Neither Belief nor Unbelief: Intentional Ambivalence in al-Maʿarrī's Luzūm (De Gruyter, 2023)
The book re-examines the religious thought and receptions of the Syrian poet Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d.1057) and one of his best known works - Luzūm mā lā yalzam (The Self-Imposed Unnecessity), a collection of poems, which, although widely studied, needs a thorough re-evaluation regarding matters of (un)belief. Given the contradictory nature of al-Maʿarrī's oeuvre and Luzūm in particular, there have been two major trends in assessing al-Maʿarrī's religious thought in modern scholarship. One presented al-Maʿarrī as an unbeliever and a freethinker arguing that through contradictions, he practiced taqīya, i.e., dissimulation in order to avoid persecution. The other, often apologetically, presented al-Maʿarrī as a sincere Muslim. This study proposes that the notion of ambivalence is a more appropriate analytical tool to apply to the reading of Luzūm, specifically in matters of belief. This ambivalence is directly conditioned by the historical and intellectual circumstances al-Maʿarrī lived in and he intentionally left it unsolved and intense as a robust stance against claims of certainty. Going beyond reductive interpretations, the notion of ambivalence allows for an integrative paradigm in dealing with contradictions and dissonance.
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We congratulate Sona on her book.