Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Al-Ma'arri, Arabic Poet of Antinatalism

A big thanks to KaBoem, who put me on to this topic. Cheers, sir!

Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri was an Arabic poet of the 11th century, of a profoundly pessimistic disposition, who rejected religion and condemned procreation. The poems and writing quoted below are taken from Reynold Nicholson’s 1921 book, Studies in Islamic Poetry and Mysticism, available to download online at the following address:

 If you enjoy what’s below, there’s plenty more in the book.

Nicholson describes the poet’s themes as being ‘the pain of life, the peace of death,
the wickedness and folly of mankind, the might of Fate and the march of Time, the emptiness of ambition, the duty of renunciation, the longing for solitude and then to rest in the grave. The pessimism of the Luzum [the poetry collection] wears the form of an intense pervading darkness, stamping itself on the mind and deeply affecting the imagination. It is an old philosophy and its poets have been many, but I can think of none who in sincerity, individuality, and eloquence has surpassed Al-Ma'arri.’

The words Luztimu md Idyalzam signify "The obligation of that which
is not obligatory", which is how Al-Ma’arri saw the business of living.

If ye unto your sons would prove
By act how dearly them ye love
Then every voice of wisdom joins
To bid you leave  them  in your loins

The rich man desires a son to inherit his wealth, but were the fathers intelligent no children would be born. Procreation is a sin, though not called one. A father wronged by his sons pays the just penalty for the crime which he committed against them.  To beget is to increase the sum of evil...It is better for a people, instead of multiplying, to perish off the face of the earth. The first condition of happiness is that no woman should have been created.

 This world, O my friend, is like a carcase unsepulchred,
And we are the dogs that yelp around it on every side.
A loser is he, whoso advances to eat thereof;
A gainer is he, whoso returns from it hungry still.
If any be not waylaid by calamities in the night,
Some ill hap of Time is sure to meet him at morningtide

This world is such an abode that if those present here
Have their wits entire, they will never weep for the absent ones.

Would that a lad had died in the very hour of birth
And never sucked, as she lay in childbed, his mother's breast !
Her babe, it says to her or ever its tongue can speak,
"Nothing thou gett'st of me but sorrow and bitter pain."

'Tis God's will a man should live in torment and tribulation,
Until those that know him cry,
" He hath paid now the lifelong
Give joy to his next of kin on the day of his departure,
For they gain a heritage of riches, and he of peace

O Death ! be thou my guest : I am tired of living,
And I have tried both sorts in joy and sorrow.
My morrow shall be my yesterday, none doubts it;
My yesterday nevermore shall be my morrow

Nor birth I chose nor old age nor to live :
What the Past grudged me shall the Present give?
Here must I stay, by Doom's both hands constrained,
Nor go until my going is ordained.
You who would guide me out of dark illusion,
You lie your story does but make confusion.
For can you alter that you brand with shame,
Or is it not unalterably the same?

 Ah, let us go, whom nature gave firm minds and courage fast,
To meet the Fates pursuing us, that we may die at last.
The draught of Life, to me it seems the bitterest thing to drain.
And lo, in bitter sooth we all must spew it out again

Were I sent out to explore this world of thine by a band
Migrating hither, from me no liar's tale would they hear,
But words like these: '"Tis a land whose herbs are sickness and
Its sweetest water distils a bane for generous souls.
Oh, 'tis the torment of Hell ! Make haste, up, saddle and ride
To any region but that ! Avoid it, camp ye not there !
Abominations it hath ; no day or part of a day
Is pure and clean. Travel on, spur fast and faster the steeds !
I tell you that which is known for sure, not tangled in doubt;
None drawn with cords of untruth inveigle I to his harm."


  1. Another good posting Karl.

    Al-Ma'arri seems like someone for me to pay attention to given his stance on anti-natalism and so on.

    Might I be so bold as to suggest that you try reading something by French writer Michel Houellebecq: he is cited as misanthropic and pessimistic in tone. To quote the man approximately:

    'Children: you pay for them for the rest of your life!'

    1. Thanks, Mr Graverol. I've read most of Houellebecq. 'Atomised' is his masterpiece, followed closely by 'Whatever'. His book on Lovecraft, 'Against the World, Against Life' is fantastic also.

  2. "The words Luztimu md Idyalzam signify "The obligation of that which
    is not obligatory", which is how Al-Ma’arri saw the business of living."

