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Al-Jā-hiẓIn Praise of Books$

James Montgomery

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748683321

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748683321.001.0001

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The Salvific Book

The Salvific Book

(p.173) Part 4 The Salvific Book (p.174)

James E. Montgomery

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter reviews the following queries: Why were al-Jāḥẓ’s books rejected in this manner? What was the point of the critique? What exactly was attacked? Was it the author’s style of thinking (Kalām) or writing? Did the work unsettle the attacker, resolutely determined not to be fashioned as al-Jāḥẓ’s ideal reader? Who was the attacker? Why is he unnamed? And what did al-Jāḥẓ hope to achieve by rehearsing his attacker’s arguments and refuting them by his praise of books? Chapter 4 considers these questions by putting The Book of Living in the textual environment of the third century, by reviewing attitudes to biographies and bibliographies, book writing and patronage, and by contrasting the formal indeterminacy of the Introduction with contemporary works. It concludes that al-Jāḥẓ designed his book to save society from the competitive strife in which argument and debate had engulfed it. Debate could now be internalised in the soul of the reader. This was made possible because books encouraged solitary reading and interior debate.

Keywords:   Biobibliography, Patronage, Invective, Encyclopaedism, Social cohesion

(p.175) 4.1 Biobibliographies

A. Preamble

A number of questions arise from the foregoing examination of the contours of this disagreement. Why were al-Jāḥiẓ’s books rejected in this manner? What was the point of the critique? What exactly was attacked – the form, the content, the ambition, or the fact of the book – that is, the fact that it was even written? Was it the style of thinking (Kalām) or did the work unsettle the attacker, resolutely determined not to be fashioned as an ideal reader? Who was the attacker? Why is he unnamed? And what did al-Jāḥiẓ hope to achieve by rehearsing his arguments and refuting them by his praise of books?

In this part of my book I consider these questions by putting The Book of Living in the textual environment of the third century, by reviewing attitudes to bibliographies and biographies, book-writing, and patronage, and by contrasting the apparent formal indeterminacy of the ‘Introduction’ with contemporary works. I conclude that al-Jāḥiẓ wanted his book to save society from the competitive strife which argument and debate had engulfed it in. Debate could now be internalised in the soul of the reader because books encouraged solitary reading and interior debate.

This part of my book asks a lot of my readers.1 It makes too many demands on their patience. And it is long. The paths I follow meander, sometimes they are tortuous and make for tough going and some of them may very well be dead ends and so force us back to the beginning again. Some of them are circular and bring us rather than force us back to the beginning. This is what reading al-Jāḥiẓ means for me. I tear off down some path of inquiry or other only to find I am lost. Or I saunter along, thinking I am following his lead and am on the right track, only to realise that I am not. Very rarely (p.176) do I find the right path the first time I look for it. So this part of my book is perhaps the most personal in that it charts the steps I took in order to be able to write the next part, Part 5, on the importance for The Book of Living of the concept of God’s design and reading His signs. The final section of Part 5 also allows me to reflect, in what I hope are al-Jāḥiẓ’s rather than my own terms, on this fascinating aspect of his writing – how he can direct and misdirect, beguile and mislead, his readers.

When reflecting upon the inquiries I have pursued in this part of my book, I see that there is another set of assumptions which underlie them. The more I read and re-read The Book of Living and the more I thought about it, the clearer it became that al-Jāḥiẓ undertakes to speak for and on behalf of his society, that he takes it for granted that his various patrons expect him to discharge this function, in fact he remonstrates with the Addressee for preventing him from discharging this function, that he perceives the cohesiveness of his society to be endangered, and that he presents The Book of Living as the way to preserve that cohesiveness.

Such a set of aspirations is typical of the interpretation of Islam which we today recognise as Sunnism. In the late third and fourth centuries Sunnism emerged as the Islam devised, articulated and championed by ‘the people of Prophetic practice and community’, ahl al-sunna wa-al-jamāca. But there is a problem here. Sunnī Islam did not exist as such in al-Jāḥiẓ’s day (most scholars speak of the ‘proto-Sunna’) and al-Jāḥiẓ was an inveterate opponent of the kinds of groups which scholars normally identify as the promoters of the ‘proto-Sunna’. And yet The Book of Living forces us to take al-Jāḥiẓ’s claims seriously that he has devised a plan to preserve the cohesion of his community. Chapters 4.5 (‘The Cohesiveness of Society’) and 4.6 (‘An Encyclopaedia to Save Society’) represent my attempts to respond to this desire on al-Jāḥiẓ’s part to save his community.

This also casts into some relief the importance of the occurrence of the disagreement between al-Jāḥiẓ and his Addressee. The Book of Living can hardly achieve such a grand ambition if it falls at the first hurdle and provokes the kind of spirited and engaged critique as that which the Addressee presents. I argue in Chapter 4.4 that the type of discourse which al-Jāḥiẓ adopts in order to engage with the Addressee, the reproach, is perfectly suited for the restoration of amicable ties between him and the Addressee.

(p.177) But why do I also need to investigate the identity of the Addressee in Chapter 4.3? Al-Jāḥiẓ does not tell us who he is so why should I devote so much energy to circumventing his wishes? Quite simply, in the third century, public speech (and writing was thought of as a form of public speech) was always tied to an occasion. There was always a reason to speak, an occasion to fit one’s words to, a person or a group to address. This is why the identity of the Addressee is so significant – it would allow us to anchor al-Jāḥiẓ’s Book of Living in terms of patronly circles or patronly obsessions and interests. The acute realisation that al-Jāḥiẓ does not make it possible for us to make this identification also affords the opportunity to reflect on how committed he is to acting as his society’s spokesman and speaking on their behalf – in other words to transcending occasion – and highlights the uniqueness of The Book of Living as a creative act.

Not only was public speech tied to an occasion. Speech was owned by its utterer who gave his speech his intention. This was a maximal intentionalism. The utterance reflected the speaker’s intention and his intention reflected his character (what I elsewhere refer to as the ‘speech–nature insight’). Thus Chapter 4.1 explores this phenomenon of the collapse of distinctions between biography and bibliography, between speech and character, between book and life.

As a public act, speech was considered to be subject to all the strictures and regulations other acts were. A person’s acts were central components of one’s public persona and identity. (I am not sure that a third-century intellectual would have understood the concept of a private as opposed to a public persona. One had a soul, nafs, and a place where one tried to store one’s secret thoughts, often referred to as the ḍamīr, but the soul and the ḍamīr were never hidden from God and al-Jāḥiẓ argued that one’s speech was, as it were, quite literally the window on the soul.) It is one of the reasons why in The Book of Living al-Jāḥiẓ urges solitary reading and one of the reasons why it was so odd for him to do so.

In a self-chronicling society such as that of al-Jāḥiẓ’s day, appearances and the reputation attached to them were of the highest and most signal importance. Al-Jāḥiẓ and his contemporaries were principally obsessed with appearances. Most of them based their investigations of the godhead on the appearance of reality. They informed their ethical assessments through their (p.178) understanding of appearances. Thus one of al-Jāḥiẓ’s ambitions (which I consider in Chapter 5.4) was to educate the Addressee and his contemporaries in how to read appearances properly in accordance with God’s design for them.

Therefore the form which one gave to one’s utterance was no idle matter. It was not just a shape that one gave to one’s speech. It was the phenomenal appearance which would be its attribute. It was determined by conceptualisations of how speech exists in the public domain and it reflected and determined how the speaker intended his audience to respond. The endeavour to control the response of one’s audience was one of the great intellectual, moral and writerly battlegrounds of third-century culture. This is why it is so important to try to determine the form of the ‘Introduction’ as I do in Chapter 4.2 and why I return to it at the end of Part 6, pp. 418–22. It is also why the Addressee’s invective was such a parlous matter for the author of The Book of Living.

B. Libraries

The Book of Living begins, then, with a list of the Jāḥiẓian library. The libraries of the Islamic world were renowned for the mind-boggling quantities of volumes which they were said to have housed. There were the great caliphal libraries such as those amassed by the cAbbasids in Baghdad and destroyed by the Mongols, or by the Faṭimids in Cairo or the Cordoban library of al-Ḥakam II (d. 366/976); or the impressive mosque libraries; or the extensive holdings of private scholars. For example, Yaḥyā b. Macīn, a contemporary of al-Jāḥiẓ who specialised in collecting the traditions of the Prophet Muḥammad and who died in 233/847, is said to have owned about 114 book chests and four large containers of papers.2

Libraries were not just physical institutions. Numerous virtual libraries and catalogues have survived. The Shīcī scholar Ibn Ṭāwūs (589–664/1193–1266) compiled, at the age of fifty-seven, a list of his own works, which he declares to be incomplete because he could not remember all of the abridgements of longer works which he had composed, including his many unpublished sermons and hortatory addresses. He was acting in accordance with a well-established tradition at the heart of which stands the Index (Fihrist) of books compiled by Ibn al-Nadīm, a work which includes much information (p.179) on book-making and its techniques, on foreign scripts, as well as a catalogue of titles systematically arranged.

In the centuries after al-Jāḥiẓ’s death, when paper books and writerly culture had become hegemonic, scholars regularly composed catalogues of other people’s works. Ibn Ṭāwūs, for example, also compiled a list of the books which he had in his own library.3 The Egyptian physician Ibn Riḍwān, in a work written in 436/1044–5, copied out an Arabic translation of a Greek list of the works of Hippocrates.4

These two works are lists, plain and simple. More complex catalogues of books are conspicuous for how they equate biography and bibliography, and thus raise interesting points of comparison with the close connection established between life and books in the account of the Jāḥiẓian library in The Book of Living.

Among the many works which he wrote to position himself as the heir of a direct philosophical genealogy extending from Alexandria to Baghdad, Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) produced a survey of the writings of Plato, in which some thirty titles are named, accompanied by little gobbets of information: The Philosophy of Plato, its Parts and the Ranks of its Parts from their Beginning to their End, Falsafat Aflāṭun wa-Ajzāɔi-hā wa-Marātib Ajzāɔi-hā min Awwali-hā ilā Ākhiri-hā.5 What is especially remarkable about this work is that it is unlikely that al-Fārābī had access to much of the Platonic corpus beyond translated excerpts from a (Galenic?) compendium of some Platonic dialogues, among them the Phaedo, Symposium, Timaeus, Laws and Republic. The catalogue is presumably an Arabic transcription of a translation of a lost original, probably in Syriac – though it is unclear how much of the corpus was available to Plato’s Syriac bibliographer.

This basic equivalence of biography and bibliography is an inflection of a fundamental assumption about knowledge central to the Islamic biographical project, namely that knowledge lives in people, and does not reside in institutions. The biography is thus the most effective way to express this assumption.6

C. Al-Bīrūnī’s Index of the Books of Muḥammad b. Zakarīyā al-Rāzī

In 427/1035–6, Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī (d. after 442/1050) compiled An Index of the Books of Muḥammad b. Zakarīyā al-Rāzī, Fihrist Kutub Muḥammad b. (p.180) Zakarīyā al-Rāzī, in response to an inquiry from a potential patron for a possible commission (Kraus 1.4–2.11).7 The unnamed Addressee had also expressed an interest in the history of medicine, so al-Bīrūnī appends two things to his list of the physician al-Rāzī’s 184 titles arranged by eleven categories: a jadwal, a table, of physicians from Asclepius the First to Jālīnūs (Galen) (Kraus, p. 22); and a history of medicine cast in the form of a review of theories concerning the origin and development of crafts (Kraus 25.13–29.12). The book comes to a close with a catalogue of al-Bīrūnī’s own compositions (Kraus 30.3–46.3).

It begins with an exact date, al-Bīrūnī’s age at the time of writing (63 years of age according to the solar calendar), and a discussion of a dream he had (Kraus 29.13–30.2). It includes the titles of five works which al-Bīrūnī no longer has copies of in his possession (Kraus 40.13–41.4), ten titles which he has not finished (Kraus 42.11–43.8) in addition to a miscellaneous category of twelve works (Kraus 37.1–38.6) and twenty-five further works written by three other scholars in al-Bīrūnī’s name and with his blessing (Kraus 44.1–45.2, 45.3–46.1 and 46.2–3).8

The treatise begins with a conventional statement of the request which al-Bīrūnī has received. The patron wants a comprehensive treatment of the time, that is the life, and the books of al-Rāzī, with a chronology of physicians and medicine. His interest in medicine has been stimulated by an appreciation of al-Rāzī’s acumen, intelligence and skill as a physician (Kraus 1.4–9). A work on this subject composed by Isḥāq b. Ḥunayn the Translator (d. 209/910–11) would suffice had it not been corrupted and vitiated by the ignorance of copyists and epitomators (Kraus 1.9–2.8).9 As demanded by the conventions of patronage, al-Bīrūnī explains how he has responded to the patron’s request (Kraus 2.9–13) and also, in another conventional expectation, refers to the difficulties which the request has put him under – in this case al-Rāzī’s notoriety as a heretic will lead readers of the work to suspect that al-Bīrūnī shares his views, confounding the benefits of his scholarship with his contempt for religion (Kraus 2.13–3.2).

This is a ‘warts and all’ portrait of al-Rāzī (d. 313/925 or 323/935), the physician and philosopher who denied the necessity of prophethood. Al-Bīrūnī explains that al-Rāzī had spent so long copying out the books of Mānī and his disciples as a way of casting doubt on religion that he was led (p.181) unawares, through repeated exposure, to say things that no-one in his right mind would countenance. In attributing his excesses to habituation and over-enthusiastic self-exposure to something pleasurable, al-Bīrūnī defends al-Rāzī in terms of al-Rāzī’s own defence of Socrates as mounted in his pamphlet, The Philosophical Lifestyle, al-Sīra al-Falsafīya. Socrates had been criticised by some of al-Rāzī’s contemporaries for the immoderation and excess of his lifestyle.10

Al-Bīrūnī uses a personal anecdote to illustrate how spending too long thinking about a certain book can lead one astray:

We are accustomed to hearing those who are not equal to the dust under al-Rāzī’s feet say, ‘Al-Rāzī corrupted people in terms of their money, their bodies and their religion’. This is true in terms of the first and in most of the last item (ḥāshiya) on the list and for that reason the second item is irrefutable. You know that I am innocent of following him when it comes to squandering money, despite my love of riches and everything else which makes self-sufficiency possible – I do not declare myself innocent of that! – but I did not avoid the misfortunes he brought when it comes to the last item on the list. Let me explain. I read his treatise On the Divine Science very closely. This is the work in which he openly argues against the books of Mānī and especially his book entitled (mawsūm) The Book of Mysteries (Sifr al-Asrār). The title (sima) deceived me, just as in alchemy (kīmiyā) others are deceived by white and yellow. Youthfulness, or rather, the concealment of true reality (ḥaqīqa), aroused in me a cupidity for seeking out these Mysteries from my acquaintances in various countries and places [Kraus 3.7–15].

I remained in the doleful grip (tabārīḥ) of yearning for a little more than forty years until a courier (barīd) from Hamadhān sought me out in Khwārazm, seeking my acquaintance by means of some books which he knew I was desirous of and which he had found thanks to the good graces of Faḍl b. Sahlān. Among them was a codex (muṣḥaf) containing the following books of the Manichaeans (mānawīya): Pragmateia (faraqmāṭiyā), The Book of Giants, The Treasure of the Living, The Dawn Light of Certitude and Foundation, the Gospel, al-Shābūrqān, and a number of epistles by Mānī, in which number was the work I was looking for – The Book of Mysteries.11 (p.182) I was overcome with joy – like a parched traveller who sees a mirage and is downcast with dejection when he approaches it and is disappointed. I realised that God (the Exalted) is truthful when he says, ‘Him to whom God does not give light has no light’.12 Then I made an epitome of the arrant nonsense and the utter obscenity contained in that book so that anyone afflicted with my disease could read it and be swiftly cured of it, as I was [Kraus 4.1–10].

Al-Bīrūnī involves his biography even more closely in his bibliography when he discusses a dream which he had when he was seriously ill:

I mentioned earlier the interpretation of my dream. You should know that in times of tribulation and misfortune, even the most rational and sagacious of people never ceases to anticipate release. He takes comfort in good tidings, shuns and draws bad omens from what he dislikes, finds joy in dreams and relies on astrological omens and favourable readings (aḥkām). For all my criticism of this practice, at times such as these I used to ask astrologers to consider the consequences of my date of birth. They began by estimating the length of my life in greatly contradictory ways. One of them predicted sixteen more years, while another, lying to himself, took it to mean more than forty more years, though I had passed fifty at the time. Others predicted that I would live a little beyond sixty [Kraus 41.5–12].

Now when I had reached that age, I was almost put in my grave by a number of life-threatening diseases, some of which came all at once, while others followed one after the other, time after time. They crushed my bones, ravaged my body, deprived me of movement and corrupted my senses. Then I began to recover after my energies had overcome my senectitude. On the night when my sixty-first year was about to elapse, I had a dream. I dreamt I was trying to observe the new moon, seeking it in its stations and looking closely at its settings but I could not see it. Then someone said to me, ‘Leave it be, for you will be its son one hundred and seventy times’. At that point, I woke up. I converted the fourteen lunar years by adding two months (?) into solar years and then I subtracted five and a half months. The total came close to the great year of Mercury which they mentioned had been in the ascendant at the time of my birth. Despite this, I was not best pleased about what had been said, for it was as if there were almost (p.183) nothing left of my life13 except for one thing: the completion of the unfinished works I had to hand and the fair copy (tabyīḍ al-musawadd) of the addenda (tacāliq) I had jotted down to numerous works such as al-Qānūn al-Mascūdī … [Kraus 41.12–42.11].

Among the 113 titles which al-Bīrūnī lists, arranged in twelve categories, are books written in his name (and with his approval) by others. He describes his feelings for his books:

It is vital for you to know that I neither reject nor despise those books I have listed as having been composed in my youth and to the topics (fann) of which knowledge has subsequently added. They are all my sons – the majority of men are uncritical in their love for two things: their sons and their poetry. The works which others have produced in my name are like foster-daughters nursed in one’s lap or like necklaces worn on the breast – I make no distinction between them and my sons [Kraus 43.12–15].

In this declaration of his paternity of both the books he had written and those he had permitted others to write in his name, biography and bibliography become synonymous. The declaration seems to echo al-Jāḥiẓ’s sentiments about a writer’s feelings for his books in his Epistle to Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād Informing Him of the Treatise on Legal Verdicts and also in the ‘Manual of Composition’ (translated in Chapters 4.2 and 5.4 respectively).

