Abu Nuwas

Abū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī (variant: Al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī 'Abd al-Awal al-Ṣabāḥ, Abū 'Alī (الحسن بن هانئ بن عبد الأول بن الصباح ،ِابو علي), known as Abū Nuwās al-Salamī (أبو نواس السلمي)[1] or just Abū Nuwās[2] (أبو نواس Abū Novās); c. 756  c. 814) was a classical Arabic poet, and the foremost representative of the modern (muhdath) poetry that developed during the first years of Abbasid Caliphate.[3] He also entered the folkloric tradition, appearing several times in One Thousand and One Nights.

Abu Nuwas
Abu Nuwas drawn by Khalil Gibran in 1916
BornAbū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī
c. 756
Ahvaz, Abbasid Caliphate
Diedc. 814 (aged 5758)
Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate

Early life

Abū Nuwās was most likely born in the city of Ahvaz, in the region of Khuzistan (ancient Elam) in south west Persia (modern-day Iran), to an Arab father and a Persian mother,[3] although some sources argue that he was born in Basra.[2] Biographers differ on the date of Nuwas's birth, with estimates ranging from 747 to 762. Nuwas's father Hānī died around the time of his birth and was an Arab, a descendant of the Jizani tribe Banu Hakam and a soldier in the army of Marwan II. His Persian mother, Jullaban, worked as a weaver, and is thought to never have mastered the Arabic language.

In his early childhood Abu Nuwas followed his mother to Basra in lower Iraq where he attended Qur’an school and became a Hafiz at a young age. His youthful good looks and innate charisma attracted the attention of the Kufan poet, Abu Usama Waliba ibn al-Hubab al-Asadi, who took Abu Nuwas to Kufa as a young apprentice. Waliba recognized in Abu Nuwas his talent as a poet and encouraged him toward this vocation, but was also attracted sexually to the young man and may have had erotic relations with him. Abu Nuwas’s relationships with adolescent boys when he had matured as a man seem to mirror his own experience with Waliba.[4]


Ismail bin Nubakht, one of Nuwas's contemporaries, said:

"I never saw a man of more extensive learning than Abu Nuwas, nor one who, with a memory so richly furnished, possessed so few books. After his death we searched his house, and could only find one book-cover containing a quire of paper, in which was a collection of rare expressions and grammatical observations."[5]

The earliest anthologies of his poetry and his biography were produced by:[6]

  • Yaḥyā ibn al-Faḍl and Ya‘qūb ibn al-Sikkīt arranged his poetry under ten subject categories, rather than in alphabetical order. Al-Sikkīt wrote an 800-page commentary.[7]
  • Abū Sa’īd al-Sukkarī[lower-alpha 1] edited his poetry, providing commentary and linguistic notes; he completed editing approximately two thirds of the corpus of one thousand folios. [8][9]
  • Abū Bakr ibn Yaḥyā aI-Ṣūlī edited his work, organizing poems alphabetically, and corrected some false attributions.
  • ‘Alī ibn Ḥamzah al-Iṣbahānī also edited his writings, compiling works alphabetically. [10]
  • Yūsuf ibn al-Dāyah [11]
  • Abū Hiffān [lower-alpha 2] [12]
  • Ibn al-Washshā’ Abū Ṭayyib, scholar of Baghdād[13][14][15][16]
  • Ibn ‘Ammār[lower-alpha 3] wrote a critique of Nuwas's work, including citing instances of alleged plagiarism.[17][18]
  • Al-Munajjim family: Abū Manṣūr; Yaḥyā ibn Abī Manṣūr; Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyā; ‘Alī ibn Yaḥyā; Yaḥyā ibn ‘Alī; Aḥmad ibn Yaḥyā; Hārūn ibn ‘Alī; ‘Alī ibn Hārūn; Aḥmad ibn ‘Alī; Hārūn ibn ‘Alī ibn Hārūn.[19][20][21][22][23]
  • Abū al-Ḥasan al-Sumaysāṭī also wrote in praise of Nuwas. [24]

Imprisonment and death

He died during the Great Abbasid Civil War before al-Ma’mūn advanced from Khurāsān in either 199 or 200 AH (814–816 AD).[25] Because he frequently indulged in drunken exploits, Nuwas was imprisoned during the reign of Al-Amin, shortly before his death.[26]

