Abul’ Ala Al-Ma’arri (363-449 H/973-1058 AD) was a major poet and prose writer of the late Abbasid period. Born near Aleppo, Syria, he lost his eyesight in childhood and was renowned for his asceticism.
Resalate Al-Ghufran´-or-The Epistle of Forgiveness is a literary work of Abul’ Ala Al-Ma’arri, and it’s considered as one of the best works in the Arabic literature.
The book itself is a letter that depicts the afterlife in both of the netherworld and the paradise, and the persons in there with an explicit manner. so many people claimed that the Resalate Al-Ghufran had influenced Alighieri Dante on writing his noted work Divine Comed.
The epistle was originally a reply to Ibn Al-Qareh’s untitled letter ,which in it Al-Qareh stated his complainant toward the Sultans, suzerains and the ministers of his time .
In The Epistle of Forgiveness Abul’ Ala Al-Ma’arri mocks Ibn al-Qarih s hypocrisy and sycophancy by imagining he has died and arrived with some difficulty in Heaven, at that time he started to meet renowned poets and philosophers from their time who some of them have been forgiven because of some verses that they have said ( e.g. [,] Zuhayr bin Abi Sulma, Maymun Ibn Qays Al-a sha and Al-Nabigha “Ziyad ibn Muawiyah’’ [,] ) , and then he elucidates the story of him entering the paradise with Redouan Khazen Al-Jenna, thence he continues his adventurous journey heading to the netherworld “jahannam’’ as he referred to it , and starts to converse with the poets’ jinns such as “ Abu hadrash “. And then converse with the poets whom they where sent to such as : “Bashâ-;---;-----;-------;----r ibn Burd”, “Imru al-Qais”, “Antarah ibn Shaddad”, “Amr ibn Kulthum” and “Tarafa” .
In Al-Qareh meetings , he gave the prominence in his conversations to miscellaneous subjects such as : the existence, life, death, human being and commitment. The thing that made Al-Ma’arri deals with existential themes, hence we can see that the hero didn’t stop questioning, and discomfiting the axioms that the reader believes in them in order to find the absolute truth that will free his mind.
The Epistle of Forgiveness contains all the elements which can make it an existential work. All of that lead us to the following question :
Why can’t we deem Abul’ Ala Al-Ma’arri as the true pioneer of the existentialism before the coming of Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky and Sartre ?
1- Gregor Schoeler notes about The Epistle of Forgiveness .
2- Gregor Schoeler and Geert Jan Van Gelder s introduction to Abul’ Ala Al-Ma’arri s The Epistle of Forgiveness