Since it’s Valentine’s Day, it is only predictable to write about something pertaining to love and passion. When it comes to the Arab world, epic tales of romance between unexpected lovers lace the pages of our history books and are far from being your typical romance. Considered iconic, these stories that stem from real life showcase the power of true love through lovers who have held onto their connection in the face of many obstacles .To dip into the world of romantic tales of passion and love, lets take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the most iconic Middle Eastern love stories out there.
Qays & Layla
In the heart of the Arabian desert, long before the well-known Islamic history of Arabia, the ancient heritage of the Arab people has always been documented in poetry. One of the most iconic love stories immortalized in the rhyming lines was the story of Qays & Layla, a true story ingrained in the history of the Arab world.
Both lovers were born to the same tribe, Banu Amir, and since childhood, the two have grown to admire one another and the feelings they had gradually developed to love. However, in their adulthood, when Qays proposed to her father, he refused. Qays became obsessed with Layla so much so that the tribal community dubbed him Majnun Layla, which means “the one who is insane about Layla”. To this day, Majnun Layla is a synonym for someone who is madly in love with someone else.
Antara & Abla
Based on a true story, Antarah Ibn Shaddad was born a slave to Shaddad Al-Abs of Banu Abs, a tribe in Najd, a region amidst the sandy dunes of Arabia. Unlike other slaves, he excelled at combat from a very young age and his poetic skills were just as superb.
A fighter and poet from a young age, Antarah has grown to become a knight of renowned strength and an accomplished poet. He defended his tribe from an impending invasion, earning him his freedom, after that, he had the courage to ask his uncle for Abla’s hand. Her dowry had him go through impossible tasks which he managed to accomplish just to be united with his loved one.
Ibn Zaydun and Princess Walada
Way back when Cordoba was one of the most sophisticated cities of the entire world, there was a Princess by the name of Wallada, born into the world in 1011. At that time, the princess’ uncanny charisma and charm had managed to gather around her the finest poets and musicians of al-Andalus who would sit on cushions and rugs and improvise ballads and epic sagas accompanied by the tunes of the lute and zither.
Wallada was unapologetic and quite outspoken, someone who did as she pleased and that was why throughout her life, she had quite a number of lovers but the most memorable one has to be her affair with Ibn Zaydun, one of the greatest Moorish poets of the time. The two did nothing to hide their passion and would even allude to their relationship through impromptu verses of poetry. Beyond the passion, their relationship was quite tumultuous, reaping with toxicity as everyone envied their open romance and vied to destroy their relationship.
Many a times, Wallada would catch Ibn Zaydun making love to other women and overtime, she fell out of love with the poet to later find herself once again reunited with him. Their relationship was quite stormy and epic that in 1971, a statue was made to commemorate the lovers at a plaza known as El Campo Santo de los Mártires.
Jameel & Bothina
Back in the late 17th century, a camel shepherd by the name of Jameel was guiding his herd to a nearby field for grazing. There, he found a water source and while one of his camels was drinking, another of Bothina’s came and scared that of Jameel away. Jameel got angry and cursed Bothina; the young woman did not stand silent and replied with a curse of her own.
Jameel liked her rebellious character and instantly fell in love with her; she too had some feelings for him, and everything was just fine until he asked her father for her hand in marriage. It came as a surprise when her father refused and quickly married her to a different man.
Jameel was heartbroken and escaped to Yemen and when he returned to Arabia years later looking for his loved one, he found out her family moved to the Levant. The young lover never got to see her again, but he immortalized her in his poetry.
Qutuz & Jelnar
In his classic novel “O’Islamah”, Ali Ahmed Bakther has told the tale of the historic Qutuz and his beloved Jelnar. Both lovers were born to the royal family of the Muslim Khawarizmian dynasty in Persia. However, with the rise of the Mongol danger, their home and kingdom were torn to shreds, and after the sack of the Khawarizmian Empire, the two were captured and sold as slaves.
The two lovers were separated and went on their own paths. Qutuz ended up in Egypt and joined the Mamluks, a group of powerful slave soldiers, which gained political authority as time progressed. In Egypt, the two lovers found themselves as Jelnar has become a house slave to a prominent Egyptian. The two got married and Qutuz rose through the ranks to finally become the Sultan of Egypt. Fighting side by side with the support of his beloved, Qutuz and Jelnar managed to defeat the Mongols in the battle of Ain Jalut.
Back in those days, love was expressed in ways unlike that of today. Back then lovers would express their affection through acts of bravery and courage whether its battling it out in a war or unapologetically expressing their love despite society’s disapproval. Each tale is unique, packed with tantalizing incidents that keep you yearning for more. Revisiting these love stories is the perfect way to commemorate the most romantic day of the year.