Exploring Love Through Poetry

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين

Praise be to Allāh, the Lord of the Worlds, and peace and blessings upon the Messenger of Allāh, his family, and the Companions.

It is recommended to read the previous piece, as this article builds thereupon.

The term ḥubb possesses the term khamr (wine) as a synonym1, and khamr, in turn, was referred to as Umm Laylā by the Arabs. Laylā, in this context, refers to ecstasy and intoxication, and umm is present due to its induction of such a state, begetting it as a mother begets a child. Love, similarly, intoxicates the lover, and, in cases, overwhelms and maddens him, as was the case with Majnūn, whose very name refers to one who has been maddened; in this case, by love. Other terms used — ḥuzn, sadam, kamad, and shawq, among others — all have similar implications, portraying the emotions experienced by lovers upon separation.2

The question of happiness has received attention from a litany of traditions, but our perception of it comprises some fundamental differences. We disagree with the Aristotelian conception which treats the pursuit of happiness as the ultimate purpose of human life. If it is to be pursued, then there is the implication that it is absent. But neither is our philosophy so hedonistic or materialistic as to reduce the question of happiness to a matter of self-indulgence. Happiness, we hold, is a byproduct that stems from the certainty of knowing Allāh (ﷻ)3, not only in terms of His ﷻ existence, but that it is He ﷻ who is in charge of all of man’s affairs — in delight and grief, or in relief and worry — and directing our actions in conformity therewith. Insofar, however, as it is construed as a combination of delight and contentment, there are deeper aspects to unravel.

The above grants insight into the metaphysical aspect of spiritual happiness. While it influences the other existing facets, the psychological question of happiness — intimately connected to the contentment of the mind and the heart, in that both require propelling along with peace — requires specialized attention. The mind is in need of progress, as opposed to stagnancy, towards a future wherein its owner is needed. Aspirations are indispensable; the lack thereof generally portrays a weak mind.4 However, while the states of the mind and the heart are interconnected, each must be individually catered to, lest harmony be lost through negligence. To clarify, ambitions predominately pertain to the contentment of the mind. But man is not so simple as to be reduced to a matter of requiring novel experiences or ambitions for the sake of happiness, and nor can it be dismissed that there are novel needs he develops that may well be absent in the years prior — including and particularly romantic love.

Grammarians differ concerning the root from which insān stems, with one group positing that it is from nasiya — to forget — that the term is derived, contradicted by the second group which argues that anas is the root, meaning, to be amicable or covetous of companionship. While both are intimately connected to man’s nature, critics of modernity often note the second facet, as modernity’s idealization of hyper-individualism not only leads to the collapse of family structures but also to the destabilization of the community itself5. Man had undertaken his Covenant with God ﷻ individually, but that all of mankind was subject thereto shows the presence of a greater collective, therefore illuminating the distinction between al-furūḍ al-ʿayn (personal obligations) and al-furūḍ al-kifāyah (communal obligations), since the collective reception of the pledge necessitates bilateralism insofar as rights are concerned.

Companionship, in the first sense of the collective, is not restricted to reciprocation in affection or supporting the needy, but rather extends to relying on another for one’s own self in the process of cultivating true bonds. Love from this category — a parent for a child, or a friend for a friend — may be deep, and loss may incur obliteration.The second is mentioned in the Qurʾān, recurs in poetry, and is apparent in the lives of the Messenger ﷺ and the Companions themselves. By love, what is meant here is not the Platonic sort, but that which exists specifically between a man and a woman, develops, and culminates in the most beautiful of forms through strife and reciprocation. Ibn Ḥazm (رحمه الله) writes, “For my part, I consider Love as a conjunction between scattered parts of souls that have become divided in this physical universe, a union effected within the substance of their original sublime element.”6

Love is not a collection of interim emotions to be set alight, but rather an affair that unites souls, prompting a state wherein no affliction is greater than separation, and no pleasure greater than reunion. A man once remarked that separation was the brother of death, upon which a Philosopher said, “No, but death is the brother of separation.”7 The Nabaṭī8 poet ʿAbd-Allāh bin Sbayyil writes,

Instruct me, please, in the mysteries of passion:

You are steeped in its pleasure and rigor;

Of the malady man keeps within him,

He yearns to be treated but it only consumes him more. 9

Abū al-Ṭayyib al-Mutanabbī muses,

And there is no separation between lovers,

Except that desires find a path to their souls.

