Termed by Lord Byron as the Romeo Juliet of the East, Layla-Majnun, popularly known as Laila and Majnu, is an ancient love story of Arabic origin about Qays ibn al-Mullawah, the 7th century Najdi Bedouin poet and his ladylove Layla bint Mahdi, later known as Layla al-Aamiriya. Gradually, the theme of the passionate story made its way from the Arabian Peninsula to Persia, Turkey and the Indian Subcontinent, through the long narrative poem written by the 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, as the third part of his book Khamsa.
However, long before Nizami, the legend about the lovers was circulated in anecdotal forms in Iranian Akhbar, mostly very short, only loosely connected, showing very little or no plot development. Nizami collected both the secular and mystical sources about the lovers and portrayed a vivid picture of the intensity of their love, characterized by erotic abandon and attraction to the beloved, often employing an unfulfilled longing. Subsequently, many other Persian poets wrote their own versions of the romance, based on Nizami. Although Nizami's work has been translated into many languages, the number and variety of anecdotes about the lovers increased considerably from the twelfth century onwards. Today, for the intensity of the passion of the legendary lovers, people know them as Laila Majnu, erasing the connecting word ‘and’ in between them, as if they were two in the flesh, but one in spirit.
Laila and Majnu depicts the story of Qays ibn al-Mulawwah and Layla Al-Aamiriya, who lived in an obscure village in Saudi Arabia, and it is called Laila Aflaj, named after Laila. They belonged to the same tribe and loved each other since they were kids, but their financial status was different. The beautiful Laila was born in a rich family and being no less than a princess, she was expected to marry a wealthy boy and live in grandeur and splendour.
However, Qays had nothing to offer her, except his love poems, ardently dedicated to Laila, his lady love. He was teased by his friends, who often called him Majnu, crazy or a madman, for declaring his love openly in his poems. But such taunts had no effect on Qays, as he was deeply in love with Laila and was always engaged in the thoughts around her. On the other side of the coin, Laila also loved him dearly, although she was scared of her father to express it openly.
Finally, the day came, when Qays mustered enough courage to approach Laila’s father and prayed for his daughter’s hand. However, his request was harshly rejected by her father, as he was poor and he would not allow her daughter to marry a man below her status and dignity. Moreover, it would be a scandal for Laila to marry someone considered mentally unbalanced and known as a madman to many. While strict instruction was imposed on the young lovers not to meet each other anymore, arrangements were hurriedly made to marry off Laila to a wealthy noble. Soon after the incident, Laila was forcibly married to a rich and handsome merchant with a reddish complexion whose name was Ward Althaqafi., while the meaning of Ward in Arabic stands for rose.
The news of Laila’s marriage devastated Qays. He lost interest in life, fled the tribal camp and began wandering the surrounding desert, in the midst of nowhere. He left his family and friends to live a miserable life of solitude in the wilderness, spending his desolate days and sleepless nights under the starry sky composing poems dedicated to the only love of his life. Eventually, his family gave up hope of his return and left food for him in the wilderness, while he could sometimes be seen reciting unmindfully his poems dedicated to Laila or writing Laila’s name in the sand with a stick. By that time, he had almost become Majnu, a madman.
Nevertheless, Laila was no better off. She was forcibly separated from Qays and was married to a man whom she never loved. She also had to move to Iraq with her husband, shattered in body, mind and spirit, without any hope to meet the man she loved, even once in her life.
However, after some years when her husband died, Laila hoped to see her lover soon again and then spend their life together forever. Unfortunately, luck betrayed her again, as she was informed that tradition demands her to remain in her husband’s house alone to grieve for her dead husband for two whole years, without seeing a single soul. The thought of not being with her beloved for another extended period of two long years and wasting another precious part of the prime time of her life alone, like a desolate soul imprisoned in a cell, was much more she could bear. She was totally shattered by what had happened to her and lost her hope for the future. She became deeply depressed, which caused her to give up on her life and finally, Laila died alone broken heart in her husband’s palace, unknown to her lover.
Later, when the friends of Qays came to know about the sad end of Laila, they went looking for him all over to give him the news. Strangely, he was found dead in the wilderness near the grave of his sweetheart and on a rock near the grave, he had carved three verses of poetry, which are the last three verses ascribed to him.