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Abu Nuwas

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Abu Nuwas
Abu Nuwas drawn by Khalil Gibran in 1916
Abu Nuwas drawn by Khalil Gibran in 1916
BornAbū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī
c. 756
Ahvaz, Abbasid Caliphate
Diedc. 814 (aged 57–58)
Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate

Abū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī (variant: Al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī 'Abd al-Awal al-Ṣabāḥ, Abū 'Alī (أَبُو عَلِي اَلْحَسَنْ بْنْ هَانِئْ بْنْ عَبْدِ اَلْأَوَّلْ بْنْ اَلصَّبَاحِ اَلْحُكْمِيِّ اَلْمِذْحَجِي), known as Abū Nuwās al-Salamī (أبو نواس السلمي)[1] or just Abū Nuwās[2] (أبو نواس, Abū Nuwās); c. 756 – c. 814) was a classical Arabic poet, and the foremost representative of the modern (muhdath) poetry that developed during the first years of Abbasid Caliphate. He also entered the folkloric tradition, appearing several times in One Thousand and One Nights.

Early life[edit]

Abu Nuwas was born in the province of Ahvaz (modern Khuzestan Province) of the Abbasid Caliphate, either in the city of Ahvaz or one of its adjacent districts. His date of birth is uncertain, he was born sometime between 756 and 758. His father was Hani, a Syrian or Persian who had served in the army of the last Umayyad caliph Marwan II (r. 744–750). His mother was a Persian named Gulban, whom Hani had met whilst serving in the police force of Ahvaz. When Abu Nuwas was 10 years old, his father died.[3][4]

In his early childhood Abu Nuwas followed his mother to Basra in lower Iraq where he attended Qur’an school and became a Hafiz at a young age. His youthful good looks and innate charisma attracted the attention of the Kufan poet, Abu Usama Waliba ibn al-Hubab al-Asadi, who took Abu Nuwas to Kufa as a young apprentice. Waliba recognized in Abu Nuwas his talent as a poet and encouraged him toward this vocation, but was also attracted sexually to the young man and may have had erotic relations with him. Abu Nuwas's relationships with adolescent boys when he had matured as a man seem to mirror his own experience with Waliba.[5]


Abu Nuwas wrote poetry in multiple genres; his great talent was most recognized in his wine poems and in his hunting poems.[6] Abu Nuwas’s diwan, his poetry collection, was divided by genre: panegyric poems, elegies, invective, courtly love poems on men and women, poems of penitence, hunting poems, and wine poems.[7] His erotic lyric poetry, which is often homoerotic, is known from over 500 poems and fragments.[8] He also participated in the well-established Arabic tradition of satirical poetry, which included duels between poets involving vicious exchanges of poetic lampoons and insults.[9] Ismail bin Nubakht, one of Nuwas's contemporaries, said:

"I never saw a man of more extensive learning than Abu Nuwas, nor one who, with a memory so richly furnished, possessed so few books. After his death we searched his house, and could only find one book-cover containing a quire of paper, in which was a collection of rare expressions and grammatical observations."[10]


The spirit of a new age was reflected in wine poetry after the change in dynasties to the Abbasids.[11] Abu Nuwas was a major influence on the development of wine poetry. His poems were likely written to entertain the Baghdad elite.[7] The centerpiece of wine poetry lays the vivid description of the wine, exalted descriptions of its taste, appearance, fragrance, and effects on the body and mind.[12] Abu Nuwas draws on many philosophical ideas and imagery in his poetry that glorify the Persians and mock Arab classicism.[11] He used wine poetry as a medium to echo the themes of Abbasid relevance in the Islamic world. An example of this is shown through a piece he wrote in his Khamriyyat:

"Wine is passed round among us in a silver jug, adorned by a Persian craftsman with a variety of designs, Chosroes on its base, and round its side oryxes which horsemen hunt with bows. Wine's place is where tunics are buttoned; water's place is where the Persian cap (qalansuwah) is worn,[11]

