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The Epistle of Forgiveness

Volume One: A Vision of Heaven and Hell

Abu l-Ala al-Maarri

Publication Year: 2013

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 written 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 book, the first of two volumes, includes Ibn al-Qarih’s initial letter to al-Ma'arri, as well as the first half of The 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 Forgiveness is an imaginative tour-de-force by one of the most pre-eminent figures in classical Arabic literature.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, About the Series

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pp. i-ii

Letter from the General Editor

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p. iii-iii

Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iv-viii


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pp. ix-xii


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p. xiii-xiii

Abbreviations used in the Introduction and Translation

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p. xiv-xiv

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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 ...

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A Note on the Text

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pp. xxix-xxxi

The present translators originally harbored some doubts about translating the text in full. However, it is the admirable purpose of the Library of Arabic Literature to present complete texts, in the original Arabic and in an English translation. We consented and took on the task as a daunting but stimulating challenge. The present translation, for the first time in any language, is complete, for the ...

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A Note on the Edition

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pp. xxxii-xxxiv

Reynold A. Nicholson may have been the pioneer in studying The Epistle of Forgiveness and making scholars acquainted with it, but the towering figure in the field is without question the Egyptian scholar ʿĀʾishah ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (1913–98), who named herself Bint al-Shāṭiʾ (“Daughter of the Riverbank”54), and whose doctoral dissertation at the University of Cairo in 1950 became the basis ...

Notes to the Introduction

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pp. xxxv-xxxviii

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The Epistle of Ibn al-Qāriḥ

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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 ...

The Epistle of Forgiveness: Volume One

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pp. 67-76

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)156 within me, one that never was an afāniyah tree, and on which there lived no stinging snake,157 one that produces fruit for the love of my lord the venerable Sheikh158—may God subdue his enemy, and always, evening and morning,...

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Paradise (I)

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pp. 77-180

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.186 It is said that someone asked the Messenger of God: “Make for us a...

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The Sheikh’s Story of his Resurrection, the Day of Judgement, and his Entry into Paradise

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pp. 181-196

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),404 I thought of the Qurʾanic verse, ...

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Paradise (II)

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pp. 197-226

“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...

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Between Paradise and Hell

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pp. 227-248

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 ...

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pp. 249-304

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...

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Return to Paradise

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pp. 305-324

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:...


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pp. 325-369

Glossary of Names and Terms

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pp. 370-391


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pp. 392-399

Further Reading

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pp. 400-403


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pp. 404-423

About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute

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p. 424-424

About the Typefaces

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p. 425-425

About the Editor-Translators

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p. 426-426

E-ISBN-13: 9780814768990
E-ISBN-10: 0814763782
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814763780
Print-ISBN-10: 0814763782

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2013