    I believe you mistranscribed the title of the book from the OCRed document, as according to Wikipedia: "A second, more original collection appeared under the title "Unnecessary Necessity" (Luzūm mā lam yalza لزوم ما لا يلزم أو اللزوميات ); also Luzūmīyāt "Necessities"), alluding to the unnecessary complexity of the rhyme scheme used."

    I believe Gary Al-Inmend'ham to be a reinacarntion of Al-Ma'ari, with his catchphrase "Unneeded Need".

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. No doubt you're right about the transcription. Think you could be right about the reincarnation business!

    2. Oh PLEASE! I don't want to believe I'll be born YET AGAIN -- and I hope neither Al Maari nor Gary believe in it either.

      That said, I do understand people from rebirth-believing cultures saying stuff like, "In my next birth, I want to be born your son/daughter/spouse/brother/sister/whatever else." It just comes naturally to them, even if the idea of rebirth is disgusting and terrifying to them.

    3. Please, NO REBIRTH for me as well!

      And awesome, karl!

      Let´s keep bringing up more about antinatalism and pessimistic writers and thinkers!

      Man, everytime I read some stuff like this, I get my hairs all up - it´s like we´re brothers with this guy - and everyone that thinks the same! It´s incredible and weird. It´s like the world is an absurd indeed. People just can´t seem to find because they are blinded.

    4. Thanks, guys! Yup, always good to add another writer to the canon!

  3. Thanks for the shout out Karl!, LOVE the post!!:).

    I feel the same as Shadow, the first time i starting reading about him i was like "woooow, how did i miss this? He's even a vegan!" *Badass overload*.

    It feels weird thinking about him and the struggles he had to overcome in that period (must've been painful) yet he was pretty much admired. I wonder if people will talk about today's antinatalists in the future, it will be cool if they saw your blog (others too) still standing( or saved archive) and the people posting. I think we antinatalists need that support, it can be a harsh path to go alone. Al-Ma'arri did it all alone, without the internet, surrounding by hardcore cultists of life/religion and he never broke and gave in.*applause*

    Reincarnation is revolting to me, and i completely agree with Tupac :"My only fear of death is coming back reincarnated". The idea of doing coming back to this conclusion is haunting. I mean no more dammit:)

    Again, awesome post!

    1. Thanks, KaBoem! Cheers for the kind words. Yeah, the guy was a hero, especially given the times he lived in. Just shows that integrity will always be recognised, no matter what.

  4. Good to see antinatalism stuff from a non modern Western source. The Thracians, northern neighbors of the ancient Greeks, welcomed a child with lamentations over all the suffering it would edure. The dead were buried with mirth and jesting, happy they were done with the business of life.

    1. Thanks, Unknown. Yup, and the Bogomils, who appropriately lived in the same area as where E.M. Cioran would later be born:-)

  5. These words of Al-Maarri are a breath of fresh air to my spirit. All my life I am considered a depressive, antisocial, evil, a lunatic even, only because from the time of my birth I have not desired to live and because I started pulling away from life at a really young age ("Here must I stay, by Doom's both hands constrained,Nor go until my going is ordained"). Here is a wise and honest man, Al-Maarri. Why don't I have the courage to say such things aloud as he did?

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I know the feeling. Had a debate with two optimists the other night re. the usual issues. After I left, I was apparently labelled a 'nihilist nut-job'. I'm afraid the world will always believe what it needs to in order to keep rolling toward oblivion. Stay strong, brother. You are not alone.

    2. Hi there, to all of you, brave and generous ANs!
      Keep the good job, you are (to me, and probably many others) like a soothing balm... a necessary 'unnecesary need' (sorry for you).

      Big hug from Spain, soul brothers & sisters,
      and you can rest assured you are on the right track, no doubt about it...

  6. Fantastic post Karl! I remember reading about this guy a while back, but I had forgotten him. This time in Islamic history was rife with speculation on the nature of reality, religion, and how humans fit into it all. I just finished a book on esoteric Islamic groups (specifically the Brethren of Purity) and how they integrated Neoplatonic thought into their views. All that aside, it's nice to know that rationalism and pessimism was afoot at this time as well.

    Great poetry as well.

  7. By the way (I'm the anonymous above, trying to get myself a name), as far as I know there should be an afterlife... the only logical deduction from all my life-long thorough research into the topic (from different angles: NDEs, spiritualist records, personal experiences, etc...).