This passage has a prevalence of Persian imagery corresponding to the Persian language used in this period. Abu Nuwas was known to have both a poetic and political tone in his poetry. Along with other Abbasid poets, Nuwas atones for his openness to drinking wine and disregarding religion.[11] He wrote satirical strikes at Islam using wine as both an excuse and liberator.[12] A specific line of poetry in his Khamiryyat exemplifies his facetious relationship with religion; this line compares the religious prohibition of wine to God's forgiveness.[13] Nuwas wrote his literature as if his sins were vindicated within a religious framework. Abu Nuwas's poetry also reflected his love for wine and sexuality. The poems were written to celebrate both the physical and metaphysical experience of drinking wine that did not conform to the norms of poetry in the Islamic world.[7] A continuing theme in Abbasid wine poetry was its affiliation with pederasty due to the fact that wine shops usually employed boys as servers.[11] These poems were often salacious and rebellious. In the erotic section of his Diwan, his poems describe young servant girls dressed up as young boys drinking wine.[14] His affection for young boys was displayed through his poetry and social life. Nuwas explores an intriguing prejudice: that homosexuality was imported to Abbasid Iraq from the province in which the revolution originated.[14] He states in his writing that during the Umayyad caliphate, poets only indulged in female lovers.[14] Nuwas' seductive poems use wine as a central theme for blame and scapegoat.[11] This is shown through an excerpt from his al-muharramah:

"Boasting myriad colors when it spreads out in glass, silencing all tongues,

Showing off her body, golden, like a peal on a tailor's strong, in the hand of a lithe young man who speaks beautifully in response to a lover's request,

With a curl on each temple and a look in his eye that spells disaster.

He is a Christian, he wears clothes from Khurasan and his tunic bares his upper chest and neck.

Were you to speak to this elegant beauty, you would fling Islam from the top of a tall mountain.

If I were not afraid of the depredation of He who leads all sinners into transgression,

I would convert to his religion, entering it knowingly with love,

For I know that the Lord would not have distinguished this youth so unless his was the true religion."[7]

This poem accounts for various sins of Nuwas: being served by a Christian, glorifying a boys beauty, and finding testimony in Christianity. Nuwas's writing ridicules heterosexual propriety, the condemnation of homosexuality, the alcohol ban, and Islam itself.[7] He uses his literature to testify against the religious and cultural norms during the Abbasid caliphate. Though many of his poems describe his affection for boys, relating the taste and pleasure of wine to women is a signature technique of Abu Nuwas.[14] Nuwas's preference was not uncommon among heterosexual men of his time as homoerotic lyrics and poetry were popular among Muslim mystics.[7]

The earliest anthologies of his poetry and his biography were produced by:[15]

  • Yaḥyā ibn al-Faḍl and Ya‘qūb ibn al-Sikkīt arranged his poetry under ten subject categories, rather than in alphabetical order. Al-Sikkīt wrote an 800-page commentary.[16]
  • Abū Sa’īd al-Sukkarī[a] edited his poetry, providing commentary and linguistic notes; he completed editing approximately two thirds of the corpus of one thousand folios. [17][18]
  • Abū Bakr ibn Yaḥyā aI-Ṣūlī edited his work, organizing poems alphabetically, and corrected some false attributions.
  • Ḥamza ibn al-Ḥasan al-Iṣfahānī also edited his writings, compiling works alphabetically. However, Ibn al-Nadim attributes this to an ‘Alī ibn Ḥamza al-Iṣbahānī. [19][20]
  • Yūsuf ibn al-Dāyah [21]
  • Abū Hiffān [b] [22]
  • Ibn al-Washshā’ Abū Ṭayyib, scholar of Baghdād[23][24][25][26]
  • Ibn ‘Ammār[c] wrote a critique of Nuwas's work, including citing instances of alleged plagiarism.[27][28]
  • Al-Munajjim family: Abū Manṣūr; Yaḥyā ibn Abī Manṣūr; Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyā; ‘Alī ibn Yaḥyā; Yaḥyā ibn ‘Alī; Aḥmad ibn Yaḥyā; Hārūn ibn ‘Alī; ‘Alī ibn Hārūn; Aḥmad ibn ‘Alī; Hārūn ibn ‘Alī ibn Hārūn.[29][30][31][32][33]
  • Abū al-Ḥasan al-Sumaysāṭī also wrote in praise of Nuwas. [34]

Imprisonment and death[edit]

He died during the Great Abbasid Civil War before al-Ma’mūn advanced from Khurāsān in either 199 or 200 AH (814–816 AD).[35] Because he frequently indulged in drunken exploits, Nuwas was imprisoned during the reign of Al-Amin, shortly before his death.[36]