Aware of the tranquility resulting from reunion, poets nevertheless classify love as a disease due to its vexing nature. In the words of Ibn Sbayyil, “I put my mouth to her sweet lips and took a draft, and felt my heart come home from long absence” — quite seemingly in response to his own words: 

My beauty, let me steal a kiss, just a little one, 

To revive a delirious heart overcome by thirst.10

Al-Ḥusayn bin Ḍaḥḥāk laments,

I swear, a beautiful breast caused my demise

And forced a deep sigh from me.

Though I laughed from the pleasure it gave me,

It made me fall apart with grief.11

Ibn Ḥazm (رحمه الله) elucidates this well:

As for the lover, his soul is indeed free and aware of where that other is that shared with it in ancient proximity; his soul is ever seeking for the other, striving after it, searching it out, yearning to encounter it again, drawing it to itself it might be as a magnet draws the iron.

Time halts in both moments of reunion and separation, although with widely contrasting consequences. The former revives the heart, showering it with a form of peace that leads the mind to believe that the transcendental experiences shall continue till perpetuity; in cases of separation, it transmutes to a bottomless abyss wherein the lover forever falls, desperate for an escape from the seemingly endless torture. ʿUdhrī poets uphold this throughout their works.12 ʿUrwah, for example, anticipates the day he will meet ʿAfrāʾ:

I love the Day of Judgment since I have been told

That I shall meet her there.13

Qays demonstrates the immortality of his love:

Our love will survive every event,

And will visit us in the darkness of the grave.14

Majnūn declares,

O if only we could live together

And if we die my bones lie beside her bones.15

Jamīl composes,

My heart was tied to hers before our creation —

after we were seeds and in the cradle.

It grew, as grew our slumbers and awakenings.

Shattered not was the Covenant upon our passing,

but was honored in every moment,

even as we entered the darkness of our tombs.16

Al-Ṭabarī (رحمه الله)17, commenting on the verse that the spouses are libāsan (garments) for one another18, writes that the term refers to the residence of and in the heart. Thus, although the beloved’s physical presence may not be enjoyed, her timeless image hardly withdraws. Imām Al-Rāzī19 agree in interpreting the term as embracement, as spouses become one via enfoldment, each resembling a garment worn by the other. The beloved ceases to merely be her own individual self, thereby becoming an extension of the lover, sharing in both his delight and pain. Forgetting, thus, in cases of separation, becomes impossible, for while the lover may divert himself from her remembrance, the act itself depicts his inability to overcome his grief. The Prophet ﷺ, in spite of having deeply loved again, did not merely forget his ﷺ first true love: Khadīja (رضي الله عنها). As Ibn Sbayyil describes,

They said, “You should marry and forget her.”

“Ah, even if I took four wives I’d never forget her,” said I.20

Happiness, insofar as it is construed as delightful contentment, stems from a combination of all the factors mentioned thus. The heart seeks joy in the remembrance of its Lord ﷻ and the souls which have taken the Covenant. Such culminates in the beloved, for there is no greater delight in this life than in her arms.21 Ibn Ḥazm adds, quite eloquently,

Were it not that this world below is a transitory abode of trial and trouble, and Paradise a home where virtue receives its reward, secure from all annoyances, I would have said that union with the beloved is that pure happiness which is without alloy, and gladness unsullied by sorrow, the perfect realization of hopes and the complete fulfillment of one’s dreams. I have tested all manner of pleasures, and known every variety of joy; and I have found that neither intimacy with princes, nor wealth acquired, nor finding after lacking, nor returning after long absence, nor security after fear and repose in a safe refuge none of these things so powerfully affects the soul as union with the beloved, especially if it come after long denial and continual banishment.22

The epitome of otherworldly beauty, she becomes the object of all curiosity and affection, as does what may be connected to her — her homeland, her preferences, irrespective of how minor, or her habits. Majnūn says,

I pass by [Laylā’s] places, kissing this wall and that wall,

Longing for her who lived in these places —

Not the places themselves.23

Qays declares,

I am not fond of your homeland;

I am kissing the footprints of the one

Who stepped over its soil.24

Kuthayyir, during a journey, requests his companions:

My friends, this was the encampment of ʿAzzah.

