With her Old Hollywood beauty and golden voice, it was only a matter of time before Asmahan became a legendary singer and actress. As the greatest diva in the Middle East, Asmahan captivated audiences and lived the high life–only to perish in a mysterious accident shortly after her 26th birthday. Even though she didn't live long, Asmahan's life was packed with intrigue and drama. From her passionate romances to her secret life as a spy, more people need to know about Asmahan.
1. Her Name Has a Heartbreaking Meaning
Like many famous singers, Asmahan took on a stage name. Born in 1912, the sultry icon's parents originally named their daughter Amal al-Atrash. When translated into English, Amal means “hope.” Her parents bestowed this name onto their daughter because of the dark circumstances of her birth. Let's put it this way: With everything Asmahan's family was going through, they needed all the hope they could get.
2. Her Family Was Prestigious
Asmahan's life was extraordinary from the very beginning. Not only was she a princess to the Druze people, Asmahan's father also came from fighters who ousted French colonists from Syria. Though many admired their bravery, this also meant that Asmahan's father had powerful enemies. In 1922, they lashed out. The French air raided Asmahan's village and destroyed her family's home.
Fearing for her life, Asmahan's mother abandoned her husband and fled with her children. She hoped to find peace but fate had other plans.
3. Enemies Pursued Her Family
At first, Asmahan's mother thought life on the road wouldn’t be too bad. Sadly, she was wrong. The French continued to pursue her family and harsh conditions led two of her babies to perish of malnutrition. Eventually, the grieving family settled in Egypt, where Asmahan's mother juggled laundry jobs and sewing. Just a few years ago, they had been high-ranking nobles. Now they were struggling to make ends meet.
4. She Was A Prodigy
With her over-burdened mother acting as the family's lifeline, Asmahan and her siblings endured years of poverty. But soon enough, their fortunes changed. A wealthy American businessman stepped in to assist the struggling family. With his donations, Asmahan and her siblings began to pursue their passion for music. Given Asmahan's immense talent and exquisite beauty, it was only a matter of time before she became a sensation.
5. She Was a Teenage Star
After the famous composer Dawood Hosni overheard Asmahan singing in her bedroom, he immediately got to work making her a star. Soon she was performing in the most prestigious venues of Egypt, even though she was only a teenager at the time. At fourteen, she headlined a performance at the renowned Cairo Opera House in which she sang compositions written by the esteemed Hosni and her brother Farid. On stage, Asmahan's life was perfect. Off stage, nothing could be further from the truth.
6. She Fought the Patriarchy
Though she was already a star in the making by the time she was fifteen, the traditional mindset of her family inhibited Asmahan's potential. It didn’t matter how far from home they were, her brothers demanded that she marry someone from their community in Syria instead of staying in Cairo. They couldn’t stand the sight of her living outside older ideas of a "proper woman." Well, it's safe to say that Asmahan would blaze her own trail, thank you very much.
7. Her Brothers Tried to Control Her
With their eyes set on a marriage, Asmahan's brothers had their cousin Hassan travel to Cairo and then forcefully introduced him to young Asmahan as a suitor. To the brothers' pleasure, Hassan became smitten with Asmahan immediately upon meeting her. He absolutely insisted he would take her hand in marriage. There were a couple red flags though. Hassan had already been married...five different times.
8. She Was Beautiful
It's easy to understand why Hassan was so smitten with Asmahan. Even from a young age, it was clear: Asmahan was jaw-droppingly beautiful. She had long dark hair, full lips, and famously stunning green eyes. As one of Asmahan's suitors once said, they were "green like the color of the sea that you would have to sail through on your way to paradise." In short, she was gorgeous, but Asmahan would soon learn that beauty didn't guarantee happiness.
9. She Was a Teenage Bride
Asmahan felt too cornered by her family to reject the marriage. With her head down, she made the ultimate sacrifice. She put her career as a musician on hold, just as it was starting to take off. Asmahan returned home to Syria to be with her new husband, but before they began their journey, she made a few legendary demands of her own...
