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New IMES Faculty Book Publication – Joel Blecher

Congratulations to Dr. Joel Blecher, who’s translation of Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani’s Merits of the Plague, which was completed with Dr. Mairaj Syed, is now available from Penguin Classics in both print and audiobook.

Merits of the Plague (Penguin Classics, 2023)

About the book

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.

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 textile trader from a powerful family of spice merchants. His masterpiece is a twelve-volume commentary on prophetic traditions called Fath al-Bari (Unlocking the Divine Wisdom), parts of which he incorporated into Merits of the Plague.