The cause of his death is disputed:[37] four different accounts of Abu Nuwas’s death survive: 1. He was poisoned by the Nawbakht family, having been framed with a poem satirizing them; 2. He died in a tavern drinking right up to his death; 3. He was beaten by the Nawbakht for the satire falsely attributed to him; wine appears to have had a role in the flailing emotions of his final hours—this seems to be a combination of accounts one and two; 4. He died in prison, a version which contradicts the many anecdotes stating that in the advent of his death he suffered illness and was visited by friends (though not in prison). He most probably died of ill health, and equally probably in the house of the Nawbakht family, whence came the myth that they poisoned him.[5] Nuwas was buried in Shunizi cemetery in Baghdad.[38]


Manuscript of Abu Nawas's verses. Copied by Mirza Kuchik Visal, Qajar Iran, dated 10 May 1824


Nuwas is one of a number of writers credited with inventing the literary form of the mu‘ammā (literally "blinded" or "obscured"), a riddle which is solved "by combining the constituent letters of the word or name to be found".[39][40] He also perfected two Arabic genres: Khamriyya (wine poetry) and Tardiyya (hunting poetry). Ibn Quzman, who was writing in Al-Andalus in the 12th century, admired him deeply and has been compared to him.[41][42]


The city of Baghdad has several places named for the poet. Abū Nuwās Street runs along the east bank of the Tigris River, in a neighbourhood that was once the city's showpiece.[43] Abu Nuwas Park is located on the 2.5-kilometer stretch between the Jumhouriya Bridge and a park that extends out to the river in Karada near the 14th of July Bridge.[44]

In 1976, a crater on the planet Mercury was named in honor of Abu Nuwas.[45]

The Abu Nawas Association, founded in 2007 in Algeria, was named after the poet. The primary aim of the organisation is to decriminalise homosexuality in Algeria, seeking the abolition of article 333 and 338 of the Algerian penal code which still considers homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment and accompanied by a fine.[46][47]


While his works were in circulation freely until the early years of the twentieth century, the first modern censored edition of his works was published in Cairo in 1932. In January 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the burning of some 6,000 copies of books of Nuwas's homoerotic poetry.[48][49] In the Saudi Global Arabic Encyclopedia entry for Abu Nuwas, all mentions of pederasty were omitted.[50]

In popular culture[edit]

He features as a character in a number of stories in One Thousand and One Nights, where he is cast as a boon companion of Harun al-Rashid.

A heavily fictionalised Abu Nuwas is the protagonist of the novels The Father of Locks (Dedalus Books, 2009)[51] and The Khalifah's Mirror (2012) by Andrew Killeen,[52] in which he is depicted as a spy working for Ja'far al-Barmaki.[53]

In the Sudanese novel Season of Migration to the North (1966) by Tayeb Salih, Abu Nuwas's love poetry is cited extensively by one of the novel's protagonists, the Sudanese Mustafa Sa'eed, as a means of seducing a young English woman in London: "Does it not please you that the earth is awaking,/ That old virgin wine is there for the taking?"[54]

The Tanzanian artist Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) created a Swahili comic book called Abunuwasi which was published in 1996.[55] It features a trickster figure named Abunuwasi as the protagonist in three stories draw inspiration from East African folklore as well as the fictional Abu Nuwasi of One Thousand and One Nights.[56][57]

In Pasolini's Arabian Nights, the Sium story is based on Abu Nuwas' erotic poetry. The original poems are used throughout the scene.[58]

In Indonesia, Abu Nuwas, called Abunawas, is a character of various folk stories, similar to Nasreddin Hoca.[59] The stories often highlight relations between ordinary people and the higher class.[60]

Editions and translations[edit]

  • Der Dīwān des Abū Nuwās, ed. by Ewald Wagner. 5 vols. (1958-2003).
  • Dīwān Abū Nu’ās, khamriyyāt Abū Nu’ās, ed. by ‘Alī Najīb ‘Aṭwi (Beirut 1986).
  • O Tribe That Loves Boys. Hakim Bey (Entimos Press / Abu Nuwas Society, 1993). With a scholarly biographical essay on Abu Nuwas, largely taken from Ewald Wagner's biographical entry in The Encyclopedia of Islam.
  • Carousing with Gazelles, Homoerotic Songs of Old Baghdad. Seventeen poems by Abu Nuwas translated by Jaafar Abu Tarab. (iUniverse, Inc., 2005).
  • Jim Colville. Poems of Wine and Revelry: The Khamriyyat of Abu Nuwas. (Kegan Paul, 2005).
  • The Khamriyyāt of Abū Nuwās: Medieval Bacchic Poetry, trans. by Fuad Matthew Caswell (Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, 2015). Trans. from ‘Aṭwi 1986.