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10. She Had Demands
In order to make the most of her marriage, Asmahan demanded that Hassan agree to three conditions. First, she would never have to wear the hijab. Second, the couple would live in Syria's capital city of Damascus rather than the south. And finally, third, they would spend their winters in Cairo, where Asmahan really wanted to be. If she was going to be an unwilling bride, she might as well get something good out of the deal.
11. She Longed For the Past
Asmahan and Hassan had a good life in Syria. They lived in a comfortable home and soon enough, Asmahan became gave birth to her daughter Kamellia. She loved her baby, but as the years passed, Asmahan realized that she was losing her youth. She began to long for her adopted city of Cairo, the life the city provided her, and the music career she had begun. And behind all those longings was one bigger issue: Asmahan and Hassan's marriage, always tense, was now on very rocky ground.
12. She Reached Her Breaking Point
Asmahan and Hassan's marriage finally reached its breaking point in 1939 while the couple was on vacation in Giza. Breathing in the Egyptian air, Asmahan broke up with her husband. As she left him, she declared, "I stood with you for independence and liberation, I did. But, I was created for another purpose: art." Having dropped the mic, Asmahan stood her ground. But trouble was already on its way.
13. She Was Abducted
Asmahan’s time in Cairo didn’t last long. Before she knew it, Hassan came crawling back and demanding that she return to him and be his bride once again. Asmahan didn't want to do this, but she felt that she couldn’t really say no, especially when her brother sided with Hassan and all but forced Asmahan to return to Syria. Asmahan was distraught with her situation, and one day her misery led her to a chilling act.
14. She Tried to End It All
Driven to despair, Asmahan took a bottle of sleeping pills to try and end it all rather than return to her marriage with Hassan in Syria.
15. She Couldn’t Find Happiness
Thankfully, a friend found Asmahan's unconscious body and got her help before it was too late. During Asmahan's recovery, she began to find her footing in Syria–only for the rug to be pulled out from under her yet again. Asmahan's mother fell ill in Cairo, leading Asmahan to return to her beloved Egypt once more. Once there, she knew what she had to do.
16. She Became a Star
Upon returning to Egypt, Asmahan divided her time between two activities: Caring for her mother and pursuing fame as a musician. Evidently, the people of Egypt missed their lost teenage singer. Asmahan released a slew of hit songs and sky-rocketed to super-stardom. She even rivalled the queen of Arabic music, Umm Kulthum herself. But this success did not lead Asmahan to happiness though. Instead, she turned to a darker path.
17. She Was Out of Control
Asmahan made an outrageous name for herself as an out of control party animal. She loved to gamble, live luxuriously, and carouse. Famously, she could also outdrink any man or woman in Cairo during her time on top of the entertainment world. She was living the high life, but the roots of her partying did not lie in enjoyment. Instead, all the while, Asmahan was living a lie.
18. She Lived a Lie
From the outside, it looked like Asmahan had it all. She constantly attended swanky soirees and bet massive sums at gambling dens–but Asmahan's life was actually spiralling out of control. Despite being one of the most celebrated singers and actresses in Cairo, she lived off of little money. The truth was that she had a devastating gambling addiction. And whatever didn't go to the casinos went to Asmahan's family. They hounded her for money whenever they were around–which was always.
19. Egypt Tried to Push Her Out
During her time in Egypt, the country passed new laws to pressure and control foreigners within the country’s borders…or, if they disobeyed, to push them out. Thus, Asmahan had to fight the threat of deportation for many years. But Asmahan was a smart woman. She knew that by staying in Egypt she put herself at risk, so she came up with an ingenious solution.
20. She Met a New Man
Asmahan was living quite the scandalous life as a party girl and a famous singer. So why not add feisty divorcée to the mix? After dumping her first husband Hassan, Asmahan quickly rebounded with quite the catch. After filming The Triumph of Youth, she walked down the aisle with the film's famous Egyptian director, Ahmed Badrkhan. She married him both for love and for more practical reasons. Asmahan knew that by marrying an Egyptian man, she could solidify her position in the country. Sadly, the couple was doomed to a dark end.
