International Journal of
English and Literature

  • Abbreviation: Int. J. English Lit.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2626
  • DOI: 10.5897/IJEL
  • Start Year: 2010
  • Published Articles: 276

Full Length Research Paper

The Imapct of muwshah and zajal on troubadours poetry

Ziad Ali Alharthi*
  • Ziad Ali Alharthi*
  • Faculty of Sciences and Arts/Khulais, University of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, P. O. Box 80123, Jeddah, 21589 Saudi Arabia.
  • Google Scholar
Abdulhafeth Ali Khrisat
  • Abdulhafeth Ali Khrisat
  • Department of English and Translation, Faculty of Sciences and Arts/Khulais, University of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 29 June 2016
  •  Accepted: 24 August 2016
  •  Published: 30 November 2016


The Spanish culture has been exposed to European and Arabic culture. The Arabs ruled Spain from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries. The Arab civilization has left a significant impact on Europe in general and in Spain in particular. This paper aims to examine the impact of the muwashah and zajal of Hispano-Arabic on the troubadours’ poetry in structure and themes, language and rhyme. In the field of poetry, the troubadours have resembled the Arab singers in structure and theme. These troubadours show their similarities with the Hispano-Arabic poetry in both form and content. Many characters in the troubadours poetry are found in the Hispano-Arabic poetry as “raqeeb” (guard), “hasid” (envious), “rasoul” (messenger between the two lovers), and “al-a’?thel” (lover). Themes that can be found in both the troubadours poetry and the Hispano-Arabic include love at the first sight, cruelty of the beloved, impact of true love on the lover’s condition, pain, suffering, weakness and sickness. New forms of poetry, muwashah and zajal are developed. Muwashah directly expresses the poet’s own thought and sentiments. In central Spain, the Spanish poets compose Arabic poem called “zajal” in a Hispanicized dialect. Zajal differs from muwashah in the rhyme scheme that runs often much longer than the five-strophe-length.

Key words: Hispano-Arabic poetry, muwashah, zajal, kharja, troubadours, Spain, Andalus, courtly love.


Hispania is the name given by the Romans in 212 B.C. to what the Greeks called Iberia. In 1711, North Africa Moorish Omayyad took over Hispania renaming it al-Andalus “land of the vandals” since it was invaded by the Germanic tribe of Vandals. From eighth to fifteenth centuries, Moors ruled parts of Iberian Peninsula. In fact, The Arab civilization has left a significant impact on Europe through three means: First: the trade caravansary that continued to take place travel between Asia and Europe through Constantinople; second, the Crusaders (1096 to 1300) who lived in the Levant and Egypt, and other Islamic countries for a long time; During the Crusades, geographic and political ties were established between Occitan and  the  Arabized world of the late 11th century. Arabic poetry and song were a fact of everyday life of the court of Alfonso II (King of Christian Aragon from (1162 to 1196), Catalan and Provencal troubadours. Finally, Spain, became Andalusia in the rule of Muslims (711 to 1492), and its Arabic and Islamic culture lasted for eight centuries.

The people of the Provence imitated the love-song of the Andalusians. During the Crusades, geographic and political ties have developed between southern France and northern Spain; ultimate contact has been established between Occitan and Arabized world of late 11th century. Hundreds of troubadours started modern European literature, which is originated in Occitania in the early 12th century. These troubadours are poet-musicians. In France to the north, the ideas copied by speakers of French who are generally known as trouveres. This was flourishing when William IX’s grand daughter married the King of France. She exported the same ideals of courtly love to England when she later married King Henry II. Muslims’ Andalusia Spain contributed to the development of civilization that have emerged in that era and embodied in all aspects of arts and culture. Poetry flourished and began to include a variety of numerous purposes that have been known for a long time in the East. New forms of poetry began to develop and come into existence such as muwashah and zajal. There is a general disagreement on who was the first poet composed the first muwashah. Al-Shatrinee (1997) says that it is Mohamed ben Mahmoud al-Qibri (a blind poet who used to include it in his poetry) and his predecessor Ibn Abed Rabbuh who wrote al-‘?qd al-Fareed (volume 1, 469). However, there is a consensus regarding the certainty of muwashah’s first appearance in the 10th century.


