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Layla and Majnun

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A miniature of Nizami's narrative poem. Layla and Majnun meet for the last time before their deaths. Both have fainted and Majnun's elderly messenger attempts to revive Layla while wild animals protect the pair from unwelcome intruders. Late 16th-century illustration.

Layla and Majnun (Arabic: مجنون ليلى majnūn laylā "Layla's Mad Lover"; Persian: لیلی و مجنون, romanizedlaylâ-o-majnun)[1] is an old story of Arab origin,[2][3] about the 7th-century Arabic poet Qays ibn al-Mulawwah and his lover Layla bint Mahdi (later known as Layla al-Aamiriya).[4]

"The Layla-Majnun theme passed from Arabic to Persian, Turkish, and Indian languages",[5] through the narrative poem composed in 584/1188 by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, as the third part of his Khamsa.[4][6][7][8][a] It is a popular poem praising their love story.[9][10][11]

Qays and Layla fell in love with each other when they were young, but when they grew up, Layla's father did not allow them to be together. Qays became obsessed with her. His tribe Banu 'Amir, and the community gave him the epithet of Majnūn (مجنون "crazy", lit. "possessed by Jinn"). Long before Nizami, the legend circulated in anecdotal forms in Iranian akhbar. The early anecdotes and oral reports about Majnun are documented in Kitab al-Aghani and Ibn Qutaybah's Al-Shi'r wa-l-Shu'ara'. The anecdotes are mostly very short, only loosely connected, and show little or no plot development. Nizami collected both secular and mystical sources about Majnun and portrayed a vivid picture of the famous lovers.[12] Subsequently, many other Persian poets imitated him and wrote their own versions of the romance.[12] Nizami drew influence from Udhrite (Udhri)[13][14] love poetry, which is characterized by erotic abandon and attraction to the beloved, often by means of an unfulfillable longing.[15]

Many imitations have been contrived of Nizami's work, several of which are original literary works in their own right, including Amir Khusrow Dehlavi's Majnun o Leyli (completed in 1299), and Jami's version, completed in 1484, amounting to 3,860 couplets. Other notable reworkings are by Maktabi Shirazi, Hatefi (died 1520), and Fuzuli (died 1556), which became popular in Ottoman Turkey and India. Sir William Jones published Hatefi's romance in Calcutta in 1788. The popularity of the romance following Nizami's version is also evident from the references to it in lyrical poetry and mystical masnavis—before the appearance of Nizami's romance, there are just some allusions to Layla and Majnun in divans. The number and variety of anecdotes about the lovers also increased considerably from the twelfth century onwards. Mystics contrived many stories about Majnun to illustrate technical mystical concepts such as fanaa (annihilation), divānagi (love-madness), self-sacrifice, etc. Nizami's work has been translated into many languages.[16] The modern Arabic-language adaptation of the classical Arabic story include Shawqi's play The Mad Lover of Layla.[17]


A Mughal miniature of Amir Khusro's version; Walters Art Museum

Qays ibn al-Mullawah fell in love with Layla al-Aamiriya. He soon began composing poems about his love for her, mentioning her name often. His obsessive effort to woo the girl caused some locals to call him "Majnun", or mentally unhinged. When he asked for her hand in marriage, her father refused because it would be a scandal for Layla to marry someone considered mentally unbalanced. Soon after, Layla was forcibly married to another noble and rich merchant belonging to the Thaqif tribe in Ta'if. He was described as a handsome man with reddish complexion whose name was Ward Althaqafi. The Arabs called him Ward, meaning "rose" in Arabic.

When Majnun heard of her marriage, he fled the tribal camp and began wandering the surrounding desert. His family eventually gave up hope for his return and left food for him in the wilderness. He could sometimes be seen reciting poetry to himself or writing in the sand with a stick.

After Majnun went mad, he searched for love in the desert. He disconnected from the physical world.

Layla is generally depicted as having moved to a place in Northern Arabia with her husband, where she became ill and eventually died. In some versions, Layla dies of heartbreak from not being able to see her beloved. Majnun was later found dead in the wilderness in 688 AD, near Layla's grave. He had carved three verses of poetry on a rock near the grave, which are the last three verses attributed to him[needs citation].