21. She Disobeyed Her Community
At first Asmahan's second marriage helped her to stay and build the life she enjoyed in Egypt. But over time, things changed for the worse. Asmahan's Syrian roots came back to haunt her. Remember, Asmahan wasn't just a regular Syrian girl. She was raised as a princess to the Druze people–and that community utterly forbade women from marrying outsiders.
22. She Duelled With the Queen
To make matters worse, Asmahan had powerful enemies in both Syria and Egypt. For example, Queen Nazli of Egypt absolutely despised Asmahan. The jealous ruler urged Egyptian officials to personally harass the singer as much as they possibly could and ideally, to kick her out of the country entirely. Why did she hate Asmahan so much? The answer lies in a passionate, but forbidden love triangle.
23. She Had High Profile Lovers
Multiple sources report that the Queen's lover developed an obsessive passion for Asmahan. A handsome high-ranking official and master swordsman named Ahmed Hassanein Pasha fell hopelessly in love with Asmahan...even though he was also involved with the queen for nearly a decade. Because of Ahmed and Asmahan's deep connection, the furious Queen lashed out and tried to destroy Asmahan's life.
24. Her Films Were Controversial
Aside from Asmahan's dramatic entanglements with the Queen of Egypt, she still had a film career to promote. Unfortunately, trying to please both Syrian and Egyptian audiences proved to be difficult, if not just plain impossible. For example, Egyptian viewers adored Asmahan's debut role in the movies. But the Druze community? They did not feel the same way, and soon, their distaste transformed into outright violence.
25. Her Family Hated Her Career
The Druze community hated Asmahan's foray into cinema. Her own brothers even felt that her new acting career disgraced the whole family. At this point, Asmahan thought things couldn't get worse. She was wrong. When Asmahan's debut film appeared in Syria for the first time, a man in the audience had an absolutely chilling reaction. He drew his pistol and fired at the screen when Asmahan appeared.
26. She Had a Turbulent Romance
Amid all these scandals and tension, Asmahan's second marriage began to fall apart. Soon enough, she and her film director husband officially called it quits. With the end of this relationship, Asmahan marked a new phase in her controversial personal life. She was only in her early twenties and already, a two-time divorcée.
27. She Was a Patriot
Even though Asmahan preferred to live in Egypt, her adopted country, she returned to Syria in 1941 when WW2 started knocking on the door of the Middle East. She saw that her homeland was struggling, so when she came back, Asmahan dedicated herself to “her people.” Sadly, her fate would prove the old saying: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
28. She Fought for Control
While in Syria, Asmahan had a crucial encounter with British forces. As the singer chatted with British agents, one man went out of his way to convince her that she could help Syria by helping out the British, and in turn the Allied Forces. At the time, Germany was on its way to invade Syria. The British believed that if they could stake a claim on Syria before Germany arrived, they'd be able to keep the country safe (and keep themselves in a position of power). After this successful pitch, the British recruited Asmahan as a spy.
29. She Became a Secret Agent
The British tasked Asmahan with travelling to Southern Syria and warning her community about the incoming Allied Forces. Instead of fighting, Asmahan urged the Druze community to befriend the French and British. She explained that working with the Allies was much better than being overrun by the Axis. However, Asmahan's mission did not go according to plan.
30. She Was Betrayed
If Asmahan got Syria to accept French and English infantrymen, the French promised to make it worth her while. They told the Druze that they would not occupy Syria. Instead, after the conflict was over, they would leave the country exactly as it was: Free from European rule. Surprise, surprise, when the time came, France did not keep their promise. And then they dealt Asmahan yet another betrayal.
