Blue Eyed Umayyads

An 11th-Century Description

This passage is from Ibn Hazm’s famous book, the Ring of the Dove. This volume is a rumination on the nature of love, but he tells us in passing about the Umayyads in Spain. Many of the Umayyads were children of concubines and they passed their fair hair and blue eyes on to their children.

Let me add a personal touch. In my youth I loved a slave-girl who happened to be a blonde; from that time I have never admired brunettes, not though their lark tresses set off a face as resplendent as the sun, or the very image of beauty itself. I find this taste to have become a part of my whole make-up and constitution since those early days; my soul will not suffer me to acquire any other, or to love any type but that. This very same thing happened to my father also God be pleased with him!), and he remained faithful his first preference until the term of his earthly life was done. 
       All the Caliphs of the Banu Marwan (God have mercy on their souls!), and especially the sons of al-Nasir, were without variation or exception disposed by nature to prefer blondes. I have myself seen them, and known others who had seen their forebears, from the days of al-Nasir’s reign down to the present day; every one of them has been fair-haired, taking after, their mothers, so that this has become a hereditary trait with them; all but Sulaiman al-Zafir (God have mercy on him!), whom I remember to have had black ringlets and a black beard. As for al-Nasir and al-Hakam al-Mustansir (may God be pleased with them!), I have been informed by my late father, the vizier, as well as by others, that both of them were blond and blue-eyed. The same is true of Hisham al-Mu’aiyad, Muhammad al-Mahdi, and ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Murtada (may God be merciful to them all!); I saw them myself many times, and had the honour of being received by them, and I remarked that they all had fair hair and blue eyes. Their sons, their brothers, and all their near kinsmen possessed the selfsame characteristics. I know not whether this was due to a predilection innate in them all, or whether it was in consequence of a family tradition handed down from their ancestors, and which they followed in their turn. This comes out clearly in the poetry of ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Marwan, the descendant of the Caliph al-Nasir, better known as al-Taliq; he was the greatest poet of Andalusia in those times, and in most of his love lyrics he serenades blondes. I have seen him personally, and sat in his company. 

Another poem of mine is worth quoting here:

They blame the girl of whom I’m fond
Because her lovely hair is blond:
“But that’s exactly”, I reply,
“What makes her pretty, to my eye!”

They criticize the colour bright
Of glittering gold, and shimmering light,
And they are crazy so to do,
And stupid, and erroneous, too.

Is there just a cause to crab, think you,
The tender-sweet narcissus’ hue,
Or is the twinkle of a star
So hateful to behold afar?

Of all God’s creatures, I declare
That man of wisdom has least share
Who chooses, in his darkened soul,
To love a body black as coal.

Black is the hue, the Scriptures tell,
Of the inhabitants of Hell;
Black is the robe the mourner dons,
And mothers who have lost their sons.

Moreover, since from Khorasan
The black Abbasid banners ran,
The souls of men know, to their cost,
The cause of righteousness is lost.