Many other minor incidents happened between his madness and his death. Most of his recorded poetry was composed before his descent into madness.

I pass by this town, the town of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the town that has enraptured my heart
But of the One who dwells within this town

It is a tragic story of undying love much like the later Romeo and Juliet. This type of love is known as "virgin love" because the lovers never marry or consummate their passion. Other famous virgin love stories set in Arabia are the stories of Qays and Lubna, Kuthair and Azza, Marwa and Al Majnoun Al Faransi, and Antara and Abla. This literary motif is common throughout the world, notably in the Muslim literature of South Asia, such as Urdu ghazals.

Lineage of Qays and Layla[edit]

Qays is the uncle of Layla and she is the daughter of Qays' cousin. Both Qays and Layla, descended from the tribe of Hawazin and the tribe of Banu Ka'b (the patriarch Ka'b), which is also related to the direct lineage of Muhammad of Islam. Therefore, they are descendants of Adnan, who is Ishmaelite Arab descendant of (Ishmael), son of Ibrahim (Abraham). Their lineage is narrated from Arabic records as follows:


Qays' lineage is: Qays bin Al-Mulawwah bin Muzahim bin ʿAds bin Rabīʿah bin Jaʿdah bin Ka'b bin Rabīʿah bin ʿĀmir ibn Ṣaʿṣaʿa bin Muʿawiyah bin Bakr bin Hawāzin bin Mansūr bin ʿAkramah bin Khaṣfah bin Qays ʿAylān bin Muḍar bin Nizār bin Maʿad bin ʿAdnan.

He is the ʿĀmirī (descended from Banu Amir) of the Hawāzin (العامري الهوازني, al-ʿĀmirī 'l-Hawāzinī).

In Arabic:

قيس بن الملوّح بن مزاحم بن عدس بن ربيعة بن جعدة بن كعب بن ربيعة بن عامر بن صعصعة بن معاوية بن بكر بن هوازن بن منصور بن عكرمة بن خصفة بن قيس عيلان بن مضر بن نزار بن معد بن عدنان

Qays was born around 645 AD (AH 24 in the Hijri) in the Najd and died around 688 AD (AH 68 in the Hijri) during the reign of the fifth Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the 1st century of the Hijri in the Arabian Desert.

Qays is one of the two Al-Qaisayn poets Al-Mutaymīn (Arabic: المتيمين), the other being Qays bin Dharīḥ (قيس بن ذريح), dubbed "Majnūn Lubna (مجنون لبنى)". It is narrated (by a woman) that Qays died in the year 68 AH (corresponding to 688 AD), found lying dead among stones (where Layla was buried) and his body was carried to his family.


Layla's lineage is: Laylā bint Mahdī bin Saʿd bin Muzahim bin ʿAds bin Rabīʿah bin Jaʿdah bin Ka'b bin Rabīʿah bin Hawāzin bin Mansūr bin ʿAkramah bin Khaṣfah bin Qays ʿAylān bin Muḍar bin Nizār bin Maʿad bin ʿAdnan.

She was called "Umm Mālik (أم مالك)".

In Arabic:

ليلى بنت مهدي بن سعد بن مزاحم بن عدس بن ربيعة بن جعدة بن كعب بن ربيعة بن عامر بن صعصعة بن معاوية بن بكر بن هوازن بن منصور بن عكرمة بن خصفة بن قيس عيلان بن مضر بن نزار بن معد بن عدنان

Layla was born around 648 AD (AH 28 in the Hijri) in the Najd, and the date of her death is unknown. She died during the reign of the fifth Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the 1st century of the Hijri in the Arabian Desert.

Layla is born four years after Qays in a town called an-Najūʿ(النجوع) in the tribe of Banu Amir. The town is called by her name "Layla" today, and is the capital of Al-Aflaj province in the Riyadh Region.