The cause of his death is disputed:[27] four different accounts of Abu Nuwas’s death survive. 1. He was poisoned by the Nawbakht family, having been framed with a poem satirizing them. 2. He died in a tavern drinking right up to his death. 3. He was beaten by the Nawbakht for the satire falsely attributed to him; wine appears to have had a role in the flailing emotions of his final hours - this seems to be a combination of accounts one and two. 4. He died in prison, a version which contradicts the many anecdotes stating that in the advent of his death he suffered illness and was visited by friends (though not in prison). He most probably died of ill health, and equally probably in the house of the Nawbakht family, whence came the myth that they poisoned him.[4] Nuwas was buried in Shunizi cemetery in Baghdad.[28]



Nuwas is one of a number of writers credited with inventing the literary form of the mu‘ammā (literally "blinded" or "obscured"), a riddle which is solved "by combining the constituent letters of the word or name to be found".[29][30] He also perfected two Arabic genres: Khamriyya (wine poetry) and Tardiyya (hunting poetry). Ibn Quzman, who was writing in Al-Andalus in the 12th century, admired him deeply and has been compared to him.[31][32]


The city of Baghdad has several places named for the poet. Abū Nuwās Street runs along the east bank of the Tigris River, in a neighbourhood that was once the city's showpiece.[33] Abu Nuwas Park is located on the 2.5-kilometer stretch between the Jumhouriya Bridge and a park that extends out to the river in Karada near the 14th of July Bridge.[34]

In 1976, a crater on the planet Mercury was named in honor of Abu Nuwas.[35]

The Abu Nawas Association, founded in 2007 in Algeria, was named after the poet. The primary aim of the organisation is to decriminalise homosexuality in Algeria, seeking the abolition of article 333 and 338 of the Algerian penal code which still considers homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment and accompanied by a fine.[36][37]


While his works were in circulation freely until the early years of the twentieth century, the first modern censored edition of his works was published in Cairo in 1932. In January 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the burning of some 6,000 copies of books of Nuwas's homoerotic poetry.[38][39] In the Saudi Global Arabic Encyclopedia entry for Abu Nuwas, all mentions of pederasty were omitted.[40]

He features as a character in a number of stories in One Thousand and One Nights, where he is cast as a boon companion of Harun al-Rashid.

A heavily fictionalised Abu Nuwas is the protagonist of the novels The Father of Locks (Dedalus Books, 2009)[41] and The Khalifah's Mirror (2012) by Andrew Killeen,[42] in which he is depicted as a spy working for Ja'far al-Barmaki.[43]

In the Sudanese novel Season of Migration to the North (1966) by Tayeb Salih, Abu Nuwas's love poetry is cited extensively by one of the novel's protagonists, the Sudanese Mustafa Sa'eed, as a means of seducing a young English woman in London: "Does it not please you that the earth is awaking,/ That old virgin wine is there for the taking?"[44]

The Tanzanian artist Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado) created a Swahili comic book called Abunuwasi which was published in 1996.[45] It features a trickster figure named Abunuwasi as the protagonist in three stories draw inspiration from East African folklore as well as the fictional Abu Nuwasi of One Thousand and One Nights.[46][47]

In Pasolini's Arabian Nights, the Sium story is based on Abu Nuwas' erotic poetry. The original poems are used throughout the scene.[48]

Editions and translations

  • Dīwān Abū Nu’ās, khamriyyāt Abū Nu’ās, ed. by ‘Alī Najīb ‘Aṭwi (Beirut 1986).
  • Esat Ayyıldız. "Ebû Nuvâs’ın Şarap (Hamriyyât) Şiirleri". Bozok Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 18 / 18 (Aralık 2020): 147-173 .
  • O Tribe That Loves Boys. Hakim Bey (Entimos Press / Abu Nuwas Society, 1993). With a scholarly biographical essay on Abu Nuwas, largely taken from Ewald Wagner's biographical entry in The Encyclopedia of Islam.
  • Carousing with Gazelles, Homoerotic Songs of Old Baghdad. Seventeen poems by Abu Nuwas translated by Jaafar Abu Tarab. (iUniverse, Inc., 2005).
  • Jim Colville. Poems of Wine and Revelry: The Khamriyyat of Abu Nuwas. (Kegan Paul, 2005).
  • The Khamriyyāt of Abū Nuwās: Medieval Bacchic Poetry, trans. by Fuad Matthew Caswell (Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, 2015). Trans. from ‘Aṭwi 1986.


  1. Abū Sa’īd al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Sukkarī (d. 888/ 889), scholar of linguistics, ancient history, genealogy, poetry, geology, zoology and botany.
  2. Abū Hiffān Abd Allāh ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥarb al-Mihzamī (d. 871), secretary and poet of al-Baṣrah who lived in Baghdād.
  3. Ibn ‘Ammār is possibly Aḥmad ibn ‘Ubayd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Ammār al-Thaqafī (d. 926), Shī’ah secretary and vizier to many caliphs.


