Qatari stamp of al-Jahiz
Abū ʿUthman ʿAmr ibn Baḥr al-Kinānī al-Baṣrī
|Died||December 868/January 869
Basra, Abbasid Caliphate
Abū ʿUthman ʿAmr ibn Baḥr al-Kinānī al-Baṣrī (Arabic: أبو عثمان عمرو بن بحر الكناني البصري), commonly known as al-Jāḥiẓ (Arabic: الجاحظ, The Bug Eyed, born 776; died December 868/January 869) was an Arab prose writer and author of works of literature, Mu'tazili theology, and politico-religious polemics.
Ibn al-Nadim lists nearly 140 titles attributed to Al-Jahiz, of which 75 are extant. The best known are Kitāb al-Ḥayawān (The book of living), a seven-part compendium on an array of subjects with animals as their point of departure; Kitāb al-Bayān wa-l-tabyīn (The book of eloquence and exposition), a wide-ranging work on human communication; and Kitāb al-Bukhalāʾ (The book of misers), a collection of anecdotes on stinginess.
He is said to have been crushed to death under the weight of his own tomes.
Life [ edit ]
He was Abū ʿUthman ʿAmr ibn Bahr ibn Maḥbūb, a protégé of Abū al-Qallamas[n 1] ‘Amr ibn Qal‘ al-Kinānī, then al-Fuqaymī, a.k.a. ‘Amr ibn Qal‘ al-Kinānī al-Fuqaymī [n 2] whose ancestor was one of the Nasah (Nasa’ah). The grandfather of al-Jāḥiẓ was a Black jammāl (cameleer) – or ḥammāl (porter); the manuscripts differ. – of ‘Amr ibn Qal‘ named Maḥbūb, nicknamed Fazārah, or Fazārah was his maternal grandfather, and Maḥbūb his paternal. The names may however have been confused. Al-Jāḥiẓ died 250 [A.D. 869], during the caliphate of al-Mu‘tazz. Al-Nadīm reports that al-Jāḥiẓ said he was about the same age as Abū Nuwās[n 3] and older than al-Jammāz.[n 4] Not much is known about al-Jāḥiẓ's early life, but his family was very poor. Born in Basra early in 160/February 776, he asserted in a book he wrote that he was a member of the Arabian tribe Banu Kinanah. His nephew also reported that al-Jāḥiẓ's grandfather was a black cameleer.
He sold fish along one of the canals in Basra to help his family. Financial difficulties, however, did not stop al-Jāḥiẓ from continuously seeking knowledge. He used to gather with a group of other youths at Basra's main mosque, where they would discuss different scientific subjects. During the cultural and intellectual revolution under the Abbasid Caliphate books became readily available, and learning accessible. Al-Jāḥiẓ studied philology, lexicography and poetry from among the most learned scholars at the School of Basra, where he attended the lectures of Abū Ubaydah, Al-Aṣma’ī, Sa'īd ibn Aws al-Anṣārī and studied ilm an-naḥw (علم النحو, i.e., syntax) with al-Akhfash Abī al-Ḥasan. Over a twenty-five-year span studying, al-Jāḥiẓ acquired a considerable knowledge of Arabic poetry, Arabic philology, pre-Islamic Arab history, the Qur'an and the Hadiths. He read translated books on Greek sciences and Hellenistic philosophy, especially that of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Al-Jahiz, was also critical of those who followed oral Hadiths, referring to his Hadithist opponents as al-nabita ("the contemptible").
Career [ edit ]
While still in Basra, al-Jāḥiẓ wrote an article about the institution of the Caliphate. This is said to have been the beginning of his career as a writer, which would become his sole source of living. It is said that his mother once offered him a tray full of notebooks and told him he would earn his living from writing. He went on to write two hundred books in his lifetime on a variety of subjects, including on the Quran, Arabic grammar, zoology, poetry, lexicography, and rhetoric. Of his writings, only thirty books survive. Al-Jāḥiẓ was also one of the first Arabic writers to suggest a complete overhaul of the language's grammatical system, though this would not be undertaken until his fellow linguist Ibn Maḍāʾ took up the matter two hundred years later.
