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Mahbuba (fl. 9th c.)

Mahbuba (fl. 9th c.)

Arabian poet who was the only historical female singer mentioned in The Thousand and One Nights . Born in al-Basra (now Iraq); flourished 840s–860s.

Mahbuba, whose name means Beloved, became the property of a man of al-Taif who taught her poetry and how to play the lute and sing. When Mutawakki (r. 847–861) ascended the throne as caliph, Mahbuba was given to him as a gift. Infatuated with her beauty and talent, the caliph kept her at his side constantly. But Mutawakki was murdered in 861, and Mahbuba as well as all the other female singers in his court became the property of Wasif al-Turki who had initiated the caliph's assassination. When Mahbuba continued to mourn the slain caliph, Wasif al-Turki had her thrown in prison. A Turkish captain prevented her death, and Mahbuba was freed on the condition that she leave. She went to Baghdad where she disappeared into the mists of history. Stories of her faithfulness survived, however, and Mahbuba is the only historical female singer to appear in The Thousand and One Nights, Arabic literature's most famous collection of stories.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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