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The Epistle of Forgiveness

The Epistle of Forgiveness: Volume One: A Vision of Heaven and Hell

Abūl-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī
Geert Jan van Gelder
Gregor Schoeler
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg253
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  • Book Info
    The Epistle of Forgiveness
    Book Description:

    One of the most unusual books in classical Arabic literature,The Epistle of Forgivenessis the lengthy reply by the prolific Syrian poet and prose writer Abu l-'Ala' al-Ma'arri (d. 449 H/1057 AD), to a letter written by an obscure grammarian, Ibn al-Qarih. With biting irony,The Epistle of Forgivenessmocks Ibn al-Qarih's hypocrisy and sycophancy by imagining he has died and arrived with some difficulty in Heaven, where he meets famous poets and philologists from the past. He also glimpses Hell, and converses with the Devil and various heretics. Al-Ma'arri - a maverick, a vegan, and often branded a heretic himself - seems to mock popular ideas about the Hereafter. This book, the first of two volumes, includes Ibn al-Qarih's initial letter to al-Ma'arri, as well as the first half ofThe Epistle of Forgiveness.This translation is the first complete translation in any language and retains the many digressions, difficult passages, and convoluted grammatical discussions of the original typically omitted in other translations. It is accompanied by a comprehensive introduction and detailed annotation. Replete with erudite commentary, amusing anecdotes, and sardonic wit,The Epistle of Forgivenessis an imaginative tour-de-force by one of the most pre-eminent figures in classical Arabic literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6899-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Letter from the General Editor
    (pp. iii-viii)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  5. Abbreviations used in the Introduction and Translation
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    The lengthy, mocking reply by a cantankerous maverick, obsessed with lexicography and grammar, to a rambling, groveling, and self-righteous letter by an obscure grammarian and mediocre stylist: this does not sound, prima facie, like a masterwork to be included in a series of Arabic classics. It is even doubtful whether it firmly belongs to the canonical works of Arabic literature. The maverick author, Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, was certainly famous, or infamous, as we shall see, but in the entry on him in the biographical dictionary by Ibn Khallikān (d. 681/1282),¹ who calls him the author of “many famous compositions and...

  7. A Note on the Text
    (pp. xxix-xxxi)
  8. A Note on the Edition
    (pp. xxxii-xxxiv)
  9. Notes to the Introduction
    (pp. xxxv-xxxviii)
  10. The Epistle of Ibn al-Qāriḥ
    (pp. 1-64)

    We commence in His name, seeking success through His benediction. Praise be to God, the originator of blessings, Who is alone in being pre-eternal; Who is exalted above any likeness to His creatures and above the attributes of those who have been brought into being; Who bestows benefactions but is not responsible for malefactions; Who is just in His acts and truthful in His words; the Creator and Originator of creation, who makes it last and annihilates it as He wills. His blessings be on Muḥammad and his pious family and relations, with a blessing that may gratify him, bring...

  11. The Epistle of Forgiveness

    • Preamble
      (pp. 66-75)

      The Mighty One (al-Jabr), from whom comes the name of Gabriel—He is the Way to all good things—knows that there is a tree (ḥamāṭah)156within me, one that never was anafāniyahtree, and on which there lived no stinging snake,157one that produces fruit for the love of my lord the venerable Sheikh158—may God subdue his enemy, and always, evening and morning, lead him to superiority!159If a lofty tree were to bear these fruits its branches would sink to earth and all this fruit, once well-protected, would be trampled underfoot.

      Ḥamāṭahis a kind of...

    • Paradise (I)
      (pp. 76-179)

      On account of this praise, if God wills, for the venerable Sheikh trees will have been planted and their delicious fruit to him granted. Each tree provides shade from the East to the West extending, not at all like the “Tree of Suspending.”—As you know, this was a tree that was venerated in pre-Islamic times.186It is said that someone asked the Messenger of God: “Make for us a Tree of Suspending like they have!” A poet said,

      We have the Guardian who protects us from our enemies, and we refused to have a Tree of Suspension.

      Ever-living youths...

    • The Sheikh’s Story of his Resurrection, the Day of Judgement, and his Entry into Paradise
      (pp. 180-195)

      Then the Sheikh says (may God make him speak meritoriously when he says something, if his Lord will him to say something!):

      I’ll tell you my own story. After I got up and rose from my grave and had arrived at the Plane of Resurrection (“plane” being like “plain,” with a different spelling),404I thought of the Qurʾanic verse, «To Him the angels and the Spirit ascend in a day the length of which is fifty thousand years. So be patient in a decent manner».405It did seem a long time to me; I got parched and torrid (meaning “very...

    • Paradise (II)
      (pp. 196-225)

      “So which one of you” (continues the Sheikh, addressing the five one-eyed poets) “is the Camel-herd?” “This is he,” they answer. The Sheikh greets him and says, “I hope I shall not find you like your friends, without any recollection or having lost your knowledge of the Arabic language!” The Camel-herd replies, “I hope so too. Ask me, but be brief!” The Sheikh asks him, “Is it true, as Sībawayh433says about you, that in your poem rhyming in -, in which you praise the caliph ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān, you put the word ‘people’ in the accusative, in the...

    • Between Paradise and Hell
      (pp. 226-247)

      Then it occurs to him that he would like to see the people in Hell and how things are with them, that his gratitude for his blessings be magnified. For God says,487«One of them said: I had a companion who would say, “Are you really one of those who believe that if we die and have turned to dust and bones we will be judged?” He said, “Won’t you look down?” So he looked down and saw him in the midst of blazing Hell. He said, “By God, you had nearly let me perish; but for my Lord’s blessing...

    • Hell
      (pp. 248-303)

      The Sheikh looks down and sees Satan540(God curse him!), writhing in fetters and chains, while Hell’s angels have a go at him with iron cudgels. The Sheikh says, “Thanks be to God, who has got the better of you, enemy of God and of His friends! How many generations of Adam’s children you have destroyed innumerable, only God can count.” The devil asks, “Who is this man?” “I am ʿAlī ibn Manṣūr ibn al-Qāriḥ, from Aleppo,” replies the Sheikh. “I was a man of letters by profession, by which I tried to win the favor of rulers.” “A bad...

    • Return to Paradise
      (pp. 304-324)

      Having found few pearls of wisdom with them, the Sheikh leaves them in their neverending misery. He sets out for his dwelling in Paradise. On the way he meets Adam (peace be upon him). “Our father,” he says, “May God bless you! There is some poetry that has been transmitted as being by you, such as this:

      We are the sons of the earth and those who dwell on it: from it we’ve been created, and to it we shall return.

      Good fortune will not stay with those who have it, and bad fortune is obliterated by good fortune’s nights.”...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 325-369)
  13. Glossary of Names and Terms
    (pp. 370-391)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 392-399)
  15. Further Reading
    (pp. 400-403)
  16. Index
    (pp. 404-423)
  17. About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute
    (pp. 424-424)
  18. About the Typefaces
    (pp. 425-425)
  19. About the Editor-Translators
    (pp. 426-426)