al-Zarqa is a legendary Arab Muslim woman who loved Hind Bint al-Nu’man, a Christian woman. The two are reported to be the first lesbian couple in history, while al-Zarqa’ is the first lesbian.
Medieval Muslim Medical Diagnosis of Lesbianism
According to scholar Sahar Amer, “Lesbianism” in Arab world is called sahq, sihaq and sihaqa, and “lesbian” is sahiqa, sahhaqa, and musahiq. The root word for these terms is sahq (to pound or rub). The ninth century CE Encyclopedia of Pleasure by Abul Hasan Ali ibn Nasr al-Ratib describes lesbianism as a medical condition that was diagnosed by the ancient Greek physician Galen after he examined his lesbian daughter. Galen concluded that her same-sex desire was the result of a vaginal itch that could only be satisfied (but not cured) by rubbing her vagina against another woman’s vagina. The root cause of lesbianism was the consumption of certain foods, such as celery and bitter orange tree flowers, that changed breast milk, making a daughter susceptible to the aforementioned medical condition.
In the seventh century CE, Christian princess Hind Bint al-Nu’man fell in love with Hind Bint al-Khuss al-Iyadiyyah (also known as al-Zarqa’) in what is now Iraq. Their love is portrayed as noble in the Encyclopedia of Pleasure:
She [Hind] was so loyal to al-Zarqa’ that when the latter died, she cropped her hair, wore black clothes, rejected worldly pleasures, vowed to God that she would lead an ascetic life until she passed away and, as a result, she built a monastery which was named after her, on the outskirts of Kufa [in Iraq]. When she died, she was buried at the monastery gate. Her loyalty was then an example for poets to write about.
The love between the two women is portrayed as superior to heterosexual love because the their devotion is stronger than that of a man for a woman.
Amer, Sahar. “Medieval Arab Lesbians and Lesbian-Like Women,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 18, No. 2 (MAY 2009), pp. 215-236. Austin: University of Texas.
Habib, Samar. Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations. New York: Routledge, 2007.