Sadly, we don’t know too much about the poet, but the little we do know is pretty impressive.
Famous through Poetry
Al-Ma’arri was born in Ma’arra, south of Aleppo, in today’s Syria. His full name was Abu ‘L’Ala Ahmad ibn ‘Abdallah al-Ma’arri and he achieved fame as one of the greatest Arab poets.
“Stricken with smallpox, the poet became blind.”
Stricken with smallpox as a young child, Al-Ma’arri became blind but, as he grew older, was able to travel to Aleppo, Antioch and other Syrian cities to study the manuscripts preserved there. Before returning to his hometown again, Al’Ma’arri spent 18 months in Baghdad which, at the time, was the epicenter of poetry.
A firm Belief in the Sanctity of Life
A sceptic or all religions, he was equally sarcastic of Christianity, Islam and Judaism and saw all religions as a human institution invented as a source of power and income for its founders and priesthood.
“He was invested in the idea that no living creature should be harmed.”
Instead, Al-Ma’arri believed in the sanctity of life and was invested in the idea that no living creature should be harmed. Most prominently, this shows in a poem he wrote on the use of animals by humans.
So without further ado, here’s the poem German rap musician Moses Pelham first mentioned to us in his interview and that never fails sending chills down our collective spines:
I no longer Steal from Nature
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 gray!