Al-Ma’arri, Syrian Philosopher
Born in the Syrian city of Maʿarra, Al-Ma’arri was a blind Arab philosopher, poet, and writer. Al-Maʿarri held and expressed an irreligious worldview which was met with controversy, but in spite of it, he is regarded as one of the greatest classical Arabic poets. He was an ascetic, renouncing worldly desires and living secluded from others while producing his works. He opposed all forms of violence. In Baghdad, while being well received, he decided not to sell his texts, which made it difficult for him to live. This ascetic lifestyle has been compared to similar thought in India during his time. In al-Maʿarri’s later years, he became a strict vegan, neither consuming meat, nor any other animal products. He wrote:
I No Longer Steal From Nature
(A Poem of a thousand years)
You are diseased in understanding and religion.
Come to me, that you may hear something of sound truth.
Do not unjustly eat fish the water has given up,
And do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
Or the white milk of mothers who intended its pure draught
for their young, not noble ladies.
And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking eggs;
for injustice is the worst of crimes.
And spare the honey which the bees get industriously
from the flowers of fragrant plants;
For they did not store it that it might belong to others,
Nor did they gather it for bounty and gifts.
I washed my hands of all this; and wish that I
Perceived my way before my hair went grey!
~ Al-Ma’arri (973-1057)
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Al-Maʿarri wrote three main works that were popular in his time. Among his works are “The Tinder Spark”, “Unnecessary Necessity”, and “The Epistle of Forgiveness” which may be considered a precursor to Dante‘s Divine Comedy.