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History & Heritage


Layla and Majnun: The Arabian folk story of a man gone crazy for love

Love, passion, and heartache have been eternal inspirations for poets and storytellers worldwide. The Arab world is no exception, with its canon of traditional poetry full of tales and unrequited love, deception, gallantry and heartbreak, all in the pursuit of a beloved.

A classic of Arabic literature

Among these spellbinding stories, perhaps the best-known and most influential in Arab culture is the riveting story of Layla and Majnun.

The story of Layla and Majnun is a classic tale of two lovers who were kept apart by societal and familial circumstances. The story is based on the real-life tale of Qays ibn al-Mulawah and Layla al-Amiriya, two lovers from the Bani Amer tribe in Najd in the Arabian peninsula before Islam. 

Layla and Qays grew up playing together, but when they reached adolescence, they were separated due to Bedouin customs of gender separation. Despite the circumstances, Qays was already in love with Layla, and being deprived of his beloved sent him into a mental decline that earned him the sobriquet “Majnun”, which means “crazy” in Arabic.

“I pass by this town, the town of Layla

And I kiss this wall, and that wall

It’s not the love of the town that has enraptured my heart

But of the One who dwells within this town.”

Although Layla reciprocated these feelings for Qays, Layla’s father did not approve of Qays as a potential suitor for his daughter, so he arranged for her to marry Ward Althaqafi, a wealthy merchant from the Thaqif tribe in Taif. This only made Qays’ burning heartbreak worse, throwing him deeper into insanity which made him spend the rest of his days wandering around the desert in permanent sorrow, without hope to return to his family, which made the latter leave food for him in the wilderness for him to survive.

After the death of her husband, Layla sets out to find Qays, but the culture and traditions of pre-Islamic Arabia do not allow this, leaving Layla to die frantic and alone. Qays then finds her grave and passes beside it, and they are finally united in death.

Romantic epics: a hallmark of Arabic literature

The romantic epic is a prominent genre in Arabic literature that has been a significant part of the Arab world’s cultural heritage for centuries. 

The stories of love that enchanted poets and readers were largely fictional, but some were based on real-life characters. Over time, legends replaced facts, and poetic embellishments in these stories increased, giving them a unique place in the world of literature.

The story of Layla and Majnun became very influential in other cultures, even outside of the Arab world. It is considered one of the most influential folk stories in Azerbaijani, Persian and Turkish cultures. The tale has been retold through various forms of art, including literature, music, and film. The story is significant in the collective Arab imagination and it even inspired colloquialisms of the Arabic language, such as: “Each man cries for his own Layla”.  


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Published on 14 February 2023

#Arab world