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Qatari stamp of al-Jahiz
Ab? ?Uthman ?Amr ibn Ba?r al-Kin?n? al-Ba?r?

DiedDecember 868/January 869
Basra, Abbasid Caliphate
EraMedieval era
RegionIslamic Philosophy
Main interests
Arabic literature

Ab? ?Uthman ?Amr ibn Ba?r al-Kin?n? al-Ba?r? (Arabic: ? ? ‎), commonly known as al-Ji? (Arabic: ‎, The Bug Eyed, born 776; died December 868/January 869) was an Arab prose writer and author of works of literature, Mu'tazili theology, zoology, and politico-religious polemics.[2][3][4][5]

Ibn al-Nadim lists nearly 140 titles attributed to Al-Jahiz, of which 75 are extant. The best known are Kit?b al-?ayaw?n (The book of living), a seven-part compendium on an array of subjects with animals as their point of departure; Kit?b al-Bay?n wa-l-taby?n (The book of eloquence and exposition), a wide-ranging work on human communication; and Kit?b al-Bukhal (The book of misers), a collection of anecdotes on stinginess.[6]

He is said to have been crushed to death under the weight of his own tomes.


He was Ab? ?Uthman ?Amr ibn Bahr ibn Ma?b?b, a protégé of Ab? al-Qallamas[n 1] 'Amr ibn Qal' al-Kin?n?, then al-Fuqaym?, a.k.a. 'Amr ibn Qal' al-Kin?n? al-Fuqaym? [n 2] whose ancestor was one of the Nasah (Nasa'ah).[11] The grandfather of al-Ji? was a Black jamm?l (cameleer)  – or ?amm?l (porter); the manuscripts differ. – of 'Amr ibn Qal' named Ma?b?b, nicknamed Faz?rah, or Faz?rah was his maternal grandfather, and Ma?b?b his paternal. The names may however have been confused. Al-Ji? died 250 [A.D. 869], during the caliphate of al-Mu'tazz. Al-Nad?m reports that al-Ji? said he was about the same age as Ab? Nuw?s[n 3] and older than al-Jamm?z.[n 4][11] Not much is known about al-Ji?'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.[12][13] His nephew also reported that al-Ji?'s grandfather was a black cameleer.[14]

He sold fish along one of the canals in Basra to help his family. Financial difficulties, however, did not stop al-Ji? 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-Ji? studied philology, lexicography and poetry from among the most learned scholars at the School of Basra, where he attended the lectures of Ab? Ubaydah, Al-A?ma'?, Sa'?d ibn Aws al-Anr? and studied ilm an-na?w ( , i.e., syntax) with Akhfash al-Awsa? (al-Akhfash Ab? al-?asan).[15] Over a twenty-five-year span studying, al-Ji? 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 the Hadiths of Abu Hurayra, referring to his Hadithist opponents as al-nabita ("the contemptible").[16]


A giraffe from Kit?b al-Hayaw?n (Book of the Animals) by al-Ji?.

While still in Basra, al-Ji? 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-Ji? 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 Ma took up the matter two hundred years later.[17]

Al-Nad?m cited this passage from a book of al-Ji?:[18]

"When I was writing these two books, about the creation of the Qur'?n, which was the tenet given importance and honour by the Commander of the Faithful,[n 5] and another about superiority in connection with the Ban? H?shim, the 'Abd Shams, and Makhz?m.[n 6] what was my due but to sit above the Simak?n, Spica and Arcturus, or on top of the 'Ayy?q,[n 7] or to deal with red sulphur, or to conduct the 'Anq? by her leading string to the Greatest King.[n 8][22] [23]

Al-Ji? 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-?ikmah. But al-Nadim suspected a claim by al-Ji? that the caliph al-Ma'm?n 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,[24] was exaggerated self-glorification and doubted al-Ma'm?n could have spoken these words. [n 9] Al-Ji? was said to have admired the eloquent literary style of the director of the library, Sahl ibn H?r?n (d. 859/860) and quoted his works.[26] Because of the caliphs' patronage and his eagerness to establish himself and reach a wider audience, al-Ji? stayed in Baghdad.