Al-Bīrūnī brings his letter to an end with the remark that he is ready to provide the addressee with any of the works which he has listed and which are in his possession (Kraus 46.4–5).14 In making such a close connection between biography and bibliography, as well as his interest in medicine, al-Bīrūnī positions himself in the tradition of Galen and Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq.

D. Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq’s Epistle

Catalogues like this were a characteristic of the Graeco-Arabic tradition in the third century. Two of them stand out: one is by the philosopher and scientist al-Kindī (d. after 252/865), the other by the scientist and translator, Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq (d. 260/873). In order to write both these works, their authors obviously relied extensively on access to libraries. It emerges from both their stories that these were personal collections and both scholars were reported to (p.184) have suffered at late stages in their careers the crippling blow of having their libraries confiscated.

Al-Kindī attempts a definition of philosophy in the spirit of Alexandrian Aristotelianism through an inventory of the books of Aristotle: On the Quantity of the Books of Aristotle and what is needed for the Obtention of Philosophy, Fī Kammīyat Kutub Arisṭāṭālīs wa-mā yuḥtāju ilay-hi fī Taḥṣīl al-Falsafa. This epistle, a response to a request (AR 1.363.6–10 and 1.364.5–9), combines an overview of Kindian philosophy (AR 1.378.9–14) with an intonation of its importance and difficulty (AR 1.363.11–364.4) and a list of the titles of Aristotle’s books divided into six categories (AR 1.364.10–369.13): logic (AR 1.365.3–368.4), natural science (AR 1.368.5–11), psychology (AR 1.368.12–15), metaphysics (AR 1.368.16–17), ethics (AR 1.369.1–11) and miscellaneous (AR 1.369.12–13). It discusses the centrality of mathematics to philosophy (AR 1.369.14–370.8 and 1.376.12–378.8) and gives an account of Prophetic knowledge (AR 1.372.16–376.11) as exemplified by Prophet Muḥammad’s inspired answers to a question concerning the resurrection (AR 1.373.15–376.11), before listing the titles of the books once more, this time along with an explicatory inventory of their aims (aghrāḍ) (AR 1.378.15–384.18).15

The second text is no less fascinating than al-Kindī’s epistle: the commission received by Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq from a member of the Banū al-Munajjim family, a dynasty of powerful courtiers and vigorous sponsors of Arabic translations of scientific texts, for a survey of all the ancient works on medicine still important in the third century.16 The commissioner was cAlī b. Yaḥyā, who had assisted the Caliph al-Mutawakkil’s favourite courtier al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān to amass his library, and who commissioned works on geometry and music as well as medicine. Instead of the sought-after catalogue, what cAlī receives is a list of 129 titles of the books of Galen, both those translated and those not as yet translated into Arabic largely under the aegis and supervision of Ḥunayn himself: An Epistle to cAlī b. Yaḥyā listing the Books he knew had been translated and some which had not been translated, Risāla ilā cAlī b. Yaḥyā fī Dhikr mā turjima min Kutub Jālīnūs bi-cIlmi-hi wa-bacḍ mā lam yutarjam.17

Ḥunayn begins with a motif commonly used in third-century epistles: a reference to the composition of the work in response to a patron’s request. This is no tired commonplace, however. Ḥunayn has not fulfilled cAlī b. (p.185) Yaḥyā’s original request for a comprehensive guidebook to all the ancient works on medicine which are of continued relevance. Ḥunayn asserts his independence of his patron by noting his procrastination in fulfilling even a modified version of an earlier request which came from another patron! His accession to the request is actuated by his realisation of the universal benefit a Galenic catalogue would represent, a benefit which he expresses (as a lightening of a burden) in a manner not dissimilar to al-Jāḥiẓ’s description of the benefits of his Book of Living (1.10.7–15).18

This current (Arabic) composition is a version of a slightly earlier work commissioned in Syriac by an unnamed patron. So the text has two patrons: an original patron who requested the work be written in Syriac; and cAlī b. Yaḥyā requesting it be written in Arabic. Both works are defective as a result of Ḥunayn’s dependence on his memory19 and the commission is incomplete because the work restricts itself to a Galenic catalogue based on Galen’s own catalogue of his books, his Pinax. Ḥunayn notes that the epistle owes its present format to the intervention of the first (Syriac-speaking) patron who asked for a list of translations of the works enumerated in Galen’s catalogue. The work begins with the double commission.

You mentioned (may God ennoble you!) the need for a book which compiled the register of the ancient books on medicine that were still relevant. It was to explain the aim (gharaḍ) of each title, the enumeration (tacdīd) of the discourses (maqālāt) of every book, and the topics (abwāb) of the discipline (cilm) contained in every discourse, one by one. Its purpose is to lighten the burden (maɔūna) for someone who seeks any of the topics, one by one, when the need arises to look into it – thus he will understand in which book, in which of its discourses, and in which section (mawḍic) of which discourse it is to be found. You asked me to undertake this onerous task (atakallaf) on your behalf [Bergsträsser 1.4–10].

May God assist you! I informed you that my memory (ḥifẓ) was not good enough to remember all those books in their entirety since I had lost all the books I had collected. I also said that, after I had lost my books, one of the Syriac-speakers had made a similar request of me specifically for the books of Galen, requesting that I clarify for him which books had been translated into Syriac and other languages by me and by others. So I wrote (p.186) a book in Syriac for him in which I followed the path he had set out for me when he asked me to produce (waḍc) it [Bergsträsser 1.10–16].

May God ennoble you! Then you asked that I translate this book for you immediately, in order that God, with all the gratitude He deserves, might generously restore these books by your hand, that I append to the books of Galen recorded in this work a list of any not available to me and that I mention the remaining books by the ancients on medicine which we have come across.20 I will proceed to do what you have asked for, if God wills [Bergsträsser 1.16–2.4].

May God honour you! The first thing I did in the book was to name the man and outline his request. I said, ‘You have asked me to write for you on the subject of the books of Galen: how many they are, by what titles they are known, what is the aim of each one, how many discourses each contains, and what subjects he describes in each and every discourse, one by one (’?) [Bergsträsser 2.5–8].21

Then I informed you that Galen had produced (waḍaca) a book in which he followed this approach and described (rasama) his books. He named it Fīnaks (Pinax) which I translated as ‘the Catalogue’ (fihrist). I also told you that he had produced another discourse in which he described the order in which his books were to be read and I remarked that it was better to look to learn about the books of Galen from Galen himself rather than from me [Bergsträsser 2.9–12].

You responded that if the matter was as I say, then we and everyone else who shares this aim (gharaḍ) and who reads his books in Syriac and Arabic needs to know which of these books has been translated into the Syriac and the Arabic tongues and which has not; which books I am responsible for translating; and which ones others are responsible for translating; which ones were translated by others before me, that I then revisited and translated or corrected (aṣlaḥtu); who exactly is responsible for the translation of each and every one of the books translated by others; and the ability and vigour (mablagh al-qūwa) in translation of every one of those translators. You also said that we need to know for whom they were translated; who are the people for whom I translated each of the books I was responsible for; and at what age I translated it – both of these need to be known since a translation is commensurate with the vigour of the translator for the (p.187) book and with the identity of the individual it was translated for. You said that we also need to know which of the books as yet untranslated are still available in a copy (nuskha) in ancient Greek (yūnānīya) and which are not available, or which are only partially available, for this is something which is needed in order to ensure the translation of extant works and to search for those which are not [Bergsträsser 2.12–3.2].

When you detailed this to me as you did, I knew that your words had hit the mark and that you had called on me to undertake something generally useful to me, to you and to many others. But for a long time I kept on putting off and delaying your request because I had lost all my books – I had collected them, one by one throughout my whole life, from the time when I developed my understanding (?),22 in every land I had travelled to. Then I lost every single one of them completely so that I do not even possess that very book which I mentioned to you a little while ago, the one in which Galen established the list of his books. But when you pressed me with the request I was compelled to accede to it, despite the loss of the equipment which I needed to do the job, when I saw that you were satisfied with restricting your request to what I could remember on the subject (bāb) [Bergsträsser 3.3–11].

Therefore, placing my trust (mutawakkil) in the heavenly assistance which I hope for through your prayers for me, I now begin, with all the concision I am capable of, to provide in detail all I can remember about these books as you have asked me to do. I will begin my speech with the description of what we need to know about the two books which I mentioned a short while ago [Bergsträsser 3.11–15].

1. The book which Galen named Fīnaks (i.e. Pinax) and in which he provided a register of his books is composed of two discourses. In the first discourse he mentions his books on medicine and in the second discourse he mentions his books on logic, philosophy, rhetoric (balāgha) and grammar. In some of the Greek manuscripts we have come across these two discourses joined together as if they were one discourse. His aim in this book is to describe the books which he produced (waḍaca), the aim of every one of them, that which prompted him to produce it, the patron for whom and at what stage (ḥadd) of his life he produced it. Ayyūb al-Ruhāwī, known as ‘Freckles’ (al-abrash),23 translated it into Syriac before me, then I (p.188) translated it into Syriac for Dāwud the Physician and into Arabic for Jacfar Muḥammad b. Mūsā. Now because Galen did not actually go so far as to list all his books in this work, I appended a third brief discourse in Syriac to the two discourses, in which I explained that Galen had omitted some of his books and I enumerated many of those which I had examined (raɔaytu) and read. I also described what caused him not to mention them [Bergsträsser 3.16–4.4].

2. The book whose title (cunwān) is ‘On the Order of Reading his Books’ is one discourse. His aim is to tell what order his books must be read in, book after book, from the first to the last. I did not translate this discourse into Syriac. Ibn Isḥaq translated it for Bukhtīshūc. I translated it into Arabic for Abū al-Ḥasan Aḥmad b. Mūsa. I do not know of anyone who had translated it before me [Bergsträsser 34.5–10].

Ḥunayn’s catalogue is a complex work, a revised version (by an unknown redactor who updates several entries after Ḥunayn’s death) of a revision made by Ḥunayn himself of his translation into Arabic of his earlier rendering into Syriac of Galen’s catalogue of his own books!24

It is remarkable for its scrupulous inventory of Galen’s books (it lists 179 Syriac versions and 123 Arabic versions, 100 of which are the work of Ḥunayn, of 129 works by Galen).25 The work notes problems such as illegible manuscripts, defective translations, retranslations, and points out when works were available in manuscript form but had not been rendered into Syriac or Arabic.26 It outlines a comprehensive research programme for making Galen available in Syriac and Arabic, a programme which, while it is a compromise between Ḥunayn’s own vision and the receipt of patronal commissions, seeks to restore the original order of Galen’s books after the distortion of it by the Alexandrian curriculum.27 It is also a personal plea for protection and sponsorship. I presume that when Ḥunayn refers to the as yet untranslated works a Greek version of which he has in his possession he means to direct his patron to a commission.

On a number of occasions, Ḥunayn refers to the loss of his books.28 In a probably apocryphal text contained in a history of medicine and physicians by Ibn Abī Uṣaybica (d. 668/1270), a text which has come to be known as Ḥunayn’s autobiography, Ḥunayn tells how his success at court (p.189) as head physician of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil led to an intrigue against him masterminded by his fellow Christians. The result of this complot is a flogging, the confiscation of his library as well as his entire estate and a six-month imprisonment. While the autobiography in its extant form may be pseudepigraphical, perhaps a narrative confected by Ḥunayn’s family to protest and defend his innocence, the Epistle does describe the calamitous deprivation of Ḥunayn’s library. It suggests that the Epistle itself is somehow soteric, enabling the text’s patron to effect the return of the library.29 The philosopher al-Kindī is also said to have had his library confiscated during al-Mutawakkil’s reign by the Banū Mūsā, the powerful dynasty of scientists and patrons of scientific works, for whom many of Ḥunayn’s translations listed in the catalogue were commissioned.30

What intrigues me about the text, in the present context, is how it establishes a fascinating series of correspondences between bibliography and biography, between biography and translation and between textuality and corporality.

Bibliography and biography are connected not only in terms of Ḥunayn’s life and career, but also because Ḥunayn’s memory is his only way to save his books (in the double sense of ensuring their return and keeping them alive in his mind), and perhaps even secure his release from imprisonment and return to caliphal favour.

Galen had set himself up as an exemplary physician-philosopher whose biography was paradigmatic and authoritative and whose bibliography represented a sort of pedagogical imperative. This memory had been perverted by the way in which the Alexandrian school had erected a new curriculum through distorting the order of his books. Ḥunayn seeks to reinstate the original Galen through restoring the proper, authoritative order of his books, and by situating himself as his true representative, the renewer (mujaddid) of the master’s vision. On occasion, in a fashion which exemplifies al-Jāḥiẓ’s inquiry into the ancient Greek practice of using books as familial inheritance, Ḥunayn mentions that he has prepared a particular Galenic text for his son, Isḥāq, himself a renowned translator:

Ayyūb had produced an incomprehensible translation. Iṣṭfan translated it also into Arabic for Muḥammad b. Mūsā: Muḥammad had asked me for (p.190) it before he requested the previous book from me so he ordered Iṣṭfan to collate it with me. I corrected the Syriac with a correct and comprehensible phrasing to which no exception could be made because I was very desirous of preparing a copy for my son [Bergsträsser 24.7–11].31

In Arabic the word tarjama, Ḥunayn’s term of preference for taking a text out of one language and converting it into another, means both biography and translation.32 Thus the age of a translator and the identity and intellectual capacity of the commissioner are significant elements of the translation process. The provision of these details by Ḥunayn mirrors Galen’s own practice (Bergsträsser 3.21).33

Biography is thus a central part of the evaluation of the merits of a translation. As part of his entry on Galen’s book ‘On Proof (burhān)’ (Bergsträsser 47.10–48.8, §115) Ḥunayn informs cAlī b. Yaḥyā that

In my case, my soul (nafs) was not happy (taṭib) with translating only a portion of it rather than reading it in its entirety, on account of the defectiveness and lacunose state of the manuscript which was available to me and on account of the covetousness (ṭamac) and yearning (tashawwuq)34 of my soul for discovering the full version of this book. But then I translated into Syriac what I had discovered – that was a small portion of the second discourse, most of the third, about half of the fourth from the beginning, and the ninth apart from a portion of its beginning which had been lost. I eventually discovered the rest of the other discourses as far as the end of the book apart from the fifteenth discourse because the end of it was lacunose [Bergsträsser 47.19–48.6].

In other words, a lacunose text occasions psychological disturbance (covetousness and yearning are passions which need to be restrained and controlled). Once the translator has quelled the disturbance he is able to translate the text. Translation is a matter of ‘vigour’ or ‘strength’ (qūwa)35 and ‘maturity’ (bulūgh):

Sarjis had developed a certain vigour (qawā bacḍ al-qūwa) in translating but he had not fully matured (yablagh ghāyata-hu) [Bergsträsser 7.13–14].

This is also because translation, as a facet of understanding, is something with which we are endowed by our nature. Not everyone can translate:

(p.191) I had translated all of this book into Syriac a few years ago for Yūḥannā b. Māsawayh. I was extremely solicitous to express it succinctly (talkhīṣ) and eloquently (ḥusn al-cibāra). I also translated the first discourse of this book into Arabic for Muḥammad b. Mūsā. The rest of the book was the responsibility of Ḥubaysh, using the Syriac copy (nuskha) which I had translated. Now, Ḥubaysh is a man naturally marked with intelligence (maṭbūc calā al-fahm) and he desires to follow in my footsteps when it comes to translation but I do not consider his solicitude to match his natural aptitude (ṭabīca) [Bergsträsser 15.4–10].

Textuality and corporality are associated through puns on textual explication (sharḥ) and anatomy (tashrīḥ), both derived from the same lexeme in Arabic. Anatomy is the exegetical dissection of the text of the body.36 Perhaps this equivalence between text and body is most evident in the following comment:

At the time I translated it I was a young man of about thirty and a decent amount (cidda ṣāliḥa) of knowledge had accumulated in my soul and in such books as I possessed [Bergsträsser 6.3–6].

None of these three catalogues, however, are quite identical to al-Jāḥiẓ’s account of his library in The Book of Living. For example, they deal with works written by others, however closely their authors engage with them and seek to associate themselves with them, and they are promotions, not really defences, of the works catalogued. And with the exception of Ḥunayn’s imitation of Galen’s custom of compiling catalogues of his books, and perhaps of al-Fārābī’s On Plato’s Philosophy, these lists do not establish such an intimate connection between biography and bibliography as the synonymy between a man and his library that al-Jāḥiẓ presents us with in the ‘Introduction’.

E. Aristotle

Aristotle and Galen are the only other figures for whom there is such an extensive and close association between biography and bibliography in the third century.37 Gutas has surveyed the intimate relationship in the Alexandrian tradition and its Arabic epigones between Aristotle’s life, books and the imperative to define philosophy. He has noticed how the Arabic versions of the schoolbook biographies of Aristotle from Alexandria in the fifth and (p.192) sixth centuries AD heighten the equivalence of biography and philosophical discovery – Aristotle’s life becomes the history of philosophy. This process of philosophical and biographical becoming is a necessary preliminary before philosophy can grow, develop and progress in Aristotle.38

Thus a Greek text from the fourth century AD, which may have been translated into Arabic in the third century AH, contains an epistle from a certain Ptolemy to Gallus, in which he narrates the life of Aristotle, describes the contents of his will and provides a catalogue (pinax) of his works. A version of this document appears to have been incorporated by Ibn al-Nadīm in his entry in the Fihrist on Aristotle and his books.39

We will encounter al-Jāḥiẓ’s argument that books are closer to their writer than his children in the ‘Manual of Composition’ (at Ḥayawān 1.89.7–14) (translated in Chapter 5.4, p. 366). Al-Jāḥiẓ may, then, figure an association between himself and his books in a manner which might encourage some of his contemporaries to identify him with Aristotle.