Al-Nadīm cited this passage from a book of al-Jāḥiẓ:
“When I was writing these two books, about the creation of the Qur’ān, which was the tenet given importance and honour by the Commander of the Faithful,[n 5] and another about superiority in connection with the Banū Hāshim, the ‘Abd Shams, and Makhzūm.[n 6] what was my due but to sit above the Simakān, Spica and Arcturus, or on top of the ‘Ayyūq,[n 7] or to deal with red sulphur, or to conduct the ‘Anqā by her leading string to the Greatest King.[n 8] 
Al-Jāḥiẓ moved to Baghdad, then the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, in 816 AD, because the caliphs encouraged scientists and scholars and had just founded the library of the Bayt al-Ḥikmah. But al-Nadim suspected a claim by al-Jāḥiẓ that the caliph al-Ma’mūn had praised his books on the imamate and the caliphate, for his eloquent phraseology, and use of market-place speech, and that of the elite and of the kings, was exaggerated self-glorification and doubted al-Ma’mūn could have spoken these words. [n 9] Al-Jāḥiẓ was said to have admired the eloquent literary style of the director of the library, Sahl ibn Hārūn (d. 859/860) and quoted his works. Because of the caliphs' patronage and his eagerness to establish himself and reach a wider audience, al-Jāḥiẓ stayed in Baghdad.
Al-Nadīm gives two versions[n 10] of an anecdote which differ in their source: his first source is Abū Hiffān[n 11] and his second is the grammarian al-Mubarrad, – and retells the story of al-Jāḥiẓ's reputation for being one of the three great bibliophiles and scholars – the two others being al-Fatḥ ibn Khāqān and judge Ismā’īl ibn Isḥāq[n 12] – such that “whenever a book came into the hand of al-Jāḥiẓ he read through it, wherever he happened to be. He even used to rent the shops of al-warrāqūn[n 13] for study.”
Al-Jāḥiẓ replaced Ibrāhīm ibn al-‘Abbās al-Ṣūlī in the government secretariat of al-Ma’mūn but left after just three days.  Later at Samarra) he wrote a huge number of his books. The caliph al-Ma'mun wanted al-Jāḥiẓ to teach his children, but then changed his mind when his children were frightened by al-Jāḥiẓ's boggle-eyes (جاحظ العينين). This is said to be the origin of his nickname. He enjoyed the patronage of al-Fath ibn Khaqan, the bibliophile boon companion of Caliph al-Mutawakkil, but after his murder in December 861 he left Samarra for his native Basra, where he lived on his estate with his “concubine, her maid, a manservant, and a donkey.”  He died there in late 868, according to one story, when a pile of books from his private library collapsed on him.
Foreshadowing of Evolution [ edit ]
Al-Jahiz writes in Kitab al-Hayawan (IV,68) "Lice are black on the head of a young man with black hair, light on that of a hoary old man." This is most clear example of micro-evolution. Al-Jahiz furthermore describes the struggle for existence and natural selection.
Most important books [ edit ]
Kitāb al-Ḥayawān (كتاب الحيوان) ‘Book of the Animals’ [ edit ]
Kitāb al-Ḥayawān is an encyclopedia in seven volumes[n 14] of anecdotes, poetic descriptions and proverbs describing over 350 Species of animals. Composed in honour of Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd al-Mālik al-Zayyāt, who paid him five thousand gold coins (5., dīnār).  The 11th-century scholar Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi dismissed it as "little more than a plagiarism" of Aristotle's Kitāb al-Hayawān – a charge of plagiarism was levelled against Aristotle himself with regard to a certain "Asclepiades of Pergamum". Later scholars have noted that there was only a limited Aristotelian influence in al-Jāḥiẓ's work, and that al-Baghdadi may have been unacquainted with Aristotle's work.
