Love is known to be an overwhelming, all-consuming, intense passion. But just how intense can love be? No one knows the answer, and examples of such a love are rare. But whenever one talks about the depth of love, the intensity of passion, two names almost immediately come to mind- Laila and Majnu.
I first came in contact with the story of Layla and Majnun in Aaidh Ibn Abdullah Al-Qarnee’s “Don’t Be Sad” and later in the poems of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī‘ and Kahli Gibran. Al-Qarnee quoted the biography of a Muslim Scholar:
“If the love of the roaming one for Sulma
And Laila, takes away one’s mind and one’s faculty of reasoning,
Then what do you suppose will be the case for he
Whose heart throbs for the higher world.”
On his part, Rumi in his poem “Say I am you” had this to say:
“God made Majnun love Layla so much that
Just her dog would cause confusion in him”
I did some research on this love story and here are my findings. Enjoy;
Qays ibn al-Mulawwah was just a boy when he fell deeply in love with Layla Al-Aamiriya. He was sure of this love on the very first day he laid his eyes upon her at maktab (traditional school). He soon began to write beautiful love poems about Layla and he would read them out loud on street corners to anybody who would care to listen. Such passionate displays of love and devotion caused many to refer to the boy as Majnun, meaning madman.
One day, Majnun found courage to ask for Laila’s hand in marriage, her father promptly refused him as he didn’t want her daughter to marry below her status. It would mean a scandal for Laila according to Arab traditions.It would not be proper for his daughter to marry a person whom everybody called a madman. As fate would have it, the two lovers were banished from seeing each other. Soon after, Laila’s parents married her off to a wealthy man and she went on to live in a big mansion.
Majnun was overcome with grief and abandoned his home and family and disappeared into the wilderness where he lived a miserable life of solitude among the wild animals. It was in this wilderness that Majnun spent his days composing poems to his beloved.
Layla was forced to marry this other man, although she did not love him because her heart still belonged to Majnun. But even though Layla did not love her husband, she was a loyal daughter and so remained a faithful wife.
The news of this marriage was devastating to Majnun who continued to live a life of solitude, refusing to return home to his mother and father in the city.
Majnun’s mother and father missed their son terribly and longed everyday for his safe return. They would leave food for him at the bottom of the garden in the hopes that one day he would come back to them out of the desert. But Majnun remained in the wilderness, writing his poetry in solitude, never speaking to a single soul.
Majnun spent all of his time alone, surrounded only by the animals of the wilderness that would gather around him and protect him during the long desert nights. He was often seen by travellers who would pass him on their way towards the city. The travellers said that Majnun spent his days reciting poetry to himself and writing in the sand with a long stick; they said that he truly was driven to madness by a broken heart.
Many years later, Majnun’s father and mother both passed away. Knowing of his devotion to his parents, Layla was determined to send Majnun word of their passing. Eventually she found an old man who claimed to have seen Majnun in the desert. After much begging and pleading the old man agreed to pass on a message to Majnun the next time he set off on his travels.
One day, the old man did indeed cross paths with Majnun in the desert; there he solemnly delivered the news concerning the death of Majnun’s parents and was forced to witness what a terrible blow this was to the young poet.
Overcome with regret and loss, Majnun retreated inside of himself entirely and vowed to live in the desert until his own death.
Some years later, Layla’s husband died. The young woman hoped that finally she would be with her one true love; that finally she and Majnun would be together forever. But sadly this was not to be. Tradition demanded that Layla remain in her home alone to grieve for her dead husband for two whole years without seeing another soul. The thought of not being with Majnun for two more years was more than Layla could bear. They had been separated for a lifetime and two more years of solitude, two more years without seeing her beloved, was enough to cause the young woman to give up on life. Layla died of a broken heart, alone in her home without ever seeing Majnun again.
News of Layla’s death reached Majnun in the wilderness. He immediately travelled to the place where Layla had been buried and there he wept and wept until he too surrendered to the impossible grief and died at the graveside of his one true love. On a rock near the grave, he had carved three verses of poetry, which are the last three verses ascribed to him.
‘I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And kiss this wall and that wall.
It’s not love of the houses that has taken my heart
but of the One who dwells in those houses.’
– Qays ibn al-Mulawwah (Majnun)
Such a love is hard to find today. So if ever you love someone, try to love like these two did. It is their love affair that has made Laila and Majnu immortal in the accounts of great love stories.