“It’s one of those inexplicable quirks of human nature and the attitude of society that a smooth sailing romance does not arouse so much interest as a tragic one! When a normally eligible man and woman fall for each other and get married, no one takes particular note. People would like to prove that the course of true love never runs smooth. All means, even physical violence, is resorted to in order to thwart the lovers or destroy them if they do not yield’

—S.P. Sharma,The Art of Loving.

One of the most tragic of love stories of all times is that of the seventh century Arabian overs Layla Mujnun, so close that they were two bodies but one in spirit. When Majnun suffered, Layla bore the signs

By Mahlia Lone

During the Umayyad era in the 7th century, a son was born to Shah Amri, an Arab Bedouin chieftain of the Bani Aamir tribe belonging to the northern Arabian Peninsula. The baby boy was named Qays ibn al-Mullawah ibn Muzahim and astrologers predicted that baby Qays would grow up to spend his hife wandering. How right they were.

The lovely Layla al-Aamiriya was born with a golden spoon in her mouth, a princess in all but name, belonging to an extremely wealthy family of the area. Because she was rich, beautiful, well born and well connected, she was expected to marry a veritable prince and further elevate the family’s social standing. Qays met Layla (meaning intoxicating, night or dark beauty in Arabic) at the maktab (elementary school) they both attended as children. Smitten at a young age, Qays would be moon eyed and pay more attention to Layla than to his studies. When the master would cane him, remarkably Layla would cry out and have the marks on her body instead.

France Museum A Depiction Of What They Really Looked Like

The years passed and Qays’ love deepened and Layla too reciprocated his love. Thoughts of her possessed his mind at all times. Inspired by his love for her, Qays wrote and recited numerous poems, all dedicated to Layla. Daringly, he even mentioned her name in his poems expressing how much he loved and desired his beloved. He didn’t care that his friends made fun of his besotted state. He wanted to marry her and make her his forever. Although he belonged to the same tribe as Layla, Qays did not belong to the same social class nor have near enough money, so he was hesitant. Finally, he mustered up the courage, went to her parents, and asked for Layla’s hand in marriage. But he was a humble poet and they had been dreaming of a prince. To make matters worse, the match would have caused a scandal due to existing strict Arab traditions. Her father promptly turned Qays down. The two lovers were no longer allowed to see each other.

Keshan Azerbaijani

Layla was married off to a noble and wealthy merchant called Ward Althaqafi belonging to the Thaqif tribe in Ta’if. Though older than her in age, he was described as a handsome man with a reddish complexion, which is why he was called Ward (rose in Arabic). It was a good match but the bride was not happy, in her heart she still longed for her lover.

Qays was heartbroken. He fled the tribe camp and wandered in the surrounding desert. Desolate, he shunned the world and all its worldly trapping wanting to be alone in his misery. His old parents would leave food in the wilderness for their son where he would find it. At times, people spotted him wandering in rags, reciting poetry to himself about his beloved, or writing Layla’s name on the sand with a stick. Day and night, he pined for her. All those who saw him claimed he had lost his sanity, driven crazy by his love. Hence, they nicknamed him “Majnun” and even “Majnun Layla” (driven mad by Layla).

Painting Titled, Reality Of Laila Majnu

“I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart
But of the One who dwells within them”
—Qays ibn al-Mulawwah (Majnun)

References to Layla Majnun in pop culture:

Film

  • In pre-Independence India, the first Pashto-language film was an adaptation of this story.
  • Layla and Majnun was a Tajik Soviet film-ballet of 1960 as well as a Soviet Azerbaijani film of 1961.
  • Pakistani film Laila Majnu (1974) starred Waheed Murad, Rani, Shahid and Zammurd, was directed by Hassan Tariq and music was composed by Nisar Bazmi.
  • In Bollywood, H. S. Rawail’s Laila Majnu (1976) starred Rishi Kapoor and Ranjeeta portraying all “the intense pangs of love, the painful obstacles that lie in its path and a soul-stirring performance by its lead actors.” The film was written by Abrar Alvi, a longtime associate of Guru Dutt and its hit music was composed by Madan Mohan and Jaidev with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi. The actors fully overact in true Hindi film style and the music and dialogues are sentimental.
  • The Turks made the cinematic drama Leyla ile Mecnun in 1982.
  • Palestinian filmmaker Susan Youssef filmed Habibi (based on the story) in the Gaza strip in 2011.

Music

The tale and name Layla served as Eric Clapton’s inspiration for the title of the famous Derek and the Dominoes’ album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and its title track in 1971. The song I Am Yours is a direct quote from a passage in Layla and Majnun.

Modern World Literature

  • Turkish novelist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, Orhan Pamuk makes frequent reference to Layla Majnun in his novels, The Museum of Innocence and My Name is Red.
  • In his book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Afghan author Khaled Hosseini often  refers to the character Rasheed in Baku (Azerbaijan) represent the epic love story on blue green tiles.

Theatre

Most recently, Laila The Musical was staged by the British theatre production, Rifco Arts in a 2016 tour of England.

Time passed and one day an old man approached him and told him of his parents’ death. He had been sent by Layla because she knew of Majnun’s love for his parents, and wanted him to know about the tragic event. Maybe she was hoping he would return to civilization. But upon hearing the news, Majnun pledged to live out the rest of his days in the wilderness. Now he had nothing left to return to. Overcome with grief and the regret and guilt for having abandoned his parents to bemoan the loss of his love, he was completely shattered.

