion that the Qur'an is poetry and quotes Ayesheh, one of Mohammad's wives, that the prophet "has no greater enemy than poetry and it is in the news that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his offspring) if the stomach of one of you is filled with pus I would be happier than if were filled with poetry" .
Mohammad "reminded his followers of the pleasures that were being set aside for the saved" and promised them paradise "while his rival in Mecca, Nasr bin-Harath, recounted stories on such Iranian heroes as Rustam and Esfandyar and attracted the the Prophet's listeners to himself" . The Qur'an is the word of God, a revelation and its word is absolute. It is comprehensive and contains all the information and whatever is necessary for human life. "There is nothing, wet or dry, that has not appeared in the clear book [Qur'an]". Allah begins the chapter The Cow: "This Book is not to be doubted. [Q 2:1]
The Qur'an is a book on how to live. Its goal is the guidance of humankind. Whatever it bans is harmful for the "umma" (community of believers) and whatever it commands are for deliverance and well-being. The same chapter - The Cow - describes the grievous punishment unbelievers face.
And the poet is an unbeliever. The poverty of the bedouin Arab had made them into a materialist, one that is sceptical and pays little attention to life after death. The poet of the tribe is certainly someone who is sceptical. Eulogizing the dead after the battle of Badr, the poet laments "the Prophet promises us a resurrection, but how can such a new life come about?" 
Five hundred of the 6,000 verses in the Qur'an tell mankind what to do, known as the ahkam verses, or the Qur'anic jurisdiction (feqh al-Qur'an). The Qur'an is a collection of ethical and religious commandments which serve the function of the "constitution" of Islam. . Islam is built on the Qur'an. Allah in this book, in order to place Mohammad in a status above everyone else, a special being, absolves him from the accusation of being a poet. The Qur'anic chapter al-Anbiya' (The Prophets) addressed this: In private the unbelievers say to each other: 'is this man not a mortal like yourselves? …Some say: it [the Qur'an] is but a medley of dreams. Others: 'He has invented it himself' And yet others [say]: 'He is a poet: let him show us some sign, as did the apostles in days gone bye.' .
Whenever poetry appears in the Qur'an it is in a negative light. The chapter called The Pen (al-Qalam - Q 68) starts: 'By the pen, and what they [angels] write'. For years it was argued in Iran that it is to value and respect the pen that God swears by it. Yet a closer look at this chapter shows that God was talking of those who deny religion, belief and the Qur'an, and of the torments that await them. The pen in this chapter is the means whereby the angels record the deeds of the sinful umma for judgement day. This issue becomes more significant if we consider that the Arab at the inception of Islam was alien to the pen. Mohammad here uses the pen to strike fear into his umma, fear that is so essential to the survival of any religion.
In many of the Qur'anic verses God invites humans to reason, to think and to find the path of righteousness. But "reason" is here limited to what is given or known in the Qur'an. Qur'anic rationality cannot go beyond the Qur'an, where it becomes kufr [unbelief]. The Qur'anic reason is a tool for arriving at belief and serving God. Qur'anic rationality is the affirmation of "there is no other God but Allah, and Mohammad is his Prophet". The whole of the book is written to prove this thesis. Under such rationality the proof of a subject or a phenomenon is not in what is provided by science but in the sayings of Muhammad and Allah.
Anything but what Islam and the holy book allow were banned. Religious bigotry grew and Muslims came to the conclusion that all branches of learning can be found within the Qur'an. Nothing else it is needed or permissible. This was the start of limitations to science and knowledge and book burnings.
In Islam a scholar and scientist  is one who has mastery of the Qur'anic scholarship. That is why a cleric in the Islamic religion is known as a religious scholar. The science of religion is the scholarship [elm] of religious jurisdiction (feqh) and a religious jurisprudence (faqih) is one who has mastery of Islamic commandments. The faqihs recognise the science of religion as the sole authentic science in the world, because the real salvation of humans, both in this and the afterlife, lies within it.
In Islam science, like history, is something that is "given", unchanging. Linked to the will of Allah. There is no place there for the humans and human intelligence. Everything revolves round destiny. Religious science in Islam is divided into various branches: the science of hadith [sayings], science of interpretation, the word, feqh, osul etc… Pre-Islamic Arab poetry was outside this stockade and could not continue to live within its framework. Poetry and poets were travelling a road against Islamic wisdom and rationality: "as the bedouin said, the story of life, death, and a return again to life is nothing but a fable". 
The Arabs considered poetry (butiqa) as part of the nine realms of knowledge which were the precursors of all the rational (aghlieh) and intellectual (zehnieh) sciences. But the Arab of "the early Islam and a large part of the period of the Umayyad caliphs (661-750 AD) showed absolutely no interest in the 'rational' sciences and considered the book of Allah and the traditions (sunnah) of the Prophet sufficient for happiness". Muslim Arabs in the early Islamic period paid no attention to anything other than the laws of Islam - the Qur'an, destroying whole libraries in the wake of their conquests. 