Sadly, we are not told in The Book of Living whether the catalogue of the Jāḥiẓian library is complete. Is this a list of all of his works composed prior to The Book of Living? Or is the list selective? If it is selective, who has made the selection? Are we to think that al-Jāḥiẓ has chosen to defend these particular works, and so do they have, in terms of his argument or his presentation, something in common? Or is this a random list? These books are not all extant. We do not even know whether those which are extant have survived in the forms which al-Jāḥiẓ may have given them at any one time. Many are anthologised, abbreviated and preserved in later collections. So we have no way of answering this question. Or are we to understand that the list is one compiled and determined by the Addressee – is it an integral component of the mucāraḍa, al-Jāḥiẓ’s rebuttal of his charges? If it is the Addressee who has selected these treatises and singled them out for his vituperation, do they share common features which render them reprehensible and blameworthy in the Addressee’s estimation? These are the sorts of questions which I would dearly love to answer but cannot answer fully.

In order to think about them further, however, it might be useful to ponder a number of related issues: the form of the ‘Introduction’; the enigma of the Addressee; invective; the cohesiveness of society; and encyclopaedism.

(p.193) 4.2 The Form of the ‘Introduction’

By the middle of the third century, in terms of the textual tradition as it has been preserved, the form that a speaker gave to his speech and that a composer bestowed on his composition was an integral part of what one said and was subjected to the most intense scrutiny by his audience of listeners and readers. (This audience was also largely formed of one’s competitors, looking not only to learn but also to attack.) The beginning of a work, be it poem or prose composition, was the moment when the form of the work was advertised and where the composer sought to control the moral, aesthetic and estimative response of his audience.

This was a persistent, centuries-old, feature of the poetic tradition. But when we ask how early cAbbasid prose works begin, we see that commonly, and at best, they begin with short notices but without the type of composition which would by the second half of the third century become identified as a formal introduction (muqaddima).40 For example, in the case of lecture notes made public in book form by lecturers or their students (i.e. works which were not prepared by their authors for dissemination formally as books), a chain of authorities (an isnād or a riwāya) may be the extent of the prefatory material. Generally, however, prefatory material is rehearsed and presented in three formats: risāla (or kitāb), letter or epistle (I tend to reserve the term ‘epistle’ for what I describe as the ‘erudite’ letter); muqaddima, introduction; khuṭba, homily and prefatory address.

A. Risāla and Kitāb

The letters and epistles (risāla or kitāb) to have survived from the third century which I have consulted are mostly arranged in a simple ternary format. The basmala is usually accompanied by a doxology (a ḥamdala) and possibly (p.194) also a prefatory supplication in the form of a prayer for the addressee’s well-being or a brief address of the recipient. The substance of the epistle is generally introduced by the paratextual marker, ammā bacd (i.e. to begin or let us turn to the matter at hand). A string of pious supplications predominantly makes up the letter’s envoi.41 Within this simple scheme, at its most evident, rudimentary and commonplace in everyday letters and state communications, an astonishing plethora of variations is employed in what for want of a better term I would describe loosely as the ‘erudite’ letter.

The prefatory material may perhaps take the form of a notification of the sender and the recipient: see for example the list of senders and declaration of recipients with which al-Jāḥiẓ’s Treatise of the Singing-Girls, Kitāb al-Qiyān, begins. By the second quarter of the third century, however, this type of preface, overwhelmingly common in everyday letters, was rendered obsolete by the practice of providing these details on the exterior of the writing material.42

Typically, the sender may note that he has written his epistle in response to the request of the recipient, as in al-Jāḥīẓ’s Book of the Vaunt of the Blacks over the Whites, Kitāb Fakhr al-Sūdān calā al-Bīḍān, or in the following passage from The Treatise on the Craft of the Kalām, Kitāb fī ṣinācat al-Kalām:

God keep you! You mentioned your preference for the craft of dialectic and for that which you deem special to the method (madhhab) of al-Naẓẓām, your passion to advance to the limit in speculation (naẓar) and your assiduity in keeping the creeds (niḥal) chaste, together with your disposition towards communality (jamāca) and your aversion to sectarian bigotry (furqa). You mentioned that you were completely determined to perpetuate inquiry and probing, to constrain your soul, for all its aversion, to cogitating, and to take the name of the Kalām Masters and profess their allegiance.43

This description of the epistle as fulfilment of a request is very evident in the letters written by the Monophysite theologian and apologist Ḥabīb b. Khidma Abū Rāɔiṭa al-Takrītī (d. c. 220/835).44 Thus the petition and response topoi are deployed in his Defence of Christianity and the Holy Trinity, Fī Ithbāt Dīn al-Naṣrānīya wa-Ithbāt al-Thālūth al-Muqaddas (Keating 83.4–9, §1). So too, in his first epistolary argument for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, (p.195) Fī al-Thālūth al-Muqaddas, Abū Rāɔiṭa incorporates an intriguing iteration of the convention of the author’s difficulty in fulfilling the petition (Keating 165.9–168.2, §§2–3).45 The epistle On the Incarnation, Fī al-Tajassud, apparently written in conjunction with On the Holy Trinity, concludes with the conventional statement that the author is confident that he has fulfilled the petition and attributes to the addressee the responsibility for any failure to understand it (Keating 294.13–17, §86). He ends with a prayer to God for guidance (Keating 296.1–3, §86).

Prefatory material may simply consist of a brief prayer for the guidance of the recipient and/or the sender, as in some of al-Jāḥiẓ’s theological or eristic epistles, such as An Epistle on Deeming Reasoned Speech Superior to Silence, Risāla fī Tafḍīl al-Nuṭq calā al-Ṣamt:

May God long rejoice in you for your piety and perpetuate His blessings with you! May He place you among those who are led to the truth when they learn it and who reject and withdraw from falsehood (bāṭil) when they see it! [Rasāɔil 4.229.3–4].

This particular prayer is followed by a declaration that the epistle which it prefaces is a mucāraḍa, a critical engagement with a pamphlet which al-Jāḥiẓ has received:

I have read your pamphlet (kitāb) concerning the virtue (faḍīla) of silence such as you have described it and the accomplishments of quietness (sukūt) such as you have explained them … [Rasāɔil 4.229.5–6].46

This pattern is also evident, for example, in his Treatise in Criticism of the Mores of the Bureaucrats, Kitāb Dhamm Akhlāq al-Kuttāb, which begins with a basmala, a short prayer and an avowal that al-Jāḥiẓ has read and comprehended the addressee’s treatise (Rasāɔil 2.187.3–4), before he launches into his rebuttal.

Receipt and comprehension of the addressee’s treatise appear to be closely connected with the eristic and refutatory character of other treatises by al-Jāḥiẓ, such as The Rebuttal of the Christians, al-Radd calā al-Naṣarā (Rasāɔil 3.303–51). In this work al-Jāḥiẓ mentions the reading and comprehension of the letter (kitāb) (3.303.7–10) and provides several quotes from its contents (3.303.11–307.15) before beginning his rebuttal of the Christians with the (p.196) paratext wa-bacd (3.307.16). A similar technique is discernible in his treatise On the Creating of the Qurɔān, Fī Khalq al-Qurɔān (Rasāɔil 3.285–300), which boasts a preamble, in which al-Jāḥiẓ mentions receipt and comprehension of the addressee’s first letter (kitāba-ka al-awwal: 3.285.9–11) from which he proceeds to quote (3.285.12–287.3) before progressing to detail how in the current tractate he has satisfied the request made of him (3.287.4–289.3).

In those treatises which belong to the paraenetic, ‘mirror for princes’ tradition, in which al-Jāḥiẓ provides moral guidance and ethical instruction for a charge entrusted to his care, the pattern is to begin with praise of the recipient’s character tempered with suggestions for how that character may be improved. This is the case with his Treatise on the Here and the Hereafter: On Education, Managing People and Ways of Dealing with them, Risālat al-Macāsh wa-al-Macād fī al-Adab wa-Tadbīr al-Nās wa-Mucāmalatihim (Rasāɔil 1.91–134; Kraus-Ḥājirī, pp. 1–36), written for the son of the Chief Judge Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād, Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad (d. 239/854), and The Treatise on Keeping a Secret and Holding One’s Tongue, Kitāb Kitmān al-Sirr wa-Ḥifẓ al-Lisān (Rasāɔil 1.139-172; Kraus-Ḥājirī, pp. 37–60), a work which is truncated in its present form, no longer having a doxology or prefatory supplication.47

The Treatise on Quadrature and Circumference, Kitāb al-Tarbīc wa-al-Tadwīr, begins in the same fashion. After a narrative setting, in which al-Jāḥiẓ describes the object of his vituperation (the bureaucrat Aḥmad b. cAbd al-Wahhāb), and the reasons for their contre-temps (Pellat 5–6, §§5–9, §§1–8), he commences the direct address (Pellat 10, §9). As this is a parody of the ‘mirror for princes’ genre, traits which seem virtues in the addressee’s eyes are paraded by the addresser as vices, the consequence of egregious self-delusion (Pellat §§1–3 and 10–12, §§9–12).48

The exculpatory address evident in the explanatory matter which prefaces The Book of Mules, Kitāb al-Bighāl (translated in Chapter 2.2, p. 62), in which the author refers to extenuating circumstances in an apology for the work, is a more confessional mode of engagement and, to the best of my knowledge, is less commonly encountered in letters and epistles from the third century. We have just encountered an example in Ḥunayn’s Epistle on his translations of Galen.

If we take a look at some other (longer) third-century works we find (p.197) considerable variation in practice, as we would expect when writerly practice is in the process of determining its contours and emerging as tradition.

The treatise identified as probably the first work to have been written as a book in Arabic, The Book, al-Kitāb, of Sībawayhi, begins with seven short chapters which apparently constituted what was at one stage a separate risāla, and which were added to The Book, either by him or (more probably) by al-Akhfash (al-Awsaṭ) (d. 215/820), the scholar who preserved the copy of the work and was responsible for its promulgation. These chapters are usually read in terms of a programmatic relationship to the rest of the work – though whether this relationship is one created by Sībawayhi himself or by al-Akhfash is impossible to say.49

The Kitāb itself is bare of many of the usual trappings of the early Arabic book. Apart from this Risāla it has no avowed preface or conclusion. It seems also to have been bereft of a title. The lack of a title has attracted to it the most laconic, but also the most grandiloquent, of descriptions – al-Kitāb, ‘the book’, inviting comparisons with the Holy Qurɔān, universally referred to as al-Kitāb, ‘the Book’. The seven chapters which are identified as constituents of the Risāla bear the following titles (in a provisional translation):

  1. 1. ‘This is the chapter (bāb) of the knowledge of what words (al-kalim) in Arabic are’ (i.e. the three parts of speech) [Hārūn 1.12.1–13];

  2. 2. ‘This is the chapter of how the endings of words run in Arabic’ (i.e. the inflected nouns and verbs and uninflected words) [Hārūn 1.13.1–23.8];

  3. 3. ‘This is the chapter of that which is supported and that which is supported on it’ (i.e. how statements are made) [Hārūn 1.23.9–24.6];

  4. 4. ‘This is the chapter of the use of words because of their meanings’ (i.e. lexical usage and signification) [Hārūn 1.24.7–14];

  5. 5. ‘This is the chapter of the accidents (acrāḍ) which can occur in words’ (i.e. linguistic occurrences which cannot otherwise systematically be accounted for) [Hārūn 1.24.15–25.9];

  6. 6. ‘This is the chapter of using speech correctly and absurdly’ [Hārūn 1.25.10–26.5];

  7. 7. ‘This is the chapter of that which poetry can allow’ (i.e. poetic licence) [Hārūn 1.26.6–32.8].50

(p.198) What I find a bit unusual as I read these chapters is that they remind me most of a work from the first half of the fourth century, al-Fārābī’s Enumeration of the Sciences, Iḥṣāɔ al-cUlūm. This is a work in which the philosopher systematically reviews and classifies the kinds of knowledge and disciplines practised in his society. So at one point towards the end of the Risāla, Sībawayhi (or the author of the epistle) justifies his brevity by noting that ‘poetry permits many more licences than I can mention to you here because this is an occasion for summary points (mawḍic jumal)’ (Hārūn 32.6–7). Al-Fārābī constructs his classificatory edifice precisely on the strength of a list of ‘summary points’ (jumal). The Risāla employs regular cross-references (I have counted eight occurrences) and scatters the didactic address ‘know!’ twelve times through-out the work.51 Apart from this instance of identification (mawḍic jumal), I cannot find any other indications in the text itself that it may have been at one point an independent composition separate from the main treatise. There is, for example, no indication in the Risāla that the Kitāb begins with ‘the Chapter of the Agent’ (bāb al-fācil) (Hārūn 33.1).52

If these chapters did form the substance of a more substantial Risāla by Sībawayhi, al-Akhfash or someone else for that matter, then it is not unreasonable to assume, in the absence of further evidence, that it is a truncated or modified version of an annunciative epistle, one which announced the completion of the treatise on grammar (today known as al-Kitāb). As an annunciative epistle, it would be similar in manner to al-Jāḥiẓ’s Epistle to Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād announcing the Treatise on Legal Verdicts, which I translate presently, or the annunciative dedication of the epistle which is incorporated into al-Kindī’s On First Philosophy (see pp. 199–201).

cAlī b. cUbayda al-Rayḥānī (d. 219/834) was an acquaintance of al-Jāḥiẓ who composed a compendious collection of adages and aphorisms with the title Bejewelled Statements and Pearls of Wisdom, Jawāhir al-Kilam wa-Farāɔid al-Ḥikam. He prefaces his work with a formal introduction (Zakeri 5–12) which he calls a risāla, an epistle (Zakeri 12.18). This epistle is a moralising survey of human ethical behaviour, and its sententiousness is corroborated by observations drawn from the author’s own personal experience, informed by a deep sense of the spiritual, emotional and social benefits to be gained from studying the paraenetic literature which he presents (ādāb, adages, mawāciẓ, exhortations, and waṣāyā, testaments).53

(p.199) After a basmala (Zakeri 4.1), and a doxology (Zakeri 4.2–6), cAlī b. cUbayda declares that people are of two types: those gifted with comprehension and those who are not (Zakeri 4.7). This last category is briefly characterised: they are beyond instruction (Zakeri 4.7–9). The first group contains two sub-groups: the preternaturally intelligent, who are very rare (Zakeri 4.9–12), and the intelligent (Zakeri 4.12–14). All are liable to forgetfulness, however. Its causes are delineated (Zakeri 4.14–17). Its remedy is the paraenetic literature (Zakeri 4.17–6.4) to which the author can testify from his own personal experience (tajriba) of acquiring ethical hygiene through poems and testaments (Zakeri 6.4–10.3). Al-Rayḥānī explains how, thanks to a saying of one of the scholars (culamāɔ), he learned the importance of thanking the Benefactor and he notes that grateful enjoyment of life’s blessings is consistent with the practice of the rightly guided Imams, the Companions, Successors and Virtuous Sages (ḥukamāɔ) and that asceticism is legally supererogatory (faḍīla) but not obligatory (farīḍa) (Zakeri 10.4–12). He expounds his four behavioural principles (khilal) for seeking knowledge (Zakeri 10.15–22), praises his composition as a means for achieving ethical hygiene (Zakeri 12.1–5), provides guidance on the purpose and uses of his book (Zakeri 12.5–17), outlines its contents (Zakeri 12.17–20) and prays for his own guidance (Zakeri 12.21–22).

Thus in this risāla, an epistle integrated into the treatise as a programmatic introduction, cAlī b. cUbayda advises his readers on why and how to use his book (Zakeri 12.5–17), and provides them with a table of contents and an overview of its division into thirty chapters of fuṣūl, aphorisms (Zakeri 12.17–22).

Like the Bejewelled Statements, On First Philosophy, Fī al-Falsafa al-Ūlā, by al-Kindī contains an epistle in the form of an address of the patron-dedicatee (the Caliph al-Muctaṣim).54 The extant version of this text begins as follows:

In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful. My success comes from God alone.

The letter (kitāb) of al-Kindī to al-Muctaṣim bi-Allāh on the first philosophy. May God give you long life, son of the descendants of chieftains and the mainstays of felicity. He who seeks to be guided by them is felicitous in this (p.200) life and in eternity. May He adorn you in the raiment of virtue and cleanse you of all stains of vice.

The highest of the human crafts in station and the noblest in rank is the craft of philosophy … [RJ 9.1–8; AR 1.97.1–7].

Al-Kindī sets out to establish that first philosophy is the study of God. The ensuing rehearsal of topics functions as the programmatic introduction to the treatise, although it does not quite assume the form of a table of contents. Al-Kindī presents a definition of first philosophy as the highest component of philosophy (RJ 9.8–11.2; AR 1.97.8–101.1); that it is acquiring knowledge of the knowable (RJ 11.3–12; AR 101.1–14); first philosophy is the name given to the first cause (RJ 11.13–15; AR 101.15–17); it promotes a theory of progress which entails praise for the philosophers of the past (RJ 11.16–13.14; AR 102.1–103.3) and reliance on their endeavours (RJ 13.15–22; AR 1.103.4–11); and embarks on a rebuttal of his enemies who have criticised the value of philosophical speculation (RJ 13.22–15.14; AR 1.103.11–105.9). At the end of this section, al-Kindī concludes his address with a pietistic envoi:

Now we bring this section (fann) to a close through the assistance of the Bestower of blessings, the Accepter of good deeds [RJ 17.8; AR 1.105.18].

The next section begins:

The second section (fann), which is the first part (juzɔ) on first philosophy. Since we have placed the obligatory introductory matters (qaddamnā mā yajib taqdīmu-hu) at the beginning (ṣadr) of this letter (kitāb) of ours, let us follow it with what follows on naturally from it … [RJ 19.1–4; AR 1.106.1–4].

In other words, the dedicatory epistle has been fully integrated into the treatise: it is a formal introduction, a muqaddima, in all but name, and has been arranged as one of the formal sections (fann) of the work.55

So, al-Kindī’s treatise and al-Rayḥānī’s compilation indicate that the delivery of commissioned works or works dedicated and donated to a potential patron were sometimes announced in a short petitionary epistle. Such petitionary epistles either preceded or accompanied the larger work, though (p.201) occasionally they were incorporated formally into the body of the work which they announced. Sometimes, we find cases in which the dedicatory epistle has survived but the treatise itself has not. And in the case of The Book of Sībawayhi, an epistle has survived alongside a treatise as if it were either an annunciative epistle or a formal programmatic introduction, though in its present form it does not seem to fit either function.

