SIM‘AN IBN KALIL (ca. 1145-ca. 1235)
A Monk, theologian. Like a number of other great figures in Copto-Arabic literature (including Sawirus ibn al-Muqaffa‘ and Shams al-Ri’asa Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar), Sim‘an ibn Kalil ibn Maqara began his career as a bureaucrat in government service. In 1173, he was (financial) secretary in the Department of the Army under none other than Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, the famed Saladin. According to his great-nephew al-Makin Jirjis ibn al-‘Amid, Sim‘an remained in government service until sometime during the sultanate of Salah al-Din’s younger brother al-Malik al-‘Adil (1200-1218), but then withdrew and became a monk at the Monastery of St. John the Little in the Wadi al-Natrun, where he enclosed himself in a cell for more than 30 years.
He wrote a number of books, including biblical commentaries and a philosophically informed apology of the Christian faith. His most beloved work, however, is Rawdat al-farid wa-salwat al-wahid (The Garden of the Hermit and Consolation of the Solitary), in which Sim‘an explains the Christian faith and commends the life of virtue in 12 chapters of beautiful rhymed prose. Read throughout the Arabic-speaking Christian world, it was published in Egypt in 1873 and again in 1886, but awaits a modern edition.