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

I read about Al-Ma’arri on Gary Francione’s blog. Other people have picked the topic up with interest – Sam, author of The Nail That Sticks Up, has also blogged about him .

Several humanistic websites, who see him as an atheist, host translations of his work (Humanistic Texts) or  profiles (Center for Inquirywriter & 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.

About Ian McDonald

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

7 responses to “Rebel Poet: What do you think of al-Ma’arri? [أبو العلاء المعري]”

  1. Jordan Wyatt says :

    What an interesting life to have lived! I look forward to hearing your next episode to learn more on Al Ma’arri, but also the wonderful Benjamin Zephaniah! 🙂

    • Tusher says :

      I’ve been a vegan for 13 years. In the last 3 years, since I got married and sreattd using meat and dairy substitutes for making meals for my omnivore husband, I’ve gained almost 50 lbs! I used to be 110 and now I’m 160 lbs. My ideal weight is around (according to US weight charts) 120-130, but according to Dr. Furhman, I was fine at 110.Anyway, that’s when I sreattd gaining weight! My cholesterol is still way low and my sugar is great, despite eating a diet of vegan junk food and a cupcake a week. I don’t get enough exercise or enough phytochemicals. I did Eat to Live by Dr. Fuhrman for a month and lost 12 lbs! I didn’t deprive myself at all but did eat only whole foods that I prepared myself. I got lazy after that, went back to Daiya, and regained more than what I had lost. Sad, huh?I never realized what was causing the weight gain. I thought it was bad willpower or too many calories. I’m not really eating too many calories according to my best efforts to keep track of calories, so what is it? It must be the junk food. I resolve to kick out junk food. If I’m not energetic enough to cook it then I’ll eat a raw vegetable or fruit, but I’m not eating any more junk. One of the country’s best vegan restaurants is near me. They serve a lot of fake vegan meat and cheese. No more for me. Dark Cinderella’s kitchen is now home to the best vegan eatery in the USA! Woohoo!!!

      • Ian says :

        Hi Tusher,

        Al-Ma’arri avoided that issue by not marrying!

        Let me give you the websites of a couple of registered dietitians who share information about being healthy and vegan. I talked with Marty Davey, aka La Diva Dietitian, for my old podcast Verdant Reports. Ginny Messina blogs and writes as The Vegan RD. You might find them of use.



  2. Brian L says :

    “Can you imagine what is was like to encourage others to renounce meat, dairy, and honey in eleventh century Syria?”

    Really? I doubt it was anything like speaking out against all religion, and speaking out against natalism. You still can’t speak of the last without being lambasted. Yet he did back then. Today, he would have been marginalized for his ethics, much like VHEMT. And I doubt Syrian Al-Qaida groups are beheading his statues there because of his veganism…. But yes, every group wants to claim him now, though they fall short of his ethics.

    • Ian McDonald says :

      His anti-natalism was based on the idea that life is misery, rather than the more contemporary idea that humans are bad for everyone else on the planet. But yes – he’s a rebel poet for multiple reasons.

      • Brian L says :

        Agreed. VHEMT is definitely environmental antinatalism, whilst his was based in suffering and existential angst… Although, one could argue that his veganism was due to his understanding of the misery caused to animals. So there is a meeting of the two paths. I mean, if suffering of animals wasn’t an issue, the ethics of veganism wouldn’t be either.

        There are other routes to this philosophy besides these two, through ethics to misanthropy. One can even be a devout theist and come to this stance. I won’t post them all here, as the topic should remain the environmental rationale for antinatalism.

        Again, I thank you for your graciousness in posting and addressing this issue… Highest regards.

  3. Brian L says :

    Oh, if I may, I’d like to post a quote from a little known Norwegian philospher with strong antinatalist leanings (Peter Wessel Zapffe) from his essay, “The Last Messiah”. It’s quite relevant to the topic.

    “One night in long bygone times, man awoke and saw himself.

    He saw that he was naked under cosmos, homeless in his own body. All things dissolved before his testing thought, wonder above wonder, horror above horror unfolded in his mind.

    Then woman too awoke and said it was time to go and slay. And he fetched his bow and arrow, a fruit of the marriage of spirit and hand, and went outside beneath the stars. But as the beasts arrived at their waterholes where he expected them of habit, he felt no more the tiger’s bound in his blood, but a great psalm about the brotherhood of suffering between everything alive.

    That day he did not return with prey, and when they found him by the next new moon, he was sitting dead by the waterhole.”

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