Abū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hānī al-Ḥakamī (756–814),a known as Abū Nuwās (Arabic: ابو نواس; Persian: ابو نواس, Abū Novās), was one of the greatest classical Arabic poets, who also composed in Persian on occasion. Born in the city of Ahvaz in modern-day Iran, to an Arab father and a Persian mother, he became a master of all the contemporary genres of Arabic poetry. Abu Nuwas has also entered the folkloric tradition, and he appears several times in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.
Abu Nuwas's father, Hānī, whom the poet never knew, was an Arab, a descendant of the Jizani tribe Banu Hakam, and a soldier in the army of Marwan II. His Persian mother, named Golban, worked as a weaver. Biographies differ on the date of Abu Nuwas' birth, ranging from 747 to 762. Some say he was born at Basra others in Damascus, Busra, or at Ahwaz. His given name was al-Hasan ibn Hani al-Hakami, 'Abu Nuwas' being a nickname: 'Father of the Lock of Hair' referred to the two long sidelocks which hung down to his shoulders.
When Abu Nuwas was still a boy, his mother sold him to a grocer from Basra, Sa’ad al-Yashira. Abu Nuwas migrated to Baghdad, possibly in the company of Walibah ibn al-Hubab, and soon became renowned for his witty and humorous poetry, which dealt not with the traditional desert themes, but with urban life and the joys of wine and drinking (khamriyyat), and ribald humor (mujuniyyat). His commissioned work includes poems on hunting, the sexual desire for women, the love of boys (pederasty), and panegyrics to his patrons. He was infamous for his mockery and satire, two of his favorite themes being the sexual passivity of men and the sexual intemperance of women. Despite his celebration of love of boys, he did not take lesbianism seriously, and often mocked what he perceived as its inanity. He liked to shock society by openly writing about things which Islam forbade. He may have been the first Arab poet to write about masturbation.
Ismail bin Nubakht said of Abu Nuwas: "I never saw a man of more extensive learning than Abu Nuwas, nor one who, with a memory so richly furnished, possessed so few books. After his decease we searched his house, and could only find one book-cover containing a quire of paper, in which was a collection of rare expressions and grammatical observations."
Abu Nuwas was forced to flee to Egypt for a time, after he wrote an elegiac poem praising the elite Persian political family of the Barmakis, the powerful family which had been toppled and massacred by the caliph, Harun al-Rashid. He returned to Baghdad in 809 upon the death of Harun al-Rashid. The subsequent ascension of Muhammad al-Amin, Harun al-Rashid's twenty-two-year-old libertine son (and former student of Abu Nuwas) was a mighty stroke of luck for Abu Nuwas. In fact, most scholars believe that Abu Nuwas wrote most of his poems during the reign of al-Amin (809-813). His most famous royal commission was a poem (a 'Kasida') which he composed in praise of al-Amin.
"According to the critics of his time, he was the greatest poet in Islam." wrote F.F. Arbuthnot in Arabic Authors. His contemporary Abu Hatim al Mekki often said that the deepest meanings of thoughts were concealed underground until Abu Nuwas dug them out.
Nevertheless, Abu Nuwas was imprisoned when his drunken, libidinous exploits tested even al-Amin's patience. Amin was finally overthrown by his puritanical brother, Al-Ma'mun, who had no tolerance for Abu Nuwas.
Some later accounts claim that fear of prison made Abu Nuwas repent his old ways and become deeply religious, while others believe his later, penitent poems were simply written in hopes of winning the caliph's pardon. It was said that al-Ma'mun's secretary Zonbor tricked Abu Nuwas into writing a satire against Ali, the fourth Caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet, while Nuwas was drunk. Zonbor then deliberately read the poem aloud in public, and ensured Nuwas's continuing imprisonment. Depending on which biography is consulted, Abu Nuwas either died in prison or was poisoned by Ismail bin Abu Sehl, or both.