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 Extracts from Jahiz other books


Left a Leaf from the manuscript investigation into commerce; right from Avarice & the Avaricious

Al-Tabassur bi'l-tijara (Investigation into Commerce)

Taken from: Bernard W Lewis; Islam from the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople

Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World by Olivia Remie Constable, Irving W. Raymond,

Cahiz’in et-Tebessur bi’t-Ticara-Ticare Adli Risalesi ;  Dr. M. Mahfuz Soylemez

Note: this might well be the coast of Berbera instead of the city Berbera (in the northern part of the horn of Africa) because in the whole chapter (about export products from various places) the author tends to mention big geographical areas instead of small harbors or towns.


The most valuable Amber is of grey colour (Eşheb); the Zanj Amber is more valuable than the blue and the yellow one which is the most common…..


The best leopard skins are from Berbera, spotted with bright white and deep black, with long spots like a starling. The finest skins are those with a small, clear black spot in the middle of the black part. If the black parts are joined to one another by a light black line, it is still finer. If the skin contains red with bright white and jet black, it is more beautiful and of higher price. The leopards of Berbera are small; one skin barely covers a single saddle. The highest price of a skin is 50 dinars. The North African and Indian skins are wider and bigger, but they do not fetch high prices and are not of good quality. The best leopard skins are spotted.


The imports in Iraq .


From Barbary and the borders of the Maghrib: panthers, salam leaves, felts, and black hawks.

From Yemen: eye lotion, tanned skins, giraffes, cuirasses, colored gems, incense, the leaves of the Khitr (for dyeing) and the spice safran-bamboo (Zingiberaceae).


From Misri

Zebra (el-humru'l-hemalic), fine clothes, paper, rozewood oil, precious stones.


The best falcons are the white ones found between the Turkish land and Gilan , then the black corvine ones from the land of the Zanj to the Yemen and India, the bright red ones, then the dune-colored ones.

From his Al-Bayan wa'l-tabyin (The explanation and the evidence):
taken from the original translation

They (the Shu'ubiyya) maintain that eloquence is prized by all people at all times- even the Zanj, despite their dimness, their boundless stupidity, their obtuseness, their crude perceptions and their evil dispositions, make long speeches.   

Nevertheless we find people, which are capable to copy the mode of expression of the inhabitants Yemen with them the peculiar discussion of the words without ignoring a little thing; likewise they can copy also a Kurasaner, a Ahwazer, one of the Zang, a man of Abessinia and others, it can even be that one finds one, that it more faithful than the inhabitants of those areas. If they copy a stutterer, is it, as if all characteristics of all stutterer of the earth would be united in the language of this person.

Abul Hasan al-Madani told me that the Zanj have the incisors pulled. They sharpen their teeth, not only to use them in battle as a weapon but also so as to  be able to eat the enemies later on.

If you hear me mention al awwam, then I do not include in that the farmers, the people living in bad conditions, artisans, traders, as well as Kurds, the people of the islands, not those like the Berber, the Tailasaner, the Muqaner and the Gilaner (all on the shore of the Caspian Sea), the Zang and those who resemble the Zang.  The people that are worth mentioning are four: the Arabs, the Persians, the Indians and the Byzantines. The others are savages (hamag) and those who resemble savages.

The quality of Arabic spoken by the urban people was much inferior to the language of the Bedouins. One could also notice the phonetic differences of Arabic uttered by Nabateans of the Sawad, Khorasanians, Zanjis, Sindis and Sicilians in the Mediterranean.

Risala nr 17: Alhunin 'iilaa al'awtan (Nostalgia for homelands)

Taken from: the translation by William M. Hutchins; Nine essays of al-Jahiz

A chapter of his risala (epistle): To al-Fath ibn Khaqan

The virtues of the Turks and the general army of the caliphate


You asserted that the difference between the Turks and the Khurasani is not like the difference between the Persian and Arab, the Byzantine and the Slav, or the Zanj and the Ethiopian, not to mention those more distant in substance and more intensely different. It is rather, like the difference between a resident of Mecca and of Medina. 

Risalat al-qiyan (Epistle of the Singing Girls).