Jabal Al-Toubad, the hill where the story of Qays and Layla is said to have been witnessed

It is believed from Arab oral tradition that Qays and Layla were born in what is now the province of Al-Aflaj in Saudi Arabia, and where the town of "Layla" has existed.

Jabal Al-Toubad (جبل التوباد) is located in the city of Al-Aflaj, 350 km southwest of the city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. Jabbar (جبار) is located near the village of Al-Ghayl (الغيل), in the center of Wadi Al-Mughal (وادي المغيال). This hill witnessed the love story of Qais bin al-Mulawwah and his cousin Laila al-Amiriya, in the 65th year of the Hijri (685 AD) during the reign of the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik bin Marwan.

The Persian poet Nasir Khusraw visited the town of "Layla" in the 5th century AH (1009 CE – 1106 CE) and described the town accurately along with the hill Jabal Al-Toubad, and elaborated on the misery that it had turned into as he spent a few months there. The region was overwhelmed by poverty, internal strife and insecurity.

History and influence[edit]

Persian adaptation and Persian literature[edit]

Majnun in the wilderness

The story of Layla and Majnun was known in Persia as early as the 9th century. Two well known Persian poets, Rudaki and Baba Taher, both mention the lovers.[18][19]

Although the story was known in Arabic literature in the 5th century,[20] it was the Persian masterpiece of Nizami Ganjavi that popularized it dramatically in Persian literature. Nizami collected both secular and mystical sources about Majnun and portrayed a vivid picture of the famous lovers.[12] Subsequently, many other Persian poets imitated him and wrote their own versions of the romance.[12] Nizami drew influence from Udhrite love poetry, which is characterized by erotic abandon and attraction to the beloved, often by means of an unfulfillable longing.[15] Other influences include older Persian epics, such as Vāmiq u 'Adhrā, written in the 11th century, which covers a similar topic of a virgin and her passionate lover; the latter having to go through many trials to be with his love.[21]

In his adaptation, the young lovers become acquainted at school and fell desperately in love. However, they could not see each other due to a family feud, and Layla's family arranged for her to marry another man.[22] 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."[23] According to Vahid Dastgerdi, "If one would search all existing libraries, one would probably find more than 1000 versions of Layli and Majnun."

In his statistical survey of famous Persian romances, Ḥasan Ḏulfaqāri enumerates 59 'imitations' (naẓiras) of Layla and Majnun as the most popular romance in the Iranian world, followed by 51 versions of Ḵosrow o Širin, 22 variants of Yusuf o Zuleikha and 16 versions of Vāmiq u ʿAḏhrā.[19]

Azerbaijani adaptation and Azerbaijani literature[edit]

Azerbaijani folk art based on the Layla and Majnun poem by Nizami Ganjavi

The story of Layla and Majnun was introduced to Azerbaijani literature through Fuzuli's interpretation in his lyric poem Leyli and Majnun, written in 1535.[b] This interpretation of the story generated more interest than previous Arabic and Persian versions, which the Turkish literature scholar İskender Pala attributes to the sincerity and lyricism of the poet's expression.[26] The work has been described by the Encyclopædia Iranica as "the culmination of the Turk[ic] masnavi tradition in that it raised the personal and human love-tragedy to the plane of mystical longing and ethereal aspiration".[25] Through his interpretation, the story of Layla and Majnun became widely known and Fuzuli's poem is considered one of the greatest works of Turkic literature.[27]

The first opera in the Islamic world, Leyli and Majnun, was composed by the Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov in 1908 and based on Fuzuli's work of the same name.[28]

Other influences[edit]

Layla visits Majnun in the wilderness; Indian watercolour held by the Bodleian Library

The enduring popularity of the legend has influenced Middle Eastern literature, especially Sufi writers, in whose literature the name Layla refers to their concept of the Beloved. The original story is featured in Bahá'u'lláh's mystical writings, the Seven Valleys. In the Arabic language, the word Majnun means "a crazy person." In addition to this creative use of language, the tale has also made at least one linguistic contribution, inspiring a Turkish colloquialism: to "feel like Mecnun" is to feel completely possessed, as might be expected of a person who is literally madly in love. A related Arabic colloquialism is "Each man cries for his own Layla" (Arabic: كل يبكي على ليلاه).[29]

This epic poem was translated into English by Isaac D'Israeli in the early 19th century allowing a wider audience to appreciate it.

