100 Heroes: Abu Nuwas

The gay man who became one of the greatest Arabic poets.

100 Heroes: Abu Nuwas

Abū Nuwās was a classical Arabic poet. Born in the city of Ahvaz in modern-day Iran to an Arab father and a Persian mother, he became a master of all the contemporary genres of Arabic poetry. He also entered the folkloric tradition, appearing several times in One Thousand and One Nights. He died during the civil war before al-Ma’mūn advanced from Khurāsān either in 199 or 200 AH (814-816 AD).

Early life

Abu Nuwas’ father, Hānī, whom the poet never knew, was an Arab, a descendant of the Jizani tribe Banu Hakam, and a soldier in the army of Marwan II. His Persian mother, named Jullaban, worked as a weaver. Biographies differ on the date of Abu Nuwas’ birth, ranging from 747 to 762. Some sources say he was born at Basra.


He is one of various people credited with inventing the literary form of the mu‘ammā – a riddle which is solved by combining the constituent letters of the word or name to be found”.

While his works were freely in circulation until the early years of the twentieth century, in 1932 the first modern censored edition of his works appeared in Cairo. In January 2001, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture ordered the burning of some 6,000 copies of books of homoerotic poetry by Abu Nuwas. Any mention of pederasty was omitted from his entry in the Saudi Global Arabic Encyclopedia.

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