We might also assume that the dedicatory epistle was not always integrated into a work disseminated to a wider audience, after it had been donated to a patron. Once donated and accepted, the work seems to have become the property of the dedicatee who thereby becomes the patron and owner of the work. A number of al-Jāḥiẓ’s works appear to have been preserved only in the personal library of the patron and not disseminated to a wider audience. This is one of the probable reasons for the disappearance of many of his writings. The Treatise on Husbandry and Date-Farming written for Ibrāhim b. al-cAbbās al-Ṣūlī (mentioned by Ibn al-Nadīm: Chapter 2.2, p. 63) is probably an instance of such a work. Presumably the author of the work (i.e. the individual who writes it rather than the individual who owns the work) would have to secure the permission of the patron of the work in order to be able to disseminate it outwith the confines of the patron’s library or circle.

B. The Treatise on Legal Verdicts

There are a few annunciative epistles extant in the Jāḥiẓian corpus: one of them is the Epistle to Abū cAbd Allāh Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād in which he Informs him about the Treatise on Legal Verdicts, Risāla ilā Abī cAbd Allāh Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād Yukhbiru-hu fī-hā bi-Kitāb al-Futyā. Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād was the Chief Judge whom we have already encountered as the patron who, according to Ibn al-Nadīm, rewarded al-Jāḥiẓ so handsomely for the Book of Clarity and Clarification, Kitāb al-Bayān wa-al-Tabyīn. Its singularity makes it worth translating in full:


[Mīr Dāmād 95a; Leiden 159] An epistle to Abū cAbd Allāh Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād al-Iyādī by Abū cUthmān cAmr b. Baḥr al-Jāḥiẓ which he wrote to inform him of The Treatise on Legal Verdicts [Pellat 542.6–8; Rasāɔil 1.309].

[1] [Mīr Dāmād 95b] In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful. (p.202) May God prolong your life, may He make you mighty and bring about righteousness through your hands.57 It is said, ‘Power (sulṭān) is a market’. Markets only attract the goods that will sell there. Scholar (cālim), teacher and student of the good, you who summon and bring people to it! You are in the most elevated station of power. When God has entrusted to someone the misdeeds (maẓālim) of His bondsmen and the welfare (maṣāliḥ) of the territories, has made him scrutineer (mutaṣaffiḥ) of judges and a mainstay of the provincial governors (wulāh), and when He has made him the destination of scholars (culamāɔ), the refuge of the weak and the repose of the wise (ḥukamāɔ), then God has put that person in the most elevated place and conspicuous rank. The people of learning (ahl al-cilm) and the people of experience and understanding (ahl al-tajriba wa-al-fahm) say, ‘God exerts control through those in power (sulṭān) more than He does through the Qurɔān’.58 It is often said, ‘There are two separate things – if one of them is righteous, then the other will be too: those in power (sulṭān) and their subjects’. Well then, those in power (sulṭān) are righteous, and it remains for God to bring about the fullness of His blessing in the form of the righteousness of His subjects, so that Prophetic tradition (athar) may be verified and testimony (shahāda) in reports (khabar) be true.59 Therefore we beseech Him who bestowed upon you goodly stewardship to bestow upon us goodly obedience [Pellat 542.9–18; Rasāɔil 1.313.1–314.1].

[2] I have considered the trade (tijāra) which you have chosen and the market which you have set up, and the only goods which I see selling there are knowledge (cilm) and its clear expression (bayān), righteous actions (al-camal al-ṣāliḥ) and summoning thereto, co-operation in maintaining the welfare (maṣlaḥa) of God’s bondsmen and banishing (nafy) corruption from the territories [Pellat 542.19–543.1; Rasāɔil 1.314.2–4].60

[3] God extend your life! I am a member of the people of speculation (naẓar) and [Leiden 160] the bearers of tradition (ḥummāl al-athar),61 and I can only accomplish and perform this fully by following the path of its people and according to the example set by its members. A man remains with those he loves. To him belong the actions he performs (iktasaba) [Pellat 543.1–3; Rasāɔil 1.314.5–7].

[4] May God give you long life! I have a comprehensive treatise (kitāb jāmic) on the diverse disagreements (ikhtilāf) of people concerning the foundational (p.203) principles (uṣūl) of legal verdicts (futyā), on the basis of which their secondary principles (furūc) disagree and their rulings (aḥkām) contradict each other. I have collected therein all the claims62 with all of the reasons given in support (cilal). The treatise will be complete and so comprehensively fulfil the need people have for it, only if, as proofs63 for every position, we adduce the arguments which are not achieved by its proponent, and which are not expressed by those who support it, and only if we are satisfied not just with removing the veil of falsehood rather than ripping it off or with weakening it rather than invalidating it [Pellat 543.4–7; Rasāɔil 1.314.8–12].

[5] The Apostle of the Lord of the Worlds, the Seal of the Prophets, Muḥammad (May God bless and cherish him and his family!)64 said, ‘Give gifts to each other and earn each other’s affection’. [Mīr Dāmād 96a] So he urged the giving of gifts, even a trifle, say a shinbone (kurāc).65 When he invited us to give a worthless gift, he was inviting us even more to give important and valuable gifts. He would have been more satisfied with them than with paltry gifts. I know nothing which summons us more to mutual affection (taḥābb), which has a greater obligation in terms of reciprocal gift giving, which is higher in station and more noble in rank, than that knowledge (cilm) to which God made action secondary and Paradise its reward [Pellat 543.7–11; Rasāɔil 1.314.12–17].

[6] When someone writes a book, in the absence of his opponent (khaṣm), and when he has assumed surety (takaffala) for providing information about his opponent’s position, it is inexcusable for him not to be exhaustive and not to establish everything which his opponent’s statement entails. So too it is inexcusable for him not to invalidate any statement that conflicts with his own system (madhhab) in the estimation of the readers of his book who have already comprehended the defects of the statement. For what makes excuse impossible and removes all argument in the writer’s defence (cilla) is the following simple fact: his opponent’s words are an easy and vulnerable target for his tongue.66 His opponent has given him control of his person and power over exposing his shame (cawra). And since the producer of the book (wāḍical-kitāb) enjoys repose from the mischief of his opponent and the blandishments of his companion (jalīs), all that remains is that he is either capable or incapable of smashing falsehood [Pellat 543.13–17; Rasāɔil 1.314.18–315.4].

[7] One of the thankful features of understanding (macrifa) how people go (p.204) astray and how they follow the right course, and what harms and helps them, is that you can shoulder67 the heavy burden of providing them with instruction (tacrīf) on this, [Leiden 161] and you can undertake to guide them aright, even if they do not understand the excellence of the benefit they are being given. Nothing preserves knowledge (cilm) like being generous with it. Nothing hastens it like scattering it. However, the reading of a book is a more effective means of providing good guidance than when they meet one other. When people meet one another there is an increase in doing wrong to one another, the will to help one’s comrade is excessive and burning zealotry (ḥamīya) grows intense. In face-to-face encounters, the love of victory (ḥubb al-ghalaba) is excessive as is the desire (shahwa) for vainglory and leadership, along with being ashamed to retreat and pride (anafa) at humiliation. Out of all of this, hatreds are occasioned and division (tabāyun) becomes apparent. When men’s hearts assume this attribute (ṣifa) and constitution (ḥilya), they are resistant to understanding (macrifa) and are blind to indications (dalāla). Books offer no reason (cilla) which would prevent people from attaining the desired aim and hitting upon the probative argument (ḥujja), because when someone reads in solitude and is alone when he comprehends (fahm) their ideas, he does not seek to vanquish himself or to score a victory over his reasoning intellect [Pellat 543.17–544.4; Rasāɔil 1.315.5–316.2].

[8] The book is often superior to its author (ṣāḥib) and outdoes its producer (wāḍic) in a number of ways. For instance, it can be picked up68 at any time, despite the disparity of the eras and the great distance between towns. That is something [Mīr Dāmād 96b] impossible for the book’s producer (wāḍic) and anyone who contends (al-munāzic) in question and answer. The scholar (cālim) passes away while his books remain. His offspring69 disappear while the traditions (athar) he has passed on remain. Were it not for what the ancestors (awāɔil) have recorded (rasamat) for us in their books, the marvellous wisdom which they have perpetuated, and the various kinds of biographies (siyar) which they have inventoried (dawwanat), with the result that in them we can witness (shāhadnā) what has passed and through them can open what is locked, thus combining their abundance with our paucity and obtaining what we would otherwise have been unable to – were it not for this, our share of wisdom (ḥikma) would decrease, our connection (sabab) with knowledge (macrifa) would be cut off, our ambition (himma) would be curtailed and (p.205) our intention (nīya) would weaken.70 Then, personal opinion (raɔy) would fall sterile, our ideas (khawāṭir) would die, and the reasoning intellect would move away [Pellat 544.4–11; Rasāɔil 1.316.4–11].71

[9] The books which bring more benefit than their books, the best ever to have been uttered, are God’s scriptures (kutub Allāh). They contain guidance, mercy, information about every lesson (cibra) and the specification (taṣrīf)72 of everything ill and good. Therefore it is vitally necessary that we trail a path [Leiden 162] for those who come after us, just as those who came before us did for us. We may have discovered more of the lessons (cibra) than they did, but those who come after us will discover more than we have [Pellat 544.12–15; Rasāɔil 1.316.12–16].

[10] So why is the scholar (cālim) waiting to reveal his beliefs? Why is he who disseminates the truth (al-nāshir li-al-ḥaqq)73 waiting to undertake what he must do? For speech has become possible, the times are righteous, the star of precautionary dissimulation (taqīya) has fallen, the scholars (culamāɔ) are in good odour,74 ignorance (jahl) and blindness (camā)75 no longer find buyers, and a market for knowledge (cilm) and clarity (bayān) has been established [Pellat 544.16–18; Rasāɔil 1.316.17–317.2].76

[11] May God guide you aright! This book may seem good in my eyes and sweet in my breast. But I am prone to the same error about it as the father is about his son and the poet about his verse.77 For all my anxiousness over it and my apprehension (hayba) at your scrutinising (taṣaffuḥ) it, I was incited to produce (waḍc) it when I learned that your intention (irāda) and conduct (madhhab) are governed and determined by affability to the scholar (taqrīb al-cālim) and the expulsion of the ignoramus (jāhil); that, when you read a book or listen to a speech, your comprehension (fahm) is so extensive and your knowledge (cilm) so sound that they exceed both the faults and the virtues contained in the work; that, when you see a slip, you pardon it and correct it but do not upbraid or brand the man who committed it,78 whereas, when you see something correct, you draw attention to it, shepherd it, summon others to it and reward it.79 So when I was safe from being punished for doing wrong and sure of being rewarded for doing good, the production (waḍc) of the book became an obligation and I did not discourage myself. This then made putting it in sequence (naẓm) and [Mīr Dāmād 97a] seeking close support (taqarrub) thereby an obligation.80 The cause (sabab) is to be preferred over (p.206) the effect (musabbab), because an act is predicated upon its cause, is annexed to it, dependent upon it and included in it81 [Pellat 544.19–545.6; Rasāɔil 1.317.3–15].

[12] May God prolong your life! Any good I do through this book of mine, if I have been successful, is paltry beside the good you do, since you are the one who stirred it from its covert and who brought it forth from its slumber. Therefore the greater portion belongs to you – the more effective cause is attributed to you. If I have fallen short of my aim, then I am the one who has been led astray, not you. If I have attained it, [Leiden 163] then your superiority is more evident and your share more abundant, because I would not have found the energy (anshạ) to do it but through you and I could only have relied on you in doing it. And were it not for the market you have set up, in which only the establishment (iqāma) of the Prophetic Sunna and the destruction of heretical innovation (bidca), the repulsion of injustice, and speculation (naẓar) concerning the weal of the community are for sale, then these wares would be worthless, the goods brought here would be rejected and this precious commodity would be cheap [Pellat 545.7–13; Rasāɔil 1.317.16–318.7].

[13] So praise be to God who civilised the world through you, who entrusted to your care those who have been wronged, who strengthened this rule through your blessing, and who made the Imam’s prognostication (firāsa) concerning you come true! What station is more elevated, what estate is more laudable than that of the man whom every scholar (cālim) on earth yearns for or has journeyed to, is under his protection or has been taken under his wing; than that of the man whom every wrong-doer on earth seeks protection against and whose intercession every wronged individual seeks? Who can grasp the value of the recompense of one whose worth and whose estate are thus? [Pellat 545.14–17; Rasāɔil 1.318.8–13].

[14] May God extend your life! I have other books besides this one. I am only prevented from donating (uhdiya) them to you all at once by what I know of how busy you are and the many burdens of governance (tadbīr) which press upon you night and day. Though knowledge be the life of the reasoning intellect, as the reasoning intellect is the life of the spirit (rūḥ) and the spirit is the life of the body, the determining characteristic (ḥukm) of knowledge is the determining characteristic (ḥukm) of water and the other nutrients: (p.207) when they exceed the extent to which they are required, they become harmful.82 Drinks are only palatable and food is only wholesome one bit at a time (al-awwal fa-al-awwal). Knowledge (cilm) works like this and proceeds as they do. It is part of [Mīr Dāmād 97b] men’s souls to feel ennui over what they find too lengthy and too copious. We should not be among those who assist this or be among those who fail to understand the nature of the human constitution (ṭabāɔic al-bashar), for even the strongest is weak and even the most energetic (anshaṭ) grows weary. Though their states be disparate, they are all susceptible to and overcome by weakness [Pellat 545.18–546.2; Rasāɔil 1.318.14–319.2].

[15] May God assist you! When this letter (kitāb) is read to you, we request it be at times when you are at leisure (jamām) and hours of inactivity insofar as such a thing is possible and available. God will give success in this and make it happen. Then we will send every book (kitāb) in its proper sequence, if God wills. They do not, praise be to God, form part of the study (bāb) of the leap (ṭafra) and interpenetration (mudākhala) or substance (jawhar) and accident (caraḍ). No, they are all devoted to the Book and the Sunna, and the whole community has the most pressing need of them [Pellat 546.3–6; Rasāɔil 1.319.2–7].

[16] Next we petition Him who taught us of your excellence to unite us with a firm bond,83 to make us among your righteous assistants (ṣāliḥī acwāni-ka) who learn from you (al-mustamicīn) and speculate (nāẓirīn) in your company and to render seemly in your eyes and pleasing in your ears that through which we have sought to come close (taqarrabnā) to you and have looked to approach you, for He is near and answers and does what He wills [Pellat 546.7–9; Rasāɔil 1.319.8–11].

[17] May God prolong your life and complete His blessings and His grace upon you in this world and the next [Pellat 546.10; Rasāɔil 1.319.12].


[1–2] Al-Jāḥiẓ begins his dedication by stressing how important authority and the holders of authority are for the good governance of society. Under the Chief Judge’s pious and rightful tutelage, society is prospering. This is vital for the honest and scrupulous transmission of the reports concerning the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muḥammad. The Chief Judge has also (p.208) created the correct environment for scholars and scholarship to flourish, in particular knowledge of the Prophetic tradition, a meaning which cilm often has in the third century.84

[3] Al-Jāḥiẓ now introduces the purpose of his epistle: the dedication to the Chief Judge of a systematic compendium on legal verdicts, one which will explain why these verdicts differ so much by establishing the basic assumptions and the underlying principles upon which each approach is based. This is something which is not provided by the proponents of these various views. Compare this with the following statement made in The Rebuttal of the Christians, al-Radd calā al-Naṣārā:

We have discussed how to answer them and have corrected their questions to an extent and in a manner beyond their abilities. We have several reasons for doing so, including the comprehensiveness of our proof (dalīl ) and the inclusiveness of our response, our intention to inform anyone who reads this pamphlet and scrutinises this response that we have not taken advatage of their inability or capitalised upon their inadvertence (ghirra). We also want people to know that the bold presumption which comes from the conclusiveness of our argument (idlāl), and our confidence in victory and divine assistance were our incentives for providing the sort of information about them which they themselves do not provide, for only using ideas, when discussing their questions, which others have already pointed to and indicated, and for making it impossible for them in the future to approach our weak-minded fellows and those feeble in speculation with a point which has not previously been answered and to which their tongues have not already assented85 [Rasāɔil 3.349.15–350.2].

In other words, al-Jāḥiẓ has sought in his rebuttal of the Christians to articulate all the relevant points of their arguments, doctrines and polemics.86 In the Epistle to Ibn Abī Duɔād, his approach will be informed by his membership of ‘the folk of speculation and the bearers of tradition’, by which I understand him to say that he is a Kalām Master with a special interest in Ḥadīth, not a faqīh or a muḥaddith (since neither of these professions has been able to explain its positions systematically). So in this work I think al-Jāḥiẓ promotes himself as a semi-rationalist of the kind the Caliph al-Mutawakkil promoted (see Part 1, p. 31).

(p.209) [4] Al-Jāḥiẓ promotes and justifies his gift of a treatise on knowledge (i.e. Prophetic tradition) by adducing Prophetic precedent (i.e. Sunna) in the form of the quotation of a ḥadīth without its chain of authorities (isnād).

[5] Al-Jāḥiẓ explains that writing a polemical treatise in which one attacks another person’s doctrines or statements is not like arguing with them in person. One’s mental state is less liable to the confusion which results from the hurly-burly of face-to-face argument. Therefore, in the absence of any excuses based on extenuating circumstances, a written polemical work is more revealing of the argumentative and reasoning capacities of its author than a debate is. This is the notion we encountered in the first section of the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living: books promote social cohesion through acting as a substitute for live debate. The following repetition of a passage found also in this section of the ‘Introduction’ would tend to corroborate this contiguity.

[7] Here in a nutshell is al-Jāḥiẓ’s psychological analysis for promoting books over debates. The passage Pellat 543.17–544.18; Rasāɔil 1.315.5–1.317.2, is repeated almost verbatim at The Book of Living 1.84.9–87.1 and a slightly longer form of the passage, Pellat 543.12–544.18; Rasāɔil 1.314.18–317.2 is repeated almost verbatim at The Responses and Meriting of the Imamate, al-Jawābāt wa-’stiḥqāq al-Imāma: Rasāɔil 4.295.7–298.6 (see Hefter, ‘You have asked’, p. 20). I am minded to discern in these recyclings repetitions intended to persuade and convince one and the same addressee, Ibn Abī Duɔād, to see these texts as part of a cycle of works. The Ḥujaj al-Nubūwa is in many ways similar to this cycle. Whilst it does not in its present form contain any verbatim recyclings, it does rehearse a key idea as it is expressed in these other works: the usefulness of the treatise in helping to convert the apostate and deviant when he reads it in quiet solitude (Rasāɔil 3.235.8– 236.2). Al-Jāḥiẓ also remarks on the usefulness of his book as a compilation of proof texts (Rasāɔil 3.234.11–236.2).