Layla has also been mentioned in many works by Aleister Crowley in many of his religious texts, including The Book of Lies.

In India, it is believed that Layla and Majnun found refuge in a village in Rajasthan before they died. The graves of Layla and Majnun are believed to be located in the Bijnore village near Anupgarh in the Sri Ganganagar district. According to rural legend there, Layla and Majnun escaped to these parts and died there. Hundreds of newlyweds and lovers from India and Pakistan, despite there being no facilities for an overnight stay, attend the two-day fair in June.

Another variation on the tale[when?] tells of Layla and Majnun meeting in school. Majnun fell in love with Layla and was captivated by her. The school master would beat Majnun for paying attention to Layla instead of his school work. However, upon some sort of magic, whenever Majnun was beaten, Layla would bleed for his wounds. The families learnt of this strange magic and began to feud, preventing Layla and Majnun from seeing each other. They meet again later in their youth and Majnun wishes to marry Layla. Layla's brother, Tabrez, would not let her shame the family name by marrying Majnun. Tabrez and Majnun quarreled and, stricken with madness over Layla, Majnun murdered Tabrez. Word reached the village and Majnun 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 kept safe from harm in exile. Her terms were accepted and Layla got married, but her heart still longed for Majnun. Hearing this, Layla's husband rode with his men into the desert to find Majnun. Upon finding him, Layla's husband challenged Majnun to the death. 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 to their afterlife. Myth has it that Layla and Majnun met again in heaven, where they loved forever.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Layla and Majnun at the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games in Baku

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nizami's tragic romance Khosrow and Shirin is another part of the Khamsa.
  2. ^ While most sources indicate that the work was completed in 1535,[24] the Encyclopædia Iranica states that it was finished in 1536.[25]


