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Layla-And-Other-Assorted-Love-Songs-Remastered-Super-Deluxe-Edition-CD3-coverThis Tuesday is the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and considered the holiest of the year. During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to fast during daylight hours, and abstain from smoking and sexual relations between sunrise and sunset. They are also encouraged to donate to charity or do volunteer work, and to read the Qur’an.

Muslim history in Australia predates 1788, for traders and fishermen from Indonesia are believed to have had contact with Indigenous Australians hundreds of years before European settlement, leaving their mark in language, culture and even genetics on the peoples of northern Australia.

However, Muslim emigration is usually dated from the mid-19th century, when Central Asians were brought here to work as camel-drivers in the desert – they were known as Afghans, although they were mostly from India. The train from Adelaide to Darwin is called The Ghan in their memory, and the first mosque was built in 1861 in South Australia for the “Afghan” community.

Immigration from Muslim countries increased during the 1970s, and today about 1.5 million Australians identify as Muslim, or 2.2% of the population. It is an ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse religious group, with Lebanese-Australian Muslims the largest group within it (although most Lebanese-Australians are Christian). Around half of Muslims in Australia live in Sydney.

The most blessed night during Ramadan is Laylat al-Qadr, which can be translated as Night of Destiny (August 3 this year). It commemorates the night when Muslims believe Allah revealed the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad, and it is a night to pray for blessings and salvation.

Layla means “night” in Arabic. It is sometimes interpreted by Arabic writers as “one who works by night”, with connotations of matters which are kept hidden or secret. Others see it as a name describing a dark beauty, or suitable for someone born during the hours of night – or even for a girl born on Laylat al-Qadr.

The name Layla is prominent in Arabic literature because of a medieval love story (supposedly based on real events) whose title can be roughly translated as Crazy for Layla. According to the legend, Qays and Layla were from the same Arabian tribe, and fell in love. The smitten Qays began obsessively composing poems in his sweetheart’s honour, to the point where he gained a reputation as being not quite right in the head. As a result, he acquired the moniker Majnun (“madman”).

When Majnun asked for Layla’s hand in marriage, her father refused, because he didn’t want a poetry-mad nutter as a son-in-law, and married her off to someone more stable. Poor lovesick Majnun began wandering alone in the desert, and could occasionally be sighted muttering poems to himself or writing what was presumed to be more poetry in the sand with a stick. Layla became ill and eventually died; some said she had died of a broken heart. Majnun was found dead in the wilderness in 688, near Layla’s grave. His last poems were carved on a rock near Layla’s final resting place.

The story is best known from the work of the 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, who adapted it into a long narrative poem called Leyli o Majnun (“Layla and the Madman”). Nizami Gangavi’s poem is considered a literary masterpiece, and brings the story vividly to life. In his version, the lovers fell for each other while still in school, and were not permitted to marry because of a feud between their families – very much like Romeo and Juliet.

The romance was extremely popular, and mystics used it to illustrate spiritual truths, so that Majnun became a symbol not only for poets and lovers, but also for those seeking higher truths. Layla and Manjun are often referenced in literature, and the story has gained wide appeal in India, where it has inspired many films.

The story of Layla gained a new audience in 1970, when Eric Clapton’s song Layla was released. Based on his infatuation with model Pattie Boyd, then married to George Harrison, it uses the story of Layla and Majnun to illustrate madly despairing unrequited love. Another song from the same album, I Am Yours, quotes directly from Nizami Gunjavi. Unlike Layla and Majnun, Eric and Pattie did later wed, but the marriage didn’t last.

Layla has charted since the 1980s, when it debuted at #752. It was #353 for the 1990s, and #147 for the early 2000s. Layla entered the Top 100 in 2004, when it got to #98, and made the Top 50 in 2009, at #47. Currently it is #38 nationally, #28 in New South Wales, #42 in Victoria, #32 in Queensland, #32 in South Australia, #24 in Western Australia, #36 in Tasmania, and #35 in the Australian Capital Territory.

Layla has zoomed up the charts to become established as a popular girls name. Apart from its musical heritage, it fits in with the trend for girls name with an AY sound in them, such as Ava, Hayley and Kayla, and also with the L-L trend, such as that found in Lily, Lila and Lola. That means a Layla may be the only one in her class, but the other girls around her could have similar-sounding names.

Layla is pretty and simple with a nice meaning and a very romantic history, and it works well cross-culturally too. It’s popular, but its position has stabilised, so it’s not rocketing upwards any longer. If you have fallen deeply in love with the name Layla, then I don’t think anyone will think you are crazy for choosing it.

Name Combinations for Layla

Layla Carys, Layla Elise, Layla Jade, Layla Peri, Layla Scarlett, Layla Zoe

Brothers for Layla

Fabian, Jett, Ryder, Skandar, Tariq, Xavier

Sisters for Layla

Aaliyah, Evie, Jasmine, Sophie, Willow, Zara

Note: Middle names and sibling names partially based on real life examples

POLL RESULT: Layla received an approval rating of 94%, making it the highest-rated featured girls name of 2013. 34% of people liked it, and nobody hated it.

(Picture is of the cover of the album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominoes)