Skip to main content

Early Women Writers

Ulayya bint al-Mahdi



Ulayya bint al-Mahdi






Ulayya bint al-Mahdi was born to a concubine mother who was a singer. Her father, Muhammad al-Mahdi, was a member of elite male society, and later become the third Abbasid caliph. Ulayya was a skilled composer, poetess, and singer. Her poetry consists of short pieces designed to be sung in the 'muhdath' style. As a princess, her songs were sung and transmitted by female slave singers to male singers. She performed her music for family or in private. Despite her being married to an Abbasid prince, love poems addressed to two slaves have been preserved. Her patrons included the imperial family, such as the fifth caliph and her brother Harun al-Rashid.


Lord, it's not a crime, I held backWe hint,
My love,
Dress the water,
Love thrives




Love, Friendship, Longing for Home, Celebration of Wine, Praise for the Caliph Harun al-Rashid


Myrne, Pernilla. "A Jariya's Prospects in Abbasid Baghdad."; Concubines and Courtesans: Women and Slavery in Islamic History, edited by Matthew Gordon and Kathryn A. Hain, Oxford University Press, 2017, New York, pp. 52-75; al-Suli, Abu Bakr, Ash'ār awlād al-khulafā' wa akhbāruhum, edited by J. Heyworth Dunne, 1936, London; Gordon, Matthew S,"The Place of Competition: The Careers of Arib al-Ma Muniya and Ulayya Bint al-Mahdi, Sisters in Song." ʻAbbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of ʻAbbasid Studies, edited by James E Montgomery, Peeters Publisher, 2004, pp. 61-83; Kilpatrick, Hilary, Making the Great Book of Songs: Compilation and the Author's Craft in Abû I-Faraj al-Isbahânî's Kitâb al-aghânî, Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Literatures, 2003, London; "Classical Poems by Arab Women: A Bilingual Anthology, edited by Abdullahal-Udhari, Saqi Books, 1999, London; Gordon, Matthew S., and Kathryn A. Hain, eds. Concubines and courtesans: women and slavery in Islamic history. Oxford University Press, 2017; Kilpatrick, Hilary, "Mawālī and Music"; Patronate and Patronage in Early and Classical Islam, edited by Monique Bernards and John Nawas. Brill Publishers. pp. 326–48.

Item sets

Site pages