  1. Ibn-Hallikān 1961, p. 546, II.
  2. Garzanti
  3. Esat Ayyıldız. "Ebû Nuvâs’ın Şarap (Hamriyyât) Şiirleri". Bozok Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 18 / 18 (2020): 147-173.
  4. Kennedy, Philip F. (2009). Abu Nuwas : a genius of poetry (First South Asian paperback ed.). New Delhi. ISBN 978-1-78074-188-8. OCLC 890932769.
  5. Arbuthnot 1890, p. 81.
  6. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 312–16,353,382,1062.
  7. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, p. 352.
  8. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 173, 353.
  9. Flügel 1862, p. 89.
  10. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 353, 954.
  11. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 353, 1129.
  12. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 316, 1003.
  13. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 186, 353, 1122.
  14. Suyūṭī (al-), Jalāl al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān (1965). Bughyat al-Wuʻāh fī Ṭabaqāt al-Lughawīyīn wa-al-Nuḥāh (in Arabic). 1. al-Qāhirah: Ṭubiʻa bi-mạṭbaʻat ʻĪsa al-Bābī al-Halabī. p. 18 (§ 27).
  15. Yāqūt, Shihāb al-Dīn ibn ‘Abd al-Ḥamawī (1993). Abbās, Ihsan (ed.). Irshād al-Arīb alā Ma'rifat al-Adīb (in Arabic). Beirut: Dār Gharib al-Islām i. pp. 2303-2304 (§ 953).
  16. Yāqūt, Shihāb al-Dīn ibn ‘Abd al-Ḥamawī (1913). Margoliouth, D. S. (ed.). Irshād al-Arīb alā Ma'rifat al-Adīb (in Arabic). VI (7). Leiden: Brill. pp. 277–278.
  17. Iṣbahānī, Abū al-Faraj (1888). Kitab al-Aghānī (in Arabic). IV. Leiden: Brill. p. 157.
  18. Iṣbahānī, Abū al-Faraj (1888). Kitab al-Aghānī (in Arabic). XVIII. Leiden: Brill. pp. 2–29.
  19. Khallikān (Ibn), Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad (1868). Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary (tr. Wafayāt al-A'yān wa-al-Anbā Abnā' al-Zamān). III. Translated by McGuckin de Slane, William. London: W.H. Allen. pp. 604–5.
  20. Khallikān (Ibn), Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad (1972). Wafayāt al-A'yān wa-Anbā' Abnā' al-Zamān (The Obituaries of Eminent Men) (in Arabic). VI. Beirut: Dār Ṣādar. pp. 78–79.
  21. Tha‘ālibī (al-), ‘Abd al-Mālik, Abū Manṣūr (1915). Nāqidan fī Yatīmat al-dahr fī Shu'arā' Ahl al-Aṣr. Asiatic Society of Bengal (in Arabic). II. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press. p. 283.
  22. Tha‘ālibī (al-), ‘Abd al-Mālik, Abū Manṣūr (1915). Nāqidan fī Yatīmat al-dahr fī Shu'arā' Ahl al-Aṣr. Asiatic Society of Bengal (in Arabic). III. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press. pp. 207–8.
  23. Tha‘ālibī (al-), ‘Abd al-Mālik, Abū Manṣūr (1885). Index: Farīdatu'l-'Aṣr (in Arabic). Damascus: Al-Maṭba’ah al-Ḥanifīyah.
  24. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, p. 353.
  25. Ibn al-Nadīm 1970, pp. 352-3.
  26. "Abu Nuwas". 16 October 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  27. "Abu Nuwas Biography". Poemhunter. Retrieved 27 May 2020.
  28. Khallikān, Ibn (1842). Ibn Khallikan's biographical dictionary – Internet Archive. Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. p. 394. Retrieved 12 September 2010. Abu Nuwas buried cemetery.
  29. "mu'ammā". Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature. 1998.
  30. "Lughz". Encyclopedia of Islam. 2009.
  31. La Corónica. 24. 1995. p. 242.
  32. Monroe, James T. "Why was Ibn Quzmān Not Awarded the Title of "Abū Nuwās of the West?" ('Zajal 96', the Poet, and His Critics)". Journal of Arabic Literature.
  33. Abū Nuwās Street at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  34. "DVIDS – News – A Walk in the Park". Dvidshub.net. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  35. Mahoney 2013, p. 49.
  36. "Gay people are reclaiming an Islamic heritage". The Economist. 27 May 2021. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  37. TCHUISSEU, Divine-Léna (28 November 2020). "LGBTQIA+ activism in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries: between repression and determination". Institut du Genre en Géopolitique.
  38. Al-Hayat, 13 January 2001
  39. Middle East Report, 219 Summer 2001
  40. Bearman, Peri (2009). "Global Arabic Encyclopedia". In Khanbaghi, Aptin (ed.). Encyclopedias about Muslim Civilisations. pp. 16–17.
  41. Killeen, Andrew. (2009). The father of locks. Sawtry: Dedalus. ISBN 978-1-903517-76-5. OCLC 260209089.
  42. Killeen, Andrew. (2012). The Khalifah's mirror. New York: Dedalus. ISBN 978-1-909232-35-8. OCLC 815389625.
  43. Killeen 2009.
  44. Ṣāliḥ 1991, pp. 119-120.
  45. Gado (1996). Abu nuwasi : kimefasiriwa na kimechorwa. Nairobi, Kenya: Sasa Sema Publications. ISBN 9966-9609-0-2. OCLC 43496228.
  46. Pilcher 2005, p. 297.
  47. Gado 1998.
  48. Moon, Michael (15 January 2017). Arabian Nights: A Queer Film Classic. ISBN 9781551526676.