According to Stern (1974: 215 to 216), Konrad Burdach argues that there is no antecedent in Greek or Roman literature that could have served courtly love and troubadour poetry as their psychological basis. Burdach also says, “troubadour poetry and courtly love were of such out-of-the way phenomena in the development of Western culture that it was necessary to suppose that they had been borrowed from somewhere, and Arabic poetry seemed a likely source.” Dozy (1994: II), the famous Dutch Orientalist interested in Arab Andalusia, notes in his book Spanish Islam that it was due to the international appeal of the Arabic language that the people in Andalusia were keen on learning Arabic, and that they were enamored with the language and its literature. Dozy also cites Alfaro, Cordoba’s priest then, as complaining that his people  Christian Spaniards, were eager to read the scientific and literary books of Muslims, not in order to rebuke them, but in order to master Arabic, the language that they loved. The Spanish, according to Alfaro, were infatuated by the magic and  appreciation  of the rhythm that they despised Latin and began to write in the language of their conquerors.

Briffault (1945:25) confirms, “no belief could be more uninformed that the notion, not infrequently entertained, that the Arabs knew nothing of love beyond its sensual aspect.” Abu Haider (2001) denies any affinity between Hispano-Arabic poetry and the Provencal lyrics. Regarding Ibn Hazm’s Tawq al-Hamama (1022) (The Ring of the Dove’s Neck), Abu Haider (2001:257) argues that it is not related to the courtly love because Ibn Hazm’s treatment is realistic and it is by no means related to the concept of love as presented in the troubadours. Moreover, he insists that study should be conducted to the poetry of the troubadours for its own sake: “Hispano-Arabic literature and the poetry of the troubadours should each be studied for their own sake, and not for the purpose of determining the influence of either literature on the other.”

Zwartjes (1997) conducts an examination of the relationship between Hispano-Arabic muwashah and its relation with Romance literatures: he concludes with a list of analogous zajal-like strophic poems in both Late Latin and various Romance languages. Moreover, Zwartjes provides thematic parallels between Romance and Arabic muwashah.  His conclusion is that no substantial differences are found between them. Griffin (1992) traces the origin of courtly love of the troubadours in Arabic love poetry by making some parallels between the themes of Ibn Hazm’s Tawq al-Hamama (1022) and the troubadours’ courtly love.  Boase (1992) provides examples from both the Provencal and Arabic poetry demonstrating that courtly love shows Arabic influence on European poetry. Boase (1992:64) remarks that there has been an intercultural experience of Arabic poetry of medieval Spain with western culture: an exchange of concepts, themes and stylistic devices between the popular poetry and courtly poetry. Schippers (2005) examines and analyzes a Hispano-Arabic muwashah and compares it to the love lyrics of the troubadours such as Bemart de Ventadom and Amaut Daniel. Shippers confirms that the structure of a muwashshah, its themes and its leading motifs of the strophes are analogous with that of the troubadours.

Hispano-Arabic literature and troubadours

There was contact between Southern France and Muslims in Spain. Muslim Arabs live side by side with the Spanish Christians who spoke Arabic. According to Simondi (1813:I, 65), the Arabian tales are the source of “that tenderness and delicacy of sentiment, and reverential in our chivalry feelings.’’ and the chivalry, the soul of new literature is an Arab importation that has no connection with the feudal system. Simondi (1813:I, 86-87) states: “Raymond, Berenger and his successors introduced into Provence the spirit both of liberty and chivalry, and a taste for elegance and the arts, with all the sciences of the Arabians.” Regarding the status of the women, Simondi says that “women are served and protected as if they are representatives of the divinity upon earth” (90). Trend (1965:34) confirms that the troubadours’ “form and style closely connected with Arabic idealism and Arabic poetry written in Spain.” Boase (1992:62-63) emphasizes that the major influence on the troubadours’ poetry is the Arabs in Spain. There are a number of factors that led to the idea that Arabic poetry has an impact on the troubadours. These factors include rhyme and poetic forms, poetic themes, etymology of the troubadours and the concept of love.