Taken from:Al-Jahiz: Epistle on Singing Girls by A.F.L. Beeston


Slaves are a variety of merchandise, subject to bargaining and chaffering over price; and both vendor and purchaser need to examine the piece of goods carefully, and subject it to a close scrutiny. For this purpose there is requisite the same sort of ocular selection as is obligatory in relation to all commodities sold. If a thing cannot be priced by measure of capacity, weight, number of linear measurement, it is judged by beauty or ugliness. Of this the only judge is a person with a trained eye, skilful in his trade. For the quality of beauty is too fine and delicate a thing to be appreciated by just anyone whose eye falls on it. Furthermore, intangible qualities cannot be judged by the witness of the eye alone; were it so, anyone who casts his glance on them would be a competent judge. Yet even in the case of cattle and asses, a correct judgment on them is only formed by someone with a perceptive eye, who must inspect them, form a mental estimate (of the ocular evidence), and transmit that evidence to his intellect; the final judgement on the objects proceeds from the intellect. 


Kitab al-Bukhala; (Avarice & the Avaricious)

Taken from the original translation

We know that the Zanj are the least intelligent and the least discerning of mankind, and the least capable of understanding the consequences of actions.

He had the habit to say : I never had the pleasure to eat dates with a Zang or someone from Ispahane. The Negro is not choosing, there where I do; the ones from Ispahane they take a handful and before he has finished those won't touch the others.

Taken from: The Reader in al Jahiz by Thomas Hefter

In this book a part is called Letter from Abu al As. Abu al As acknowledges the generosity of the Zanj and soon turns to refuting the claim that the famed generosity of the Zanj was due only to their perceived weakness of intellect and lack of foresight.  He argues that if this were the reason for their generosity, one would expect to find the peoples seen as more intelligent more miserly than their intellectual inferiors.

Taken from: Owned by the Right Hand: The Theory and Practice of Slavery in Islamic Society by Christopher Scott Rose

A reference is made by Al Jahiz to the disease of the Zanj (marad al Zanj) contracted from working in the marches around Basra. (probably malaria)

Kitab al Akhbar (The Book of the New)

Taken from: Gerald Messadie : A History of the Devil


Having become interested in the Byzantine, we found that they were doctors, philosophers, and astronomers. They are familiar with the principles of music, are able to create Roman(weights and measures) and know the world of books. They are excellent painters........ They possess an architecture different from any other.... It is unarguable that they have beauty, are familiar with arithmetic, astrology, and calligraphy, and that they possess courage and a variety of great talents. The Blacks and similar peoples have less intelligence because they lack these qualities.


Kitab al Tarbi wal tadwir (Book of Expressions and Refinements)

Taken from: al-Tarbi wal-tadwir, edited. Ch. Pellat Damaskus 1955


Why is it that they do not speak different languages? Some speak the language of Zang, others the Nabateen, others Persian? If you say one finds among them people seldom found, the poet, the ……..




Tell me, at what date did mankind comprise a  single community speaking the same language? How many generations did it take for the Zanj to become black and the Slav white? Why did skin colour change more rapidly than other bodily features? Why is it that a child exhibits physical characteristics acquired by its father, not innate in him, and yet no Arab child is born insane? What is the factor that prevents this happening? How long it was after the Tower of Babel before each group had a complete language of its own in general use.


Tell me, pray, which animal live longest: the vulture, the onager, the snake or the lizard? When can snake go without food? When do lizards live on nothing but air? When do vultures stop breeding? Why is it that the mule, which is a cross between an ordinary pigeon and ring-dove, reproduces itself, and the bukhti, which is a cross between two humped camel and a female dromedary, likewise?

 .... Tell me about the giraffe: is it really a cross between female hyaena and she- camel?



Al-Barsan wal-Argan (On social responses to physical disability)

Taken from: Al-Barsan wal-Argan wal-Umyan wal-Hawlan, edited by Abdel-Salam Haroun (1998). Cairo


It was said: a lot of saliva makes not to show the smell of the mouth. Therefore, the dogs have the best breath.. And the best people are the Zinj.