For more than a year, jihadists from the Al Nusra Front have been attacking statues of Abul Ala al-Maari – a 10th century poet – across the Idlib region of northwestern Syria. A few days ago, this armed group, listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation, carried out an attack on a bust of the philosopher in Maarat al-Nu’man, the town where he was born.
There are several theories to explain the attacks. The philosopher could have been targeted because he is wrongly believed to be related to the ruling Assad family, and is revered by Shiite Muslims for being presumably a member of the family of Imam Ali and therefore a relative of the prophet Mohammed. Another theory is that some of his works have been considered to be heretic. It is also possible that the attacks were carried out in a systematic campaign to destroy statues as part of an attempt to impose radical Islam.
Abul Ala al-Maari (973-1057) is a Syrian poet and philosopher who was born and who died in Maarat al-Nu’man, south of Aleppo. A defender of social justice, the philosopher, often called a pessimist, believed one should not conceive children in order to save them from the pain of life. In “Risalat al-Ghufran”, the main character visits paradise and meets heathen poets who have found forgiveness. This work, which could be considered as a forerunner to Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, remains controversial in the Muslim world. In 2007, the Algerian Ministry of Religious Affairs banned the work from the International Book Fair in Algiers.
In one of his poems, he writes:
Faith, disbelief, rumours spread,
Koran, Torah, Gospels
Prescribe their laws…
Lies at every generation
That one hastens to believe and record.
Will a generation distinguish itself, one day,
By pursuing the truth?
There are two types of people on Earth:
Those who have reason without religion,
And those who have religion but lack reason.
Those men are rushing towards decomposition,
All religions are equally strayed.
If one asks me, what is my doctrine,
It is clear:
Am I not, like others,