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The Epistle of Forgiveness

Volume Two: Hypocrites, Heretics, and Other Sinners

Abu l-Ala al-Maarri

Publication Year: 2014

One of the most unusual books in classical Arabic literature, The Epistle of Forgiveness is 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 by an obscure grammarian, Ibn al-Qarih. With biting irony, The Epistle of Forgiveness mocks 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 second volume is a point-by-point reply to Ibn al-Qarih’s letter using al-Ma'arri’s characteristic mixture of erudition, irony, and admonition, enlivened with anecdotes and poems. Among other things, he writes about hypocrites; heretical poets, princes, rebels, and mystics; apostates; piety; superstition; the plight of men of letters; collaborative authorship; wine-drinking; old age; repentance; pre-Islamic pilgrimage customs; and money. This remarkable book is the first complete translation in any language, all the more impressive because of al-Ma'arri’s highly ornate and difficult style, his use of rhymed prose, and numerous obscure words and expressions.
Geert Jan van Gelder was Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford from 1998 to 2012. He is the author of several books on classical Arabic literature, including Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence and Unity of the Poem and Of Dishes and Discourse: Classical Arabic Literary Representations of Food.
Gregor Schoeler was the chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Basel from 1982 to 2009. His books in the fields of Islamic Studies and classical Arabic literature include The Oral and the Written in Early Islam, and Paradies und Hölle, a partial German translation of The Epistle of Forgiveness.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Letter from the General Editor, Copyright

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pp. i-vii

Table of Contents

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pp. viii-ix

Abbreviations used in the Introduction and Translation

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p. x-x

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pp. xi-xiii

At the end of the first part of al-Maʿarrī’s Epistle of Forgiveness the author says that he has been “long-winded in this part. Now we shall turn to reply to the letter.” In other words, Part One is merely the introduction to the proper answer to Ibn al-Qāriḥ’s letter. This introduction is in fact what made the Epistle famous,...

Notes to the Introduction

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p. xiv-xiv

The Epistle of Forgiveness

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pp. 1-2

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On Hypocrisy

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pp. 3-16

I have understood the Sheikh’s words, “may God make me his ransom”;1 he does not intend to be a hypocrite in saying this. Mankind is far from being in agreement; yet this2 is a natural trait by which the Sheikh is distinguished from others. People coexist by means of deceit; they have come to invent...

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The Sheikh’s Return to Aleppo

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pp. 17-36

The Sheikh mentioned that he arrived in Aleppo—may God protect it! If it possessed reason it would have rejoiced at his arrival just as a bereaved crone who has lost her wits rejoices, a woman who has neglected the good management and care of her camels. Her only son has gone far away. He has not...

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Heretics, Apostates, and Impious Poets

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pp. 37-122

As for the Sheikh’s quotation of Abū l-Ṭayyib’s verse:

I blame the little people of these times118

the man was fond of using the diminutive,119 not being content merely with what a raider snatches away, as when he says:...

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Old Age, Grave Sins, Pilgrimages, and Sincere Repentence

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pp. 123-188

As for the Sheikh’s reference to his old age,405 God (praised be He!) has created gall as well as honey, a desire for the Fleeting World as well as abstemiousness from it. When an intelligent person looks at it closely he sees that life only draws him to harm and drives his body onward on its course....

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The Stolen Dinars and the Number Eighty

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pp. 189-216

I was pleased that the Sheikh’s dinars were returned to him.656 They are helpers; their various kinds resemble one another. People have duties toward them; they can be devoted if (other people’s) disobedience is feared. ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ said to Muʿāwiyah: “I dreamed that the Resurrection had begun;...


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pp. 217-271


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pp. 272-292


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pp. 293-304

Concordance with Risālat al-Ghufrān, 9th edition, edited by Bintal-Shāṭiʾ

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pp. 305-329


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pp. 330-343

About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute

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p. 344-344

About the Typefaces

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p. 345-345

About the Editor-Translators

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p. 346-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768969
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814771945
Print-ISBN-10: 0814771947

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2014