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Basra, Abbasid Caliphate
Basra, Abbasid Caliphate
|Main interests||Arabic literature|
al-Jāḥiẓ (Arabic: الجاحظ) (full name Abū ʿUthman ʿAmr ibn Baḥr al-Kinānī al-Baṣrī أبو عثمان عمرو بن بحر الكناني البصري) (born in Basra, 781 – December 868/January 869) was an Arabic prose writer and author of works of literature, Mu'tazili theology, and politico-religious polemics.
In biology, Al-Jāḥiẓ introduced the concept of food chains and also proposed a scheme of animal evolution that entailed natural selection, environmental determinism and possibly the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
Early life 
Not much is known about al-Jāḥiẓ's early life, but his family was very poor. Born in Basra, he asserted in a book he wrote that he was a member of the Arabian tribe Banu Kinanah. Al-Jāḥiẓ's grandfather is believed to have been a Zanj (Bantu) slave from East Africa.
He used to sell fish along one of the canals in Basra in order 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. He also attended various lectures given by the most learned men in philology, lexicography and poetry.
Al-Jāḥiẓ continued his studies. Over a span twenty-five years, he would acquire considerable knowledge on Arabic poetry, Arabic philology, and pre-Islamic Arab and Persian history. He also studied the Qur'an and the Hadiths. Additionally, al-Jāḥiẓ read translated books on Greek sciences and Hellenistic philosophy, especially that of Greek philosopher Aristotle. His education was highly facilitated due to the fact that the Abbasid Caliphate was in a period of cultural, and intellectual revolutions. Books became readily available, and this made learning easily available.
His career 
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's said that his mother once offered him a tray full of notebooks and told him that he'll earn his living from writing. Thereafter, he authored two hundred books throughout his lifetime that discuss a variety of subjects including Arabic grammar, zoology, poetry, lexicography, and rhetoric. Jahiz 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 fellow linguist Ibn Maḍāʾ breached the issue two-hundred years later. The staggering number of books though, haven't all reached us, only thirty books survived.
He moved to Baghdad, the capital of the Arab Islamic Caliphate at the time, in 816 AD, because the Abbasid Caliphs encouraged scientists and scholars and had just founded the House of Wisdom. Due to the Caliphs' patronage, his eagerness to reach a wider audience, and establish himself, al-Jāḥiẓ stayed in Baghdad (and later Samarra) where 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 got afraid of his boggle-eyes (جاحظ العينين), it's said that this is where he got his nickname.
Theory of Evolution 
Al-Jāhiz was one of the first Muslim biologists to develop a theory on evolution.
He wrote on the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and he first described the struggle for existence. Al-Jāḥiẓ was also the first to discuss food chains, and was also an early adherent of environmental determinism, arguing that the environment can determine the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of a certain community and that the origins of different human skin colors is the result of the environment. His Book of Animals states,
Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.
According to physicist Jim Al-Khalili, his book was a major influence on Arab scholars of the 11th to 14th centuries, and the Latin translations of their work in turn became known to Linnaeus, Buffon and Lamarck.
The historian Dr. Mehmet Bayrakdar testifies: "Indeed, Darwin and his precursors took up the theory of Al Jahiz as the base for the essentiality of their evolutionary theories and they formulated it in a more scientific way in the context of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries development of science". The German Orientalist and historian Friedrich Dieterici in his "Der Darwinismus im X und XIX Jahhundert", together with E. Wiedemann in his "Darwinistishes bei Gahiz" and other European thinkers have proved even before that that there is a great similarity between Charles Darwin and Al Jahiz, except that Al Jahiz does not reject creationism, and treats evolution in a highly delicate manner that proves his theological views, that God is the causer of causes, and He changes things in the manner He wishes. Al Jahiz also rejects the idea that humans are descendants of other species, the fact which would leave us with the hypothesis proposed by Belhamidi Hadjer, that the fossils dating back to before Neolithic period, or the creation of Homo sapiens sapiens probably belonged to the species of human beings before they had the human mind, and that Homo sapiens sapiens are the newly created humans after having been created with the mind.
Most important books 
Kitab al-Hayawan (Book of Animals) 
The al-Hayawan is an encyclopedia of seven volume of anecdotes, poetic descriptions and proverbs describing over 350 varieties of animals. The work was considered by the 11th-century Muslim scholar Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi to be "little more than a plagiarism" of Aristotle's Kitāb al-Hayawān, a charge that was once 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.
In the work al-Jāḥiẓ speculates on the influence of environment on animals, a concept considered by some to be a precursor to evolution. It is considered as the most important work of Al-Jāḥiẓ.
Kitab al-Bukhala (Book of Misers) also (Avarice & the Avaricious) 
A collection of stories about the greedy. Humorous and satirical, it is the best example of al-Jāḥiẓ' prose style. It is an insightful study of human psychology. 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.
Kitab al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin (The Book of eloquence and demonstration) 
Al bayan wa tabyeen, which literally means (eloquence and demonstration), was one of his later works, in which he wrote on epiphanies, rhetorical speeches, sectarian leaders, and princes.
Risalat mufakharat al-sudan 'ala al-bidan (Treatise on Blacks) 
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 in order 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.
His death 
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 869 AD. His exact cause of death is not clear, but a popular assumption is that Jahiz died in his private library after one of many large piles of books fell on him, killing him instantly. Others say he died of a sickness. He died at the age of 93.
See also 
- Agutter, Paul S.; Wheatley, Denys N. (2008). Thinking about life: the history and philosophy of biology and other sciences. Springer. p. 43. ISBN 1-4020-8865-5.
- Al-Jahiz messages, Alwarraq edition, page 188
- Chuo Kikuu cha Dar es Salaam. Chuo cha Uchunguzi wa Lugha ya Kiswahili (1974). Kiswahili. East African Swahili Committee. p. 16.
- Shawqi Daif, Introduction to Ibn Mada's Refutation of the Grammarians, pg. 48. Cairo, 1947.
- Conway Zirkle (1941). Natural Selection before the "Origin of Species", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 84 (1), p. 71-123.
- a b Mehmet Bayrakdar (Third Quarter, 1983). "Al-Jahiz And the Rise of Biological Evolutionism", The Islamic Quarterly. London.
- Al-Khalili, Jim (2008-01-29). "Science: Islam's forgotten geniuses". London: telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-12-19.
- Al-Khalili, Jim (2008-01-30). "It's time to herald the Arabic science that prefigure Darwin and Newton". London: guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-12-19.
- 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. 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-Baghdidi thought that the Kitab al-hayawan was a plagiarism of the Aristotelian work he was either a fool or unacquainted with Aristotle."
- Medieval Sourcebook: Abû Ûthmân al-Jâhith: From The Essays, c. 860 CE
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Al-Jāḥiẓ|
- 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