Ibn Khallikan (essay date 1843)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2205

SOURCE: "Al-Jahiz," in Biographical Dictionary, Vol. II, translated by Bn Mac Guckin de Slane, Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britian, 1843, pp. 403-10.

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[In the following excerpt, Khallikan discusses anecdotes which al-Jahiz told about himself]

Abu Othman Amr Ibn Bahr Ibn Mahbub al-Kinani al-Laithi, generally known by the surname of al-Jahiz and a native of Basra, was a man celebrated for his learning and author of numerous works on every branch of science. He composed a discourse on the fundamentals of religion, and an offset of the Motazilite sect was called al-Jahiziya after him. He had been a disciple of Abu Ishak Ibrahim Ibn Saiyar al-Balkhi, surnamed an-Nazzam1, and was maternal uncle to Yamut Ibn al-Muzarra, a person whose life we shall give. One of his finest and most instructive works is the Kitab al-Haiwan (book of animals), as it contains every sort of curious information. The same may be said of his Kitab al-Bayan wa 't-Tabaiyun (distinction and exposition)2. His productions are extremely numerous, and his talents are fully recognised; but he was deformed in person, and the prominence of his eyes, which seemed to be starting out of his head, procured him the surnames of al-Jahiz (the starer) and al-Hadaki (goggle-eye). Amongst the anecdotes concerning him, is the following, related by himself: "I was mentioned to al-Mutawakkil as a proper person to instruct one of his sons; but, on seeing me, he disliked my looks and dismissed me with a present often thousand dirhems. On leaving the palace, I met with Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim3, who was on the point of returning to Madina-tas-Salam (Baghdad), and he proposed to me that I should accompany him in his barge. I should remark that we were then at Sarra man Raa. I embarked with him, and, on reaching the mouth of the canal al-Katul4, a curtained tent was set up and he called for music, on which a female lute-player commenced singing an air, of which the words were:

'Our days are passed in quarrels and reproaches; our time is spent in anger. Can it it be that such an affliction is peculiar to me alone, or is it common to every lover?'

"She then stopped, and he told a female guitar-player to begin. The words she sung were:

'Show pity to true lovers! I see no one to assist them; how often do they part! how often are they severed! how often do they separate! how great must be their patience!'

"Here the lute-player said to her:

'And then what must they do?'

"To which the other female answered:

''Tis this they have to do—'

"She then struck her hand through the curtain, and, coming out at the rent she thus made, she appeared to us like a half-moon5 and threw herself into the water. A young page who was standing behind Muhammad, with a fly-flap in his hand, and who resembled her in beauty, went over to the place where she fell in, and saw her borne away under the water, on which he recited this verse:

''Tis thou who drownest me6 after meeting with thy fate! O that thou couldst know it!'

"He then sprung in after her, and the rowers having turned the barge round, perceived them sinking and clasped in each other's arms. They were never seen after. Muhammad was greatly shocked at the circumstance, but he at length said to me: 'O Abu Amr! tell me some story which may diminish my grief for the death of that unfortunate couple, or else I shall send thee to join them!' I immediately recollected an occurrence which happened to Yazid Ibn Abd al-Malik, and I related as follows: The khalif Yazid Ibn Abd al-Malik was holding a public sitting for the redressing of grievances, and amongst the memorials which passed under his examination, he found one containing these words: 'If it be the pleasure of the Commander of the faithful, he will have such and such a slave-girl of his brought out to me, so that she may sing me three airs.' On reading this note, Yazid was seized with anger, and he sent out a person with orders to bring in the writer's head, but he then dispatched another messenger after the first, with directions to bring in the individual himself. When the man appeared before him, the khalif addressed him thus: 'What induced thee to do what thou hast done?'—'My confidence in thy mildness,' replied the man, 'and my trust in thy indulgence.' Here the prince ordered all the assembly to withdraw, not excepting the members of the Omaiyide family, and the girl was brought in with a lute in her hand. The youth then said to her: 'Sing these words:

'Gently, O Fatima! moderate thy disdain! if thou hast resolved to sever our attachment, yet be gentle7.'

"When she had sung it, Yazid said to him: 'Speak;' and the other said: Sing:

'The lightning gleamed in the direction of Najd, and I said: O lightning! I am too much engaged to watch thee8.'

"And she sung it. Yazid then said to him: 'Speak;' and he said: 'Order me a pint of wine;' and it was brought to him. He had hardly drunk it off, when he sprung up, and, having climbed to the top of the dome under which Yazid was sitting, he threw himself down and dashed out his brains. We belong to God,' exclaimed Yazid (horror-struck), 'and unto him we must return! See that madman! he was silly enough to think that if I brought out my slave-girl to him, I should take her back again into my own possession. Pages! lead her out and bear her to his family, if he have a family; and if not, sell her and let the price be distributed as alms in his name.' They immediately departed with her for the man's family, but, on crossing the court of the palace, she saw an excavation prepared for preserving the rain-waters, on which she burst from their hands, and recited this line:

Those that die of love, let them die thus; there is no good in love without death.

"And throwing herself head foremost into the cistern, she died on the spot. Muhammad received some distraction from this narration, and he made me a large present." The following anecdote is related by Abu 'l-Kasim as-Sirafi: "We went to the assembly held by the lord vizir Abu 'l-Fadl Ibn al-Amid, and, the name of al-Jahiz happening to be mentioned, a person present depreciated his abilities and spoke of him slightingly. The vizir made no observation, and, when the man had retired, I said to him: 'My lord! why did you not reply to that fellow, you who are accustomed to refute the assertions of persons like him?' To this the vizir replied: 'I thought any reply less effectual than leaving him in his ignorance; had I argued with him and brought proofs against him, he would then have commenced reading the works of al-Jahiz, and that, Abu 'l-Kasim! would have made a man of him; for they teach us to reason first, and instruct us in literature next; and I did not think that fellow worthy of such an advantage.'" Towards the close of his life, al-Jahiz had an attack of palsy, and one of his sides was so much inflamed, that he had to rub it with sandal-ointment and camphor, whilst the latter was so cold and benumbed that, were it seized with pincers, it had been insensible. During his illness he used to say: "Maladies of a contrary nature have conspired against my body; if I eat any thing cold, it seizes on my feet, and if I eat any thing hot, it seizes on my head." He would say again: My left side is paralysed to such a degree that, if it were torn with pincers, I should not be aware of it; and my right side is so affected with gout, that if a fly walked on it, it would give me pain. I am afflicted also with gravel, which prevents me from passing urine; but what bears hardest on me is the weight of ninety-six years." He would then repeat these verses:

Didst thou, who art an aged man, hope to be as thou wast in the days of thy youth? Thou deceivest thyself; a threadbare garment is not like one that is new.

The following anecdote was related by a member of the Barmek family: "Having been appointed governor of Sind, I remained there for a considerable time, till I learned that I had been removed from office. Having gained thirty thousand dinars during my administration, and fearing, if my successor arrived suddenly, that he would learn where the money was deposited and try to seize it, I had it melted down into ten thousand plum(-shaped masses,) each of them weighing three mithkals9. My successor arrived soon after, on which I took ship and arrived at Basra. Being informed that Al-Jahiz was in that city, laid up with the palsy, I felt desirous of seeing him before he died; and I therefore went to find him. On arriving at his house, which was but a small one, I knocked at the door, and a female slave of a tawny complexion came out and asked me what I wanted. 'I am from a foreign country,' said I, 'and wish to have the pleasure of seeing the shaikh'. She then went to inform him of my desire, and I heard him utter these words: 'Say to him: What would you have with a body bent to one side, a mouth driveling, and a complexion faded?' On this I told the girl that I should insist on seeing him, and he said, on being informed of my determination: 'This is some man passing through Basra, who, hearing that I was unwell, has said to himself: I should like to get a sight of him before he dies, so that I may say: I have seen al—Jahiz'. He then consented to receive me, and, on entering his room, I saluted him. He answered me most politely, and said: 'Who are you? may God exalt you.' I informed him of my name and family, on which he replied: 'May God have mercy on your ancestors and forefathers, the generous and beneficent! their days were as gardens in the path of time, and many were those whom they restored to prosperity! May the divine favour and blessing be upon them!' In return, I offered up an invocation for his own welfare, and said: 'I request of you to recite me some of your poetry, on which he pronounced the following verses:

'Though now some have outstripped me, how often in former times did I advance leisurely, and yet outstrip all rivals. But here is time with its vicissitudes, ruining what was firm and renewing what was ruined.'

"I then rose up to retire, but, as I was entering the court of the house, he called out: 'Tell me, sir! did you ever see a palsied man derive advantage from plums?'—'No,' said I.—'I ask you the question,' replied he, 'because plums such as you have would do me good; send some to me!' I told him that I would, and left the house, wondering in myself how he could have discovered a secret which I had concealed so carefully. I then sent him one hundred of those plums,"—Abu 'l-Hasan al-Barmaki said: "Al-Jahiz recited to me these lines:

'We had once friends, but they are now departed and passed away; they were not suffered to live for ever! They all passed about the cup of death; the friend is dead, and so is the foe.'"

Al-Jahiz died at Basra in the month of Muharram, A.H. 255 (Dec.-Jan. A.D. 868-9); aged upwards of ninety years.—Laithi means descended from Laith Ibn Bakr Ibn Abd Manat Ibn Kinana Ibn Khuzaima.


1 See vol. I. p. 186, note (4).

2…[The] later MSS, and Hajji Khalifa give the same reading as the printed text.

3 Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Musab was governor of the province of Fars. In A.H. 236 (A.D. 850-1) his nephew Muhammad Ibn Ishak Ibn Ibrahim, made a complaint against him to al-Mutawakkil, and obtained permission to treat him as he pleased. Ibn Ishak immediately proceeded to Fars and removed his uncle from the government, which he conferred on his cousin al-Husain Ibn Ismail Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Musab. He then placed his uncle in confinement and let him die of thirst—(Ibn al-Athir.)

4 The Katul, a canal on the east side of the Tigris, branched off from it two parasangs lower down than Sarr man raa. It passed through Jarjarai and then returned into the Tigris.

5 Al-Jahiz means to say that he saw her in profile only.

6 The autograph alone gives the right reading….

7 This verse belongs to the Moallaka of Amr al-Kais.

8 See vol. I. page 464, note (6).

9 It appears from this that the dinar of that time weighed a mithkal.

Mathias Zahniser (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4227

SOURCE: "Insights from the Uthmaniyya of Al-Jahiz into the Religious Policy of Al-Ma'mun," in The Muslim World, Vol. LXIX, No. 1, January, 1979, pp. 8-17.

[In the following essay, Zahniser explores the relationship between al-Jahiz 's writings and the views of the caliph al-Ma'mun. Zahniser argues that Uthmaniyya both reflected and influenced al-Ma 'mun 's policy.]

One of the most interesting periods in Islamic history is that of the caliphate of Abdallah b. Harun al-Rashid, called al-Mamun (198/813-218/833). Not only was it charac terized by great cultural advancement, greater sympathy for the aspirations of non-Arab Muslims, and a championing of the superiority of the fourth caliph, Ali b. Abi Talib; but also of Mutazilite orthodoxy and the persecution of a traditionalism represented by Ahmad b. Hanbal (164/780-241/851).

Crucial to an understanding of al-Mamun and his reign is the question of his relation to the supporters and champions of the claims of the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law Ali (d. 40/661). While our oldest sources, al-Tabari (244/839-310/923) and al-Yaqubi (d. 284/897), give no evidence as to what led al-Mamun to champion the cause of the Shia,1 the traditional Sunni sources present the view that this was due to the strong influence of his entourage in general and his vizier, al-Fadl b. Sahl, in particular,2 and the most reliable Shiite sources attribute to the caliph himself the formulation and execution of his pro-Alid measures. As a matter of fact, these same sources consider his naming of the eighth imam, Ali al-Rida (148/765-203/818), as his heir apparent (wali al-ahd) a betrayal of true Shiite principles and seek to exonerate their imam from responsibility for this compromise by claiming that he was forced to accept his role as the successor to al-Mamun by the caliph himself.3 Gabrieli holds that al-Mamun's motivation for taking up the cause of the Alids was a combination of personal veneration for the descendents of Ali and a desire to repair the wrongs which the Alids suffered at the hands of the Abbasids and others.4 Sourdel rejects Gabrieli's explanation, believing the caliph was motivated by the Mutazilite conviction regarding the nature of the imamate itself, and a desire to unite the numerous dissident elements existing at the time under his authority.5

Sourdel suggests that the writings of Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz (160/776-255/869), in some sense at least an apologist for al-Mamun, provide an indication of the point of view which al-Mamun championed.6 The purpose of this essay is to show that al-Jahiz' most extensive treatise on the imamate, his Uthmaniyya, was written for the information of al-Mamun himself, and to suggest what insight this may give us into the nature of the caliph's religious policy.

In his classic work, Al-Bayan wa 'l-Tabyin, this same author records that he wrote a number of books on the subject of the imamate for the caliph al-Mamun. These books pleased the caliph very much and gave al-Jahiz the start he needed for his brilliant career. The passage runs as follows:

After having ordered al-Yazidi to look through the books which I had written on the imamate and to convey to him his opinion about their contents, and after having read them himself…[al-Mamun] sent for me [and] said to me, "Someone whose intelligence we respect and whose information can be trusted informed me that these books were well composed and of great usefulness. I said to him, 'Maybe the description will prove superior to firsthand contact.' But when I looked them over I found that on inspection they were better than the description of them. So I examined the books more closely and found that my pleasure with them had been as greatly increased by a second reading as it had been by the first…This is a book which does not require the presence of its author or other supporters to defend its contentions. It combines depth of meaning with fullness of treatment. It has excellent diction and smoothness of style. It is a book for the marketplace or the palace, for the common man or the specialist."7

Since these books could not have been presented to the caliph any later than 202/817-818, the year of death of al-Yazidi,8 they were brought to the attention of al-Mamun in a crucial period for his religious policy. In Ramadan of 201 (March 817) he designated Ali al-Rida heir apparent. Sometime prior to the month of Shaban in the year 202 (February 818) al-Mamun left Merv for Baghdad, and on the second of that month al-Fadl b. Sahl was killed. Early in the following year (203/818) Ali al-Rida died. When al-Mamun finally entered Baghdad on the fifteenth of Safar, 204 (August 11, 819) he had changed the colors under which he rallied from the green standard of the family of Ali to the Abbasid black. Therefore, if we knew what books were among those which al-Jahiz presented to the caliph we might know a little more about what went into the formulation of that policy.

Since the Uthmaniyya is clearly the most complete of all the extant works on the imamate from the pen of al-Jahiz (280 pages in the Cairo edition of 1955), it would seem reasonable to consider it to have been among these books. Taha al-Hajiri, the only scholar who has dealt with the question of the occasion for which the Uthmaniyya9 was written, however, concludes that it could not have been written during the caliphate of al-Mamun. "Al-Jahiz," writes al-Hajiri "(although he claims to be speaking for the Uthmaniyya) proceeds to nullify the virtues of Ali one by one, practically eliminating them all."10 Al-Hajiri feels that al-Jahiz was too judicious to have offered such a book to al-Mamun, who was of the Alid persuasion and surrounded by a strong entourage convinced of the superiority of Ali." A more reasonable date according to al-Hajiri, would be sometime during the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil (233/847-247/861) when the dynastic policy was directed against the Aiids.

It cannot be denied that the Uthmaniyya presents a systematic argument against the claim that Ali was the most virtuous of the Companions of the Prophet. Indeed, in al-Jahiz' time the designation "Uthmani" was equated with objection to the superior virtue of Ali12 and, thus, to his claims to have been the immediate successor of the Prophet. The book deals with two main subjects: the contention that Abu Bakr "was the most virtuous individual in the Islamic community and the most worthy of the imamate" (p. 3) and the view of the Uthmaniyya on the nature of the caliphate and how the imam ought to be selected. Since the Uthmaniyya maintain that God made clear that the most virtuous in the Community should be its leader (p. 277), the first of these subjects is clearly the most crucial. The argument in the Uthmaniyya, therefore, demands for its success the subordination of the virtue of Ali to that of Abu Bakr. Al-Jahiz sets about this task by attacking first the superiority of Ali's conversion to Islam, concluding that he was not the first male convert (pp. 3-4), and that, even if he were, the conversions of even Zayd and Khabbab, to say nothing of Abu Bakr, would have been superior to his (pp. 22-27). Since, in the critical period when the nascent Muslim community was experiencing persecution in Mecca, he, as a youth, was safe both because of the protection granted by his family and because no adult warrior could derive any honor from challenging him, al-Jahiz assures his reader that Ali could then have had no share at all in the heroic virtue of those who suffered in this period (pp. 27-39). Even the virtue said to be Ali's as a result of his heroism as a warrior in battle is denied by our author who suggests that since many motives may bring a warrior into the thick of battle, only one of which is true courage, Ali could very well have been driven by some baser motive (pp. 45-50). On the other hand, al-Jahiz contends, Abu Bakr served as a trusted military adviser to the Prophet and was in greater danger than Ali, since his capture or death would have been a greater boon to the enemy than that of Ali (pp. 50-66). Indeed, the latter's heroism is considerably lessened by the fact that the Prophet had promised him that he would live to fight Talha and al-Zubayr (p. 49). After a lengthy discussion of the Alid evidence for dissent at the time of the pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr, al-Jahiz argues that if such dissent were proof against Abu Bakr it could also be used against Ali, since his caliphate upset the entire world (pp. 195-196)! The Conquests did not end until Ali was in power; the great schisms did not commence until he was in control (pp. 185-186)!

On the other hand, there is convincing evidence, both external and internal, that the Uthmaniyya could not possibly have been written during the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil, and probably was written during that of al-Mamun.

The fact that the book was answered by al-Iskafi13 who died in 240/854 provides a date after which the Uthmaniyya could not have been written. Although this date would still allow seven years in the reign of al-Mutawakkil during which the book could have been written, the probability that it was written during these years is considerably lessened by the testimony of Ibn Abi'l-Hadid that the refutation of al-Iskafi was written when he was a young man.14 If we knew al-Iskafi's age at death we could be more certain of this point. Other evidence, however, contributes to the conclusion offered here. Al-Jahiz mentions in the introduction to his Hayawan a Qawl al-Uthmaniyya which is certainly this Uthmaniyya.15 Furthermore, al-Jahiz states in the Uthmaniyya that he will inform his reader "about the point of view of the Abbasiyya…after finishing with that of the Uthmaniyya" (p. 187). This must be the treatise Kitab al-Abbasiyya mentioned also in the introduction to the Hayawan.16 Since the Hayawan was addressed to Muhammad al-Zayyat who died in Rabi 1, 233/November, 847, to have been written in the reign of al-Mutawakkil Mutawakkil both the Abbasiyya and the Uthmaniyya would have to have been completed within the four-month period between the accession of al-Mutawakkil (Dhu 'l-Hijja, 232/August, 847) and the death of al-Zayyat. Futhermore, al-Jahiz was evidently in very poor health during this period.17

There is a decidedly Mutazilite stamp upon this treatise. It is as through the author expects his reader to accept the categories of reason and dogma championed by this movement. Al-Jahiz accepts unequivocally the position that prophets made errors (pp. 91-92), evidences a strong dislike for taqlid (pp. 7, 10, 17), appeals repeatedly to the mean between extremes in deciding questions of historical accuracy (e.g., pp. 5, 7), and discusses what is possible that God should do and what is not possible, viewed of course from the Mutazilite conviction that God's acts be consistent with his unity and justice (pp. 8, 255). His critical theory concerning the use and value of prophetic tradition (hadith) and other historical data for proof is clearly Mutazilite (e.g., p. 116).18 Under these circumstances al-Mutawakkil could not conceivably have been the intended reader of the treatise, since his opposition to the Mutazilites was nearly as strong as his opposition to the supporters of Ali.

There are also indications in the Uthmaniyya that it is part of a series of books on the subject. The reference to the Abbasiyya has already been mentioned. In this passage the reader is addressed in the singular. In another passage al-Jahiz apparently refers to his Kitab Wujub al-Imama,19 or at least a book of similar contents. Notice the context of this reference.

If it were not for the fact that those whom the Prophet left as leaders in Medina during the various raids were included in… all the sira literature, I would have included them in my book which I wrote for you (sg.)…in which I refuted those who belittle the value of the imamate.…Except for this book, my books do not reflect my own point of view; rather, I let the book explain itself (p. 187).

At the end of al-Jahiz' closing statement about the book, a passage in which his reader is addressed in the singular, he says, "Now we are beginning the Kitab al-Masail.…" (p. 280).20

In the light of this evidence it seems safe to conclude that the Uthmaniyya was written during the caliphate of al-Mamun. The burden of proof would now seem to fall upon those who wish to show that it was not among those books on the imamate which al-Yazidi brought to the attention of al-Mamun. Why should a treatise on the point of view of the Uthmaniyya have been left out of a series of books describing the views of various sects on the imamate? In what other period would it have been safer to give views critical of Ali? Although al-Mamun's political and official championing of the Alid cause ended with his entry into Baghdad, his personal proclivity for that view continued, as witnessed to by his decree in Rabi 1 212/June, 827 that the Quran was created and that Ali b. Abi Talib was the most virtuous Muslim after the Prophet himself.21

What then may we offer as the significance of the conclusion that the Uthmaniyya was among the books read by al-Mamun during the period when he was formulating his religious policy?

The most obvious is that sound criticism of Ali and his supporters was not out of the question at the court of al-Mamun.

It is true that al-Jahiz softens the blow of his criticism of Ali by suggesting that he is reflecting the views of the Uthmaniyya and not his own personal views. As we have seen, he says only one of the books which he has written on this sensitive subject represents his own point of view. It is clear, however, from a reading of the Uthmaniyya that this is more of an ideal than a reality.22 That his readers could have concluded this is clear from the refutation of al-Iskafi, and al-Jahiz' reaction to that refutation, mentioned above. Al-Masudi in his discussion of the Uthmaniyya implies that al-Jahiz expresses his own views in it.23Jahiz Al-Jahiz, himself, in the introduction to his Hayawan shows that his effort was not completely successful: "Why do you criticize the views expressed in the Uthmaniyya as though they were my own but do not criticize me for my views when I am representing the position of the Shia?"24

That al-Jahiz does recognize the impact that he is making is clear from his attempts to cushion the blows he is inflicting upon Ali and his supporters. "There is," he says, "a lot that could be said here against Ali; but to engage in that would be to do something we disdain" (pp. 185-186). In another context he writes: "We don't mean by all this to remove credit from Ali for what he underwent [in battle], just as we would not diminish what others like him have done…" (p. 48).25 Nevertheless, what al-Jahiz seeks to show in this book is that, while Ali was an excellent and virtuous Companion of the Prophet, Abu Bakr was more virtuous and thus deserved to be the first imam. To do this he had to refute many claims of the Shia, both "Rafidite and Zaydite" (p. 279). Al-Mamun was not convinced. Throughout his caliphate he held to the position of the superiority of Ali. Nevertheless, to argue the claims of Abu Bakr was evidently not sufficiently risky to prevent al-Jahiz at the start of his career from presenting the Uthmaniyya to the caliph.

If we assume that al-Jahiz wrote the Uthmaniyya with al-Mamun in mind as a reader, we can also learn something from the book about the caliph himself.

We have already shown that its reader is sympathetic to the basic views of the Mutazilite rationalists, a fact which is in agreement with what we know of al-Mamun's sympathies. There is further the assumption in the work that the imam ought to be an accomplished scholar and the person of highest merit in the Muslim community. Al-Jahiz answers the question, "How can the superior individual who is worthy of being made caliph be recognized?" He writes:

A person cannot be the most knowledgeable individual about religious and secular matters without being heard of, since he only becomes knowledgeable by frequenting the company of the ulama and sitting long hours with the fuqaha studying at length the books [sic] of God and the books of men, and by scholarly debate (p. 266).

Further, both the nature of man, which impels him to reveal the things discovered by him which have escaped others, and religion, which requires him to benefit the community of believers with the knowledge and skill which he has gained, assure that his superior stature will be recognized by the community of the faithful (p. 267). This is in agreement with what we know about the personal qualities of al-Mamun26 and may suggest that his choice of Ali al-Rida may have resulted at least in part from his respect for his spiritual and scholarly attainments. Indeed, al-Mamun was the first Abbasid to take the title of imam, a designation which implies more of the qualities attributed to the office by al-Jahiz than had been associated by the Abbasids with the designation khalifa27

The Uthmaniyya warns its reader against allowing his natural biases to stand in the way of evaluating objectively the arguments of the treatise. Al-Jahiz writes:

Because sects like individuals have different "personalities" (suwar), and just as some personalities are more compatible with your (sg.) basic nature than others… so a given sect may have a "personality" more in harmony with the emotions, desires, and spirits of men than another. Therefore beware of the appeal to your desires and compatibility of spirit! It is more difficult to detect than the invisible.…This is true even if the meaning and point of view are presented plainly and openly; how much more true when the proponent embellishes and decorates his argument with sweet words and well-turned, elegant phrases (p. 279).

Evidently al-Mamun was a man who was supportive of learning with a recognized bias against the position which al-Jahiz was taking. Nevertheless, not only was the climate in his entourage such that criticism of the superiority of Ali was permitted, but, within the context of an appreciation for his own secular and religious superiority, the caliph could even be reminded of his bias and still commend his critic for the excellence of his work. Al-Jahiz' younger contemporary, al-Iskafi, a Mutazilite who, as has been mentioned above, wrote a refutation of the Uthmaniyya in which he argued for Ali's right to have become the immediate successor of the Prophet, argued from the same premise as al-Jahiz, viz., that the caliph must be the most virtuous member of the Muslim community; he simply favored Ali over Abu Bakr. He does not, however, identify himself with the Shiites of the Imamite persuasion.28 Al-Iskafi, then, probably represents the position which al-Mamun, himself, adopted. However, al-Jahiz was never penalized nor placed in disfavor for having taken a contradictory position.29

This evidence contributes to the conclusion that the crucial concern of al-Ma'mun's religious policy was not to champion Shiism over against Sunnism (if, indeed, it is even proper to use such terms to designate movements current in the time of al-Mamun), or non-Arabs over against Arabs, but, rather, to champion a point of view which might best be identified politically as absolutist and theologically as Mutazilite. This was the view of the elite court bureaucrats or udaba, of which the author of the Uthmaniyya was a prime example. The opposition which al-Mamun sought to combat—led by the ulama dedicated to the Sharia and supported by the general populace of Baghdad—can be broadly designated traditionalist.30 In this light it makes sense that al-Jahiz, although disagreeing with the caliph on the matter of who of the two, Abu Bakr and Ali, was the most deserving of the imamate, was considered an ally in this struggle rather than an opponent.

The caliph hoped that by selecting Ali al-Rida as his successor he was following a policy like the one advocated by both al-Jahiz and al-Iskafi, namely, that the imam should be a man of scholarly achievement and personal piety.31 In addition, he hoped that this move would serve to bring to his aid those who were sympathetic to the cause of Ali. He was to discover, however, that this plan did not work. Indeed, the Imamite Shiites either disowned Ali al-Rida for cooperating with al-Mamun's efforts, or claimed that he was forced to comply with them. As mentioned earlier, al-Mamun, after the deaths of his vizier al-Fadl b. Sahl and Ali himself, and upon entering Baghdad, abandoned green as a color to rally behind for the black of the Abbasids. However, political realities forced him to make this policy, since he was to make known his own preference for Ali on more than one future occasion.


1 Francesco Gabrieli, Al-Mamun e gli Alidi, Morgenländische Texte und Forschungen …, II Bd., Hft. 1 (Leipzig, 1929), p. 32.

2 Sidqi Hamdi, "The pro-Alid Policy of Mamun," Bull. Coll. Arts Sci. Baghdad, I (1956), 96.

3Ibid. 101.

4 Gabrieli, Al-Mamun, p. 34.

5 Dominique Sourdel, "La politique religieuse du calife Abbaside al-Mamun," REI, XXX (1962), 47.

6 Dominique Sourdel, "The Abbasid Caliphate," in The Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. I: The Central Islamic Lands, ed. P. M. Holt, Ann K. S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 121.

7 Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz, Al-Bayan wa 'l-Tabyin, ed. Hasan al-Sandubi, 3 vols., Maktabat al-Jahiz, 2 (Cairo, 1926-27), III, 374.

8 Taha al-Hajiri, Al-Jahiz: hayatu-hu wa atharu-hu, Maktabat al-Dirasat al-Adabiyya, 28 (Cairo, 1969), p. 181.

9 Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz, Al-Uthmaniyya, ed. Abd al-Salam Muhammad Harun, Maktabat al-Jahiz, 3 (Cairo, 1955). The numbers in parentheses in this essay refer to the pages in this edition of the text.

10 Al-Hajiri, Al-Jahiz, p. 187.


12 Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz, Al-Hayawan, ed. Abd al-Salam Muhammad Harun, 7 vols., Maktabat al-Jahiz, 1 (Cairo, 1938-45), VII, 7.

13 Muhammad b. Abd Allah al-Iskafi, Al-Radd ala Kitab al-Uthmaniyya. Only portions of this book are extant. These portions have been preserved in the Shark Nahj al-Balagha of Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid (ed. Hasan Tamim, 5 vols. [Beirut, 1963], IV, 219-69). Harun published these portions after the text of the Uthmaniyya in his edition referred to above (pp. 282-343).

14 "Al-Jahiz entered the quarter of the booksellers of Baghdad and said, 'Who is this common youth who I have heard has dared to refute my book?'" Ibn Abi ΊHadid, Shark Nahj, V, 96.

15 Al-Jahiz, Hayawan, I, 11. See also Charles Pellat, "Gahiziana III, essai d'inventaire de l'œuvre Gahiziene," Arabica, 111(1965), 178.

16 Al-Jahiz, Hayawan, I, 12; Pellat, "Gahiziana III," Arabica, III (1965), 156.

17 Charles Pellat, The Life and Works of Jahiz, trans. D. M. Hawke, The Islamic World Series (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 7.

18 See Mathias Zahniser, "The Uthmaniyyah of al-Jahiz: An Analysis of Content Method and Sources" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1973), Ch. IV.

19 Pellat, "Gahiziana III," Arabica, III (1965), 161.

20 Zahniser, "The Uthmaniyyah of al-Jahiz," pp. 12ff.

21 Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa 'l-Muluk, ed. Muhammad Abu Fadl Ibrahim, Dhakhair al-Arab, 30, 10 vols. (Cairo, 1937-1962), VII, 619 (= 111, 1099). See also Ahmad b. Abi Tahir Tayfur, Baghdad fi Tarikh al-Khilafa al-Abbasiyya (Baghdad, 1968), p. 9.

22 For details on this from the Uthmaniyya, see Zahniser, "The Uthmaniyyah of al-Jahiz," pp. 18 ff.

23 Ali b. al-Husayn al-Masudi, Les Prairies D'Or, trans, and ed. C. Barbier de Meynard, 10 vols. (Paris, 1871), VI, 56f.

24 Al-Jahiz, Hayawan, I, 11.

25 See also Uthmaniyya, pp. 87, 89, 93, and 153 for similar defenses of Ali.

26 Al-Rifai points out al-Mamun's personal proficiency in the Islamic disciplines (Ahmad Farid al-Rifai, Asr al-Mamun, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Cairo, 1927), I, 215. This is clearly shown by an anecdote in Ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur, Baghdad, pp. 30 and 31.

27 Sourdel, "La Politique," REI, XXX (1962), 37.

28 See also Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid, Shark Nahj, I, 782, where al-Iskafi is mentioned as the most sincerely convinced and the most effective exponent of the Baghdadi school of Mutazilites who opted for the superiority of Ali.

29 Sourdel ("La Politique," REI, XXX (1962), 38, 39) shows that al-Mamun took exactly the position which al-Jahiz refutes in his Uthmaniyya.

30 Recent analyses of the religious policy of al-Mamun have in various ways pointed to the conclusion offered in this essay. George Makdisi ("Remarks on Traditionalism in Islamic Religious History," in The Conflict of Traditionalism and Modernism in the Muslim Middle East, ed. Carl Leiden [Austin, Texas: Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, 1965], p. 81) identifies the two broad factions as Rationalist and Traditionalist. Sourdel ("La Politique," REI, XXX [1962] sees al-Mamun's view as combining those of the philosophers, Mutazilites and Shiites of the Zaydi variety. W. Montgomery Watt came to conclusions very similar to those of Sourdel, exploring even further the similarities between the policies of al-Mamun and the features of the Zaydi views of his time. Watt designates the two factions identified by Makdisi as autocratic and constitutionalist (The Formative Period of Islamic Thought [Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1973], pp. 175-179). Marshall G. S. Hodgson (The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilisation, 3 vols. [Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1974], I, 473-81) maintains that, while al-Mamun did not limit his own policy to any one of the several solutions to the problem of enduring Islamic government, its central features were most like the Mutazilite convictions of the adibs (udaba) or court bureaucrats like al-Jahiz. The Traditionalist opposition he calls Shari ulama, some of which were of the jamai-sunni variety and some of which were Twelver Shiis.

31 Sourdel, "The Abbasid Caliphate," Cambridge Hist, of Islam, Vol. I, p. 121.

A. H. Mathias Zahniser (essay date 1980)

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SOURCE: "Source Criticism in the Uthmaniyya of Al-Jahiz," in The Muslim World, Vol. LXX, No. 2, April, 1980, pp. 134-41.

[In the essay below, Zahniser considers the methods that al-Jahiz used to evaluate the validity of his sources.]

In a previous article published in this journal on the Uthmaniyya of Abu Uthman Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz (d. 869), the celebrated Basrian Mutazilite litterateur, reference was made to the fact that the author wrote a series of treatises for the caliph al-Mamun (reigned 813-833) on the imamate, and that his Uthmaniyya was probably one of them.1 It presents the views of a sect called the Uthmaniyya, views al-Jahiz himself seems to have shared. In it he argues for the superior virtue of Abu Bakr and, thus, his exclusive right to the leadership of the Muslim community.

An attempt is made here to elucidate al-Jahiz' assessment of the reliability of information from traditional sources for purposes of establishing the relative merits of the individuals surrounding the Prophet Muhammad. The importance of such an assessment is indicated in the third paragraph of the treatise:

If we examine carefully their historical data (akhbar) and consider the number of their Traditions (ahadith) as well as the authorities who transmitted them, if we look at the quality of their chains of authority (asanicf), [we find] the tradition (khabar) supporting the priority of Abu Bakr's conversion more general in its application with a greater number of transmitters and a sounder chain of transmission, and, therefore, both more widely accepted and more obvious in meaning. In addition to this, there is the trustworthy poetry and the widely diffused (mustafid) historical material relating to events both during the life of the Messenger of God…and after his death. There is no difference in value as evidence between poetry and historical narrative (akhbar) as long as the circumstances of its origin and transmission preclude a conspiring together to fabricate it.2

Al-Jahiz maintains that "one who wants the tradition he cites to be useful and convincing as proof must go deeply into the disciplines of tradition (khabar) collection and criticism. If he submits himself to these disciplines and has a sound mind, he will save himself and others a lot of trouble."3 According to another passage: "When we claim that a Tradition (hadith) is weak and corrupt and you suspect our judgment and fear lest we be prejudiced or in error, consult the specialists in Tradition because they have the answers to that about which we contend and knowledge of that in this area which confuses us."4

Not all traditions are reliable, the existence of contra dictory traditions implying the existence of fraudulent traditions. Therefore, for any traditional material to be reliable for argument "the circumstances of its origin and transmission [must] preclude a conspiring together to fabricate it."5 Such traditions al-Jahiz terms "undeniable" (la yukadhdhab mithluhu),6 or "compelling" (khabar mudtarr ilayhi),7 identifying the criteria which such a tradition must satisfy: 1) the tradition must be widely attested so that the very number of its transmitters testifies against its having been fabricated; 2) those who transmit the tradition must do so for different reasons; and 3) those who transmit should transmit from authorities in their own tradition. That is, the earliest authorities as well as later transmitters must have held diverse points of view.8 For example, in the following passage al-Jahiz defends the authenticity of the epithet al-Siddiq (the Trustworthy) by showing that it is not related by any particular group in order to enhance their own position by exalting his.

But how can the name al-Siddiq be a forgery when most of those who used it [did not have some axe to grind. They] were not members of some sect enhancing their esteem by him, or devotees of some intellectual discipline trying to make known his excellence [in that discipline], nor were they people related to Abu Bakr seeking to establish his preeminence and, hence, their own.9

More important to al-Jahiz than the reliability of a par ticular transmitter is the probability of a given tradition's having been forged.

Al-Jahiz identifies three kinds of tradition: 1) mustafid ("widespread"), the term used for traditions which satisfy the criteria described immediately above;10shadhdh ("anomalous, irregular, exceptionelle"), or unattested, unique items of historical information which do not qualify for use as evidence; and 3) all other traditions. Traditions in the last group, while not shadhdh, are not beyond reproach as evidence in deciding matters of importance such as that under discussion in the Uthmaniyya. In fact, in discussing the Tradition called Hadith Ghadir Khumm, "O God, be an enemy to Ali's enemy and a friend to his friend," al-Jahiz argues that no traditional material may be admitted as proof over which there is disagreement as to content, transmission or interpretation.11

Furthermore, traditions in which the Prophet indicates the superiority of a particular Companion are of weak authority even when they are judged to be sound by the above criteria because of the possibility that understood exceptions or special applications may pertain to them. For example, when the Prophet said, "There is no one in the world who speaks more honestly than Abu Dharr,"12 he did not need to add "except me" since this exception was understood by all who heard him. The Shia assume that Ali's exclusion is understood and the Uthmaniyya assume that Abu Bakr is excepted.13 While the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad concerning the excellence of his Companions should not be overlooked, a final judgment on the superiority of any one of them over the others must not be made without examining the historical records of their great deeds.

Obviously al-Jahiz' tradition-criticism would eliminate large numbers of prophetic Tradition accepted by critics such as Muslim and al-Bukhari, who gave primary consideration to the reliability of the individual transmitters.

Moving from a discussion of historical Traditions in general and prophetic Traditions in particular to al-Jahiz' use of both in the development of his argument, we notice that he relies heavily upon material from historical sources.

Abd al-Salam Harun's index of the Traditions cited in the Uthmaniyya contains a total of ninety-six. Since a number of his entries consist of different wordings of another Tradition, it is possible to reduce the number to eighty, of which seven are Traditions to which the Rawafid14 are represented as appealing in support of their position in the dispute,15 thirteen are given to illustrate the principle of understood exceptions mentioned above, and fifty-nine are cited in support of the claims of the Uthmaniyya. Some of these fifty-nine al-Jahiz admits are substandard and not sufficiently reliable for use as proof. He refers to two as completely reliable, to another as mustafid, and to another as undeniable. That is, only four of his fifty-nine Traditions are declared by him to meet his criteria for reliable traditions. Forty five of the remaining fifty-five Traditions are ones to which Abu Uthman appeals as evidence without comment as to if, how, or why they are sufficient for proof; most of these are related in some way to specific incidents in the life of the Prophet or connected with his death and its aftermath.16

We set out to trace these eighty Traditions in the prin cipal collections of Islamic Traditions, consulting first the works indexed in the concordance compiled by Wensinck and others,17 but also examining other works, including four historical sources.18 These efforts revealed that the Traditions cited by al-Jahiz are not only inconsistent in wording within the Uthmaniyya itself, but differ significantly from the counterparts that we found in works devoted specifically and primarily to collecting Traditions. This made it difficult to be sure that all the corresponding Traditions had been located in the concordance.19 There is some evidence in other sources for sixty-seven of the eighty Traditions, twentysix of which appeared in only one source.

