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Al-Ma‘arri (full name in Arabic: أبو العلاء أحمد بن عبد الله بن سليمان التنوخي المعري, Abu al-'Alā Ahmad ibn 'Abd Allāh ibn Sulaimān al-Tanūkhī al-Ma'arri, December 26, 973May 10 or May 21, 1057) was a blind Arab philosopher, poet and writer. He was a controversial rationalist of his time, he attacked the dogmas of religion, and rejected the claim that Islam possessed any monopoly on truth.


Abu 'Ali al-Muhassin al-Tanukhi (Tanukhi) was born in Syriamarker and lost his sight at the age of four due to smallpox. He hailed from the city of Ma'arramarker (المعرة) in Syria from which his name derives. He then went on to study in Aleppomarker, Antiochmarker, and other Syrian towns pursuing a career as a freethinker, philosopher and poet before returning his native town of Ma'arrat al-Numanmarker, where he lived the rest of his life, practicing asceticism and vegetarianism.

He briefly travelled to the center of Baghdad where he drew a great following of both male and female disciples to listen to his lectures on poetry, grammar and rationalism. One of the recurring themes of his philosophy was the rights of reason against the claims of custom, tradition and authority.

Although an advocate of social justice and action, Al-Ma'arri suggested that women should not bear children in order to save future generations from the pains of life.

Views on Islam and religion

Al-Ma'arri was sceptic in his beliefs and denounced superstition and dogmatism in religion. Thus, he has been described as pessimistic freethinker

Al-Ma'arri taught that religion was a “fable invented by the ancients,” worthless except for those who exploit the credulous masses. In al Ma'arri's lifetime, many Caliphates had appeared in Egyptmarker, Baghdadmarker, and Aleppomarker, which had all used religion as a tool to justify their power. He rejected the claims of Islam as well as other religions stating:

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.

Al-Ma'arri criticized many of the dogmas of Islam, such as the Hajj, which he called, “a heathen’s journey.” He viewed the ritualistic kissing of the black stone at Mecca the superstitious nonsense of religions that have only resulted in fanatical and sectarian bigotry and bloodshed to force their beliefs onto people at the point of a sword.

One of his poems expresses his views:

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 rejected claims of any divine revelation. His creed was that of a philosopher and ascetic, for whom reason provides a moral guide, and virtue is its own reward.


His collections of poetry are titled The Tinder Spark (Saqt az-zand; سقط الزند) and Unnecessary Necessity (Luzum ma la yalzam; لزوم ما لا يلزم أو اللزوميات), also called the Luzumiyat. He was notable for his apparent disbelief in revealed religions, which was rare in the 11th century.

Abū al-'Ala al-Ma'arrī in elegy composed by him over the loss of a relative, combines his grief with observations on the ephemerality of this life:

Abul-ʿAla is also well known for his famous book The Epistle of Forgiveness (Resalat Al-Ghufran; رسالة الغفران ) which is one of the most effective books in the Arabic heritage and which left a notable influence on the next generations of writers. It is a book of divine comedy that concentrates on the Arabic poetical civilization but in a way that touches all aspects of life. The most interesting characteristics of Resalat Al-Ghufran are its genius digression, deep philosophy, and brilliant language. Following Miguel Asín Palacios, some say that the Resalat Al-Ghufran has clearly had an influence on, or has even inspired Alighieri Dante's Divine Comedy.

Abul-ʿAla also wrote ((Fusul wal ghayat)) ("Paragraphs and Periods") a collection of poetics similar in style to the Qur'an. Some scholars have assumed that Abul-ʿAla wrote it in order to illustrate that the language of the Qur'an is not miraculous, but merely thought to be so because of being revered for hundreds of years. However, not all scholars agree with this interpretation.

See also


  2. Philip Khuri Hitti, Islam, a Way of Life, page 147. University of Minnesota Press
  3. By Philip Khuri Hitti Islam, a way of life p. 147
  4. Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, 1962, A Literary History of the Arabs, page 318. Routledge
  5. Lamia Ben Youssef Zayzafoon, The Production of the Muslim Woman, page 141. Lexington Books
  6. James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Part 3, page 190. Kessinger Publishing.
  7. Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, 1962, A Literary History of the Arabs, page 319. Routledge
  8. Translated by Reynold A. Nicholson. Quoted in Cyril Glasse, (2001), The New Encyclopedia of Islam, page 278. Rowman Altamira.
  9. Freethought Traditions in the Islamic World by Fred Whitehead
  10. Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, 1962, A Literary History of the Arabs, page 317. Routledge
  11. Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, 1962, A Literary History of the Arabs, page 323. Routledge
  12. William Montgomery Watt, Pierre Cachia, A History of Islamic Spain, page 183. Edinburgh University Press


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