Rebel Poet: What do you think of al-Ma’arri? [أبو العلاء المعري]
Our next show is going to be a contrast. It’s about a blind medieval middle eastern poet with an extraordinary personal philosophy and revolutionary poetic style.
Contemporaries called him “the son of the sublime”. Whilst he strove to be a recluse, students and academics came from all over the Arab world to learn at his feet.
Two centuries before Dante, he wrote an Arab Divine Comedy. Seven centuries before the Enlightenment, he promoted rationalism over revelation. And – why he’s so interesting to us – nine centuries before the word “vegan”, he refused to exploit other animals.
Can you imagine what is was like to encourage others to renounce meat, dairy, and honey in eleventh century Syria?
Many claim him as one of their own
Several humanistic websites, who see him as an atheist, host translations of his work (Humanistic Texts) or profiles (Center for Inquiry; writer & broadcaster Kenan Malik). Some of the things he says are explicitly Islamic, though, and I’ve talked with a Ghazala Anwar, a Muslim vegan who sees him as an inspiration and a coreligionist.
I won’t put write another biography in this blog post – after all, I want you to wait for something in the show! His Wikipedia page is a good simple biography, although it neglects his correspondence on veganism a year before he died.
Your thoughts on the rebel poet
Before the show we want to hear your comments, in case there’s something you want to hear a bit more of, or could tell us how you find the story of Abul ‘Ala Al-Ma’arri significant. Please say below.
On Thursday, we’re off to meet today’s leading rebel vegan poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, to find out what he thinks. (Yes. Benjamin Zephaniah will be in our next show. Perhaps that should have been in the headline.) So it’ll be nice to hear what you think before then.
Diana contributed to this post. The Arabic in the title is Al-Ma’arri’s name; some people who are interested in him speak Arabic and English, in that order, and I’d like them to be able to find this.