Of the fifty-nine traditions which Abu Uthman uses in making his case, only thirty appear in the exact words of their counterparts in one or more of the sources examined. Of these thirty, fourteen are found only in the historical sources. Nineteen of the thirty are among the Traditions connected with events in the Prophet's biography. This is congruent with al-Jahiz' claim that an appeal to the record of the great deeds of Abu Bakr and Ali is less subject to uncertainty as proof than an appeal to the words of the Prophet.20

As a result of all this, one would expect al-Jahiz to rely upon historical sources in developing his argument. In fact he does precisely this, citing three of the most prominent figures in the field of sira and maghazi literature by name: Ibn Ishaq,21 al-Waqidi22 and al-Zuhri.23 An examination of the material in the Uthmaniyya that relates to historical events during the life of the Prophet and surrounding his death reveals a striking similarity to the corresponding materials in the Sira of Ibn Ishaq24 and al-Waqidi's Kitab al-Maghazi25

The historical material is naturally divided into two periods: up to and including the Hijra and from the Hijra to the death of Muhammad. For the former period we have no treatment in the Maghazi; for the latter we have both the Maghazi and the Sira providing material for comparison. The last sickness of the Prophet, his death and its aftermath are covered in the Sirah and not in the Maghazi.

The material in the Uthmaniyya that falls within the periods covered by Ibn Ishaq alone includes two passages where the two sources exhibit striking word-for-word agreement.26 In four other passages there is less correspondence between the two sources, but in these passages differences can be attributed to paraphrase, abbreviation or purposeful omission on the part of al-Jahiz.27 The material for this period also includes a number of passages which are either without parallel in Ibn Ishaq or which are different enough to suggest dependence upon a separate historical tradition.28

When we turn to incidents treated by Ibn Ishaq, al-Waqidi and al-Jahiz we find that several passages are omitted by Ibn Ishaq where the Uthmaniyya and the Maghazi agree virtually word-for-word.29 For incidents in the life of Muhammad which are covered by both the Sira and the Maghazi, al-Jahiz' wording is closer to that of al-Waqidi than to that of Ibn Ishaq.30 In two passages, both about the Battle of Badr, al-Jahiz follows Ibn Ishaq more closely.31 We found only one case where an entire incident was missing from the Sira and the Maghazi but included in the Uthmaniyya—the incident at Ghadir Khumm, a prime passage for the Shia to cite in support of their case.32

Thus, the Uthmaniyya contains far more passages from the Meccan period for which no parallel exists in the Sira or the Maghazi. In addition, al-Jahiz tends to favor al-Waqidi's material for the period covered by the Maghazi. And since al-Waqidi's material is known to be distinctive,33 we may be justified in suggesting that material in the early period not found in the Sira has high probability of having appeared in al-Waqidi's treatment.34

At any rate, in terms of al-Jahiz' use of sources from history and Tradition to support his argument in the Uthmaniyya, it is clear that he prefers the historical to the words of the Prophet and that he draws on Ibn Ishaq and al-Waqidi for a large portion of this material.

A third source of information to which al-Jahiz and his opponents, the Rawafid, appeal in developing their arguments is the Quran. Both he and they are convinced that certain passages in the Quran refer to their respective champions, Abu Bakr and Ali. Since neither is mentioned by name in the Holy Book, references claimed for either must be understood by interpretation. In refuting the contention of the Rawafid that S. 5:55/60, "Your friend is only God and his Messenger, and the believers who perform the prayer and pay the alms while bowing down,"35 refers to Ali, al-Jahiz indicates his criteria for determining that a particular verse refers to Ali or any other person.

There are two possibilities regarding this verse: either the plain outward meaning of the words agrees with the way [the Rawafid] want to interpret the verse; or, it was revealed in connection with some important and widely recognized incident involving Ali similar to that of Abu Bakr in the Cave. If we cannot establish either of these two possibilities as true, then the only other possibility to which we can turn to support their interpretation is that the Prophet said to the people, "This refers to Ali; so admit to him his rightful recognition and recognize his consequent virtue." But if this last alternative were in fact true, the interpreters would not have differed in their exposition of it, and Ibn Abbas would not have given the view he gave.36

That is, if it is not plain from the text itself that Ali is referred to, as would be the case if his name were mentioned in it, if the verse is not connected with some specific incident which is known to have involved Ali, and if there is no Tradition from the Prophet which has wide recognition, satisfying al-Jahiz' criteria for reliability indicated in section I above, then it cannot be established that the verse refers to Ali. Since the first possibility is excluded for any verse of the Quran, and the third requires a consensus that does not exist, the second remains the only way of associating a particular verse with either Abu Bakr or Ali.

The two passages from the Quran which carry the greatest weight for al-Jahiz as proof of Abu Bakr's superiority are passages relating to specific events in the life of the Prophet. One is the story of Abu Bakr's accompanying Muhammad in the Cave at the start of the Hijra,37 and the other is the incident of Abu Bakr's restoring Mistah to favor and support.38 Of the first, al-Jahiz writes: "If Abu Bakr's only noteworthy action were that to which this verse refers, he would be above everyone else in position, virtue and close companionship to the Prophet."39

Here again, when appealing to the Quranic evidence for the superior virtue of Abu Bakr, we find al-Jahiz arguing from the same premise from which he argued when dealing with evidence derived from the Traditions of the Prophet: proof should be limited to reasoning from indisputable evidence which, in the case under discussion, amounts to what is related about well-attested events during the period of the Prophet's life and the events connected with his death.

In fact, it might be argued that al-Jahiz wishes to apply the same criteria to tradition, including hadith, akhbar and tafsir, which were applied to the texts and recensions of the Quran. The Seven Readings (al-qiraat alsab) both possess the consensus of the Companions (ijma al-sahaba) and are mutawatir ("successive," widespread), a designation similar to al-Jahiz' mustafid). The Mushafs of Ibn Masud and Ubayy, for example, are considered shadhdh ("irregular") because they possess only the ijma and not the tawatur. It has been forbidden to use them since 935.40 These criteria are similar to the cardinal points of al-Jahiz' tradition criticism: there must be both consensus among specialists and such widespread attestation that forgery is absolutely precluded. In fact, in another treatise, al-Jahiz laments the fact that the sayings, miracles, and other glorious deeds of the Prophet had not been collected and standardized as had the Quran.41

In summary, then, al-Jahiz' source criticism requires of transmitted data that it be widely recognized in diverse enough circles to preclude the possibility of fabrication. This historical method leads to the affirmation of the value of sira and maghazi sources for use as evidence in serious theological discussion. It calls into question the elaborate system constructed by the Muhaddithun for evaluating and verifying transmitted information, focusing on the two criteria of wide circulation among divergent groups and consensus among specialists rather than on considerations related to the quality of each link in the chain of transmitted data.


1 A. H. Mathias Zahniser, "Source Criticism in the Uthmaniyya of al-Jahiz," M.W., LXIX (1979), 8-17. The series of books is mentioned in Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz, Al-Bayan wa l-Tabyin, ed. Hasan al-Sandubi, 3 vols., Maktabat al-Jahiz, 2 (Cairo, 1926-27), III, 374.

2 Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz, Al-Uthmaniyya, ed. Abd al-Salam Muhammad Harun, Maktabat al-Jahiz, 3 (Cairo, 1955), p. 3.

3 Ibid., p. 135. Al-Jahiz uses khabar (and sometimes athar) to refer to transmitted historical data in prose form and hadith to refer to the words of the Prophet. Not all akhbar (athar) are ahadith, but all ahadith are akhbar. When we wish to make a distinction between these terms here, we shall use a capital "T" to indicate prophetic Tradition (hadith).

4Ibid., p. 151.

5Ibid, p. 3.

6Ibid., p. 244.

7Ibid., p. 271.

8Ibid, p. 116.

9Ibid., p. 124.

10Other approximate synonyms include shai ("diffused") and mujma alayhi ("accepted by consensus"). Ibid., pp. 115-16.

11Ibid., p. 148.

12Ibid, p. 140.

13Ibid., pp. 137-42.

14 The Rawafid are the Shii opponents of the Uthmaniyya in this dispute. See W. Montgomery Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1973), pp. 157-62, 167.

15 Appendix C of our dissertation consists of a list of all the Traditions cited in the Uthmaniyya and the sources in which parallels or counterparts were found. A. H. Mathias Zahniser, "The Uthmaniyah of al-Jahiz: An Analysis of Content, Method and Sources" (unpubl. Ph. D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1973), pp. 205-12.

16 Suffering in pre-Hijra Mecca (4), Isra and miraj (3), Muhammad orders Hassan b. Thabit to defame the Quraysh (1), the Hijra (2), building the first mosque in Medina (1), Badr (2), Ghadir Khumm (1), Uhud (4), Hudaybiyya (4), the Ditch (1), Conquest of Mecca (1), Hunayn (1), Tabuk (1), the pilgrimage of year nine (1), last illness and death of the Prophet (8), and the Ridda (1).

17 Arent Jan Wensinck et al., Concordance et indices de la tradition Musulmane, 7 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1933-1970).

18 The sources examined include Abu Dawud, al-Bukhari, al-Darimi, Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Maja, Ibn Sad (al-Tabaqat), Malik, Muslim, al-Nasai, Ibn Hisham (Sira), al-Tabari, Muhibb al-Din (Al-Riyad al-Nadira), al-Tirmidhi and al-Waqidi.

19 This suspicion was confirmed by the fact that an examination of sources which lent themselves to perusal revealed parallel traditions with similar meaning but significantly different wording.

20Uthmaniyya, pp. 6 and 74.

21Ibid, p. 27.

22Ibid., p. 27.

23Ibid, p. 33.

24Abd al-Malik b. Hisham, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya, ed. Mustafa al-Saqqa, et al, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Cairo, 1955).

25Muhammad b. Umar al-Waqidi, Kitab al-Maghazi, ed. Marsden Jones (London: Oxford University Press, 1966).

26Uthmaniyya, pp. 30 (7 lines) and 32-35 (34 lines), the similarities between the two sources are rendered even more striking by the fact that the minor differences in wording favor al-Jahiz as a composer of literary prose.

27Ibid, pp. 52 (Sira, I, 492), 38 (Sira, I, 263), 69 (Sira, I, 398), 52 (Sira, I, 492), 43, 44 (Sira, I, 483).

28Ibid, pp. 29 (2 lines), 31 (1 line), 37 (3 lines), 38 (4 lines) and 41 (5 lines); 37 (Sira, I, 350), 51 (Sira, I, 484), 79 (Sira, II, 655), 83 (Sira, II, 663) and 85 (Sira, II, 649).

29Ibid., pp. 62 (Maghazi, p. 257), 63 (Maghazi, p. 257), 65 (Maghazi, p. 1121), 67-68 (Maghazi, pp. 107-9 [36 lines]).

30Ibid., pp. 64 (Sira, II, 312; Maghazi, p. 581), 70 (Sira, II, 316; Maghazi, pp. 611-12), 71 (Sira, II, 93-94; Maghazi, pp. 292 and 297) and 72 (Sira, II, 396; Maghazi, p. 792).

31Ibid., pp. 53 (Sira, I, 620 and 626; Maghazi, pp. 297 and 300) and 56 (Sira, I, 614; Maghazi, p. 293).

32Ibid., pp. 134, 144 and 162.

33 See Alfred Guillaume, "Introduction," in The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of [Ibn] Ishaq's Sir at Rasul Allah (London-New York-Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. xxxii; J. Horovitz, "The Earliest Biographies of the Prophet, IV," Islamic Culture, II (1928), 519; and Marsden Jones, "Muqaddimat al-Tahqiq," in Maghazi, pp. 30-34.

34 Several books listed by Muhammad b. Ishaq b. al-Nadim, Fihrist, ed. G. Flugel, I (Leipzig: F. C. W. Vogel, 1871), 104, could have contained such accounts: Kitab al-Tarikh wa 'l-Maghazi wa 'l-Mabath, K. Akhbar Makka, K. al-Sira, K. Wafat al-Nabi, etc.

35 Our translation.

36Uthmaniyya, p. 120.

37 S. 9:40 (Uthmaniyya, pp. 100-12/Sira, I, 482-86).

38 S. 24:18 (Uthmaniyya, pp. 112-13/Sira, II, 303/Maghazi, p. 434).

39Uthmaniyya, p. 111.

40Encyclopaedia of Islam, II, 1023.

41 Amr b. Bahr al-Jahiz, "Kitab Hujaj al-Nubuwwa," in Rasail al-Jahiz, ed. Hasan al-Sandubi (Cairo, 1933), p. 119.

Jacob Lassner (essay date 1980)

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SOURCE: "The Regiments of the Imperial Army: Notes on Al-Jahiz's Epistle to Al-Fath B. Khaqan," in The Shaping of Abbasid Rule, Princeton University Press, 1980, pp. 116-38.

[In the following essay, Lassner discusses al-Jahiz's On the Virtues (Manaqib) of the Turk and what it reveals about early 'Abbasid armies.]

Al-Ma'mun, al Mu'tasim, and an officer whose name is not mentioned, disagreed as to the bravest among the officers [quwwad], troops [jund], and clients [mawali]. Al-Ma'mun maintained that there were none braver than the non-Arabs among the people of Khurasan [ajam ahl Khurasan, that is, the Transoxanians who brought him to power]. Al-Mu'tasim, in turn, favored the Turks [that were the backbone of his support], but the officers held out for the abna '. They were the ones that shackled the Turks [that is, lead them to Islam], just as their forefathers led the ['Abbasid] revolution [dawlah]. They fought the Commander of the Faithful [during the civil war] but now pay him obeisance, and it is through them that his rule is secured.

Based on Ibn Tayfur (Cairo), 80.

The professional army of the 'Abbasid state came to include a variety of ethnic groups from diverse regional backgrounds and social strata. The first century of the dynasty began with an army composed of vestiges of somewhat independent Arab tribal forces and concluded with the formation of a slave corps recruited primarily from among Turkish and Iranian peoples taken prisoner in Transoxiana. Although this military organization must be regarded as among the most salient and important institutions of the government, the precise identification of various fighting constituencies and their specific functions remains problematic. Much of the confusion is no doubt derived from the haphazard presentation of the medieval chroniclers. However, in contrast with the untidy state of Arabic historiography, a work of belles letters by a well-known literary figure provides a concise and cogent statement about the general composition of the early 'Abbasid armies.

The important text, On the Virtues [Manaqib] of the Turk, is an interesting essay (risalah) by the ninth century theologian and litterateur al-Jahiz.1 In what may be succinctly described as an ornate prose style, the qualities of the recently recruited Turkish fighting units are compared to four other groups in the army of the Caliphate: the Arabs, clients (mawali), abna', and Khurasanis. The treatise seems to call for the full acceptance of the Turks and to imply that the reconciliation of all these elements would promote an integrated and more stable society.

From the outset, al-Jahiz performs rather intricate intellectual gymnastics to demonstrate that the distinctions between the Turks and other elements of the Caliph's army are more apparent than real, but it is strongly suggested that diversity and unity are not necessarily antithetical conditions. Geography, which determines cultural values, not only divides societies, but unites them as well, for, the author contends, diverse groups inhabiting the same, or contiguous, regions may come to share common characteristics. It is not possible to tell the difference between Basran and Kufan (Iraq), Meccan and Medinese (the Hijaz), Jabalite and Khurasani (Iran), or Jazarite and Syrian. Moreover, there were Arabs and bedouins who settled in Khurasan, and "one cannot distinguish between the man who settled in Farghana [a district of Transoxiana] and the indigenous inhabitant of that country."2

This last and rather casual insertion concerning the Arab of Khurasan belies a second significant formulation. The conventional wisdom of medieval Arabic geographers not only divided the world into various inhabited climes, but it also described the ethnic composition and social behavior characteristic of each. What is implied in al-Jahiz's remarks is that the inherent cultural traits of a particular region can be transferred to a settler population. The Arab transplanted in Khurasan thereby becomes a native of that region. In this fashion, the abna' can be considered as both Khurasanis and Iraqis, and the Turks, who originate from the far reaches of eastern Khurasan, can be legitimately counted as equal to the indigenous inhabitants of the western districts. A common bond is thus created for the entire army by linking its diverse elements to Khurasan, the breeding ground of 'Abbasid revolution. Given a single geographical setting, the points of agreement in 'Abbasid military society could come to predominate over the points of difference and thus serve as a basis for unity.

The legitimacy of the Turks is also reflected by their client relationship with the ruling house, a status they shared with others among the military. The author, who was himself a client of the Banu Kinanah, observes that, from ancient times, the Arab tribes, while scrupulously guarding their genealogies, acquired clients as a matter of course. As clientage bestowed a recognizable status on both parties of the association, dissimilar groups may be found sharing a common bond. It was general knowledge that the Caliph al-Mu'tasim first acquired large numbers of Turkish slaves in order to fashion them into a regular regiment of the imperial army. By virtue of their personal ties to the ruling family, certain Turks became clients of'Abd Manaf and Hashim and were therefore linked to the Arabs in general and to Qurayshite nobility in particular.3 Nevertheless, if there is any doubt that clientage and geographical contiguity could effect the assimilation of the Turks within 'Abbasid society, the author provides additional evidence to argue his case.

Al-Jahiz also seeks to strengthen the ties between the Turks and the Caliphate (that is, the Arabs) by claiming an ancient blood relationship. It is stated that the Commanders of the Faithful are descended from Isma'il, the son of Ibrahim. The example of Isma'il demonstrates the extent to which integration can be achieved despite one's ethnic origins. The son of Ibrahim was counted among the Arabs, although he was born of foreigners, for God adapted his uvula to the correct pronunciation of Arabic without instruction or practice and then bestowed great eloquence upon him without formal educa tion or training. He thereby removed those features foreign to Isma'il and transplanted him into the Arab nation as an equal to those born of Arab stock. This fact would indicate that the most noble of contemporary Arabs are themselves the descendants of a client, or, if one were to insist on putting it more delicately, they stem from a distant ancestor who was adopted by the Arabs through a creative act of God's will.4 Be that as it may, in addition to Ishaq and Isma'il, the respective sons of Sarah the (north) Syrian (Suryani) and Hajar the Copt, Ibrahim had also six children by Qatura the Arab woman. Four of these offspring were fortuitously situated in Khurasan, where, tradition has it, they became the progenitors of the Turks. Therefore, should an Arab boast of his noble descent, the Turk can always offer as a rejoinder, "But Ibrahim is my [grandjfather and Isma'il is my uncle."5

Both in his preliminary remarks and in the main body of his presentation, which details the relative merits of each group, the author relentlessly pursues the same theme. He constantly reaffirms the mutual ties that exist between all the units and, hence, the legitimacy of the Turks within the 'Abbasid military and within society at large.

There is, to begin with, the critical issue of whether the Manaquib can be considered a historical document that actually sheds light on the structure of the 'Abbasid military. There is, in addition, the related question of the author's motivation in preparing the essay. Although the treatise is often cited, it remains elusive, for, lacking a systematic explication of the text, either by historians or literary scholars, no clear judgment of the historicity of the author's remarks can be made. The present chapter can best be described as a series of preliminary observa tions. The intention is to identify some of the many his torical allusions to groups and events found throughout the treatise and to illustrate how they serve al-Jahiz's overall strategy for legitimizing the presence of the Turks within the imperial army.

Turkish officials and their patrons within government circles would, no doubt, have favored such a line, for the introduction of Turkish contingents in large numbers, beginning with the Caliphate of al-Mu'tasim, created great tensions within the army and society at large. Given the highly charged political atmosphere, one is obliged to ask if the picture of the 'Abbasid regiments drawn by the author and cited by modern historians is an accurate reflection of contemporary military organization, or if it represents the idealized creation of a highly inventive literary mind. Even if al-Jahiz's need for literary license, to say nothing of diplomatic discretion, overwhelmed his sense of historical accuracy, there are at least vestiges of an historical truth that can be distinguished here.

Although he achieved fame as the greatest prose writer of his time, al-Jahiz's literary interest in horses, slaves, misers, and various ladies of pleasure might cause one to suspect the acuity of his observations on so technical a subject as the 'Abbasid army. Nevertheless, the author's credentials for observing the government and military were impeccable. He was an eyewitness to events at the twin capitals, Baghdad and Samarra, and he served for a brief time as court tutor to the young children of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. A.H. 247). Although not really a courtier, his views were nevertheless sought by high ranking officials, and the Manaqib is in fact addressed to al-Fath b. Khaqan, the Turkish wazir of the Caliph. The author therefore had a practical as well as scholarly acquaintance with the development of the imperial army. He may have chosen to bend history in order to suit his purposes as well as those of his patrons, but his text is nevertheless rich in allusions to historical events and personalities.6

Be that as it may, one critical approach might argue that al-Jahiz's facile portrayal of the military melting pot should be met with considerable skepticism. Political expediency is often the mother of rather dubious genealogies. For example, the realities of assorted alliances led the Arabs to claim descent from fictitious ancestors, thereby promoting the division of their society into tribal units of north and south Arabian origin. The author's analysis is similarly not above suspicion. The Turkish wazir of the Caliph, to whom the essay is addressed, was more than a public functionary. He was widely recognized as a great patron of the literary establishment and had artistic pretensions of his own (although with only thirteen surviving lines of verse, it is not quite possible to establish his position as a man of letters). In addition to al-Jahiz, he was familiar with the poet al-Buhturi and the polyhistor al-Tha'alibi.7 It is therefore possible to regard al-Jahiz, who was an occasional figure at court, as still another litterateur attempting to curry favor with an important official of state by giving literary expression to that which was certain to please his patron. The author's complimentary remarks concerning the superior martial skills of the Turks and, more particularly, his effort to integrate them into an 'Abbasid society resentful of their position can, then, be regarded as self-serving political fictions. Seen in this light, the Manaqib may be the creation of a cynical and extremely clever man, and, like other works of this genre, it would therefore be interesting only for reasons of language and not for historical content. This, however, is not the case.

The central message of the text may also reflect the ambiguities of the author's self-identification. Al-Jahiz, who was a mawla, was also part black, and the search for compatibility between disparate elements of society is one that finds ambivalent expression elsewhere in his literary endeavors. With a writer of al-Jahiz's skill and subtle sense of humor, the problem of establishing his real attitude toward race and color is likely to be difficult. One has the impression that the interests of individuals on the lower end of client-patron relationships were best served by their masking their intentions. This was true even for those of marginal background who gave every indication of being fully adapted to the society of their patrons. Moreover, it is not always clear, in these delicate relationships, whether the author is himself emotionally prepared to declare in favor of a specific reality. Al-Jahiz can thus devote a treatise to praise of the blacks, while he elegantly pokes fun at them. Who is to say what the author's true intentions are—perhaps not even the author himself.

Nevertheless, one is struck by his remarks concerning Isma'il. His interest in the rejected son of Ibrahim may be more than a literary device and tempts the reader, whether intentionally or otherwise, to draw obvious comparisons. With or without God's intervention, al-Jahiz, like Isma'il before him, was living proof that the literate client could overcome his ethnic origins by excelling in the language of his acquired patrons. Seen from this perspective, The Virtues of the Turk is not only an artistic creation and means of entry into courtly circles, it is a reflection of the author's search as well for an integrated society and his personal niche within it. Such a view suggests that the composition of the army described by al-Jahiz may have existed largely in his imagination and is, in reality, a metaphor for a much wider polity, namely, the sum of Islamic society.8

There may be a good deal of truth to all of this, but it should not lead us to dismiss the Manaqib out of hand. When writing on historical themes, medieval Arabic litterateurs tended to embellish rather than invent, and the embellishment was often fashioned from raw data of historical interest. The methodology of the modern historian is directed toward distinguishing the residue of historical truth from the literary shaping of the medieval author—a task easily proclaimed, but often difficult to accomplish.

Although the basic thematic lines are clear enough, the text of the Manaqib does not readily lend itself to a thorough explication. The catalogue of virtues that is ascribed to each of the five regiments is the key to the author's design. However, the allusions to historic movements and personalities are presented with particular care, so that, given an imprecise knowledge of early 'Abbasid history, the fine detail of the work is at times complex and elusive. Moreover, the specific setting is difficult to fix. The author begins his lengthy section on the Turks by indicating that it was originally composed as a letter to the Caliph al-Mu'tasim, but, for reasons not specified, it was never delivered.9 On the other hand, the introduction to the work in toto indicates that it was addressed to al-Fath b. Khaqan, the Turkish wazir of al-Mu'tasim's son, al-Mutawakkil.10 Elements of the Manaqib could have been composed, therefore, over a stretch of time encompassing almost three decades. Because this was, by and large, a turbulent period characterized by many changes, there is a serious problem of chronology that must be resolved. A close reading of the text seems to suggest that the basic lines of the Manaqib could have been formulated as early as the reign of al-Mu'tasim and that the text indeed reflects even earlier conditions. For, with the exception of the Turks, who are the subject of the treatise, it is not al-Mutawakkil's or even al-Mu'tasim's Samarra-based army that is being described, but that of the Baghdad Caliphate of an earlier time.

The formative years of the dynasty at Baghdad saw the evolution of a professional fighting force based almost exclusively on the revolutionary armies from Khurasan. Recent "revisionist" histories have stressed the mixed character of the troops that brought the 'Abbasids to power. Contrary to earlier assumptions of a grass roots uprising among the indigenous Iranians, the backbone of the 'Abbasid military was the Arab tribal army stationed in the region. These Arab units identified themselves according to their tribal origins and initially suffered from the damaging effects of xenophobia. There is, however, reason to believe that they may have also felt a sense of regional loyalty and identified themselves not only as Arabs, but also as Khurasanis.11

Another component of this army were the descendants of the old Arab settlers in Khurasan. Transplanted into the villages of the region, they too retained their tribal identification, but intermarriage and assimilation with the indigenous Iranian population had eroded tribal sensibilities. These Arab settlers may have lost their facility with their native language. In any event, they spoke Persian among themselves.12 When the formal structure of the 'Abbasid army was first established during the revolution, the settlers received their service pay according to a military roll (diwan) arranged by village rather than by tribal affiliation.13 They probably retained some martial skills, but could not be relied upon as first-rate soldiers, for, unlike the Arab tribal army, they had long ceased to function as cohesive military units in the employ of the state. Nevertheless, the old settlers produced a disproportionately high number of field commanders and political agents (naqib)—a fact no doubt related to their early and sustained ideological commitment to the 'Abbasid house.14

The last, and surely least significant, element of the early 'Abbasid army were the local mawali. Although their military contributions were no doubt negligible, various clients, nevertheless, did assume extremely important positions within the political apparatus and in the financial administration of the army.15 From almost the outset of the open revolution, all of these groups, the tribal army, the villagers, and the mawali, were subsumed within the single military force known as the ahl Khurasan. As a result, the 'Abbasid army, despite its varied Arab and Iranian components, had a distinctive Khurasani identity.16

This military force is clearly distinguished from other regional armies, tribal auxiliaries, irregular troops, and local militia. In addition to the customary distribution of bonuses before and after battle, it received subsistence pay according to a carefully regulated schedule, a measure that presumably reinforced its sense of ideological commitment.17 Moreover, the professional army had specific ties to the Caliph and his newly established capital city. Having swept into Iraq with the advance of the revolution, the Khurasanis were eventually concentrated at the recently constructed administrative center in Baghdad. Their resettlement in a new regional environment no doubt strengthened their common ties based on old geographic associations and gave rise in time to new feelings of group unity. In an ambitious and unprecedented scheme of social engineering, the general area of al-Harbiyah, the northern suburb of Baghdad, was reserved for the exclusive settlement of the 'Abbasid, that is, Khurasani, military.18 From their cantonments at al-Harbiyah, the army was sent on distant campaigns to serve as the main battle contingent of the state. However, even in these circumstances, it was sufficiently large to allow for a standing reserve at the capital, so that at no time was the Caliph's domain without the services of his trusted Khurasanis. There is reason to believe that, in time, this army, or, at least, significant elements within it, was transformed into a still more cohesive grouping, the enigmatic contingent known as the abna'. The composition of this last regiment will be discussed later.

It is evident, from the catalogue of virtues ascribed to each group, that al-Jahiz's army is not the imperial force that existed when the Manaqib was submitted to al-Fath b. Khaqan, but this earlier army of the Baghdad-based Caliphate. There is the exception of the Turks, and a lingering influence can be detected for the abna ', but the Khurasanis described in the Manaqib were apparently those subsumed within the abna' and bear little relationship to the Transoxanians who served al-Mutawakkil and his predecessors at Samarra. Moreover, the Arab tribal units, which retained their identity, are said to have been removed from the military roll in the time of al-Mu'tasim (probably in the central provinces of the empire).19 They would hardly be mentioned, therefore, in any discussion of his son's Samarra army. Finally, although individual mawali were prominently involved in military and political service, it is very unlikely that they would have been considered a distinct contingent of the professional forces after the early stages of the open revolution. This is borne out by the text of the Manaqib, for, in enumerating the qualities of the clients, the author has nothing to say of their military activities, but draws attention, instead, to their trustworthiness in serving the political interests of the regime.20

The detailed proof of these assertions is derived from an analysis of the virtues credited to each group. Moreover, an examination of this particular material suggests also the basic strategy employed by al-Jahiz in order to legitimize the Turks. It is more subtle than a contrived argument based on geography, clientage, and alleged blood ties. The Turks are seen as the last in a line of Khurasanis who served the 'Abbasid family—an unbroken connection that goes back to the revolution that brought the regime to power. There is apparently no point in describing the virtues of the Turks in relation to the other contingents in the army of al-Mutawakkil. The non-Arab Khurasanis from Transoxiana, the Faraghinah, the Ushrusaniyah, the Shashis, the Magharibah, and the Shakiriyah possessed credentials that were no better than those of the Turks.

Al-Jahiz is seeking an earlier model, when the imperial army represented the integrated fighting force of a relatively stable and unified empire. The legitimization of the Turks is, in a sense, the call for a return to the earlier age. In this respect, it mirrors the messianic propaganda of the 'Abbasid revolution, which proclaimed a spiritual return to the era of the Prophet Muhammad and the birth hour of Islam. The pagan Turks, who were brought in shackles during the campaigns in eastern Khurasan, were thus accorded a status equal to that of the old 'Abbasid revolutionaries and, by extension, to that of the earliest Muslims as well.

If Khurasan is the geographical linchpin of al-Jahiz's armies, the revolution is the predominant historical event that links them together. Al-Jahiz begins his list of virtues with the case for the Khurasanis and immediately invokes the memories of the 'Abbasid revolution.21 These are not the Transoxanians, who, for al-Mu'tasim's brother, the pretender al-Ma'mun, laid siege to and conquered Baghdad amid great devastation. These are the early Khurasanis who brought the regime to power. The Khurasani boasts: "We are [revolutionary] agents [naqib] and the sons [abna'] of agents, nobles [najib] and the sons of the nobles.…The twelve agents are from us as are the seventy nobles. We are the men of the moat and the sons [abna'] of the men of the moat.…We are the men [ashab] of this revolution [dawlah] and this ['Abbasid] propaganda [da'wah], the root of this tree, from which blows this wind. We are the men of the [revolutionary] black standards…who destroy the cities of tyrants and take away rule [mulk] from the hands of the oppressors, the Umayyads."22

There then follows a list of major military campaigns, beginning with the fortification of the villages in Khurasan, which signified the declaration of the open revolution, and ending with an allusion to the siege of Wasit (nahnu…ashab Ibn Hubayrah), the Umayyad capital of Iraq and the last stronghold offering armed resistance. The Khurasani proclaims, "Ours is the old and the new, the beginning and the end of the 'Abbasid revolution."23 It was no accident that the Khurasanis came to play this role. The author cites a variant of the fa mous tradition in which Muhammad b. 'Ali, the father of the revolution, considered where to send his propagandists (du'at). Various regions were considered but were found lacking. To be sure, there were a few 'Abbasid partisans in al-Basrah, but the city and its environs were clearly pro-'Uthmanid. The loyalty of the Syrians, on the other hand, was with the family of Abu Sufyan and the Marwanids. Finally, there was al-Jazirah, but the inhabitants there displayed distinct Kharijite sympathies. Only Khurasan was adequate to 'Abbasid needs. The Khurasani therefore boasts, "We are the best contingent for the best imam. We vindicated his [original] opinion, confirmed [the wisdom of] his idea, and proved the accuracy of his insight."24

There are allusions throughout the discourse to the messianic propaganda of the revolution. This was a radical line that was tempered fairly early by the 'Abbasid Caliphs and thus suggests, once again, that al-Jahiz's description is not contemporary with his own era. When the Khurasani says, "Ours is the old and the new, the beginning and the end," he speaks not only of the political revolution, but of heralding a new age. This was to be a period that marked a return to the pristine society of early Islam. The events that brought the 'Abbasids to power did not merely signify the exchange of one dynasty for another, but the return to the ethos of an earlier age when moral authority was vested with the true believers, whose interests were now properly represented by the 'Abbasid family.

Al-Jahiz indicates that there are, in reality, two groups known as the helpers (al-ansar ansarari). He points out, through his Khurasani interlocutor, that the Aws and Khazraj supported the Prophet in the early days (fi awwal al-zaman) and the people of Khurasan (ahl Khurasan) will support his inheritors on the last day (fi akhir al-zaman).,25 When the Khurasani claims, "The twelve agents are from us," he is referring, as well, to the twelve nuqaba' from the Aws and Khazraj. These were agents established by the Prophet Muhammad at al-Madinah in order to facilitate his acceptance in that community, an act that paved the way for the future success of his mission. Similarly, in the time of Muhammad b. 'Ali, twelve agents of the 'Abbasids fanned out into the various regions of Khurasan to lay the groundwork for the uprising that was to bring the latter-day Muhammad to power.26 When the Khurasani boasts, "We are the people of the moat and the sons of the people of the moat," he refers to two events. The first is rooted in the age of the Prophet, when Salman al-Farisi, the original Islamic hero of Iranian origin, saved the faithful by suggesting that Muhammad dig a moat or trench (khandaq) around the oasis of al-Madinah. He thereby befuddled the opposing Meccan cavalry, who had never seen such a strategy before. This was a critical moment in the series of great victories that led to the capitulation of Mecca itself. In the same fashion, the Arab settlers and mawali later fortified their villages in Khurasan by digging a moat around the defen sive perimeter. This act, together with the unfurling of the messianic black banners, signified the beginning of revolutionary warfare and heralded the new era about to come.27 It is no wonder that the Khurasani can proudly say, "We were thus nurtured by our ancestors and we thus nurture our sons (abna')."28 Al-Jahiz completes the case for the Khurasanis with a description of their cultural background, fighting qualities, and armor. These are not people to be taken lightly. Even if the men of Tibet and Zabaj, the cavalry of India, and the horsemen of Byzantium were to attack the Khurasanis in concert, they would be forced to throw down their arms and flee. Is it any wonder that pregnant women give birth prematurely upon hearing the battle cry of Khurasan?29

If these are the virtues of the Khurasanis, who are the Arabs and what are their claims? Al-Jahiz's description of the Arabs is tersely presented. There is no indication how pregnant women reacted in their presence, but it is clear that their claim similarly invokes Khurasan and the 'Abbasid revolution. What is more, it is the very same claim as that of the Khurasanis. The Arab boasts, "Who are most of the agents (naqib), if not, in essence, Arabs (min samim al-'arab)."10 The phrase, "in essence, Arabs," is carefully chosen, for the author indicates that, as a group, the Arabs have great respect for genealogy. As it happens, the Arabs listed by al-Jahiz among the nuqaba ' may not all have been of pure blood, for they were descended from the old settlers who took local women while partially assimilating to native life in the villages of Khurasan. Listed among them are some of the most prominent names of the revolution: Qahtabah b. Shabib al'-Ta'i, the legendary commander of the army until his mysterious and untimely death, Malik b. al-Haytham al-Khuza'i, the director of the security forces, and Sulayman b. Kathir, an early political operative of importance.31

A description of their military exploits is the same as that of the Khurasanis. They also defeated Ibn Hubayrah and killed Ibn Dubarah and Nubatah b. Hanzalah. There is, perhaps, one difference: whereas a Khurasani is credited with killing the last Umayyad Caliph, it was an Arab who spread the good news. If there are any other subtle differences between the so-called Arabs and Khurasanis of al-Jahiz, it is not clear from a reading of the text.32 There were, to be sure, Arab tribal armies in the early years of the 'Abbasid regime, but these represented regional forces and were not counted as part of the imperial army at Baghdad. The Khurasani, in trumpeting his own praise, has a few unkind words for these Arab tribesmen, "We are not like the army of Syria who attack women and violate all that is sacred" a not so veiled reference to the rape and pillage that marked a Syrian campaign against the holy cities in Umavyad times. When al-Ma'mun declared against the central authorities, with a Transoxanian army at his back, an effort was made to enlist the Arab tribes of Syria in support of the Baghdad regime. However, they could not overcome their susceptibility to 'asabiyah, and proved a greater danger than a help. An incident at the initial muster involving a stolen horse gave rise to a debilitating tribal conflict within the greater conflict.33

The smallest section of the Manaqib is reserved for the mawali.34 This comes as no surprise for, as mentioned earlier, their role as a distinct division of the army was limited. There were units under the name of mawali that fought in campaigns subsequent to the revolution, but these were relatively small and the occasions on which they served were extremely rare. It is also true that, in certain instances, the Turks are35 called mawali; however those references are to the client-patron relationship that existed between them and the Caliphate, and not to a specific element of 'Abbasid military organization.36

According to al-Jahiz, the forte of the client is personal service to his patron. His value is measured here, not in terms of military prowess, but in terms of those qualities that are highly valued in government servants: good advice, trustworthiness, patience, the ability to keep secrets, and so forth. The references to specific personalities in the text clearly indicate, once again, a link between Khurasan, the revolution, and the unsullied early era of "primitive" Islam. The Prophet himself appointed his adopted son and client Zayd b. Harithah to be the commander of the Muslim forces at Mu'tah and governor of every region that he subdued. He showed the same preference to Zayd's son Usamah by appointing him over the chiefs of the muhajirun and the great men of the ansar?1 Al-Jahiz stresses the continuation of this tradition in 'Abbasid times. The mawla proclaims, "Our service [to our patron] is like that of sons [abna '] to fathers, and fathers to grandfathers."38 Emulating the example of the Prophet in an earlier age, the 'Abbasid family treated its clients with trust and generosity. Even the black (client) was not despised because of his color.…The Caliphs entrusted (the political education of) their older children to clients and assigned to them special ceremonial functions, preferring clients (at times) to members of the ruling family (wa dhalika bihadrah min al-'umumah wa bani al-a 'mam wa al-ikhwah)39

The ties of the clients to Khurasan and the revolution are reflected in the boast of the mawla. He invokes the names of Abu Muslim al-Khurasani and Abu Salamah, the two most prominent political operatives in the revolutionary leadership outside the ruling family.40 He states that the mawali are found as well among the chiefs of the revolutionary agents (nuqaba') and cites several by name. The mawla can therefore assert that he shares the virtues41(manaqib) of the clients of the 'Abbasid propaganda (da 'wah) and those of the Khurasanis (wa nahnu minhum wa ilayhim wa min anfusihim). This is something that no Muslim, no true believer can deny. The Arab may stress genealogy, but the mawla can also claim (through his clientage) a genealogy that is both correct for the Arab, and worth boasting about by the non-Arab. He has earned this right by sharing the pride of the Arab, the bravery of the Khurasani, and the excellence of the banawi (sing, of abna').41 In short, the client, despite some distinctive features, is a man of no particular group, because he is a man of all groups and, indeed, all times. As such, he has partaken in the glories of early Islam, as well as those of the revolution and the 'Abbasid triumph that followed.

