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Layla and Majnun

Quick Facts

Him: Majnun, a Bedouin poet

Her: Layla Al-Aamiriya, a woman of the same tribe

Setting: Iraq during the 7th century AD

 

Background

Majnun, known in some versions of the story as Qays, is a poet who falls in love with Layla. The two of them are desperate to be married, but find her father unwilling to agree to the union because of tribal tradition. Despondent when Layla is betrothed to another man, Majnun (Arab for “Madman”) wanders into the desert and recites poetry to himself.


Story

In some ways, you might call this a Persian precursor to the Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Depending upon the version you read, the two main characters grow up in the same tribe and eventually fall in love.

 

The romance is heightened as they tend flocks together and Majnun composes poetry for her about his undying devotion.

Madly in love and knowing she feels the same, Majnun asks Layla’s father for her hand in marriage – and is flatly denied. According to local custom, a scandal would arise should the two be wed.

Unable to take Layla as his wife, Majnun cannot stand to look on her whatsoever and leaves the tribe. Shortly thereafter, Layla is forced to marry another man and her true love is driven mad while walking the desert sands.

His family, afraid they will never see him again, leaves food for him in the wilderness. He is occasionally seen wandering, disheveled and dirty, delivering poems to no one in particular as he walks or writing in the sand – his words disappearing with each gust of wind.

Layla, for her part, refuses to consummate her marriage and, when her husband dies, pines for the loss of Majnun. The heartbreak at being separated from the love of her life consumes her, causing her to die from the immense grief.

When Majnun learns of her death, he finds his way to her grave and chisels his final three lines of poetry into a stone beside it. There, he laid down and passed away, joining her in death as he was prevented from doing in life.


Reputation

Known as one of many famous “Virgin Love” stories, because the relationship was never consummated, the tale of Layla and Majnun is one of the oldest in recorded history. With its variations in Persian and Azerbaijaini literature, not to mention 19th-century translation into English, it has captivated readers all over the world due to the unfailing purity of the title characters’ devotion to each other.

Throughout much of the Near and Far East, Layla and Majnun could be said to have a similar cultural impact as Romeo and Juliet have had on the West. Many Indian films, for example, have featured variations of the story since the 1920s, including the first Pashto-language movie ever made. Eric Clapton, the famous guitarist, used it as inspiration for Derek and the Dominos’ album released in November 1970, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The song “I Am Yours” is said to refer to a line directly from the epic poem telling Layla and Majnun’s story.



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