JEDDAH: As Valentine’s Day arrives, celebrations of joy and romance can be found across all languages. However, one story has found its way out of the AlUla desert sands.
The patron St. Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome and was prosecuted for performing marriages for young lovers in secret. The unions angered Emperor Claudius II, who believed that unmarried men made better soldiers. Canonized by the Catholic Church, St. Valentine was given an annual feast day on Feb. 14. At some point in medieval England, the festival drifted away from being a commemoration of ultimate sacrifice in the name of faith and evolved into a more general celebration of love.
Though the tale of St. Valentine and that of many Arab love stories have been inextricably linked, it is the mystery and the power of love and the adventures that came along with it that became appealing. The enchanting desert lands of AlUla and its rich history continues to mesmerize Saudis and those interested in historical reference to the land.
The story of Jamil and Buthainah is one of forbidden love.
The late seventh-century Bedouin love poetry was written by Jamil ibn Mamar, also known as Jamil Buthainah, a poet from the Bani Udhra tribe of Madinah during the Umayyad period. He was a pioneer in the poetic style of ghazal poetry, an element of Islamic literature that approaches themes of love in a lyrical style. He was renowned for his poetic tradition of chaste love, a common theme in Beduin tribes of that era.
Verses of poetry by Jamil ibn Mamar.
• If only the prime of the youth were new and old times come back, Buthayna. Should my poetry spend a night in Wadi AlQura, then I’m happy.
• I took to loving her from childhood, and up til today this love continues to thrive and grow.
The poems tell of Jamil’s intense but unrequited love for Buthainah bin Hayyan bin Thalabah from the Uthrah tribe, a beautiful maiden from a tribe residing near Bani Udhra in Al-Qura Valley in AlUla.
Infatuated by her beauty from a young age, Jamil wrote poems praising their love for years. The brave equestrian was proud of his love and his sword. He asked for his love’s hand in marriage but was rejected as Buthainah was promised to another man. Almost driven by madness, it did not deter the love-struck soldier, who continued to create beautiful and romantic poetry.
Much to the disdain of her family, Buthainah’s love for Jamil was true. His pleas fell on deaf ears as they would meet secretly in the plush oasis of AlUla, her homeland.
As time passed, Jamil left for Egypt and the star-crossed pair were separated, but their love will forever be told through the beauty of his love poems.
With thousands of years of history, it is no surprise that a love story would emerge from the sand of AlUla. The story of love and loss portrayed by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and can be felt through the verses:
“We grew older, Jameel Bouthaina and I, each alone, in two separate eras . . .
It is time that does what sun and wind do: It polishes us then kills us whenever the mind bears the heart’s passion, or whenever the heart reaches its wisdom Jameel! does she grow old, like you, like me, Bouthaina?
She grows old, my friend, outside the heart in others’ eyes. But inside me the gazelle bathes in the spring that pours out of her being”
The way in which this poem has been transmitted over time was demonstrated beautifully a year ago when the world-renowned theater company Caracalla performed “Jamil and Buthainah: A love legend from the oasis of AlUla” at the Maraya Concert Hall. The performance, fitting for the Valentine’s Day weekend, came alive through song, music, dance and theater.
This year, we celebrate the love story of the lost love emerging from the sands of one of the Kingdom’s gems. It is a story that has withstood the test of time and emerged again to retell the story of the star-crossed pair.