[11] The paean of the book is complete. Al-Jāḥiẓ reverts to the topic of the favourable rule and his eulogy of the Chief Judge. This is a classic captatio benevolentiae, an attempt to secure the patron’s goodwill, by stating that it is the dedicatee’s virtue which is the impetus and occasion of the donation.

[13] The reference to the Caliph, responsible for appointing the Chief Cadi, (p.210) as the Imam I take to be an allusion to the debate provoked by the despair expressed by some scholars over achieving a legitimate Imamate. Some Kalām Masters even proposed governing society without a leader, a position which al-Jāḥiẓ found abhorrent: Part 3, §9 and §15.2, pp. 135–6 and 139; Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought, pp. 65–9; Sánchez, ‘Al-Jāḥiẓ’s treatises’, pp. 119–27 (on the dispensability of the Imamate). The reference to the importance of firāsa, presumably in making or confirming the appointment to the chief judgeship, is fascinating. Hoyland, ‘Physiognomy in Islam’, pp. 372–6, and ‘The Islamic background’, pp. 247–50, notes the use of physiognomy by the judiciary but not its use in the appointment of the judiciary.

[14] Al-Jāḥiẓ explains that although he has other writings in addition to the current one which he offers the Chief Judge, he will refrain from sending them all at once, presumably waiting to see how this current donation will be received. A similar declaration is made at the end of the Epistle on the Upstarts (Nābita Rasāɔil 2.22.11–16). This caution and uncharacteristic coyness is explained away in an argument which compares knowledge to nutrition: because of human psychological composition, the over-provision of knowledge can be as harmful to the soul as over-eating can be to the body.

[15] The topics of these promised works are not the topics of Kalām physics, as expounded by al-Jāḥiẓ’s teacher, al-Naẓẓām. The topics of these books he intends to donate are those which exercised the community in the middle of the third century: how to expound and codify revealed law on the basis of the interaction of the Qurɔān and the Sunna. Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought, p. 272, stresses how essential revelation was for determining that the Imamate was entailed by and included in divine law.

[16] On this type of epistolary conclusion, see Hefter, ‘You have asked’, p. 12; parallels to the final formula: Manāqib al-Turk Rasāɔil 1.86.13–14 = Manāqib al-Turk Rasāɔil 3.220.17–18 (inna-hu samīc qarīb faccāl li-mā yurīd) (addressed to al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān); cAdāwa Rasāɔil 1.373.10 (inna-hu qarīb mujīb) (addressed to cUbayd Allāh b. Yaḥyā b. Khāqān); al-Mawadda wa-al-Khulṭa Rasāɔil 4.204.15–16 (inna-hu samīc qarīb faccāl li-mā yurīd) (addressed to Abū al-Faraj b. Najāḥ al-Kātib). The formality of this concluding supplication would seem to cast doubt on the applicability of Hefter’s assertion, ‘You have asked’, p. 15, n. 35, that certain of al-Jāḥiẓ’s letters such as those to Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik and Abū al-Faraj b. Najāḥ are (p.211) distinguished by an air of flippancy or peevishness determined in proportion to the presumed degree of intimacy in al-Jāḥiẓ’s relationship with the addressees.

[17] Compare this concluding supplication with the pietistic envoi of the epistle to Ibn Abī Duɔād’s son, Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad, On the Rejection of Assimilationism, Fī Nafy al-Tashbīh, Rasāɔil 1.308.12: aṭāla Allāh baqāɔa-ka wa-ḥafiẓa-ka wa-atamma nicmata-hu calay-ka wa-karāmata-hu la-ka, May God prolong your life and keep you, and may He complete His blessings and His grace upon you.

C. Al-Jāḥiẓ and the Chief Judge

This epistle, a eulogy in prose, concludes with al-Jāḥiẓ’s voicing of his petition: membership of the Chief Judge’s entourage. It simultaneously tells a prospective patron of the existence of a composition which is to be dedicated to him and petitions entry to his entourage. Al-Jāḥiẓ asks Ibn Abī Duɔād to make him one of his ‘righteous assistants’ (ṣālihī acwāni-ka: Pellat 546.7–9; Rasāɔil 1.319.9), so that he can give him counsel on why there is such fundamental disagreement over the basic principles informing judicial decisions.

In making this plea for patronage, al-Jāḥiẓ both avows and disavows his speculative past by declaring his membership of the craft of the Kalām (Pellat 543.1–3; Rasāɔil 1.314.5–7) and by renouncing its subject matter (Pellat 546.5–6; Rasāɔil 1.319.6–7). He notes that he is a semi-Rationalist, a tradent of Prophetic traditions (athar) who recognises how scrupulous, accurate and honest transmission of historical reports and legal testimony is the fundament upon which society rests (Pellat 542.16–17; Rasāɔil 1.313.13–14). His reassurance that his books do not deal with the leap, interpenetration, essence and accident (Pellat 546.5–6; Rasāɔil 1.319.6–7) is not only a public recusal of the main tenets of the physics of al-Naẓẓām, but probably also a veiled reference to a move away from al-Naẓẓām’s political theories relating to the conventionality, rather than indispensability, of the Imamate.87

Such a work on legal verdicts is, of course, a very fitting gift for a Chief Judge. Its theme is a matter of supreme importance for the welfare of the community and is entirely consistent with Ibn Abī Duɔād’s official interests in promoting its unity through the institution of the Sunna. The codification of judicial procedure was not only vital for the governance of the provinces (p.212) of the empire, but, insofar as it involved scrutiny of the Sharīca, went to the heart of contemporary debates, including that about whether the institution of the Imamate, the leadership of the Islamic community, was decreed by divine revelation or was simply a matter of human convention. And, insofar as it depended upon scrutiny of the respective authorities of Sharīca and Sunna, it raised questions relating to the centrality of the Qurɔān and the Sunna in organising society, in terms of how far the Ḥadīth and the Prophet’s life should not only mould but actually determine human relations.

This epistle is predicated upon a vision of society common to many Islamic thinkers. At its heart stands the association between God and the community as represented in the figure of the ruler. Human beings, as creatures of need and deficiency, require a ruler to hold society together. Al-Jāḥiẓ’s vision of a society is thus thoroughly traditional – one in which the morals of the ruled are predicated upon the morals of the rulers. In the terms established by Crone, al-Jāḥiẓ reveals himself to be a jamācī Muslim, one whose vision of the Sunna comprises both Prophetic traditions and theological speculation.88

Ibn Abī Duɔād has inaugurated a new golden age of scholarship, one in which scholars are no longer required to hide their beliefs (taqīya: Pellat 544.17; Rasāɔil 1.317.1) and in which the only marketable commodities are knowledge (and by cilm here I suspect that al-Jāḥiẓ intends knowledge of the Prophetic Sunna) and its proper articulation (bayān).

Perhaps one of the most striking features of the epistle is the wholesale recurrence of a passage which is also included as part of the paean of books in the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living. Of course, al-Jāḥiẓ was an egregious recycler of his writings and there is no way of telling which of the two passages is the earliest. There is further evidence, however, of the close connection which obtains between the argument of both works in their notion that writers can be deceived about the merits and demerits of their books, and in their argument that books maintain social integrity more effectively than debates and discussions in person (an argument which we encountered in Part 3, pp. 166–7, in another notably recycled passage which also features in the Responses and Meriting of the Imamate, al-Jawābāt wa-’stiḥqāq al-Imāma, Rasāɔil 4.295.7–298.6).

We may, then, glean little about The Treatise on Legal Verdicts from its annunciative work but we get a reasonable sense of its contours. We learn that (p.213) it is an exhaustive and comprehensive work on the subject of the principles underlying legal decision-making which seeks not only to give an account of the positions which various groups and individuals have taken up but also to interrogate the ideas upon which these positions are predicated. In so doing, it seeks to place the Qurɔān and the Sunna at the very heart of the community and to position al-Jāḥiẓ as the spokesman of the People of Prophetic Practice and Communitarianism, the Ahl al-Sunna wa-al-Jamāca.89

In terms of the eventual establishment of the formal introduction (muqaddima) to books in the third century, this dedicatory epistle demonstrates that in cases where a treatise was accompanied by such a letter, the letter was presumably expected to articulate the eulogy to the dedicatee in a direct mode of address, even though the dedicatee might not be named. We might infer, therefore, that it was not thought necessary for the main body of the treatise itself to contain these formal expressions of loyalty. On the other hand, we have seen in al-Kindī’s On First Philosophy and al-Rayḥānī’s Bejewelled Pronouncements, that prefatory and dedicatory epistles were eventually incorporated formally into the disseminated version of the work.

D. Muqaddima

By the time of the floruit of Ibn Qutayba in the second half of the century, substantial monographs, commissioned by a patron but also designed for dissemination as books, were prefaced with often long, programmatic introductions. These introductions are known as muqaddimas. They too display a simple ternary format identical to the ternary format of the ‘erudite’ risāla, which suggests that muqaddimas may have developed as prefatory and dedicatory epistles, formally incorporated into the body of the book or treatise, perhaps in emulation of the programmatic introductions found in many of the Greek works translated into Arabic.90

It is instructive briefly to contrast two of Ibn Qutayba’s works: the prefatory format which he employed in his first major composition, The Education of the Bureaucrat, Adab al-Kātib, written for Abū al-Ḥasan cUbayd Allāh b. Yaḥyā b. Khāqān, who became vizier in 236/851 (and for whom al-Jāḥiẓ wrote his Epistle on Distinguishing Enmity from Envy, Risāla fī Faṣl mā bayn al-cAdāwa wa-al-Ḥasad );91 and the technique employed in his Book on Poetry and Poets, (p.214) Kitāb al-Shicr wa-al-Shucarāɔ, with its renowned muqaddima. Let us first consider the opening salvo of this book on poetry:

Abū Muḥammad b. cAbd Allāh b. Muslim b. Qutayba said: ‘This is a book which I have composed on poets and in which I have given information on the poets and their times, on their rank and standing (aḥwāl ) as regards their poetry, on their tribes and the names of their fathers, on those who are known by cognomen (laqab) or teknonym (kunya), on what is admired of the accounts of any given poet and what is deemed excellent of his poetry, on such errors and mistakes in their wording and meaning as the scholars (culamāɔ) have criticised them for, on what the early poets have done first and the recent poets have derived from them. In it I have also given information on the Categories of Poetry and its echelons, on the purposes for which poetry is anthologised and because of which it is admired and such like, including that which I have included in this first part’ [de Goeje 2.1–8; Shākir 59.3–10].92

In other words, Ibn Qutayba has effectively provided his audience with a table of contents and has directed them to the principal contents of the introduction, as well as guiding his readers on how to use the work.

Of the two extant manuscript traditions of the imperial geography of Ibn Khurradādhbih (d. either c. 272/885 or 300/911), The Treatise of the Highways and the Kingdoms, Kitāb al-Masālik wa-al-Mamālik, one begins with a doxology, while the second version begins with a muqaddima: a prayer for the continued well-being of the addressee, a declaration that the author has fulfilled his patron’s commission and a table of contents, and closes with a hymn to the Creator.93

One Ḥadīth collection, the Sound Compilation, Ṣaḥīḥ, of Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj (d. 261/875) begins with a programmatic introduction.94 A ḥamdala and a doxology (Muslim 1.24.1 and 24.1–2) are followed by the conventions of the petition (1.24.2–26.2) and response (1.26.2–27.1). Next comes advice of what the reader/petitioner can expect from the book, coupled with a general description of its aims, a justification of its method and identification of the audience to whom it is addressed (1.27.2–31.2). A detailed over-view of the contents of the work is provided (1.31.3–37.14). Muslim first outlines his threefold division of tradents (1.31.3–32.1) and then justifies (p.215) his repetition of ḥadīths when such repetition is unavoidable (1.32.1–6). The three categories of Ḥadīth practitioners, muḥaddithūn, are described more fully (1.33.1–3; 33.4–35.10 and 35.11–37.11), Muslim’s technique of providing commentary is explained (37.12–14) and he returns to the conventions of the petition and response by noting that the social and personal benefits which the work will bring has made compiling it a lighter task than its author might have expected (1.37.15–38.6).

The bulk of the introduction is devoted to an exploration of the principle that scrutiny of the Ḥadīth and its tradents is a moral and religious duty for those blessed with the capacity for discerning and making distinctions (tamyīz) (1.38.7–86.4). Ḥadīths are related in order to establish the following code of conduct: lying in transmitting ḥadīths is to be avoided (1.38.7–41.2); those who fabricate ḥadīths and attribute them to the Prophet will suffer damnation (1.42.3–43.9); discrimination and discernment must be used in transmitting ḥadīths (1.44.1–46.12); suspect transmitters must be shunned (1.46.13–51.6); in order to respond best to the religious significance of the chain of authorities, the isnād, transmission must occur in accordance with the authority of trusted informants (1.51.7–74.3).

Having established this code and the scientific credibility of this method of scrutinising and transmitting traditions (1.74.4–75.6), Muslim embarks upon a rebuttal of an unnamed opponent who advocates that judgement be suspended on chains of authorities, in which it is not specifically stated, and so is not known for certain, whether any of the reporting authorities formally studied with the authority on whom he bases his transmission (1.75.7– 86.4).95 The introduction concludes with a short prayer (1.86.4).

Al-Jāḥiẓ’s Treatise on the Proofs of Prophethood, Kitāb Ḥujaj al-Nubūwa, also has such a programmatic preface. In its extant form, this work is not formally an epistle. After a doxology (Rasāɔil 3.223.3–6), al-Jāḥiẓ informs his reader that he will discuss akhbār, reports, and āthār, traditions, giving guidance on how to detect which are dubious, which can constitute proof (ḥujja), and on the various kinds of proof itself (Rasāɔil 3.223.7–11). He announces that he will discuss why traditions need to be transmitted and reports need to be heard and the role which human nature and societies play in this (Rasāɔil 3.223.12–224.5). In this way he means to remedy a deficiency of the jurists (fuqahāɔ) and Kalām Masters (mutakallimūn) who have neglected to discuss (p.216) ‘how to distinguish traditions’ (tamyīz al-āthār) and ‘how to determine which reports are sound’ (taṣḥīḥ al-akhbār), because this is absolutely central to distinguishing the true prophet from the false and for identifying what constitutes the Sharīca (i.e. revealed law) and what constitutes the Sunna (i.e. the exemplary practice of Prophet Muḥammad, which according to al-Jāḥiẓ is not law, however desirable it may be for the goodly Muslim to emulate him) (Rasāɔil 3.224.6–11). Then al-Jāḥiẓ declares:

When I set down the reports in their proper places and divide them, I will mention the proofs, signs, revealed legal codes (sharāɔic) and exemplary conduct (sunan) of the Messenger (God bless and cherish him!). I will classify (jannastu) the traditions according to their value and arrange them in their stations. By means of weighty methods (wujūh) and necessary signs, I will summarise it and make it easy to understand, explaining it and making it clear, so that it will be just the same for someone who has not studied with many scholars (qalla samācu-hu) and who has a poor memory to learn as it is for someone who has studied with many scholars (kathura samācu-hu) and who has an excellent memory [Rasāɔil 3.224.12–16].

I did not intend in this book to collect, specify (tafṣīl) and discuss (qawl ) the proofs of the Messenger (Eternal peace be his!), because they have been contaminated by a defect, or because their source (aṣl) has been weakened by those who transmit them (nāqilī-hā) and provide information about them, or because the attacks of the deviants (mulḥid) have fractured (farraqa) their cohesiveness (jamāca) and destroyed their vitality, but rather for several reasons (umūr) which I will mention, argue for and prove [Rasāɔil 3.224.17–225.2].

In other words, in this treatise we are provided with a table of contents, an authorial programme, and advice to the reader about how to use the book.

These introductions are designed to contain, in abbreviated form, the major themes of the work: an opportunity for the author to showcase the principal topics of the work and to guide the listener to what to look out for.

E. Khuṭba

The khuṭba, loosely rendered as the pulpit oration whence my rendering ‘homily’, continues to be the pre-eminent form of public oration in Islam and (p.217) is a prominent part of the Friday-congregation in the mosque. Early khuṭbas tended to have a ternary structure (ḥamdala, oration, pious supplication) and be of a moralising character. A few texts from the first half of the third century begin with khuṭbas.96

It is as a khuṭba, a homily, that I read the prefatory material of the juris-prudential Epistle (Risāla) of al-Shāficī (d. 204/820). This early work does not contain any indication that its initial material is to be identified as a muqaddima, a formal introduction. After a doxology (Shākir 7.3–8.11, §§1–8), al-Shāficī composes a brief salvation history, explaining the consequences for mankind of the mission of Prophet Muḥammad (Shākir 8.12–20.14, §§9–52), peppering his account with many quotations of Qurɔanic verses. This homily certainly rehearses ideas, concepts, themes and positions which underpin al-Shāficī’s legal epistemology as presented in the Risāla, and so it is basically programmatic, but he does not make this explicit to his audience, the study circle for whom it would presumably have been self-evident.97

Like The Book of Living, The Book of Clarity and Clarification does not have a formal, programmatic introduction (muqaddima) extant. After a doxology (Bayān 1.3.3–6), a khuṭba (Bayān 1.3.6–22.13), which in the Jāḥiẓian lexicon means both a homily and a preface to a book (see Ḥayawān 1.7.10– 9.4), is followed by an account of how the theologian Wāṣil b. cAṭāɔ (d. 131/748) received the cognomen of the Weaver (Bayān 1.23.1–34.3) and by a disquisition on mispronunciation (luthgha) (Bayān 1.34.4–74.8). And when al-Jāḥiẓ begins his presentation of the theory of bayān, the ostensible subject of the work, he draws attention to the unusualness of his organisation, with the following words:

Abū cUthmān said: ‘This chapter should really have come at the beginning of this treatise, but we have held it back for the sake of an aspect of organisation (bacḍ al-tadbīr) [Bayān 1.76.17–18].

