The Rebel Poets of Islam

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12852

Today, thanks to social media, electronic publishing, telecommunications, et al., it's easy to express yourself. Centuries ago, there was music and poetry, often used as a form of anti-social media!


World Cultures, World Religions

Social Studies
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Music and poetry can be very beautiful, expressive, and entertaining.

  • When have music and poetry been used to rebel against society?

Pir Sultan Abdal

Image [cropped] by BurakOtto, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

In the mid-1970s, a rowdy, loud, obnoxious new form of music began to develop in England, the United States, and elsewhere.

It was known as “punk rock.” Its lyrics made fun of society and its music was considered to be rebellious and rude. Every society has its limits, and every society has those who will push against those limits. The same goes for Islamic societies.

The Alevis of Turkey are the original “punk rockers” of the Islamic world. Islam is a religion of over one billion people and has been around for over 1,400 years. Like all religions, Islam has its own set of rules. As in many of the strict religious societies throughout history, some have risen up against those rules. The Alevis broke from traditional Islamic rules and practices, and used music and poetry to express their own unique approach to religion and society. Alevis make up approximately 25 percent of the population of Turkey, but they sometimes still have to hide their religious beliefs due to persecution by majority-Sunni Muslim governments.

Watch and listen to a video clip of an Alevi dance ritual below. This religious ritual is known as Semah, and it can still be seen in different parts of today’s Turkey. While many Alevis would call themselves Muslim, notice that this ritual breaks traditional Islamic rules in several ways:

  • Music is generally considered to be forbidden, at least in a religious context.
  • Dancing is frowned upon, and men and women dancing together is definitely taboo.
  • The pictures in the back depict religious saints and other figures, also generally not allowed.

Now, watch the video, Hü Diyelim Döne Döne - Çorum Haci Bektasi Veli Kültür Vakfi Semah Ekibi, from Stüdyo Rüzgar:

The stringed instrument that was playing during the Semah is known as the Saz (pronounced /soz/). The Saz looks like this:

Saz player

Image by Henryk Kotowski, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license. [ac]

The Saz is considered a sacred instrument to many Alevis because it expresses the music of worship. You can see the same instrument in the image at the beginning of this lesson, being held high by one of the great rebel founders of the Alevi tradition, Pir Sultan Abdal.

Reflect on the following questions and record your responses in your notebook or journal:

  • Why are music, poetry, and art often used as ways to rebel?
  • What is the relationship between different religions and music and poetry?
  • What can be some of the causes of rebellion?

There were many great poets of the Muslim world, writing in many different languages. Some of them were very orthodox Muslims, meaning they were devoted to following the mainstream rules of the faith.

In the Got It? section, read some of the Alevi poetry that formed the lyrics for their religious music.

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