1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abu-l-'Ala ul-Ma'arri

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Abū-l-‛Alā ul-Ma‛arrī [Abū-l-‛Alā Aḥmad ibn ‛Abdallāh ibn Sulaimān] (973-1057), Arabian poet and letter-writer, belonged to the South Arabian tribe Tanukh, a part of which had migrated to Syria before the time of Islam. He was born in 973 at Ma‛arrat un-Nu‛mān, a Syrian town nineteen hours' journey south of Aleppo, to the governor of which it was subject at that time. He lost his father while he was still an infant, and at the age of four lost his eyesight owing to smallpox. This, however, did not prevent him from attending the lectures of the best teachers at Aleppo, Antioch and Tripoli. These teachers were men of the first rank, who had been attracted to the court of Saif-ud-Daula, and their teaching was well stored in the remarkable memory of the pupil. At the age of twenty-one Abū-l-‛Alā returned to Ma‛arra, where he received a pension of thirty dinars yearly. In 1007 he visited Bagdad, where he was admitted to the literary circles, recited in the salons, academies and mosques, and made the acquaintance of men to whom he addressed some of his letters later. In 1009 he returned to Ma‛arra, where he spent the rest of his life in teaching and writing. During this period of scholarly quiet he developed his characteristic advanced views on vegetarianism, cremation of the dead and the desire for extinction after death.

Of his works the chief are two collections of his poetry and two of his letters. The earlier poems up to 1029 are of the kind usual at the time. Under the title of Saqt uz-Zand they have been published in Bulaq (1869), Beirūt (1884) and Cairo (1886). The poems of the second collection, known as the Luzūm ma lam yalzam, or the Luzūmiyyāt, are written with the difficult rhyme in two consonants instead of one, and contain the more original, mature and somewhat pessimistic thoughts of the author on mutability, virtue, death, &c. They have been published in Bombay (1886) and Cairo (1889). The letters on various literary and social subjects were published with commentary by Shain Effendi in Beirut (1894), and with English translation, &c., by Prof. D. S. Margoliouth in Oxford (1898). A second collection of letters, known as the Risālat ul-Ghufrān, was summarized and partially translated by R. A. Nicholson in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1900, pp. 637 ff.; 1902, pp. 75 ff., 337 ff., 813 ff.).

Bibliography.—C. Rieu, De Abu-l-‛Alae Poetae Arabici vita et carminibus (Bonn, 1843); A. von Kremer, Über die philosophischen Gedichte des Abu-l-‛Ala (Vienna, 1888); cf. also the same writer's articles in the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft (vols. xxix., xxx., xxxi. and xxxviii.). For his life see the introduction to D. S. Margoliouth's edition of the letters, supplemented by the same writer's articles "Abu-l-‛Ala al-Ma‛arri's Correspondence on Vegetarianism" in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1902, pp. 289 ff.).

(G. W. T.)