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Shāriyah (Arabic: شارِية‎, born c. 815 in al-Basra; died c. 870 C.E.) was an ‘Abbasid qayna (enslaved singing-girl), who enjoyed a prominent place in the court of Al-Wathiq (r. 842-47).


The main source for Shāriyah's life is the tenth-century Kitāb al-Aghānī of Abū ’l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī.[1]

Shāriya seems to have been an illegitimate daughter of a Qurashī and was sold into slavery by a woman claiming to be her mother to the ‘Abbasid prince Ibrahīm ibn al-Mahdī, son of third Abbasid caliph, al-Mahdi (r. 775-85), and half-brother of the fifth caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. 786-809) and the poet and princess ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdī. There was later some dispute about the sale, as Shāriyah's alleged mother tried to claim that she was freeborn, in an effort to cash in on her daughter's success; but Ibrahīm retained ownership of Shāriya until she was manumitted during the reign either of al-Muʿtaṣim (r. 833-42) or al-Wathiq. Her greatest success was at al-Wathiq’s court.[2]


The most important attestation of Shāriyah's poetry and skill comes in the form of an account of a musical contest between her and her older rival ‘Arīb al-Ma’mūnīya (and their respective troupes of singing-girls) in Sāmarrā’, reported in Abū ’l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī's Kitāb al-Aghānī. It probably took place in the reign of al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–61). The description is also an important attestation of the activities of female musicians in ‘Abbasid courtly life.[3] According to the account, 'at that time, the refined and well-bred people were divided into two communities – one supported ‘Arīb (‘Arībiyya) and the other backed Shāriya (Shārawiyya). Each party favored the singer whom they admired in terms of applause, ṭarab [climactic moments], and improvisation'.[4]

The account opens:

One day we sat together at Abū ‘Isa ibn al-Mutawakkil’s, who had invited us for a morning drink. With me were also Ja‘far ibn al-Ma’mun, Sulaymān ibn Wahb and Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mudabbir, furthermore ‘Arīb and Shāriya and their singing-girls. We were all filled with joy, when Bid‘a, ‘Arīb’s slave-girl, sang:

O criticizing woman, you increase your stupid blame,
blaming me not for real fault or shame.

This song was by ‘Arīb. Then ‘Irfān sang:

And if my heart wants my beloved to separate, there are two advocates
pleading her cause deep in my heart: her braids.

This song was by Shāriya.


  1. ^ al-Iṣfahīnī, Abu l-Faraj, Kitāb al-aghānī, Dār al-Fikr, 21 parts and Index in 9 vols., equivalent to the edition Kairo 1322/1905–5.
  2. ^ Agnes Imhof, 'Traditio vel Aemulatio? The Singing Contest of Sāmarrā’, Expression of a Medieval Culture of Competition', Der Islam, 90 (2013), 1-20 (p. 4), DOI 10.1515/islam-2013-0001,
  3. ^ Matthew S. Gordon, 'The Place of Competition: The Careers of ‘Arīb al-Ma’mūnīya and ‘Ulayya bint al-Mahdī, Sisters in Song', in ‘Abbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of ‘Abbasid Studies, Cambridge, 6–10 July 2002, ed. by James E. Montgomery (Leuven: Peeters, 2004), pp. 61-81 (p. 64).
  4. ^ Agnes Imhof, 'Traditio vel Aemulatio? The Singing Contest of Sāmarrā’, Expression of a Medieval Culture of Competition', Der Islam, 90 (2013), 1-20 (p. 4, with a translation pp. 4-7), DOI 10.1515/islam-2013-0001,