These passages do however rehearse a considerable number of important and significant ideas for the presentation of al-Jāḥiẓ’s arguments in the treatise, such as the parallels which are drawn between the Prophet Moses and Wāṣil and the lionisation of Wāṣil as the founding father of Muctazilism, the centrality of chaste and proper linguistic usage to the cohesiveness of the Islamic community, and the divine nature of the bayān, clear communication.98

(p.218) F. The Education of the Bureaucrat

In his Education of the Bureaucrat, Ibn Qutayba follows this practice of beginning his composition with a khuṭba, a prefatory homily, in which he rails against the corruption of the times in a tone evocative of al-Rayḥānī’s denunciation of the corruption of his era. Ibn Qutayba’s later readers thought that it was so distinct from the book which it prefaced that one of them described it as a khuṭbā bi-lā kitāb, a homily without a book.99

This homily has the simplest of binary structures: the author denounces the ills of his era; the author proposes how to remedy the ills of his era. The work begins with a ḥamdala (Grünert 1.0–3; al-Dālī 5.1–5) which heralds Ibn Qutayba’s sustained jeremiad (Grünert 1.3–9.5; al-Dālī 5.5–11.12) against the frivolous degeneracy of his society which has brought about an abandonment of learning (Grünert 1.3–2.5; al-Dālī 5.5–6.7). Nowadays the bureaucrat only seeks to be a calligrapher, the literary expert (adīb) only wishes to praise singing-girls or describe a goblet, the subtle scientist (laṭīf ) concentrates on the stars, on predetermination and logic, while attacking the Qurɔān and the Ḥadīth, although he understands neither properly, and is content with a reputation for subtlety (Grünert 2.5–3.1; al-Dālī 6.7–13).

The self-delusion of this subtle thinker leads Ibn Qutayba to condemn other people as riff-raff and rabble, and although both are guilty of crass ignorance (jahāla), at least the latter know that they do not know, whereas the man of subtlety cannot be bothered to spend the time studying the Qurɔān, the Ḥadīth of the Prophet and his companions, and the knowledge, language and precepts of the Arabs. Were he to do so he would be filled with God’s light of guidance (Grünert 3.1–8; al-Dālī 6.13–7.4). Instead of these worthwhile subjects to which he is implacably opposed, he devotes himself to a type of ‘learning which the Muslims have left to him and his peers, one in which those who would contend with him are few, which has a translation (tarjama) which shines without any meaning, and a name which impresses without any substance’100 – that is, Aristotelian philosophy, much to the detriment of the inexperienced who are overawed by its flashy language (Grünert 3.8–4.9; al-Dālī 7.4–7). When the Kalām Master uses this terminology, his language degenerates, his tongue is shackled and he becomes (p.219) gauchely incompetent (cīy) at public gatherings (maḥāfil) (Grünert 4.9–5.9; al-Dālī 7.15–9.1). Ibn Qutayba illustrates this point with an anecdote and concludes that

Were the composer (muɔallif ) of The Definition of Logic (Ḥadd al-Manṭiq) (i.e. Aristotle) to have reached this time in which we live so that he could hear the precise discussions of religion, jurisprudence (fiqh), legal obligations (farāɔiḍ) and grammar, then he would count himself among the dumb. Or were he to hear the words (kalām) of the Apostle of God (God bless and cherish him!) and his companions, then he would be certain that ‘wisdom (ḥikma) and decisive oratory (faṣl al-khiṭāb)’101 belong to the Arabs (Grünert 5.9–6.2; al-Dālī 9.1–4).

A eulogy of the work’s patron, who is immune to the vices of his time (Grünert 6.2–7.1; al-Dālī 9.5–13), provides a respite before Ibn Qutayba launches his prolonged attack on the imbecilities of the bureaucrats. He bases this attack on his own personal observation of their petty foolishnesses (Grünert 7.1–9.5; al-Dālī 9.14–11.13).

Ibn Qutayba proposes to remedy this parlous situation. He has composed numerous, short introductory treatises (though they are not for the complete novice or those who have no grasp of the rudiments of formal Arabic) (Grünert 9.5–10.5; al-Dālī 11.13–12.12). But the well-rounded bureaucrat also needs to master some basic mathematics (Grünert 10.5–11.1; al-Dālī 12.13–13.5), the principles of jurisprudence (jumal al-fiqh wa-macrifat uṣūli-hi) contained in the Ḥadīth (Grünert 11.1–12.5; al-Dālī 13.6–14.4), and narratives (akhbār) and the sources of the Hadīth (Grünert 12.5–7; al-Dālī 14.5–7).

Even these accomplishments are not enough, however, if the novice does not have ‘reason (caql) and a generous innate disposition (jawdat al-qarīḥa)’ (Grünert 12.7–9; al-Dālī 14.8–9), for Ibn Qutyaba’s books will only work if the aspirant

educates (yuɔaddib) his soul before he educates his tongue, improves (yuhadhdhib) his character (akhlāq) before he improves his words, preserves his virtue (murūɔa) from the ignominy of slander and his craft from the turpitude of lying, and if he avoids foul discourse and unseemly levity (p.220) (rafath al-mazḥ), before avoiding solecisms and prattling speech [Grünert 12.10–13.1; al-Dālī 14.10–14.13].

Ibn Qutayba pauses to enumerate several instances of seemly levity among the pious forebears of the past, including Prophet Muḥammad (Grünert 13.1–6; al-Dālī 14.13–15.5). In this context he draws on the notion that speech is an ethical action, subject to the same laws of right and wrong as other actions, and as such is determined by the moral probity or otherwise of its user. In other words, in order to speak properly, one cannot simply use fine language and obey punctiliously the rules of Arabic grammar but must also be a good person. (This is the position which led al-Jāḥiẓ to articulate his notorious theories concerning the relationship between a man’s God-given nature and the speech which he is able to produce.)102

Ibn Qutayba offers his readers further advice: on euphony (or rather: on the avoidance of dysphony) (Grünert 14.6–15.6; al-Dālī 16.5–13); and on spoken as opposed to written syntax, for in written works it is not involved syntax as much as an inappropriate and outlandish lexicon which is disapproved of (Grünert 15.6–16.14; al-Dālī 17.1–18.2). The longest piece of advice for the aspirant amanuensis is the need to maintain an appropriate harmony between writer and recipient and to match the level of one’s discourse with the status of one’s addressee (Grünert 16.13–18.2; al-Dālī 18.3–19.1), and the desirability of achieving consistency in one piece of discourse by avoiding mixing praise with blame of one and the same individual (Grünert 18.2–10; al-Dālī 19.1–8). Ibn Qutayba provides some examples of this from his own personal experience, and corroborates his point with three examples taken from the Qurɔān, and two anecdotes concerning the Persian ruler Khusraw Abarwīz, that is Chosroes II Parviz. The dictum, ‘Every occasion has its discourse’ (li-kull maqām maqāl), so central to al-Jāḥiẓ’s thinking on communication, is the focal point of a discussion of concision (ījāz) and repetitive amplitude, familiar to us from al-Jāḥiẓ’s thoughts on brevity and prolixity expressed in The Book of Living (see Chapter 5.4, pp. 366–8) (Grünert 18.10–20.4; al-Dālī 19.8–20.7), in which Ibn Qutayba cites the Qurɔān as his exemplar and refers to his discussion of these points in his treatise Explanation of Complexities of the Qurɔān, Taɔwīl Mushkil al-Qurɔān.

Ibn Qutayba brings his homily to a close by advising that the pious (p.221) bureaucrat who is in full possession of the means (literally, tools: adawāt) which he has described, will, God willing, be virtuous, noble, victorious and successful in this life and the next (Grünert 20.4–8; al-Dālī 20.8–12).

There can be no doubt that Ibn Qutayba prepared his Adab al-Kātib as a book for use by bureaucrats and those who wished to seek employment and preferment as bureaucrats. Indeed, he not only refers to another treatise he has written, he even specifies his intended audience (Grünert 9.13–10.5; al-Dālī 12.8–12). The homily with which he opens the work is a stylistic and formal response to the degeneracy of his society, a society in dire need of an exhortation and not a programmatic introduction.103 At the same time his eulogy of the patron amplifies the homily as a dedication and donation. And of course the remedies which he advocates for the improvement of his contemporaries is tantamount to a programmatic overview of what the reader can expect to gain from a perusal of the treatise.

When we compare these three formats, the risāla (an annunciative and/or dedicatory epistle), the muqaddima (a programmatic introduction) and the khuṭba (a prefatory homily), we can conclude that the provision of a programmatic muqaddima, was, therefore, by the middle of the third century, tantamount to a declaration by its composer that the work was designed for general use as a book. Ibn Qutayba’s khuṭba in his Education of the Bureaucrat, a work which the author describes unequivocally as having been designed for general use as a book (albeit by a certain class of people, the kuttāb, both the bureaucrats and those who would be bureaucrats, and not so much the public at large), signals the accomplishment of the programmatic khuṭba – and its swan song.

G. Back to the ‘Introduction’

The ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living is unusual (though not unique). It is, to my knowledge, the longest introduction of any work from the third century to have survived, be it one declared as such by its author or not identified explicitly as a muqaddima. In fact, it is, in formal terms, a gigantic, bravura amplification of the address of the recipient with which so many short third-century ‘erudite’ epistles begin. It is quite possible that both The Book of Living and The Book of Clarity and Clarification were at one point accompanied by epistles addressed to their patron(s) and that these epistles have not (p.222) survived, because they did not form part of the eventual format which the books assumed when they were made accessible beyond the author-patron relationship. The impression these treatises convey, that they did not prove popular with their (initial?) dedicatee(s), may explain why their annunciative epistles were kept separate from the public versions.

The ‘Introduction’ is also homiletic. It resembles the khuṭba techniques of the Epistle of al-Shāficī, al-Jāḥiẓ’s own Book of Clarity and Clarification and Ibn Qutayba’s Education of the Bureaucrat. Yet it also functions as a programmatic introduction, in the same way that these introductory materials do, and so it also resembles the muqaddima. The introductory materials of The Book of Living and The Book of Clarity and Clarification resemble the Epistle of al-Shāficī more than al-Kindī’s On the First Philosophy or al-Rayḥānī’s Bejewelled Pronouncements: that is, they are khuṭbas more than they are risālas-cum-muqaddimas. There is, however, another feature which characterises the ‘Introduction’ which these other works do not share: its extensive quotation and paraphrase of the Addressee’s words. I will return to this point in Part 6, pp. 418–22.

The ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living, then, presents the author’s outline of the importance of reading creation as a system of signs, scrutinises the sufficiencies and insufficiencies of formal schemes for the categorisation of creation, explores the categorical capacities of a Kalām theory of ‘class’ (jins), especially in view of its potential to accommodate interstitial, trans-categorical and hybrid entities, and promotes the vital role which books must play in securing the continued solidarity of the Muslim commonwealth. It also infuses the treatise with the spirit of dialectical eristics, be it in its support for al-Jāḥiẓ’s written representation of the debate of al-Naẓẓām and Macbad on the dog and the rooster, or in its engagement with the critical invective of the Addressee, which is maintained throughout the first two volumes.

However its khuṭba style and programmatic nature still do not account for the passion of al-Jāḥiẓ’s appeal. In this, The Book of Living is unique. Among his works, I think that only The Treatise on Quadrature and Circumference and On Earnestness and Jest come close in the force and intensity of their engagement. The first is an attack on a member of the entourage of the Vizier Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik b. al-Zayyāt, while the second is a plaintive (p.223) plea addressed to this same Vizier, asking him to alter his decision about the flogging which he has ordered al-Jāḥiẓ to receive.

In sum, then, the ‘Introduction’ is a magnificently enlarged instance of the epistolary habit of addressing the recipient. It functions as a khuṭba, a homiletic preface to the work and it serves as a programmatic introduction to the treatise, in the style of the muqaddima which was soon to become expected of the published prose compositions. Like the rest of the work of which it forms so significant a part, and like the book as social artefact which it praises so lavishly, the ‘Introduction’ appears to be miscegenated and interstitial.

(p.224) 4.3 The Enigma of the Addressee

The whole work, as we are beginning to see, invites us to try to answer its mysteries, to respond to its idiosyncrasies. A question persists in my mind. Why does al-Jāḥiẓ begin his longest and most ambitious, if unfinished, extant work in this manner? I have pondered this question long and hard. There is no easy answer, it seems to me, beyond of course effectively seeking recourse in its very imponderability – it begins thus because it is unfathomable.

Perhaps the simplest story we might tell about it is the following. The ‘Introduction’ was written after an original dedication and donation of the work and subsequent to the Addressee’s attack on al-Jāḥiẓ’s work and/or the Addressee’s rejection of this dedication. Why do I say ‘and/or’? Because an Addressee might conceivably accept the dedication subject to the improvement of those aspects of the work of which he disapproves. This story is required by the notice of donation at Ḥayawān 5.156.8 (see Chapter 2.5, p. 100) and by the reference at 1.10.3 (see Part 3, §14, pp. 116–17). In fact, it is actually demanded by al-Jāḥiẓ’s attempted refutation of the invective to which the ‘Introduction’ refers repeatedly. Such a refutation implies the prior existence of a text or a declamation for it to refute, and for such a refutation to have any point, this invective can only have been a criticism of The Book of Living (be it of specific volumes or the whole treatise).104

I hope it is clear from my preceding discussion of prefaces, dedicatory epistles and formal introductions that al-Jāḥiẓ moved and operated in a society in which the predominant model of social interaction among the elite, both educated and noble, was a system of patronage or clientage. Before you had an occasion to speak you needed to have access to the occasion at which to speak. Notables maintained large entourages to which scholars (p.225) could petition entry through the dedication of a composition or treatise, often described as a ‘gift’, hadīya. If a dedicatee accepted the donation, a ‘bond’ (literally a rope, ḥabl, as in al-Jāḥiẓ’s Epistle to Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād) or a ‘connection’, ṣila, was tied between patron and client. The client became one of the patron’s acwān, helpers, or awliyāɔ, friends.105 This bond could be severed, of course, but once tied, it was expected that the client would work to preserve its integrity by fulfilling the responsibilities expected of him: the provision of advice, perhaps of a specialised or technical nature, the dedication of further compositions, representation and defence of the patron among his opponents.106

The dedication of compositions was informed by a system of gift exchange. The patron enjoyed the benefit of the scholar’s expertise, his mastery of Arabic, and his celebration through the renown that such works would earn for him among his peers. The client could expect to receive financial reward and a measure of personal security as well as the reflected glow of power which would surround his work and the accreditation conferred by the patron’s acceptance, himself often a very learned and educated individual and thus an arbiter of cultural prestige. The existence of such circles and entourages was not restricted to the notables, however. Eminent scholars were in turn the focal point of their own networks, and members of these networks could expect their patron to exert his influence with his superiors on their behalf: Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 150/767) is a fine case in point. The extended members of his network dominated the judiciary for almost a century.107

There was intense competition for entry to such entourages, and scholars were often victims of conspiracies, invective, slander and defamation. On occasion a direct challenge to a scholar’s expertise and authority might be mounted by a determined rival. Caution and circumspection upon detecting such plots could also easily become paranoia. The writers of Arabic compositions, both prose and verse, who moved in such circles were masters of ambiguity and evasion. Their attentive audiences were no less adept at decoding their compositions. The works produced in and for such a milieu (i.e. works which did not operate in the lecture circuit or were not written solely for the school and the study circle) were designed to resist straightforward or univocal readings, a phenomenon I have elsewhere described as ‘multivalency’. The emergence of the cultivation of the stylistic devices and rhetorical techniques (p.226) known as the ‘new’ style, Badīc, was at least partly actuated by participation in such milieux.108

For all the centrality of this ritual of gift exchange to the maintenance of these social networks, the ostentation of social and cultural prestige which they celebrate and the works which were composed and donated as part of it, there is an enigma at the heart of many third-century Arabic prose works. It is at its most acute in the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living. This enigma centres on the roles of a trio of actors in any given work. The actors are: the patron (by which I mean the person who recompenses the author for the work and so accepts, confirms or reaffirms him as his dependent); the dedicatee (the person or persons from whom the author hopes to receive recompense and to whom he dedicates the work); and the addressee (the person addressed in the work).

In some works, these various, complementary, roles are performed by one actor, though it is rare for the patron also to be the addressee. In other texts, the patron and the dedicatee may be the same actor but distinct from the addressee, and in others the dedicatee and addressee may be the same actor but distinct from the patron. Sometimes the patron/dedicatee may be the commissioner of the work; on other occasions, he may also be the composer’s sponsor (his mawlā, in the sense that the author belongs to his entourage or faction), though he may not actually have commissioned a given work – it may be a donation, a gift of exchange, a declaration of fealty between dependent and patron, a reassertion of allegiance.

There is a fourth textual agency which complicates matters: the listener and/or reader. In some texts, the listener is the addressee and the patron/dedicatee is praised and referred to in the third person. In this case, the dedication functions as praise of the author’s sponsor through celebrating his qualities to the community of readers and listeners who are summoned to bear witness to the truth of what the author says. In other texts, however, especially when the patron/dedicatee and the addressee are identical, the reader/listener is a privileged fourth party to the public intimate, to what is a very public private conversation, as happens in love poetry.

The enigma consists in what seems to be a deliberate strategy: the avoidance of naming the patron.109 Even in an epistle as overt in its supplication as that sent by al-Jāḥiẓ to Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād petitioning him for patronage, (p.227) the Chief Judge is not actually named in the epistle. Indeed were it not the case that the anthologiser of the collection in which the epistle was included had preserved the identity of the destination, I think we would be a bit hard pressed to determine it, the profusion of its references to the legal tradition notwithstanding.110

Of course, the Addressee does not constitute the entirety of al-Jāḥiẓ’s audience for the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living. The audience is the notables and the educated elite, the khāṣṣa, and those to whom he refers as ‘our brethren and companions’, ikhwānu-nā wa-khulaṭāɔu-nā at Ḥayawān 1.49.15–50.1. The audience is also the community to whom he appeals in his preface to Volume Seven (see Chapter 2.4, pp. 90–1 and Chapter 4.5, pp. 256–61), if they are in fact distinct from the educated elite.

Al-Jāḥiẓ’s writings (and other early cAbbasid prose works) are no different in this regard from coterminous panegyrics (or lampoons or love poems for that matter). They were composed in a direct and often close relationship with the interests, achievements, or defects and defeats, of the maecenas, and should be read first and foremost in terms of this relationship, without, of course, losing sight of the relevance of the wider audience.