Stern (1974) observes the literary connections between the Islamic world and Western Europe. In the homogenous culture of Moorish Spain, there must have been a constant exchange of themes, concepts and stylistic devices between courtly and popular poetry. Watt (1972:27) states that popular poetry, “composed by Mozarabs, Christians and Jews of the north must have formed a link between Muslim Spain and Provence.”  The oldest lyric poetry written in a romance language in the 11th and 12th centuries is a strophic poem consisting of five strophes: Its rhyme scheme aaa bb/ ccc bb/ ddd bb, eee (bb). The final verse pair is jarcha, which is written in Mozarabic vernacular (spoken Andulsia). Poets would make use of popular poetry (jarchas) for inspiration in the creation of muwashah. Aspects of jarchas (in Spanish) include feminine voice directed to the usually absent lover or to another female (mother, sister, or friend), unrequited love, sadness at the absence of a lover, or lover is suffering. Images include love as sickness, an urban environment, heartache, the dawn, light of day, or a simple style with a question or exclamation. Troubadours found channels of communication with Mozarabs. In the 11th century, Spanish language is recorded in the kharjas. In Spanish refrains and Muslim poems, slaves and wives would sing to their masters. In certain instances, the troubadours develop their own convention of love. The first troubadour Guilhem of Poitou writes:

For she knows that she alone can cure me

I have a love; I do not know who she is, for in all truth, I have never seen her (quoted in Ja’fari and Jafri, 2010:22).

Early Spanish refrains became popular in 1042 (Steiner, 2008): “Tan tea mare” (I will love you so much); another  is “Vaismeu Corazon de mib” (My heart leaves me). Among hundreds of examples is: “Non quero non, jellello” (I will have no compassion but my dark lover).


The word “troubadour,” according to philology comes from the Arabic word “tarab” or “taraba”, meaning “to sing” and “to sing poetry” among other things. This is the root of  the  “troub-dor”  (trobar).   “Tarab”  means  “music song;” therefore, the origin of the “troubadour” is found in Arabic musical practices. The derivation of the Arabic roots TRB and RBB literally mean, when spelled as “RuBBab” “Sufi singers” (used by Omar Khayyam and Ibn Rumi to apply to themselves). When spelled RaBBat, (plural of RaBBah) means “lady”, “mistress”, “female idol”.5 In Southern France, the first Provencal poets appear full-fledged toward the end of the eleventh century with “palpitating love expressed in a wealth of fantastic imagery”. The troubadours (TRaB: music, song) who flourished in the twelfth century imitated their southern contemporaries, the zajal singers (Scholar, 2009). Hitti (2002:138) states: “The Chansen de Roland, the noblest movement of early European literature whose appearance prior to 1080 marks the beginning of a new civilization just as the Homeric poems make the beginning of historic Greek, owes its existence to a military contact with Moslem Spain.”

The romantic theme characteristic of zajal (Ja’fri and Jafri, 2010:23) leads to a speculation about the troubadours’ poetry in Southern Europe: “the Troubadours imitated their southern contemporaries, the zajal-singers, contributed towards the growth of the cult of dame in the western literary tradition, which later came to be described as ‘courtly love.’”  Following the Arabs precedent, “the cult of the dame” suddenly arises in Southwest Europe. In many instances, the Sufis use the divinity imagery as female. Historically speaking, the Sufis flourished in al-Andalus from the 9th century while the troubadours came to existence in the 11th century. Idries (1964) sees that the European concept of love comes from a “deterioration of Sufist-love ideal.”  Idries believes that the word “troubadour” is Arabic and it is associated with all sorts of pun such as musical performance, lovemaking, and close fellowship.

Troubadours are called minstrels (a minstrel is one who earns his living by the arts of poetry and music, and sings verses to the accompaniment of musical instrument). Sallefranque (1947:97) notes that it would be vain to claim to exhaust the common elements in the two poetries [Hispano-Arabic poetry and troubadours’). Just as the Arab lover follows a religion of love (deen al-hawa’) just so the troubadours love is religion because of the correspondence and similarity. According to Hitti (2002:144), “The troubadours resembled the Arab singers not only in sentiment and character but also in the very forms of ministry. Certain titles, which the Provence singers gave to their songs, are but translations from Arabic tittles.” Hitti regards the Provencal troubadours’ transmission as the marking of a new civilization for the Western World. The troubadours (1100 to 1350) are attached to the courts in South of France. Their poetry dealt with sexual love, which later develops into the concept and practice of courtly love. Schlegel (1818:67) rejects the view that the Arabs have had any impact on Provencal poetry. He claims that the Arabs are“hostile people, keeping their women in a state subjection, could not inspire those  who  compose  poetry for the worship of women.”  Schack (1865) confirms that certain aspects of European chivalry are derived from the Arabs: the ninth-century Arabic poetry written in Al-Andalus reveals the quasi-religious veneration for women, which later becomes a characteristic of Christian chivalry and troubadour poetry. Tarrago (1915:32) states that the principles of troubadours’ music are learnt from the Arabs. Tarrago conducts a study of Ibn Quzman’s Diwan, Elcancionero de Abencuzman in which he confirms that the Arabic zajal is the key to strophic forms of the troubadours’ poetry. Moreover, he believes that Hispano-Arabic poetry serving as a model for that of Provence is recognized by a number of scholars, Carolina Michaelis in Portugal, Msssignonin in France, Burdach in Germany and Mendendez in Spain.

