Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Platonic Love Does Not Exist

Platonic Love
Expats living in Riyadh take a selfie with their boards before surfing in the “Saed” desert area, 110 Km eastern of Riyadh City, on August 29, 2020. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)

Youssef Sharqawi

Like other human feelings, love has two main dimensions: extension in time and intensification. The desire for one of these two dimensions, and the impossibility of reconciling them, is a paradox. Therefore, Sadiq Jalal al-Azm called described this state as the great paradox of love.

The person who is in constant search of intensification is a Don Juan or has the characteristics of a Don Juan personality, including rapid fluctuation and direct response to emotional triggers. Don Juan also shies away from the law of extension and opposes all its values and standards. He rejects its suppression of the love verse and mocks its social institutions, especially marriage and permanent emotional ties. This person chose to waive everything related to the dimension of extension, but the tendency of persistence remains the same inside him. Therefore, he remains in a state of almost complete deprivation, continuous suppression, and constant resistance to achieving other tendencies.

Does the same apply to the Platonic lovers, whom we have set an example for so long?

In the past and present, Arab writers have been explaining the Uthri love phenomenon. The name originates back to the Udhra tribe, which is known for this type of love. To describe this tribe, people used to say: “They die when they fall in love.” In his book The Ideal Love for Arabs, Dr Youssef Khulaif says: The platonic love is a spiritual phenomenon whereby the lover relates to a sole beloved woman. He sees in her his ideals. Through her, he gets the pleasure and the satisfaction of the soul and the stability of the emotion. Khulaif describes this love as a tragedy that takes place between two lovers. Chastity, sincerity, monotheism, deprivation, and purity dominate their love. By this, the souls win over lust. Khulaif also considers this love a defeat to the souls that enjoy drives. In short, a Platonic lover believes in the moral ideal. His ultimate wish is to obtain the sacred bond between him and his beloved one.

Platonic love poets are many, such as Qais of Leila, Qais of Lubna, Kuthayyir of Azzah, Orwah of Afraa’ and Jamil of Buthayna.

The love between Jamil and Buthayna began with a quarrel in the valley of Baghid, as Jamil says:

“What firstly led to the affection between us,

Was a quarrel in the valley of Baghid, oh Buthayna.”

They loved each other. Jamil did not conceal his love and flirted with Buthayna, though he knew that this would deny him her. If he wanted the sacred bond, why did he not initiate her engagement following the customs of the tribe?

Jamil became famous for Buthayna and vice versa. They were deprived of marrying each other. All they could do was meeting each other secretly.

Jamil did everything he could to obstruct a sacred bond with Buthayna. In turn, she followed a similar behaviour when she was proud of his mad love for her. The same applies to most Platonic lovers, especially Qais of Laila.

Buthayna got married to another man, who was said to be ugly and one-eyed. She also did not live with him all her life.

Despite all written about the purity of Platonic love, the Platonic lover used to visit his married beloved at her home. Despite having a husband and a family, he used to spend the nights hiding with her. In the stories, the husband was evil, even though he was the victim.

Despite all of that, traditional circles talked about the total loyalty and devotion that characterizes Platonic love. However, there is a lot of exaggeration in what they did.

Jamil would leave and then return to accuse Buthayna of a new relation. In turn, she used to accuse him of having an affair with another woman. His suspicion of her was not hidden in his poem, as he said:

“Buthayna said: ‘Oh Jamil, you made me suspect you,

So, I said: ‘Both of us are suspicious’,

The suspicious one is who does not deliver trusts,

And does not keep secrets when he leaves.”

The tribe of Jamil was a strong one. He knew that he would remain safe from the tribe of Buthayna no matter what he did. They did not dare to confront him, even if they saw him at their homes.

Was there an actual obstacle between them that prevented realizing the sacred bond? Or didn’t Jamil and Buthayna want this bond?

Jamil has some characteristics of the Don Juan personality. The customs of his tribe represent the “extension law” for him. Thanks to its conservative institutions that work for stability, these traditions subjected love and marriage to ethical and tribal considerations far from the law of passion. Therefore, we see the two lovers immersed in a continuous conflict with all existing institutions, rejecting their morals and values. They did not want the love that tends towards permanence within the institution of marriage. Such a thing would come at the expense of intensity.

The difference between Don Juan and a Platonic lover is that the latter does not move from the beloved one to another. Instead, he focuses his feelings on a sole woman and hopes to get her. At the same time, he creates all possible obstacles to prevent himself from having her. This situation generates pain and misery for him. He clings to them and subconsciously searches for barriers that serve as an excuse to separate from her and then meet her to renew their love. When obstacles suddenly disappear, events stop, and the two lovers refrain from getting together under the pretext of a thousand tricks so that the story continues in this way until one of them dies and then the other follows.

One time, Jamil was with Buthayna. Complaining about his love, he said:

“Did you not see my affection to you and my passion for you,

May you reward me for that?

She said: With what?

He replied: With what should be between lovers.

She angrily answered: Jamil, is that what you want?

I swear I never thought you would want that.

He laughed and said: I swear I only asked that

To know what you think about it

And if you wanted to do that

I would have struck you with the sword of mine.”

The platonic lovers then invoked chastity, purity, and modesty to achieve their goal by continuing the separation. They desired their love and idea more than their desire for one another. In turn, the beloved ones did the same thing. They preferred to distance themselves from their lovers because that would fuel the fire of passion. But when they meet, it weakens. They only ask to meet as a necessity, and they can separate again. In this context, Jamil once said:

“Passion dies on me if I meet her,

And it lives if I leave her and return.”

Platonic lovers did not seek relief from the pain of love. Instead, they loved being in such a situation. The phenomenon of their love was not devoid of sadomasochism. They considered that torment as a part of the intensity of the emotional experience. The psychological state loved and sought by the Platonic lover manifests itself in his longing for death as the ultimate barrier between himself and his love.

According to Sadiq Jalal Al-Azm, Platonic love is a lustful one in its origin. It is narcissistic in its object and approach. The interest of the lover is focused on himself and his feelings, not on his beloved. Therefore, he exaggerates the value of his love. It is lustful because it is based on preventing the desire to possess the beloved one. The Platonic lover is far from overcoming and controlling his passions. However, he takes care of these emotions and works to intensify them. In other words, the Platonic love did not rise to the kingdom of the soul because the path to it passes through materialism and body. With his sick soul, the Platonic lover postpones the passage to materialism to no end. Thus, he lost the two kingdoms together.


About Love and Platonic Love, Sadiq Jalal Al-Azm, Al Mada for Publishing, 8th edition, 2007, Damascus (Arabic).

Jamil Buthayna, Abbas Mahmoud Al Aqqad, Hindawi for Education and Culture, 2013, Cairo (Arabic).

Ideal Love for Arabs, Youssef Khulaif, Qiba Press for Publishing and Distribution, 1997, Cairo (Arabic).

Platonic Love, Moussa Sulaiman, Dar Al Thaqafah, 1954, Beirut (Arabic).



The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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