Stop and touch the earth which may have touched her skin,

And remain spending the night where she stayed and spent the night.

And do not doubt that God will forgive your sins,

If you pray where she prayed.25

Lovers raise their beloved to unattainably high stations, often believing that the very earth they have tread must be infused with barakah. Driven to insanity, they touch the objects which may have contained their lovers, hoping to regain some semblance of reunion. Maḥmūd Darwīsh, on this note, famously says,

They ask, “Have you been driven mad by Laylā?”

I say, “There is no delight in life save for the insane.”

The depth of despondency is directly contingent upon the strength of love. Even ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (رضي الله عنه), a man renowned for his fortitude, could not resist disintegration and failing to see life as though it had more to offer than bleakness upon the loss of his beloved (رضي الله عنها) — evident from his words during her (رضي الله عنها) burial:

Why is it that I halt at the grave of the one who has passed —

The grave of my beloved who no longer returns my greetings?

O, my love, why do you not answer me?

Have you forgotten the intimacy we once shared?

The beloved said, “How may I respond when I am shackled to the earth?

The dirt has eaten away at my beauty, and I have forgotten you —

It has veiled me from my family and those I love.

So I wish you peace and sever the bond by which we were once bound. 26

What, then, may be said about the men who lacked the same resilience? It is not only the grief that assumes the reigns of oppression, but the very object that had shown them that there is bliss to be found in life — the object through which the world could finally, after longevities of darkness, be seen in the litany of colors that granted it its magnificence — has now disappeared, taking away therewith the lovers’ purpose and any semblance of life that their hearts may have contained. In the words of Majnūn:

As if the mountain-roads were a circle of rings

Around me, never increasing or decreasing in length.27

What is portrayed is the stillness of time — the monotony that man is doomed to suffer from the absence of his beloved. Ibn Sbayyil grieves,

If I die first, she says, “So-and-so passed away”;

If she dies first, my life loses meaning.28

She becomes his meaning, and therefore the lover does all to enrich, beautify, and commit that which grants her joy, as within the confines of true love, the lover attains happiness through sacrifice rather than confiscation. Jamīl mourns,

I am pleased with the very little things accorded to me by Buthaynah.

They are so insignificant

That if they were known by the man [who spies us],

He would not be annoyed with my love.

I am pleased even when she says ‘no’ or ‘I cannot’ and when she makes me live on promises—

Promises hoped for, but always disappointing.

I am pleased with a quick glance at her,

And even with spending a whole year without our meeting—

Neither at the beginning nor at the end.29

The dreariness man witnesses is not contingent merely upon the strength of his character. Love necessarily turns hearts soft. Even the strong one will find himself unable to resist dissolution at the thought of his beloved, and devoid of life should his love be unreciprocated or union be broken. As there is no greater delight to be experienced in life than in her arms, there is no greater grief than her reach disappearing into the distance. 

Such grief may not be overcome. Transcending the boundaries of distress ceases to remain a possibility, and so the only choice man is left with is to tread forward with what plagues his heart. For some, there may come a time when the grief metamorphoses into nostalgia, particularly so if he is able to find love once again; with others, acceptance of their burdens is required as they await the wisdoms behind their trials. Regardless, the grief is to remain, triggered perhaps by words, images, or objects due to associations that he may consciously or otherwise form.30 Such are, however, associated with yet another extreme: beauty and love.