Guillaume de Poitiers) (1071 to 1126), (William IX) one of the leaders of the Crusade of 1101, is the earliest troubadour  a vernacular lyric poet in the Occitan language whose work survived after his death. He was known as a composer and singer of songs (Boutière and Schutz, 1964: 7 to 8). Guillaume had been to Iberia (Spain) to the Caliphate of the Moors, where he found first love poetry, preceding troubadours’ poetry almost two centuries. He had been exposed to Arabic poetry and song. The Andalusia Arabic poetry furnishes an undisputable predecessor for the first troubadour Guillaume de Poitiers (Sallefranque, 1947: 102). Pound (1998) mentions him in Canto VIII: And Poitiers, you know, Guillaume Poitiers, had brought the song up out of Spain with the singers and veils. In Spirit of Romance, Pound also calls William IX "the most 'modern' of the troubadours": “For any of the later Provençals, that is, the high-brows, we have to 'put ourselves into the Twelfth Century' etc. Guillaume, writing a century earlier, is just as much of our age as of his own" (Pound, cited in Bond, 1982: lxxvi). In his study of Levi-Provencal, Pound says to have found four Arabo-Hispanic verses nearly or completely repeated in William’s manuscript (Piered’Alvernhe, a troubadour, writes a poem “Be m’esphzen in the translation of Guillaume’s. This poem is constructed about the three types of love, physical, spiritual and imaginary that can be discerned in the songs of the early troubadours. In this courtly song, Pierre resolves the conflict between profane and divine love as they provide happiness (Topsfield, 1978:175, 178). As travelling singers, troubadours are received at the English court. Their art and tradition have become part of the English society. The ideals of courtly love are included in the poems, ballads, and writings, which are sung by medieval troubadours in England.

Nature of love in Andalusi

The presentation of love poetry and nature in Andalusia happened because of the new moral law that has granted independence and enabled the woman to develop her social   character.  Because  of  this, al-hubb al-otheri (spiritual love) grew and the poets expressed their repressed emotions in a very delicate style showing their submission to the woman and her authority.  During this time, Ibn Hazm’s book, Tawq al-Hamamah (the Ring of the Dove) in 1022, embodying the Arabic philosophy of adoration and love towards the woman, has a significant impact upon the Andalusian poet-singers as it focuses on the new conception of profane love. In addition to Ibn Hazm’s Tawaq al-Hamamah (the Ring of the Dove), there are two other significant works that dealt with the nature of love in the eleventh and twelfth centuries: Kitab al-Zahra (The Book of the Flower) by Muhammed Ibn Dawud al-Asfahani and Tarjman al-Ashwaq (A Translator of Longings) by Muhyey Ed-Din Ibn al-Arabi.

Arabic language and courtly love

Similarities between Arabic muwashah and zajal on the one hand and the poetry of the troubadours on the other are found in language, theme and rhyme. Arabic has a great influence on Spanish, especially in vocabulary. Arabic has notably influenced Valencian variety of the Catalan language spoken in Spain, south of Catalonia proper. Due to the rule of the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus), hundreds of words from many fields (including Arabic inventions) have been adopted: sorbet, (sherbet) paraíso, (paradise) alberca, (tank, swimming pool) Alá, (Allah) alcazar, (fortress, palace), rehén, (hostage), momia, (mummy) fulano, (what's-his-name), guitarra, (guitar), azúcar, (sugar) cero, (zero) aceite, (oil) aceituna, (olive). Lafactura, (promptly brought the bill) alcalde, mayor alacrán, (scorpion) álcali, alkali lima, lime, alcoba, bedroom, alcove, limón, (lemon) jirafa, (giraffe) ojalá, (I hope, God willing) gacela, (gazelle) hachís, hashish, harén,  (harem) burca, (burqa) and café, (coffee). There are certain Arabic words (Sallefranque: 1947) employed in courtly love poetry: “hub” (to love), “shaghaf” (to love privately), “sababa” (to love ardently), “wallal” (to become mad with love), “gharam” (infatuation), and “mutayam” (to become enslaved by love). In courtly love (Bell, 1979: 221), troubadours5 praise the woman’s beauty almost religiously. In their songs, love is usually unrequited and extramarital, and it is always enduring. According to Gustave E. von Grunebaum  (Ousby, 1995:213), there are several elements, which have developed in Arabic literature, including such contrasts as sickness/medicine and delight/torment to characterize the love experience. Ibn Sina (980 to 1037) [known as Avicenna] writes Risala fi al-Ishq (Treatise on Love). The concepts of the elevating power of love, love for love’s sake, love has the power of lifting up the individual and love as desire never to be fulfilled are developed in the early eleventh century.  All these concepts can be found in courtly love.

