Arab Rationalist & Animal Rights Poetry

I want to share with you an interesting and inspirational story of a fellow animal rights advocate and rationalist from Syria, Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri. He was born in 973CE (died 1057CE) and after losing his eyesight at a young age to smallpox became a philosopher, poet, and freethinker. He was a thorn in the side of the Islamic religious authorities, having once said, “Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.” He may have even have wrote one of his later books, Paragraphs and Periods (Al Fusul wal ghayat), as a parody of the Qur’an with it’s “divine” poetry unmatchable by human hand. His snark was not just reserved for Islam though,

“They all err – Moslems, Christians, Jews, and Magians:
Two make Humanity’s universal sect:
One man intelligent without religion,
And, one religious without intellect”

He also wittily poked at creation myths,

“You said, “A wise one created us “;
That may be true, we would agree.
“Outside of time and space,” you postulated.
Then why not say at once that you
Propound a mystery immense
Which tells us of our lack of sense?”

When he was about 30 years old Al-Ma’arri adopted what we would recognize today as a vegan lifestyle*, avoiding all meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. He condemned blood sport, eschewed use of leather and fur, and even wore wooden as opposed to leather shoes. He was also fond of nudism, perhaps he started the first “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign. My favorite poem, I No Longer Steal from Nature, couldn’t be more awesome

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!

Even by todays standards he was pretty hardcore! After doing the research for this post I’m inspired to track down a book of his writings to learn more about this very interesting figure.

*To be honest I did find a reference to him wearing wool, I’m not sure why he let this one thing slide. It certainly doesn’t jive with his philosophy of not stealing the products of another labor. Given his cultural context I think he was still pretty progressive.

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2 Responses to “Arab Rationalist & Animal Rights Poetry”

  1. Ian Says:

    He’s amazing.

    I didn’t find the reference to him wearing wool, but I did find a poem addressed to Sufis in which he comments that they wear wool where as he wears cotton.

    There are a couple of other things you might be disappointed about (he talks about his slave, for example; one aspect of a deeply unequal society rather than the racist industrial mass slavery of recent western history, but still …)

    But overall an astounding life.

    We did an episode of our internet radio show about him: Rebel Poet: Benjamin Zephaniah discusses the life of Abul ‘ala Al-Ma’arri. You might find it interesting; please share it if you do.

    • skepticalvegan Says:

      The reference to wool was from here Religious Asceticism By G B Gupta.

      “He wore a dress of undyed wool and wooden shoes…”

      It could certainly be wrong, I found it hard to come by good, in-depth sources on him.
      I would love a link to the poem mentioning cotton if you have it. I did just find a reference to him advising people to wear “cotton, neither green nor yellow nor dark- grey”

      I’ll definitely listen to your podcast soon when I get the chance.

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