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Words of Wisdom

Expressions of Life: A Collection of Poetry by Abu Al- ‘Ala’ Al-Ma’arri (vegan), Part 1 of 2

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Abu Al- ‘Ala’ Al-Ma’arri is considered as one of the greatest classical Arab poets. Born near Aleppo, Syria in 973, Al-Ma’arri, also a writer and philosopher, came from a notable family of the famous ancient tribal confederation called Tanūkh. There, he was highly respected as a scholar as he continued his dedication to writing, collaborated with others and attracted many local students, despite his ascetic and secluded way of life. Al-Ma’arri is remembered for his ideals for social justice, equality between people, and freedom of thought and expression. He saw life mostly as a burden to the soul, an experience for which one needs to learn reason in order to distinguish the truth from the false. He believed in God, but not in human-established religions, as he understood them. His collections of poetry include “The Tinder Spark” (“Saqt Az-Zand”) and “Unnecessary Necessity” (“Luzūm Mā Lam Yalzam”). Al-Ma’arri is thought to have influenced Dante Alighieri’s famous poem “Divine Comedy,” as well as the Persian philosopher and poet Omar Khayyam, and many medieval writers of the West. Abu Al- ‘Ala’ Al-Ma’arri was a compassionate vegan, describing his decision of saving and respecting the lives of the gentle animals in a poem called “I No Longer Steal from Nature.” “The body, which gives you during life a form, Is but your vase: be not deceived, my soul! Cheap is the bowl for storing honey in, But precious for the contents of the bowl.” “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!” “But some hope a divine leader with prophetic voice Will rise amid the gazing silent ranks. An idle thought! There’s none to lead but reason, To point the morning and the evening ways.”
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