Among the early contingents of the army, only the enigmatic abna ' remain to be discussed.43 Who, indeed, are the abna ' and what is their excellence that is shared by the client? The conventional wisdom concerning this group is confined essentially to several paragraphs in the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Islam (EP). The relevant passages indicate two pre-Islamic designations and one that is contemporary with the early 'Abbasids. The latter falls under the rubric abna ' al-dawla (sons of the revolution or dynasty). It is indicated that this term "applied in the early centuries of the 'Abbasid Caliphate to members of the 'Abbasid house and by extension to the Khurasani and other mawali who entered its service and became adoptive members of it. They survived as a privileged group until the 3rd/9th century, after which they were eclipsed by the growing power of Turkish and other troops." There is no indication what is meant by "members of the 'Abbasid house" nor how they are to be distinguished from the mawali who "became adoptive members of it." Similarly, although there is the suggestion of a military presence for the abna ' in relation to the Turks and others, there is no clear picture of their place within the wider framework of the 'Abbasid army.

The brief bibliography appended to the last entry includes the Manaqib (listed by its other title, the Fada'il al-Atrak) and two secondary sources.44 A careful reading of the references fails to bear out the claim in EP regarding membership and adoption into the ruling house. Only the Manaqib speaks of a distinct social unit called the abna', and al-Jahiz links them, as a group, to service in the army. One cannot deny that an individual banawi or client may have become an adoptive member of the 'Abbasid house (whatever that implies); however, in the sources that are cited, there is not the slightest hint of any specific group bearing the name abna ' outside the military context.

In addition to the bibliography cited in EP, the author also relied on the "cryptic remarks of L. Massignon's Salman Pak. "45 A subsequent investigation of the pertinent material in that work failed to uncover anything that resembled an institution to which one can affix the name abna '. Massignon does write of adoption. He attempts to show that Salman al-Farisi, the client of the Prophet, and Abu Muslim al-Khurasani, the client of the 'Abbasids, were both accepted into the ruling house (ahl al-bayt) according to the same formula (wa anta minna ahl al-bayt).46 However, the evidence presented by Massignon speaks to that end and bears no relationship to the subject under review. The one reference to abna ' apparently cited by him is found in a late medieval source, where it is reported that Abu Ja'far al-Mansur established "the sons of Fars as leading men of their ['Abbasid] dynasty wa ja'ala abna' Fars rijalat dawlatihim)." Specifically mentioned are two well-known client families, the Barmakids and the Banu Nawbakht.47 Even the most casual reading reveals that abna ' Fars rijalat dawlatihim cannot be confused with a military institution known as the abna' al-dawlah. There is a tendency among other modern scholars to use various expressions containing the words abna', da 'wah, and dawlah loosely, and even interchangeably. Such a practice only adds to the confusion surrounding the identity of this particular contingent.48

The text of al-Jahiz is a convenient point of departure from which to sort out the facts. The term abna ' literally means "sons." One is impressed by the frequent repetition of references to family in the Manaqib and, in particular, to fathers and sons. The Khurasani proclaims, "We are agents and sons of agents… we are the men of the moat and the sons of the men of the moat.…Ours is the old and the new, the beginning and the end." The mawla serves his patron as a son serves his father, and a father, his father. Zayd b. Harithah, the client of the Prophet, is his adopted son. Isma'il, the son of Ibrahim, is the "father" of the Caliphs. The sons of Qatura bt. Maftun are the progenitors of the Turks. The point in these and every other example of this sort is to stress the inherent sense of unity and continuity in 'Abbasid society and the debt that it owes to the legacy of the past.

This theme is continued by al-Jahiz in his description of the abna ', hence, the explanation of the name. He notes that the banawi, like the Turk, is also considered a Khurasani. Because the identity of the abna' has never been firmly established in any published work, the author's remark that "the banawi is a Khurasani" may not, at first, seem informative.49 By way of explication, al-Jahiz simply asserts, "the genealogy of the sons is that of the fathers, and the deeds of the fathers and grandfathers before them are reckoned to the account of the sons (abna')"50 Although the statement has a sermonic quality and a morally edifying tone, it is, in itself, hardly revealing. Nevertheless, when it is juxtaposed against al-Jahiz's detailed description of the qualities of these regiments and considered together with incidental information obtained from the chroniclers, the author's vague observation takes on a specific meaning.

It is possible to establish a clear relationship between the abna ' and Khurasan and, hence, a link between the abna ' and the Turks. It is also possible to show that the abna ' are designated as sons of the dynasty (dawlah) and the 'Abbasid propaganda (da 'wah), not because they have been adopted into the ruling house, but because they are, in fact, the second generation of the revolutionaries that brought the 'Abbasids to power. Of the early contingents listed by al-Jahiz, only the abna ' do not invoke the events and personalities of the revolution in establishing their claims. That is because the abna ' are the Baghdad-based regiments of the imperial army, which were fashioned from descendants of the older revolutionary forces. They are mindful, indeed, boastful, of their origins as well as of their ties to both Khurasan and the revolution, but it is the new capital, Baghdad, and a subsequent martial history in which they glory.

The banawi proclaims that the root of his lineage (asI) is Khurasan, the same region from which the 'Abbasid revolution (dawlah) and propaganda (da 'wah) burst forth to bring about a new age. This reference to a new age is both explicitly stated and clearly imbued with messianic allusions.51 However, if Khurasan is the root, then Baghdad is the branch (far ') and is therefore called the Khurasan of Iraq. It is the (new) seat of the Caliphate, and houses the remaining veterans (baqiyah) of the ('Abbasid) propaganda and the sons (abna') of the 'Abbasid faction (shi'ah).52 If the banawf's fate is inextricably linked to the new Khurasan, it is justifiably so. He considers himself more rooted to the dynasty than his father, and more a part of it than his grandfather. He presumes to make this claim though the Manaqib specifically mentions his ancestors (aba') as leading the revolution. The expression "more rooted" (a 'raqu) appears to be a play on words to indicate more Iraqi, that is, Baghdadi, for it is the tie to the capital that gives the banawi his distinction.53

The abna ' can thus be described as the foster sons of the Caliphs and the neighbors of the wazirs. They are born in the court of their kings and under the wings of their Caliphs. They follow in their rulers' footsteps and imitate their example. The banawi declares, "We recognize only them and will not be recognized except by them.…"54 In a sense, the passage reaffirms the ties between the abna' and the seat of the Caliphate at Baghdad, but the words surely lend themselves to a still wider interpretation, namely, the personal relationship between the banawi and his sovereign.

A tradition preserved by the historian Tabari, under the year A.H. 163, immediately comes to mind in this connection. It is, coincidentally, the earliest evidence I have encountered that may refer to the abna' as a specific group. The chronicler reports that the Caliph al-Mahdi, anxious for his son, al-Rashid, to cut his teeth in a provincial campaign, is about to send him off against the Byzantines. The young prince, however, is seen in need of some mature advice. To that end, the Caliph ordered the secretaries (kuttab) of the abna ' al-da 'wah55 to appear before him so that he might choose his son's companion from among them. The choice ultimately fell upon Yahya, the son of Khalid b. Barmak, the old revolutionary. Yahya was given far-reaching powers and, along with his father and two close relatives, accompanied the heir apparent.

Examining this account in relation to the passage from al-Jahiz describing the banawi as an intimate of the Caliph, P. Crone attempts to identify the abna' and establish their relationship to the ruling family.56 There can be no argument that al-Jahiz's banawi stresses his loyalty and close association with the 'Abbasid house. For some, depicting the banawi as foster brother to the Caliph may be a mere figure of speech, but for Crone, it is nothing less than evidence of an institution. She argues that there were two groups drawn from the ranks of the old Khurasani army and their descendants. The first was the ahl-al-dawlah. The second, a smaller circle, were the abna' al-dawlah or abna' al-da'wah. Thus, the concept of dawlah provided two hierarchical ranks, which were in turn subdivided, according to Crone, thereby resulting in a still smaller group belonging to the circle of the ruling family itself.

It cannot be denied that various individuals and family groups who were the descendants of the old revolutionaries maintained close contacts with the 'Abbasid house and were to be numbered as members of the ahl al-bayt in its widest sense.57 The example of the Barmakids perhaps stands out. above all others. Indeed, al-Rashid and al-Fadl b. Yahya suckled at the same breast, and the latter entered into marriage with the Caliph's sister, 'Abbasah, however calamitous the result.58 Nevertheless, the isolated reference by the chronicler to the "scribes of the abna' al-da'wah," even when bolstered by the rather vague passage in al-Jahiz, is hardly reason to assume the existence of three well-defined institutions: ahl aldawlah, abna ' al-dawlah, and the ahl al-bayt.

The only certain claim that can be made for the abna ', before the great civil war between the brothers, is that they are Baghdadis descended from the Khurasanis who come to Iraq with the advance of the revolution. The first specific indication of this is a report that dates from the reign of the Caliph al-Rashid, under the year A.H. 187. An informer reporting the whereabouts of the Caliph's enemy Yahya b. 'Abdallah is interrogated by none other than al-Rashid himself. When asked his identity, the informer replies, "a descendant [grandson?] of the abna ' of this dynasty (rajul min a 'qab abna ' hadhihi al-dawlah). My place of origin [asl] is Marw [the revolutionary capital of Khurasan], but my place of birth is Baghdad [Madinat al-Salam, the capital of the established dynasty]." When the Caliph asked, "Is your domicile there [that is, at Madinat al-Salam]?" the man answered affirmatively.59

Abna, as a generic term signifying military units, does not appear with any frequency until the outbreak of the conflict between the pretender al-Ma'mun and his brother al-Amin (A.H. 195).60 They are then described as the dominant force in the army of the deposed al-Amin and were designated by the expression, "people of Baghdad" (ahl Baghdad).61 In connection with this loyalist army, the following expressions are found: the people (ahl) of al-Harbiyah,62 the abna' of the suburbs (arbad),63 the abna ' of the Khurasani faction,64 and the abna ' of Khurasan who have become "Arabicized" (muwallad),65 that is to say, born in Baghdad and raised among Arabic speakers (one recalls that the Khurasanis of Arab descent spoke Persian perhaps better than Arabic).

This does not imply that the abna ' were the only element in the ahl Baghdad, but it appears clear, from a review of the conflict, that they were the dominant force in the Caliph's contingents—certainly they were the professional backbone of the army.66 This was a role for which they were well suited, because they now represented the standing army of the dynasty, which was originally recruited in Khurasan during the revolution and was then transplanted to the military cantonments of al-Harbiyah, the northern suburb of the capital. The positioning of the army in what were intended to be exclusive military colonies to the north of the city administrative center explains some of the expressions connecting the abna' with the suburbs.67

The initial successes of al-Ma'mun's Transoxanian army portended serious changes in 'Abbasid military society, particularly in the distribution of payments ('ata'). Baghdadis no doubt suspected that a victory for the pretender would enhance the position of the new Khurasani forces from Transoxiana that supported him.68 It is no small wonder that the abna' fought with great tenacity during the early siege of Baghdad and continued to resist a change in status long after. This is strikingly reflected in al-Jahiz's description of the military skills of the banawi.69 He is an expert at close quarter combat. When weapons are exhausted, the banawi grabs the neck of his foe. He knows how to stab with the knife and fend off the dagger. When surrounded, he and his comrades have the ability to respond and are therefore called the sons of difficult, that is, close combat in confined places (abna' al-mada'iq). The banawi boasts, "We know how to fight at the entrances to protective moats [khandaq] and at the bridge heads [a reference to the many masonry structures, qantarah, that bridged the canals of the western city, giving access to various quarters].70 Bloody death confronts [those who oppose] us at the breaches in the protective wall [wa nahnu al-mawt al-ahmar 'ind abwab al-nuqab] and exhaustion in the narrow lanes [aziqqah].…We are masters of night fighting and kill openly in the markets and the roads.…We fight in the water as well as on land [a possible reference to the flotillas of al-Ma'mun that bombarded the city from the Tigris river]."

Other images of the banawi during the siege of Baghdad reappear in al-Jahiz's description of the qualities of the Turks. Unlike the Turks, who are cavalry, the abna' are infantry, whose lances are for protecting the entrances to moats and narrowly confined places (mada'iq). Their skills are suited to fighting in side streets (sikak) and trenches (?sujuri). These are all vivid references to the grim battle for Baghdad, when the defensive lines of al-Amin's forces were established along the natural barriers protecting the approaches to the Round City. The administrative complex was the last bastion of the beleaguered Caliph and his weary defenders.71

After the fall of Baghdad, the abna ' remained a highly volatile element with considerable military skill, so that the banawi of al-Jahiz claims, "All of Baghdad is ours. It is quiescent when we are quiescent, it is in turmoil when we are in turmoil."72 Although prudence dictated that the new authorities continue to pay their salaries (with all that this implied for the financial condition of the government), the abna' were not fully committed to the current regime. It would be some years before al-Ma'mun would set foot in Baghdad. His successor, al-Mu'tasim, was forced to abandon the city altogether and built a second capital sixty miles to the north at Samarra.73 There he garrisoned a new imperial army with Faraghinah, Khurasanis and Turks from Transoxiana, Magharibah from the west, and an enigmatic elite corps known as the Shakiriyah. This army, however, never attained the sense of unity of the old Baghdad regiments, and the history of the Caliphate at Samarra, following al-Mu'tasim, was one of increasing turmoil.

By describing the Baghdad army, al-Jahiz recalls an earlier age, before the cumulative effects of the great civil war, and before the move to Samarra, for the imperial army that served the early Baghdad Caliphs represented, by and large, the integrated fighting force of a relatively stable and unified empire. This early 'Abbasid state made for a very attractive model in contrast to the turbulent reign of al-Mutawakkil, which was to end with the Caliph's assassination, the murder of al-Fath b. Khaqan, and, shortly thereafter, the eruption of still another civil conflict between elements favoring Baghdad and the partisans of the new capital. Had 'Abbasid society chosen to emulate this earlier model, it might have been spared the political chaos reflected in contemporary events. The Turks, because of their central political and military role, were the key element to any reconciliation within society. Although devoid of the messianic overtones that characterized early 'Abbasid propaganda, al-Jahiz's appeal for the acceptance of the Turks and the creation of a united society also called for a new era, one whose values were to be rooted in the early years of the 'Abbasid regime. One recalls that the 'Abbasids themselves originally established their legitimacy on the legacy of a still earlier time, the unadulterated Islamic age contemporary with the birth of Islam. The author's vision of a new society was, however, not destined to be realized.


1 Al-Jahiz, Risalah ila al-Fath b. Khaqan fi manaqib al-Turk wa 'ammatjund al-khilafah, ed. A. M. Harun, 1:1-86; ed. G. van Vloten, 1-56. Harun's edition differs slightly from that of G. van Vloten and is cited throughout the text. See also the article of C. Pellat in Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition, s.v. al-Djahiz; and his Le Milieu basrien et la formation de Gahiz. See particularly F. Gabrieli, "La 'Risala' di al-Gahiz sui Turchi," 477-83.

2 Jahiz, 9-11, 63-64.

3 Ibid., 12-14.

4 Ibid., 31, 33.

5 Ibid., 74-75. The reference here is to the Qeturah genealogy in Genesis, 25:1-4. The account of al-Jahiz is probably filtered through traditions that are ultimately based on rabbinic material. In the Midrash, Qeturah and Hajar are sometimes regarded as the same. In any event, the sons born to Qeturah-Hajar were all idolaters and were thus sent by Abraham as far away as possible to the east. This may serve to explain the later connection with Khurasan, a land originally inhabited by unbelievers. For a list of the rabbinic sources dealing with Qeturah, see the notes of L. Ginsburg, The Legends of the Jews, 5:264-66.

6 The main medieval biographies are the Khatib (Cairo), 12:212-22; Yaqut, Irshad al-arib, 6:56-80. For a list of recent Arabic biographies, see Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition, s.v. al-Djahiz, to be supplemented by A. H. Balba', Al-nathr al-fanni wa athar al-Jahizfihi (Cairo, 1969); M. 'A. Khafaji, Abu 'Uthman al-Jahiz (Cairo, 1965). Concerning the period in which the Manaqib was composed, see C. Pellat, "Gahiz à Bagdad et à Samarra," 48-67. See also C. Brockelmaan, Gesehiehte order Arahischen Litterafur, S, l:241ff.

7 See O. Pinto, "Al-Fath b. Haqan favorito di al-Mutawakkil," 133-49.

8 Concerning the problems of race and color in Islam, there is B. Lewis, Race and Color in Islam, esp. 15-18, on al-Jahiz. Lewis made use of K. Vollors, "Uber Rassenfarben in der arabischen Literatur," 1:84-95; and frequently quotes "an excellent German doctoral thesis" by G. Rotter, Die Stellung des Negers in der islamischarabischen Gesellschaft bis zum XVI Jahrhundert (Bonn, 1967). I have not seen Rotter's work.

9 Jahiz, 36.

10 Ibid., 1.

11 Concerning the Arab tribes of Khurasan serving in the 'Abbasid army, see Sharon, '"Aliyat," 138-64, esp. 155ff.

12 Wellhausen, trans. Weir, 493-94; Sharon, '"Aliyat," 30ff. As regards Arabs speaking Persian, see Tabari, 3/1:16, 50, 65. Note also Ibrahim al-Imam's command to Abu Muslim to "kill every speaker of Arabic [in Khurasan]." See Tabari, 3/1:25. The statement certainly does not mean, however, that every Arab in Khurasan was to be killed (not even those who spoke pure Arabic). Sharon, '"Aliyat," 32, 156-59, deals with this and similar traditions (Tabari, 2/3:1974; Dinawari, 358) and concludes that they actually signify a policy towards those Arab tribesmen who would not join forces with Abu Muslim. Regarding lughat Khurasan, see Sharon, 32: Jahiz, K. al-bukhala', 1:99.

13 See Sharon, '"Aliyat," 177ff.

14 The organization of an 'Abbasid protogovemment in Khurasan is treated in detail by Sharon, '"Aliyat," 176-85. A full list of the 'Abbasid operatives in Khurasan during the clandestine phase of the revolution is preserved in the Akhbar, 215-223. It supplements the partial list in Tabari, 2/3:1358. The 'Abbasid agents are almost exclusively from among the old settlers. The twelve highest ranking agents (naqib) were all from the early Arab settlements around Marw. Forty of the remaining fifty-eight were also from Marw, and there were, to be sure, old settlements elsewhere. The command structure of the army was largely made up of people on these lists, for example, Qahtabah b. Shabib and his sons al-Hasan and Humayd, Khazim b. Khuzaymah, Muqatil b. Hakim al-'Akki, al-Fadl b. Sulayman al-Tusi, 'Uthman b. Nahik and his relatives, and al-Musayyab b. Zuhayr. Concerning the early organization of the da 'wah in Khurasan, see Sharon, '"Aliyat," 105-117.

15 Among the twelve ranking agents (naqib) were the following clients: Abu al-Najm, 'Imran b. Isma'il, Abu 'Ali Shibl b. Tihman, Abu Hamzah 'Amr b. A'yan. Of the fifty-eight remaining nuqaba' of lesser rank, four are listed as mawali. Khalid b. Barmak, who is listed as a replacement (nazir) for a naqib, was a mawla, though he is not listed as such. It is possible that other figures on the lists could similarly have been clients, though there is no certain indication to that effect. Note that Khalid b. Barmak was responsible for the distribution of booty and later became the director of the military payroll. Various clients are also listed among the propagandists (du'at.)

16 Not all the Khurasanis sided with the revolution. Some forces remained loyal to the encumbent regime, and with grave consequences. During the siege at Nihawand, the Syrian troops surrendered with a guarantee of safety. Their Khurasani compatriots were, however, slaughtered. See Tabari, 3/1:6-8. Regarding the Khurasani identity of the army, note the juxtaposition of the terms ahl Khurasan and ahl al-Sham in the exhortations to the troops before the first critical battle against Nubatah b. Hanzalah and the main Umayyad contingents. See Tabari, 2/3:2004-2005. Qahtabah's main address, which plays on Iranian sentiments, may be, however, the invention of later times.

17 See Chapter IV, Section D, for a discussion of Ibn al-Muqaffa's Risalah fi al-sahabah.

18 The topography of military settlement at Baghdad is dealt with in detail in Chapter VIII.

19 Tabari, 3/1:1142; Ibn Tayfur (Cairo), 144-45; Kindi, 193, Maqrizi, 63. Sharon '"Aliyat," 283-87, stresses that al-Ma'mun had built up an army of non-Arabs from Transoxiana that served as the backbone of his regime vis-à-vis the earlier Khurasanis. The latter, largely of Arab stock, had been resettled in Iraq. The policy of removing the Arabs from the diwan was, however, not directed towards the Iraqis, who would not have been registered as Arabs in any case. The Arabs spoken of here are the tribal armies from Syria. Concerning 'Abbasid attitudes to this last group, see Chapter IV, Section D. Note that al-Mu'tasim also removed the Arabs from the diwan in Egypt while introducing the Turks in large numbers to the 'Abbasid army.

20 Jahiz, 23-25.

21 Ibid., 14-23.

22 Ibid., 14-16.

23 Ibid., 17-18.

24 Ibid., 16-17. Note Chapter VI, which deals with the subsequent 'Abbasid decision to establish Iraq as the central province of the dynasty.

25 Ibid., 15.

26Ibid., 14. The relationship between the early agents and those of Muhammad b. 'Ali is not coincidental, but part of a well-conceived ideological campaign in which the 'Abbasids portrayed themselves as the heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. This is explicitly stated by the author of the Akhbar, 215ff., in his description of the organizational structure of the revolutionary underground Al-Jahiz's reference (p. 14) to seventy nobles (najib) is probably a reference to the group of Aws and Khazraj that met with Muhammad at al-'Aqabah. From this group of about seventy, the Prophet chose the twelve agents (naqib) to spread his message. The twelve ranking 'Abbasid agents were similarly chosen from a wider group of seventy. See Akhbar, 216. Note that the 'Abbasids also employed a group of seventy known as the du 'at (Akhbar, 221-22). To my knowledge, only Sharon, '"Aliyat," 105-107 and Crone, 132, have recognized the full connection between al-Jahiz's description of the Khurasanis, the Abbasid revolution, and the pristine era of early Islam.

Tabari, 2/3:1952ff. Note that al-Jahiz's Khurasani (p. 15) boasts "Our dress is known [that is, black] and we are the people of the black flags…(wa libasuna ma'rufwa nahnu ashab al-rayat al-sud).

28 Jahiz, 15 (ghadhana bidhalika aba'una wa ghadawna bihi abna'and).

29 Ibid., 20.

30 Ibid., 21.

31 Ibid., 22. Others listed include: Abu Dawud Khalid b. Ibrahim, Abu 'Amr Lahiz b. Qurayz, Abu 'Utaybah Musa b. Ka'b, Abu Sahl al-Qasim b. Mujashi' al-Muzani. All of the individuals mentioned are to be found on the list of nuqaba'm Tabari, 2/3:1358, and the Akhbar, 215ff. (see also Text, ns. 13, 14, 15). Malik b. Tawwaf al-Muzani is listed by al-Jahiz, as one who functioned as a naqib though not one of them (yajri majri al-nuqaba' wa lam yadkhul fihim). He is nevertheless also on the list of the Akhbar, p. 218, that denotes the fifty-eight nuqaba' directly below the original twelve. Al-Jahiz also indicates that others from the second category were similarly Arabs but he does not list them by name. Almost the entire leadership of the revolutionary apparatus in Khurasan consisted of Arabs (see n. 14), as did the central element of the revolutionary army.

32 Jahiz, 23, also includes Musa b. Ka'b, who conquered al-Sind, and Muhammad b. al-Ash'ath, who conquered Ifriqiyah, among the Arabs. Both were Khurasanis. Both campaigns were conducted with Khurasani troops.

33 For 'Abbasid attitudes towards the Syrians, see Chapter IV, Section D.

34 Jahiz, 23-25.

35 See Chapter IV, Section C.

36 Tabari, 3/2:1516, 1539; Fragmenta Historicorum Arabicorum, 577; Mas'udi, Muruj (Beirut), 4:60, 77,90-91.

37 Jahiz, 24.

38 Ibid., 23.

39 Ibid., 23-24. The specific indication of the paternal uncles and their offspring (al-'umumah wa bani ala'mam) may be a very subtle reference to the conversation between 'Abd al-Samad b. 'Ali and his great nephew al-Mahdi. See Tabari, 3/1:534, whose text is the point of departure for chapter IV. The relationship between the ruling family, the Caliph, the mawali, and the army is the central problem of early 'Abbasid political organization and is thus reflected throughout this study.

40 For some reason, the passage concerning Abu Muslim and Abu Salamah is missing from Harun's edition of the text. It is cited here on the basis of G. van Vloten's Tria Opuscula, 14. One should remember the mawali were also well represented in the revolutionary apparatus in Iraq. See Sharon, '"Aliyat," 75-84.

41 Jahiz, 24-25. Mentioned are the ranking agents (ru'us al-nuqaba'): Abu Mansur, mawla of the Khuza'ah, Abu al-Hakam 'Isa b. A'yan, and Abu al-Najm 'Imran B. Isma'il. All three are listed among the ranking nuqaba by Tabari, 2/3:1358; and the Akhbar, 216.

42 Jahiz, 25.

43 Ibid., 25-28.

44 The secondary sources are Wellhausen, 556ff. and A. Mez, Renaissance of Islam, 155 ff.

45 This information was kindly supplied to me by the author, Professor B. Lewis. The work in question is a short publication of the Sociētē des Ētudes Iraniennes et de l'Art Persan (7) entitled Salman Pak et les prēmices spirituelles de l'Islam Iranien.

46 Ibid., 18.

47 Maqrizi, 72 (according to Massignon, p. 50). Note Section E below, where the Barmakid, Yahya b. Khalid, is identified with a group called the abna' al-dawlah. The reference is, however, vague and certainly does not point to the military institution spoken of by al-Jahiz.

48 Forand, "Slave," 59-60, who also follows Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition, s.v.; and Crone, 131-34. Crone speaks of an 'Abbasid aristocracy based on early service to the revolution. Hence the abna' are correctly identified as the descendants of those Khurasanis who brought the 'Abbasids to power; however, her desire to establish clear distinctions between formal groupings of public figures seems to strain the evidence. There were, to be sure, abna' of varied rank and importance, but it appears that was a function of their general duties and background, and not of any specific subgroups in which they claimed association.

49 I Lapidus, 371 correctly calls the abna' "the descendants of the supporters of the 'Abbasid revolution," without further comment or annotation. A fuller exposition is found in the unpublished dissertation of Crone, 131-34, and, more particularly, in that of Sharon, 288-90. The real key to unlocking the puzzle of the identity of the abna' was, however, provided by D. Ayalon, Reforms, 6ff. It is his unpublished paper concerning the military reforms of al-Mu'tasim that is the foundation of all subsequent studies. With his usual flair for reading a text, he isolated many traditions that make it clear that the term abna' does not simply mean sons, but alludes as well to a well-known military group in Baghdad. See below.

50 Jahiz, 12.

51 Ibid., 25.

52 Ibid., 26.

53 Ibid., 26.

54 Ibid., 28.

55 Tabari, 3/1:497-98. The apparatus of the text indicates that the term abna' is missing from MS A. Yahya al-Barmaki is also mentioned as one of the abna' dawlatihi (that is, Caliph) in Tabari, 3/2:703, sub anno 189.

56 Crone, 132-34.

57 Regarding this term, see Chapter IV, n. 6.

58 The significance of this marriage is discussed in Chapter IV, Section C. Other examples of close contacts, that is, foster-brothers of the ruling house, are cited by Crone, 134.

59 Tabari, 3/2:672.

60 Note the brief reference to a contingent of abna' in Tabari, 3/2:732, sub anno 192. The abna' dawlatihi (that is, al-Rashid) are also mentioned in Tabari, 3/2:703, sub anno 189; however, in that context they are distinct from the army officers (min kufatihi wa ansarihi wa abna' dawlatihi wa quwwadihi).

61 See Tabari, 3/2:817, which indicates that this group was registered in the military roll and was not a makeshift force as the name may imply. The references to the ahl Baghdad during the civil war are numerous. Concerning their dominant role in the royalist army, see Ayalon, Reforms, 8-10, 36; Tabari, 3/2:831, 858, 865, 866, 898, 1001, 1006, 1013; Ya'qubi, Historiae, 2:532-33, 535, 547, 548.

62 Tabari, 3/2:825, 847, 848, 865, 984, 998, 1000, 1002, 1008-12; Ya'qubi, Historiae, 2:547, 548, 564. See n. 67 below.

63 Tabari, 3/2:934, 935. For references to the people (ahl) of the suburbs, see Tabari, 3/2:849, 866, 867, 871, 872, 934, 936.

64 Ayalon, Reforms, 6; Isfahani, Aghani (Beirut), 18:61; and the abna' of the Khurasani military cantonment (jund) in Aghani, 18:100. Ayalon points out that the connection to Iran is also found in the expression "the abna' are the sons of the dihqans [Iranian gentry]": Khuwarizmi, Mafatih al-'ulum, 119.

65 Ibn Tayfur (Cairo), 80.

66 Ayalon, Reforms, 9-10; Tabari, 3/2:824, 826ff. (a force of 20,000 abna' under the command of one of their own officers), 911-12, 922-23, 931, 932 (large force of abna').

67 Ayalon, Reforms, 11-12, surmises that not all the suburban fighters were in fact abna'. "There must have been in Baghdad strong military and paramilitary bodies outside the descendants of the early Khurasanis.…Admittedly the sources do not make it possible quite often to draw a clear line between various fighting elements defending the 'Abbasid capital." Furthermore, "from the available data it is impossible to decide whether the abna' lived only in one quarter or were scattered all over the town." There is, however, reason to assume that the backbone of the fighting forces in al-Harbiyah were abna'. With regard to the topography of military occupation in Baghdad, see Chapter VIII.

68 The composition of the imperial army in Khurasan on the eve of the civil war cannot be determined with certainty. In all likelihood, the Transoxanians were by far the predominant element. The provincial forces, largely Arab at the outset of the regime, were no doubt replenished by captives taken in campaigns to the east. See Tabari, 3/1:631, sub anno 169. Note also the advice of al-Fadl b. Sahl, the wazir of al-Ma'mun, that the latter resist his brother and seek alliances with the Transoxanians (Tabari, 3/2:815ff.). Concerning the problem of 'ata' see n. 73 below. See also D. Ayalon, "preliminary remarks on the Mamluk Military Institution in Islam," for some general remarks concerning Transoxiana.

69 Jahiz, 26-28.

70 Concerning the masonry bridges of Baghdad, see Lassner, Topography, 321, s.v. qantarah.

71 Jahiz, 53; 54. From the passages describing the military skills of the abna', Ayalon, Reforms, 37, concludes: "According to Jahiz there were amongst the abna' a sizeable body of excellent infantrymen whose weapons and tactics he describes.… I did not find any clear evidence corroborating al-Jahiz's contention.…" It is, of course, al-Jahiz's purpose to compare the abilities of the abna' with the superior fighting skills of the Turks, who specialized in cavalry combat. Nevertheless, there is no reason to suspect al-Jahiz's analysis. He is not referring to the abna ' specifically as foot soldiers, but to the tactics that were imposed upon them by the siege of Baghdad. For reference to the abna' as cavalry, see Tabari, 3/2:817, 911-12.

72 The reference here is to the continuing turmoil in the city after the war was over, particularly the events of A.H. 202-203, when the populace of Baghdad expelled the Caliph's governor, al-Hasan b. Sahl, and installed the counter-Calpihate of Ibrahim b. al-Mahdi. On the other side of the coin, note the remarks of Ibn Tayfur (Cairo), 80: "It was they [the abna'] who took up the fight against the Commander of the Faithful [al-Ma'mun], but then they obeyed him and the Caliphate was maintained in good stead owing to them." This last passage is taken from an apocryphal account in which the qualities of the abna' are contrasted with al-Mu'tasim's Turks and the Transoxanians ('ajam ahl Khurasan) of al-Ma'mun. The purpose of the discussion was to ascertain which of the three groups was the most proficient and courageous in battle. The disputed issue was resolved in favor of the abna'. The text is essentially the mirror image of the Manaqib encapsulated. It indicates that the abna' continued to function as a group and enjoyed support after the Turks were introduced in large numbers by the Caliph al-Mu'tasim. Note the attempts of the Caliph al-Muhtadi (A.H. 255-256) to create a counterweight to the Turks by using the abna' (Ya'qubi, Historiae, 2:604, 618-19). See also Ayalon, Reforms, 34-36.

73 The antagonism of the local Baghdadis to the Turks was the major reason behind al-Mu'tasim's decision to move the Caliphate from Baghdad. This led eventually to the creation of a new capital at Samarra. When al-Musta'in later (A.H. 248) wished to free himself of the Turks at Samarra, he quite naturally opted to establish his government at Baghdad. For evidence that the abna' continued to be kept on the military rolls, see Tabari, 3/2:867, 1032-33, 1038, 1112. There are numerous references to the tremendous financial drain caused by the civil war. The shortages continued after the conflict had ended. See, for example, Tabari, 3/2:934ff; 977, 1012-13, 1014, 1016, 1028, 1030, 1038, 1065; FHA, All, 435, 438; Shabushti, 148.

Fedwa Malti-Douglas (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 19240

SOURCE: Structures of Avarice: The Bukhala in Medieval Arabic Literature, E. J. Brill, 1985, 183 p.

[In the following excerpt, Malti-Douglas analyzes the organization ofal-Jahiz 's works, arguing that his writings are not unstructured; examines the question of when al-Jahiz wrote Kitab al-Bukhala; and discusses the role of the anecdote in al-Jahiz's works.]

Al-Jahiz is one of the most justly famed of Medieval Arab authors, probably the greatest Arabic prose writer of all time. As such, he has spawned a considerable scholarly literature, both in the Middle East and in the West.1 One of the most striking features of the man was the breadth of his interests, itself reflected in the variety of his writings. It will be possible here only to present a biographical sketch, stressing the circumstances of his life, his intellectual formation, and an examination of questions relative to the composition of his Kitab al-Bukhala.

Al-Jahiz was also famous in the Medieval Islamic world and a great many biographical notices have come down to us, as can be seen from an examination of the section entitled "Les sources biographiques" in Charles Pellat's Le milieu basrien et la formation de Gahiz.2 Pellat has identified four sources which he characterizes as "fondamentales, en ce sens qu'elles fournissent des renseignements originaux et des traditions remontant à des contemporains de Gahiz."3 These four are:

  1. al-Masudi (d. 345/956), Muruj adh-Dhahab4
  2. al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 463/1071), Tarikh Baghdad5
  3. Ibn Asakir (d. 571/1176), Tarikh Dimashq6
  4. Yaqut (d. 626/1229), Irshad al-Arib ila Marifat al-Adib.7

To these must be added the notice by Ibn an-Nadim (d. c. 377/987) which was originally lost but which has been discovered and presented by A. J. Arberry.8 These five notices are the major sources for the discussion which follows, though occasional references for minor or undisputed points have been made to other works. There is yet another source which should be noted, though it contains little information of a strictly biographical nature. This is the discussion devoted to al-Jahiz by Ibn Qutayba in his Kitab Mukhtalif al-Hadith. Ibn Qutayba who, it will be remembered, was a distinguished adib in his own right, was a student of al-Jahiz, and in this passage he gives an appraisal of his teacher's oeuvre. This appraisal, as we will see in Chapter III below, is far from sycophantic and is of considerable literary interest.9

Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahr al-Kinani al-Fuqaymi al-Basri al-Jahiz was born around the year 160/776, and died in the year 255/868-869.10 The attribute al-Jahiz, by which he is known, derives from the Arabic root j-h-z, and means the one whose eyes bulge or protrude. It seems that al-Jahiz was goggle-eyed" and indeed very ugly.12 Al-Kutubi in his Uyun at-Tawarikh, relates an anecdote quoting al-Jahiz as saying that he had once brought a Turkish slave girl and said to himself that perhaps she would bear him a child who would possess her beauty and his intelligence, but that contrary to his expectations, she bore him a son who possessed his ugliness and her ignorance.13 Al-Jahiz was a client (mawla)14 of the Banu Kinana, and his grandfather was black.15 Not much is known about his childhood.16 His family, about whom information is equally scanty, was poor,17 and the means by which al-Jahiz lived during his early years in the Iraqi town of Basra also remain a mystery.18 Yaqut in his biographical notice devoted to al-Jahiz relates on the authority of al-Marzubani that al-Jahiz was seen selling bread and fish on the Sihan, a canal in Basra dug by Yahya ibn Khalid al-Barmaki.1920 As Pellat rightly points out, if this information is true, al-Jahiz would have been at least twenty years old, since the canal was inspected and inaugurated by ar-Rashid in the beginning of the year 796.21 Al-Masudi in his biography of al-Jahiz,22 further notes that he was the page (ghulam) of Ibrahim ibn Sayyar.23 Later in life, it would appear that al-Jahiz earned a considerable amount of money from dedications of his works. He himself is quoted in Ibn an-Nadim as stating that he was given, for example, five thousand dinars by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik24 for his Kitab al-Hayawan (The Book of Animals).25

It appears that al-Jahiz had an avidity for learning and it is again Yaqut who cites sources which support this characteristic. Abu Hiffan26 said that he had never seen or heard anyone who loved books as much as al-Jahiz and that whenever a book fell into his hands, he would read it exhaustively. It seems that al-Jahiz used to rent (kana yaktari) the shops of the manuscript copyists/book sellers (al-warraquri) and would pass the night there in order to examine the books.27

Pellat poses the very interesting question as to where and how, aside from the way described above, al-Jahiz could have had access to books in his native Basra. First, there were no public libraries in the city, and even more importantly, the cost of books was such that our author could not have had it within his means to buy many of them. One is tempted to draw the same conclusion as Pellat, that it was certainly the friends and teachers of al-Jahiz who gave him access to their private libraries.28

The principal teachers of al-Jahiz were indeed men of great renown. Among the philologists and lexicographers, he is said to have studied with Abu Ubayda,29 al-Asmai,30 and Abu Zayd al-Ansari,31 according to Lewin a triumvirate to whom later philologists owe the greater part of their knowledge.32 Others who contributed to the intellectual formation of al-Jahiz include Abu al-Hasan al-Akhfash33 with whom he studied grammar,34 Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ibrahim al-Qadi,35 Yazid ibn Harun,36 as-Sari ibn Abdawayh,37 al-Hajjaj ibn Muhammad ibn Hammad ibn Salama,38 and Thumama ibn Ashras39 with all of whom he studied hadith,40 and lastly Ibrahim ibn Sayyar an-Nazzam,41 with whom he studied kalam42 (scholastic theology). An-Nazzam was a major exponent of Mutazilism, a rationalizing school of Islamic theology,43 of which al-Jahiz was a defender.44

Aside from the learning he accumulated from these illustrious masters, al-Jahiz would go to the mirbad of Basra, and that is where he is said to have snatched eloquence (al-fasaha) orally from the bedouins.45 The mirbad was originally the area where the dates were dried46 as well as the area where the camels were parked.47 Yaqut in his Mujam al-Buldan explains that the mirbad of Basra, one of the city's most famous areas, was originally a camel market and later became a place where people lived and where the poets recited their poetry and the orators delivered their speeches.48 Pellat further describes the mirbad as "vaste marché oú les Bédouins venaient vendre leurs animaux…mais l'on y vendait aussi d'autres produits d'une inestimable valeur. On y vendait de la poésie, du vocabulaire, des hadit-s, de la grammaire, des traditions historiques."49

The knowledge which al-Jahiz accumulated in the mirbad, and which might be called "extra academic," was increased at yet one more place which our author frequented, the mosque, al-masjid.50 In the mosque, people gathered to pray, to learn, and to discuss. According to the Kitab al-Bukhala, it would appear that there was a group of people whose custom it was to sit in the mosque and to exchange information, anecdotes, and ideas. The persons in this group earned the appellation of masjidi, or he who frequents the mosque.51 But anyone could, if he so felt inclined, participate in this activity, which might take place, for example, after the performance of the prayers. Pellat suggests that these masjidiyyun were members of52 the bourgeoisie. The French scholar also states, and al-Hajiri agrees, that the group was diverse, including, among others, poets and transmitters of poetry. Al-Jahiz mentions them in al-Bayan wat-Tabyin and al-Hayawan, as well as in al-Bukhala."53 For a man with an acute sense of observation, like al-Jahiz, there was indeed much to be gleaned by frequenting these public places.