Al-Nad?m gives two versions[n 10][27] of an anecdote which differ in their source: his first source is Ab? Hiff?n[n 11] and his second is the grammarian al-Mubarrad,[11] – and retells the story of al-Ji?'s reputation for being one of the three great bibliophiles and scholars – the two others being al-Fat? ibn Kh?q?n and judge Ism?'?l ibn Isq[n 12] – such that "whenever a book came into the hand of al-Ji? he read through it, wherever he happened to be. He even used to rent the shops of al-warr?q?n[n 13] for study."[29]

Al-Ji? replaced Ibr?h?m ibn al-'Abb?s al-l? in the government secretariat of al-Ma'm?n but left after just three days.[30] [31] Later at Samarra) he wrote a huge number of his books. The caliph al-Ma'mun wanted al-Ji? to teach his children, but then changed his mind when his children were frightened by al-Ji?'s boggle-eyes (? ?). This is said to be the origin of his nickname.[32] 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." [33][34] He died there in late 868, according to one story, when a pile of books from his private library collapsed on him.[34]

Foreshadowing of Evolution

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 a very clear example of micro-evolution. Al-Jahiz furthermore describes the struggle for existence and natural selection.[35]

Most important books

A page from al-Ji?'s Kit?b al-Hayaw?n depicting an ostrich (Struthio camelus) in a nest with eggs. Basra.

Kit?b al-?ayaw?n (? ?) 'Book of the Animals'

Kit?b al-?ayaw?n is an encyclopedia in seven volumes[n 14] of anecdotes, poetic descriptions and proverbs describing over 350 Species of animals.[36] Composed in honour of Mu?ammad ibn 'Abd al-M?lik al-Zayy?t, who paid him five thousand gold coins (5., d?n?r). [37] The 11th-century scholar Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi dismissed it as "little more than a plagiarism" of Aristotle's Kit?b al-Hayaw?n – a charge of plagiarism was levelled against Aristotle himself with regard to a certain "Asclepiades of Pergamum".[38] Later scholars have noted that there was only a limited Aristotelian influence in al-Ji?'s work, and that al-Baghdadi may have been unacquainted with Aristotle's work.[39]

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."[40]

Kit?b al-Bukhal?' () 'The Book of Misers' also (Avarice and the Avaricious)

A collection of stories about the greedy. Humorous and satirical, it is the best example of al-Ji?' prose style. Al-Ji? 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-Ji?.[] Editions: Arabic (Al-jir?, Cairo, 1958);[41] Arabic text, French preface. Le Livre des avares. (Pellat. Paris, 1951)[42]

Kit?b al-Bay?n wa-al-Taby?n (The Book of eloquence and demonstration)

al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin was one of al-Ji?'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-Ji? took a keen interest in almost any imaginable subject - the book is considered to have started Arabic literary theory in a formal, systemic fashion.[43] Al-Ji?'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.[44]

On the Zanj ["Swahili coast"]

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.[45]

In his book Al-Bay?n al-Ji? mentions that Blacks have an oratory and eloquence of their own culture and language. [46]

Mu'tazil? theological debate

Al-Ji? intervened in a theological dispute between two Mu'tazil?, and defended Ab? al-Hudhayl [n 15] against the criticism of Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir. [47] Another Mu'tazilah theologian, Ja'far ibn Mubashshir,[n 16] wrote a "refutation of al-Ji?". [48]

Al-Jahiz was not considered to be among the scholars of the Mu'tazilites, nor did he take a position at court during the reigns of the pro-Mu'tazilite Caliphs Al-Mamun, Al-Mutasim, and Al-Wathiq.[49]


Al-Ji? 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.[50] His exact cause of death is not clear, but a popular assumption is that al-Ji? died in his private library after one of many large piles of books fell on him, killing him instantly.[51]