Pre-Islamic Arab literature was mainly oral consisting of the reciting and compilation of poetry. Narration was more important than writing. There were the rawi, who memorised and recited poems. Poetry reading sessions had a special importance. With the establishment of Arab rule Arab poetry, and alongside it Parsi poetry, was transformed. Arab poetry and literature came into contact with the rich Pahlavi, Greek, Indian and Syriac literature. With the spread of Islam many of these works were translated into Arabic, and enriched that language. The Arabs became familiar with other cultures and Islamic culture blossomed. Arabic slowly became the scientific language of its era and this influenced Farsi. The Iranians, therefore, owe the developments of the Farsi language to Arabic.
The Arabic tongue, simply by being the language of the Qur'an, became the holy language of Muslims. This sanctity persists today despite the numerous translations of the Qur'an into Farsi. Although many Iranians do not know Arabic they still consider the reading of the Qur'an in Arabic as a pious deed. The reciting of the Qur'an is indeed one of the arts and sciences of Islam. Through this Arabic jeopardised any national or cultural independence of the countries under Arab rule. The language of religion was that of government and the language of government was alien to the language of the people of Iran. Thus the Iranians had to make their position clear.
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 AD) in his Introduction divides human sciences into two: "philosophical, or wisdom sciences which accrue to mankind qua thinking being, and which are accessible to the intelligence and native to the nature of human thought. Distinct from this group is that which assembled the sciences based upon the absolute truth of certain narrative texts (akhbar and usul). These are the traditional positive sciences which unlike the universally uniform wisdom sciences, are specific to each religious community. The positivity of these sciences resides in their fundamental procedure which is the employment of scared text as the repository of truth and the validity of situations subsequent to it on the basis of the text … made up of the Qur'an and tradition" . Further down Ibn Khaldun refutes marginal sciences (magic, letters and alchemy) and philosophy thoroughly as "they [philosophy] are very common and extremely harmful to religion and civilisation" 
Thus what Islam calls the science of "adabyeh" (literature) cannot exist outside the Qur'an. Whatever is considered science (knowledge) for Muslims must in one way or another be in harmony with the Qur'an.
Poetry, alongside other non-Qur'anic knowledge, is superfluous. There is a hadith from the Seventh Imam  "when the Prophet of Allah entered a mosque, he saw people gathered around an individual. He asked: what is happening? They replied he is a learned man. He asked what is a learned man? They replied one who wisest to the ancestors of Arabs, their happenings, the jahelyya (pre-Islamic) times, and Arabic poetry. The Prophet said: these are sciences that not knowing them will do not harm and of no value to the scholar. He then added, scholarship is three things: Qur'anic verse, religious duty [farizeh adeleh], and established sunna (tradition). And in addition is learning." 
Thinking in Islam is confined to the Qur'anic verses, and the aim of reason (aql) is to understand the word of God for the salvation of humanity. Therefore aql is a tool for religion and its protector . Thus the science of reading, interpretation (tafsir), jurisprudence (feqh), traditions (hadith), the word (kalam) etc are all linked in one way or another to the Qur'an - hence the importance of reading the holy book. The reader of the Qur'an also memorised it and passed this on to the next generation.
From the 10th Century, the Arabic influence on Farsi spread, the two became intermingled and new words of Arabic roots entered Farsi. New expressions also appeared. Some were devoted to Islam such as quessas [an eye for an eye], khoms, zakat [forms of religious taxation]. Some such as adel (just), emir, hakim (ruler) etc had bureaucratic usage.
There was a reciprocal relationship with Farsi words, especially those relating to sciences and the running of the country, entered Arabic. Indeed the Qur'an contains many words taken from Farsi including "terms that relate to paradise and its pleasures. This included the very term ferdows (paradise) which is from Avesta" . The Arabs knew of the splendours and glory of Iranian court life and, compared to Arabia, Iran was a developed and mystical dreamland that was truly paradisical.
With increasing influence and spread of Islam in Iran, the influence of Arabic on Farsi increased further. Arabic entered Iranian poetry and writing. But there were geographic factors which influenced this intermingling. During the Samanid dynasty (819-1005) whose capital in Khorasan was far from Baghdad, Mecca and Medina, the influence of Arabic on Farsi was less.
Mohamad bin-Vasif, writer of dissertations to Ya'qub Saffari (Saffarid dynasty 867c-1495) is said to be the first to write poetry in Farsi. The story goes that Ya'qub who was being eulogised in Arabic one day said to his poets: "why recite something that I cannot understand?"  The writer may have meant official court poetry since Farsi poetry had been written from times past. 
What is clear is that at this time Farsi poetry was written with Arabic meter, and provided it did not conflict with the spirit of Islamic teaching, it flourished. From now on the soul of religion was to dominate the body of the verse. Whenever, and to the extent that poets were able to free themselves from this spirit, they also distanced themselves from the influence of Arabic. Conversely whenever the poet was severely influenced by Islam and the shari'a, then Arabic words entered the verse in large amounts and the poem itself was caged by the limitations of Islamic philosophy. "Since Farsi poetry was created on the basis of Arabic poetry, it often modelled itself on Arabic poetry in it expressive moulds and the motives". 