These prose texts and their prefaces, introductions and modes of address were composed in such a way as to resist the kind of interrogation we, and their later readers within the tradition, want to subject them to. In the first instance, the act of donation itself renders any need for this kind of specificity (through naming) otiose. In the second instance, many works were presumably rejected by their original destinations and were thus readied by this avoidance of specificity for rededication. In the third instance, composers of prose works may have emulated their poetic counterparts who at times displayed great scrupulosity in not naming the victims of their poetic attacks or in eliminating or emending in later redactions of the poem the names of those attacked. The compilers of poetic compilations (dīwāns) also exercised the same caution, often basing their decision on whether to include or exclude a vituperative poem on the presence or absence of naming in the work.111 In the fourth instance, the works were often multifunctional. Not only did they cover many purposes and meet many uses, they were also designed to be read in a variety of ways, say through the use of key notions and terminology intended for a clique or a particular audience, the precise (p.228) connotations of which might be lost on those outside this charmed circle, or through ambiguity, of tone, perhaps, or of the posture and register adopted by the author in declaiming the text.

Such styles of discourse are not conducive to an open and explicit specification of identities. And anyway, we should always bear in mind that an over-precise specification like this would tie the composition to a particular individual in a way that would render it practically impossible to rededicate it, should the work not meet with the approval of its intended patron-dedicatee.

This is not to deny however that the works were composed in such a way as to appeal to, and be informed by, perhaps even predicated upon, the interests, affiliations, predilections and aversions of the patron-dedicatee. The composition of this kind of work was an extremely delicate, if ambivalent, activity, a cultivation of a rhetoric of evasion and suspicion and at the same time of the prerogative of commanding right and forbidding wrong, as well as a fulfilment of the ties of patronage. This kind of activity is also typical of the poetical culture of the third century.

The patron-dedicatee-addressee is not named in the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living. This prompts a series of questions. Is al-Jāḥiẓ’s Addressee the same actor as the dedicatee? And is the dedicatee the same actor as the patron? Why does al-Jāḥiẓ not mention by name any of these actors in the work? Was there more than one patron-dedicatee-addressee?

It is not unusual for al-Jāḥiẓ’s works to have survived without the specification of the identity of their dedicatee. We have surmised that many of his works were presumably accompanied by letters (no longer extant) to their dedicatees announcing the arrival and completion of the work in question.

In the case of the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living, and based on some permutations of the patron/dedicatee/addressee triangle, I have devised several conceivable responses to this enigma of the addressee (the list is not exhaustive):

  1. (1) The Addressee is the dedicatee/patron.

    He is either (1a) Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik al-Zayyāt or (1b) Ibn Abī Duɔād or (1c) both.

  2. (2) The Addressee is distinct from the dedicatee.

    (p.229) This latter scenario gives rise to further permutations, listed in no particular order of appeal, on the basis of which we might explore this enigma. The first is specific:

  3. (3) Al-Jāḥiẓ may address Ibn Abī Duɔād in defence of his patron/dedicatee Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik (there was no love lost between Vizier and Chief Judge). The remainder are less specific:

  4. (4) Al-Jāḥiẓ may address some other opponent of his patron/dedicatee;

  5. (5) Al-Jāḥiẓ may address a personal adversary in a munāẓara or a mucāraḍa, an eristic contestation;112

  6. (6) The address may be a rhetorical device, a fictive conceit;

  7. (7) The Addressee may be the reader;

  8. (8) Or the Addressee may be dead.

The following speculation works on the assumption that the ‘original’ dedication and/or donation included all seven volumes of The Book of Living and that the work dedicated with its new ‘Introduction’ is effectively the form in which it survives today: see Part 2 for a review of other possible scenarios relating to the preparation of the treatise for public dissemination by al-Jāḥiẓ and his warrāq, his stationer.

(5, 6 and 7) Al-Jāḥiẓ was a dialectical thinker who revelled in question and response. Did he need a straw man to pit his work against? Is the Addressee cast in the mould of the figure of the cādhil, the carper, familiar from the Arabic poetic tradition, the reprimander against whom the poet justifies his lifestyle, defends a decision or boasts of the extravagance of his actions? In most engagements with the figure of cādhil with which I am familiar, be it pre-Islamic or cAbbasid, the cādhil is effectively the voice of reason, of responsibility, or sober self-control and restraint – in other words, the spokesperson (the cādhil can be male or female) for society.

Is the Addressee the recalcitrant reader who is unable to read al-Jāḥiẓ’s books because he is too lazy as a thinker and reader? Is the Addressee simply someone who dislikes al-Jāḥiẓ’s writings? Or does the Addressee function as the reader does in Freud’s Interpreting Dreams, in which Freud engages in an on-going tussle with his critical reader?113 Did al-Jāḥiẓ require a non-reader whom The Book of Living seeks to fashion as an ideal reader114 of nature, a (p.230) reader whose inabilities to understand his project would cast that project into sharper focus?

In Volume Seven of the work, he does introduce one such non-reader, in the figure of the Eternalist, the Dahrī: someone who believed in the eternity of time rather than the eternity of God. Al-Jāḥiẓ tries to argue into silence his opposition to The Book of Living (see the translation in Chapter 4.5, pp. 256–65).115 Considered in these terms, I would be inclined to identify this Eternalist as the Addressee. The Book of Living itself would then be a protracted case for the defence mounted by al-Jāḥiẓ in rebuttal of the Eternalist’s vituperative rejection of the Jāḥiẓian world-view insofar as it is represented by his library.116

(1a and 8) Let us consider the patronage of Muḥamamd b. cAbd al-Malik with the Vizier himself in the role of the Addressee. Ibn al-Nadīm is the earliest witness, external to the text, to identify the patron of The Book of Living with the dedicatee of The Treatise on Quadrature and Circumference and the addressee of On Earnestness and Jest, the Vizier Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik b. al-Zayyāt (d. 232/847–8).

This relationship was close. Al-Jāḥiẓ is said to have given Muḥammad a precious ‘first edition’ of Sībawayhi’s grammar, in a splendid format.117 But their relationship does not seem to have been always smooth or trouble-free to judge from al-Jāḥiẓ’s appeal to him in On Earnestness and Jest that the Vizier spare him the flogging he has ordered that he undergo. I have noted that the stridency of the address in the ‘Introduction’ is also similar to that which obtains in On Earnestness and Jest, while the torrential abundance of dialectical engagement is similar to the barrage of questions with which al-Jāḥiẓ bombards the Addressee of The Treatise on Quadrature and Circumference, and indeed in The Book of Living he provides a basic answer to some of the questions posed in this work.118

The ‘Introduction’ rehearses several key themes which would appeal to Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik. It seems that the Vizier delighted in mixtures of jest and earnest, with the ambivalences and slippages the juxtaposition of the two produced.119 He took a keen interest in falsafa and in the Graeco-Arabic translations, reputedly spending two thousand dirhams per month on sponsorship of translations, especially in the study of medicine. The Book of Living inhabits the same universe of philosophical and scientific speculation (p.231) as does The Treatise on Quadrature and Circumference. The Vizier was a keen proponent of the use of paper and books in the imperial bureaucracy.120 As a renowned epistolist and poet himself, he would surely have enjoyed al-Jāḥiẓ’s bravura performances, not only with the Arabic language, but also with the formal conventions and stylistics of contemporary practices of composition.

There are some discordances with this supposition, however. At Ḥayawān 1.67.6–68.3 al-Jāḥiẓ quotes a panegyric in honour of the Vizier by Abū Tammām, which he introduces with the following words: ‘al-Ṭāɔī said, praising Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik’ (1.67.6). In other words, the recourse to the third person is out of keeping with the predominance of the secondperson mode of address in the ‘Introduction’ and could be taken to imply that the Addressee is not Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik.

And then there is the unusual occurrence at Ḥayawān 1.42.18, ‘May God the Exalted have mercy on you!’, raḥima-ka Allāh tacālā, a variation on the standard phrase used to commend the dead to God.121 Is this a hint that the Addressee has recently died? In other words, are we hereby warranted to think that the person whom al-Jāḥiẓ addresses is recently dead (whence the use of the pious optative and the second person rather than third person pronoun)? Did al-Jāḥiẓ dedicate a first version of the Book of Living to the Vizier which the Vizier rejected and criticised but then died before he could receive the version with the ‘Introduction’ which rebuts the critique?

I do not know the answer but a post-mortem address of a previous patron, cast in the form of an invective, is an attractive solution to the very real personal dangers which such a composition addressed to one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic empire would surely have exposed al-Jāḥiẓ to. (3) If Muḥammad is the patron/dedicatee of The Book of Living, but not the Addressee, could it be that the Addressee is his arch-enemy Ibn Abī Duɔād, the Chief Judge? Could al-Jāḥiẓ be attacking, under the aegis of the Vizier, one of the Vizier’s most inveterate opponents? This is the second of the two scenarios I can think of (the first being a post-mortem address) which goes some way to accounting for how an inferior could adopt such a tone of withering contempt to so eminent and powerful a figure as either the Chief Judge or the Vizier.

I have ruled out the possibility that al-Jāḥiẓ’s patron, whoever he may be, would have been kept in the dark about a possible version of the treatise (p.232) which contains the ‘Introduction’: this is not a private or secret or occluded address.

In The Book of Clarity and Clarification, al-Jāḥiẓ speaks to the addressee of that work in a cross-reference to The Book of Living:

It was my custom in the books of The Living for me to include in every one of its parts ten leaves of excerpts from the poetry of the Arabs and other notable poems, because you mentioned to me that they met with your favour. Accordingly, I very much intended this book to be even more volu-minous in this regard, if God wills [Bayān 3.302.1-4].122

Some sixty printed pages of poetic excerpts follow. Let us recall that Ibn al-Nadīm tells us that the Clarity was dedicated to, and remunerated by, Ibn Abī Duɔād.

(1b) Let us consider Ibn Abī Duɔād’s patronage of The Book of Living with the Chief Judge himself in the role of the Addressee. The ‘Introduction’ rehearses several key notions which would have been of interest to him. It mentions at Ḥayawān 1.9.5–7 the works written for him by al-Jāḥiẓ but criticised by the Addressee. Al-Jāḥiẓ praises the books of Abū Ḥanīfa, the eponym of Ibn Abī Duɔād’s legal order. It outlines an organisation of society similar to that implied in al-Jāḥiẓ’s epistle to him announcing the Book of Legal Verdicts. It incorporates a theory of clear communication which was to be explored at greater length in The Book of Clarity and Clarification, and there is the matter of the repetition of the passages in the ‘Introduction’, the Epistle to Ibn Abī Duɔād (see Chapter 4.2, §7, pp. 203–4 and 207) and others. We might also be inclined to imagine that a Chief Judge who was not an egregious enthusiast for theological speculation would be more scandalised by the spectacle of two eminent Muctazilī doctors engaged in a debate on the merits of the dog and the rooster and would be more inclined to disapprove of the slippages from seriousness to jest and vice-versa than the Vizier who was renowned for just these interests.123

Are we then to imagine that The Book of Living is one of the many books which the Epistle to Ibn Abī Duɔād announces? Was it donated to but then rejected by the Judgec Is the critique which the ‘Introduction’ engages with part and parcel of the incident in which the Chief Judge publicly rejected and then gloriously and magnanimously pardoned al-Jāḥiẓ? We learn in (p.233) the Deliverance from Evil, al-Faraj bacd al-Shidda, of al-Tanūkhī (329– 384/940–94) that this incident took place upon the death of al-Jāḥiẓ’s patron Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik. Al-Tanūkhī’s narrative of this confrontation is magnificent for the contrast it points between the all-powerful Chief Judge and his moral outrage and the unrepentant moralist al-Jāḥiẓ, chained but unbowed:

I read in a book that after the calamity which befell Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik al-Zayyāt al-Jāḥiẓ was despatched in chains, wearing only a wool-len garment, to Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād. Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād said to him, ‘By God, cAmr, I have only ever known you to forget a benefaction, recuse a blessing, enumerate your own virtues and conceal your vices. The passing of the days will never mend one such as you, so corrupt is your intent, so vile your faculty of choice’. ‘Go easy’, al-Jāḥiẓ replied. ‘It is better, by God, that the boon be yours to give to me than that it be mine to give to you. It is better for your reputation that I be wicked and you virtuous than that we both be wicked, you and I. And it is more becoming of you in your position of power to pardon rather than punish’. Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād said, ‘I have only ever known you to have a tongue of pure silver. Your tongue has veiled your heart and then you concealed it in duplicity (nifāq). Be gone, may God revile you!’ He shuffled off in his chains. Then Aḥmad said, ‘Slave, catch up with him, remove his chains, take him to the bath-house, bring a ceremonial robe for him to wear, take him to where he can recuperate and be rid of his ailments, a residence with bedding, utensils and furnishings, and give him ten thousand dirhams as his stipend until he recovers from his illness’. This was done. On the next day al-Jāḥiẓ was to be seen in the seat of honour in the majlis of Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād, wearing a ceremonial robe taken from his wardrobe and sporting one of his tall peaked-caps (qalansūwa), with Aḥmad welcoming him in person with the words, ‘Come, Abū cUthmān’.124

(1c and 8) This scenario however still does not account for the singularity of the vehemence of such a perilous address of a superior. Let us posit two Addressees: the Vizier and the Judge. Perhaps the work was written to appease both dedicatees, the Vizier and the Judge, during their lifetime, an essay in misdirection encouraging them both to see the other as the Addressee, part (p.234) of a complex process of networking and dual clientage, in an effort to ensure al-Jāḥiẓ’s survival in times of political uncertainty.

Or perhaps Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik, al-Jāḥiẓ’s patron, is now dead. Al-Jāḥiẓ is in need of a new patron. He attacks his old patron, in the manner of the poets who terminated a relationship of dependency upon a patron with the composition of a lampoon (hijāɔ), because he has criticised al-Jāḥiẓ’s books. Al-Jāḥiẓ’s new patron, Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād, to whom he presents this treatise as a donation, is given the benefit of witnessing al-Jāḥiẓ recuse his former patron completely.

(8 and 1a, 1b, 1c) Finally let us consider that The Book of Living is a work without a patron or a dedicatee but which has a (post-mortem) Addressee, a composition made available to a reading public. Patron-dedicatees, it seems, could keep donated compositions in their libraries and not permit their release and so block their dissemination.125 Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik and Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād are now dead. It is now possible for al-Jāḥiẓ to prepare The Book of Living for public dissemination, as Ibn al-Nadīm tells us he did with the help of his warrāq. The ‘Introduction’ is his public revenge on his (dead) patron(s), and a declaration that he was available for adoption by a new patron in a new entourage.

A. At the Court of al-Mutawakkil

In his biography of al-Jāḥiẓ in the Dictionary of Literati, Mucjam al-Udabāɔ, Yāqūt (d. 626/1229) quotes from a letter sent by al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān (d. 247/861), the childhood friend of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil, his personal amanuensis and a high-ranking member of the elite, to al-Jāḥiẓ:

Al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān wrote a letter to al-Jāḥiẓ in a section (faṣl) of which he said: ‘The Commander of the Faithful is growing very serious about you and he perks up when you are mentioned. Were it not for the great respect which he has in his soul (nafs) for your learning and your knowledge, then he would erect an obstacle between you and your ever being absent from his majlis and he would deprive you of your plans (raɔy) concerning, and your management (tadbīr) of, that with which you are occupying yourself so continuously. He gave me a taste of this, but I made such a fuss about you that I dissuaded him from compelling you to attend against your will. (p.235) Understand that you owe this situation to me and bind this benefaction which I have done you to The Treatise of the Rebuttal of the Christians: be finished with it, send it to me quickly and become someone who will thereby be generous to himself. If you do this you will obtain your renown, I will ask him to set you free of what has taken place in the past and will request on your behalf a stipend to cover the coming year in its entirety. Now this is something which you could not arrange for yourself, but I have read your Epistle on Ghannām the Apostate. Were it not that I would increase your high opinion of yourself, then I would tell you of my reactions when I read it. Farewell’.126

Both the Vizier Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik and the Chief Judge Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād were, along with other prominent members of the imperial court, the targets of the new Caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 232–47/847–61), in his attempt to sever all ties with previous regimes and thereby liberate his caliphate from powerful opponents who, having set him on the throne, might conspire against him. Al-Mutawakkil was designated Caliph by a cabal of kingmakers. He would surely have been only too aware not only of his dependence on their existing power structures but also of the precariousness of his hold on power. Al-Mutawakkil was a brutal and ruthless caliph who was both patient and determined to build up his own power base at the expense of those who put him on the throne. His tragedy is that his death, at the hands of a group of assassins employed by his son al-Muntaṣir, is entirely consonant with the deaths which he inflicted on the major powerbrokers who gave him the caliphate.127

Let us imagine that the fragment of the letter quoted by Yāqūt is genuine – we have no way of telling that it is not genuine. And let us also imagine that it dates from the period of the Caliph’s annihilation of his opponents, in fact from the aftermath of the dismissal of Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād in 237/851–2 and his death in Muḥarram 240/June 854.

The death of the Chief Judge would have meant that al-Jāḥiẓ was once again without a patron. This letter would suggest that no less a personage than al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān was acting on his behalf with the Caliph and we learn that he is doing so because of his admiration for one of al-Jāḥiẓ’s epistles (an epistle mentioned in the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living, Part 3, (p.236) §13.2, p. 116). We might imagine that the Epistle on Ghannām the Apostate was donated to al-Fatḥ to secure his patronage. Al-Fatḥ’s letter tells us that the Caliph entertains a very high opinion of al-Jāḥiẓ but that he is growing tetchy. It implies that the Caliph is growing impatient for al-Jāḥiẓ’s treatise, The Rebuttal of the Christians,128 which we can imagine he has already commissioned but not received. He is not prepared to put up with al-Jāḥiẓ’s absence from his majlis for much longer or to tolerate the delay with the composition. Al-Fatḥ suggests that he is on the verge of forcing al-Jāḥiẓ to be present at court and perhaps also to be punished. Al-Fatḥ mollifies the Caliph and advises that al-Jāḥiẓ finish his refutation of the Christians quickly so that it can be presented to al-Mutawakkil. This will secure for al-Jāḥiẓ a stipend for the coming year and free him of any previous obligations – and let us imagine that this is a veiled allusion to his previous allegiances to the now dead Vizier and Chief Judge. If we allow ourselves to entertain these imaginings, we have in this fragmentary letter a reference to the initial stages of al-Jāḥiẓ’s association with al-Mutawakkil’s court.