Al-Jahiz was also a prolific author, and Charles Pellat, who has devoted many years of study to the "phénomène Djahiz,"54 has published a list of the literary output of the Arab author, under the seemingly appropriate title of "Gahiziana."55 Further, the French scholar divides the works of al-Jahiz into various categories, including among others al-Jahiz's particular type of adab and traditional adab.56 It would be fruitless here simply to reproduce this extensive research. Suffice it to say that our author was, to use a popular expression, a literary jack-of-all trades.57 His erudition ranged from works of religious and political polemic, such as the Kitab al-Uthmaniyya (The Book of the Uthmaniyya),58 to works intended for the general instruction of the reader,59 such as the Kitab al-Hayawan (The Book of Animals), an anthology dealing with animals yet touching upon questions of "theology, metaphysics, sociology, etc."60 The Kitab al-Bukhala, which is being considered here, would fall within the group of works dealing with a specific category of people. One can cite other books in this category composed by al-Jahiz. He himself mentions a Kitab al-Lusus (The Book of Thieves) in his Kitab al-Bukhala, as well as in the Kitab al-Hayawan.61 This work is unfortunately not extant. Further titles would include, among others, the recently edited manuscript of al-Bursan wal-Urjan wal-Umyan wal-Hulan (The Lepers, the Lame, the Blind, and the Cross-Eyed)62 and the Kitab al-Qiyan (The Book of Singing Slave Girls).63

It is not the literary placement within the works of al-Jahiz of his Kitab al-Bukhala which presents a problem but rather the chronological placement of the work within the author's life. Taha al-Hajiri, in his edition of the Bukhala, poses this very question and answers it in what seems a logical way, given the evidence.64 However, one must emphasize that no definite dates are available for the author's works. The conclusions, therefore, have been derived from evidence gleaned from diverse sources. Al-Jahiz himself mentions his Bukhala in the introduction to his Kitab al-Hayawan.65 The Hayawan is dedicated to Ibn az-Zayyat, the vizier who died in 233/847.66 So we can say at the least that the Bukhala was written before that date. Further, one of the many anecdotes in the Bukhala where al-Jahiz appears reveals much useful biographical information, if taken at face value.67 The anecdote concerns a certain Mahfuz an-Naqqash who, to discourage his guest from eating, points out to al-Jahiz that he is a man advanced in years (taantafi assinri) and suffering from hemiplegia (falij). Therefore, it would seem that al-Jahiz was partially paralyzed, if not completely before the writing of the Bukhala, at least while composing part of the work. The beginnings of his illness can be approximated to the year 233 A.H.68. Jamal ad-Din ibn Nubata al-Misri (d. 768/1366) in his Sarh al-Uyun fi Sharh Risalat Ibn Zaydun relates the circumstances which brought on this malady. It seems that al-Jahiz was once eating at the home of Ibn Abi Du'ad69 and among the dishes offered were fish and milk (labari). Ibn Bukhtishu,70 a doctor who was present, warned against eating both together. However, al-Jahiz did not heed this warning and proceeded to eat. As a result, not only was he smitten by massive hemiplegia (falij azirri) but by gout (niqris) as well!71

Whatever the veracity of this particular story, there seems to be no doubt that al-Jahiz was suffering from hemiplegia. From this and from the citation of the work in the Hayawan, it seems likely that al-Jahiz wrote the Bukhala in the latter part of his life.72

Whether or not al-Jahiz was the first to write a book on the bukhala is another question which must be investigated. Even though his book is the earliest extant work, it would appear that he was not the first author to write books on the subject of bukhl and bukhala. Ibn an-Nadim, who in his Fihrist provides us with an indispensable source on the works available in the early Islamic period, mentions a Kitab al-Bukhl by al-Madaini (d. between 215 and 231/830-845).73 Though in the absence of al-Madaini's work it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions, a passage in the Kitab al-Bukhala suggests the possibility that a very small number of anecdotes may have been taken from that work.74

As the above sketch of the life al-Jahiz shows, he was a sophisticated man, broadly and well educated in the literary and religious sciences of his time. He was also a worldly individual with considerable practical experience of life. Both these types of experience, the intellectual and the general, can be found reflected in his Kitab al-Bukhala.


[A] literary work can be described not only in terms of its structure but also in terms of its organization. In addition, since organization represents the visible arrangement of materials, it is a particularly significant part of the adab discourse. This discourse includes not only anecdotes,…but also other, non-anecdotal, material. The isolation of the anecdotal from the non-anecdotal material will, therefore, form an important part of the study of the organization of these two works. At the same time, this process will permit us to examine the nature of the non-anecdotal material and to discuss its significance for the works as literary wholes.

W. Marcais in "Quelques observations sur le texte du "Kitab el-Buhala' (Le Livre des Avares) d'el-Gahiz," has described the book in the following manner; "Par ailleurs, une absence complète de composition: des redites, des digressions, un dernier chapitre de 40 pages qui n'a qu'un très lointain rapport avec le reste de l'ouvrage; tout le désordre d'un homme spirituel, curieux, et fort érudit, qui, par impuissance peut-être à se discipliner, s'est fait une régie, il l'a dit et redit, du bavardage à bâtons rompus;…un écrivain de race, abondant et pressé, peu soigneux mais très sûr de sa langue."75 Though a superficial examination of the work might seem to lend some credence to a few of Marcais' characterizations, a more thorough study will show that the arrangement of the work is not haphazard and could be said to display a highly sophisticated, if not necessarily schematic, sense of composition.

In the above quoted statement, Marcais also drew attention to the problem raised by the inclusion of the last chapter in the Kitab al-Bukhala. Though he clearly sensed a divergence between it and the rest of the work, he did not discuss this issue at length. Charles Pellat, who in 1951 published a translation of al-Jahiz's work, did, however, go so far as to isolate the last chapter from the book,76 publishing a translation of this last chapter separately in Arabica in 1955.77 The discussion of the overall organization of the text at hand presupposes, of course, a determination of the precise extent of this text. Should or should not the last chapter be included?

This controversial chapter, entitled "Atraf min Ilm al-Arab fi at-Taam" (The Utmost Parts from the Knowledge of the Arabs Concerning Food), is a study devoted to definitions of different foods, different types of invitations, how one requests hospitality at night, cannibalism among various tribes, etc. Pellat stated concerning its disjunction from the Kitab al-Bukhala "qu'on avait cru bon de séparer du reste de l'ouvrage, car le sujet et le ton y sont tout à fait différents."78 Since the section is, in the main, about the foods of the Bedouins, Pellat asks whether this chapter could be the Kitab Atimat al-Arab (The Book of the Foods of the Bedouins) listed by Brockelmann.79 He points out, however, that a certain proverb attributed by al-Maydani to this very same Kitab Atimat al-Arab does not appear in this chapter. Pellat, therefore, speculates on the possibility that al-Jahiz could have composed another work on this subject.80 Going further, the French scholar notes that al-Jahiz, in this chapter, discusses the issue of cannibalism among the Bedouins. Since Pellat assumed that the intent of the Kitab al-Bukhala was to attack the claims of the non-Arabs,81 he expressed his surprise that al-Jahiz should in such a work provide materials for the non-Arabs upon which they could attack their adversaries. He very diplomatically concludes: "le problème reste donc posé."82

It is, of course, of interest to note the Arab editor's view-point. Taha al-Hajiri, by his inclusion of the chapter in his edition of the Bukhala, was clearly arguing for its treatment as part of the text. Nevertheless, when discussing the overall composition of the work in his introduction, al-Hajiri notes that the chapter in question is the only one which could not be said to be subsumed in the characterization that al-Jahiz himself gave of his work in his introduction.83 The only explanation which the editor offers for the presence of this chapter is al-Jahiz's "Arab inclination" (nazatuhu al-arabiyya).84

Concerning this problem, I am in substantial agreement with Charles Pellat. The exclusion of this chapter from the body of the work can be argued, first of all, from internal evidence. Although the chapter is obviously part of a larger work, as is clear from its first paragraph where al-Jahiz states that he has discussed his subject at length (ihtajna ind attatwil),85 the style and the tone would suggest that it is not part of the Kitab al-Bukhala. Further, al-Jahiz indicates towards the end of this chapter that the benefit of his book is limited to the individual who has not only transmitted poetry and prose, but to one who is also aware of the behavior and usages86 of the various tribes, or, at least, to the individual who has a decent acquaintance with the subject.87 Certainly, while some knowledge is necessary for understanding and appreciating the Bukhala, this knowledge is not restricted to the individual to whom al-Jahiz alludes, nor is poetry, as a brief glance at the Kitab al-Bukhala will show, an essential component of the work. Further, while the body of the work is prose (largely anecdotes), the chapter in question is, in the main, descriptive and illustrative verse. Another point worth mentioning is the fact that this last section deals with problems and questions concerning particular usages among bedouin tribes, a technical discussion which, as will become evident later, bears little relation to the material in the body of the work. This is particularly the case since al-Jahiz in this last chapter discusses bedouin life, while the body of the work, as will be shown in Chapter VII, is mainly concerned with urbanites.

Though the internal evidence seems, to this author at least, fairly convincing, the manuscript evidence is somewhat less conclusive. According to al-Hajiri, only two manuscripts of the Bukhala of al-Jahiz have been discovered, a complete one, Koprulu 1359, and an incomplete one, Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Arabe 6011, which consists of a segment stopping in the middle of the work.88 Thus, this final chapter is present in only one manuscript. Since it was not unheard of for manuscript copyists to attach, without explicitly saying so, other works to the works they were copying,89 is it not possible that this might be the case with the Koprulu manuscript? In fact, there is some evidence, other than the nature of the chapter in question, that this may be so. First of all, Taha al-Hajiri himself noted that the manuscript copyist was an ignorant scribe who copied without understanding and who, therefore, made frequent errors.90 But more important, in the Koprulu manuscript, the last chapter is set off by a simple marking similar to those used in other places in the manuscript, and begins with the words: qala Amr al-Jahiz (Amr al-Jahiz said).91 This, in itself, is significant since the other parts of the Kitab al-Bukhala are not framed or introduced by attributions to al-Jahiz. In the rest of the manuscript, al-Jahiz is both the introducer and the speaker, whether he begins in the first person, quotes someone else, or introduces other information. Hence, this last chapter differs from the others by the fact that the speaker/author is set off by an additional citation. Thus, this addtional citation would seem to suggest that the scribe had adjoined some new material, perhaps even material by al-Jahiz which had been cited in another text. Or, it is possible that our scribe merely copied a change of this sort which had been made at an earlier stage of the manuscript transmission. Therefore, the analysis which will be undertaken will deal only with what has been called up to now the body of the work, excluding the last chapter, and it is this body which will be considered the Kitab al-Bukhala.

As was mentioned above, the Kitab al-Bukhala consists largely of prose anecdotes. The anecdotes themselves will be the subject of Chapter IV. In the present chapter, attention will be directed to a discussion of the non-anecdotal material in the text. In the process, an examination will also be made of the organization of the book as a whole.

The characteristic which strikes the reader first is the appearance of disorganization of the Kitab al-Bukhala. Al-Jahiz would appear to be haphazardly moving from one area to another, and no plan is visible in the chapter titles. What we have are descriptive headings for some of the sections in the text.92 It would be most useful to first present the components of the text and to discuss them at length afterwards. Many of the sections in the text have descriptive labels which are indicated below. Some, however, have no such labels or titles, and in those cases, I have composed short descriptive titles which are placed in brackets. In addition, the sections have been numbered for ease of reference.

  1. [Introduction by al-Jahiz] pp. 1-8
  2. Risala (Epistle) of Sahl ibn Harun 9-16
  3. [Anecdotes about the Khurasanians] 17-28
  4. Story (qissa) of the People of Basra from among the Masjidis 29-34
  5. Story (qissa) of Zubayda ibn Humayd 35-36
  6. Story (qissa) of Lay la an-Naitiyya 37
  7. [Various Anecdotes] 38-40
  8. Story (qissa) of Ahmad ibn Khalaf 41-43
  9. [Various Anecdotes] 44-45
  10. Story (hadith) of Khalid ibn Yazid 46-53
  11. Various Anecdotes 54-57
  12. Story (qissa) of Abu Jafar 58
  13. Story (qissa) of al-Hizami 59-65
  14. [Anecdote about Khalid ibn Abd Allah al-Qasri] 66
  15. Story (qissa) of al-Harithi 67-75
  16. Explanation of the Terms Used by Abu Fatik93 76-80
  17. Story (qissa) of al-Kindi 81-93
  18. Story (qissa) of Muhammad ibn Abi al-Muammal 94-101
  19. Story (qissa) of Asad ibn Jani 102
  20. Story (qissa) of ath-Thawri 103-112
  21. Various Anecdotes about al-Anbari, Abu Qutba and Filawayh 113-115
  22. Story (qissa) of Tammam ibn Jafar 116-119
  23. Various Anecdotes 120-128
  24. Story (qissa) of Ibn al-Aqadi 129
  25. Various Anecdotes 130-136
  26. Story (qissa) of Abu Said al-Madaini 137-143
  27. Story (qissa) of al-Asmai 144
  28. Story (qissa) of Abu Uyayna 145-146
  29. Various Anecdotes 147-153
  30. The Epistle of Abu al-As ibn Abd al-Wahhab ibn Abd al-Majid ath-Thaqafi to ath-Thaqafi 154-168
  31. The Reply of Ibn at-Tawam 169-194
  32. Various Anecdotes 195-212

Each section within the work can be perceived as a selfcontained literary unit. In addition, since these sections are self-contained, they are, from the standpoint of aesthetic literary development, in the main potentially independent. From the point of view of content, there are two exceptions to this potential independence. Further, with the same two exceptions which will be discussed below, these sections contain no obviously necessary linear sequential order.

From the above list of the divisions of the work, a preliminary distinction can be made between collections of bukhl anecdotes, on the one hand, and other bukhl related material, on the other. The collections of anecdotes can futher be divided into three subgroups (see Table I below):

A—groups of anecdotes concerned with different individuals with no unifying elements (sections 7, 9, 11, 21, 23, 25, 29, 32).

B—an anecdote or a series of anecdotes concerned with a single individual, further divided into Bl, sections containing only one anecdote (sections 6, 12, 14, 24, 27) and B2, sections containing more than one anecdote (sections 5, 8, 10, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 26, 28). In the case of section 10, al-Jahiz has appended a discussion of the vocabulary used by Khalid ibn Yazid in the course of the anecdote.94

C—groups of anecdotes concerned with different individuals but with some unifying elements, be they geographical provenance (section 3) or social circumstances (section 4). An additional unifying element in section 4 is the literary device of having the shaykh who narrated the first anecdote make the final comments in the section.

All the remaining sections of the work, other than al-Jahiz's introduction, though they are not bukhl anecdotes, in fact possess a specific relation to the concept of bukhl which can be seen when each section is discussed as an individual unit.

The author's introduction, which will be examined last, is followed by the epistle of Sahl ibn Harun. Sahl ibn Harun was a writer and poet, a contemporary of al-Jahiz, who died in the year 244/858.95 He is said to have been a fanatical supporter of the Shuubiyya,96 a movement of Persian nationalism whose aim was the glorification of the Persians.97 Ignaz Goldziher, in his masterful study of the Shuubiyya, writes as regards Sahl ibn Harun that "the literary curiosity which made him famous was presumably also a consequence of his tendency to ridicule Arab ideals. This is the only explanation for his having written a number of treatises on miserliness."98 It would appear that Sahl ibn Harun wrote in favor of bukhl. The question is, however, whether or not he composed the particular epistle which is found in the Kitab al-Bukhala and attributed to him by al-Jahiz.99 In his notice on Sahl ibn Harun, Ibn an-Nadim notes that Sahl was the author of risalas about bukhl (fi al-bukhl), after which the biographer states that Sahl wrote a risala praising bukhl (risala yamdahfiha al-bukhl), addressed to the vizier, al-Hasan ibn Sahl. The risala in the Bukhala of al-Jahiz is given as being addressed to Muhammad ibn Ziyad and his cousins. Taha al-Hajiri himself opined that if these two risalas were the same, Ibn an-Nadim would most likely have noted that fact. Whether or not one accepts the opinion of al-Hajiri, it can be observed that the information in the Fihrist could support two conclusions. It is entirely possible that Sahl, having written one risala in praise of bukhl, also wrote another. It is equally possible, however, that since Sahl wrote a risala in praise of bukhl, al-Jahiz considered it both poetic justice and good fun to attribute an additional one to him.100

Yaqut, in his biography of Sahl ibn Harun, appears to have solved this problem. On his own authority, he states that Sahl wrote a risala praising bukhl which he sent to his cousins and a copy of which he also sent to the vizier al-Hasan ibn Sahl. Al-Hajiri, once again, may have been correct when he stated the opinion that Yaqut erroneously attempted to combine the information in the Fihrist and that in al-Jahiz.101 Similarly, al-Hajiri is of the opinion, shared by this writer, that the risala in praise of bukhl by Sahl ibn Harun addressed to Muhammad ibn Ziyad and his cousins included by Ibn Abd Rabbihi and an-Nuwayri was simply copied by the latter from the former who copied it from al-Jahiz along with other material.102

Thus, no definite answer to this question can be derived from the citations of the primary sources, and the literary scholar must turn to internal evidence. As it is written, the risala of Sahl ibn Harun fits easily into the text and there is no discordance between its style and that of the rest of the book.103 Of course, if Sahl did not actually write this epistle, al-Jahiz must have. Al-Hajiri rightly points out that the solution to this particular problem lies in the nature of al-Jahiz himself.104 Was he in his Kitab al-Bukhala attempting to transmit existing traditions and issues, or was he simply demonstrating his own literary ability and rhetorical innovations? There is no doubt that one of the major goals of our writer in this particular work was indeed the manifestation of literary artistry. Such a view would fit exceedingly well with the image that al-Jahiz's contemporary, Ibn Qutayba, had of him. In his Kitab Tawil Mukhtalif al-Hadith, discussed in Chapter II above, Ibn Qutayba described our author as being capable of "doing a thing and its opposite," as, for example, attacking and defending AH, or arguing the superiority of the blacks over the whites. Even more important for our purposes here, Ibn Qutayba goes so far as to call al-Jahiz "among the greatest liars in the community of believers (ummd), its greatest inventors (i.e. falsifiers) of hadiths, and its greatest supporters of falsehood."105 What this somewhat angry passage is meant to suggest is that al-Jahiz, unlike most other Muslim writers, felt free to use the standard forms of attribution and citation as a fiction, and that such attribution cannot, therefore, be considered historically reliable. Were there any further doubt, we could note that al-Jahiz himself stated, in another context, that he had no qualms about attributing his own works to others.106 Therefore, it seems reasonable to consider this epistle as having been written by al-Jahiz himself. Fortunately, the question, though interesting, is not crucial. Even if one were to assume that this risala really were the work of Sahl ibn Harun, it would still have to have been selected by al-Jahiz for inclusion in his Kitab al-Bukhala. Al-Jahiz would, thus, have the artistic responsibility for its presence and placement in the work, and therefore it must be considered in the discussion of the organization of the work.

The epistle is addressed by Sahl ibn Harun to Muhammad who ibn Ziyad and his cousins him, from the family of Ziyad107 who reproached him i.e. Sahl, the his doctrine of bukhl and criticized his argumentation concerning the acquisition of goods. Sahl here lists the reproaches which were made to him concerning some of his habits, and defends himself by, in the main, citing early Islamic pietists and defenders of frugality, such as al-Hasan al-Basri or the caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab.

The principal technique used by Sahl in this risala to disculpate himself is the citation of a passage in which the Prophet or another figure noted for his piety enjoins the specific action for which Sahl has been reproached. The approach could, thus, be described as historical and rhetorical, as opposed to ethical or philosophical. Despite this, the risala as a whole can be taken as a defense of bukhl and it is, thus, similar in thematic structure to the type of anecdote … in which the bakhil demonstrates his bukhl through the defense of the vice. Extended non-anecdotal passages in defense of bukhl will be called bukhl statements.

The next section which will be discussed here is the story of al-Harithi, section 15 above. Although it is labelled as the story of al-Harithi, its nature and structure would argue for its being considered a bukhl statement. This nine-page discussion is brought on by the fact that al-Harithi is asked why, despite the fact that he spends much money on food, and retains numerous servants, he never eats with people worthy of his company or of the food he serves. He, thereupon, begins to defend his actions by citing numerous sources about ungrateful or impolite guests, who either eat more than their share, or complain that the host has not offered enough food, or that his food is not properly prepared. These stories about ungrateful or ill-mannered guests, which make up the bulk of the section, could themselves, from a purely literary point of view, be considered anecdotes. They are, however, not bukhl anecdotes, but if a name were to be given them, they would have to be called "ill-mannered guest anecdotes" or "ungrateful guest anecdotes." They achieve their relationship to bukhl only when considered as a section in which al-Harithi demonstrates his bukhl by citing them in defense of his own practice of eating without guests.

What we are dealing with here is, in effect, a narrative that can be read on two levels, that of the individual anecdote and that of the anecdote in the context of the section. Some of the anecdotes in this section dealing with a guest who complains that the host is not offering enough food, for example, could, taken in isolation, be interpreted as bukhl anecdotes, in which the host would be the bakhil. However, when seen in context, they should be interpreted as "ill-mannered guest anecdotes" being used by al-Harithi to buttress his argument. It is, thus, on the level of the larger narrative (the section) that these anecdotes achieve their proper relationship to bukhl.

This exposition by al-Harithi is followed by an explanation of the words used by Abu Fatik. The latter is someone whom al-Harithi employs in his argumentation. The expressions explained, however, include not only ones which Abu Fatik used but also ones which al-Harithi mentioned. These terms are all descriptive categories of individuals who have impolite table manners. They include, for example, the maddad, literally the stretcher, who, when eating a nerve which is not fully cooked, stretches it between his mouth and hand, and breaks it with a thrust causing it to spill all over the clothing of the person with whom he is eating.108 Another interesting character is the muhawwil, literally the changer, who, when he sees the abundance of date pits in front of him, uses deceit to mix them with the pits of his companions.109

Although this particular section of the Kitab al-Bukhala is labelled separately, it forms a supplement to the preceding section, reinforcing with its almost grisly detail al-Harithi's attitude of disgust towards his potential guests. In fact, this supplement ends with more discussion by al-Harithi about impolite guests.110 This exposition, which follows the same principles as the previous section, would argue for the essential unity of the two sections. The two, seen as an ensemble, form one bukhl statement.

The next non-anecdotal section is the epistle of Abu al-As ibn Abd al-Wahhab ibn Abd al-Majid ath-Thaqafi addressed to ath-Thaqafi, section 30 above. This epistle is not a bukhl statement by a bakhil, but rather the opposite, an attack on bukhl and the bukhala. This risala, and the response which follows, poses the same question of authorship raised by the epistle of Sahl ibn Harun. Of course, the general considerations which would derive from the supposition of al-Jahiz's authorship are the same. In this case, however, it can also be noted that one of the early editors of the Bukhala, van Vloten, also suspected al-Jahiz's authorship. He observed that these sections were written in a completely Jahizian style and blended perfectly with the rest of the work. Van Vloten also argued that many of the phrases and arguments were similar to some al-Jahiz used in the Fakhr as-Sudan ala al-Bidan.111 The position of van Vloten seems reasonable.

The epistle begins with a section in which ath-Thaqafi is reproached for associating with known bukhala like Sahl while avoiding the society of the generous. It is further noted that he pays too much attention to the science of the acquisition of goods. From this, the speaker concludes that ath-Thaqafi is indeed a bakhil and not merely economical. Bukhl is then condemned on theological, historical, and psychological grounds. God is noted for his generosity as are the Prophet and the Hashimites, his clan. All the tribes agree on the praise of generosity and the blameworthiness of bukhl. It is noted that the bakhil is not really economical since some bukhala indulge in luxury, that the bakhil, through his overattachment to worldly goods, will be more unhappy if he loses them, and finally that saving for the sake of offspring is mere pretense. In addition, a long list of proverbs and sayings is cited in which bukhl is condemned or generosity is praised.

The epistle of Ibn at-Tawam, section 31 above, was composed in response to the preceding risala. Ibn at-Tawam, however, did not address it to Abu al-As directly but to ath-Thaqafi. Thus, it is not the generous man but the bakhil who is addressed. The writer of the risala enjoins upon ath-Thaqafi the practice of bukhl and cites cases of impolite guests.

Ibn at-Tawam's general arguments include the injunction not to heed the opinion of the generality of mankind and the statement that what most label generosity is really wasteful prodigality. In the manner of Sahl ibn Harun, Ibn at-Tawam contends that he is only following the precepts of the Prophet, the Quran, and saintly men. This argument is defended by citations from the Quran and the Prophet which are themselves general injunctions in favor of making provisions for one's future or that of one's family; one example is the remark attributed to the Prophet that it is better to leave one's offspring wealthy than that they should have to beg.112

As was mentioned above, the Kitab al-Bukhala begins with an introduction by al-Jahiz. This opens with a lengthy discussion of the topics which he was asked to treat in his book concerning the mentality of the bukhala, and the reasons for their behavior and their choice of this particular way of life. The author then states that the reader will find three things in his book: the first being the explanation of a novel argument (tabayyun hujja tarifa), the second being the revelation of a witty stratagem (taarruf hila latifa), and the third being the benefit of a wondrous anecdote (istifadat nadira ajiba).113 Al-Jahiz then indicates that the reader may laugh if he pleases or amuse himself at will if the serious bores him. Our author follows this with a discussion of the benefits of both tears and laughter. He closes the introduction with an aside in which he points out that though in many cases the protagonists have been identi fied, in other cases, the names have been suppressed out of fear or respect.

The introduction, thus, performs three principal functions: 1) that of introducing how al-Jahiz came to write this book, 2) defense of the tone of the book, and 3) what is most significant for the composition of the book as a whole, al-Jahiz's discussion of what he considers most interesting in its contents.

Of the three elements he cites, the "wondrous anecdote" is obvious. The "witty stratagem" or hila … is, in fact, the dramatic focus of the majority of the anecdotes, while the "novel argument" clearly refers to the bukhl statements as well as to certain of the anecdotes which do not contain stratagems. Thus, we can see that in this short passage, al-Jahiz has identified and succinctly categorized those elements of the work which, while exemplifying bukhl or the bukhala, give the work its literary charm. At the very least, their presence in the work would hardly seem accidental.

From the above discussion, it should be clear that all of the sections bear a definite relation to the subject of the work as a whole, though the level of organization at which this takes place varies. In some cases, this occurs at the level of the anecdote, in others, only at the level of the section. The Kitab al-Bukhala can, thus, be seen as a collection of sections.

But what about the arrangement of the sections themselves? Sections 15 and 16, on the one hand, and sections 30 and 31, on the other, clearly form necessary sequences. The other sections have no necessary relationship one to the other. Their placement in the work, however, becomes evident when one considers that al-Jahiz was deliberately creating the literary effect of variety. By referring to Table I, it can be seen that the non-anecdotal sections have been placed in a nearly symmetrical manner. The work begins with the epistle of Sahl ibn Harun. After a series of anecdotal sections, it is punctuated in positions 15 and 16 with the story of al-Harithi and its accompanying vocabulary. Finally, the penultimate

NA = non-anecdotal material
A, Bl, B2, and C are anecdotal sections (see discussion above)
Section Type Pages
1 - 1-8
2 NA 9-16
3 C 17-28
4 C 29-34
5 B2 35-36
6 B1 37
7 A 38-40
8 B2 41-43
9 A 44-45
10 B2 46-53
11 A 54-57
12 B1 58
13 B2 59-65
14 B1 66
15 NA 67-75
16 NA 76-80
17 B2 81-93
18 B2 92-101
19 B2 102
20 B2 103-112
21 A 113-115
22 B2 116-119
23 A 120-128
24 B1 129
25 A 130-136
26 B2 137-143
27 B1 144
28 B2 145-146
29 A 147-153
30 NA 154-169
31 NA 169-194
32 A 195-212

and antepenultimate sections contain the two linked risalas which by their nature, as well as references to Sahl himself, recall the opening risala. The anecdotal sections are varied in their presentation without creating deliberate alternation which would be both obvious and tiresome. The principal exception to this, the linking of the two "C" sections (3 and 4), is only apparent. Section 3 discusses a geographical or ethnic category of persons, the Khurasanians, while section 4 discusses a social group, the Masjidis. In this way, the author has created a constantly varied and refreshing récit. Had he set up a clear relationship between the sections, as, for example, following the Khurasanians with another geographic group, or placing the risalas together, the reader would have grown familiar with a type of discourse which would have lost its charm. A similar effect would have been created had our author obviously and mathematically alternated the types. Instead, the reader perceives no organization as he reads, and is constantly surprised and delighted by the novelty and freshness of each new section.114 Thus, one should find in the superficial disorder of this work not a lack on the part of the author, but the sign of his genius.


[The] greater part of the two Bukhala works is composed of anecdotes, that is, of potentially independent literary units. In order to develop a micropoetic analysis of these units, it is necessary to deal with them, at least initially, in isolation from their immediate environment. At the same time, for the efficacy of a structuralist analysis, it is essential to consider the units as part of a corpus. For the initial synchronie analysis, all of the anecdotes in each work will constitute a corpus. The author to be considered first, al-Jahiz, besides being the earlier of the two, is also the one with the higher density of anecdotes.

The bukhala anecdote, it will be remembered, was defined … as: a self-contained narrative unit embodying an action or event which demonstrates that a person, persons, or group or class of people, whether historical or not, possess the characteristic of bukhl. An examination of this definition shows that it is based upon an action defining a role which, in turn, is defining an action. The Proppian function was consequently redefined as an interface between action and role (F = A/R). Since a morphology is a sequence of functions, what we are in effect seeking in the anecdotes is the action/role of a bukhl action/bakhil. It is the nature of this function within the anecdote which determines its morphological category and not any action in the ordinary sense that may be present in the anecdotes. As we shall see, it is only the role-defining action that is significant for the categorization of the anecdotes.

The functional analysis has indeed revealed the existence of recurring morphological structures, thus permitting the identification and classification of the Jahizian anecdotes into morphological categories. The numerically most important, representing seventy-nine anecdotes (32.5% of the total) will be called the Object category. These anecdotes involve the use or abuse of something in an unusual or overly careful manner, in an effort to save.

A typical representative is the following:

Abu Abd ar-Rahman would, when he finished eating a head, take the skull and the jaws and place them near the places where ants and grubs were found, and when they had assembled there, he would take the skull and shake it over a basin of water. He did this until he had no more ants and grubs in the house. Then he would place the skull with the wood to use for kindling (J. #115).115

Evidently, the essential action in this anecdote, that by which Abu Abd ar-Rahman demonstrates that he is a bakhil, is the unusual use of the skull, since this is clearly motivated by a desire to save.

However, the function-embodying action in the Object anecdote need not always be presented in this manner. Al-Jahiz relates the following:

Abu Muhammad al-Hizami saw him one cold day in the month of October wearing a rather old Qumisi overcoat. Al-Hizami thereupon expressed his surprise that a man as intelligent as al-Jahiz could be so wasteful and so ignorant. Al-Jahiz, rather surprised, asked him why. He was told that it was because he was wearing the coat before its time. Al-Jahiz replied that it certainly was cold enough, and futher that he would wear the same coat in July or August, if the weather called for it. Al-Hizami replied that in that case he should replace this particular coat with a lined outer garment, and further that wearing wool on such a day was not allowed. Upon asking why, al-Jahiz was told that the dust at the end of the summer enters the wool and settles between the threads. When it rains, this dust gets wet, and furthermore, it is salty. When the wool contracts, this wet dust will become part of it and will corrode it. Therefore, the wearing of wool should be limited to the period after the rains when the air has been purified of all the dust present. Then it may be worn with God's blessing (J. #68).

Although there are many actions in the above anecdote, there is an action which must be singled out as the most important, the action which shows that al-Hizami is a bakhil. That action is the recommendation concerning the use of the coat. In effect, it is not the act of recommending but the content of that which is recommended which is significant. The act of recommending, when considered in isolation from the action which is recommended, is morally neutral. Only the content of the recommended action can indicate, for example, that the recommender is a bakhil. The function, thus, is found in the recommended action. This action, of course, falls within the Object category, as does the anecdote.

As can be seen, the function need not be the only action taking place in the anecdote, nor need the other actions, as in this case the recommending, be given in an abbreviated form or limited to a rhetorical device of introduction. Function and narrative need not be even substantially identical.

Further, the action/function in the above anecdote did not actually take place. It remains theoretical because it is recommended. The narrative pattern of recommendation has been applied to other Object anecdotes. Bakhite recommended actions ranging from eating fava bean skins (J. #105) to flavoring with olive water (J. #103), as well as using special tricks when handling lamps (J. #9, J. #10).

In addition, the actions in these anecdotes can be either discrete or continuous. The unusual use of the skull, as in the anecdote discussed above, is a finite action, accomplished deliberately and in a limited period of time, even though this might be several hours. The non-use of the woolen Qumisi overcoat, on the other hand, is continuous. An even clearer example of a continuous action is provided by the following anecdote:

The Marwazis, when they wear their shoes during the six months that they cannot take them off, walk on their toes for three months and on their heels for the other three. In this manner, it is as if they wore the shoes for only three months, this out of fear that the soles of the shoes might get worn out or get a hole (J. #24).

As the above example demonstrates, the action sometimes could be habitual. The implication is that the action has taken place in the past as it will in the future. Habitual actions, of course, can be either discrete or continuous. The logic of recommended actions, however, dictates that they not be habitual. There are also anecdotes in which the action is historical in the simplest sense, as when the same al-Hizami of the Qumisi overcoat refuses a gift of some free molasses, justifying this action which seemed so out of character with a long speech listing all the expenses which the acceptance of the molasses would eventually create (J. #78).

The flexibility in the manner of presentation of the action is made possible by the simplicity of the morphological structure of the Object anecdote. This simplicity is related not only to the fact that these anecdotes contain only one function but also to the fact that this function is independent of any interpersonal relations. The action/function in the Object anecdote transmits the quality of bukhl through the nature of the action itself. Only the bakhil or the object used or abused is necessary for the fulfillment of the function. Hence the action can be treated in isolation, referred to, recommended, and/or embedded in a narrative.

Although the structure of the Object anecdote requires only the presence of a solitary bakhil, there are numerous anecdotes in which other people are present. As the above examples show, these other characters can be receivers of a recommendation (Qumisi overcoat), witnesses, or part of the background against which the bakhil reacts (the molasses). They can also be, from a certain point of view, objects, in the grammatical sense, of the bukhl action itself. These anecdotes, however, present certain problems in the identification of their morphological patterns, as can be seen from the following example:

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Sayyar an-Nazzam related the following: A neighbor invited us and served us dates and rendered butter. We were sitting around a table on which there was nothing but what I mentioned. The Khurasani [from an earlier anecdote] was eating with us. I saw him dropping the fat on the table drop by drop again and again. So I said to my neighbor: "What is with so and so that he wastes other people's butter, behaves ill, and serves himself more than his share?" "Don't you know his reason?" he answered, "no, by God, I don't," I said. So he replied: "The table is his, and he wants to grease it in order to varnish it. He has divorced his wife, his children's mother, because he saw her washing a table of his with hot water. He said to her: Why didn't you just wipe it?" (J. #15).

Clearly, in this story, the dripping of the butter is the role-defining action. In a certain sense, it could be argued that the host is the victim of this action, since it is his butter which is being spilled. This could place the anecdote within another morphological category, the Agent/Victim category which will be discussed below. Nevertheless, the above example, as well as some others, belongs to the Object category. If one examines that aspect of the action which makes it exemplify bukhl, one can see that far more important than the appropriation of the host's butter, is the manifest exaggeration involved in the bakhil's taking this opportunity to grease his own table, and with butter yet. Looked at another way, the actual transfer of value is miniscule not only in absolute terms but also in relation to the expense that the host has already incurred in providing the butter and dates. One is obliged to assume that the host would not grudge this expense. That the significant aspect of the action is the unusual solicitude for the table's finish is demonstrated when al-Jahiz adds the quip about this same person refusing to have his table washed with hot water. The pointed quality of this last remark depends upon the understanding of the main action/function as falling within the Object category. From a strictly literary point of view, what al-Jahiz has done has been to place this very simple Object function in a context which, like the story of the molasses above, creates an element of suspense and variety in the acting out of the role of bakhil.