Conway Zirkle, writing about the history of natural selection science in 1941, said that an excerpt from this work was the only relevant passage he had found from an Arabian scholar. He provided a quotation describing the struggle for existence, citing a Spanish translation of this work:
The rat goes out for its food, and is clever in getting it, for it eats all animals inferior to it in strength", and in turn, it "has to avoid snakes and birds and serpents of prey, who look for it in order to devour it" and are stronger than the rat. Mosquitos "know instinctively that blood is the thing which makes them live" and when they see an animal, "they know that the skin has been fashioned to serve them as food". In turn, flies hunt the mosquito "which is the food that they like best", and predators eat the flies. "All animals, in short, can not exist without food, neither can the hunting animal escape being hunted in his turn. Every weak animal devours those weaker than itself. Strong animals cannot escape being devoured by other animals stronger than they. And in this respect, men do not differ from animals, some with respect to others, although they do not arrive at the same extremes. In short, God has disposed some human beings as a cause of life for others, and likewise, he has disposed the latter as a cause of the death of the former."
Kitāb al-Bukhalā’ (البُخلاء) ‘The Book of Misers’ also (Avarice and the Avaricious) [ edit ]
A collection of stories about the greedy. Humorous and satirical, it is the best example of al-Jāḥiẓ' prose style. Al-Jāḥiẓ ridicules schoolmasters, beggars, singers and scribes for their greedy behavior. Many of the stories continue to be reprinted in magazines throughout the Arabic-speaking world. The book is considered one of the best works of al-Jāḥiẓ. Editions: Arabic (Al-Ḥājirī, Cairo, 1958); Arabic text, French preface. Le Livre des avares. (Pellat. Paris, 1951)
Kitāb al-Bayān wa-al-Tabyīn (The Book of eloquence and demonstration) [ edit ]
al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin was one of al-Jāḥiẓ's later works, in which he wrote on epiphanies, rhetorical speeches, sectarian leaders, and princes. Though he was neither a poet nor a philologist in the proper sense – al-Jāḥiẓ took a keen interest in almost any imaginable subject – the book is considered to have started Arabic literary theory in a formal, systemic fashion. Al-Jāḥiẓ's defining of eloquence as the ability of the speaker to deliver an effective message while maintaining it as brief or elaborate at will was widely accepted by later Arabic literary critics.
On the Zanj ["Swahili coast"] [ edit ]
Concerning the Zanj, he wrote:
Everybody agrees that there is no people on earth in whom generosity is as universally well developed as the Zanj. These people have a natural talent for dancing to the rhythm of the tambourine, without needing to learn it. There are no better singers anywhere in the world, no people more polished and eloquent, and no people less given to insulting language. No other nation can surpass them in bodily strength and physical toughness. One of them will lift huge blocks and carry heavy loads that would be beyond the strength of most Bedouins or members of other races. They are courageous, energetic, and generous, which are the virtues of nobility, and also good-tempered and with little propensity to evil. They are always cheerful, smiling, and devoid of malice, which is a sign of noble character.
The Zanj say that God did not make them black to disfigure them; rather it is their environment that made them so. The best evidence of this is that there are black tribes among the Arabs, such as the Banu Sulaim bin Mansur, and that all the peoples settled in the Harra, besides the Banu Sulaim are black. These tribes take slaves from among the Ashban to mind their flocks and for irrigation work, manual labor, and domestic service, and their wives from among the Byzantines; and yet it takes less than three generations for the Harra to give them all the complexion of the Banu Sulaim. This Harra is such that the gazelles, ostriches, insects, wolves, foxes, sheep, asses, horses and birds that live there are all black. White and black are the results of environment, the natural properties of water and soil, distance from the sun, and intensity of heat. There is no question of metamorphosis, or of punishment, disfigurement or favor meted out by Allah. Besides, the land of the Banu Sulaim has much in common with the land of the Turks, where the camels, beasts of burden, and everything belonging to these people is similar in appearance: everything of theirs has a Turkish look.
In his book Al-Bayān al-Jāḥiẓ mentions that Blacks have an oratory and eloquence of their own culture and language. 
Mu‘tazilī theological debate [ edit ]
Al-Jāḥiẓ intervened in a theological dispute between two Mu’tazilī, and defended Abū al-Hudhayl [n 15] against the criticism of Bishr ibn al-Mu‘tamir.  Another Mu‘tazilah theologian, Ja‘far ibn Mubashshir,[n 16] wrote a “refutation of al-Jāḥiẓ”. 