  1. ^ Abū Sa’īd al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Sukkarī (d. 888/ 889), scholar of linguistics, ancient history, genealogy, poetry, geology, zoology and botany.
  2. ^ Abū Hiffān Abd Allāh ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥarb al-Mihzamī (d. 871), secretary and poet of al-Baṣrah who lived in Baghdād.
  3. ^ Ibn ‘Ammār is possibly Aḥmad ibn ‘Ubayd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Ammār al-Thaqafī (d. 926), Shī’ah secretary and vizier to many caliphs.


  1. ^ Ibn-Hallikān 1961, p. 546, II.
  2. ^ Garzanti
  3. ^ Wagner 2007.
  4. ^ Fatehi-Nezhad, Azarnoosh & Negahban 2008; His mother was a Persian seamstress from Ahwāz, called Gulbān or Gulnāz (Abū Hiffān, 108; Ibn al-Muʿtazz, 194; Ibn Qutayba, al-Shiʿr, 2/692; Ibn ʿAsākir, 4/279). His father Hānī was either Persian (according to al-Aṣmaʿī) or from al-Shām, and had served in the army of the last Umayyad caliph, Marwān II
  5. ^ a b Kennedy, Philip F. (2009). Abu Nuwas : a genius of poetry (First South Asian paperback ed.). New Delhi. ISBN 978-1-78074-188-8. OCLC 890932769.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Kennedy, Philip F. (2012). Abu Nuwas : a genius of poetry (Oneworld Publications ebook ed.). London. p. 10.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ a b c d e f "The Diwan of Abu Nuwas | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  8. ^ Kennedy, Philip F. (2012). Abu Nuwas : a genius of poetry (Oneworld Publications ebook ed.). London. p. 58.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ Kennedy, Philip F. (2012). Abu Nuwas : a genius of poetry (Oneworld Publications ebook ed.). London. p. 150.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ Arbuthnot 1890, p. 81.
  11. ^ a b c d e f scientifique., Ashtiany, Julia (19..-....). Éditeur. ʻAbbasid belles lettres. ISBN 978-1-139-42490-5. OCLC 819159055.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ a b Rowell, Alex (2018). Vintage Humour : the Islamic Wine Poetry of Abu Nuwas. Hurst. ISBN 978-1-84904-992-4. OCLC 1032725647.
  13. ^ Kennedy, Philip F. (1997). The Wine Song in Classical Arabic Poetry: Abu Nuwas and the Literary Tradition. Oxford, England, UK: Clarendon Press. p. 70. ISBN 9780198263920.
  14. ^ a b c d Kennedy, Philip F. Abu Nuwas a genius of poetry. ISBN 1-322-52649-4. OCLC 898753712.
  15. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 312–16, 353, 382, 1062.
  16. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, p. 352.
  17. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 173, 353.
  18. ^ Flügel 1862, p. 89.
  19. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 353, 954.
  20. ^ Sherrill, Logan J. (2024). The World of Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī: His Life and Writings in Context (PDF) (Thesis). University of North Carolina at Greensboro. p. 4.
  21. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 353, 1129.
  22. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 316, 1003.
  23. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 186, 353, 1122.
  24. ^ Suyūṭī (al-), Jalāl al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān (1965). Bughyat al-Wuʻāh fī Ṭabaqāt al-Lughawīyīn wa-al-Nuḥāh (in Arabic). Vol. 1. al-Qāhirah: Ṭubiʻa bi-mạṭbaʻat ʻĪsa al-Bābī al-Halabī. p. 18 (§ 27).
  25. ^ Yāqūt, Shihāb al-Dīn ibn ‘Abd al-Ḥamawī (1993). Abbās, Ihsan (ed.). Irshād al-Arīb alā Ma'rifat al-Adīb (in Arabic). Beirut: Dār Gharib al-Islām i. pp. 2303-2304 (§ 953).
  26. ^ Yāqūt, Shihāb al-Dīn ibn ‘Abd al-Ḥamawī (1913). Margoliouth, D. S. (ed.). Irshād al-Arīb alā Ma'rifat al-Adīb (in Arabic). Vol. VI (7). Leiden: Brill. pp. 277–278.
  27. ^ Iṣbahānī, Abū al-Faraj (1888). Kitab al-Aghānī (in Arabic). Vol. IV. Leiden: Brill. p. 157.
  28. ^ Iṣbahānī, Abū al-Faraj (1888). Kitab al-Aghānī (in Arabic). Vol. XVIII. Leiden: Brill. pp. 2–29.