The anecdote with the butter further illustrates an important aspect of the Object category, what one might call the imaginative versus the ordinary use of the object, the imaginative use (or non-use) being one for which the object was clearly not intended. Examples of this imaginative aspect include the already mentioned butter anecdote, as well as the anecdotes with the Qumisi overcoat and the skull. The ordinary use (or non-use), on the other hand, involves some exaggera tion in what might otherwise be normal use of an object. This is well illustrated by the anecdote about Layla an-Naitiyya who did not cease mending her garments to the point that what she would eventually be wearing would be simply the patches themselves with no trace of the original garment (J. #37).

In all of the anecdotes so far discussed, the functiongenerating action, whether it was imaginative or ordinary, habitual or recommended, finite or continuous, always involved something done to or with an object, in the hope of effecting a saving, no matter how small. There are in al-Jahiz's work two anecdotes which could be said to place less emphasis on saving, stressing instead the bakhil's attachment to the object. We are told about a certain individual that he carried his bukhl to an extreme: whenever he got hold of a dirham, he would address it fondly and swear to it that he would never let it out of his grasp again (J. #163). Here, there is no question of the use or abuse of some object. What is morphologically significant is the fact that this individual is so attached to the object that he not only addresses it in a fond manner but also declares that he will never part with it. Clearly, it is his emotional attachment to the object which is the driving force behind his bukhl. This stress on attachment could be understood as a psychological analogue to the usual actions in the Object category. Left undeveloped by al-Jahiz, this facet of the Object morphology is exploited both more frequently and more intensely in the Khatibian corpus, as will be shown below.

As the above discussion shows, the objects around which the action of the bakhil revolves include various things. The largest number, approximately forty-five percent of the total, is composed of food, be it bread, stew, dates, or grain. The second most common object which one finds in this morphological category is clothing, forming approximately fifteen percent of the total. This could be shoes, sandals, overcoats, or shirts. The remaining forty percent is made up of various objects. Some of these occur in negligible percentages, such as oil and money, each of which comprises approximately seven percent of the total, and perfume, which comprises approximately five percent of the total. Other objects are found perhaps once, such as soap, or twice, such as water.

There is yet one more aspect of the Object category which bears mention, the distribution of these anecdotes in the work of al-Jahiz. While the bulk of the Object anecdotes are interspersed throughout the anecdotal sections of the book, there is one section which is made up entirely of Object anecdotes. This section, entitled "The Story of the Masjidis among the People of Basra," involves a group of people who sat around the mosque and exchanged stories and advice about diverse "economies" that they had discovered. Implicitly or explicitly, these techniques or methods are praised. Referring all to the use or abuse of objects, these are all Object anecdotes. As will be seen later, given the nature of the other categories of anecdotes, the types of actions attributed to bakhih by al-Jahiz, and the fact that all the masjidis are in a sense bragging, it could not be otherwise.

As we have seen, the Object anecdotes revolved around one function. Not all anecdotal categories, however, display single-function morphologies. The second category to be discussed, the Hospitality category, contains a more complicated morphology, representing a sequence of two functions. This group comprises fifty-four anecdotes (22% of the total).

The anecdote from which the functions will be derived is the following:

A Marwazi used to travel, either on a pilgrimage or on business, and would stay with an Iraqi who was always generous with him and gave him all the provisions he needed. The Marwazi would tell his friend that he would be very happy to see him in Merv so that he could repay him for at least a part of what he had given him. It so happened that after a time the Iraqi had some business in that area. What made the burdens of the trip lighter and what made him feel better about leaving home was the knowledge that his friend, the Marwazi, was there. Upon arrival, he went to see him in his traveling clothes, his turban, his headgear, and his overcoat, so that he could stay with him, something, after all, one does with friends. When he found the Marwazi sitting among some companions, he bent down towards him and embraced him. But he did not see any sign of recognition, nor did the Marwazi ask any questions, as someone might who had never seen him before. So the Iraqi said to himself: "Perhaps he does not recognize me because of my veil," so he took it off and began questioning the Marwazi. The latter was even more denying. So the Iraqi said: "Perhaps this is a result of the turban." So he took that off and told him who he was and began his questions again. The Marwazi recognized him even less. So the Iraqi said: "Well, maybe it is a result of the headgear." At that point, the Marwazi realized that there was nothing more he could do and he said to the Iraqi: "Even if you got out of your skin, I would not recognize you" (J. #12).

In order to derive the function-identifying actions in this rhetorically elaborate anecdote, a summary of the major events will be presented. A Marwazi on his travels is always well received by his Iraqi friend. The Marwazi in turn promises his friend the same amenities if he comes to visit him. There comes a time when the Iraqi does indeed have to go to Merv and he does indeed alight at his friend's home. However, no matter what he does, his friend does not recognize him, and even goes so far as to say so. We can further distill the actions that are vital to the nature of the anecdote into the following: The Iraqi enters the house of the Marwazi, and no matter what he does, the Marwazi does not recognize him. Clearly, the Marwazi had a social obligation to invite his friend to his home and offer him what he could. By failing to recognize his friend, the Marwazi is in effect denying him hospitality. But what is most important here is that he does not openly refuse this hospitality, but resorts to a stratagem, the non-recognition of his friend. The two functions in the Hospitality category are thus the following: the demand of hospitality being the first, and the avoidance without refusal being the second.

It is interesting to note that in this story, as in all of the anecdotes that concern hospitality, outright refusal is effectively taboo, and is scrupulously avoided. The bakhil, as one would naturally expect, is always the host. However, it must be emphasized that it is not simply the circumstances of a host and guest/s which place an anecdote within the Hospitality category but the existence of the sequence of functions developed above. As will be shown below, there are anecdotes involving the presence of a host and his guest/s whose function/s would dictate their inclusion in different morphological categories.

In a sense, the act of hospitality could be represented as first, the recognition that a demand has been made, and second, the fulfillment of this demand. If, however, we were to set up a chain of events and circumstances necessary for the fulfillment on the part of the host of his duty to the guest, one can see that the bakhil must, without outright refusal, break the chain at one of its points. Therefore, each anecdote can be described according to the place where the chain is broken, or stated another way, the place in a sequence of hypothetical events where the second function is clothed in an action.

This sequence of events is the following:

  1. implicit or explicit demand
  2. host recognizes this demand
  3. host recognizes what the demand implies, shelter or food or both
  4. the goods (generally food) are presented in sufficient quantity
  5. the goods presented are of sufficient quality and properly prepared
  6. an atmosphere is created in which the goods can actually be consumed.

There are anecdotes in which the chain is broken at all of these points, excluding, of course, point A.

B: The break in the chain here is well illustrated by the Marwazi anecdote above. The guest is not recognized. This phenomenon can also be seen in the following anecdote: A certain Jabal went out one night from the place where he had spent the evening. But, fearing the night patrol and muggers, he decided that he would knock on Abu Mazin's door, saying to himself that he would merely spend the night in any convenient area and not cause Abu Mazin any discomfort. He knocked persistently at the door, and Abu Mazin, thinking it was someone bringing him a gift, ran down. But when he opened the door and saw Jabal, it was as though he had seen the angel of death. So he pretended to be drunk, and said that he was drunk. But Jabal told him to be as he wished and all he wanted from him, considering that the weather was moderate and he himself satiated, was simply to let him nap a bit in the vestibule and he would leave early in the morning. Abu Mazin would have none of it, however, and insisted he was drunk, did not know where he was, and understood nothing. He thereupon slammed the door in Jabal's face and went in convinced that his excuse had worked and that he had been gifted with this stratagem! (J. #39).

Although this anecdote would appear superficially to be completely different from the Marwazi anecdote, its structure is nevertheless identical. The demand (A) is there but the host, Abu Mazin, does not recognize the demand, or feigns not to, thus breaking the chain at point B.

C: The break here involves a host who need not admit what the hospitality implies. Zubayda ibn Humayd, for example, asked his servant to present the guests with the backgammon "table" instead of the table of food (J. #35). Then there is the case of Muhammad ibn Abi al-Muammal who would hold the toothpick in his hand, just to discourage any visitor from thinking he might get lunch (J. #96).

D: The break here involves the presentation by the bakhil of an insufficient quantity of whatever goods might be involved. A good example of this type is the anecdote involving Musa ibn Janah, who served a dish in which one could count the grains of rice (J. #156). There is also the case of the bakhil who served bread which was too small (J. #53), and yet another bakhil who did not serve enough bread (J. #54).

E: Here, while the goods presented might be of sufficient quantity, the quality would be such as to effect a break in the chain. This is well illustrated by a host who served suspicious-looking stews (J. #65).

The final step in the chain, and in a certain sense the last chance for the bakhil to keep his goods from being consumed, is step F. The break in the chain at this stage involves some type of a ruse which will take effect even though the goods have been presented in sufficient quantity as well as quality. An excellent example is that of a host who ordered the servant to sprinkle one, two, or even three flies on the food simply to make it unappetizing for the guests (J. #153). The ruse, however, need not be necessarily so physical. The bakhil might attempt to destroy the emotional climate, thus making it impossible for others to partake of the goods. This might involve, for example, counseling the guest against eating. One host urged his guest to partake of the dishes which had already been injured and not to touch those which were healthy (J. #44).

Although the logical progression from point A in the hospitality chain to the point at which the chain is broken would dictate the presence of every point along the chain up to the break, the narrative does not necessarily have to include all of the points. In other words, if the break in the hospitality chain is to occur, for example, at point F, it is not imperative that the narrative include points A, B, C, D, and E. They can be assumed actions without whose implied presence point F could not take place. In the case of the bakhil whose servant sprinkled flies on the food (J. #153), for example, the break occurs at point F. Yet the anecdotal narrative in this case is condensed to such a degree that we are merely presented with the fact that the host urges his servant to sprinkle the flies so that his guests will shrink in disgust. But this function-generating action, the ruse to keep the goods from being consumed, would be nonsensical unless we assumed all of the preceding logical steps in the hospitality situation: the demand made on the host, his recognition of this demand, his recognition that the demand in this case implied food, his presentation of the food in sufficient quantity and quality. It is within this context, which is not stated in the narrative but assumed by the reader, that the break makes sense.

The above discussion of the hospitality chain might suggest that the act of hospitality, considered as an abstraction representing certain goods and services, dealt exclusively with providing a good meal. Indeed, in the great majority of anecdotes this is the case, and the actual goods in question, when they are named, are most usually food. Nevertheless, hospitality can represent other goods and services as well. In the Marwazi anecdote (J. #12) discussed above, it is clear that the Iraqi was expecting not only a good meal but also a comfortable place to spend the night. In this way, one can speak of a plurality of possible chains and it is often only when the anecdote proceeds along a given chain that it is possible to see precisely what services are being denied.

In the case of the Marwazi anecdote, the demand for shelter is implicit in the Iraqi's long journey. In anecdote J. #39, discussed above, Jabal explicitly stated that all he wanted was shelter. His remark that he is satiated, while it increases the odiousness of the bakhil's rejection, also indicates that no food is demanded. This anecdote, like that of the Marwazi, involves a break early in the chain.

The break can, however, occur further along in the chain, as illustrated by the following: al-Makki related that he had spent the night at the house of Ismail ibn Ghazwan, who had only invited him because he was aware that al-Makki not only had already eaten dinner at Muways' house but that he also carried some wine. When it was well into the night, al-Makki lay on the rug to sleep, using his arm as a pillow. There was nothing in the room but a prayer rug, one cushion, and one pillow. Ismail took the pillow and threw it to al-Makki. But al-Makki refused it and returned it to him. So Ismail refused but al-Makki refused in turn. Then Ismail replied that his guest could not possibly use his elbow as a pillow while he himself had an extra one. So al-Makki accepted the pillow and placed it under his cheek. But the strangeness of the place and the dryness of the bed kept him from sleeping. Ismail, thinking him already asleep, crept up slowly and pulled the pillow from under his head. When al-Makki saw him walking away with the pillow, he laughed and said: "You did not need it…" Ismail replied: "I only came to arrange your head." al-Makki said: "I did not speak to you until you had walked away with it." But Ismail answered: "I had come for that purpose, but when I got the pillow in my hand, I forgot what I had come for. Wine, as you know, destroys the memory" (J. #159).

In this anecdote, the break actually occurs at point F. Given that F is well into the hospitality chain, the goods/services are not generalized but specified, a pillow. Ismail, the host, has fulfilled all the points along the chain, recognizing the demand, recognizing its implication, of fering the pillow. It is when his guest is about to use the pillow, i.e. to consume the goods, that he breaks the chain. By pulling the pillow from under al-Makki's head, Ismail is making it physically impossible for him to use it.

This anecdote, like the story of Jabal, focuses on shelter by explicitly excluding food. Yet, in both cases, the manner of exclusion implies that the situation is abnormal, that food would otherwise be expected. The chain can concern shelter because the guest has already eliminated the demand for food to which he would otherwise be entitled, and the rejection of this second, more modest, claim only increases the bukhl of the host. In a sense, therefore, these two exceptions prove the rule of the importance of food in the Hospitality anecdote. Interestingly enough, in both anecdotes, the host uses wine to provide himself with an excuse to get out of his predicament.

The more normal characterization of hospitality involving food and shelter can be seen in the anecdote in which Mahfuz an-Naqqash invited al-Jahiz to his home on a cold, rainy night and offered him exceptional colostrum and dates. The host, nevertheless, attempted to discourage his guest from eating, citing concern over the latter's health as justification. The stratagem, however, is not successful and the episode only serves to induce great mirth on the part of al-Jahiz (J. #143).

In this example, the hospitality clearly involves both food and shelter, though since it is the enjoyment of the food which is being contested, it is the food branch of the chain which is being broken. Viewed this way, the break occurs at point F. On the other hand, it can be questioned whether the chain is actually broken. The consumption of the food is not really at issue here since the bakhil could be said to have destroyed the neces sary emotional climate for its enjoyment. In a certain sense, however, he has not succeeded even here since the entire maneuver only provokes al-Jahiz's merriment. This other aspect of the anecdote relates to another category, the Bakhil = Victim anecdote, which will be discussed below."116

As the above discussion has demonstrated, the Hospitality anecdote can manifest itself along various chains. Yet no matter how different the chains might be, they are always broken. This is necessary since the situation dictates no refusal on the part of the host. Indeed, in certain cases, as was seen, the host even goes so far as to extend an invitation to the guest (see, among others, J. #12, J. #143, J. #159, discussed above). The break in the chain must be done with a stratagem, since, without it, the break would not take place. This break, of course, constitutes the second function which was analyzed above as the avoidance on the part of the host without an actual refusal. Since this can only be accomplished by a stratagem, the second function must be embodied in a stratagem. In certain cases, as indicated in the above analysis, the text is limited to the stratagem, the first function forming part of an implied narrative. Indeed, the strata gem/function is the only part of the narrative which must receive rhetorical expression. Without it, the Hospitality anecdote ceases to exist.

Thus, the anecdotes in the Hospitality category, like those in the Object, revolve around a stratagem. Together, these two categories represent over one half (54.7%) of the anecdotal corpus, and are concerned almost exclusively with food.

The third category to be discussed will be called the Agent/Victim category. It comprises sixty-one anecdotes (25% of the total). The anecdote from which the function will be derived is the following:

One night, the candle went out. Ali al-Uswari attacked some of the food which was in front of someone else, taking advantage of the darkness and putting into practice the saying that night hides better the calamity. But the other fellow noticed it, having an eye only for this type of thing. So he said: "It is for this reason that kings used not to eat with the rabble" (J. #63).

In this anecdote, what is in effect taking place is that Ali grabs some food from someone else. By doing this, he is depriving the other person of that food, at the same time as benefiting himself.117 In other words, there is a transfer of the food from one party to the other. The function in this category is embodied by the action in which the transfer of value occurs. The agent in the above example, Ali, is the bakhil. He acquires his gain at the expense of the victim, the second party from whom the food was taken. Though this anecdote takes place within the setting of hospitality, i.e. several guests are eating at the home of a host, it is not a Hospitality anecdote, since it displays the Agent/Victim and not the Hospitality functional morphology.

Within the same setting of hospitality, the Agent/Victim function can be embodied in different actions: al-Kindi used to invite himself to his tenants' homes. The tenants put up with this because of his goodness, his excessive bukhl, and the charm of his conversation (J. #85). Here, al-Kindi's action involves his eating at his tenants' homes. The transfer of value is from the tenants to himself, he being the Agent, and the tenants, the Victims. This same pattern of transfer occurs, for example, in another anecdote involving a bakhil who, although he inherited a great fortune, was nevertheless in the habit of eating dinner at his friends' homes (J. #40).

The action of the bakhil in the Agent/Victim category need not be directed necessarily to other guests or strangers. It could be aimed at the family or servants of the bakhil. There is the case of al-Anbari who, after eating dates, threw the pits to his old wet nurse who would suck on them. If, however, he saw her chewing a pit too vigorously, he would lose his temper (J. #119).

One of the distinctive features of the Agent/Victim category is its tendency to include references to money and commercial relations. Coins make their appearance in the following anecdote: Zubayda ibn Humayd, the moneychanger, borrowed two dirhams and a qirat [one twelfth of a dirham]118 from a greengrocer located in front of his house. When he paid him back after six months, he gave him two dirhams and the weight of three grains of barley. The grocer became angry and said to him: "You have a hundred thousand dinars and I am a greengrocer who does not have even a hundred fals. I live only by my work and by saving one grain or two. A camel driver and a porter came crying at your door but you had no money and your manager was not there, so I paid your debt of two dirhams and the weight of four barley grains. Now, six months later, you pay me back two dirhams and the weight of three barley grains!" Zubayda replied: "You fool! You lent me the money in the summer and I am paying you back during the winter. Since three humid winter grains are heavier than four dry summer grains, I do not doubt that you made a profit" (J. #32).

In another anecdote, Khalid ibn Yazid mistakenly gave a beggar a dirham instead of a fals. When he noticed what he had done, he took back the dirham and gave him a fals (J. #49).

There is a second phase of the Agent/Victim category which, though built around the same functional pattern (remembering that the function is an action/role relationship), displays actions whose tendency is sufficiently distinct to give it some of the qualities of a separate category. In the Agent/Victim anecdotes discussed above, the actions all tend to be positive, the bakhil often physi cally depriving his victim of a good, in the strongest case, taking it out of his hand. In this second phase of the Agent/Victim anecdotes, while the role relationships have remained the same, the nature of the action shifts from positive to negative; the bakhil, no longer taking from the victim, is now performing the negative act of refusing (or avoiding) to give, share, lend, etc. Oviously, in some cases, it is not possible to distinguish systematically between positive and negative acts. Al-Anbari, for example, could be accused at the same time of either the positive act of chewing all of the meat from the date pits or the negative act of not giving this to his wet nurse, and in that sense one can speak properly of a continuum from wholly positive to wholly negative acts. Nevertheless, in the anecdote with al-Anbari, the deprivation is real, tangible, and immediate, as is the benefit of the bakhil, and the victim is definite. In the anecdotes of the second phase, however, as will be seen later, the negative aspects of the action can become so strong that the victim can be theoretical and not appear at all.

That, of course, is only one extreme. At the other end of the spectrum, we find anecdotes like the following: Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Sayyar an-Nazzam once asked one of his neighbors, of Khurasani origin, to lend him his frying pan. The Khurasani replied that he used to own one but that it was stolen. So Ibrahim borrowed one from another neighbor. But as soon as the Khurasani heard the sizzling of the meat in the pan and smelled the dish, he reproached Ibrahim for not having informed him that he needed it for cooking meat or grease. For in that case, he continued, he would have rushed to lend him the pan. His fear was that Ibrahim would use it to fry vegetables and that this would cause the iron to burn if fried without fat. However, he would certainly not have refused to lend it had he known it would be used for this particular dish, since the pan would be in better condition after the cooking than it would be remain ing unused in his own home (J. #14).

In this example, the act is the negative one of refusing to lend the pan, though this refusal was couched in an excuse, swiftly abandoned in the encounter. In another example, al-Asmai went to great lengths to justify a refusal to give or lend money (J. #235).

In these instances, it can be seen that a refusal is reasonably direct, much more so than would be tolerated in a Hospitality anecdote. In fact, there is no question of hospitality where a refusal does occur.

Nevertheless, there need not be even so much as a positive refusal to a specific request. This can be shown in the anecdote of a certain bakhil who justified his tendency rarely to laugh with the fact that the laughing man is more inclined to generosity, i.e. giving to another (J. #142). In this anecdote, the refusal has become diffused into a tendency or desire to avoid giving. The victim or victims, though we must suppose that there have been some, do not appear in the narrative.

This development is taken to its furthest extreme in the case of a Khurasanian who was asked why he was eating alone on a boat full of people. He replied that it was rather the others who, in his view, were behaving abnormally by eating together (J. #16).

The motivation, of course, of this solitary diner is a reluctance to share his food. One cannot speak of a refusal since no demand was made and the eventual victim at whose expense the bakhil believes he is benefiting is several levels removed from the narrative. What is happening is that the Khurasanian is eating alone in order to avoid a situation where he might be called upon to share, and the victim, if there is one, is any person who might otherwise have been in a position to share his food.

As the last example shows, food is still the most common concern of the bakhil, representing almost one half of the Agent/Victim anecdotes. Money, which makes its first appearance in quantity in this category, is present in slightly over one third of the anecdotes. In addition, it should be noted that the Agent/Victim anecdotes are spread fairly evenly throughout the text.

There is a very small category of anecdotes, five in all which in terms of the nature and goals of the function-embodying action is similar to some of the last examples of the second phase of the Agent/Victim category discussed above. Nevertheless, despite these strong similarities, the form of the function is so distinctive that these anecdotes must be treated as a separate category.

This category will be called the Collective category because its function can only be expressed in a collective context. It is well illustrated by the following A group of Khurasanians shared a house and did without a lamp as long as they could. Then they divided the expense among themselves but one of them refused to pay his share. For this reason, when the lamp was brought out, they would blindfold him with a handkerchief. This continued until they went to sleep and put out the light, at which time they uncovered his eyes (J. #6).

In this example, the role of the bakhil has been diffused over the entire company, all of whose members are agents and victims at the same time. The man who refused to pay is clearly a bakhil and an agent in this refusal. But the other members of the company are also bakhils in grudging him this and covering his eyes, for which act he is a victim. Thus, the function, when seen as an action, is a simultaneous attack and defense on the part of a plurality of bakhils, all attempting to maximize their gain at the expense of their fellows. When, on the other hand, the function is seen as a role/action relationship, all the participants are bakhils, and each bakhil is an agent and victim at the same time.

The collectivity, equivalence, and simultaneity of the action are even more clearly apparent in two further anecdotes. In one, a group of fifty Khurasanians making the pilgrimage together all ate separately when they stopped to eat (J. #7). In another anecdote, it is explained that the inhabitants of Merv, when they traveled together, would bring their meat in common and then divide it among themselves. The cooking was also done in common in one large pot, but each traveler attached his piece of meat to a string that bore a distinctive mark so that he could find it when the cooking was done (J. #13).

In a sense, it could be said that this morphology is produced by taking the Agent/Victim assumptions about the nature and role of the bakhil and then forcing him into a situation where all characters are bakhils. They are then obliged, by their nature and circumstances, to be both agents and victims.

Another distinctive quality of these five anecdotes is that they are all in the chapter on the Khurasanians. This is only logical because it is easier to construct a scenario involving several bakhils if one starts with a collectivity enjoying a reputation for bukhl. Conversely, this Collective function is an excellent way of characterizing a given group of people, in this case the Khurasanians.

Bakhils are also victims, and, indeed, exclusively so, in the next category of anecdotes which will be considered, the Bakhil = Victim category. There are twenty such anecdotes (8.2% of the total). The functions in this category will be derived from the following anecdote:

Thumama did not like to have strange guests brought to his table, preferring to eat with one of his servants. Qasim at-Tammar brought to lunch one day someone whom Thumama did not like. After Qasim repeated this action many times, Thumama got angry and asked him why he did so. Qasim answered that he wanted to give his friend the reputation of generosity and spare him that of bakhl. Some time after this, a guest asked to leave because his stomach was in motion. Qasim insisted that the guest stay and "do his ablutions" there, since the cabinet was empty and clean. In the following days Qasim repeated his gesture again and still once more. Thumama then became quite angry and protested that Qasim invited people to his house so he would not seem a bakhil, but should someone have to let people defecate in his house in order not to be taken for a bakhil with food? (J. #224).

This anecdote, and thus the Bakhil = Victim category, has a morphological structure consisting of two functions. In the first, some action is done to the bakhil, generally something is taken from him or imposed upon him. In the second function, he reacts to this with displeasure, though this may be shown by the actions or protests of the bakhil and/or told by the narrator.

What this pattern of functions represents in terms of the bakhil is that the bakhil has become a victim. The first function shows that he is not an agent, that he is acted upon, and the second that he is victimized and thus unhappy. In effect, in this category, the role of bakhil and that of victim are inextricably intertwined. It is only because he is a bakhil that our hero is upset since the same action done to a generous man should not have displeased him. Or, put another way, given the action of the anecdote, it is his status as a bakhil which forces him into the role of victim, just as it is his status as a victim which shows that he is a bakhil. This same pattern can be seen in a similar anecdote where a bakhil is rendered miserable by the arrival of unexpected guests, one of whom devours a fish which he had intended for himself as a delicacy (J. #100).

One of the interesting qualities of the Bakhil = Victim category is its tendency to annex plot structures from the Hospitality anecdote through the narrative elaboration of the first function. A good example is the anecdote about a host who used to have a kid brought out at the end of a meal. He never touched it, and neither did his guests. One day, however, a Bedouin, unused to this custom, attacked the kid, going so far as to rip the meat off the bones, which, of course, provoked an angry response from the host (J. #191). As we know from other anecdotes (for example, J. #93, J. #193), and as is clear from the narrative, reserving the kid for the end of the meal was a hospitality stratagem. But here, the bakhil is victimized through his failure and the reader can see that he is a victim both from the expression of his unhappiness and from the unhappiness, or victimization, which can be deduced from the failure of his attempt. What is also particularly intriguing in anecdotes of this type is that the bakhil has shifted from agent to victim in the course of the narrative as the anecdotal structure has shifted from a possible Hospitality to a Bakhil = Victim anecdote.

This shift from agent (in the grammatical sense) to victim is also present in the anecdote in which al-Jahiz spends the night at the home of Mahfuz an-Naqqash (J. #143) which was discussed above in the Hospitality category. The reasons for considering it a Hospitality anecdote have already been given. Al-Jahiz's laughter at the end, especially when coupled with the fact that he had eaten the milk and dates, might argue for considering this anecdote a Bakhil = Victim anecdote. The second function in the Bakhil = Victim morphology would then be argued as not being rhetorically present in the text but deducible from the narrative. In fact, whatever the functional ambiguities of this anecdote, it is clear that from a literary point of view it has a composite structure. The literary significance of this composite structure will be discussed in Chapter VI below.

The Bakhil = Victim anecdotes, which, it should be noted, tend to be concentrated in the last third of the work, almost exclusively deal with food and take place in a hospitality setting. This would seem to be because it is only in such a setting that the bakhil is rendered power less by the taboo on the outright refusal of hospitality which was discovered in the Hospitality category.

There are anecdotes in which no physical act of bukhl is performed, assumed, recommended, referred to, or alluded to. Such a one is the story of Ismail ibn Ghazwan who suggested to his guest that bakhils were more intelligent than generous people and cited the names of several noted bakhils as evidence (J. #160). In this anecdote, we know that Ismail is a bakhil not because of any concrete action but because he has recommended and defended the abstract quality of bukhl. The function-generating action here is thus the act of preaching bukhl. This category is therefore called the Preaching category. On occasion, this praise of bukhl can be shown, indirectly, through the praise of riches.

This category also includes anecdotes which can be called negative Preaching anecdotes. In this phase, we have a development seen in the negative Agent/Victim category discussed above. We are told about a certain bakhil that though he was capable of discussing a myriad of subjects, he never uttered the word "generosity" (J. #215). In the same vein, Tahir al-Asir mentioned that what indicated that the Byzantines were the most miserly of people was the fact that there did not exist in their language a word for generosity (J. #216). In these two examples, the action is, in fact, the negative act which completely eliminates the word "generosity." Thus, bukhl is, in the last analysis, being approved. But this approval of bukhl is not taking place through a positive statement extolling the quality but through an action which can be seen as negative in two separate ways. First, the protagonist's attitude towards bukhl is shown by his negative attitude to its opposite, generosity,119 and second, his attitude to generosity is shown by his negative action of never uttering the word.

What is most interesting about the Preaching anecdotes is that they are in fact almost identical in content and very similar in form to the non-anecdotal bukhl statements discussed in Chapter III above. The Preaching anecdotes could be considered miniature versions of the bukhl statements or the bukhl statements could be considered giant examples of the Preaching anecdotes. It has already been observed in Chapter III that the bukhl statements create a sense of variety and a pause between the more actionoriented anecdotal sections. If one remembers that the anecdotes of the Object and Hospitality categories, which by themselves constitute over one half of the anecdotal corpus, are completely based around stratagems and that in the other categories, with the exception of the Preaching anecdotes, stratagems are often present, it can be seen that the great majority of anecdotes are concerned with stratagems. The vital importance of the stratagem, especially as concerns the Hospitality category, did not, needless to say, go unnoticed by our author. In one of the numerous anecdotes about Muhammad ibn Abi al-Muammal, he mentions offhandedly that Muhammad outdid all others when it came to ruses or stratagems concerning his food.120 This preponderance of stratagems is only increased when one excludes the Preaching anecdotes. The Preaching anecdotes, of course, like the bukhl statements, are based on interesting arguments. The stratagems and the arguments, thus, when added together, represent almost the totality of the book. Or, as al-Jahiz put it, and so much more eloquently, in his introduction: "In this book you will have three things: the exposition of a curious argument, the discovery of a brilliant stratagem, and the benefit of a marvelous anecdote."121

But the Kitab al-Bukhala of al-Jahiz possesses more than this mere organization of content. The corpus of anecdotes itself displays an interesting economy of roles. A role, as it was observed above, can be understood as a character defined by an action which he performs, is subjected to, or is likely by his nature to perform. A bakhil, of course, is such a role. It has, however, become evident in the course of the analysis of the morphological categories that this concept of role has to be qualified with another. Sometimes the bakhil was the subject of an action, at other times its object, or more specifically as has been observed above, the agent or the victim of an action.

This division corresponds to Claude Bremond's distinction between agent and patient, the agent being the person who performs an action, the patient being the person who is subjected to it.122 While agent and victim well describe the functional roles played by the bakhil in the anecdotes, agent and patient will be taken here, and again following Bremond, as the necessary theoretical subdivisions of the larger role of bakhil. If we divide the bakhil, who is after all the principal actor in all of these narratives, into his two potential roles of agent and patient, we observe the economy of roles and actions….

The bakhil's relationship to the action, i.e. whether agent or patient, is linked, of course, to the presence and activity of others in the anecdote. If one starts with a uniform set of characteristics, principally desire to gain, considered as inherent in the role of the bakhil, one can plot the morphological categories as the expression of this nature or role according to the presence or nature of any other actors and according to the agent or patient status of the bakhil.

By himself, free to act as an agent, and in contact with the physical environment, the bakhil seeks to maximize his gain from the physical environment, thus generating the Object anecdote. In the presence of others, the bakhil can act as an agent and he will thus seek to gain at the expense of the other party, which generates, according to circumstances, the Agent/Victim or the Hospitality anecdote. But the bakhil, in the presence of others who are not themselves bakhils, can also be the patient of the action. Acting out his fundamental role of bakhil, he then becomes a victim, which results in the Bakhil = Victim anecdote. Finally, the bakhil can be interacting with other bakhils, in which case all become the focus of the anecdote, and as each one tries to act out his nature as bakhil, all are forced into the simultaneous position of agent and patient, characterized by the Collective anecdote.

This initial analysis, while it delineates the relationship between the categories and the agent and patient divisions of the bakhil role, fails to account for the variety of functional morphologies actually present in the corpus. What, for example, differentiates the hospitality from the Agent/Victim anecdote, since in that schema they are identical? and, why is the bakhil, given his uniform nature, sometimes able to play the role of agent and other times forced into that of victim? To answer these questions, it is necessary to add one more element to the analysis. This element is the taboo on the outright refusal of hospitality which was observed to function in the Hospitality and Bakhil = Victim categories. Thus, one more dimension needs to be added, and that is the presence or absence of a hospitality situation, this being defined as the situation in which the bakhil is a host and another character is his guest….

When the bakhil acts as agent in a situation in which the taboo is not present, he is free to operate and the Agent/Victim relationship is established. It should be noted that when the bakhil is acting to prevent the creation of a hospitality situation, as in certain negative Agent/Victim anecdotes, no hospitality situation exists, formally speaking, and the taboo is not in effect. All that can be said about this type of anecdote is that it can be assumed that the bakhil wishes to prevent the formation of such a situation because he knows that if he does not, he will have to deal with the taboo. When, on the other hand, the bakhil finds himself in a hospitality situation, either because he has invited guests or because they have dropped in unexpectedly, he has to work around the taboo which he does through one of the stratagems involved in the second function of the Hospitality anecdote. The other important tendency of the hospitality situation is that it can force the bakhil into the position of patient, as in the Bakhil = Victim anecdote. It is the taboo of the hospitality situation which is capable of rendering the bakhil helpless. This is, of course, assuming that he does not have a workable stratagem which would allow him to assume or regain his role as agent. If he were not in a hospitality situation, given his proclivities, he would fight back more openly and effectively, which would create a negative Agent/Victim anecdote, in which process, of course, the bakhil would regain his stature as an agent. For the bakhil to be forced into the position of patient in a non-hospitality situation, the other party would have to be moving against him in an improper manner. In other words, the major factor, other than the hospitality situation and its taboo, which can force the bakhil into the position of patient is another bakhil. This is the case in the Collective anecdote. It should be observed, however, that since every bakhil is being forced into the role of patient by every other bakhil, each bakhil is acting as an agent as well.

It is also possible, using a Greimasian conceptual model123 to summarize the Hospitality and Bakhil = Victim categories as opposite results for the bakhil of the social constraints placed upon him in a hospitality situation. This, in fact, leads us to the following binarism:

Hospitality vs. Bakhil = Victim

The two role options of the bakhil can also be portrayed as:

Agent vs. Patient

The two sets of binary oppositions, in effect, revolve around a common denominator, the taboo on refusal. It is this common denominator, or semantic axis, as Greimas would phrase it,124 which determines the possible role options, and, therefore, the two categories as well….

If the bakhil is successful in extricating himself from the taboo, he is an Agent, and a Hospitality category is produced. If, however, he is not successful, he becomes a Patient and a Bakhil = Victim category results.

Thus, it is only when the final dimension of hospitality versus non-hospitality has been added to the preceding schemata that the full range of functional morphologies can be both individually defined and integrated in a total analysis. But this final dimension, unlike the agent/patient distinction for example, would not have been derived from a completely abstract or universal narratological analytical framework. That is, of course, because the morphological categories were created not by the systematic analysis into logical subdivisions of an unexamined unified potentiality but by the identification of functional morphological patterns in the text.

This in turn demonstrates that these functional patterns are far more than merely distinguishable in the text but are in effect realities that precede the composition of the text, and act as a skeleton upon which it has been fleshed out, in a word, as its structure.


1 Among the modern Arabic studies, see Taha al-Hajiri, al-Jahiz, Hayaiuhu wa-Atharuhu (Cairo: Dar al-Maarif, 1969); Jurj Ghurayyib, al-Jahiz, Dirasa Amma (Beirut: Dar ath-Thaqafa, 1967); Hanna al-Fakhuri, al-Jahiz (Cairo: Dar al-Maarif, 1964); Wadia Taha an-Najm, al-Jahiz wal-Hadira al-Abbasiyya (Baghdad: Matbaat al-Irshad, 1965). In the West, Jahizian studies in this century have received their greatest impetus from the extremely important work of the French scholar Charles Pellat, especially his Le milieu basrien et la formation de Gahiz (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1953). Other studies dealing with al-Jahiz (especially the Bukhald) have appeared, but they are, as a rule, repetitive and simply present a few anecdotes. They will not be considered in this study. See, for example, D. R. Marshall, "An Arab Humorist—Al-Jahiz and the 'Book of Misers,'" Journal of the Faculty of Arts of Malta, IV (1970), pp. 77-97; R. Dagorn, "L'Histoire d'al-Kindi, extraite du Kitab al-Buhala' d'al-Gahiz," Revue de l'Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes, XXXVIII (1975), pp. 281-298.

2 Pellat, Milieu, pp. XVII-XIX.

3 Pellat, Milieu, p. XVII. Some of the other sources, Pellat notes, are relatively late and cannot be used without certain precautions. My own work in biographical traditions, as well as a cursory examination of most of the other sources listed by Pellat, only supports Pellat's conclusions.

4 Al-Masudi, Muruj adh-Dhahab wa-Maadin al-Jawhar, ed. C. Barbier de Meynard (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1874), ν. VIII, pp. 33-36.

5 Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, n.d.), v. XII, pp. 212-220.

6 Ibn Asakir's biography of al-Jahiz is in, Majallât al-Majma al-Ilmi al-Arabi, IX (1929), pp. 203-217. Thereafter, MMIA.

7 Yaqut, Irshad al-Arib ila Marifat al-Adib, ed. D. S. Margoliouth (London: Luzac & Co., 1923-1931), v. VI, pp. 56-80.

8 A. J. Arberry, "New Material on the Kitab al-Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim," Islamic Research Association Miscellany, I (1948), pp. 34-45. Cf. Charles Pellat, "Al-Djahiz," EI2, p. 387, and Ibn an-Nadim, Kitab al-Fihrist, ed. Rida Tajaddud (Teheran: Teheran University Press, 1971), pp. 208-209.

9 Ibn Qutayba, Tawil Mukhtalif al-Hadith, ed. Muhammad Z. an-Najjar (Cairo: Maktabat al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyya, 1966), pp. 59-60; Gérard Lecomte, Le traité des divergences du hadit d'Ibn Qutayba (mort en 276/889) (Damascus: Institut Francais de Damas, 1962), pp. 65-67.

10 Pellat, "Al-Djahiz," p. 385.

11 Al-Kutubi, Uyun at-Tawarikh, MS. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Arabe 1588, folios 155r-155v.

12 Pellat, Milieu, p. 56ff.

13 Al-Kutubi, Uyun, fol. 155v.

14 For a discussion of this subject, see Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies, e d. S. M. Stern (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1967), v. I. p. 101ff.

15 Al-Khatib, Tarikh, v. XII, p. 213; Ibn an-Nadim in Arberry, "New Material," p. 35.

16 Pellat, Milieu, p. 58.

17 Pellat, Milieu, p. 63.

18 Pellat, "Al-Djahiz," p. 385.

19 Yaqut, Irshad, v. VI, p. 56.

20 Pellat, Milieu, p. 64.

21 Pellat, Milieu, p. 64.

22 Al-Masudi, Muruj, v. VIII, p. 35.

23 Ibrahim ibn Sayyar ibn Hani ibn Ishaq an-Nazzam was an important Mutazili theologian of the Basra school, who died between 220 and 230 (835-845). His thought was dominated by two tendencies: zeal for the tawhid (monotheism in its strictest form) and zeal for the Quran. See H. S. Nyberg, "Al-Nazzam," EI1, pp. 892-893.