Death [ edit ]
Al-Jāḥiẓ returned to Basra with hemiplegia after spending more than fifty years in Baghdad. He died in Basra in the Arabic month of Muharram in AH 255/December 868 – January 869 AD. His exact cause of death is not clear, but a popular assumption is that al-Jāḥiẓ died in his private library after one of many large piles of books fell on him, killing him instantly.
See also [ edit ]
Notes [ edit ]
- The ancestor of ‘Amr ibn Qal‘ was Abū al-Qallamas; the first of the Nasāh of the Banū Kināna who were overseers of observance of the religious holy months, when warfare was forbidden.
- An akhbār cited by Al-Anbārī. The tribes of Kināna and Fuqaym.
- Abū Nuwās al-Ḥasan ibn Hāni’ (d. 810), licentious poet and court companion of Hārūn al-Rashīd.
- Al-Jammāz Muḥammad ibn ‘Amr, Abū ‘Abd Allāh (d. 868/869) a satirist and storyteller at the court of al-Mutawakkil.
- Probably the Caliph al-Ma’mūn, who made a special point of the doctrine of the creation of the Qur’ān. Al-Jāḥiẓ wrote numerous books about the caliphs, and which two books he refers to is unknown.
- Dodge notes that al-Jāḥiẓ’s praise for the ‘Abbāsid lineage, and promotion of their ancestors, the Banū Hāshim, over the ‘Abd Shams, ancestors of the Umayyads, and the Banū Makhzūm, is evidentially political expedience.
- The Simakān were two stars: al-Simāk al-A‘zal or Spica, and al-Simāk al-Rāmiḥ or Arcturus. The ‘Ayyūq was either Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, or else Capella.
- The ‘Anqā was a fabled bird, also called Simurgh, that reigned as queen on Mount Qāf. The Ṣūfīs sometimes used the bird as an allegorical symbol of divine truth, so that the “Greatest King” probably refers to God.
- Bayard Dodge in his editorial notes that he books about the caliphate undoubtedly tried to prove that it was the ‘Abbāsid caliphs who had the divine right to rule the Islamic theocracy and that al-Jāḥiẓ had put these words into the caliph’s mouth in an attempt to boast of his erudition and clarity of style.
- Compare “Al-Fihrist” (ed. Dodge, 1970), Ch. III, §.2, near n. 12; Ch. V, §.1.
- Abū Hiffān 'Abd Allāh ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥarb al-Mihzamī was a secretary and poet who died in Baghdād in 871.
- Ismā’īl ibn Isḥāq ibn Ismā’īl ibn Ḥammād, al-Qāḍī (d. 895/896) a jurist of Baṣrah who became a judge at Baghdād.
- A copiest of MSS, or stationer, or bookshop owner. Bookshops were often meeting places for scholarly debate. 
- Al-Fihrist gives a list of the first and last sentences of each section of the Kitāb al-Ḥayawān.
- Abū al-Hudhayl al-ʿAllāf (d. ca. 841) Muʿtazilī theologian from Baṣrah
- Ja‘far ibn Mubashshir al-Thaqafī, Abū Muḥammad, (d. 848/49) a Mu‘tazilah of Baghdād.
References [ edit ]
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- Durayd (Ibn) 1854, p. 150.
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- Al-Jahiz messages, Alwarraq edition, page 188; Yāqūt, Irshād al-arīb ilá ma`rifat al-adīb, ed. Iḥsān `Abbās, 7 vols (Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī, 1993), 5:2102.
- Chuo Kikuu cha Dar es Salaam. Chuo cha Uchunguzi wa Lugha ya Kiswahili (1974). Kiswahili. East African Swahili Committee. p. 16.; Yāqūt, Irshād al-arīb ilá ma`rifat al-adīb, ed. Iḥsān `Abbās, 7 vols (Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī, 1993), 5:2102.
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- Richardson, John (1852). A dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English. London: W.H. Allen. p. 1040.