  1. ^ Banipal: Magazine of Modern Iran Literature. 2003.
  2. ^ Schimmel, Annemarie (2014). A Two-Colored Brocade: The Imagery of Persian Poetry. p. 131. Indeed, the old Arabic love story of Majnun and Layla became a favorite topic among Persian poets.
  3. ^ The Islamic Review & Arab Affairs. Vol. 58. 1970. p. 32. Nizāmī's next poem was an even more popular lovestory of the Islamic world, Layla and Majnun, of Arabic origin.
  4. ^ a b electricpulp.com. "LEYLI O MAJNUN – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  5. ^ The Posthumous career of Manuel Puig. 1991. p. 758.
  6. ^ Bruijn, J. T. P. de; Yarshater, Ehsan (2009). General Introduction to Persian Literature: A History of Persian Literature. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 9781845118860.
  7. ^ PhD, Evans Lansing Smith; Brown, Nathan Robert (2008). The Complete Idiot's Guide to World Mythology. Penguin. ISBN 9781101047163.
  8. ^ Grose, Anouschka (2011). No More Silly Love Songs: A Realist's Guide To Romance. Granta Publications. ISBN 9781846273544.
  9. ^ "أدب .. الموسوعة العالمية للشعر العربي قيس بن الملوح (مجنون ليلى)". Archived from the original on 8 July 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  10. ^ al-hakawati.net/arabic/Civilizations/diwanindex2a4.pdf
  11. ^ "Visions of Azerbaijan Magazine ::: Nizami - Poet for all humanity".
  12. ^ a b c d Layli and Majnun: Love, Madness and Mystic Longing, Dr. Ali Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, Brill Studies in Middle Eastern literature, Jun 2003, ISBN 90-04-12942-1. excerpt: Although Majnun was to some extent a popular figure before Nizami’s time, his popularity increased dramatically after the appearance of Nizami’s romance. By collecting information from both secular and mystical sources about Majnun, Nizami portrayed such a vivid picture of this legendary lover that all subsequent poets were inspired by him, many of them imitated him and wrote their own versions of the romance. As is seen in the following chapters, the poet uses various characteristics deriving from ‘Udhrite love poetry and weaves them into his own Persian culture. In other words, Nizami Persianises the poem by adding several techniques borrowed from the Persian epic tradition, such as the portrayal of characters, the relationship between characters, description of time and setting, etc.
  13. ^ "Arabic literature - Love Poetry, Verse, Romance | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 13 April 2024.
  14. ^ "Why love always hurts in udhri poetry". Middle East Eye. Retrieved 13 April 2024.
  15. ^ a b Scroggins, Mark (1996). "Review". African American Review. doi:10.2307/3042384. JSTOR 3042384.
  16. ^ Seyed-Gohrab, A. A. (15 July 2009). "LEYLI O MAJNUN". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  17. ^ Badawi, M.M. (1987). Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt. Cambridge University Press. p. 225. ISBN 9780521242226.
  18. ^ •Zanjani, Barat. "Layla va Majnun-I Nizami Ganjavi: matn-I Ilmi va intiqadi az ru-yi qadimtari nuskha-hayi khatti-I qarn-I hashtum ba zikr-i ikhtilaf-i nusakh va ma’ani lughat va tarikbat va kashf al-bayat", Tehran, Mu’assasah-I Chap va Intisharat-I Danishgah Tehran, 1369[1990] Rudaki: مشوش است دلم از کرشمهی سلمی چنان که خاطره ی مجنون ز طره ی لیلی
  19. ^ a b A. A. Seyed-Gohrab, "LEYLI O MAJNUN" in Encyclopedia Iranica
  20. ^ Waheib, Osama. "Arabic Literature: The Immortal Love Story of Qays and Layla". ArabiCollege. Archived from the original on 21 August 2018. Retrieved 20 August 2018.
  21. ^ T. Hägg, B. Utas (2003). The Virgin and Her Lover: Fragments of an Ancient Greek Novel and a Persian Epic Poem. BRILL. ISBN 9789004132603.
  22. ^ ArtArena: "Layli and Madjnun in Persian Literature"
  23. ^ The Story of Layla and Majnun, by Nizami. Translated Dr. Rudolf. Gelpke in collaboration with E. Mattin and G. Hill, Omega Publications, 1966, ISBN 0-930872-52-5.
  24. ^ Macit 2014; Macit 2013; Pala 2003, p. 162.
  25. ^ a b Encyclopædia Iranica 2000.
  26. ^ Pala 2003, p. 163.
  27. ^ Macit 2014; Skilliter 1972, p. 157.
  28. ^ Macit 2013.
  29. ^ "كل يغني على ليلاه". e3arabi. 2 June 2022.
  30. ^ "I Am The Moon". www.tedeschitrucksband.com. Retrieved 2 June 2022.
  31. ^ "Roop Kishore Shorey – Profile". Cineplot.com.
  32. ^ Bali, Karan (20 April 2016). "Swarnalata". Upperstall.com.
  33. ^ "Laila". Cinemaazi. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  34. ^ a b Mushtaq Gazdar (1997). Pakistan Cinema, 1947-1997. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-577817-5.
  35. ^ "DASTAN-E-LAILA MAJNU (1974)". BFI. Archived from the original on 25 January 2021.
  36. ^ "Laila Majnu (1976)". Indiancine.ma.
  37. ^ Sidharth Bhatia (4 May 2013). "Producer Kamal Amrohi was the master of old-world elegance and heartache". livemint.com. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  38. ^ Sun Meri Laila | Eros Now, retrieved 6 May 2021
  39. ^ "Majnoon (2003)". Indiancine.ma.
  40. ^ "Laila – The Musical". RIFCO Arts. 2016.
  41. ^ Macaulay, Alistair (2 October 2016). "From Mark Morris, a Tale of Love Refracted and Multiplied". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  42. ^ "'Ye Kahani hai laila Majnu ki' to air on Bhojpuri Cinema". Indian Television Dot Com. 8 May 2020. Retrieved 6 May 2021.

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]