Love stories are one of the most popular stories that adorn the course of human civilization.
They are as old as human civilization itself. So great our urge for them, love stories are not only found in real life but are also favourite themes in various novels, short stories, and even plays in various countries, in the past, present, and future. Love is not only celebrated grandly on Valentine’s Day but is present for all time.
I want to share how this love narrative is seen from a fictional point of view by an Arab writer, Nizar Qabbani. While readers of world literature will be no stranger to Kahlil Gibran as an Arab poet best known for his love and affection-related pieces such as The Prophet and Broken Wings, Qabbani has been recognised as a Syrian poet scrambling to reprehend Arab society who look down on love.
In one of his poems, “The Brunette Told Me“, Qabbani challenges the traditions of Arab society which, in general, tend to not value love by perpetuating arranged marriages. In this poem, Qabbani states that his heart and poetry are one. It expresses what he feels and thinks, putting considerable stress on freedom of expression. It was greatly influenced by Western culture, especially through the education system implemented by France colonists in Syria from 1920 until it achieved its independence in 1943.
In this poem, he further wrote that women have the right and freedom to fight against all things that set limits to their thoughts and movements. He calls this “two liberations against heaven and silk shirts”. He asserts the position that women should not diminish their right to do whatever they wish, despite the fact that Arab tradition often treats women as sexual objects and are considered worthless.
Love and freedom are truly rooted in Qabbani’s poems. In another of his poems, “Imra’ah Tamsyi fi Daakhiliy” (The Woman Who Walks in My Soul), Qabbani presents love as a spirit of freedom. To him, love is something borne from freedom of feeling. It cannot be restrained and hindered in spite of binding boundaries. Through the “I” character, Qabbani offers his lover to speak openly with the language of her heart and feelings without taking unendurable circumstances and conditions. He stated that countless political figures had tried to curb and limit the movement of their political opponents.
This was inseparable from the Syrian political landscape that was highly controlled by Hafiz Assad at the time. There were no democratic spaces left. Qabbani poured the spirit of freedom by saying “I don’t want you playing with and curbing our feelings”. Love is the right of all human beings, leaving much room and setting the scene for true love and deep feeling. Using Erich Fromm’s notion, love for Qabbani is the biological child of freedom as it is never born of domination or coercion.
Qabbani’s concern with love really makes sense with a robust and massive patriarchal culture. Arab tradition requires women to maintain their virginity until marriage. This contrasts with the freedom men enjoy. Arab patriarchal culture allows men to have sexual relations with any woman before marriage, which is considered an exercise, and this is not considered to be a stain on the religion and family honour of the man (Alkhalil, 2005).
Qabbani further expressed the spirit of freedom in his other poem “Fatimah”. In the poem, Qabbani is more daring to emphasise that a woman needs to vent her freedom to find love. It is her right to decide whom she falls in love with. Qabbani states “there is no might of love above mine”, declaring that women are free to express love and able to fight against existing boundaries, especially restrictive traditions. The freedom promoted by Qabbani in “Fatimah” is clearly inseparable from the western ideology derived from education. Qabbani and other writers and artists of his age began to see the vast distinctions between the West and the Arabs, especially regarding the interactions and relationships between men and women through films and music.
Overall, Qabbani asserts that the might of love is tantamount to the desire for freedom. Although he was born and raised in a traditional Muslim family that adhered to religious values and norms, his wanderings as a diplomat greatly engaging in globally social phenomena made him think openly and outside the box. His poems are a testament to his position sticking up for the spirit of freedom that everyone should respect and understand. His works can be seen as expressions that portray real-life phenomena that exist in society, although sometimes they must break taboos. He believes that to love is to be free.
Through the work of Qabbani, we learn that love will grow under the auspices of freedom. The much-vaunted love will fall into mere parlance when someone loses sight of freedom. Marriage, tradition, and social norms will crumble by the time the purview of freedom has no wiggle room.