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- Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 400 n.108. sfn error: no target: CITEREFNadīm_(al-)1970 (help)
- Nadīm (al-) 1970, pp. 262-3. sfn error: no target: CITEREFNadīm_(al-)1970 (help)
- Nadīm (al-) 1970, pp. 255, 398. sfn error: no target: CITEREFNadīm_(al-)1970 (help)
- Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 929. sfn error: no target: CITEREFNadīm_(al-)1970 (help)
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- Yāqūt 1907, p. 58, VI (6).
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- Kennedy 2006, p. 252.
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- Nadīm (al-) 1970, pp. 402-4. sfn error: no target: CITEREFNadīm_(al-)1970 (help)
- F. E., Peters (1968). Aristotle and the Arabs: The Aristotelian Tradition in Islam. New York University Press. p. 133.
Mattock, J. N. (1971). "Review: Aristotle and the Arabs: The Aristotelian Tradition in Islam by F. E. Peters". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 34 (1): 147–148. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00141722. JSTOR 614638.
...there is much more in al-Jāḥiẓ, enough to indicate that he used a version of Aristotle (or an epitome), but still not very much. If al-Baghdadi thought that the Kitab al-hayawan was a plagiarism of the Aristotelian work he was either a fool or unacquainted with Aristotle.
- Zirkle C (1941). "Natural Selection before the 'Origin of Species'". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 84 (1): 71–123.
- Jāḥiẓ (al-), Abū ‘Uthman ‘Amr ibn Bahr (1958). al-Ḥājirī, Ṭāhā (ed.). Kitāb al-Bukhalā' (in Arabic). Cairo: Dār al-Ma‘ārif.
- Jāḥiẓ (al-), Abū ‘Uthman ‘Amr ibn Bahr (1951). Pellat, C. (ed.). Kitāb al-Bukhalā' (Tr. Le Livre des avares) (in Arabic and French). Paris: Maisoneuve.
- G. J. H. Van Gelder, Beyond the Line: Classical Arabic Literary Critics on the Coherence and Unity of the Poem, pg. 2. Volume 8 of Studies in Arabic literature: Supplements to the Journal of Arabic Literature. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1982. ISBN 9789004068544
- G.J. van Gelder, "Brevity in Classical Arabic Literary Theory." Taken from Proceedings of the Ninth Congress of the Union Européenne Des Arabisants et Islamisants: Amsterdam, 1 to 7 September 1978, pg. 81. Ed. Rudolph Peters. Volume 4 of Publications of the Netherlands Institute of Archaeology and Arabic Studies in Cairo. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1981. ISBN 9789004063808
- "Medieval Sourcebook: Abû Ûthmân al-Jâhith: From The Essays, c. 860 CE". Retrieved 2 October 2014.
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- al-Ṣūlī, Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyá (1998). Kniga listov. Sankt-Peterburg: T͡Sentr "Peterburgskoe vostokovedenie". p. 392.
Pellat, C. (1990). "Al-Jahiz". In Ashtiany, Julia; Johnstone, T.M.; Latham, J.D.; Serjeat, R.B.; Rex Smith, G. (eds.). Abbasid Belles Lettres. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780521240161. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
A late tradition clams that Jahiz...was smothered to death under an avalanche of books.
Sources [ edit ]
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- Watt, Watt, W. Montgomery (1986), "Kināna", in Bosworth, CE; Donzel, E van; Lewis, B; Pellat, C (eds.), Encyclopedia of Islam, 5 (New ed.), Leiden: Brill, p. 116* Kennedy, Hugh (2006). When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306814808.
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- Yāqūt, Shihāb al-Dīn ibn ‘Abd al-Ḥamawī (1913). Margoliouth, D. S. (ed.). Irshād al-Arīb alā Ma'rifat al-Adīb (in Arabic). VI (7). Leiden: Brill.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Al-Jahiz.|
- Plessner, M. (2008) [1970–80]. "Al-Jāḥith, Abū 'Uthmān 'Amr Ibn Baḥr". Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Encyclopedia.com.
- Kitāb al-Hayawān (Book of Animals), by Al-Jāḥiẓ (Full Arabic text)
- Arabic literature