31. She Sought Revenge
When Asmahan requested that that Allies pay her for her work as a spy, both the British and the French declined. With this final insult, Asmahan became vindictive. Upset by the way the British and French treated her homeland and abused her trust, Asmahan decided to get in contact with the Germans. She made her way to Turkey, however, before she could reach any SS officials, she was turned away. As she slunk back to Syria, Asmahan had no idea that she'd meet another foe.
32. Her Life Was In Danger
Shortly after Asmahan's time as a secret agent, she faced grave peril. While travelling through Beirut, she felt a bullet whizz past her, missing her by mere inches. Then, the unknown assailant struck again. The brakes of her car began to grind and seize, nearly causing her vehicle to flip over and crush Asmahan. She was lucky to escape with her life, but little did she know, once she got back to Syria she'd find another kind of danger.
33. Dark Rumors Swirled
Who was behind the attempts on Asmahan's life? According to some sources, the Germans may have been behind the stray bullet and car tampering. As part of Asmahan's espionage activities, she captured an American journalist and handed him over to the British...only to later learn that the man was actually a double agent for the Germans. Did the Germans lash out at Asmahan as revenge? Either way, surviving these assassination attempts did not mean the end of Asmahan's personal drama.
34. Her Ex Hounded Her
While Asmahan returned Syria, her ex-husband came out of the woodwork and immediately tried to win her back. Although he had already remarried someone else, Hassan simply couldn’t get over Asmahan. He tried everything he could to remarry her, eve flying in the face of Druze custom. You see, the Druze actually forbade remarriage. However, when it came to the religion's bad girl singer, they made an exception. As a way to get Asmahan away from her "sinful" life in entertainment, the clan encouraged that she "reconcile" with Hassan. Shocker: Their reunion did not go well.
35. A Disturbing Pattern Emerged
Asmahan got back together with Hassan during WW2, but from the get go, their rekindled romance felt cursed. After attempting to take her own life once during their first marriage, Asmahan repeated her tragic gesture. She tried to take her own life again soon after reconciling with Hassan in 1941. Thankfully, her maid walked in at the crucial moment and stopped Asmahan from ending it all.
36. She Followed Her Dream
After WW2 came to a close, Asmahan decided to return to Cairo and leave Hassan in the dust. Just like their last marriage, Asmahan abandoned Hassan so she could pursue a career in show business. However, before Asmahan could re-enter Egypt, she had to deal with a little red tape. According to some sources, she got through the border with a scandalous plan.
37. She Was a Femme Fatale
Just before re-entering Egypt, Asmahan shocked the Middle East with her controversial marriage to Fayed Mohammed Fayed. To make matters even more scandalous, the newlywed couple lasted a grand total of 10 days. This led to rumors about just why Asmahan said "I do" in the first place. Modern scholars posited that she walked down the aisle with Fayed simply so that she could re-enter her beloved Egypt. And that's not the only dicey part of the marriage.
38. Her Final Marriage was Dramatic
Immediately after divorcing Fayed and returning to Egypt, Asmahan did something she'd never done before: Find true love. While filming her second movie, appropriately titled Passion and Revenge, she married the film director's, Ahmad Salim. This marriage would last until the end of her life, and boy oh boy was it a tumultuous one. The couple's friends agreed that Asmahan and her new husband were sincerely in love, but they also said their passion often manifested in uncontrollable drama and unbridled fights.
39. They Had Violent Fights
Quarrels were nothing new for the couple, but one fight caused the relationship to take a severe turn. Upon hearing that Asmahan was back in touch with one of her exes (the Queen's lover, remember him?), Salim had a breakdown. He drew a revolver, but instead of pointing it at Asmahan, he turned it on himself and fired at his own body. It's a good thing Asmahan was there to see this disturbing act, because she was able to get her husband immediate attention. He recovered in the hospital for a lengthy period of time. But as he rested, Asmahan entered dangerous terrain.
40. A Crash Changed Everything
While Asmahan's husband was still in the hospital recovering from his wounds, Asmahan went out to prowl around the town. Looking back however, maybe she should have simply stayed by his side. On the hot summer evening of July 14, 1944, while out driving around with a friend, the driver of the car lost control and crashed the vehicle into a canal on the side of the road.
