Iconic Middle Eastern Love Stories From Literature

Via Sekka Magazine.

By Muhammed Aladdin

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, it is only predictable to write something about love and passion. However, being the fool for tragic love stories that I am, I think it would be more convenient to write about heartbreak, which happens to be a recurring theme in Middle Eastern literature.

Well, these are some of the most iconic couples of Arabic literature, ancient and modern, and although many of these tales are tragic, the protagonists held on to their true love until the end.

Here are our pick for the most iconic Middle Eastern love stories.

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.

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

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.

Scheherazade & Shahryar

Most of us are aware of at least some of the classical stories featured in One Thousand and One Nights, and although it is not Arabian in origin, it is still one of the Middle East’s defining features. The story of Schehrezade & Shahryar is one of tragedy, but it still has a happy ending.

It is said that Sultan Shahryar found one day that his wife was unfaithful to him; needless to say, his wife did not live to see another day, but the Sultan made a more extreme decision. He mandated that every night he would marry a new wife and then execute her by dawn. It was said he killed 1,001 wives before meeting Scheherazade.

To avoid meeting the inescapable fate, Scheherazade used her wits to stay alive. Every night she would tell the Sultan one of her classic stories and leave him on a cliff hanger by dawn. Shahryar would ask her to continue but she would say that it is almost morning and that she needs to sleep, so her life is spared for another night. This went on until she had no more stories to tell after 1,001 nights. That was when the Sultan fell in love for her and decided to spare her life.

Jameel & Bothina

A camel shepherd, Jameel, guides 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 Egypt. The two got married and Qutuz rose through the ranks to finally become the Sultan of Egypt. He managed to defeat the Mongols in the battle of Ain Jalut with the support of his beloved.

Aly & Enjy

A novel about love at the time of ’52 Revolution, “Rod Qalby Masr” tells the tale of Aly, the son of the gardener, and Enjy, daughter of a prominent Egyptian nobleman, who fell in love from a young age. But due to his social status, Aly was always a proud young man, hiding the patches on his clothes from the beautiful, worry-free Enjy, and standing up to his father when the nobleman hurls degrading insults at him.

He kept his love hidden deep inside and joined the military to escape his heartache. With time, he rose through the ranks and became one of the leading officers of the ’52 Revolution. With the ousting of the last Egyptian king, the officer comes to his old home to confiscate the properties of Enjy’s father, who abused his power. He was finally reunited with his beloved and the people of Egypt were free.

Hypa & Hepatia

Azazeel is a controversial novel, by the Author Youssef Zeidan, set in the Roman Province of Coptic Egypt. Hypa, a Coptic monk leaves his hometown in Akhmeem in Upper Egypt and sets to Alexandria, the center of the world’s knowledge at that time. There, he sees Hypatia, and although it is love from one side, he deeply admires and respects the 5th century A.D. world-renowned philosopher.

It all comes at an end, when fanatics execute the Philosopher Hypatia and he escapes Alexandria and travels to Jerusalem with conflicted feelings and heartbreak.

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