24 Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik ibn az-Zayyat was an unusually cruel vizier who died by being tortured in a way he himself had invented and inflicted on his enemies. See D. Sourdel, "Ibn al-Zayyat," EI2, pp. 974-975.

25 Ibn an-Nadim in Arberry, "New Material," p. 39.

26 For this transmitter of information about al-Jahiz, see Pellat, Milieu, p. XVIII.

27 Yaqut, Irshad, v. VI, p. 56.

28 Pellat, Milieu, pp. 66-67.

29 Abu Ubayda Mamar ibn al-Muthanna was a celebrated philologist who died in the year 209/824-825. Aside from his authorship of works on tribal customs and history, he is linked rightly or wrongly with the Shuubiyya, a party which professed the superiority of the Persians over the Arabs in the early Abbasid period. See H. A. R. Gibb, "Abu Ubayda," EI2, p. 158, and Goldziher, Muslim Studies, v. I, p. 179ff.

30 Al-Asmai, Abu Said Abd al-Malik ibn Qurayb, was also a celebrated philologist who died in the year 213/828. His forte in philological studies was apparently lexicography. He had an excellent memory, and assiduously collected grammatical and lexicographical material from the Bedouins in the environs of Basra. See B. Lewin, "Al-Asmai," EI2, pp. 717-719.

31 Abu Zayd Said ibn Aws al-Ansari was a grammarian and lexicographer who died in the year 214 or 215/830-831. He was considered to be superior to his contemporaries al-Asmai and Abu Ubayda in grammar. See C. Brockelmann, "Abu Zayd al-Ansari," EI2, p. 167.

32 Lewin, "Al-Asmai," p. 717. All three are cited in Yaqut, Irshad, v. VI, p. 56.

33 Al-Akhfash al-Awsat, Abu al-Hasan Said, was a grammarian who died between 210 and 221/825-835. See C. Brockelmann and Charles Pellat, "Al-Akhfash," EI2, p. 321.

34 Yaqut, Irshad, v. VI, p. 56.

35 Ibn Asakir, MMIA, IX, p. 203. Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ibrahim al-Ansari al-Kufi was a religious legist who died in the year 182/798. See J. Schacht, "Abu Yusuf," EI2, pp. 164-165.

36 Pellat, Milieu, p. 69. Yazid ibn Harun was a famous hafiz (one who has committed the Quran and numerous hadiths to memory) who was born in 118/736 and died in the year 206/821. See adh-Dhahabi, Kitab Tadhkirat al-Huffaz (Hyderabad: Matbaat Majlis Dairat al-Maarif al-Uthmaniyya, 1968), v. I, pp. 317-320.

37 Pellat, Milieu, p. 69.

38 Ibn Asakir, MMIA, IX, p. 203. Al-Hajjaj ibn Muhammad was yet one more hafiz who died in the year 206/821. See adh-Dhahabi, Huffaz, v. I, p. 345.

39 Ibn Asakir, MMIA, IX, p. 203. Thumama ibn Ashras was a theologian who lived under the early Abbasids. See M. Horten, "Thumama b. Ashras," EI1, pp. 739-740.

40Hadith in its technical usage is the sum of the traditions regarding the acts or the sayings of the Prophet. The hadith is considered as the authority which comes directly after the Quran. See J. Robson, "Hadith," EI2, pp. 23-28, and Goldziher, Muslim Studies, v. II, pp. 17-251.

41 See note 23 above.

42 Yaqut, Irshad, v. VI, p. 56.

43 For the nature of Kalam, Mutazilism, and the role of an-Nazzam in this movement, see W. Montgomery Watt, Islamic Philosophy and Theology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1962), pp. 58-70.

44 Pellat, "Al-Djahiz," p. 386. See, also, al-Jahiz's inclusion in Ibn al-Murtada, Tabaqat al-Mutazila, ed. S. Diwald-Wilzer (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1961), pp. 67-70. Cf. al-Qadi Abd al-Jabbar, Firaq wa-Tabaqat al-Mutazila, eds. Ali S. an-Nashshar and Isam ad-Din M. Ali (Alexandria?: Dar al-Matbuat al-Jamiiyya, 1972), pp. 73-76.

45 Yaqut, Irshad, v. VI, p. 56.

46 Az-Zabidi, Taj al-Arus, eds. Abd as-Sattar Ahmad Farraj et al. (Kuwait: Matbaat Hukumat al-Kuwayt, 1965-1976), v. III, pp. 81-86.

47 Yaqut, Kitab Mujam al-Buldan, ed. F. Wustenfeld (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1866-1870), v. IV, p. 484.

48 Yaqut, Buldan, v. IV, p. 484.

49 Pellat, Milieu, p. 11.

50 Pellat, Milieu, p. 244; al-Jahiz, al-Bayan wat-Tabyin, ed. Abd as-Salam Muhammad Harun (Cairo: Muassasat al-Khanji, n.d.), v. IV, p. 23; al-Jahiz, al-Hayawan, ed. Abd as-Salam Muhammad Harun (Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1965-1969), v. III, p. 360.

51 For the anecdotes of the masjidiyyun, see al-Jahiz, Bukhala, pp. 29-34.

52 This is illustrated by a passage in al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 201.

53 Pellat, Milieu, pp. 244-245; al-Jahiz, Bayan, v. IV, p. 23, al-Jahiz, Hayawan, v. III, p. 360; al-Hajiri, "Notes," in al-Jahiz, Bukhala, pp. 295-296. For the discussion of the "bourgeoisie," see Chapter VII below.

54 Pellat, "Variations," p. 21.

55 Charles Pellat, "Gahiziana III. Essai d'inventaire de l'oeuvre Gahizienne," Arabica, III (1956), pp. 147-180.

56 Charles Pellat, The Life and Works of Jahiz, trans D. M. Hawke (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), pp. 10-27.

57 Cf. Ibn Qutayba, Mukhtalif al-Hadith, p. 59.

58 Pellat describes this book as one in which the author "asserts the legitimacy of the first three Caliphs, attacks the claims of the Shia and thereby justifies the accession of the Abbasids to power." See Pellat, "Al-Djahiz," p. 386.

59 Pellat, "Al-Djahiz," p. 386.

60 Pellat, "Al-Djahiz," p. 386.

61 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 1; al-Jahiz, Hayawan, v. I, p. 3.

62 This book has been edited by Muhammad Mursi al-Khawli (Cairo: Dar al-Itisam lit-Tab wan-Nashr, 1972).

63 Al-Jahiz, "Kitab al-Qiyan" in Abd as-Salam Muhammad Harun, ed., Rasail al-Jahiz (Cairo: Muktabat al-Khanji, 1965), v. II, pp. 139-182.

64 Taha al-Hajiri, "Introduction," in al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 36.

65 Al-Jahiz, Hayawan, v. I, p. 4.

66 See note 24 above.

67 This anecdote is discussed in detail in Chapter VI below.

68 Al-Hajiri, "Introduction," p. 37.

69 Ahmad ibn Abi Duad al-Iyadi, Abu Abd Allah, was a Mutazili qadi who died in the year 240/854. He was the patron of men of letters other than al-Jahiz and was also afflicted with hemiplegia. See K. V. Zettersteen and C. Pellat, "Ahmad b. Abi Duad," EI2, p. 271.

70 On this famous family of physicians, see D. Sourdel, "Bukhtishu," EI2, p. 1298.

71 Ibn Nubata al-Misri, Sarh al-Uyun fi Sharh Risalat Ibn Zaydun, ed. Muhammad Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr al-Arabi, 1964), pp. 253-254.

72 There is a statement attributed to al-Jahiz and quoted in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, in which our author says that there are only three pleasures that remain: censuring the bakhil, eating dried meat, and scratching an itch. Al-Khatib, Bukhala, pp. 63-64. Van Vloten, in the Preface to his edition of al-Jahiz's Bukhala, states that this passage confirms "qu'à un âge avancé Djahiz se complaisait à blâmer les avares," G. van Vloten, "Préface," in al-Jahiz, Kitab al-Bukhala, ed. G. van Vloten (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1900), p. v. There is no reason to assume, however, in the absence of further information, that al-Jahiz could not have made this statement while not yet "advanced in age."

73 Ibn an-Nadim, al-Fihrist, ed. G. Flugel (Beirut: Maktabat Khayyat, n.d.), p. 104.

74 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 148.

75 W. Marcais, "Quelques observations sur le texte du 'Kitab el-Buhala' (Le Livre des Avares) d'el-Gahiz," in Mélanges Rêne Basset (Paris: Editions Ernest Leroux, 1925), v. II, p. 434, emphasis mine. Though this was written in 1925, it is quoted approvingly by Charles Pellat in the introduction to his translation. See Pellat, Livre, pp. VIII-IX. Cf. Lecomte, Ibn Qutayba, p. viii, where he contrasts the methodical spirit of Ibn Qutayba with the "brillant désordre des écrits d'al-Gahiz."

76 Pellat, Livre, p. II.

77 Charles Pellat, "Gahiziana, II: Le dernier chapitre des Avares de Gahiz," Arabica, II (1955), pp. 322-352.

78 Pellat, "Gahiziana, II," p. 322.

79 Pellat, "Gahiziana, II," p. 322; GAL Sup. 1:245, no. 48.

80 Pellat, "Gahiziana, II," p. 322.

81 The issue of whether or not al-Jahiz's work is an attack on the non-Arabs will be discussed at length in Chapter VII.

82 Pellat, "Gahiziana, II," p. 323.

83 Al-Hajiri, "Introduction," p. 38; al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 1.

84 Al-Hajiri, "Introduction," p. 39.

85 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 213.

86 The Arabic word here is al-kalam, which Pellat translates as "histoire," but prose seems to make more sense in this context. See Manfred Ullmann et al., Worterbuch der Klassischen Arabischen Sprache (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1970), v. I, p. 335.

87 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 243.

88 Taha al-Hajiri, "Preface," in al-Jahiz, Bukhala, pp. 13-14; MS. Istanbul, Koprulu 1359; MS. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Arabe 6011.

89 See, for example, W. Montgomery Watt, "The Authenticity of the Works Attributed to al-Ghazali," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1952), pp. 24-45. Cf. Franz Rosenthal, The Technique and Approach of Muslim Scholarship (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1947), pp. 45-48.

90 Al-Hajiri, "Preface," pp. 13-14.

91 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, Koprulu 1359, fol. 124 recto.

92 These chapter divisions are based on those in the editon of Taha al-Hajiri. Van Vloten, in his edition, and Pellat, in his translation, have slight variations which are not significant for the organization of contents in the work. In addition, these chapter divisions by Taha al-Hajiri are borne out by the divisions in the manuscripts themselves. See al-Jahiz, Bukhala, ed. van Vloten; Pellat, Livre.

93 In some places, the edition has Abu Fatik and, in others, Abu al-Fatik, though Pellat, in his translation, has rendered them all as Abu al-Fatik. It is possible that the different forms represent an onomastically permissible variation similar to that found in laqabs. Cf. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Tabsir al-Muntabih bi-Tahrir al-Mushtabih, eds. Ali Muhammad al-Bijawi and Muhammad Ali an-Najjar (Cairo: ad-Dar al-Misriyya lit-Talif wat-Tarjama, 1964-1967), v. III, p. 1063.

94 On this vocabulary, see C. E. Bosworth, The Medieval Islamic Underworld: The Banu Sasan in Arabic Society and Literature (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976), pt. I, p. 34ff.

95 J. H. Kramers, "Sahl b. Harun," EI1, p. 62; Pellat, Livre, p. 346.

96 Goldziher, Muslim Studies, v. I, p. 149.

97 Goldziher, Muslim Studies, v. I, p. 137ff; H. A. R. Gibb, "The Social Significance of the Shuubiya," in H. A. R. Gibb, Studies on the Civilization of Islam (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), pp. 62-73.

98 Goldziher, Muslim Studies, v. I, p. 149.

99 Pellat is also in doubt about the authenticity of this epistle. See Pellat, Livre, p. 13.

100 Ibn an-Nadim, Fihrist, ed. Flugel, p. 120; al-Hajiri, "Notes," in al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 270. Al-Husri, Zahr al-Adab, v. III, p. 888, also gives the risala as having been addressed to the afore-mentioned vizier.

101 Yaqut, Irshad, v. IV, pp. 258-259; al-Hajiri, "Notes," p. 270.

102 Al-Hajiri, "Notes," p. 270; an-Nuwayri, Nihaya, v. III, p. 317ff; Ibn Abd Rabbihi, Iqd, v. VI, p. 200ff.

103 Perhaps the only way to solve the problem would be a statistical stylistic analysis comparing the suspect text with the works of al-Jahiz and extant works of Sahl ibn Harun. A beginning could be made with Sahl ibn Harun, Kitab an-Namir wath-Thalab, ed. Abdelkader Mehiri (Tunis: Publications de l'Universite de Tunis, 1973). The editor's discussion on pp. 28-29 shows some of the problems which would be encountered.

104 Al-Hajiri, "Notes," p. 269.

105 Ibn Qutayba, Mukhtalif al-Hadith, pp. 59-60. Cf. Lecomte, Traite des divergences, pp. 65-67.

106 Al-Jahiz, "Kitab Fasl ma bayn al-Adawa wal-Hasad," in Harun, Rasail al-Jahiz, v. I, p. 351. See, also, Rosenthal, Technique, p. 45.

107 Muhammad ibn Ziyad was a transmitter of poetry. See al-Jumahi, Tabaqat Fuhul ash-Shuara, ed. Mahmud Muhammad Shakir (Cairo: Dar al-Maarif, 1952), pp. 285, 347; Ibn al-Mutazz, Tabaqat ash-Shuara, ed. Abd as-Sattar Ahmad Farraj (Cairo: Dar al-Maarif, 1968), p. 229.

108 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 77.

109 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 78.

110 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, pp. 78-80.

111 G. van Vloten, "Preface," in al-Jahiz, Bukhala, ed. van Vloten, p. 5. Van Vloten may have been referring, for example, to the discussion of the generosity of the Blacks which is similar to that in the Bukhala. See al-Jahiz, "Fakhr as-Sudan ala al-Bidan," in Harun, Rasail al-Jahiz, v. I, p. 196.

112 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 185.

113 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 5.

114 The distribution of anecdotes by morphological categories will be discussed in Chapter IV. It can be noted here, however, that since the structures of these anecdotes support a large variety of organizations, the morphologies are not necessarily significant for perceived variety.

115 It has not seemed practical to give complete and integral translations of the anecdotes discussed in Chapters IV and V. Such translations would often be rather long and, given the number of anecdotes discussed, would unnecessarily lengthen these chapters by including within them translations of a quarter or a third of the two texts themselves. In addition, both texts are edited and, thus, readily available. On the other hand, mere references to the anecdotes would make their discussion unintelligible or oblige the reader to be constantly referring back to another text. The procedure which has been adopted is the presentation of English versions of these anecdotes which have been drafted for narratological accuracy as well, as far as possible, as semantic and syntactic accuracy, but of course not rhetorical accuracy. In all cases, these versions have been drawn from the Arabic text. The original anecdotes are cited by numbers in parentheses….

116 For a complete translation and discussion of this anecdote, particularly as concerns its humor-generating techniques, see Chapter VI below.

117 Such an action was apparently characteristic of Ali al-Uswari, since a similar act was attributed to him in another story, where it serves another purpose. See al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 69.

118 The qirat is, in fact, a weight and could vary, as it was "pegged to the fluctuating and diversified value of the fals," A. L. Udovitch, "Fals," EI,2 p. 769; Jacob Lassner, The Topography of Baghdad in the Early Middle Ages (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970), p. 236, note 5.

119 For a discussion oubukhl as the opposite of generosity, see Chapter VII below.

120 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 99.

121 Al-Jahiz, Bukhala, p. 5.

122 See, for example, Bremond, Logique, pp. 137-241.

123 See the provocative discussion of Propp and the subsequent reduction of the Proppian functions in Greimas, Sémantique, p. 192ff.

124 Greimas, Semantique, p. 21.

Yusuf Abu'l-'Addus (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6367

SOURCE: "Rhetorical Criticism in Al-Jahiz's Al-Bayan Wa Al-Tabyin and Al-Hayawan," in Islamic Culture: An English Quarterly, Vol. XLI, No. 1, January, 1987, pp. 59-78.

[In the following essay, Abu 'l-'Addus explores the new rules of rhetoric which al-Jahiz presented in al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin and al-Hayawan.]

Arab writers regarded al-Jahiz as the establisher of the Arabic rhetoric. This was not because al-Jahiz formulated specific rules for rhetoric, but because in his books al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin and al-Hayawan he collected many texts and ideas about rhetorical criticism (naqd albalaghah), as we shall see below. These critical notices testify to the way in which the Arabs thought of eloquence in the third century A.H. In these two books, he discussed the dimensions of rhetoric (al-bayan), meaning and word, the idea that "every occasion has its appropriate speech," the eloquence of the Arabs (in riposte to the arguments of the Shu'ubiyah, who denied that the Arabs had any distinctive ability of speech or rhetoric), demand and statement sentences, the development of language, and poetry and its role. In this article an attempt will be made to analyze these points in al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin and al-Hayawan, and to examine whether al-Jahiz was influenced by Greek writers in these points, especially by Aristotle.

Many writers before al-Jahiz had attempted to define the meaning of rhetoric and its dimensions. The rhetorician, according to al-'Attabi (d. c. 208/823), is someone who expounds his ideas without repetition or impediment of speech. He reveals ambiguous and hidden truths and puts forward falsities as if they were correct, while expressions such as "You know," "Listen to me," "Understand me," and "Do you understand?" are little used. He also considered hesitation in speech as a defect resulting from difficulty of elocution. 'Amr b. 'Ubayd (d. c. 144/761) took the study a step further when he defined rhetoric as that which leads to the right path, showing all pitfalls. Rhetoric should be recognized in an argument by the listener, and he who cannot listen carefully to others is himself unable to speak well.1 He supported his statement with a prophetic quotation, adding, "We, the prophets, speak in moderation."2 Both these writers avoided the use of obscure and archaic words, as these, according to 'Amr, cause the listener to be led astray from the meaning of the rhetoric. Words must be carefully chosen to expound ideas and win the heart of the listener. The writer must also avoid mannerism in his speech and must use simple, expressive words and terms.3 According to al-Jahiz, rhetoric serves not only to make the hearer understand your speech, but the latter must also be free from grammatical errors; furthermore, the rhetorician must know his language well in order to avoid any defect in his speech.4

There is a similarity between these ideas and those of Aristotle he expressed on the correct and effective use of the Greek language. According to him, the first condition of style is purity, and this depends on five things: (1) the connection of clauses; (2) the use of terms that are special rather than general; (3) the avoidance of ambiguous language; (4) the recognition of genders in nouns, as distinguished by Protagoras into masculine, feminine, and neuter; and (5) the observance of grammatical number. In every case a composition should be easy to read, or, by analogy, easy to deliver.5

On examining the writings of al-Jahiz, we do find a simi larity between his view and that of Aristotle. But does the similarity imply that the Arab writer was directly influenced by his Greek predecessor? Is the opinion of al-Jahiz about purity of style and avoidance of grammatical errors definitely borrowed from Greek origins merely because Aristotle discussed these matters before him? (Post hoc ergo propter hoc?) The case is not proven, because the Arabs before al-Jahiz also took pains to avoid any grammatical or other kind of errors in their speech6 and did not regard any speech containing errors as elo quent. Thus, when al-Jahiz spoke about this problem he was expressing a well-known opinion of the Arabs. Nevertheless, we may assume that he was acquainted with the books of Aristotle which discussed this problem, so that Aristotle's discussion may have urged al-Jahiz to speak about this matter, without actually providing material for his own discussion.7

Al-Jahiz used sublime rhetoric in order to achieve his aims: He defined the good scholastic theologian as "one who tries to reform the higher classes of people and the great masses through admonition and excellent speech, to show them the right way, without leading them astray. If he can do this, he will become the idol of the masses."8 The Mu'tazilite theologian and literary critic Bishr b. al-Mu'tamir (d. between 210/825 and 226/840) said, "Meaning becomes noble not because it is from the meaning of common or special people. Nobility of meaning depends on correctness and Tightness, achieving the benefit and fitting in with the situation, as well as ascertaining that the speech is in its place."9 When al-Jahiz spoke about Bishr b. al-Mu'tamir and his Sahifah he explained that Bishr taught his pupils the origin of speech, oratory, and extempore address in the streets.10

Bishr, moreover, emphatically advised against the use of archaic words because it leads to intricacy and complexity, which in turn render the meaning unintelligible. He wrote, "Anyone who seeks expressive and eloquent meaning must choose his words carefully so as not to corrupt the flow of ideas."11 The words must fit into various categories: that is, they must be lucid, have strength of meaning, and must flow coherently. The meaning should be unequivocal and manifest. Intricacy of speech entails deviation from the meaning. He who seeks clarity of expression should choose appropriate words. Bishr did not put greater emphasis on either style or content. His research into these two elements paved the way for the discussions of other rhetoricians such as al-Jahiz and Qudamah b. Ja'far.

He then proceeded to discuss another important element in rhetoric, that of "the relation between speech and the listener." He said, "The intelligent rhetorician knows whether the people he is addressing are highly educated or from the common masses and must alter his speech accordingly. It would be preferable for him to use philosophical words and expressions while speaking to theologians, as they are capable of grasping the meaning."12

Al-Jahiz took the study a step further, stating that words must be neither colloquial nor archaic. Certain strange and difficult words, for instance, may only be understood by the Bedouin of the desert. Speech, he asserted, may be classified into many categories, as may also the structure of society.13 "Technical terms," he said, "must only be used in certain instances; for example, it would be appropriate to use specialist theological vocabulary while arguing with theologians as this would convey the meaning most efficiently. Every sphere of learning has its jargon appropriate to itself."14 He agreed with Bishr's remark about philosophers, saying that they should know and use their own specialist words in writing and in speech.15

Here again we notice a similarity between the advice of al-Jahiz and that of Aristotle. The latter wrote: "One virtue of diction may be defined as clarity. This comes from the fact that if our language does not express our meaning, it will not achieve its effect. Again, diction should be neither low nor too dignified, but suitable to the subject…strange words, compound words and words coined for the occasion should be used sparingly and rarely."16

We may summarize the following points of similarity: Both Aristotle and al-Jahiz spoke about the avoidance of vulgar, unusual, or complicated words in speech. Both of them argued that speech must be neither archaic nor common and both of them advised against the use of strange words.

In the course of his investigation of communication or expression (al-bayan), al-Jahiz commented: "The word bayan comprises anything that reveals the sense and brings out the inner meaning, so that the hearer may grasp the reality of it.…The main object of both speaker and hearer is simply to understand and be understood; and any means used to make oneself clearly understood is bayan. There are just five ways, neither more nor less, of expressing ideas in speech or otherwise: the first is speech itself, then come gesticulation, counting on the fingers, writing, and finally what is known as a nisbah. The latter is a means of expression which serves for all the others and can well replace them. These five methods occur in different forms and with varying degrees of elaboration."17

Thus he does not differ with Aristotle when he investigated "the species of recognition." The latter wrote: "With respect to the species of recognition, the first indeed is the most unartificial, and that which most poets use through being at a loss, and is effected through signs.…And those recognitions rank in the second place which are invented by the poet, on which account they are inartification. But the third mode of discovery is through memory, from the sensible perception of something by sight, as in the 'Cyprii' of Dicaeogenes; for on seeing the picture a certain person weeps.…The fourth mode of discovery is derived from syllogism, as in the 'Choephorae' a person like me is ar rived—there is no person like me but Orestes,—Orestes, therefore, is arrived.…The best recognition, however, of all is that which arises from the things themselves, astonishment being excited through probable circumstances; as in the Oedipus' of Sophocles and the 'Iphigenia' (for it is probable that she would be willing to send letters); since such things alone are without fictitious signs and necklaces, but the recognitions which rank in the second place are derived from syllogism."18

Discussing the idea that "every occasion has its appropri ate speech," al-Jahiz wrote, "Just as speech should not be vulgar, incorrect, or slangy, so also it should not be uncouth or outlandish unless the speaker is a Bedouin. Uncouth language is understood only by uncouth people, just as the common people only understand their own vernacular. Language, like people, is of many types: lofty and trivial, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, grave and gay; but it is all Arabic, and all these types are spoken whether one approves of them or not."19 Also, Bishr b. al-Mu'tamir had preceded him by demonstrating that "speech must be clear, and you must know the people whom you address, whether they are cultured or not, and we must use the language which goes well with the understanding of the people."20

These comments are similar to those made earlier by Aristotle in his discussion of style, where he wrote, "Style will have propriety, if it is pathetic, characteristic, and proportionate to the subject. This proportion means that important subjects shall not be treated in a random way, nor trivial subjects in a grand way, and that ornament shall not be heaped upon a common place object.…Each disposition has a style suited to it. 'Class' may represent a difference of age, as between boy, man, and old man, or the difference of sex; or the difference between Laconian and Thessalian."21 He then went on to note, "Jokes seem to be of some service in debate: Gorgias said that we ought to worst our opponent's earnest with mockery, and his mockery with earnest; a good saying. The various kinds of jokes have been analysed in the poetics. Some of these befit a free man and others do not: one must take care then to choose the kind of joke that suits one."22 He went on to observe, "Socrates also remarked on this issue when he asked the following questions: 'Is the soul constituted of many parts like the body? How does it work? By what is it influenced? What are the different sorts of oratory? Which oratory fits every soul? Is there any similarity between the oratories and the classes of people?'…We must study the orator himself. When must he speak, or keep silent?"23

Parallel to this, one may note the remark of Plato when he said, "As the doctor is interested in the nature of the body, the orator must take an interest in the nature of the soul. He must know its situations and how to influence it, and what is the best time to influence it."24

In al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, al-Jahiz defined the purpose of rhetoric in the following terms: "The intention of rhetoric is eloquence, i.e. spoken eloquence and that of prose, but especially spoken eloquence. Rhetoric should express meaning with good style. The Arab loves eloquence and ornamentation, but he disapproves of tautology, as this shows lack of restraint in speech. The opposite of rhetoric is clumsy and grammatically incorrect speech."25

He also spoke in detail about the eloquence of the Arabs as a riposte to the arguments of the Shu'ubiyah who denied that the Arabs had any distinctive ability of speech or rhetoric, claiming themselves to be superior in the latter. The Shu'ubiyah claimed that "anyone who seeks knowledge of rhetoric, eloquent speech, or literature should refer to the books of the Persians." They also asserted that Indian proverbs and tales of wisdom, as well as Greek philosophy and literature, were good source for knowledge of rhetoric.26 Al-Jahiz attempted to ascertain the bases of Arab eloquence. He then went on to rebut allegations of the Shu'ubiyah and spoke of Arab superiority in speech. "Oratory," he claimed, "was first established by the Arabs and Persians. The Indians may have great sacred literary works, but they were not written by any one person. As for the Greeks, their philosophical works show lack of eloquence, even though their discourses may be excellent." He even criticized the Persians, saying that the speech of many Persian orators is improvised and laboured, even after a good deal of preparation.27 He avoided referring to Persian articles which would contradict his own statements and generally considered works by non-Arabs with suspicion.

All this led him to stipulate certain necessary requirements for rhetoric. Firstly, there is the gift. Rhetoric, according to him, is a gift from God; he who is endowed with this gift can speak fluently about anything he confronts, without hesitation or mistakes. It is, therefore, one of the most important qualities which distinguishes between ability in the ranks of men. In this light we must recognize the Qur'an as the miracle of the Prophet. Secondly, we have the relation between a word's meaning and its contextual position, carefully calculated by the orator to good effect: "The speaker must be calculated and clear in his speech."28 He was further interested enough to speak about the definitions of rhetoric according to other nations. The Persians, for instance, said that rhetoric is the ability of distinguishing conjunctions from punctuation. The Greeks believed that rhetoric was the careful selection of words fitted into correct expressions, while the Romans maintained that it was the use of short, concise words or more lengthy ones, according to position and requirement. The Indians said that it is seizing an opportunity and clarification of meaning.29

Al-Jahiz attempted to justify his opinion about Arabic rhetoric with quotations from the Qur'an, Hadith, and from common sayings. For instance, the Qur'an says:

"We sent not an apostle except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make things clear to them."30

Moreover, the Prophet is reported to have said, "I dislike him who uses archaic speech and mannerisms."31

Discussing the importance of avoiding grammatical error, al-Jahiz argued that this is found mostly among urban people. Nevertheless, they did occasionally demonstrate ability in their speech. He looked closely at lisping, which frequently occurs with certain letters, such as qaf, sin, lam, and ra '. For someone who has difficulty in pronunciation, the letter qaf might sound like ta', so that the phrase qultu lahu might come out as tultu lahu. A sin is frequently pronounced like a tha'. A lam sometimes changes to a ya' or a kaf, e.g. i'tayaytu instead of i 'talaltu, and makila instead of malila. The letter ra ' changes at times to four different letters: ya ', ghayn, dhal, or za'; so, for instance, the word marra might be pronounced madhdha. Non-Arabs, however, tend to make different phonetical changes in their speech, such as changing a sin to a shin. Nor did he omit to mention the incongruity of certain letters with others, such as ajim followed immediately by a tha ', a qaf, a ta', a sin, a za ', or a dhal.32

In spite of some partial similarities between al-Jahiz and Aristotle in discussing letters and sounds, it seems unlikely that al-Jahiz was influenced by Aristotle here. It is more probable that he inferred this material from the poetry of the Arabs and their speech, especially since he spoke about this subject after discussing the lisping of Wasil b. 'Ata'. When Aristotle spoke about letters, however, he chose to concentrate on vowels, semivowels, and mute sounds,33 whereas al-Jahiz was primarily concerned with letters which are liable to lisping.

Our author also discussed demand and statement sentences, dividing the latter into three groups, namely, "correct statements, lying statements, and statements which are neither correct nor lying." He illustrated the third kind: "Has he invented a falsehood against God, or has a spirit against him?"34

Later, the philologist al-Mubarrad (d. 285/898) spoke about the various kinds of statement sentences. He said, "Some writers claimed that the meaning of the following sentences is the same: Abd Allah qa'im, Inna 'Abd Allah qa'im and Inna Abd Allah la-qa'im. But I dare not say that the meaning is different from one sentence to another, because the structure of each sentence is different from the structure of the others. The first sentence means that the mind of the hearer is blank and we wish to tell him something. The second sentence means that someone has asked a question and we are answering him in order to dispel all doubt from his mind. The third sentence means that we emphasize the action in order to refute someone who has denied it."35 Here al-Mubarrad describes a new element in the science of meaning as it relates to the different sorts of statement sentences.

Conciseness and prolixity were also discussed by al-Jahiz. According to him, conciseness does not mean the shortness of the number of letters or words. These two aspects of rhetoric depend on the situation. Sometimes the writer or orator needs to present it concisely.36 He said, "The most eloquent men are those who use the simplest and most spontaneous expressions. Eloquence means conveying the meaning and aiming at lucidity without unnecessary words and with an eye to the difference between separation and reunion."37

Aristotle had preceded the Arab writer in distinguishing between useful prolixity and verbosity. He stated that obscurity is caused by not stating one's meaning at the outset before entering into details. He defined prolixity as using the description (i.e. the sentence) instead of the name, and conciseness as using the name instead of description. He pointed out that prolixity and conciseness must be free of ugliness and obscurity, and the meaning must be clear.38 In spite of some partial similarity between Aristotle and al-Jahiz in discussing prolixity and conciseness, we cannot say that al-Jahiz was definitely influenced by Aristotle here, because their manner of speaking and their examples are different, and their ideas were not the same. While the Greek scholar regarded prolixity as using the description instead of the name, al-Jahiz was more precise when he observed that prolixity and conciseness do not lie merely in the shortness of the number of letters or words.

The development of language and richness of vocabulary were considered in detail in al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, in which al-Jahiz noted that "the abundance of expressions, the distinction between words and syllables, and the stress on particular syllables reflect man's needs." He then discussed the differences between languages and the way in which, according to linguists, certain languages are more difficult to learn than others. These differences involve the number of syllables in word, the actual number of words, the degree of complication in word, and the idiomatic use of expressions.39 He came to the conclusion that anyone who learns a second language is unable to know the precise meaning of many words which a native speaker would know, because his efforts are distributed over more than one language.40

Noting that language is living and mutable, and can never be stationary, al-Jahiz draws a parallel with the human body, "which loses cells and gains cells, suffers disease and deterioration at times, and goes through periods of recovery." In the same way language is liable to change, with lapses and periods of recovery. During the course of centuries words become obsolete, while new expressions are evolved and become an essential part of the language.41 He noticed that the meaning of some words changes from era to era. He used the example of certain words which changed their meaning after the rise of Islam, communicating a different meaning in the pre-Islamic period, e.g. the word sarura, which since the Prophet's time came to denote one who has not made the pilgrimage to Mecca. In pre-Islamic times it was used to describe a man who held a high position in worship. Al-Jahiz observed that certain words went out of usage with the development of religious thought and that many words used in the pre-Islamic period were changed or even went obsolete after the rise of Islam.42

Next, he considered the development of language in the city. Lexicographers and grammarians borrowed new expressions and terms from Persian, feeling a need to introduce new words to cover meanings which until that time had not been expressed in Arabic. Contact between Arabs and Persians helped introduce Persian words into Arabic; and with the development of philosophical discussion, new words had to be coined or borrowed, e.g. "accident," "nihilism," and "essence."43

He drew to a considerable extent on poetry, and explained many poems in order to communicate scientific information.44 He believed that poetry depended on three elements, namely, instinct, environment, and race. This theory was an attempted reply to Ibn Sallam's theory that poetry depended on war and struggle, the latter asserting that poetry abounds when there is strife between tribes. Thus the poetry of the Quraysh was not so copious because to them strife was rare.45 Al-Jahiz argued that the Banu Hanifah possessed little poetry, despite the large numbers and frequent conflicts with other tribes.46

Exploring sentiment and its impact on literature he said that when one of the Bedouin was asked why elegy was better than other forms of Bedouin poetry, the man replied, "We recite elegy when our hearts are ablaze."47 Al-Jahiz did not differentiate between spontaneous and premeditated poetry when he said, "Literature which is produced through instinct is better and of greater value than that which has emerged with toil and soul searching." This seems sound enough, but he may have gone too far when he asserted, "Anyone who concentrates and searches his soul in composing poetry will fall into the error of prolixity."48 Nor did he encourage long preparation for producing literature, for, as his theory propounds, "Poetry is a purely Arabic legacy. Other nations and communities have no poetry like that of the Arabs. There is a connection between poetry and race, poetry and natural disposition." He held the Arab race to be more poetical than other races, even those living within an Arab environment. Arab poets, he felt, were able to recite poetry spontaneously, whereas poets of other nations could only recite poetry after deep thought.49 This opinion may be related to Mu'tazilite doctrine in general, which attempted to attack its opponents of the Shu'ubiyah for lengthy literary preparations.

It is, however, difficult to accept al-Jahiz's opinion for a number of reasons. Firstly, the process by which poetry is produced is more difficult than he imagined. To write poetry one needs sensitivity in the association of ideas, a good memory, and disciplined thinking. The poet needs time to correct and revise his poems, to choose appropriate words, and to change their positions in order to give coherence.50 Secondly, al-Jahiz has not explained his reasoning for distinguishing the poetry produced by Arabs and that of non-Arabs. Thirdly, he is not specific about those attributes which distinguish one race from another. Fourthly, he generalizes to a large extent in his speeches, so that many exceptions may be found to the points which he makes. Fifthly, he contradicts his own statement about instinct when he gives the example of the tribe of al-Harith b. Ka'b during both the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods, showing how little poetry was produced in the former period compared with the great deal in the latter.