    Obviously, from this earth's point of view, nothing justifies suffering (or rather, SUFFERING, in capitals, unlimited, infinite, unspeakable) but you cannot ignore the facts... there seems to be something beyond... and it seems to be interested in providing explanations...

    OK, I, for one, and however unwillingly, won't deny anybody the opportunity to express themselves and explain whatever.

    As Woody Allen said, 'If there is a god, I hope he has a good excuse'.

    But, honestly, I can't really work out how I could possibly be convinced not to rebel and try to check out from the whole transcendental business...

    So long, my friends, and thank you for all the fish!

  8. Sorry 'anonymous above', I am the anonymous in the reply to artashata 7 august...
    New to this, got it all messed up...
    (English is not my mother tongue, either, forgive my turn of phrase...)

  9. Recently I came across this funny, honest piece on antinatalism:

    I found it quite enjoyable...

  10. Karl, I was wondering if in one of your blog posts sometime you could incorporate some "interview" type questions for your blog readers. Things I am interested to hear from fellow antinatalists: 1) How did you become antinatalist? Were you born that way, did you have some sort of trauma or revelation about life, or did it come about through common sense, ect. 2) How do you feel towards your parents? Are you angry at them for bringing you into life? 3) Do you struggle with social interactions/making friends because of your feelings towards life? 4) Ever feel suicidal? As an antinatalist I would love to hear other antinatalist's responses. cheers.

    1. I wonder if a discussion forum might be a logical progression of this idea.

  11. The man from that desert region even preached vegan ideals, not just antinatalism:
    "You are diseased in understanding and religion.
    Come to me, that you may hear something of sound truth.
    Do not unjustly eat fish the water has given up,
    And do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
    Or the white milk of mothers who intended its pure draught
    for their young, not noble ladies.
    And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking eggs;
    for injustice is the worst of crimes.
    And spare the honey which the bees get industriously
    from the flowers of fragrant plants;
    For they did not store it that it might belong to others,
    Nor did they gather it for bounty and gifts.
    I washed my hands of all this; and wish that I
    Perceived my way before my hair went gray!"

  12. Anti birth? Wow... the memes that pervade the minds of men... let go of the attachment to this detrimental worldview and embrace the reality of life, not anti-life. Weird group you guys are.

    1. Ever think that the meme of pro-life is just a tool of DNA to manipulate you?

    2. It's not just DNA it's controlled upbringing too, and we Antinatalists are manipulate by it as well, but we of course, give this and future harm and suffering not to our children. We refuse breeding as a whole. Thats our program. Quote Schopenhaue: Der Mensch kann nicht wollen, was er will means Man cannot want what he wants. Please excuse my english.
      Greetings from germany ;)

  13. hey there karl!

    i just made a video about this guy and i wanted to share it with you because your blog post inspired me to make it. i also bought a book of his and read through it with great interest. i linked to this blog post as well in the vid. i've just started making vids on YT and wanted to thank you for the inspiration. keep up the good work. i might make some more videos in the future about other historical antinatalists that i've discovered while reading the comments on this post.

    1. Thanks! I saw the video. Great job and well done!

  14. Here's a sad bit of news from 2013. His statues are being destroyed, even in his hometown. :(

    On another note, he's being used on a UK vegan website to promote their cause. I posted there that a childless person does more good than a family of vegans, noting his Al-Ma'arri's antinatalism, and letting them know vegan ethics do not follow through to antinatalism's logical (to us, anyways) conclusion. I'll let you know if they get by moderation.

    Brian L

    Happy new year all.

    1. They didn't get posted... Quelle surprise...

    2. Oh my, I'll have to make a retraction here. Not only did Ian McDonald post and reply fairly to my remarks, he is considering a discussion on the topic of antinatalism from an environmental standpoint! Very open and fair man, he is. Good on him.

  15. Hi Karl,
    Sincere thanks to you for posting this article! Though I was already aware of the great philosopher-poet Al-Ma'arri, I wasn't aware that he is still being admired by some even in the modern Western world. I got to know of this poet only a few years ago and I was pleasantly surprised to know my own views on life are very close to those of a great thinker from the past.

    - Another_Anonymous

  16. He rejected reincarnation. There is a poem of his that specifically mentions to doubt the idea and reject any idea without proof.

    1. methodology is required for interpreting proof. And in some studies of concepts, replication isn't viable (string theories for example). You need to reason and logic to arrive at conclusions. No other way.

      "No proof" is a poor excuse of negating "Eternal Creator" concepts and studying time and space.