Reclaiming Persian love, not just its’ fiqh;
Seeing the world through humanity, not theology;
Islam is one long romance;
Wait for the outcomes;
Romance cannot exist in a vacuum;
Romance exists as hindsight and as perceived
Khosrow and Shirin is the title of a famous Persian tragic romance by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209). He also wrote Layla and Majnun. It tells a fictional version of the story of the love of the Sasanian king Khosrow II for the Syriac or Armenian princess Shirin. The love story was already well-known from the epic-historical poem the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi and other Persian writers.
When the Seljuq Sultan Arsalan Shah requested a love epic from Nizami without specifying the subject, Nizami picked the story of the lovers Khosrow and Shirin, and a theme set in his own region. He based it on partly historical facts.
There is a place high up in the mountains of Kurdistan where the crow roams freely and the snow finally kisses the sun. A place where you can hear the ping of wildflowers in bloom and the sound of butterfly wings resting on their petals. This is where our story sleeps.
There was a brave man called Farhad who loved a Princess named Shirin. Farhad tried in vain to gain access Shirin's heart, but the stonecutter loved a lady of royal blood. Farhad would go to the mountains and spend his days without food, playing his flute in praise of Shirin. At last, people thought to devise a plan to acquaint the Princess of the stonecutter's love. But how could a mere laborer aspire to win the hand of a princess? It was not long, however, before the Shah himself heard the rumours of this extraordinary exchange of sentiment. He was naturally indignant at the discovery, but as he had no child other than Shirin, and Shirin was also pining away with love, he proposed to his daughter that her lover, being of common birth, must accomplish a task such as no man may be able to do, and then, and only then, might he be recommended to his favour.
Wait. Here I have to stop.
Remember that this narrative forms part of a larger story.
See, Shirin was already in love with a King called Khosrau. And there are other versions too. Some say Farhad worked for years and cut the canal the Shah requested. He had to dig a well in the rocky beds of the mountains. He was half-way through, and would probably have completed it, when the Shah consulted his courtiers and sought their advice. His plan had failed. Farhad had not perished in the attempt, and if all the conditions were fulfilled as they promised to be soon, his daughter must go to him in marriage. The viziers suggested that an old woman should be sent to Farhad to tell him that Shirin was dead; then, perhaps, Farhad would become disheartened would stop the work.
It was an ignoble trick, but it promised success and the Shah agreed to try it. So an old woman went to Farhad and wept and cried till words choked her; the stonecutter asked her the cause of her bereavement.
"I weep for a deceased," she said, "and for you." "For a deceased and for me?" asked the surprised Farhad. "And how do you explain it?"
"Well, my brave man," said the pretender, "you have worked so well, and for such a long time, but you have laboured in vain, for the object of you devotion is dead!"
"What!" cried the bewildered man, "Shirin is dead?"
Such was his grief that he cut his head with a sharp spade and died. His own blood streamed into his canal. When Shirin heard this she fled to the mountains where her wronged lover lay. It is said that she inflicted a wound in her own head at the precise spot where Farhad had struck himself, and with the same sharp edge of the spade which was stained with her lover's gore. No water ever flows into the canal, but two lovers are entombed in the same grave.
I’ll have you know Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was only published in 1597. The Shahnameh was composed between 977 and 1010 CE.
Nezami's version begins with an account of Khosrou's birth and his education. This is followed by an account of Khosrow's feast in a farmer's house for which Khosrou is severely chastised by his father. Khosrou asks forgiveness and repents his offence. Hormizd IV, who is now pleased with his son, forgives him. That very night, Khosrow sees his grandfather Anushirvan in a dream and Anushirvan gives him glad tidings of a wife named Shirin, a steed named Shabdiz, a musician named Barbad, and a great kingdom, that is Persia.
Shapur, Khosrow's close friend and a painter, tells Khosrow of the Armenian queen Mahin Banu and her niece Shirin. Hearing Shapur's descriptions of Shirin, the young prince falls in love with Shirin, the Armenian princess. Shapur travels to Armenia to look for Shirin. Shapur finds Shirin and shows the image of Khosrow to Shirin. Shirin falls in love with Khosrow and escapes from Armenia to Khosrow's capital Mada'in; but meanwhile, Khosrow also flees from his father's anger and sets out for Armenia in search of Shirin.