Like before, Layla could feel in her body whatever Qays felt. She too was shattered in mind, body and spirit, plus had a broken heart. Her husband took her on a long voyage to Iraq with him. Not long afterwards, in 688 AD, she fell ill and died there. When Qays’ friends came to know about Layla’s death, they went looking for him all over to give him the news. But they could not find him. Qays had felt his beloved’s soul departing. He sensed his way to her grave upon which he flung himself bereft crying inconsolably. There he was found in the wilderness near Layla’s grave. On a rock near the grave, he had carved three verses of poetry, which are the last three verses he ever wrote before he finally joined his Layla in death.

A Miniature Of Nizami’s Work. Layla And Majnun Meet For The Last Time Before Their Deaths. Both Have Fainted And Majnun’s Elderly Messenger Attempts To Revive Layla While

In an alternate version, Layla’s brother, Tabrez, would not allow her to bring a scandal upon them and shame the family name by marrying the crazy Majnun. Majnun blamed Tabrez for his proposal getting rejected and quarreled with him. Stricken with madness over the loss of Layla, Majnun murdered Tabrez. Word reached the village and he was arrested. He was sentenced to be stoned to death by the villagers. Layla could not bear it and agreed to marry another man if Majnun would be exiled instead of put to death. Her terms were accepted and she was married, but in her heart she still pined for him. Layla’s husband realized this and was infuriated. He took it as a personal insult to himself. He rode with his men into the desert to find Majnun. Upon finding him, Layla’s husband challenged him to a duel. The instant her husband’s sword pierced Majnun’s heart, Layla collapsed in her home. Layla and Majnun were buried next to each other as her husband and their fathers prayed for their afterlife. Myth has it that Layla and Majnun met again in heaven, where they loved forever. Layla Majnun did not die in vain, they died for love, and that love has immortalized them.

Muhammad Bin Sulayman Known As Fuzûlî

The story of Layla Majnun was well known in Persia as early as the 9th century. Two well known Persian poets, Rudaki and Baba Taher, both mention the lovers. Then, in the twelfth century Persian Muslim poet Nizami Ganjavi wrote five long narrative poems called Panj Ganj (The Five Treasures) of which the third was Layla Majnun. Nizami drew influence from Udhrite love poetry, characterized by erotic abandon and an unquenchable longing for the beloved. He sourced both secular and mystical references about Layla Majnun and portrayed a vivid picture of the famous lovers. His masterpiece inspired many other Persian to write their own versions of the romance. The enduring popularity of the romance influenced countless generation of Sufi writers all over the Muslim world.

This type of love is known as “virgin love” because the lovers never marry each other or consummate their passion. It is a chaste, purely emotional love. Family and society puts up so many roadblocks that they die before they can consummate, hence, the enduring popularity in the conservative Muslim world of such “pure” love stories. This literary motif is common throughout Muslim literature, and is even found in Urdu ghazals.

According to Dr. Rudolf Gelpke, “Many later poets have imitated Nizami’s work, even if they could not equal and certainly not surpass it; Persians, Turks, Indians, to name only the most important ones. The Persian scholar Hekmat has listed no less than forty Persians and thirteen Turkish versions of Layli and Majnun.”

Vahid Dastgerdi agrees, “If one would search all existing libraries, one would probably find more than 1000 versions of Layli and Majnun.”

Uzeyir Hajibeyov Composed The Middle East’s First Opera Based On This Story
Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s Opera

The story of Layla Majnun became very popular in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani adaptation of the story, Dâstân-i Leylî vü Mecnûn (The Epic of Layla and Majnun) was written in the 16th century by Fuzûlî, pseudonym of the poet Muhammad bin Suleyman. In the late 19th century, Ahmed Shawqi wrote a lyrical play based on Fuzuli’s poetry, now considered one of the best in modern Arab poetry. Fuzûlî also inspired the composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov whose opera on the lovers’ tragic life became Middle East’s first opera, which premiered in Baku on 25 January 1908. A scene from Fuzuli’s poem is even depicted on the reverse of the Azerbaijani 100 and 50 manat commemorative coins minted in 1996 for the 500th anniversary of Fuzûlî’s life.

In the early 19th century, Nizami’s epic poem was translated into English by Isaac D’Israeli (the scholarly father of Prime Minister Benjamin Disreali) bringing it to a wider western audience. Lord Byron called Layla Majnun “the Romeo and Juliet of the East.”

Azerbaijani Writer Ahmed Shawqi Wrote A Lyrical Play Based On Fuzuli’s Poetry
Alleged Layla Majnu Mausoleum
Tomb
Jewish Scholar Isaac D’Israeli Who Translated Nizami’s Epic Poem Into English
Layla And Majnun; A Persian Love Story —Edmund Dulacs Picture Book For The French

In India, according to a rural legend, it is believed that Laila Majnu (South Asian spelling) were actually from Sind. They eloped from their village and found refuge just 2 km from the current Indo-Pak border in the village of Binjaur, 12 to 14 km from Anupgarh town in the Sriganganagar district in Rajasthan before they died. The graves of Laila Majnu are believed to be located. Hundreds of newlyweds and lovers regardless of their religion from India and Pakistan make a pilgrimage to the lovers’ graves. The mausoleum is revered equally by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians signifying the secular character of love and an annual fair on June on 15th commemorates their enduring love story.

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