See also


  1. ^ The ancestor of 'Amr ibn Qal' was Ab? al-Qallamas;[7] the first of the Nas?h[8] of the Ban? Kin?na who were overseers of observance of the religious holy months, when warfare was forbidden.
  2. ^ An akhb?r cited by Al-Anb?r?. The tribes of Kin?na[9] and Fuqaym.[10]
  3. ^ Ab? Nuw?s al-?asan ibn H?ni' (d. 810), licentious poet and court companion of H?r?n al-Rash?d.
  4. ^ Al-Jamm?z Mu?ammad ibn 'Amr, Ab? 'Abd All?h (d. 868/869) a satirist and storyteller at the court of al-Mutawakkil.
  5. ^ Probably the Caliph al-Ma'm?n, who made a special point of the doctrine of the creation of the Qur'?n.[19] Al-Ji? wrote numerous books about the caliphs, and which two books he refers to is unknown.
  6. ^ Dodge notes that al-Ji?'s praise for the 'Abb?sid lineage, and promotion of their ancestors, the Ban? H?shim, over the 'Abd Shams, ancestors of the Umayyads, and the Ban? Makhz?m, is evidentially political expedience.
  7. ^ The Simak?n were two stars: al-Sim?k al-A'zal or Spica, and al-Sim?k al-R?mi? or Arcturus. The 'Ayy?q was either Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus, or else Capella.[20][21]
  8. ^ The 'Anq? was a fabled bird, also called Simurgh, that reigned as queen on Mount Q?f. The f?s sometimes used the bird as an allegorical symbol of divine truth, so that the "Greatest King" probably refers to God.
  9. ^ Bayard Dodge in his editorial notes that he books about the caliphate undoubtedly tried to prove that it was the 'Abb?sid caliphs who had the divine right to rule the Islamic theocracy and that al-Ji? had put these words into the caliph's mouth in an attempt to boast of his erudition and clarity of style.[25]
  10. ^ Compare "Al-Fihrist" (ed. Dodge, 1970), Ch. III, §.2, near n. 12; Ch. V, §.1.
  11. ^ Ab? Hiff?n 'Abd All?h ibn A?mad ibn ?arb al-Mihzam? was a secretary and poet who died in Baghd?d in 871.
  12. ^ Ism?'?l ibn Isq ibn Ism?'?l ibn ?amm?d, al-Q (d. 895/896) a jurist of Ba?rah who became a judge at Baghd?d.
  13. ^ A copiest of MSS, or stationer, or bookshop owner. Bookshops were often meeting places for scholarly debate. [28]
  14. ^ Al-Fihrist gives a list of the first and last sentences of each section of the Kit?b al-?ayaw?n.
  15. ^ Ab? al-Hudhayl al-?All?f (d. ca. 841) Mu?tazil? theologian from Ba?rah
  16. ^ Ja'far ibn Mubashshir al-Thaqaf?, Ab? Mu?ammad, (d. 848/49) a Mu'tazilah of Baghd?d.


