al-Yaman, whose real name was Abdul Rahman b. Isma’il
al-Khawlani, was born in Yemen in the second half of the
seventh century. His father died when he was a little boy
and, after the prescribed period of mourning, his mother
remarried. Waddah grew up in his stepfather’s home and
when he was in his teens his paternal uncle and his
grandmother claimed their right to have him with them, but
his stepfather declined to hand him over. As a result, a
legal battle ensued and the case was finally resolved in
favour of Waddah’s paternal relatives. The judge, struck
by the exceptional handsomeness of the teenager, called
him Waddah al-Yaman (Radiance of Yemen).
Waddah led a pleasure-loving life,
but the girl he loved most was Rawda. Waddah celebrated
his love for Rawda in a series of poems which were set to
music and became popular songs. Rawda’s parents were not
happy that their daughter was being ‘songed’ about all
over the town and when Waddab asked for her hand they
turned him down and married her off to another man.
Waddah moved to Mecca and Medina,
which were the liveliest cities of their day. The queen,
who was in Mecca on pilgrimage, met Waddah, fell in love
with him and suggested that he moved to Damascus. In 709,
the Caliph al-Walid I received a gift of precious stones
which he sent to the queen with a page. When the page
reached the queen’s room, he saw the queen hiding Waddah
inside a trunk. The page asked the queen to give him one
of the gems, but she refused. The page then rushed to the
Caliph and told him the queen was hiding a man in a trunk.
The Caliph ordered the beheading of the page for
interfering in royal matters, then went to the queen and
asked if he could have the trunk as a present. The queen
told him he could have anything he liked but not the trunk
as she kept her day to day things in it. The Caliph
insisted on having the trunk and so the queen gave it to
him. The caliph had the trunk buried under the floor of
the audience chamber and then said that if it had been
empty, he had only buried wood, but if there had been a
man, that was the end of the affair.
The stories of Waddah and Rawda
and the Caliph’s wife captured the imagination of the
Ummayyads and the Abbasids so much that it was turned into
a book of hikayat (stories) which unfortunately has not
yet been found. Also Waddah’s diwan has not yet been
discovered and only a handful of his poems are extant.
Waddah is one of the finest
Ummayyad poets and what makes his poetry distinct is its
mirthful and irreverent Sana’ani wit. Waddah is now
regarded as the national poet of Yemen.
She said: "Don’t come to our home, my father is
I said: "I’ll pluck you before he knows it, my
sword is razorsharp."
She said: "There’s a whole castle between us."
I said: "I’ll fly my flag over the castle."
She said: "There’s a whole sea between us."
I said: "I’m a strong swimmer."
She said: "My seven brothers keep an eye on me."
I said: "I’m a match for them all."
She said: "Allah is watching us."
I said: "My lord is Merciful and Forgiving."
She said: "I have run out of words, so come tonight
when everyone’s floating in dreams, and fall on me like
WADDAH AL-YEMEN (d 709)