In the tenth century attention turned to innovation, meter and rhyme and books were written on them. All the same "the Farsi poem even if it takes its prosodic meter totally from Arabic poetry, follows the musical taste and sound of its own language and realm, and thus retains its own peculiarities even in its prosodic meter" . But in these years poetry takes second place to translation and history. With Islam standing over them poetry and poets for a time lost their lustre.
From the 11th and 12th Century the poet took a broader look at the world. Philosophy and ethics entered the world of verse, and no poet was seen to be great and important if they stayed away from the sciences of the time. Nezami Oruzi in his Four Articles wrote "…the poet does not reach this level and deserve the designation of a master unless in the prime of life and in their youth they learn twenty thousand stanzas of their predecessors, and have in front of their eyes ten thousand words from their contemporaries and continuously read the collections of masters and learn them….and under a renowned master study the analysis of meaning and words and translations and all such sciences…". In those years you could not claim to be a poet without the aid of other sciences. It is in this "progress" that poetry flourished. Couplet poems (mathnavi), elegy (qasideh), lyric poem (qazal), quatrain (rubayi) and strophe-poem (tarjih band) etc enter verse form.
In these years, and especially in the ninth century, a new development took place in Farsi poetry with the introduction of erfan (mysticism) and sufism. Poets slowly distanced themselves from the court and the caliphs.
From the beginning of the 10th century the Mongols invaded Iran. Baghdad lost its centrality as a nucleus of art, knowledge, religion, and politics. As Arab influence diminished, Iranian prose had revived. Many scientific books were translated into Farsi. And Farsi writing found a new market and numerous books, especially on history, were written.
With the coming of the Moguls, however, the situation changed drastically. Iranians had infiltrated the Arab bureaucracy, became proficient in the literature of that country and created many masterpieces in Arabic. The Mongols, on the other hand, did not value science and literature. They destroyed libraries as they did rural communities. Those writers who had survived with their lives turned to history writing. Ataalmolk Jovini wrote the three volumes Tarikh-e Jahangosha, a description of the conquests of Chengiz Khan, Shahabeddin Abdollah wrote the Tarikh Vasaf [History of Descriptions], Rashideddin Fazlollah finished Jame-al Tavarikh in seven volumes. Handollah Mostofi published Nezhat al-Qlub and …
Special attention was given to recording past and present histories in an effort to discover and record the Iranian identity. It is in these years (1449) that Mohammad Oufi attempted a great innovation and recorded the story of Farsi-writing poets in two volumes "labbab al bab". He survived the Mongol invasion and his book is his answer to the Mongol attack and the destruction of Farsi.
In a contemporary account Mohtashem Kashi wrote an ode in praise of Shah Tahmaseb and his wife Princess Parikhan Khanum and was rebuked for not composing an ode in on the Prophet and the immaculate Imams . The same source laments that the Safavid kings exaggerated the issue of Amre be ma'ruf and nah az monker  that they "paid scant attention to poets and did not encourage pieces and odes".
The fact that the court was not courting poetry allowed the development of independent poets who turned increasingly from the court to the people. On the one hand this introduced modernisation and variety into poetry and on the other hand, the laws and rigours of language was ignored. Poetry acquired new content but with a weakened form. Experts consider the Farsi prose of these times to be at its weakest and worthless.
Iranian poetry in the Safavid period, although weak and worthless, was not elitist. Its subjects had become the life of the ordinary people. Since the Safavid were the most religious rulers of Iran, it is natural for religious eulogies to also thrive. Story telling also flourished in these times. And in this way literature entered the life of the people. Moreover, since the Safavid era was the time of Shi'ite ascendancy, religious authorities turned to Farsi, and wrote their treatise in that language. This was a major break with tradition.
Thus the Safavid period, and even more in the succeeding Qajar and in particular during the Constitutional periods  Farsi poetry's ties to religion was loosened. Yet "Islamic poetry" in praise of prophets, religious leaders, alongside eulogies and eulogic poetry managed to survive, and gain patronage, alongside independent and ascendant Farsi poetry. This is precisely the process we are witnessing in the era of the Islamic Republic, which tries to rekindle the dependence of poetry and literature on the state.
It is interesting that in Islamic texts, even praise of religious personages have at times been considered unseemly. Jame' Abbasi  says that reading poetry, even in praise of the holy is "disapprove of [makruh] to a fasting person". Khomeini also called reciting a poem which was not educational, as makruh [in a mosque].  This has been echoed by Ayatollah Montazeri and other religious authorities . In the hands of the Islamic rulers of Iran, poetry is no more than a weapon for propaganda of the ruling ideology .
With Khomeini's death and the publication of poems attributed to him Islamic poetry took on a new life. But as it was unable to rescue itself from the current clichés Nothing of any great worth had been created. And this process continues.
Even though after years of struggle and ups and downs, two centuries of silence - the era of the Qajar dynasty - was broken, but the traditions that were laid in these two dark and silent centuries are still, willingly or otherwise, operational in our poetry, story writing and general cultures.
1 - Transoxania, now in Uzbekistan (trans)