Merits of the Plague (Paperback)
The preeminent meditation on plagues and pandemics from the Islamic world, now in English for the first time
A Penguin Classic
Six hundred years ago, the author of this landmark work of history and religious thought—an esteemed judge, poet, and scholar in Cairo—survived the bubonic plague, which took the lives of three of his children, not to mention tens of millions of others throughout the medieval world. Holding up an eerie mirror to our own time, he reflects on the origins of plagues—from those of the Prophet Muhammad’s era to the Black Death of his own—and what it means that such catastrophes could have been willed by God, while also chronicling the fear, isolation, scapegoating, economic tumult, political failures, and crises of faith that he lived through. But in considering the meaning of suffering and mass death, he also offers a message of radical hope. Weaving together accounts of evil jinn, religious stories, medical manuals, death-count registers, poetry, and the author’s personal anecdotes, Merits of the Plague is a profound reminder that with tragedy comes one of the noblest expressions of our humanity: the practice of compassion, patience, and care for those around us.
For more than seventy-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 2,000 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
About the Author
Ibn Hajar al-ʿAsqalani (d. 1449) was a medieval polymath—an innovative religious commentator, a historian and biographer, a judge on the highest court in Cairo, an author of spiritual poetry, and a trader from a powerful family of spice merchants. His masterpiece is a twelve-volume commentary on prophetic traditions called Fath al-Bari (The Divine Aid to Victory), parts of which he incorporated into Merits of the Plague.
Joel Blecher (editor/translator) is an associate professor of history at The George Washington University and the author of Said the Prophet of God: Hadith Commentary across a Millennium as well as numerous articles. His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Library of Congress.
Mairaj Syed (editor/translator) is an associate professor of religious studies and the director of the medieval and early modern studies program at the University of California, Davis, and the author of Coercion and Responsibility in Islam. He has received many awards for his research, including a Fulbright Scholarship.
“This is the first English-language edition of his work, deservedly bringing it to a wide new audience. . . . Having lost three of his daughters to the Black Death, [Ibn Hajar] reflects with empathy and grief on examples of plagues from the time of the Prophet Muhammad to his own. . . . At a time when many ruins of the coronavirus pandemic are yet to be rebuilt, Merits of the Plague helps us to place our experience of the disease in a longer arc of history.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“Remarkable . . . A landmark work of history and religious thought . . . Surprisingly modern and has a lot to say to us in the era of coronavirus.” —History Unplugged Podcast
“A valuable addition to our understanding of the pandemic and how people reacted to it . . . This book offers a much-needed perspective from the Islamic world.” —Medievalists.net
“A unique, non-Western medieval perspective on the Black Death and pandemics in general.” —Jara News