In this connection, he also divided poets into three classes: the great poet, the poetaster, and the versifier. He believed that certain poets have a gift for reciting poetry, but have little ability to compose poems according to metre; in this category came people like Zuhayr, al-Nabighah and al-A'sha in the pre-Islamic period, and al-Farazdaq and Jarir in the Umayyad period. He then went on to investigate the inspiring spirit of poetry, remarking that "Arabs proclaimed that every great poet has a satan within him which helps him to compose poetry."51 In fact, Bishr b. al-Mu'tamir had attempted before al-Jahiz to argue that the ability to write literature is a matter of gift and aptitude, asserting that one must seize the opportunity to recite poetry, choose an appropriate hour, and make use of the active mind, attempting to correlate the creation of poetry to man's soul and using the word tiba' to denote a moment of inspiration.52 After al-Jahiz, Qadi al-Jurjani (d. 392/1001) attempted further to clarify the gift by saying, "If you wish to know good poetry and the influence it has on the heart, then you should look through the poems of Jarir, al-Buhturi, Dhu al-Rummah, Kuthayyir 'Azzah, and Jamil Buthaynah."53

Intelligence, according to Qadi al-Jurjani, goes with poetic gifts: "They support each other, and yet at the same time differ from each other." This statement has been taken up by modern writers, and elaborated in great detail. According to these writers, intelligence implies speed of comprehension, power of criticism, and creativity. Furthermore, intelligence may be divided into different categories, viz., (1) practical intelligence, that of workers, both in industry and in administration; (2) contemplative and revelationary intelligence, such as that which an artist, musician, or poet possesses; (3) abstract, rational intelligence, such as that of a lawyer; (4) inventive intelligence, required by engineers and scientists; (5) creative intelligence which the genius possesses; and (6) comprehensive intelligence, such as that of Michelangelo.54

According to al-Jahiz, quality is something contained within poetry irrespective of when it is written or by whom. He proposed that critical judgement should look into the qualities of urban and Bedouin poetry alike, irrespective of the age of its composition. His belief that Arabic poetry because of its nature and special gift is better than that of non-Arabs is, on the whole, not in harmony with this criticism of poetry, nor is it consistent with his own reasoning: "This issue, which I have no fear in defending, is that most Arabs, both Bedouin and urban, are more poetic than people of other non-Arab places. This is not the general rule, but an exception to it. I have seen people who praise the poems of non-Arabs and neglect their own bards. These people are ignorant and cannot distinguish between good and bad poetry without prejudging the matter on the basis of the date of the poet and his nationality."55 Al-Jahiz attempted to apply this theory to the works of Abu Nuwas, showing why he preferred them to the works of the Bedouins, and commenting, "If you consider the poems of Abu Nuwas with impartiality as to his origin and without bigotry, you will find them better than those of al-Muhalhil."56

Al-Mubarrad observed shortly afterwards that "We have to look at the work of a poet as a whole and should not criticize any poet because of a single error." He added that we must be unbiased in our judgement between old and contemporary poets. He spoke about many contemporary as well as old poets, and sometimes expressed preference for the former.57 Indeed, contemporary poets, according to Qadi al-Jurjani, deserve praise because it is hard for them to coin new words and meanings, once the old poets have almost exhausted good meanings and words.58 In practice, he may not have adhered to this opinion completely, since he quoted many lines from al-Mutanabbi and other poets of his age, which he admired for their excellence in style and verbal inventiveness.59

Returning to al-Jahiz, we find him stressing that the critic must be objective and impartial in his judgement.60 A century or so afterwards, al-Sahib b. 'Abbad (d. 385/995) called for justice in judgements expressed about poems and prose.61 His contemporary Qadi al-Jurjani similarly demanded that critics should investigate the poetry of al-Mutanabbi as a whole, since it was not just to criticize defects alone neglecting all the good qualities. Later, Western critics also emphasized the necessity for objectivity in criticism; for example, Sainte-Beuve advocated his theory of neutrality of criticism stressing objectivity toward any particular methodology and the absence of specious argument.62

Many writers were influenced by al-Jahiz's worksal-Bayan wa al-Tabyin and al-Hayawan, a few of whom will be briefly dealt with here in conclusion. Thus Ibn Sinan al-Khafaji adopted the opinions of al-Jahiz when he noticed that criticism was a specialist art, having its particular exponents. He wrote, "Every special subject has its proper exponents." He criticized Abu Hashim al-Jubba'i when he attempted literary criticism, commenting, "I know that Abu Hashim excels in his own subject, which is theology, but he is not so excellent in his criticisms of prose or poetry, because this is not his specialization."63 Furthermore, when he spoke about nature, intelligence, and narration, indicating their importance in literature and criticism, his opinion resembles that of al-Jahiz.64

The rhetorician Abu Hilal al-'Askari was also influenced by al-Jahiz. He discussed Kitab al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, noting that, "In Kitab al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, al-Jahiz discussed rhetoric and eloquence, but you cannot understand the varieties of rhetoric dealt with in this book without making great effort"; and he pointed out that he composed his own work in order to cover the points and subjects which were ignored by al-Jahiz.65 Like al-Jahiz and Bishr b. al-Mu'tamir, he, too, cited the rule, "There is a particular speech appropriate to every situation," and added, "When you speak to common people, you must use their words."66 Further, "Words must be neither colloquial nor complicated and they must strike a moderate tone."67

The North African poet Ibn Rashiq (d. 456/1063-4 or 463/1070-1) shows the influence of al-Jahiz when he discusses the relative virtues of the modern and ancient poets. He favoured the good poet, irrespective of the period in which he lived, and said, "We cannot blame the good poets whether they belong to the old period or are contemporary."68 He agreed with both al-Jahiz and Bishr b. al-Mu'tamir that the poet must use easy words and must not use complicated or weak expressions.69 Ibn Rashiq further resembled al-Jahiz when he spoke about the influence of poetry on the listener. He mentioned an ode which was composed by Jalilah bint Murrah when she eulogized her husband Kulayb, who had been murdered by her brother Jassas, and said, "What beautiful and impressive words! They bear upon us and make us sad and sympathetic to her."70

The philologist Qudamah b. Ja'far (d. in the second quarter of the 4th/10 century), important for his systematic study of figures of speech, mentioned the opinion of al-Jahiz that al-isharah (gesticulation) is prior to the sound and is more impressive and eloquent than it. He was apparently influenced by al-Jahiz when he pointed out that the poet should use easy words and avoid complicated or colloquial terms. He also mentioned al-Jahiz's opinion on al-badi', saying, "The first ones to discuss al-badi' among the contemporary poets were Bashshar and Ibn Harima. After them came al-'Attabi and Mansur al-Nimari."71

The commentator al-Wahidi (d. 466/1075) was obviously influenced by Bishr and al-Jahiz when he wrote, "Every situation has its particular speech. You must not speak to the king as you speak to the common people; you must know the words which you can use in each situation."72

The official and litterateur Ibn al-Mudabbir (d. 279/892-93) discussed nature and referred to the Sahifat Bishr, especially when he said, "You must choose the appropriate time to compose poetry." He also adopted the view of al-Jahiz when he said, "You need culture and narration, because these devices will enhance the nature of the rhetorician or the poetry."73

The Egyptian poet Ibn Tabataba' (d. 345/956) adopted the view of al-Jahiz when he wrote, "The poet must understand the Jahiliyah period and the art of narration, because these things are useful to him," and further discussed the rule enunciated by Bishr and al-Jahiz that "there is a special speech to every situation." He also advised critics to remain impartial in their criticism and, like al-Jahiz, noted that "Some modern poets are good. If they have made some mistakes, other poets who lived before them also made mistakes."74

The poet and rhetorician Ibn al-Mu'tazz (d. 296/908) in his book Kitab al-Badi' confessed his indebtedness to the pioneering work of al-Jahiz in the investigation of this aspect of rhetoric.75

The critic al-Amidi (d. 371/981) was also influenced by al-Jahiz in his discussion of special expertise. He noted, "If you want to know the difference between two good horses, you cannot make a judgement if you are not experienced. Poetry resembles this situation. Sometimes you find two good lines, but you cannot tell the difference between them if you are not a specialist in this sort of science."76

Finally, the rhetorician vizir Diya al-Din ibn al-Athir (d. 637/1239) was undoubtedly influenced by al-Jahiz when he pointed out that the language of literature must be neither complicated nor colloquial.77 He further discussed impartiality in criticism, without favouring the old poets, admiring Abu Tammam, al-Buhturi and al-Mutanabbi in spite of the fact that they were comtemporaries.78 Like al-Jahiz, he discussed specialization and noted that "every sort of knowledge has its men who are experts in it."79


1 Al-Jahiz, al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, ed. Abd al-Salam Harun (Matba'at Lajnat al-Ta'lif wa al-Tarjamah wa al-Nashr, Cairo, 1960), vol. i, pp. 113f.

2Ibid., pp. 14, 137.

3Ibid., p. 137.

4Ibid., p. 173.

5 Aristotle, The Rhetoric of Aristotle, tr. Theodore Buckley (London, 1872), pp. 156f.

6 See Abu al-Tayyib 'Abd al-Wahid al-Halabi, Maratib al-Nahwiyin, ed. M. Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim (Maktabat Nahdat Misr, Cairo, 1955), p. 5.

7 See Majid 'Abd al-Hamid, al-Athar al-Ighriqi fi al-Balaghah al-'Arabiyah (Matba'at al-Najaf, Najaf, 1976), pp. 95 ff.

8Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. ii, p. 8.

9Ibid., vol. i, pp. 136 f.

10Ibid., p. 35.

11Ibid., pp. 135-36.

12Ibid., p. 136.

13Ibid, vol. ii, p. 8.

14 Al-Jahiz, al-Hayawan, ed. 'Abd al-Salam Harun (Maktabat al-Babi al-Halabi, Cairo, 1938), vol. iii, p. 368.

15Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. i, pp. 7 f., 11, 14.

16The Rhetoric of Aristotle, p. 146.

17 C. Pellat, The Life and Works of Jahiz, tr. into English by D. M. Hawke (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1969), pp. 102-4; al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. i, pp. 75 ff.

18 Aristotle, Treatise on Rhetoric, tr. Lance Cooper (New York, 1960), pp. 454 f.

19Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. i, p. 144.

20Ibid., p. 151.

21The Rhetoric of Aristotle, pp. 159 f.

22Ibid., p. 160.

23 Ibrahim Salamah, Balaghat Aras atalis bayn al-'Arab wa al-Yunan (Maktabat al-Anqlu al-Misriyah, 1952), p. 22.

24 Muhammad Saqr Khafaji, Ta'rikh al-Adab al-Yunani (Maktabat al-Nahdah al-Misriyah, Cairo, 1956), p. 180.

25Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. i, p. 191.

26Ibid., vol. ii, p. 141.

27Ibid., vol. iii, pp. 12 ff.

28Ibid, vol. i, pp. 115, 138.

29Ibid, p. 88.

30 Al-Qur'an, XIV: 4.

31Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. i, pp. 11 f.

32Ibid., p. 70.

33 See Aristotle's Treatise on Rhetoric, pp. 246 f.

34 Al-Qur'an, XXXIV:8; Jalal al-Din al-Qazwini, al-Idah fi 'Ulum al-Balaghah, ed. M. 'Abd al-Mun'im Khafaji (Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-'Arabiyah, Cairo, 1953), pp. 13 f.

35 Sa'd al-Din al-Taftazani, Shuruh al-Talkhis (Maktabat 'Isa al-Babi al-Halabi, Cairo, n. d.), vol. i, p. 203.

36Al-Hayawan, vol. i, p. 91.

37Ibid., p. 92.

38 See The Rhetoric of Aristotle, p. 158.

39Al-Hayawan, vol. i, p. 63.

40Ibid. p. 76.

41 Al-Jahiz, al-Bukhala', ed. Taha al-Hajiri (Dar al-Ma'arif, Cairo, 1948), p. 196.

42Al-Hayawan, vol. i, p. 327; vol. ii, p. 332.

43Ibid., vol. i, p. 128

44Ibid., vol. iv, p. 381.

45 Ibn Sallam al-Jumahi, Tabaqat Fuhul al-Shu'ara', ed. Mahmud Shakir (Dar al-Ma'arif, Cairo n. d.), p. 267.

46Al-Hayawan, vol. iv, p. 38.

47Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. iii, p. 33.

48Ibid., pp. 328-29.

49Al-Hayawan, vol. iii, pp. 130-32.

50 Ibn Tabataba', 'Iyar al-Shi'r, ed. Taha al-Hajiri, and M. Zaghlul Sallam (al-Maktabah al-Tijariyah al-Kubra, Cairo, 1956), p. 135.

51Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. iv, p. 84.

52Ibid., vol. i, p. 135.

53 'Ali b. 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Jurjani, al-Wasatah bayn al-Mutanabbi wa Khusumih, ed. M. Abu al-Fadi Ibrahim and 'Ali al-Bijawi (Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-'Arabiyah, Cairo, 1945), pp. 16-23.

54 Mahmud al-Samrah, Fi al-Naqd al-Adabi (al-Dar al-Muttahidah li al-Nashr, Beirut, 1974), pp. 70 f.

55Al-Hayawan, vol. ii, p. 130.

56Ibid., vol. iii, p. 128.

57 Al-Mubarrad, al-Kamilfi al-Lughah wa al-Adab, ed. M. Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim (al-Maktabah al-Tijariyah al-Kubra, Cairo, 1950), vol. i, pp. 17f.

58Al-Wasatah, p. 50.

59 See ibid., pp. 50, 52.

60Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, vol. i, p. 104.

61Risalat al-Sahib b. 'Abbad fi Kashf 'an Masawi al-Mutanabbi in al-Ibanah 'an Sariqat al-Mutanabbi, by M. B. Ahmad al-'Umaydi, ed. Ibrahim al-Dasuqi (Dar al-Ma'arif, Cairo, 1961), p. 222.

62 Ibrahim Salamah, Tayyarat Adabiyah bayn al-Sharq wa al-Gharb (Maktabat al-Anqlu al-Misriyah, Cairo, 1952), pp. 83f.

63 Ibn Sinan al-Khafaji, Sirr al-Fasahah, ed. 'Abd al-Muta'al al-Sa'idi (Maktabat M. 'Ali, Cairo, 1953), p. 140.

64Ibid., p. 275.

65 Abu Hilal al-'Askari, al-Sina'atayn, ed. 'Ali al-Bijawi and M. Abu al-Fadl Ibrahim (Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-'Arabiyah, Cairo, 1952), p. 10.

66Ibid., p. 31.

67Ibid., pp. 21, 57, 112.

68 Ibn Rashiq, al-'Umdah, ed., M. Muhyi al-Din 'Abd al-Hamid (3rd ed., al-Maktabah al-Tijariyah al-Kubra, Cairo, 1934), vol. i, p. 175.

69Ibid., p. 76.

70 See Ibid., pp. 107, 146.

71 Qudamah b. Ja'far, Naqd al-Shi"r, ed. Kamal Mustafa (Maktabat al-Khaniji, 1963), p. 174).

72 Al-Wahidi, Sharh Diwan al-Mutanabbi (Berlin, 1861), p. 218.

73 M. Kurd 'Ali, Rasa'il al-Bulagha' (Lajnat al-Ta'lif wa al-Tarjamah wa al-Nashr, Cairo, 1964), p. 24.

74'Iyar al-Shi'r, pp. 4ff.

75 Ibn al-Mu'tazz, al-Badi' (Maktabat Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, Cairo, 1945), p. 53.

76 Al-Amidi, Muwazanah bayn Shi'r Abi Tammam wa al-Buhturi, ed. Ahmad Saqr (Dar al-Ma'arif, Cairo, 1972), pp. 176ff.

77 Ibn al-Athir, al-Mathal al-Sa'ir, ed., Ahmad al-Hufi and Badawi Tabanah (Maktabat Nahdat Misr, Cairo, 1959-62), p. 29.

78 Diya' al-Din ibn al-Athir, al-Istidrak fi al-Radd 'ala Risalat ibn al-Dahhan, ed. Hanafi M. Sharaf (Maktabat al-Anqlu al-Misriyah, Cairo, 1958), p. 6.

79Ibid., p. 20.

William M. Hutchins (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: An introduction to Nine Essays of Al-Jahiz, translated by William M. Hutchins, Peter Lang, 1989, pp. 1-12.

[In the following essay, Hutchins elaborates on al-Jahiz's role in Arabic literature.]

Abu 'Uthman 'Amr ibn Bahr al-Jahiz lived more than a thousand years ago at the center of the Islamic empire during a peak time of Arab power. His literary works were financed by imperial officials. He is recognized as one of the early masters of Arabic prose literature. He has been an important influence on the development of twentieth century Arabic literature. A humorist, he was also a theologian associated with the Mu'tazili movement.

Al-Jahiz died in the last month of 868 AD or the first of 869 at an age of more than ninety years in his birthplace, Basra. He was a contemporary of the Saxon prince Egbert of Wessex and of the 'Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid of Baghdad, although he outlived the caliph by many years. He was born during the reign of Charlemagne and a generation after that of the T'ang dynasty emperor Hsuan Tsung of China. His literary experiments were contemporary with those of the Chinese literary reformers Han Yu and Liu Tsung-yuan.1 In terms of European literary history, the era of al-Jahiz came not quite midway between Juvenal and Sterne. He lived some seven hundred years after Juvenal and nine hundred before Sterne.

Both al-Jahiz and Juvenal attempted the ethical instruction through anecdote and witticism of an audience both international and yet subject to petty ethnic prejudices. Their works portray two imperial capitals at a crest of exploitation of imperial riches. Their satiric wit was directed at many of the same targets, misers for example.2 Another target was sexual hypocrisy. Complaints similar to Juvenal's about false women and the exploitation of homosexuals and eunuchs are found in two essays of this collection: "Boasting Match over Maids and Youths," and "The Superiority of the Belly to the Back." Other subjects of interest to both were man's inability to keep secrets,3 the pretensions of resident aliens, the injustice of patrons, and the unduly favored position of soldiers. The works of al-Jahiz and of Juvenal, however, are set with such a wealth of allusions to their respective cultural traditions and assume knowledge of such a wide range of bit characters and minor events that their very similarity makes them seem quite different. Although al-Jahiz was aware of the Greco-Roman and Iranian cultures, he was a distinctively Arab and Muslim author.

Al-Jahiz and Laurence Sterne had the disgressive method in common. Digression (also termed egressio or excessus) was already a recognized stylistic device in Greek and Roman literature. Quintilian remarked Homer's digressions.4 Today, of course, digressions have become a widely accepted feature of modern culture thanks to commercial television.

Sterne said in Tristam Shandy that digressions are the very sunshine of reading, its life and soul. To remove them from his book would leave winter reigning in its pages.5 Al-Jahiz in his work on eloquence recommended that an author should "nurse the reader's enthusiasm" by taking him from one thing to another and from topic to topic.6 In most of his works he is both essayist and anthologist. With al-Jahiz a poem may be quoted which is right to the point while the comment it inspires is a frank digression. This incipiently digressive combination of essay and anthology became a convention of Arabic prose. It was also a convention of medieval Latin literature. Curtius commented that its popularity was such that by the seventh century AD the favorite literary form for imparting knowledge was the collection and arrangement of excerpts.7

For both al-Jahiz and Sterne the digressive method is associated with a challenge to the reader. Sterne instructed the reader, "to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions" in reading.8 Al-Jahiz did not cultivate a precious obscurity but did leave the reader at times the duty of discovering the logic behind his remarks.

Although al-Jahiz was a theologian and Sterne a cleric neither marred his work by prudishness. Consequently Sterne had to protest to a critic against the charge that his book was not suitable reading for a "woman of character."9 Al-Jahiz is, in fact, plain spoken and at times playfully suggestive. Yet he maintains a consistently "high moral tone."10

Al-Jahiz can then be compared to Juvenal for the wealth of cultural detail included and assumed and for the use of satire, wit, and anecdote for the ethical instruction of an urbane audience.11 Al-Jahiz can be compared to Sterne for his self-conscious adoption of a digressive narrative style, the related assumption that the reader is intelligent, and for a playful seriousness. Al-Jahiz's mix of these elements found in European literature, however, seems quite different. Sterne for all his digressions did write a novel with a story. An essay by al-Jahiz like "In Earnest and in Jest" is almost subversive in the equal attention it grants theme and digression.

Grabar has remarked a similar tendency in early Islamic ornament. In classical Roman art, ornament stood out against a background. In the stucco decoration of the 'Abbasid palaces at Samarra it is difficult to distinguish ornament from background. Two more of Grabar's principles for early Islamic ornament are also relevant to al-Jahiz: "the possibility of infinite growth" and "arbitrariness." The structures of early Islamic ornament are not limited or determined by the ornament's size or frame.12 Similarly, al-Jahiz used the digressive construction for essay epistles of only a few pages and for major works of several volumes. His essays end at times with the statement that he is concluding arbitrarily for fear of tiring the reader. To this limited extent the individual style of al-Jahiz was part of a more general early Islamic approach to art.

For Arabic literature the Qur'an as God's word is by defmtion the ultimate masterpiece. Arabic secular poetry had a rich history before the Qur'an's revelation and continued to build on that history in the Islamic age. Arabic secular prose as an art form appears to have been a development of Islamic times but was a first the product of government secretaries of generally non-Arab descent and culture.13 In fact it seems that the essay-epistle form was transplanted into Arabic literature in the Umayyad period by secretaries. Other literary forms like drama were not. Al-Jahiz was one of the first of the major authors to use this new, secular, Arabic art prose in specifically Arab and Muslim ways.

The reputation of al-Jahiz has remained high through the centuries. The tenth century historian al-Mas'udi wrote that none of the earlier or later Mu'tazilis was so eloquent. "Despite his well known heretical bent," his books polish minds and disclose a clear proof with the best organizations, descriptions, and sequences. He observed that when al-Jahiz feared the reader might grow weary he would switch "from the serious to comic, from great wisdom to a witty anecdote."14

In his book in praise of al-Jahiz, Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi (d. 1023 AD) attributed to the ninth century scientist Thabit ibn Qurra the statement that he envied the Arabs only three men: the caliph 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, the ascetic al-Hasan al-Basri, and al-Jahiz. His books, he said, "are flowering meadows and his essays fruit-laden branches." He was received by the elite and loved by the masses. "He united tongue and pen, native intelligence and learning, reasoning and art, prose and poetry, cleverness and understanding."15

The thirteenth century scholar Yaqut said in his biographical dictionary that al-Jahiz was well known for his "intelligence, quickness of thought and memory."16 The twentieth century Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim has written, "It has always been my opinion that modern Arabic literature is nothing but a continuation of the movement of renewal begun by al-Jahiz."17

Al-Jahiz studied in Basra with some of the finest scholars of the time, more by association than in a formal course of instruction. He became a Mu'tazili in theology. His first success at the ' Abbasid court in Baghdad is said to have been with al-Ma'mun, a caliph with intellectual interests who praised some writings of al-Jahiz.18 During his reign it is said al-Jahiz held a government post for three days before resigning.19 There are accounts of other equally short-lived official employments for al-Jahiz. He had better success in retaining the patronage of 'Abbasid court officials.

When asked if he had a plantation in Basra, al-Jahiz replied that his establishment in Basra consisted of himself "and a woman, a woman to serve her, a man servant and a donkey." All the same, since Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik had given him five thousand dinars for Kitab al-Hayawan ("Book of Animals"), Ibrahim ibn al-'Abbas al-Suli five thousand for Kitab al-Zar' wa al-Nakhl ("Book of Crops and Palms"), and Ibn Abi Du'ad five thousand for Kitab al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin ("Book of Eloquence and Clear Expression") he possessed an estate needing no fertilizer or upkeep.20

Patronage of court officials carried with it dangers as well as riches. Al-Jahiz was a protege of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik al-Zayyat until his fall in 847 AD. Al-Jahiz reportedly fled at the time, fearing torture in a spike-studded drum. Al-Jahiz was brought in shackles to the chief justice Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad.21 He is said to have won his freedom by reminding the judge that it is better to suffer evil than to inflict it. Ibn Abi Du'ad commented that he was "confident of his wit but not of his religion."22 Al-Jahiz also dedicated some of his works to Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad's son and deputy Muhammad. Some four years later, both father and son were out of power themselves.23

Al-Jahiz had another powerful patron in al-Fath ibn Khaqan who was a link for him with the caliph al-Mutawakkil. Part of a letter from al-Fath to al-Jahiz is preserved in which he presented his own and the caliph's compliments and encouraged al-Jahiz to finish for him al-Radd 'ala al-Nasara ("Refutation of the Christians").24 It is reported that in the final year of his reign al-Mutawakkil sent to Basra for al-Jahiz who declined the invitation for reasons of ill health and age. He was partially paralysed and complained that while one side was totally insensitive the other ached with pain if a fly passed.25 At least twenty years before his death al-Jahiz's books al-Tarbi' wa al-Tadwir ("The Square and the Circle")26 and al-Bayan were popular enough in Muslim Spain for an Andalusian to travel East to meet the author. He sought him in Baghdad and Samarra before finding him in Basra.27

The major extant works of al-Jahiz include the previously mentioned "Animals,"28 a multi-volume anthology of literature with animal themes; "Misers,"29 a book of caricatures which indirectly celebrates Arab generosity; "Eloquence and Clear Expression," a history, handbook, analysis, and anthology of Arab eloquence; and the Rasa'il ("Essays" or "Epistles") in various collections.30 This selection of his essays attempts to represent the author's wide range of interests and yet to retain a the matic continuity. The first two essays, "Keeping Secrets and Holding the Tongue" and "The Distinction between Enmity and Envy," are ethical investigations lightened as usual by amusing stories.31 The author's appreciation of his own originality is evident. He complains about plagiarizers and scholars who are so undiscerning that they embrace a poor book falsely attributed to an early author while ignoring far better ones by al-Jahiz. In this way he displays a well developed sense of the role of a writer as a creative artist. "Enmity and Envy" ends with praise of a patron, 'Ubaid Allah ibn Yahya, a vizier to the caliph al-Mutawakkil. Even these essays on ethics are not without a political angle. The first audience was the patron, a high official at the 'Abbasid court with power to help friends and harm foes. The essays speak both of being virtuous and of being thought to be virtuous. Secrecy alias confidentiality remains a common governmental concern today.32

The tenth century AD literary theorist Abu Hilal al-'Askari compared essay and sermon forms and said that the two are interchangeable with respect to their format and sweetness and simplicity of language. The basic difference between them is that the essay is written, the sermon spoken. A second distinction between them though for al-'Askari is that while the sermon most often is devoted to religious concerns, prose writing serves political authority.33 In fact, even the most secular or profane of the essays or epistles of al-Jahiz retain a sermon-like character. Yet even his most sermon-like essays seem to have served political authority.

"Censure of the Conduct of Secretaries" ends its faultfinding with a conciliatory comment. In any case, al-Jahiz is also said to have written an essay in praise of secretaries.34 His censure is part ethical and part political.35 Iranian secretaries serving the Arab caliphs are said to rely too heavily on their Iranian cultural heritage. Their knowledge of Islam and dedication to it are questioned.36 The attorney may be the closest modern equivalent, achieving wealth and power through control of a special vocabulary.

"Life and Afterlife," dedicated to Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad's son Muhammad, is a discussion of ethics with the Mu'tazili idea of God's promise and threat a central doctrine. It also speaks of virtue as a mean between excess and deficiency and a habit in which the soul should be trained.

The essay "In Earnest and in Jest" features a combination characteristic not only of al-Jahiz but also of medieval Latin literature. Curtius has observed that, "the polarity 'jest and earnest' is, from the late antique period onwards, a conceptual and formal schema" and that "the mixture of jest and earnest was among the stylistic norms which were known and practiced by the medieval poet…"37 In this essay al-Jahiz makes a plea for forgiveness to Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik al-Zayyat. Al-Jahiz complains of old age and speaks of a career dedicated to his patron's service. The author seeks earnestly to humour his patron with analyses of anger, punishment, bookbinding, kidney stones, and the relationship of word to meaning.

"Homesickness" is more anthology than essay. The homesickness is in the first instance that of the Arab military elite which had left the simple pleasures of Arabia to spread the Islamic empire throughout the Fertile Crescent, North Africa, and Iran and in the second that of the Turkish and Iranian soldiers the 'Abbasid caliphs brought into Iraq to prop up their regime. A modem example of the ancient Persian practice mentioned in "Homesickness" of carrying a sachet of native soil was the report that Mohammad Riza Pahlevi took with him "a bag of Iranian earth as his father did when he was exiled in 1941 …"38

"Boasting Match over Maids and Youths" is in another format popular with al-Jahiz: a debate of boasts in poetry and anecdote between partisans of two rivals whether girls or boys, Blacks or Whites, one Arab confederation or another, winter or summer, or goats or sheep.39 This essay also contains a noteworthy discussion of the respective merits of pre-Islamic and Muslim Arab poets and their life styles. The patron of girls has the last word in the debate. The essay is supplemented by a comment on eunuchs and a collection of jokes.40 "The Superiority of the Belly to the Back" is a variant of the previous debate in which al-Jahiz takes the belly's side.41

Wiet has commented that both "The Virtues of the Turks" and a comparable essay outlining "The Claims of Superiority of the Blacks over the Whites" were designed by the author to scandalize his contemporaries.42 It is true that Turkish soldiers were less than popular with the citizens of Baghdad and that the essays on Black superiority and Turkish merit do seem related. Yet the essay on the Turks is dedicated to al-Fath ibn Khaqan, an 'Abbasid commander of Turkish descent. Furthermore, al-Jahiz said that at least part of it was written for al-Mu'tasim, the caliph who first enlisted Turkish soldiers in his private army. The essay can be considered a form of government propaganda, not scandalous satire or humor.43

The Zanj (East African) community in Iraq may have been socially invisible, but it was involved in raids and rebellions in the 690's44 and again on a much larger scale shortly after the death of al-Jahiz. The later rebellion was led by an ethnic Arab who had earlier attempted rebellions among the Bedouins of eastern Arabia and the citizens of Basra. His success came with the largely East African conscript labor force which worked on private plantations around Basra clearing the nitrous layer of soil from the fields. One complaint of the East Africans in the essay is precisely that few were allowed to remain to maturity in urban centers. Al-Tabari mentioned Black units of the 'Abbasid army which went over to the rebel side.45 Rotter has drawn attention to an account of al-Fadl ibn Sahl's death which may indicate a use several decades earlier of Black guards on a par with Greeks, Dailamis, and Slavs.46 Thus East Africans were an economic and military factor in ninth century Iraq. It seems possible that this essay was meant in part as propaganda for the employment of East Africans.

In view of al-Jahiz's known predilection for mixing the comic with the serious, his anthropology should not be discounted because of his humor.47 Al-Mas'udi, who visited East Africa, spoke of al-Jahiz's essay on the Blacks as a serious work and gave his own tribute to Zanj oratory.48 Al-Jahiz's admirer al-Tawhidi, in a short list of the merits and defects of the nations including the Persians, Greeks, Indians, and Arabs, credited the Turks with courage and daring and the East Africans with "patience, hard work, and joy."49 In contrast, Ibn Qutaiba (d. 889 AD) in the chapter "Blackness" of his book on women has an uneven mixture of color slurs and laudatory comments. He has praise for the Afro-Arab 'Irar who was a delegate from the people of Kufato the Umayyad caliph 'Abd al-Malik, for example.50 The feelings of al-Jahiz are best expressed by his call for the fraternal solidarity of all subjects of the Caliph with which he ends his essay on the Turks.

Al-Jahiz is known in the Arab world today as an elegant stylist of literary Arabic, a satirist and humorist, and a theologian with interest in philosophy, in that order. He is also taken seriously as an accurate observer of early 'Abbasid society and social conditions. Thus his works are an important historical source as well.


1 See Anthology of Chinese Literature, edited by Cyril Birch (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1965) pp. 242-259.

2 Compare al-Jahiz, Kitab al-Bukhala ', French translation, Livre des Avares, by Charles Pellat (Paris: Editions G. P. Maisonneuve et Cie, 1951) and Juvenal's Satires with the Satires of Persius, Gifford translation revised by Warrington (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1954) pp. 166-167.

3 Compare Juvenal, p. 114, and "Keeping Secrets and Holding the Tongue" in this collection.

4 Quintilian, The Institutio Oratoria, translated by H. E. Butler (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920-1922) X.i.46 and 49. Cicero was also known for his digressions. (Quintilian, XI.iii.164 and IX.i.28.)

5 Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy Gentleman in Sterne, edited by Grant (London: Rupert Hart-Davies, 1950) p. 80, vol. I, chap. XXII.

6 al-Jahiz, Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, edited by Harun (Cairo: al-Khanji, n.d. 3rd edition, 4 vols) III, 366.

7 Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, translated by Willard R. Trask (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963) p. 455.

8 Sterne, pp. 69-70, vol. I, chap. XX.

9Ibid., p. 701 (letter dated Jan. 30, 1760). Compare Charles Pellat, "al-Djahiz" in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., II, 386; Pellat, The Life and Works of Jahiz, translated by Hawke (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969) p. 271.

10 A. J. Arberry, Aspects of Islamic Civilization (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1967) p. 23, of Zuhair.

11 Bion the Borysthenite is said to have been the "first to clothe philosophy in motley." H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Literature (New York: H. P. Dutton and Company Inc. [1934]) p. 357.

12 Oleg Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977) pp. 198, 175, 199, 200.

13 See H. A. R. Gibb, Arabic Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1963-2nd ed.) pp. 51-52.

14 al-Mas'udi, Kitab Muruj al-Dhahab (Les Prairies d'or), edited and translated by Barbier de Meynard (Paris: l'Imprimerie Nationale, 1861-1877) VIII, 34-35.

15 Yaqut, Irshad al-Arib ila Ma'rifa al-Adib, edited by Margoliouth (London: Luzac & Co., 1931) pp. 69-71.

16Ibid, p. 56.

17 Tawfiq al-Hakim, al-Malik Udib (Cairo: Maktaba al-Adab, 1949) p. 33. See also his Qultu Dhata Yawm (Cairo: Akhbar al-Yawm, 1970) p. 91.

18 See al-Jahiz, al-Bayan, III, 374-375.

19 Yaqut, Irshad, p. 58.

20Ibid., pp. 75-76.

21 See "Ahmad b. Abi Du'ad," The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition, I, 271.

22 Yaqut, Irshad, pp. 57-59.

23 See Pellat, Life and Works, p. 7.

24 Yaqut, Irshad, pp. 62, 72.

25Ibid, pp. 79-80, 74.

26 French translation by Adad in Arabica 8-9 (1966-1967).

27 Yaqut, Irshad, pp. 74-75.

28 See Sa'id H. Mansur, The World-View of al-Jahiz in Kitab al-Hayawan (Alexandria [Egypt]: Dar el-Maaref, 1977) for a persuasive argument that the book is a work of philosophy or theology and better translated "Book of Life."

29 For a thorough analysis of "Misers" see Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Structures of Avarice (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1985).

30 See Charles Pellat, "Gahiziana III" in Arabica, III, 147-180.

31 The story of burying a secret in a jug in the ground has an elaborate parallel, with a similarity to Ovid, in Amos Tutuola, The Brave African Huntress (London: Faber and Faber, 1958) pp. 43-44. See also Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975) p. 317. For a modern, applied ethics approach to secrecy see Sissela Bok, Secrets (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982).

32 Patronage for al-Jahiz by 'Abbasid officials should not put his literary integrity in question any more than that of Octavian through Maecenas for Vergil. See H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1936) pp. 240, 245.

33 Abu Hilal al-'Askari, Kitab al-Sina'atain ([Cairo]): 'Isa al-Babi al-Halabi and partners, 1971) p. 142.

34 See Pellat, "Gahiziana," p. 164.

35 Naguib Mahfouz has frequently used the bureaucrat as hero or anti-hero; see al-Qahira al-Jadida and Hadrat al-Muhtaram (Cairo: Maktaba Misr, 1945 and 1975 respectively.)

36 See also Ibn Qutaiba, Adab al-Katib (Cairo: al-Tijariya al-Kubra, 1963) pp. 3-5.

37 Curtius, p. 424.

38 The New York Times, Wednesday, January 17, 1979.

39 Curtius also mentioned an anonymous possibly twelfth century debate "on the question whether the love of girls or of boys is to be preferred." Curtius, n. 26, pp. 116-117.

40 The heroine of one of the jokes, Hubba of Medina, has a modern literary counterpart in Bint Majzoub who has had eight husbands; see Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North, translated by Johnson-Davies (London: Heinemann, 1970) p. 75.

41 A sample point made in favor of the belly is that we speak of a person's coming from his mother's belly, not his father's back. The modern novelist Naguib Mahfouz has one character tease another: "Glory to God who creates a scholar from the back of an ignorant man." Mahfouz, Qasr al-Shawq (Cairo: Maktaba Misr, 1957) p. 368.

42 Gaston Wiet, Introduction à la littérature arabe (Paris: Editions G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1966) p. 107.

43 For an analysis of the essay on the Turks see Jacob Lassner, The Shaping of 'Abbasid Rule (Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1980) Chapter V. For an English translation on the essay on Black pride see The Book of The Glory of the Black Race, translated by Vincent J. Cornell (Los Angeles: Preston Publishing Company, 1981, 1985).

44 Charles Pellat, Le Milieu Basrien et la formation de Gahiz (Paris: Librarie d'Amerique et d'Orient Adrien Maisonneuve, 1953) p. 41.

45 al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, edited by Ibrahim (Cairo: Dar al-Ma'arif, 1960-1968, 10 vols) IX, 414-415.

46 Gernot Rotter, Die Stellung des Negers in der islamisch-arabischen Gesellschaft bis XVI Jahrhundert (Bonn: Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universitat, 1967) pp. 66-67; Tabari, VIII, 565.

47 For an example from modem French literature of the sincere defense of contradictory opinions see Andre Gide, Les Faux-Monnayeurs (Paris: Gallimard, 1925) pp. 249-251.

48 al-Mas'udi, I, 167; III, 30.

49 al-Tawhidi, Kitab al-Imta ' wa al-Mu 'anasa, edited by Amin & al-Zain (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-'Asriya, 1953, 3 vols) I, 73-74.

50 Ibn Qutaiba, 'Uyan al-Akhbar (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Misriya, 1925-1930, 4 vols) IV, 42, 41.

Charles Pellat (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: "Al-Jahiz," in Abbasid Belles-Lettres, Julia Ashtiany, T. M. Johnstone, J. D. Latham, R. B. Serjeant and G. Rex Smith, eds., Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp. 78-95.

[In the following essay, Pellat discusses the unique contributions that al-Jahiz made to Arab literature.]


Abu Uthman Amr b. Bahr b. Mahbub al-Kinani al-Basri, known as al-Jahiz, is one of the best-known and most prolific of early Abbasid prose-writers and Mutazili theologians, and also one of the most controversial. Little is known of his origins, apart from the fact that he was born in Basra, probably around 160/776, to a humble family of freedmen (mawali) who were clients of the Banu Kinanah (a tribe related to Quraysh). Jahiz's forebears were probably of African descent; his grandfather was black, and he himself retained some of the pigmentation of his ancestors; his ugliness, caused by his bulging eyeballs, became proverbial and earned him the nickname oïjahiz (popeyed). Nothing is known of his father, who died soon after his birth, and little of his mother, to whom Jahiz must have been a source of considerable anxiety; she had managed to send him to the local Quranic school, but when he left he refused to be tied down to any regular work. It is said that he was once seen selling fish, and this, if true, confirms what other anecdotal sources say about his idle way of life. His idleness, however, was to give him an exceptionally broad experience of human nature. As he strolled around Basra he made an assortment of friends who doubtless fed and sheltered him, and who also gave him the opportunity to indulge his precocious fondness for observation, argument and reading, for despite his intelligence and insatiable thirst for intellectual and factual knowledge, he had no access to any kind of formal training higher than that given in his Quranic school. However, other kinds of education were freely available to him. He mixed with the groups of educated idlers which were springing up all over Basra, especially at the mosque, and which discussed all manner of topics, and he watched what was going on around him in the streets of Basra. He also went to the Mirbad, the great open space on the outskirts of the city where the bedouin halted and were questioned by the philologists, whom Jahiz would then follow to the Friday mosque to hear their public lectures on the information they had collected. Among these scholars were such well-known figures as the great "triumvirate" of al-Asmai, Abu Ubaydah and Abu Zayd al-Ansari, who played a key role in the development of Arabic culture: the material that they amassed on hadith, lexicography and ancient poetry was classified into monographs which became the nucleus of the Arabic humanities, handed down by their pupils to later generations. Merely to listen to their teaching was, for Jahiz, to master contemporary literary and historical learning and to gain a thorough grounding in the Arabic language. But besides being, together with Kufa, the main centre of philological research, Basra was also the home of Mutazilism1 and of a form of rationalism which was in sharp contrast to a nascent trend towards conformism (a trend which was later to find its embodiment in Jahiz's younger contemporary, the Sunni apologist and adib, Ibn Qutaybah, d. 276/889). For grammar and lexicography were not the only interests of Basran intellectuals; they also held lively discussions on less dry, more general subjects, such as the harmonization of faith and reason, the legitimacy of the Abbasid caliphate, the part played by the Kharijis2 and Shi is in shaping Muslim history, and the threat posed to Arab supremacy in the Muslim world by such opposition as that of the Shuubis. It was probably through the friends he made among the early Mutazilis that Jahiz gained entry into "good" society and was able to attend, and later to take part in, a great many often heated debates on such general topics, which he later remembered vividly enough to be able to make extensive use of them in his own works. His contacts with affluent and educated circles also gave him the opportunity to read voraciously, in particular the translations from Greek and Pahlavi that were then beginning to appear. But all this while, unlike middle-class intellectuals, Jahiz remained in contact with people of his own background, the lower classes, artisans and seamen, still mixed with idlers, and even took an interest in the activities of the underworld to which a city as cosmopolitan as Basra was bound to give birth. These were the basic influences on Jahiz's development; it was perhaps inevitable that a city as intellectually advanced as Basra undoubtedly was should produce a genius marked with its stamp, and Jahiz was in every way a true representative of his birthplace; Basra was a microcosm whose every facet Jahiz knew and was able to translate into literature.

