Love in Arabic Poetry
Mecca inhabitants are akin to pigeons
While Medina residents resemble doves
Jeddah locals are similar to gazelles
And the people of Taif are pure as water
This folk song is considered one of the most Saudi songs that you can listen to at weddings, parties, and happy occasions. The credit for writing and composing this song goes to Toha, she is Saudi poet and singer from Mecca. The beauty of this song is that whoever hears or sings it does not see any contradiction, as the poet not only praises four cities at the same time but also praises its people or residents. Likewise, the Saudi listener does not consider it a poem or a patriotic song, but rather flirting with the beloved, as follows:
Oh, Riyadh girls
Who wearing the veils
Have mercy on this poor guy
Who is roaming at your door
I fell into your well
Give me back my clothes
And the medication is with you
Don't deprive me of my youth
Flirting relies on symbols and elements
An aspect of Arabic poetry that stands out as unique is the possibility of falling in love with a whole group due to a single beloved individual. In this context, compliments are all-inclusive and are not directed towards a specific person, as the prevailing saying goes:
"For the sake of an eye, a town is honored."
When examining Arabic poetry, whether pre-Islamic or modern, it becomes apparent that poets frequently employ extensive praise of various elements and symbols, without directly describing the beloved. In suspensive odes (Mu'allaqat), poets often describe ruins, dwellings, bodies of water, landscapes, and sprawling expanses of space to express their love and infatuation through the journey of the beloved in their daily life. This technique is also evident in love poems dedicated to the air, waves, clouds, and migratory birds.
The tale of Jamil and Buthaina in the city of Al-Ula
This type of poetry is known as virginal love poetry. Contrary to popular belief, the term "Al-Azari" refers to the Bani Azra tribe, not to the poetry being pure or chaste. The Bani Azra tribe lived in Wadi Al-Qura or the city of Al-Ula, where the story of Jamil and Buthaina took place, or as the lover called her, known as "Jamil Buthaina" in what is known as the poem of Jamil and Buthaina, both of whom are from the Bani Azra tribe. The clever use of linguistic associations in Al-Azari poetry is seen as a testament to the intelligence, wit, and eloquence of the Arabic language and its speakers. This technique can be likened to a form of wordplay or a linguistic pun.
It is said that Jamil came to the camel pastures to water his tribe's camels, then Buthaina came to water her family's camels as well. Jamil’s camels fled from Buthaina’s camels, so Jamil scolded Buthaina for what her camels did to him. She retorted and scolded him back. In my imagination, she scolded him because it is not chivalrous or manly for him to do that, especially in such a situation. Instead of getting angry at her, Jamil was impressed by her strength of character, her response, and he falls in love. And thus began one of the most beautiful stories of chaste love in Arab history, or as they say, the love duets more than a thousand years ago, during the Umayyad era.
Jamil describes Buthaina as follows:
She has a wide eyeball like black kohl, a bright creation,
As if her father was a gazelle and her mother a wild deer,
She has killed me with her love, while she is far from me,
And how many lovers have been killed by her love
It is wonderful to use the beauty, flexibility, and elegance of the Arabic language in these verses, especially in the end rhymes (Ummaha al-Maha) "her mother a wild deer" with (Wudaha daha) “wanted her love”
The meaning of love is the same
Arabs are typically not associated with romantic love in popular imagination, but the literature, folktales, and religious heritage of the Arab culture portray a different perspective. I believe one reason for this misunderstanding is the modern, contemporary association of the concept of love with romantic relationships. This unjustly reduces and limits the broad meaning of love in Arab heritage and mentality in the past, without recognition. For example, when the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was asked
"Who is the most beloved person to you?"
He said, "ʿĀʾishah" (his wife).
Then he was asked then who?
He replied "Her father (Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq)".
Here we see that the Prophet did not differentiate between his love for his wife and its meaning and his love for her father, his friend. The concept of love is the same regardless of the identity of the beloved and how love is manifested.
If he loves, his chivalry is completed (When he loves, he fulfills his honor)
During the ancient era of Arabia, characterized by long nights and expansive landscapes that were often devoid of human presence, the human soul was stirred by profound emotions evoked through symbolic ideas, vivid imagery, and imaginative expression.
Sheikh Saleh Al-Maghamsi, an expert in Arabic poetry and literature, says, "In the past when a man loved a woman, she would make him a person of noble character so that he could try to be the complete image in her eyes. Some educators of that time were keen to implant the idea of love within their students' hearts. He says that "if a man loves, his chivalry is completed, as he will refuse to live with dishonor because he knows the woman will not accept him as he is and will not be content with him behaving in that manner."
He proceeds to narrate a lovely tale that took place between two duets love who met and became famous at the same time, namely Jamil and Buthayna, and Tawba ibn al-Humayyir, the lover of the great poetess Layla al-Akhyaliya. What is noteworthy here is that Layla's poetry about Ibn al-Hamir's love is what became famous, in contrast to what was prevalent in stories of love and infatuation, where it is usually the man who describes his love for his beloved. They had a famous story.
According to the tale, Ibn al-Humayyir was physically stronger and more courageous than Jamil, and the difference between them was unmistakable. Jamil and Ibn al-Humayyir decided to engage in a wrestling match to determine who was the stronger of the two. While they were wrestling, Buthayna observed the match from the hilltop. Jamil emerged victorious in the end, as he refused to be beaten in front of the one he loved.
In our modern age, which is characterized by a multitude of opportunities and possibilities, as well as rapid and constant changes, it can be valuable to look to history for inspiration in redefining our understanding of love to fit our current context.