Muwashah and Zajal: Characters and themes

There  are  many  characters  that  will  be  found  in   the Troubadours poetry and Hispano-Arabic poetry, in particular, muwashah and zajal. A character named gradador (the guard) is the same in Arabic “raqeeb”; his function is to take care of the woman and makes sure that no other character keeps any contact with this woman. Another character is the “evejos” who plays the role in Arabic poetry as the “hasid” (envious). Other characters include the messenger, “anel”, between the two lovers called in Arabic “rasoul” and the “lauzengier” who is “al’?thel” (the lover). Another usage in both forms of poetry is to give a pseudonym about the beloved. The lover stands in a position of being subservient and loyal to a cold and ungenerous woman. The woman holds a high position. The most dominant themes in both the troubadours poetry and Hispano-Arabic poetry is love at the first sight, the cruelty of the beloved, the impact of true love on the lover leading into suffering, pain weakness, sickness and/or death. The lover makes excessive meditation upon the beauty of the woman. The lover is suffering of endless desire without consummation. In other words, the lover is ready to do what is pleasing to his loved one.

Andalusian literature, including muwashah and zajal, is deeply rooted in the mainstream of Arabic literature. The word “muwashah” comes from the Arabic “al-wishah”, a type of material weaved from leather, jewels and pearls worn by a woman. It denotes chanting poetry with a rotating parallel rhyme scheme according to a certain order.  Muwashah, beginning its spread in the 10th century, is an Arabic poetic form and a secular musical genre, consisting of multi-lined strophic, usually of five stanzas, alternating with a refrain with a running rhyme. Normally, it opens with one or two lines that matched the second part of the poem in rhyme and meter. Muwashah has intricate melodic, rhythmic and poetic structure, as well as the meanings it provoked in its use of imagery. Muwashah may use more than one rhythm, although, the norm is a single rhythm throughout. Lyrics in a muwashah are poetry which must fit the rhythm and in which every syllable must fall on a beat.

Undoubtedly, the strophic lyrics of the muwashah directly express the poet’s own thought and sentiments. These lyrics deal with the theme of love or wine, joy and sorrow. The content of muwashah may address the sufferings of the speaker after his heart is broken over the beautiful woman.  It presents obstacles to love and shows evidence of the speaker’s devotion to his love.  Muwashah may reveal that the speaker loses his mind, in a very critical situation, and sends a messenger to tell the woman of his deteriorated catastrophic and weakened health position. The speaker may also appeal to her by begging help to put an end to his sufferings. In another muwashah, the speaker describes his beloved by recollecting his past love memories. Muwashah is sung and recited in palaces and castles for caliphs, princes, kings and royalty. This explains Robinson’s view (2002) who  considers  that  the  courts  and   the   court   culture, courtly models of good behavior and courtly love of tenth/eleventh centuries as sites of interaction between Arabic Andulsia and Occitan poetry.

Rhyme in Muwashah and Zajal

Perhaps, poetry is the most closely related art to music. Poets seem to be the only singers who enjoy the composition of their lyrics, singing for themselves and for those willing to repeat with them. The most important element for the Andalusian poets is rhyme. Rhyme is the music of poetry. Rhyme has an impact on aesthetic liking and emotional involvement. Words rhyming with a preceding prime word are easier to process and to perceive the felt-emotions. Repetition of sounds might encourage a soft or sensuous feeling. Rhyme comes first without paying attention to syntax and meter. The zajal consists of several stanzas in which the rhymes are so arranged that the master-rhyme ending each stanza and running through the whole poem as a refrain. The stanzas are interrupted by a succession of subordinate rhymes: aa/bbba/ccca/ddda/. In the rhyme, metrical system is employed in the muwashah that is composed in Classical Arabic. Muwashah has regular quantitative patterns but these patterns do not coincide with those of traditional system of prosody in classical Arabic poetry. The poem may have new meters, which are unknown to the classical tradition. In medieval Spanish poetry and in muwashah, there are no lines longer than twelve syllables and the only regular stress in each line falls on the accented syllable of its rhymed word. It is a “hybridization system”: the Arabic patterns (Reichl, 2012:605) are adjusted to fit in the underlying Romance syllabic system.

According to Monroe (2007:330), zajal is an example of intercultural hybridization. Zajal may have existed as early as ninth century or earlier in the seventh century.  In central Spain, the Spanish poets compose Arabic poems called “zajal” in a Hispanicized dialect. Zajal originates in Andalusia Spain written in the local vernacular Arabic dialect and it is “punctuated with non-Arabic words or phrases”. All syllables are phonetically and linguistically of equal duration. The regular stress falls on the accented syllable of the rhymed word in zajal as well as in muwashah. However, zajal differs from muwashah in the rhyme scheme that runs often much longer than the five-strophe-length of the muwashah. Muwashah and zajal consist of matla’ (a short rhyme introductory verse) and strophe (bayt and qufl). These components make Andalusian poetry. The matla' ’is followed by five or seven strophes; each has two parts called bayt (Arabic stanza) and qufl (‘return’). This ‘qufl’ is known in French as “vuelta” and in Spanish “tornade”. Each strophe is made up of a rhymed verse and rhymed refrain: bayt uses different rhymes from strophe to strophe; the qufl has  a  common  rhyme  scheme   found   in   matla’   and

repeated in the kharja. The lines in the last strophe, preceding the kharja, introduce the singer of the kharja: this singer is a creation of the poet whether a young woman, a bird, a personified abstract concept or the people of the city.

Troubadours, Muwashah and zajal

Mushah and zajal have had their impact on the Spanish and French poetry in particular and in European poetry in general. Many Spanish eminent literary figures reveal their influence by Arabic muwashah and zajal such as Álvarez de Felicia Ndino, Monk Deco Alblenci, GarcíaFernández, elMontreux. Troubadours lived in the court of kings and princes, song of love, as it is subject to the loving sweetheart, and it expresses the jurisdiction. Ja’fri and Jafri (2010:24) mention that the zajal is invented by Muqaddam of Cabra, a tenth century bard who has composed in both vulgar Arabic and Romance. To get an idea of what is a muwashsah and its themes, here is a famous well-known muwashah by Ibn Zahr al-Hafeed (1072 to 1166) and another muwshah by the Spanish RioSaledo.

أيها الساقي اليك المشتكى                      قد دعوناك وان  لم تسم

”ay-youha as-saqie-laika al-mushtaka/ ghad da’?wnakawa in lemtasm’?” (O Bartender! we come to complain to you/ We call on you, but you do not hear).

ونديم همت في غرته

wa nadeemin hammat fi ghurratehe (and a companion was infatuated by his appearance)

وبشرب الراح من راحته

wa bishrub er-raha min rahatehe (drinking wine from his palm)

كلما استيقظ من سكرته

kullama istayqatha min sakratehe (whenever he wakes from his drunkenness)

جذب الزق إليه وأتكئ             وسقاني أربعا في أربع

jathaba ez-ziqa elaihe wat-taka/ (He grabs the wine pot and bends over) wa saqani arb’? fi arb’? (He pours for me sixteen glasses of wine.”

ما لعيني عشيت بالنظر             أنكرت بعدك ضوء القمر

ma le’?nee ‘?sheyat bilnadher / ankarat b’?daka dhuo al-qamer (My eyesight has weakened because of my continued looking/ So that I cannot see the moon’s light(.

وإذا ما شئت فاسمع خبري

wa edha ma she’atta fassm’? khabari (If you would like, you can hear news about me.)

عشيت عيني من طول البكا                    وبكى بعضي على بعضي معي

‘?sheyat ainaya min toul el-buka / (My sight is weakened because of my long crying.) wa baka ba’?dhi ala ba’?dhi ma’?ee (All the parts of my body are crying with me.)