We do not know when Jahiz began to write, but his first works must certainly date from before the end of the second/eighth century, since by that time he must already have been a writer of some standing, to judge by a passage in one of his later works,3 which reveals that, through the good offices of a Basran grammarian called al-Yazidi, who was in favour at the court of Baghdad, Jahiz had been encouraged, if not actually commissioned, to write on the imamate, and that his efforts had been very well received by the caliph al-Mamun; this was in about 200/815-16. At that time Baghdad was attracting many talented men from the provinces, eager to make their mark on the new capital and to win fame and fortune; grammarians dreamed of being made tutors to princes, poets hoped to obtain great rewards through their panegyrics, and ambitious men of letters were gratified to receive a post as a clerk (katib) in the administration. Jahiz, who was neither a grammarian nor a poet, nor even ambitious, was nevertheless well enough educated to have become a katib, but was of too independent a nature to endure the constraints of an official post. After receiving the caliph's congratulations for his tract on the imamate he duly settled in Baghdad, but it seems that in the whole of his career he only worked as a katib for three days, at some indeterminate date (he may also briefly have acted as assistant to Ibrahim b. al-Abbas al-Suli4 in the chancellery). According to some accounts, he earned a meagre living as a teacher and, in his old age, the caliph al-Mutawakkil once engaged him as tutor to his children—but cancelled the appointment when he saw how ugly Jahiz was. As against this last, probably fanciful story, the only precise information we have as to how Jahiz earned his living is that he received substantial gratuities from various Abbasid officials for books dedicated to them, some of which, however, seem to have been too slight to merit such generosity. There is reason to believe that he was paid a pension during the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil, and he may well have drawn a state salary or received secret payments for unofficial services to the government. For his career was largely determined by his early writings on the imamate, writings which led to a series of works designed to legitimate the Abbasid caliphate or to justify important government measures; these were assured of a ready market, and, in addition, Jahiz also wrote letters and reports to those in charge of government policy, which at this period assumed a frankly religious garb. In other words Jahiz acted as an adviser to and apologist for the government, and seems to have exercised this role quite openly, for though he was not the intimate of caliphs, he maintained close ties with the vizier Ibn al-Zayyat (d. 233/847) and the caliph's adoptive brother, general and katib, al-Fath b. Khaqan (d. 247/861),5 as well as with the chief qadi (qadi l-qudah), Ahmad b. Abi Duad (d. 240/854-5), and his son and deputy Muhammad (d. 239/854), despite occasional differences of opinion. He is also known to have been closely involved with leading Mutazili figures such as al-Mamun's adviser Thumamah b. Ashras,6 as well as with some less prominent members of the movement. Meanwhile he kept in close touch with his native city through the large colony of Basrans who were more or less permanently settled in Baghdad, and he returned to Basra itself on several occasions. During his stay in Baghdad he also spent a short time in nearby Samarra, which became the seat of government from the time of al-Mamun's successor al-Mutasim,7 but his travels never seem to have taken him any further afield than Syria, unlike so many of his contemporaries who travelled tirelessly "in search of knowledge", in accordance with the Prophetic injunction to "seek knowledge though it be in China". We do not even know if he ever performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, and a geographical work of his, Kitab al-Amsar (see below), was criticized by later geographers for its numerous blunders, resulting from his lack of first-hand knowledge. In fact, travel was superfluous to Jahiz; the experience that he had gained in Basra and built up in Baghdad was all he needed. He earned what was probably a comfortable living by his pen, all the while adding new knowledge to his store and broadening his outlook by reading the new translations from the Greek made during al-Mamun's reign; at the same time he continued to elaborate the theological doctrine which he had begun to develop under his master Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. Sayyar al-Nazzam (d. between 220-30/835-45). Al-Mutawakkil's reaction against Mutazilism was very likely the reason why Jahiz, already old and paralyzed, decided to leave Baghdad and retire to Basra, where he died in Muharram 255/December 868-January 869. A late tradition claims that Jahiz, who had written so affectionately and eloquently of books, was smothered to death under an avalanche of books; se non è vero…

The quantity of Jahiz's output is by no means unique in Arabic literature, but it is remarkable that he managed to produce so much at a time when writing materials were very expensive and paper only just coming into use: the most recent published catalogue of his works lists 231 authentic works,8 of which, however, only two dozen have survived intact. In range as well as quantity, Jahiz's output is unusual for the period, and displays a remarkable breadth of intellect. This may not always have appealed to later generations; on the other hand, the elegance of his style has long been held up as an example by the best judges. Thus works of doubtful authenticity and those known to be apocryphal are generally well preserved, which shows that they satisfied public demand and that Jahiz continued to enjoy great prestige for some time after his death; while the fact that later anthologists, who probably had access to complete texts, seem often to have reproduced only extracts of some forty of Jahiz's works suggests that they may have found their style more interesting, or perhaps more congenial, than their content: the decline of Mutazilism must certainly be one of the reasons why comparatively few of Jahiz's works have survived; many lost works are the very epistles and short treatises which would have contained the most information about Jahiz's doctrinal position. However, but for the efforts of the anthologists, a still greater proportion of Jahiz's short works would have been lost; Jahiz himself and, at the end of the following century, Ibn al-Nadim,9 refer to a large number of works which have disappeared completely. Most of those which are now considered lost are unlikely ever to be recovered, and texts which to date have simply been overlooked are most probably minor works, to judge by Kitab al-Bursan (see below), which was discovered in Morocco fairly recently. In fact the likeliest sources for surviving fragments of important texts are manuscripts of later works, in which they may occur as quotations; we may take heart from the results of a piece of detective work car ried out by J. van Ess, who partially reconstructed the Kitab al-Nakth of al-Nazzam through passages of the Kitab al-Futya of Jahiz which in turn are preserved only in the Kitab al-Uyun of al-Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 413/1022), which is itself partially reproduced in the Fusul Mukhtarah of al-Sharif al-Murtada (d. 436/1044)!10 As for Jahiz's major works, Kitab al-Hayawan, Kitab al-Bayan wa l-tabyin, Kitab al-Bukhala and Kitab al-Uthmaniyyah have been preserved virtually intact, as have a very few shorter works, notably al-Tarbi wa ltadwir and Risalat al-Qiyan; several of the surviving epistles are also probably very little mutilated.

Editions of Jahiz's apocryphal works appeared at an early date in the East, but it was G. van Vloten who first drew attention to the authentic works by his publication of several of the treatises, and of Kitab al-Bukhala in 1900. Kitab al-Hayawan was not published until the beginning of this century, in a poor edition; today, however, a number of Jahiz's works have become widely available thanks to the efforts of eastern and western scholars to reinstate him. Some of the existing editions are of variable quality, but standards of Jahiz schol arship are steadily improving.

In attempting to establish a descriptive bibliography of Jahiz's works, it must be borne in mind that references to lost works may be cryptic or misleading and cannot be dealt with adequately in a chapter of this length. The following account is therefore almost entirely restricted to those complete works and fragments which are extant.11

Brockelmann suggested classifying the works of Jahiz under the following headings: theological and politico-theological writings; history; anthropology; general ethics; professions; animals; languages; geography; anthologies; polemics; with the lost works covering the further categories of: games; plants and other substances; literary history; works of entertainment.12 However, a reading of the works published or discovered since Brockelmann's time suggests that his classification is, if anything, too clear-cut; in order to gain a balanced picture of Jahiz's output, account should be taken of his much-criticized tendency to ramble from subject to subject within a single work. What is needed is a full and detailed listing of all the topics discussed by Jahiz in whatever context they may occur. Until this task has been accomplished, a broader classification based on a given work's overall function might prove more satisfactory than Brockelmann's listing by topic.

Jahiz had two main fields of activity; firstly, theology and politics, and secondly, adab. As a writer on matters political and theological, Jahiz's aim was to act as an apologist for the Abbasids and the Arabs respectively, on the one hand, and, on the other, to uphold and spread Mutazilism and to prove the existence of God by rational argument and the direct observation of nature. At the same time, Jahiz was an adib, a man of letters who hoped to educate his readers, and to do so by a process more attractive than that of contemporary scholarship. We may assume adab to be of three basic types, according to whether it aims to instil ethical precepts, to provide its readers with a general education, or to lay down guiding principles for members of the various professions; Jahiz was a practitioner of all three types. By adding to these functional criteria a further, purely formal distinction between those works which are built around quotations upon which Jahiz provides a commentary, and original works which give an unhampered view of his own style and opinions, we may, provisionally, classify his writings as follows: political and religious works; works modelled on, or developing out of, conventional scholarship; adab.

Political and Religious Works

Jahiz's earliest works are probably his writings on the imamate, of which there remain only fragments of Kitab Istihqaq al-imamah/Bayan madhahib al-Shiah ("The Necessity of the Imamate"/"An Exposition of the Different Kinds of Shi'ism", S, 241 8), and Jawabatfi l-imamah ("Replies Concerning the Imamate", S, 249-59). Istihqaq/Bayan madhahib argues that, at the time of the Prophet's death, the community did not unanimously favour his son-in-law, Ali b. Abi Talib, as its leader, and that the presence of a single imam, the best Muslim of his time, is necessary in every age. Jawabat deals with the qualities required of the imam (these subjects are also treated elsewhere in Jahiz's works).13 Abbasid propaganda was necessarily directed in the first instance against the Shiis, with their rival claim to legitimacy, and especially against the most moderate and therefore potentially attractive Shii sect, the Zaydis.14 Jahiz's largest work on these subjects is Kitab al-Uthmaniyyah; this declares the legitimacy of the first three "Orthodox" caliphs, develops Jahiz's ideas on the imamate, attacks the Alids on the ground that Ali failed to dissociate himself from the murder of Uthman, by which he himself succeeded to the caliphate, and thereby justifies the accession of the Abbasids. The defence of the Abbasids was probably further developed in a risalah (epistle) entitled Fil-Abbasiyyah ("Of the Abbasids", S, 300-3), though the only remaining fragment of this work seems unconnected with the subject. As a logical sequence to invalidating Shii claims to the imamate, Jahiz went on to attack the Umayyads and their later supporters who instituted a posthumous cult of the first Umayyad caliph, Muawiyah, in Kitab Taswib-Alifi tahkim al-hakamayn ("Vindication of Ali's Resort to Arbitration"), which recognizes the validity of the arbitration of Siffin.15 The superiority of the Abbasids to the Umayyads is further demonstrated in Fadl Hashim ala Abd Shams ("The Superiority of the House of Hashim to that of Abd Shams"),16 and the Risalah fi l-Nabitah (or fl Bani Umayyah, S, 67-116; trans. Pellat, Annales de l'Institut des études orientales, Algiers, 1952) includes a report to the son and deputy of the chief qadi Ahmad b. Abi Duad on the current political situation and the claims of the "young generation" (nabitah) of Hanbalis—followers of the Sunni theologian and jurist Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855)17—who idealize the Umayyads and Muawiyah and use theological argumentation as a weapon. Clear evidence that Jahiz acted as adviser to Abbasid officials on political and religious matters is provided by this risalah and others, particularly another epistle written for the son of Ahmad b. Abi Duad, al-Risalah fi Nafy altashbih, which condemns anthropomorphism, an anti-Mutazili tenet, Kitab al-Futya ("The Book of Legal Opinions") and a dedicatory epistle to the recipient of Kitab al-Futya, Risalah ila Ahmad b. Abi Duad yukhbiruh flha bi-Kitab al-Futya (H, 1, 313-19),18 and Kitab al-Raddala I'Nasara ("Refutation of the Christians", Finkel, Three Essays, 10-38, trans. Finkel, Journal of American Oriental Society, XL VII, 1927, 311-34), which is linked to the measures taken by al-Mutawakkil against the "People of the Book" (ahl alkitab), non-Muslims whose religions were founded on scriptures recognized by Islam and who were entitled to Muslim protection. In a similar "official" vein, Kitab Manaqib al-Turkwa-ammat jund al-khilafah ("The Merits of the Turks and of the Caliphal Army in General", H, 1, 1-85), addressed to the Turkish commander al-Fath b. Khaqan, deals with the composition of the caliph's army, particularly the Turkish troops.19

Though theological points are dealt with in several of the above works which Jahiz produced for official consumption, most of the writings in which he gives a more or less systematic account of his own doctrinal position have been lost, and it is difficult to reconstruct his Mutazili beliefs without drawing upon the writings of the later Mutazilis, al-Khayyat (d. c. 300/913) and Abd al-Jabbar (d. 415/1025),20 and the heresiographers. For strangely enough, though he differed enough from his teacher al-Nazzam to give rise to a separate Mutazili school, the Jahiziyyah (which the heresiographers cite without naming its adherents), Jahiz's own writings tell us less about his own beliefs than about those of other Mutazilis, especially al-Nazzam. Apart from Kitab al-Futya, a striking example of this is Kitab al-Akhbar wa-kayfa tasihh on the authenticity of hadith, the first part of which discusses the beliefs of the pre-Islamic Arabs, the Indians, Persians and Byzantines, while the second part is given the significant title "Ein unbekanntes Fragment des Nazzam" by its German editor and translator J. van Ess. Surviving fragments of other doctrinal works include a eulogy of dogmatic theology, Risalah β Fadilat sinaat al-kalam (unpublished), another work on the authencity of hadith, Kitab Hujaj alnubuwwah ("Proofs of Prophethood", S, 117-47), which also discusses the inimitability (ijaz) of the Quran, and Kitab Khalq al-Quran (S, 147-54), which tackles the thorny issue of the createdness (khalq) of the Quran and the persecution of Ahmad b. Hanbal, who opposed the official Mutazili doctrine of createdness, by the Inquistion (mihnah) of al-Mamun.21 Finally, Kitab al-Masail wa ljawabatfi l-marifah ("Questions and Answers on the Subject of Knowledge") must have been an account of the teachings of the different Mutazili schools on the knowledge of God, the only surviving fragment of which suggests that Jahiz believed that God can only be known by a process of ratiocination and not by intuition, which implies that Ali b. Abi Talib could not have had an innate knowledge of God, and could not therefore be seen as having had an intrinsically better claim than other Muslim converts the imamate after the Prophet' death22Fil-Sharib wa l-mashrub ("Drinkers and Drinks", S, 276-84), an epistle on the licitness of date-wine (nabidh), must be included among Jahiz's writings on religious matters proper, though another epistle on the same subject, Fi Madh alnabidh ("In Praise of Date-Wine", S, 285-91), should probably be treated as a work of adab.23

Scholarly Works

In terms of form, Jahiz's political and religious writings fall into the category of works which include but are not structured around quotations. Jahiz's scholarly works are more mixed in form, some making sparing use of quotation while others rely heavily on secondary material, but all can be viewed as marking a transition between conventional scholarship and Jahiz's own branch of adab. Both literary and scientific topics are discussed and analyzed; Jahiz sifts through the mass of lore and tradition collected by his predecessors, examines their authenticity and, in so doing, suggests the framework within which general culture should evolve and expand. His aim being to instruct without tedium, Jahiz's approach tends to be digressive and untidy; he switches from topic to topic by simple association of ideas and intersperses even the most serious material with comic anecdotes. Because of his playful style and often mordant wit, Jahiz has often been considered something of a joker, even a buffoon; but his works have a serious undertone. The "scientific" writings are theological too in so far as they are intended to prompt the reader to reflect and discriminate when making use of existing knowledge (and, in the case of the lengthiest work, Kitab al-Hayawan ("The Book of Beasts"), to draw edifying lessons from the observation of nature); the "literary" writings are likewise designed to stimulate the reader's critical faculties. An example of this approach is Kitab al-Tarbi wa l-tadwir ("The Square and the Round"), a short treatise now mutilated and interspersed with fragments of other works, in which Jahiz, while remaining just within the bounds of religious prescriptions and the pronouncements of the Quran, probes the accuracy of conventional interpretations of natural phenomena and questions "established" facts and generally credited legends; the work is an invitation to leave the ranks of the conformists and join those of the Mutazilis, who exercise their powers of reason and accept nothing without critical examination. In al-Tarbi Jahiz avoids giving answers to the issues he raises, but he does propose some solutions in one of his two crowning works, Kitab al-Hayawan, an anthology supposedly centred on a number of animals, but which in fact covers so vast a range of subjects as to make it a veritable encyclopaedia.24 The ostensible aim of al-Hayawan is to prove that the early Arabs knew as much about zoology as did the Greeks, and especially Aristotle, who is often quoted and criticized; but the main idea which emerges from the work is that everything in nature has a meaning and a use, and that everything proves the existence and wisdom of God. Quotations from archaic poetry and comic stories rub shoulders with passages of philosophy, metaphysics, sociology and anthropology, providing invaluable source-material for modern research, and there are observations on animal psychology, the evolution of species and the influence of climate on animals and man that often have quite a modern ring to them, though how many of these ideas are Jahiz's own it is difficult to establish; many are clearly borrowed from his contemporaries. As a good rationalist, Jahiz even carries out experiments to check the validity of conventional wisdom about animals, though he does not always interpret the results correctly or realize that the conditions of the experiment are faulty, as when he accepts the idea of spontaneous generation on the evidence of seeing flies hatch in a sealed bottle. The monumental al-Hayawan, which Jahiz never completed, was followed by a short work, Kitab al-Qawlfi l-bighal (H, II, 211-378), which deals with the mule, a hybrid well-calculated to arouse Jahiz's curiosity.

Altogether different is Kitab al-Amsar wa-ajaib albuldan ("Metropolises and Geographical Curiosities"), only a fragment of which has survived.25 This cannot be called a geographical treatise in the true sense of the word, for, though it deals with cities and countries, Jahiz presents them in literary rather than scientific terms, describing the tales and legends surrounding them; nevertheless, the work could be seen as an early specimen of human geography. The notion of the influence of soil and surroundings on their human inhabitants which is common to this work and to al-Hayawan is also developed in a curious text, Kitab Fakhr al-Sudan ala l-Bidan (H, I, 173-226), in which Jahiz vaunts the superiority of the black races to the white.26 Despite his origins, it seems unlikely that Jahiz genuinely wished to disparage the whites; rather it seems that his aim was obliquely to undermine Persian Shuubi pretensions to racial and cultural superiority to the Arabs; by using the kinds of argument employed by the Persians themselves, Jahiz shows that mere racial characteristics are not a mark of divine favour or displeasure, but of climatic conditions. Also to be included under the heading of ethnology is the last chapter of Kitab al-Bukhala, which is probably identical with Kitab Atimat al-Arab; this deals with the foodstuffs of the ancient Arabs, whose curious and sometimes revolting nature is set against the bedouins' proverbial hospitality and is explained in terms of environment—a dig at those Shuubis who mocked the supposedly barbaric habits of the Arabs. The work is similar to a conventional lexicographical monograph, with an added dash of irony, for the mate rial includes verses on cannibalism and provides a good example of Jahiz's slyly humorous method:

It was customary among the early Arabs to attribute the wrongdoing of a single individual to his entire tribe; similarly, a whole tribe might win commendation for the acts of one man alone. Thus…tribes would vilify each other as dog-eaters or man-eaters on the strength of an isolated incident—which might itself, upon examination, prove to have been perfectly excusable…A poet accordingly mocks the tribe of Bahilah thus:

Ghifaq got eaten by Bahilah; fie!

They sucked his bones and skull quite dry;

Now Ghifaq's mother pipes her eye.

…And the whole tribe of Asad were stigmatized as cannibals because of what happened to Ramlah bint Faid…who was eaten by her husband and her brother Abu Arib (who for their part declared that they only ate her out of exasperation at her unsuitable behaviour). The poet Ibn Darah upbraids them thus:

Ramlah was wife to one of your family, sister to another; now her name spells infamy.

Abu Arib! is this your clan's style of blood relationships, bloated as you all are on the flesh of the lady's hips?

and thus:

After what happened to Ramlah Faid, no Faqash man can find a bride;

A newly-wed but yestere'en, her flesh now graces your tureen.27

A similar spirit of irony informs Kitab al-Bursan wa l urjan wa l-umyan wa l-hulan, a selection of anecdotes, verse quotations and items of vocabulary relating to lepers, cripples, the blind, cross-eyed and otherwise physically defective.

The remaining works in this section deal with literary topics. Kitab al-Bayan wa l-tabyin ("The Book of Eloquence and Exposition") is an anthology of poetry and oratorical prose which constitutes a kind of selective inventory of the Arabic humanities, by means of which Jahiz tries to demonstrate Arab superiority to all other nations in the literary field, and so to add to the arguments directed against members of other cultures who claimed that the Arabs were barbarians, unfit to lead the Muslim community.28 Although Jahiz does little to explain his choice of literary material, he sketches an outline of poetic theory, leaving the reader to define the rules of literary criticism. Kitab al-Bayan is such a rich source of material that it has tended to overshadow other shorter but equally interesting works, such as the epistle Fi l-Balaghah wa l-ijaz ("Of Eloquence and Concision", unpublished), the brief surviving fragment of which shows that Jahiz was anxious not to neglect prose as a subject of literary discussion, and to lay down one fundamental rule of composition for Arabic prose-writers, namely concision (ijaz). In a short essay with the enigmatic title, Fi Sinaat al-quwwad ("The Skills of the Guild-Masters", H, I, 375-93), Jahiz represents several people using the jargon of their professions to describe a battle and compose love poetry; the effect is comic and illustrates the dangers of professional conditioning, over-specialization and the lack of a broader culture. Jahiz himself favours all-round development, and expounds his views in Kitab al-Muallimin ("Schoolmasters"), the surviving portion of which is a serious treatise on teaching, though the lost portions may well have presented schoolmasters in a satirical light.29

In al-Hayawan and al-Bayan Jahiz acted as a compiler, arranging notes and using his own personal observations to link them, but in the shorter treatises he emerges as a constructive critic and—himself at best a mediocre poet—an advocate of prose as an equal and a rival to verse. He himself sets the example by writing an elegy (rithd) in prose, Fi Mawt Abi Harb al-Saffar, and a prose satire (hijd) of a well-known member of the Barmakid family, Hija Muhammad b. al-Jahm al-Barmaki. Other, unpublished fragments of the same type have survived in manuscript. Finally, Fi Dhamm alzaman (S, 310-11) is a veritable prose poem on the "evils of the age".30


Moral decline and neglect of customary practices are recurrent themes both of paraenetic and of professional adab. To the latter category doubtless belonged a lost Kitab Akhlaq al-wuzara, which must have been a manual for the use of viziers. The surviving Kitab al-Taj ("The Book of the Crown"), which deals with rules of conduct for the great, is clearly apocryphal, as may also be Kitab al-Hijab (H, II, 25-85), on the office of chamberlain (hajib). Good manners are the subject of Risalat al-Maad wa l-maash fi l-adab watadbir al-nas wa-muamalatihim ("Epistle for the Next World and This on Manners, Managing Men and Social Relations", Majmu, 1-36, French trans. Vial, Quatre Essais, I, 33-66). This treatise falls to some extent under the heading of adab as Ibn al-Muqaffa for example conceived it, and Jahiz sets a still more individual stamp on paraenetic adab and the study of manners and morals, analyzing character and emotion and building up pictures of entire social groups characterized by some particular moral or psychological feature.

To judge by the titles to which references have survived, Jahiz must have devoted a number of epistles to such qualities as forgiveness and clemency, energy and resolve, etc., and he makes tantalizing allusions to these themes in other works. Some works of this kind survive; the keeping of promises is discussed in the fragmentary Fi stinjaz al-wad (II Risalab, 173-7), anger and its consequences in Fi l-Jidd wa l-bazl ("Earnestness and Jesting")—the title describes the tone of the epistle rather than its contents (Majmu, 61-98, French trans. Vial, Quatre Essais, I, 99-148), envy in Fi Fasl ma bayn al-adawah wa l-hasad ("On the Difference Between Enmity and Envy", trans. Beeston, Journal of Arabic Literature, XVIII, 1987) and in Fi l-Hasid wa lmahsud ("The Envier and the Envied", II Risala, 1-13),31 indiscretion in Kitab Kitman al-sirr wa-hifz allisan ("On Keeping Secrets and Guarding One's Tongue", Majmu, 37-60, French trans. Vial, Quatre Essais, I, 67-97), whose overly dogmatic assertions Jahiz tones down in Tafdil al-nutq ala l-samt ("Speech is Better than Silence", II Risalah, 148-54),32 where the value of speech is acknowledged. Snobbishness and pride are discussed in al-Nubl wa l-tannabbul wadhamm al-kibr ("Real and Assumed Superiority and a Condemnation of Arrogance") and narrow-mindedness in Fi l-Wukala wa-muwakkilin ("Of Stewards and Those Who Appoint them," II Risalah, 170-2).33 But by far the most famous and extensive work in this category is Kitab al-Bukhala ("The Book of Misers"). It consists of anecdotes and epistles which illustrate the vice of avarice, and begins with an introduction in which meanness is illustrated in great depth. By stressing the greed of the protagonists—many of them Persians—Jahiz seems to be trying to accentuate, by implication, the proverbial generosity of the Arabs, but what makes the book a masterpiece is Jahiz's gift for sheer story-telling:

A man from Marv [in Persia] used constantly to be travelling on business and pilgrimages; he used to stay with an Iraqi, who would entertain him liberally and see to all his needs. Often and often the man from Marv would say to the Iraqi: "How I wish you would come to Marv, so that I could repay all the kindnesses you've done me and the goodness you show me every time I come here. Of course here in your home town, by God's grace, you have no need of my hospitality." Now it so happened, a long while after, that the Iraqi had some business in that quarter [Marv], and he found the hardships of travel and the loneliness of being away from home considerably alleviated by the fact that he knew his friend was there. When he arrived in Marv he made straight for his house in his travelling dress, in his turban and tall hat and cloak, all ready to deposit his baggage and take up residence as a man does with a trusted friend and intimate. When he saw the man from Marv sitting among his cronies he threw himself into his arms and embraced him; yet the man gave no sign of recognition and was as unforthcoming as if he had never set eyes on him before. The Iraqi said to himself, "Perhaps he can't recognise me through my dust-veil", so he took off his veil and began to ask his friend how he was; but the man was more offputting than ever. Then the Iraqi said to himself, "Most likely it's because of my turban", so he pulled it off, said who he was and renewed his enquiries; but his friend was as chilling as could be. "Perhaps it's because of my hat", said the Iraqi [and began to remove it]. The man from Marv saw that the game was up and that it was impossible to feign ignorance any longer. He said, "If you were to take off your skin I still wouldn't recognise you!"34

Kitab al-Bukhala also contains an entire chapter on vaga-bonds, a subject also treated in the lost Hiyal almukaddin ("Mendicants' Tricks"), of which two pages have been preserved by a slightly later writer, Ibrahim b. Muhammad al-Bayhaqi, as has one page of Hiyal al-lusus ("Robbers' Tricks"),35 to which Jahiz refers in al-Bukhala. These texts could be considered forerunners of the maqamah and of Hikayat Abi l-Qasim by Abu 1- Mutahhar al-Azdi, and bear an affinity to the later genre of the qasidah sasaniyyah;36 as transmitted via Spain through the quotations in al-Bayhaqi, they may even be related to the picaresque novel. Kitab al-Bukhala, which has already proved a stimulus to literary and linguistic research,37 would clearly repay further study.

Probably earlier in date than al-Bukhala, Kitab al-Qiyan ("The Book of Singing Slave-Girls") contains a study of the manners and morals of the type as embodied in a seductive coquette and gold-digger, whose feigned or real feelings are analyzed with great subtlety:

The singing-girl is hardly ever sincere in her passion, or whole-hearted in her affection. For both by training and by innate instinct her nature is to set up snares and traps for the victims, in order that they may fall into her toils…But it sometimes happens that this pretence leads her on to turning it into a reality, and that she in fact shares her lover's torments…Sometimes she may renounce her craft, in order for her to be cheaper for him [to buy]…or she may allege that she is really a free woman, as a trick to get herself into the lover's possession, and out of anxiety for him lest her high price should ruin him…Yet for the most part singing-girls are insincere, and given to employing deceit and treachery in squeezing out the property of the deluded victim and then abandoning him. Sometimes a singing-girl may have three or four such victims with her, in spite of their own anxiety to avoid such an encounter, and their mutual jealousy when they do meet each other. Then she weeps with one eye to one of them, and laughs with the other eye to the second, and winks at the latter in mockery of the former…When they leave, she writes letters to all of them in identical terms, telling each one how much she dislikes the rest, and how she longs to be alone with him without the others.38

The epistle is ostensibly an apology for the rich businessmen who own, train and hire out the singing-girls, and, though bolstered by a typology of the affections and a history of the relations between the sexes in Arab society, is surely satirical in intent; but, though paradoxical and daring at times, it could hardly be considered shocking, unlike an anthology on natural and unnatural love, Kitab Mufakharat al-jawari wa l-ghilman ("Boasting-Match between Girls and Boys"; H, II, 91-137), in which Jahiz displays a marked hostility to homosexuality, as he also must have done in a lost work, Dhamm al-liwat ("Condemnation of Sodomites"), and as he does in a witty essay, Fi Tafdil al-batn ala l-zahr ("On the Superiority of the Belly to the Back").39 Passionate love is described at length in al-Qiyan and is also the subject of an epistle, Fi l-Ishq wa l-nisa ("Of Love and Women"); this has survived only in mutilated form in combination with Fasl ma bayn al-rijalwa lnisa ("The Difference between Men and Women", S, 266-75), an examination of the respective roles of men and women in which Jahiz shows himself to be resolutely feminist in a far from feminist environment.40

Several of the above works, al-Bukhala and al-Qiyan in particular, depict social classes, as do the epistles Fi Madh al-tujjar wa-dhamm amal al-sultan (II Risalah, 155-60)41 and Dhamm al-kuttab (Finkel, Three Essays, 40-51, French trans. Pellat, Hesperis, XLIII, 1956, 29-50); as their titles indicate, the former compares merchants, very favourably, to civil servants, and the latter is an attack on the bureaucracy. The fact that a treatise in praise of civil servants is also attributed to Jahiz, and that several other sets of antithetical titles are listed in the sources, gave rise to the idea that Jahiz was particularly fickle and quite prepared to defend in turn "a case and its opposite", as Ibn Qutaybah says in a famous passage.42 In fact this "fickleness" can be explained both in terms of literary convention43 and of Jahiz's idiosyncratic ability to see the good and bad in everything. One last work, which should perhaps be included under the heading of portrayals of social groups, is a year-book of the singers of Baghdad for the year 215/830-1, Fi Tabaqat almughannin ("Classes of Singers", II Risalah, 186-9); Jahiz declares his intention of bringing it up to date each year, but only a short fragment has survived.44

As the above bibliography shows, in compilations such as Kitab al-Hayawan or Kitab al-Bayan Jahiz seems to follow the pattern of conventional scholarship, but he moves well beyond convention when he uses traditional material as a vehicle for his own tastes and convictions. What is more, Jahiz always sets his own personal and utterly distinctive stamp on his source-material, however neutral. In the field of the Arabic humanities, it could well be said that while Jahiz's predecessors collected and sifted the raw materials, Jahiz himself was the artist who brought an original touch to the whole edifice. He raised the study of manners to the level of psychological enquiry and brought an analytical approach to scholarly and professional adab. Moreover, the structure of Arab-Islamic culture as presented by Jahiz is not merely founded on the traditions of the past corrected by the logic that Jahiz learned from the Greeks; it is an open culture, based on the recognition that the Arabs were not the first race to become civilized and that the progress of the human spirit did not cease with the Revelation. Unique in his own time, Jahiz, like Bacon or d'Alembert, embodies a process of development which can best be expressed in the formulae "memory, imagination, reason" or "scholarship, belles-lettres, philosophy". Since the chronology of his writings cannot be established precisely we cannot, perhaps, speak of his personal development in these terms; but his works take scholarship as their point of departure, enrich it with imagination, and are consistently rationalist in outlook. Though Jahiz is in no way comparable to the Muslim philosophers and thinkers of succeeding centuries, he nevertheless occupies a prominent place in the early history of Muslim thought. He was not, perhaps, a profound thinker, but he observed widely, and his shrewd comments are inspired by solid good sense and sound reason. Above all, though, Jahiz was a man of letters whose technical achievements mark a high point in the history of Arabic literature. Other writers before him had used a more sophisticated prose than that of the scholars and preachers, but Jahiz showed that the Arabs and Muslims, as the heirs of preceding civilizations, had attained an intellectual level which required its own medium of expression, at once more flexible than the prose of the early orators and simpler than that of the scribes—an unadorned prose which would be capable of conveying subtle shades of meaning and would derive its aesthetic quality from its own resources, without recourse to po etic ornamentation. Few writers were talented enough to follow his lead, and artistic prose soon drew upon rhyme and tropes and, once its original inspiration had dried up, lapsed into affectation and verbal acrobatics. The best critics have always rightly considered Jahiz as the greatest of Arabic prose-writers, though their judgement has been based less on precise analysis than on general impressions. But it must be conceded that Jahiz's style is hard to characterize. His sentences, which almost always dispense with internal rhyme, are often complex and extremely long, so long indeed as to mislead some editors who fail to grasp their flow into breaking them up at the wrong point. They are balanced by the juxtaposition of units of similar quantity and by the repetition of the same idea in two different forms, so that the reader may be sure to grasp its sense. His vocabulary is rich and as precise as the state of the language at that period allowed; foreign terms and neologisms are used with discrimination, and many passages seem quite modern. Nevertheless, Jahiz is a difficult writer to translate, so much so that, whenever the present writer has little trouble in turning into French a work attributed to Jahiz, he is inclined to consider it of doubtful authenticity. The difficulty stems from the often defective state of the texts, the richness of the vocabulary, and from Jahiz's untidy and confusingly digressive method of composition. But the untidiness is intentional and is, perhaps, less a result of Jahiz's pen trying to keep pace with his ideas than of his desire to vary his rhythm and subject-matter, to break down his reasoning into easy steps, and to make room for witticisms, anecdotes and pithy reflections. In an environment seemingly hostile to frivolity, Jahiz tackles the most serious questions, but at the same time gives the impression that he sees everything in relative terms and takes nothing wholly seriously. No reader can fail to be struck by the frequency with which Jahiz discusses laughter and feels the need to justify it, as though it were generally felt to be unnatural. To be sure, he repeats that the serious and the comic both have their place in the scheme of things, but to many Jahiz is still a mere entertainer whose only object is to raise a laugh. Some early writers were more clear-sighted and dubbed him mu allim al-aql wa l-adab, "the teacher of reason and polite learning", and for Jahiz adab was indeed a process of building up a new culture in which reflection, doubt, observation and even experiment were involved; but he also showed that man has the right to cast a satirical eye on the world about him and openly to enjoy such harmless pleasures as frank and healthy laughter.

Jahiz was bound to attract admirers, one of the most distinguished of whom was Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi; he also inspired forgers and clumsy imitators but did not found a literary school as such, for his talents were too unique. However, the isolated position that Jahiz occupies in Arabic literature can largely be blamed on the ground lost by Mutazilism to Sunnism and on one of Sunnism's chief apologists, Ibn Qutaybah, who served the Sunni policy of the caliph al-Mutawakkil much as Jahiz himself had earlier served Mutazilism, and who played a prominent role in shaping later Muslim thought. Ibn Qutaybah's understanding of the aims of adab, as well as his theology, was radically different from Jahiz's; he consequently misunderstood Jahiz, and succeeded in caricaturing him in the eyes of posterity.45 In the long term, he can be said to have succeeded in ousting Jahiz's conception of adab as progress and pluralism and in winning acceptance for his own tendency towards a safe and unadventurous singleness of outlook.


1 See p. 5.

2 See pp. 186-8.

3Bay an, III, 374-5.

4 Poet, katib, and an influential figure in government circles (d. 243/857). His (originally Turkish) family produced several men of letters, notably Abu Bakr al-Suli (d. c. 335/946), who edited the diwans of several Modern poets, including that of Abu Nuwas.

5 He was also an important figure in literary circles, see EI,2 "al-Fath b. Khakan".

6 See EI,1 "Thumama b. Ashras"

7 See p. 5.

8 Pellat, "Nouvel essai d'inventaire".

9Fibrist, Tajaddud, 210-12/Dodge, 1, 402-9.

10 Van Ess, K. al-Nakt.

11 Details of editions are given in the Bibliography to this chapter. In the case of works published as part of a collection, page references are given in the text of the chapter and translations are referred to in brackets. References to English versions of extracts from otherwise untranslated texts are given in the footnotes.

12GAL, S1, 241-7.

13 Pellat, Jahiz, 62-4, 64-6; see Pellat, "L'imamat".

14 The Zaydis put forward a pragmatic theory of the imamate: it could be held by any male member of the Prophet's House (ahl al-bayf), and any imam could be ousted by a better-qualified candidate; the presence of single imam in every age was not necessary: there could be several, or none.

15 Pellat, Jahiz, 72-82, 56-8, 66-72; on the arbitration of Siffin, cf. p. 186, below.

16 See Pellat, Jahiz, 58-62.

17CHALUP, 216. Ahmad b. Hanbal opposed the Mutazili doctrine of the createdness of the Quran and taught that the attributes of God, which the Mutazilis interpreted allegorically, were real; for the political significance of this stance, see pp. 5-6.

18 Pellat, Jahiz, 51-2.

19 Ibid., 91-7.

20 See ch. 5.

21 See Pellat, Jahiz, 32-3, 38-48, 48-50.

22 Pellat, Jahiz, 33-7; see Vajda, "La connaissance naturelle de Dieu", and van Ess, Ashab al-maarif.

23 Pellat, Jahiz, 52-4, 54-5.

24 Ibid., 130-85.

25 Ibid., 185-8, 188-95.

26 Ibid., 195-8.

27Bukhala, 234, 236; trans. J. Ashtiany (hereafter J. A.).

28 Pellat, Jahiz, 100-11.

29 Ibid., 11-12, 114-16, 112-14.

30 Ibid., 116-21, 122, 122-4.

31 Ibid., 221-2.

32 Ibid., 230-1.

33 Ibid., 235-6.

34Bukhala, 22, trans J. A.

35Mahasin, 521-3, 622-4; see Pellat, Jahiz, 255-6, 253-4.

36 See p. 101.

37 E.G. Mubarak, Fann al-qasas; Blau, "Syntactic phenomena".

38 Trans. Beeston, Singing-Girls, 31-4.

39 Pellat, Jahiz, 270-1, 269.

40 Ibid., 257-9.

41 Ibid., 272-3.

42Mukhtalif al-hadith, 71-2.

43 See Geries, al-Mahasin wa l-masawi, and p. 28, above.

44Pellat, Jahiz, 124-5.

45 Lecomte, Ibn Qutayba, 433-6; Ibn Qutaybah, Mukhtalif al-hadith, 71-3; trans. Lecomte, Le Traite des divergences, 65-6.

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Principal Works


Further Reading