In the way, he finds Shirin unclothed bathing and washing her flowing hair; Shirin also sees him; but since Khosrow was traveling in peasant clothes, they do not recognise one another. Khosrow arrives in Azerbaijan and is welcomed by Shamira the queen of Armenia - yet he finds out that Shirin is in Mada'in. Again, Shapur is sent to bring Shirin. When Shirin reached Armenia again, Khosrow – because of his father's death- has to return to Mada'in. The two lovers keep going to opposite places till finally Khosrow is overthrown by a general named Bahrām Chobin and flees to Armenia.
In Armenia, Khosrow finally meets Shirin and is welcomed by her. Shirin, however, does not agree to marry Khosrow; unless Khosrow first claims his country back from Bahram Choobin. Thus, Khosrow leaves Shirin in Armenia and goes to Constantinople. The Caesar agrees to assist him against Bahram Choobin on condition that he marries his daughter Maryam. Khosrow is also forced to promise not to marry as long as Maryam is alive. Khosrow succeeds in defeating his enemy and reclaims his throne. Maryam, due to her jealousy, keeps Khosrow away from Shirin.
Meanwhile, a sculptor named Farhad, falls in love with Shirin and becomes Khosrow's love-rival. Khosrow cannot bear Farhad, so he sends him on an exile to Behistun mountain with the impossible task of carving stairs out of the cliff rocks. Farhad begins his task hoping that Khosrow will allow him marry Shirin. Yet, Khosrow sends a messenger to Farhad and gives him false news of Shirin's death. Hearing this false news, Farhad throws himself from the mountaintop and dies. Khosrow writes a letter to Shirin, expressing his regret for Farhad's death. Soon after this incident, Maryam also dies. According to Ferdowsi's version, it was Shirin who secretly poisoned Miriam. Shirin replies to Khosrow's letter with another satirical letter of condolences.
Khosrow, before proposing marriage to Shirin, tried to be intimate with another woman named Shekar in Isfahan; which further delays the lovers' union. Finally, Khosrow goes to Shirin's castle to see her. Shirin, seeing that Khosrow is drunk, does not let him in the castle. She particularly reproaches Khosrow for his intimacy with Shekar. Khosrow, sad and rejected, returns to his palace.
Shirin eventually consents to marry Khosrow after several romantic and heroic episodes. Yet, Shiroyeh, Khosrow's son from his wife Maryam, is also in love with Shirin. Shiroy finally murders his father Khosrow and sends a messenger to Shirin conveying that after one week, she would have to marry him. Shirin, in order to avoid marrying Shiroy, kills herself. Khosrow and Shirin were buried together in one grave.
Sorry, you have to read all that to get to my point. The actual story is far more beautiful to read, share and celebrate than that bleak summary. It’s part of the magic of epic and grandiose literature. Nizami wrote five long poetic books, commonly called "The Five Treasures." Among these, the "Khosru and Shireen," is generally regarded as his masterpiece.
Nonetheless, if we’re to define a great enduring romance as understood from the Sunnah? We’re all part of a greater story. There are telling details we leave out when we focus on just one part our lives. For e.g. if we focus on just the Shirin and Farhad story, we ignore that she loved the King, Kosrau too, and he was doing everything he could to be with her. Is this not an example of Allah’s love for us? If we focus on just one part of a bigger picture we aren’t true romantics. What is the greatest gesture? What is an epic romance? If the answer says something along the lines of sacrifice, perseverance, believing in a dream and hoping - it’s all about interpretation, right?
(Allah’s blessings, pleasure and peace be upon His beloved servants and Prophets)
Adam roamed the earth for hundreds of years looking for Hawa;
Qaabil killed his brother Haabil for a woman they both loved;
Noah held out for that one kid – he pleaded with him from a ship as apocalyptic waves crashed around them “I’m here, waiting for you”;
Ebrahim went into fire for his conviction – to prove a point to his father;
Safoora married a man who pitched up at her door after having murdered someone. He was flat broke. Her father harboured him as a fugitive and tenant + he had no family (he's THE Musa) and -- and then he becomes the greatest freedom fighter & liberator of Egypt.
And if we want to get 1400 years closer -- Umm Salama's husband waited for her even after his family tried to tear them apart; Zainab, the Prophet’s daughter gave up everything to be with Abul Aas. Usman gave up a decisive war to nurse his wife back to health. Prior to that he'd crossed deserts to be with her. Mugheeth wandered around the city disoriented after Bareera broke up with him.
Our seerah is replete with such examples. What's the romance really? The story, or just how its marketed/ interpreted?
The answer to making our lives epic, I believe, is to recognise (Who) as in the Almighty really wants to be with us. His love is enduring. His tests are to strengthen us. His challenges are part of a bigger picture. Ultimately, to recognise this, we must force ourselves to become romantics.