Al-Jahiz and the Book of Animals

Meet the man behind one of the oldest Arabic manuscripts on Animals

By 1001 Inventions

Al-Jahiz Portrait, artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Who was Al-Jahiz?

Abu Othman Amr bin Bahr (776 – 868), generally known by his nickname Al-Jahiz, which means ‘goggle eyed”, was an Arab scholar of African descent who lived in the 8th and 9th centuries in modern day Iraq. He is widely known for his pioneering work, the Book of Animals.

Al-Jahiz selling fish in Basra, artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Al-Jahiz was born in Basra to a poor family, and in his youth he worked selling fish on the city canals.

But he developed a love for and expertise in the Arabic language, becoming an avid reader and a prolific writer.

Al-Jahiz seeking knowledge, artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

He tailored his writing in such a manner that the wide public could understand; interspersing his writing, with anecdotes, humour and witticisms.

He was born in Basra, present-day Iraq, in 776 - during the rise of the Golden Age of Muslim civilisation, and was known to be an avid learner.

He read Greek literature, especially Aristotle.

Seeking to widen his intellectual horizons further, he travelled to Damascus, Beirut, Samarra and Baghdad, where he lived for many years.

Al-Jahiz's Wealth of Knowledge', artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

Al-Jahiz grew up to be a man of reason, logic, and life-long independence.

He earned his living through his writings - he wrote more than two hundred works.

Al-Jahiz and his Book of Animals, artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

One of his most famous works is the pioneering Kitab al-Hayawan, or Book of Animals.

It tackles aspects of biology and zoology like animal classification, food chains and evolution.

Wax model of Al-JahizOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

"The book is silent as long as you need silence, eloquent whenever you want discourse.

It is a friend who never deceives or flatters you, and it is a companion who does not grow tired of you."

- Al-Jahiz

Trailer of short film '1001 Inventions and the Book of Animals'Original Source: 1001 Inventions

Sadly, many of the animals featured in Al-Jahiz’s ancient manuscript are now endangered species.

This film explores the animal kingdom through the eyes of Al-Jahiz to inspire living in harmony with nature.

Al-Jahiz and the Book of Animals, artistic impressionOriginal Source: 1001 Inventions

The encyclopaedic work was probably the first book ever written in Arabic about animals.

It has seven volumes and is packed with details about animals, their habitats and behaviour, along with anecdotes, poetic descriptions and proverbs.

Credits: Story

Created by 1001 Inventions
Producers: Ahmed Salim, Shaza Shannan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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