  1. ^ "Al-Ji?". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. 7 March 2012. Retrieved 2020.
  2. ^ Y?q?t 1907, pp. 56-80, VI (6).
  3. ^ Baghd?d? (al-) Khab 2001, pp. 124-132, 14.
  4. ^ Pellat 1953, p. 51.
  5. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, pp. 397-409.
  6. ^ Blankinship (2020). "Giggers, Greeners, Peyserts, and Palliards: Rendering Slang in al-Bukhal of al-Ji?". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 140 (1): 17. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.140.1.0017.
  7. ^ Mas'?d? 1864, p. 116.
  8. ^ B?r?n? (al-) 1878, p. 12, l.1.
  9. ^ Watt 1986, p. 116.
  10. ^ Durayd (Ibn) 1854, p. 150.
  11. ^ a b c Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 398.
  12. ^ Al-Jahiz messages, Alwarraq edition, page 188; Y?q?t, Irsh?d al-ar?b ilá ma`rifat al-ad?b, ed. I?s?n `Abb?s, 7 vols (Beirut: D?r al-Gharb al-Isl?m?, 1993), 5:2102.
  13. ^ Chuo Kikuu cha Dar es Salaam. Chuo cha Uchunguzi wa Lugha ya Kiswahili (1974). Kiswahili. East African Swahili Committee. p. 16.; Y?q?t, Irsh?d al-ar?b ilá ma`rifat al-ad?b, ed. I?s?n `Abb?s, 7 vols (Beirut: D?r al-Gharb al-Isl?m?, 1993), 5:2102.
  14. ^ Al-Jubouri, I. M. N. (12 October 2010). Islamic Thought: From Mohammed to September 11, 2001. ISBN 9781453595855.
  15. ^ Yaqut 1907, p. 56.
  16. ^ Zaman, Muhammad Qasim (1997). Religion and Politics Under the Early 'Abbasids: The Emergence of the Proto-Sunni Elite. Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. 55. ISBN 978-9-00410-678-9.
  17. ^ Shawqi Daif, Introduction to Ibn Mada's Refutation of the Grammarians, pg. 48. Cairo, 1947.
  18. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 401.
  19. ^ Hitti, Philip K (1970). History of The Arabs (10th ed.). Hong Kong: MacMillan Education Ltd. p. 429. ISBN 0-333-09871-4.
  20. ^ Richardson, John (1852). A dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English. London: W.H. Allen. p. 1040.
  21. ^ Lane, E. W. (1874). An Arabic English Lexicon Book-i, Part-v. London: Williams & Norgate. p. 2199.
  22. ^ Richardson 1852, p. 1032.
  23. ^ Browne, Edward G. (1964). Literary History of Persia. II. Cambridge: University Press. p. 33 n. 3.
  24. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 400, I, ch.5 §1.
  25. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 400 n.108.
  26. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, pp. 262-3.
  27. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, pp. 255, 398.
  28. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 929.
  29. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 255.
  30. ^ Y?q?t 1907, p. 58, VI (6).
  31. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 399.
  32. ^ Khallik?n (Ibn) & loc-ii, p. 405.
  33. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 402.
  34. ^ a b Kennedy 2006, p. 252.
  35. ^ "Darwin's Ghosts, By Rebecca Stott". Retrieved 2012.
  36. ^ "Islam's evolutionary legacy".
  37. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, pp. 402-4.
  38. ^ F. E., Peters (1968). Aristotle and the Arabs: The Aristotelian Tradition in Islam. New York University Press. p. 133.
  39. ^ 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-Ji?, 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.
  40. ^ Zirkle C (1941). "Natural Selection before the 'Origin of Species'". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 84 (1): 71-123.
  41. ^ Ji? (al-), Ab? 'Uthman 'Amr ibn Bahr (1958). al-jir?, h? (ed.). Kit?b al-Bukhal?' (in Arabic). Cairo: D?r al-Ma'?rif.
  42. ^ Ji? (al-), Ab? 'Uthman 'Amr ibn Bahr (1951). Pellat, C. (ed.). Kit?b al-Bukhal?' (Tr. Le Livre des avares) (in Arabic and French). Paris: Maisoneuve.
  43. ^ 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
  44. ^ 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
  45. ^ "Medieval Sourcebook: Abû Ûthmân al-Jâhith: From The Essays, c. 860 CE". Retrieved 2014.
  46. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 35.
  47. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, pp. 390-1.
  48. ^ Nad?m (al-) 1970, p. 397.
  49. ^ [
  50. ^ al-l?, Mu?ammad ibn Ya?yá (1998). Kniga listov. Sankt-Peterburg: T?Sentr "Peterburgskoe vostokovedenie". p. 392.
  51. ^ 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 2017. A late tradition clams that Jahiz...was smothered to death under an avalanche of books.


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