The latest issue of Modern Poetry in Translation has an essay and translation by ArabLit and ArabLit Quarterly contributor Salma Harland: “On Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, or What It Means to Be Blind and Vegan during the Islamic Middle Ages” and an excerpt from The Unnecessary Necessities.
As Harland writes, The Unnecessary Necessities, also known as The Necessities (Al-Luzūmiyyāt), is made up of nearly 1,600 short poems, one of which she has translated for MPT. In the book, Harland writes, “al-Maʿarrī alludes to numerous things he thought unnecessary for sustaining both life and poetry – hence the title – such as meat consumption and rhyme schemes, to list a few.”
The poem ends:
If you are wise, you would not douse your swords with blood
…..or order others to butcher vulnerable creatures.
How I wholeheartedly admire those who curb their desires
…..instead of living off the livelihood of some frail souls.
You have many other foodstuffs that are of finer flavours
…..and that are genuinely halal to consume.
Consider Jesus, who never tortured a soul for worship
…..and walked the Earth like a humble passer-by.
The translation, straightforward rather than lyrical, gives insight into al-Maʿarrī’s thought process on why we shouldn’t eat what he believed rightly belongs to other life forms.
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