Layla and Majnun

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Layla and Majnun at school together, from a manuscript of the Khamsa that belonged to Timur's son and is now in the Hermitage Museum (1431 AD).

Layla and Majnun at school together, from a manuscript of the Khamsa that belonged to Timur’s son and is now in the Hermitage Museum (1431 AD).

This is a very famous Iranian story about Layla and Majnun. People started to tell this story around the 800s AD. In the 1100s, the Iranian poet Nizami Ganjavi wrote a very famous poem about the lovers.

In the story, Layla and Majnun met when they were young, at school. They fell in love, but their families were fighting and Layla’s father wouldn’t let her marry Majnun. In one version, Majnun’s teacher beat him because he didn’t learn anything, just mooning over Layla all day. (It’s a little like the earlier Greek story of Pyramus and Thisbe, or the story of Hero and Leander.)

Majnun went crazy without Layla. He started wandering around in the desert writing poetry. His family left him food where he would find it. People started to call him “crazy.” Layla’s dad was even more convinced that she shouldn’t marry someone who just wandered around in the desert like that.

So Layla’s father arranged for her to marry another man. She married him and moved away, but she always loved her Majnun. He wrote her love poetry from the desert. When Layla died, Majnun traveled to her grave. He wrote this poem:

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.’

And then he died by her side.

It’s a tragedy, like many love stories. But, like many Islamic poems, it’s also a Sufi way of describing how people should love God.

Learn by doing: compare this story to the story of Hero and Leander.
More about Islamic schools
More about women under Islam

Bibliography and further reading about Medieval Islam:

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More about Islamic literature
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By | 2017-08-30T23:49:13+00:00 August 30th, 2017|Islam, Literature|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Layla and Majnun. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 30, 2017. Web. November 24, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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