41. She Met a Tragic End
The car that Asmahan was in was a two-door vehicle, meaning she and her friend were in the back, while the driver was the only one with immediate access to the doors. As it was a serious crash, the driver had to make an effort to save the women’s lives. There was just one problem: Instead of getting help, the driver simply fled. With this abandonment, Asmahan tragically drowned in the canal.
Her demise marked the loss of a major star, and the beginning of a long-standing mystery: Was Asmahan's sad end caused by foul play?
42. There Were Dark Rumors
After Asmahan's shocking demise, dark rumors swirled about whether the accident was truly an accident after all. According to some sources, the driver didn't "lose control" of the car." Instead, he locked the back doors, trapping Asmahan and her companion, then leapt out of the vehicle as the car crashed into the water. If this was the true series of events, who could have been behind such a vicious act?
43. A Rival Diva May Have Done Her In
At first, the primary suspect was Asmahan's rival diva, Umm Kulthum. According to some sources, Kulthum worried that Asmahan's rising star would eclipse her own fame. Did she ruthlessly take her competition out? Another prominent rumor surrounded Queen Nazli, who hated Asmahan for stealing her lover away. We'll never know if either woman did the deed–and both are far from the only suspects.
44. Her Family Made Threats
Asmahan's own family had a record of trying to harm their wayward daughter. During Asmahan's fourth marriage, the Druze community felt that Asmahan shamed them by living a life that they did not approve of. Apparently, their anger reached a breaking point. They once threatened Asmahan's life and even contracted someone to take her out. Could they have done so again?
45. Was Her Accident Political?
There was a great deal of suspicion that either the British or Germans were behind Asmahan's accident. These forces may have taken her out because of the way she played the battling factions against each other during WW2. While this option makes more sense than Umm Kulthum, who had a clean image and was never described as a violent person, there is still one more suspect–and they are the most disturbing of all.
46. The Mystery Lives On
People have wondered if Asmahan's own true love was behind her demise. After all, her fourth husband Ahmad Salim certainly had a violent side, and he would constantly get into vicious fights with Asmahan. Could he have orchestrated a hit from his hospital bed? Whether it was the Germans, the British, a rival diva, her own family, her husband, or just plain bad luck, we will probably never know exactly what happened to Asmahan.
47. She Was Too Young
Asmahan lived a wild life, and she experienced an incredible amount of highs and lows. However, she was still so young when she passed. Her age is not exactly known, because there were multiple birth dates reported, but she was not more than 32 years old on the date of her tragic car crash. Many outlets report her final age to have been just 26. In any case, Asmahan certainly left the world too soon.
48. She Had an Eerie Premonition
In an eerie twist, friends of Asmahan claim that she predicted her own demise. Before her crash into the canal, a friend recalled that Asmahan had once told her that the droning sound of the canal, which was operated by a large, industrial steam pump, made her feel that uneasy about her own life: “Whenever I hear this sound, I feel death is imminent.”
49. Her Life Is Strangely Book-Ended
There is a striking sense of destiny in Asmahan's demise. You see, while her mother was pregnant with Asmahan, the tides of history were turning. The Ottoman Empire was on its last legs and Asmahan's father knew he had to get his family out before it collapsed. During the family's voyage through the Mediterranean Sea, her mother gave birth to Asmahan. As many of her biographers have noticed, Asmahan both entered and left the world surrounded by water.
50. She Is Still a Mystery
The public viewed Asmahan as the perfect marriage of Eastern and Western. Nature blessed her with Eastern beauty, and she swaggered with a Western attitude–or at least that is how the media portrayed her. Over the years, Asmahan has been depicted as a man-eating vixen, an angelic singer, a victimized woman, a cunning double agent and more. Which of these characters was she, if any? What we do know is that through it all, Asmahan loved to sing. You can listen to her incredible voice here.