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Nur and the Nightmare
Reya Ahmed


Details from cover and inside pages of Nur and the Nightmare



Nur & the Nightmare is a series of miniature-inspired illustrations that tell a love story between a warrior princess and a Djinn. Separated by a veil, the two titular characters reside in different kingdoms, assuming different roles - one dictated by society and the other by folklore. The story uses fairytale tropes such as flying ships, hidden treasures, and love-at-first-sight but also hints to subvert heavier themes such as the abduction of women by supernatural entities. 


Each painting is accompanied by a short verse that could well be from the pages of history. That is if history remembered swooning romances between misfits. In the end, these illustrations depict passion, happiness, found families, and a rejection of patriarchal duty. 

Artist's statement


A lot of different ideas went into this series. When I started this project during the pandemic, I was questioning the religious gaze on sexuality and romantic love. At the time I had also begun incorporating elements and poses from Mughal miniatures into my illustrations. It seemed to me that the women in these paintings, although beautiful, were often depicted as objects of desire rather than subjects who had control over the narrative. Even though transgender companions and presences were known to exist in court life, the majority of these miniatures did not make space for diversity. While working with The Queer Muslim Project in 2020, I came across Dr. Ali A. Olomi’s work on Islamic folklores and myths, which made me look at djinn stories through a new lens. Djinns are shape-shifting, form-altering counterparts to humans and are said to exist among us. In some regional stories, they are also known to embody more than one gender. For example, Maymun the djinn King of Saturn is also known as the merciful gifter of lakes, Lilla Mimuna. Maymun commands winged supernatural creatures, one of them being the terrifying Kabus, the creator of nightmares. The idea that local Islamic folklores had more fluidity than they were credited with was fascinating to me. No longer were these hushed bedtime stories meant to scare but maybe a fantasy worth exploring. I grew up on naanis and khalaas telling tales of women being abducted by djinns. But perhaps, some of them were in love and chose to leave the life of mundane? 


The illustrations include fairytale tropes I like, but also reject the ones I dislike. If you find similarities between movies and fiction you have grown up with, this is why. My friend and collaborator on this project, Maniza Khalid brought this story to life with their words. The protagonists are either bound by duty or perceptions about them. They are dark, mysterious, vulnerable, strong, stubborn, gentle, and brave. But above all, they choose the path that brings them happiness and adventure. Like any good fairytale.



Concept and illustrations | Reya Ahmed

Text | Maniza Khalid

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