بات من يهواه من فرط الجوى

bat men yahwahu men fert el-jawa  (The lover is mad in love; he withers and becomes very thin and weak)

غصن بان مال من حيث استوى

ghusnu banin mala min haithu esstawa” (like a branch of a gum tree which bends because of its inability to stand up).

خافق الأحشاء موهون القوى

khafeqa al-ahshay mowhouna al-quwa (He is scared at heart and all his efforts are exhausted)

كلما فكر في البين بكى             ويحه يبكي لما لم يقع

kullam fakar fi al-baini baka / (whenever he thinks of being a way, he starts crying) wihahu yabkee lema lam yaq’? (O! why is he crying for something that is not going to happen?)

The Spanish Rio Saledo wrote a muwashah entitled “ojo grises” (Grey Eyes).

habibi mis ojos grises (My lover is my grey eyes)

de tanto como han llorado (from too much crying)

solo parecer felices   (Alone they appear happy because)

a tu memoria amarrados (they are tied to your memory.)

In Rio Saledo’s kharja, he uses the Arabic word “habibi” (my lover) and the rhyme is very clear. Regarding zajal, Ibn Quzman writes:

sabbyatun maleehatun idh ghunnat (A young girl sang)

ghunnah rasheeqah (A very beautiful song)

ghunnat wa lam yaftadheh min semat (the qualities are uncovered)

a?la  al-haqeeqah (in reality)

a?sheqtu mema ashat al-jari (I was infatuated with what the maid has decorated)

al’?la  al-khemari   (on the veil).

Similarities between the Hispano-Arabic muwashah and zajal on the one hand and the Spanish troubadours lyrics are very obvious to the reader. Taking another example from the Spanish poet, JesÙs Reo Saledo’s zajal about a girl who stripped off her clothes. In this muwashah, a girl speaks the matla:

me han pinchado las rosas (The flowers have punctured me)

me han heeho sangre   (I have been crying)

te cubri atupelo (Your hair has almost covered you)

te la has abierto (I opened it)

como rosal del pecho (like a chest rose of the tree)


The Arab civilization has left a significant impact on Europe through trade, the Crusades and the Muslims’ rule of Andalusia Spain 711 to 1492. One of the significant factors that have left its imprint on Europe is the composition of poetry. The Hispano-Arabic poetry, embodied in muwashah and zajal, is deeply rooted in the mainstream of Arabic literature. The European troubadours’ poetry has similarities with the Arabic muwashah and zajal in structure and language, theme and rhyme. The structure of a muwashah, its themes and its leading motifs of strophes are  analogous  with  that  of the troubadours. Moreover, many characters in the Hispano-Arabic poetry are found in the troubadours’. The theme of love from the first sight, the cruelty of the beloved, the impact of true love leading into the suffering of the lover, sickness and weakness are also included in the troubadours’ and Hispano-Arabic poetry. As the troubadours are travelling poetry-singers to entertain the royal courts, the muwashah and zajal are sung and recited in the palaces and castles of caliphs, kings and royalty. Medieval Spanish poetry and the muwashah employ musical rhyme. In both types of poetry, there are no lines longer than twelve syllables and the only regular syllable stress in each line falls on the accented syllable of its rhymed words.


1. King Alfonso II (1157 to 1196) of Aragon was trained in poetry and a poet of his time. He was called “Chaste or the Troubadour” and addressed a number of poems to a lady in Spain. He exchanged writing with important minstrels of his time like Giraut of Bomelh. For more on Alfonso, see Bosqued (2010).

2See Stendhal (1783 to 1842) for a discussion of some excerpts from two Arabic works: Ibn Abi Hadglat’s Le Divan de l’amour and the anonymous Historic de Arabes qui sontmorts d’amour (20). Ibn Abi Hadjala (1325 to 1375), author of the Divan al-Sab’ba, wrote a history of celebrated lovers, with selection of erotic poems.

3Mozarab is from the Arabic word “musta’?rab” meaning “Arabized”; the language used by the people of Iberian Peninsula who were not Muslims.

4. For a discussion of kharja, see Sola-Sole’ (1973). For more discussion and examples on kharja, see DEBoer (2010).

5. On the troubadours, the influences on the troubadours and their matriarchal theory of troubadours see Scholar (2009) and Harvey and Paterson, eds. (2010): 699 to 705.

6For examples of zajal and muwashah translated into English in the twelfth century, see Constable and Zurro, eds. (2012).


The authors have not declared any conflict of interests.


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