The lover is reminded of his beloved by the most ordinary of things. Where the onlooker may see, say, a tree, the lover perceives what shaded him during his confession of love; where all see mundaneness, the lover sees pearls. But in moments of separation or concern over whether the love will be cultivated to fruition, he is plagued by doubts and restlessness, which may even occasionally cause him to hurl imprecations. Jamīl writes,

May God cast motes into Buthayna’s eyes,

May He blacken her brilliant teeth!31

He wishes elsewhere,

I wish I were rid of you, love,

Will you leave me no rest?32

Similar thoughts may be found in the verses of Ibn Sbayyil:

She’ll sprinkle my heart before it wastes away

Or is it her plan to let me die because of her?

She is merciless — may His Mercy elude her kin:

Her red-hot iron, Lord, tortures me to death.33

Jamīl, however, does not truly intend to curse Buthaynah, and nor does Ibn Sbayyil wish for his beloved to be deprived of God’s ﷻ Mercy. What underlies the words of the former is repulsion towards the notion of any man other than himself approaching Buthaynah, and those of the latter the pain borne from unreciprocated love, both effectively portraying the reality of their raging hearts.34

Anger is often a byproduct of unrequited love. The lovers are agonized, forced to face that their desired future has slithered through their fingers, and so they begin to chase a distant dream. Ibn Ḥazm cites an anecdote wherein he speaks to a man whose eyes were, after the oceans of tears he had shed, dried with weariness, and his life drenched by the waters of sorrow. He recognized that there was no prospect for embracing his love, and yet when he prayed, he did so for union rather than relief. When the Imām, thus, asked God ﷻ to aid him, he was only met with displeasure, as it was not mere relief that the man sought, but relief through reciprocation in his affections.35

There is a frequent struggle between the dictates of the mind and that of the heart, for should we consider the mind the tool responsible for applying pure reason, we see that it urges man towards pragmatism; knowledge thereof is also to some degree connected to the outer state of the heart, for the heart may also witness what has been lost. The inner state, however, yearns for the lost object, and it is such a dilemma that yields chaos. Ibn Sbayyil’s poem mirrors this concept:

The heart is a Sulṭān with despotic powers,

It rules at the pleasure of its whims;

The eye is the heart’s scout sent to check,

To-ing and fro-ing at the well from enemy to friend.

Love is an affliction in perpetual motion,

That offers no escape to the smartest game.36

Although the realization of a long-awaited reunion plucks at the strings of the heart in a most exquisite manner, the perplexity arising from newfound love, or in the process of deliberation in terms of whether the dictates of the heart must be submitted to, or even from the knowledge that the beloved is no longer with the lover, steals all rest that eyes seek in the depths of darkness. Imām al-Shāfiʿī (رحمه الله) wrote,

Some eyes alert, and others at rest,

Over a matter which may or may not manifest.

Avert the distresses your souls harness,

For your burden of torment has driven you to madness.37

While ignorance is construed negatively, it is innate to us, rife with its own wisdoms. It is because of our ignorance that we may hope, despite the grief that overtakes our hearts, for those who have witnessed the wisdoms behind their trials know that it is only gratefulness that their grief should give birth. If loss is the price to be paid for wisdom, it is hardly high, for there is nothing greater than this lost property of the believer should it teach him that not a grain of his broken existence is detached from its Lord (ﷻ).38 It is with a broken heart that man witnesses the essence of reality: therein is no existence unsustained by Allāh ﷻ and no true existence apart from Him ﷻ; it is He ﷻ who sustains all, as all else is a mere shadow — a passing manifestation without constancy. Should he make what is by nature evanescent, his life will cease to retain any meaning upon its dissipation. There is no love unaccompanied by grief, but should grief be the price man is to pay for love, man must still love for his heart knows that there is no greater beauty in life than what is found through it.

Man is not a product of his experiences, but of the stances he takes with regard thereto. He may descend into despair and lose what grants him life, or adhere to his hopes and perceive the events which he never imagined anything of inducing the unimaginable, if only he unceasingly relies on his Lord ﷻ. Reliance is not a matter of hoping that one will receive what he hopes for, but that his affairs are in the Hands of his Guardian ﷻ, and so when the price has been paid with grief, he must garner patience and step forward into what will content his Lord ﷻ, as he awaits to be shown that he had a greater purpose by the Best of Planners ﷻ. It is only fitting, thus, to conclude with the words of Imām al-Shāfiʿī (رحمه الله):

Indeed, your Lord has sufficed you in the days now past,

And He will suffice you in those to last.39

And Allāh ﷻ knows best.


  1. Ibn al-Qayyim, Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn.
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Syed Naquib al-Aṭṭās, Islām and Secularism, pg. 75. He writes, “‘Happiness’ refers not to the physical entity in man, not to the animal soul and body of man; nor is it a state of mind—it has to do with certainty of the ultimate Truth and fulfilment of action in conformity with that certainty; and certainty is a permanent condition referring to what is permanent in man and perceived by his spiritual organ known as the heart (al-qalb). it is peace and security and tranquility of the heart; it is knowledge, and knowledge is true belief; it is knowing one’s rightful, and hence proper, place in the realm of Creation and one’s proper relationship with the Creator; it is a condition known as ʿadl or justice.”
  4.  Ibn al-Jawzī, Ṣayd al-Khāṭir.
  5. See: Wael Hallaq, The Impossible State; al-Aṭṭās, Prolegomena.
  6. Ibn Ḥazm, The Ring of the Dove, pg. 10.
  7. Ibid, pg. 94.
  8. The origins of the Nabaṭī tradition are not well-documented. Theories point to Nabaṭ, a city near Madīna, Petra, Jordan, or dismiss both and posit that the term is the root of istinbāṭ, referring to producing one’s innermost thoughts or experiences. While Marcel Kurpershoek says that all three theories are flawed and the origins of the Nabaṭīs are unknown, it is interesting to note that the final theory has interesting connotations and holds particular relevance, given that Nabaṭī poetry, in the words of Kurpershoek, is the “product of a free mind.” The Bedouins let their words freely flow, and do not take arduous amounts of time to master their craft. Their names are not widely known outside their regions, and nor has the tradition been taken an interest in until fairly recently, given that the Nabaṭīs, being largely illiterate, passed down their poetic knowledge as an oral tradition, as opposed to a written one.
  9. Marcel Kurpershoek, Arabian Romantic, Poem 13.
  10. Ibid, Poem 16.
  11. al-Ḥasan al-Yūsī, The Discourses, pg. 122, NYU Press.
  12. The ʿudhrī tradition receives its name from the ʿUdhrah tribe — one known to have tender hearts and seek a true love that culminated in death — that supplied the poetical tradition with many of its leading poets. Jamīl b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. Maʿmar is considered its pioneer, appearing as the lead character in the poetic works on Jamīl and Buthaynah. See: Jokha Alharthi, The Body in Arabic Love Poetry: The ʿUdhrī Tradition, pg. 2.
  13. Jokha Alharthi, The Body in Arabic Love Poetry: The ʿUdhrī Tradition, pg. 211.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid, pg. 212.
  16. Ibn Dāwud al-Ẓahirī, al-Zahrah.
  17. Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āyat al-Qurʾān.
  18. Qurʾān, 2:187.
  19. Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Mafātīḥ al-Ghayb.
  20. Arabian Romantic, Poem 9.
  21. Rawḍa
  22. Ring of the Dove, pg. 64.
  23. The ʿUdhrī Tradition, pg. 148.
  24. Ibid, pg. 149.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibn al-Jawzī, Bustān al-Wāʿiẓīn, pg. 202.
  27. The ʿUdhrī Tradition, pg. 6.
  28. Arabian Romantic, Poem 19.
  29. The ʿUdhrī Tradition, pg. 27.
  30. Carl Jüng, Approaching the Unconscious.
  31. Ibid, pg. 175.
  32. The ʿUdhrī Tradition, pg. 175.
  33. Arabian Romantic, Poem 6.
  34. A recurring theme in classical Arabic poetry is that love is a disease with the beloved being the only cure.
  35. The Ring of the Dove, pg. 15.
  36. Ibid, Poem 20.
  37. Al-Shāfiʿī, Dīwān.
  38. Ibn al-Qayyim, Madārij al-Sālikīn, pg. 878.
  39. Ibid.

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