  • Arbuthnot, F.F. (1890). Arabic Authors: A Manual of Arabian History and Literature. W. Heinemann. ISBN 978-1-4655-1080-8. LCCN 43050203.
  • Flügel, Gustav (1862). Die grammatischen Schulen der Araber [The Grammatical Schools of the Arabs] (in German). Leipzig: Brockhaus. OCLC 1042925515.
  • Gado (1998). Abunuwasi. Sasa Sema Publications. ISBN 9966-9609-0-2. OCLC 475143542.
  • Ibn-Hallikān, Aḥmad Ibn-Muḥammad (1961). Wafayat al-a'yan wa anbã' abna' al-zamãn [The Obituaries of Eminent Men] (in Arabic). Pakistan Historical Society. OCLC 633767474.
  • Ibn al-Nadīm, Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq (1970). Dodge, Bayard (ed.). The Fihrist of al-Nadīm : a tenth-century survey of Muslim culture. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-02925-X. OCLC 298105272.
  • Killeen, Andrew (2009). The Father of Locks. Dedalus. ISBN 978-1-903517-76-5.
  • Mahoney, T.J. (2013). Mercury. Mercury. Springer New York. ISBN 978-1-4614-7951-2. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  • Pilcher, Tim (2005). The Essential Guide to World Comics. Collins & Brown. ISBN 1-84340-300-5. OCLC 61302672.
  • Ṣāliḥ, al-Ṭayyib (1991). Season of Migration to the North. Translated by Denys Johnson-Davies. Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-435-90974-1.
  • Straley, Dona S. (2004). The undergraduate's companion to Arab writers and their web sites. Libraries Unlimited. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-59158-118-5.
  • Esat Ayyıldız. "Ebû Nuvâs’ın Şarap (Hamriyyât) Şiirleri". Bozok Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 18 / 18 (2020): 147-173.

Further reading

  • Kennedy, Philip F. (1997). The Wine Song in Classical Arabic Poetry: Abu Nuwas and the Literary Tradition. Open University Press. ISBN 0-19-826392-9.
  • Kennedy, Philip F. (2005). Abu Nuwas: A Genius of Poetry. OneWorld Press. ISBN 1-85168-360-7.
  • Lacy, Norris J. (1989). "The Care and Feeding of Gazelles – Medieval Arabic and Hebrew love poetry". In Moshe Lazar (ed.). Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages. George Mason University Press. pp. 95–118. ISBN 0-913969-25-7.
  • Frye, Richard N. (1975). The Golden Age of Persia. p. 123. ISBN 0-06-492288-X.
  • Esat Ayyıldız. "Ebû Nuvâs’ın Şarap (Hamriyyât) Şiirleri". Bozok Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 18 / 18 (2020): 147-173.
  • Rowell, Alex (2017). Vintage Humour: The Islamic Wine Poetry of Abu Nawas. C. Hurst & Co. ISBN 978-1-84904-897-2.
  • Khallikān (Ibn), Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad (1843). Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary (tr. Wafayāt al-A'yān wa-al-Anbā Abnā' al-Zamān). i. Translated by McGuckin de Slane, William. London: W.H. Allen. pp. 391–395.
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