Every culture has its archetypal, defining love story. Majnoun Layla is the Islamic world’s. This ancient poem was expanded and adapted as a literary work by several great poets. It is the story of the forbidden love between young Layla and Qays, who is so consumed by longing he goes utterly mad and becomes known as Majnoun, “crazy, possessed.” Only in death can they finally unite.
Sufism has adopted this popular tale as an illustration of the seeker burning with love for the Beloved (God), but it’s way beyond my scope to expand on that particular symbolism – instead see this beautiful article.
My interest in this theme lies in its archetypal dimension, and how it can be evoked through calligraphy and geometry. Majnoun, despite his representation as a solid masculine square, is broken up, fragmented, deconstructed; mysticism and psychology both agree that a dissolution of the sense of self is the natural consequence of real love, which takes us beyond ourselves. The circle, Layla, is a feminine shape, but also a symbol of the higher Self. She spins or dances in continuous motion, as there is no break in the sequence of letters: ل ي ل ى. Seen separately, these two symbols seem to be polar opposites, yet they are joined in a primordial geometric shape:
Layla is the inscribed circle, contained in the square, but she’s also the circumscribed circle that contains it. Likewise Majnoun both contains and is contained in Layla. I see this as an expression of an aspect of the human psyche that is not understood enough, that a man contains his own inner woman (the anima) and a women her own inner man (the animus). And that any external love story or relationship with the other gender is but a reflection of our relationship with our inner animus or anima.
Thus we can all enact the age-old drama of Majnoun and Layla within our own selves, and, ideally, emerge from it an integrated being.