He was born in in Basra, the second biggest city in Iraq. Even though his family was very poor, it did not stop Al-Jahiz of seeking knowledge and attending lectures on different topics like Arabic poetry, philology and lexicography. Although the Book of Animals consists of a wide range of subjects, the great amount of scientific information given is of great value. Al-Jahiz introduces the concept of biological evolution in this book. After observing animals and insects, al-Jahiz came to the conclusion that there must be some mechanisms which have influence on the evolution of animals, and this years before Darwin did.
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The names may however have been confused. During the cultural and intellectual revolution under the Abbasid Caliphate books became readily available, and learning accessible.
He read translated books on Greek sciences and Hellenistic philosophy , especially that of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Al-Jahiz, was also critical of those who followed oral Hadiths , referring to his Hadithist opponents as al-nabita "the contemptible". This is said to have been the beginning of his career as a writer, which would become his sole source of living.
It is said that his mother once offered him a tray full of notebooks and told him he would earn his living from writing. He went on to write two hundred books in his lifetime on a variety of subjects, including on the Quran , Arabic grammar , zoology , poetry, lexicography, and rhetoric.
Of his writings, only thirty books survive. This is said to be the origin of his nickname. Al-Jahiz furthermore describes the struggle for existence and natural selection. He provided a quotation describing the struggle for existence , citing a Spanish translation of this work: The rat goes out for its food, and is clever in getting it, for it eats all animals inferior to it in strength", and in turn, it "has to avoid snakes and birds and serpents of prey, who look for it in order to devour it" and are stronger than the rat.
Mosquitos "know instinctively that blood is the thing which makes them live" and when they see an animal, "they know that the skin has been fashioned to serve them as food". In turn, flies hunt the mosquito "which is the food that they like best", and predators eat the flies.
Every weak animal devours those weaker than itself. Strong animals cannot escape being devoured by other animals stronger than they. And in this respect, men do not differ from animals, some with respect to others, although they do not arrive at the same extremes.
In short, God has disposed some human beings as a cause of life for others, and likewise, he has disposed the latter as a cause of the death of the former. Many of the stories continue to be reprinted in magazines throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Le Livre des avares. These people have a natural talent for dancing to the rhythm of the tambourine, without needing to learn it.
There are no better singers anywhere in the world, no people more polished and eloquent, and no people less given to insulting language. No other nation can surpass them in bodily strength and physical toughness. One of them will lift huge blocks and carry heavy loads that would be beyond the strength of most Bedouins or members of other races. They are courageous, energetic, and generous, which are the virtues of nobility, and also good-tempered and with little propensity to evil.
They are always cheerful, smiling, and devoid of malice, which is a sign of noble character. The Zanj say that God did not make them black to disfigure them; rather it is their environment that made them so. The best evidence of this is that there are black tribes among the Arabs, such as the Banu Sulaim bin Mansur, and that all the peoples settled in the Harra, besides the Banu Sulaim are black.
These tribes take slaves from among the Ashban to mind their flocks and for irrigation work, manual labor, and domestic service, and their wives from among the Byzantines; and yet it takes less than three generations for the Harra to give them all the complexion of the Banu Sulaim. This Harra is such that the gazelles, ostriches, insects, wolves, foxes, sheep, asses, horses and birds that live there are all black. White and black are the results of environment, the natural properties of water and soil, distance from the sun, and intensity of heat.
There is no question of metamorphosis, or of punishment, disfigurement or favor meted out by Allah. Besides, the land of the Banu Sulaim has much in common with the land of the Turks, where the camels, beasts of burden, and everything belonging to these people is similar in appearance: everything of theirs has a Turkish look.
The Father of the Theory of Evolution: Al-Jahiz and His Book of Animals
Edit The Kitab al-Hayawan is an encyclopedia of seven volumes of anecdotes , poetic descriptions and proverbs describing over varieties of animals. It is considered as the most important work of al-Jahiz. In the Book of Animals, al-Jahiz first speculated on the influence of the environment on animals and developed an early theory of evolution. Al-Jahiz considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and first described the struggle for existence , an ancestor of natural selection. He used his theories on natural selection and environmental determinism to explain the origins of different human skin colors , particularly black skin , which he believed to be the result of the environment. It is an insightful study of human psychology.