  29. ^ Khallikān (Ibn), Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad (1868). Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary (tr. Wafayāt al-A'yān wa-al-Anbā Abnā' al-Zamān). Vol. III. Translated by McGuckin de Slane, William. London: W.H. Allen. pp. 604–5.
  30. ^ Khallikān (Ibn), Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad (1972). Wafayāt al-A'yān wa-Anbā' Abnā' al-Zamān (The Obituaries of Eminent Men) (in Arabic). Vol. VI. Beirut: Dār Ṣādar. pp. 78–79.
  31. ^ Tha‘ālibī (al-), ‘Abd al-Mālik, Abū Manṣūr (1915). Nāqidan fī Yatīmat al-dahr fī Shu'arā' Ahl al-Aṣr (in Arabic). Vol. II. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press. p. 283. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ Tha‘ālibī (al-), ‘Abd al-Mālik, Abū Manṣūr (1915). Nāqidan fī Yatīmat al-dahr fī Shu'arā' Ahl al-Aṣr (in Arabic). Vol. III. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press. pp. 207–8. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Tha‘ālibī (al-), ‘Abd al-Mālik, Abū Manṣūr (1885). Index: Farīdatu'l-'Aṣr (in Arabic). Damascus: Al-Maṭba’ah al-Ḥanifīyah.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  34. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, p. 353.
  35. ^ Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 352–3.
  36. ^ "Abu Nuwas". 16 October 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  37. ^ "Abu Nuwas Biography". Poemhunter. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  38. ^ Khallikān, Ibn (1842). Ibn Khallikan's biographical dictionary – Internet Archive. Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. p. 394. Retrieved 12 September 2010. Abu Nuwas buried cemetery.
  39. ^ "mu'ammā". Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature. 1998.
  40. ^ "Lughz". Encyclopedia of Islam. 2009.
  41. ^ La Corónica. Vol. 24. 1995. p. 242.
  42. ^ Monroe, James T. (2013). "Why was Ibn Quzmān Not Awarded the Title of "Abū Nuwās of the West?" ('Zajal 96', the Poet, and His Critics)". Journal of Arabic Literature. 44 (3): 293–334. doi:10.1163/1570064x-12341271.
  43. ^ Abū Nuwās Street at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  44. ^ "DVIDS – News – A Walk in the Park". Dvidshub.net. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  45. ^ Mahoney 2013, p. 49.
  46. ^ "Gay people are reclaiming an Islamic heritage". The Economist. 27 May 2021. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  47. ^ TCHUISSEU, Divine-Léna (28 November 2020). "LGBTQIA+ activism in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries: between repression and determination". Institut du Genre en Géopolitique. Archived from the original on 2 June 2021.
  48. ^ Al-Hayat, 13 January 2001
  49. ^ Middle East Report, 219 Summer 2001
  50. ^ Bearman, Peri (2009). "Global Arabic Encyclopedia". In Khanbaghi, Aptin (ed.). Encyclopedias about Muslim Civilisations. pp. 16–17.
  51. ^ Killeen, Andrew. (2009). The father of locks. Sawtry: Dedalus. ISBN 978-1-903517-76-5. OCLC 260209089.
  52. ^ Killeen, Andrew. (2012). The Khalifah's mirror. New York: Dedalus. ISBN 978-1-909232-35-8. OCLC 815389625.
  53. ^ Killeen 2009.
  54. ^ Ṣāliḥ 1991, pp. 119–120.
  55. ^ Gado (1996). Abu nuwasi : kimefasiriwa na kimechorwa. Nairobi, Kenya: Sasa Sema Publications. ISBN 9966-9609-0-2. OCLC 43496228.
  56. ^ Pilcher 2005, p. 297.
  57. ^ Gado 1998.
  58. ^ Moon, Michael (15 January 2017). Arabian Nights: A Queer Film Classic. Arsenal pulp press. ISBN 9781551526676.
  59. ^ "Bedanya Nasrudin Khoja dan Abu Nawas". Republika Online (in Indonesian). 20 September 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  60. ^ Rahayu, Mundi (2021). "The discourse of common people represented in Javanese version of Abu Nawas stories" (PDF). Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research. 644. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2022. Retrieved 1 May 2024.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]