Many regard poet and philosopher al-Ma’arri as the greatest Arab poet of all time. This talented wordsmith was also an early animal rights advocate and may have been one of the world’s first vegans.
Born in present-day Syria, al-Ma’arri was blinded as a result of developing smallpox as a child. However, he didn’t let this condition stop him from receiving an education. A gifted academic, he went on to create famous poems in Baghdad.
Although his words are ancient, their truth still resonates, as in this powerful poem:
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!
al-Ma’arri renounced material wealth and led a life of solitude. Although he did things differently from his neighbors, his community respected him and many students came to study with him.
In his 70s, al-Ma’arri explained why he abstained from eating meat, quoting the Quran and an ancient Greek physician to explain his conviction that it’s evil to cause animals pain, steal their milk, and take their eggs. He even pointed out that beans and lentils were much more affordable than meat—as they still are today! Who knows how many hearts he changed during his life and after his death?
While saying no to meat, eggs, and dairy may have been unusual in the 11th century, today, eating vegan is mainstream and easy. You can go to nearly any café and request oat milk instead of dairy, and many restaurants are offering vegan meats to meet consumer demand. Pantry staples such as beans, rice, and vegetable broth are affordable vegan products that many people can access.
This famous writer proves that people have been making the ethical choice to go vegan for at least 1,000 years. Let’s help al-Ma’arri’s ancient words inspire the people of today to make the same compassionate choice by sharing his poem and taking PETA’s 3-Week Vegan Challenge: