Arabic literature and folklore recount some excellent love stories. Although most end in tragedy, it is often in the most tragic tales that the depth of human affection is experienced.
These two stories are based on historical characters, but some versions contain more legendary material that developed over the ages.
Antarah and Abla lived in the 6th century and Qays and Layla about a century after.
Antarah and Abla
One of the most beautiful and most often told tales is that of the poet knight Antarah Al-Absi who fell in love with his cousin Abla bint Malik, and it just so happened that she was in love with him too.
Anatarah was raised by an Arab father, Amr Ibn Shaddad, a well-respected member of his tribe, and a black Ethiopian mother, Zabibah.
The romance between Antarah and Abla continued and the two became lovers. Antarah asked his uncle’s permission for his daughter’s hand in marriage, but his skin colour and lineage became a stumbling block. Malik refused his daughter to marry a man in whose veins flowed non-Arab blood. To keep him away from her, and to make him feel utterly helpless and unable to pay her dowry price, he demanded a dowry of one thousand red she-camels known as Asaafir. And so Antarah set about to pay the dowry, and despite great hardship, he didn’t give up. He brought the dowry to Abla’s father but he did not accept it, and instead made a new dowry for whoever wished to marry his daughter, - Antarah’s head. Facing the impossible, Antarah was best with woe, and Abla went on to marry an Arab knight, leaving Antarah to wallow in his sorrows. He was besotted, and would tell of his love for Abla in the poems he composed until his death.
وذكر التاريخ لنا قصة قيس وليلى، احب" قيس بن الملوح" ابنة عمه "ليلى بنت المهدى" وهما صغيران يرعيان ابل اهلهما، ولما كبرا حجبت عنه ليلى، وظل قيس على حبه وبادلته ليلى الحب، ولما شاعت بين الناس قصة حبهما غضب والد ليلى ورفض زواجه منها فحزن "قيس" واعتلت صحته بسبب حرمانه من ليلى فذهب والده الى أخيه والد ليلى وقال له: إن ابن أخيك على وشك الهلاك أو الجنون فاعدل عن عنادك وإصرارك، إلا أنه رفض وعاند وأصر على أن يزوجها، فلما علم بحبها لقيس هددها إن لم تقبل بزوج آخر ليمثلن بها، فوافقت على مضض، ولم تمض الا عدة ايام حتى زوج "المهدى" ابنته من "ورد بن محمد" فاعتزل قيس الناس وهام في الوديان، ذاهلا لا يفيق من ذهوله الا على ذكرى ليلى. وأصبح قيس يزور آثار ديارها ويستعبر ويبكي وينظم الشعر في حبها، حتى لقب بالمجنون.
وبادلته ليلى ذلك الحب العظيم حتى مرضت وألم بها الداء والهزال، فماتت قبله، وعلم بموتها فما كان منه إلا أن داوم على قبرها راثيا لها ولحبها، حتى مات.
History recalls the tale of Qays ibn al-Mulawwah and his cousin Layla bint Mahdi, popularly known as Qays and Layla. The love story recounts the pair tending their families’ flocks in their youth before Layla was separated from Qays once they had grown up. Their love for one another, however, remained. When their romance became known among the people Layla’s father was enraged and refused to let Qays marry his daughter. Qays’ health deteriorated and so his father went to visit his brother, the father of Layla, and said, “Your nephew is at the point of death or madness, so temper your stubbornness”. But he refused, and after learning of her love for Qays, he threatened that if she did not accept another husband he would punish her severely. She agreed begrudgingly, and only a few days later her father married her off to Warad bin Muhammad. Dejected, Qays withdrew and wandered alone the valleys, distraught and unable to awaken from his numb stupor except at the memory of Layla. He would to visit the remains of her home and weep and write poems of his love for her, and was given the nickname ‘the madman’.
Layla held the same great affection for Qays, and it pained her so that she became ill and emaciated and died. When Qays learned of her death all he could do was sit at her grave and mourn for her and for her love for him until his death.