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Abu Nuwas Biography

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Abu Nuwas (750?813?) was an early Arabic language poet, probably born at Ahwaz in Persia of Arab and Persian parents. His real name was Hasin ibn Hani al Hakami, Abu Nuwas being a pen name. Due to the protection of powerful patrons, among whom the Barmaki family, enlightened advisors to caliph Harun al-Rashid, Abu Nuwas was able to celebrate wine and the love of youths, pleasures tolerated in Islamic society only when tasted quietly. This tolerance is often presented as an example of the tolerance of the Islamic religion. However, Nuwas was also severely persecuted, had to go into exile for a period of time after the fall of the Barmakis, and allegedly died a violent death in prison.

His commissioned work, the 'mu'annathat', includes poems on the topic of hunting, the love of women, and panegyrics to his patrons. The majority of his work is refered to as 'mudhakkarat' and 'mujuniyyat', and it is addressed to males. There are also two distinct sub-categories of poems: the first about young girls who disguise themeselves as boys, the 'ghulamiyyat'; and the second wine & drinking songs, the 'khamriyyat'.

He is generally regarded as one of the greatest of classical Arabic poets, if not the very best. Abu Nuwas has entered the folkloric tradition, and he appears several times in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

His freedom of rhetorical expression, and his celebration of transgressive love, continues to excite the animus of censors. In January 2001 the Egyptian Ministry of Culture burned 6,000 books of poetry by Abu Nuwas, after pressure from Islamic fundamentalists.


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