Sacid Manṣūr in his thoughtful investigation of al-Jāḥiẓ’s world-view expressed in The Book of Living reviews the evidence for dating the work to the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil. He notes the references in the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Niggards, Kitāb al-Bukhalāɔ (at Ḥayawān 1.4.2: Part 3, §3.2, p. 112), a work widely held to date from the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil and the final decades of al-Jāḥiẓ’s life, and The Rebuttal of the Christians (at Ḥayawān 1.9.9). Manṣūr points out that the extant version of this treatise refers to the receipt of a letter which he presumes to be from al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān, whom we have now met as a member of the Caliph’s inner circle, requesting the composition of this work on behalf of the Caliph.129

Manṣūr next produces some stronger evidence derived from the text of The Book of Living, for the previous bibliographical testimonies he adduces are entirely dependent on the assumption that the extant treatises are in fact identical with those referred to in the ‘Introduction’. He notes al-Jāḥiẓ’s remark at Ḥayawān 7.253.3–4, where in the context of a discussion of a prodigious animal-trainer who had domesticated a wolf and even a lion until it attacked and killed a child, he says that ‘he told me this story in the days during which the Commander of the Faithful al-Mutawakkil calā Allāh came to power’. He also points out that in the section on fleas al-Jāḥiẓ provides a (p.237) notice at Ḥayawān 5.373.2–374.3 concerning a particularly noxious attack of fleas in Damascus and Antioch. Although the Caliph is not mentioned by al-Jāḥiẓ (he simply refers to aṣḥābu-nā, ‘our companions’, and uses the first person plural, dakhalnā, ‘we entered’), Manṣūr takes this very plausibly to refer to the caliphal visit to Damascus in 244/858. Al-Jāḥiẓ was a member of the retinue which accompanied al-Mutawakkil who was preparing to launch a sustained attack on Byzantium.130 Al-Jāḥiẓ mentions his visit to the Great Mosque of Damascus at Ḥayawān 1.56.17–57.5. There is therefore two pieces of internal textual evidence attesting to a visit by al-Jāḥiẓ to Damascus.

Manṣūr concludes that The Book of Living ‘was written during the time of al-Mutawakkil’ (though much, as I have sought to show, depends on what we mean by the term ‘written’). Elsewhere in his book, he wisely refers to the other compositions which al-Jāḥiẓ wrote for members of this court and to the notorious tale that al-Mutawakkil wanted to appoint al-Jāḥiẓ as tutor to his sons but was deterred from confirming the appointment on account of his hideous appearance.131

It seems then that the current version of The Book of Living (or at the very least the current version of the ‘Introduction’, of Volume Five and of Volume Seven) was composed after al-Mutawakkil’s journey to Damascus. This of course makes it likely that the work in its present form belongs to al-Jāḥiẓ’s Indian Summer which he enjoyed during al-Mutawakkil’s caliphate, with the caliphal commission of The Rebuttal of the Christians, the dedication of The Noble Qualities of the Turks to one of the Caliph’s closest intimates al-Fatḥ b. Khāqān and the application for patronage to al-Mutawakkil’s Vizier cUbayd Allāh b. Khāqān in the form of the donation of The Epistle on Distinguishing Enmity from Envy.

B. An Unfinished Book Addressed to Two Dead Patrons?

The idea that the vehemence of al-Jāḥiẓ’s address of a superior (if the Addressee is a superior and is not some other figure such as the Dahrī of Volume Seven of The Book of Living) was a post-mortem luxury appeals to me. If the act of dedication is, as one scholar has described it, a process of disequilibrium which extends the sovereignty of the patron over the author and his composition, to the extent that the patron can be considered the true author of the work,132 then the public release of a treatise like The Book of Living with its (p.238) post-mortem excoriation of (two) patron(s) would become al-Jāḥiẓ’s strongest assertion of his role as author in the sense of producer (wāḍic) and owner (ṣāḥib) of the work. It would represent a seismic shift from a patronal conception of authorship to one more suited to the marketplaces of books, one entirely consistent with the treatise’s paean of books and their fundamental importance for social cohesion and human welfare.

However intriguing these speculations may be, the enigma of the identity of the Addressee remains. Simply put, the text does not allow us a resolution. It resists this kind of interrogation and invites the sort of gossipy reconstructions which I have just indulged in. Most third-century texts provide their readers with an abundance of directions on how to read them. The Book of Living is no exception (see further Chapter 5.4, pp. 365–76). If this kind of information is not forthcoming it is because the ‘Introduction’ was designed and executed in such a way that it would not be forthcoming, and could not be extracted, unless we as readers were in possession of the key which would enable us to decode its wiles.

In the case of The Book of Living, therefore, and until some new evidence comes to light, I submit that we have good reason to read the work on the assumption that the dedicatee and the Addressee are identical (even though there may have been two or more dedicatees and two or more Addressees and even though the dedicatee and Addressee may never have existed).

As I have noted, my own personal favourite is that this is an unfinished book addressed to two dead patrons. The version of The Book of Living which contains the ‘Introduction’ that engages so critically with the Vizier and Chief Judge will then be one which appeared after the demise and probably after the death of the latter in the summer of 240/854 and sometime after the return of the court from Damascus to Sāmarrā in 244/858.

(p.239) 4.4 Invective

The Addressee of the ‘Introduction’ has attacked al-Jāḥiẓ with a series of accusations which he seeks to rebut. What exactly does the Addressee accuse al-Jāḥiẓ of?

The key term in the invective is cayb, cuyūb, a blemish, fault, failing, or defect which besmirches a man’s honour and occasions disapproval and condemnation among his peer group and/or society, and which the committer, or possessor (if it is an object), should respond to as a significant diminishment of his social standing. (The nearest response in modern, Western, societies which I can think of is ‘shame’ but this distorts as much as it reveals.)

This fault can be physical, a defect in workmanship, a deformity or a physical abnormality, for example, or moral, or both. The act of pointing out the fault or defect is expressed in terms of rendering the object faulty or defective through the use of the verb cāba, with its verbal noun cayb. The verb, however, can equally be intransitive (i.e. the object is already in a defective state) or transitive (i.e. the act of making an object defective). When applied to humans as the target of this act of making an object defective, the sense seems to be that the agent makes the object (here a human) defective by pointing out or indicating the fault or defect. And informing this perspective is the assumption that a person’s actions are effectively his possessions.

A. Blemish and Defect

It is this ambiguity between being defective, rendering something defective and indicating that something is defective which imbues much of the disagreement between al-Jāḥiẓ and the Addressee with its emotive appeal.

A slave was both a possession and an indication of the owner’s status. Ibn Qutayba, in his lambast of the woeful education and self-centred morals of (p.240) the bureaucrats of his day, describes what appears to be a maẓālim tribunal, one set up to investigate grievances, in this case to monitor trading standards and practices:133

I have been present at a gathering of illustrious bureaucrats, fiscal agents (cummāl), scholars learned in how to manage domanial land (fayɔ), how to annihilate people and lay towns waste to get it, and how to make a personal killing out of it and thereby make a clear loss for the Sultan. A slave-trader was shown in, along with a slave-girl who had been returned to him because she had too many teeth and they were crooked. He said, ‘I told her purchasers her crooked teeth had nothing to do with me, but they returned her to me because she has too many teeth. So how many teeth are there in a man’s mouth?’ No one present knew the answer. Then one of them stuck his forefinger in his mouth and began using it to count his teeth. But his saliva started to drool so someone else kept his mouth shut and counted them with his tongue. Is it good for someone not to know this about himself, someone on whom the Sultan relies to look after his people and his property, someone of whose judgement and investigation of their complaints (naẓar) he approves? Is he not, in this respect, in the same position as someone who does not know how many fingers he has? There was much discussion in this session about the defects of the slave (cuyūb al-raqīq), yet none of them knew the difference between a twisted big-toe (wakac) and a deformed wrist (kawac), between an inverted foot (ḥanaf ) and a malformed ankle (fadac) or between having fleshy, red lips (lamā) and shrivelled, dry lips (laṭac) [Grünert 8.4–9.5; al-Dālī 11.2–12].

The number of the concubine’s teeth clearly violated the aesthetic standards of her prospective purchasers. The crooked irregularity of her teeth was clearly something over which the slave-trader had no control and which he presumably advertised as reflected in her price. In order for the slave-trader to know whether this could be recognised as a disfiguring blemish (cayb) and so tantamount to invalidating the sale, he had to know how many teeth people normally have. There is no indication that the denticular malformation might possibly be remediable. And before we imagine that Ibn Qutayba might possibly be hyper-critical of the dental ignorance of the bureaucrats, we should remind ourselves that one of the items of knowledge possessed by Tawaddud, (p.241) the slave girl who is a walking encyclopaedia in The Thousand and One Nights, is how many bones and veins are contained in the human body.134

Actions, like possessions, can be blemishes and defective. In a boast, the pre-Islamic poet Bishr b. Abī Khāzim celebrates his peerless accomplishments: raiding other tribes; keeping the company of rulers; risking all in gambling:

  • With every blameless possession (bi-kulli kasībatin lā cayba fī-hā) have I
  •  been minded to increase my wealth or my well-being
  • By means of making my beast amble among the other beasts, of
  •  honouring kings, and of the gaming arrows.135

According to this perspective, actions are tantamount to possessions and vice-versa.

The following anecdote told by al-Jāḥiẓ in the Treatise on Asceticism (Kitāb al-Zuhd), part of The Book of Clarity and Clarification, expresses this equivalence nicely:

Sulaymān b. cAbd al-Malik rode forth one day in sumptuous attire. One of his slave-girls saw him and said, ‘You obviously have in mind the two verses by the poet’. ‘What are they?’ he asked. So she recited to him:136

What a fine thing you are! If only you were permanent – but there is no permanence for man:

There is no human blemish in what you show us of yourself – except that you will pass away.

‘Curse you’, he said, ‘You have announced my death to me’137 [Bayān 3.144.4–8].

The Caliph’s pomp and finery may be immaculate and beyond reproach but will not prevent him from passing away. He is reminded that he should pay as much attention to his spiritual well-being as he obviously does to his appearance and material well-being.

Human blemishes can be both evident and latent. They can be attributable to one’s appearance and/or one’s actions. Thus in one of his Arabic maxims Aristotle declares that ‘no-one is free of blemish or devoid of good so we should not be deterred by any blemish a man may have from seeking his assistance, provided that we do not suffer any diminishment thereby’. In another, he maintains that ‘he who follows the inner blemishes of his (p.242) brethren will never lead’.138 Ḥunayn b. Ishāq mentions that Galen composed a book ‘on how a man can recognise his faults (dhunūb) and blemishes’ (Bergsträsser 48.17).

Because speech, and the writing down of speech in books, was thought of as an action which belonged to its enunciator, the agent who gave it a purpose, it too was included in the category of things which could be designated as either pleasant or ugly, good or bad (ḥasan and qabīḥ). They were effectively possessions of which the owner could be proud or at which he ought to feel discomfort amounting to shame. Their social (and moral) status was determined by how they were described by the members of one’s peer group and/or society. As al-Jāḥiẓ puts it in the ‘Introduction’, one ought ‘to be afraid of blame’ (Ḥayawān 1.88.7).139

It is for this reason that Ibn Qutayba devotes a section of the introduction to The Book of Poetry and Poets, Kitāb al-Shicr wa-al-Shucarāɔ, to cuyūb al-shicr, the faults, the blemishes of poetry, and to al-cayb fī al-icrāb, the defective use of case-endings in Arabic. These are not simply aesthetic transgressions. As acts, they bring shame and opprobrium to those who have committed them.140 Al-Bīrūnī, in describing the polysemy of Sanskrit he says the Hindus were inordinately proud of, castigates it as ‘a defect in language’ (cayb fī al-lugha) (Hind 13.11–12).

Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj, in his introduction to the Ṣaḥīḥ, 1.32.7–33.1, explains that ‘we intend to put first reports (akhbār) which are more secure and more likely to be free from blemishes than the others (aslam min al-cuyūb min ghayri-hā wa-anqā)’. These blemishes need to be explained and identified, for people untrained in Ḥadīth criticism are not aware of them (Ṣaḥīḥ1.37.15):

God have mercy on you! Moreover (wa-bacd), achieving the discrimination (tamyīz) and specification (taḥṣīl) you have requested would not have been easy for us, had we not observed how many of those who set themselves up as tradents act badly when it comes to their obligation to cast away weak ḥadīths and objectionable (mustankara) transmissions (riwāyāt), and fail to restrict themselves to sound ḥadīths which are widely known, such as those which the trustworthy tradents renowned for truthfulness and reliability (amāna) hand down. And still they persist in this, even after they (p.243) are aware and openly admit that much of what they pelt the unknowing (aghbiyāc) with is objectionable (mustankar) and is handed down on the authority of folk who are not approved of, who belong to that group whose transmission has been criticised (dhamma) by the Imams of the Ḥadīth folk such as Mālik b. Anas, Shucba b. al-Ḥajjāj, Sufyān b. cUyayna, Yaḥyā b. al-Qaṭṭān, cAbd al-Raḥmān b. al-Mahdī and other Imams. However, responding to your request has not weighed heavily on our mind because we have informed you of how this group spreads condemned ḥadīths with weak and unknown chains of authority and pelts the common people who do not know their defects with them [Ṣaḥīḥ 1.37.15–38.6].141

Muslim explains that the act of criticising and rejecting these suspect transmitters has not occasioned him any anguish: their actions merit this response. The faults and blemishes of these traditions, however, must be pointed out. It is his task to make this clear, distinct and appropriately set out.

Like poetry, language and the Ḥadīth, so too doctrines can be ‘free from defects’ (bariɔ min al-cuyūb). In On the Creating of the Qurɔān, Fī Khalq al-Qurɔān, al-Jāḥiẓ explains how, even when a doctrinal statement is sound and immaculate, it can still be disfigured by its proponents:

Know that people are forced to accept the arguments they force upon themselves. This is simply because of their incompetence in disentangling what is due to them (takhalluṣ bi-ḥaqqi-him) and because they deviate from the fundamentals of their doctrine (qawl) and the ramifications of their basic principles. You must not attribute to the basic principle of their doctrine the incompetence that originates with them and so transfer that error to others. There is many a doctrine, of noble ancestry, well-constructed, completely honourable, free from blemishes (cuyūb), healthy and sound, which its proponents have squandered, and which its opponents have denigrated with calumny. For they have made it liable to arguments it was not liable to and they have attributed to it things which it could not possibly entail [Rasāɔil 3.289.5–11].

A cack-handed wording, explanation and defence of a doctrine renders that doctrine easy to attack but ought not to lessen our appreciation of the doctrine itself.

(p.244) Books, letters and treatises, as textualised forms of speech acts, can also be said to be defective. The Addressee has found fault with al-Jāḥiẓ’s treatise, The Book of Living and with many of his other writings. Finding fault with writings is not an action unique to the Addressee. In his On Magnanimity, Genuine and Feigned, and in Condemnation of Haughtiness, Kitāb fī al-Nubl wa-al-Tanabbul wa-Dhamm al-Kibr, al-Jāḥiẓ informs an opponent who has sent him a treatise that he has already found fault with the arguments which his opponent makes at great length in this work:

We have already voiced the faults (cayb) we find in it. The report of our criticism (dhamm) of it, our vehement opposition (naṣb) to its supporters, our distinguishing ourselves from its proponents, our astonishment at them and our public rejection of them has spread far and wide [Pellat 283.3–5; Rasāɔil 4.169.5–6].

The upshot (jumla) is that when excessive pride is combined with abundant ignorance (jahl ) and exposure to criticism (cayb) is consistent with a lack of concern (iktirāth), reproofs are futile and ideas (khawāṭir) are dead. When the disease is critical and is beyond treatment, the threat of punishment becomes prattle, fit only to be discarded, but the punishment has become a verdict (ḥukm) put into practice [Pellat 283.5–8; Rasāɔil 4.169.7–10].142

It is precisely such exposure to criticism, with its implication that the man vulnerable to it is almost beyond redemption unless he pay heed to the criticism which others direct at him, which so unsettles al-Jāḥiẓ in the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living.

Of course, it is not that al-Jāḥiẓ disapproves entirely of the practice of finding fault with a book or a treatise, however much he protests in the ‘Introduction’ that books should be read with a benevolence of spirit. There are some books which are so vulnerable to criticism that anyone who is incapable of finding fault with them will not be respected in his society:

Now, who is incapable of finding fault with a treatise (cayb kitāb) which has not been protected by means of prudence (tathabbut), which has not been fortified by means of diligent scrutiny (taṣaffuḥ), which has not been carefully reviewed and revised by its writer and over which its author’s eyes have not passed in caution and wariness? [al-Wukalāɔ Rasāɔil 4.98.7–9].

(p.245) Books which have not been subjected to such intense testing and proofing are defective and will be shown to be defective in the highly competitive hurlyburly of cAbbasid society and the Iraqi book trade and in the highly charged cut and thrust of religious polemic of the third century. That al-Jāḥiẓ’s Book of Living is not such a book is one of the reasons for his rejection of the Addressee’s criticism and for his repeated statements in defence of his practice as an author scattered throughout the ‘Introduction’.

The lexeme cayb runs through the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living.143 It is combined with other words for reproach and attack, terms such as ṭacn, ‘spearing’ (1.25.9 and 1.38.10), lacn, ‘cursing’ (1.24.4), both used as synonyms of cayb in its sense of ‘rendering something defective’, dhamm, ‘criticising’ (1.24.13 and 14), and ɔima, ‘reproach’ (1.25.8). At Ḥayawān 1.50.2, the precise context of the Addressee’s invective is encapsulated in the doublet of munāzac a (in the verb tunāzic-nī) and cayb, of engaging in strife and faultfinding. It is usually but not exclusively books which the Addressee identifies as defects, though he also designates the mule as ‘liable to many blemishes’ (al-kathīr al-cuyūb, 1.102.16–17) and the son of an effeminate man and a mannish woman is declared to be ‘more defective than the cisbār’ (1.103.14).

Let us remind ourselves of the Addressee’s words (translated in Part 3, §27, p. 126):

Every weakness which enters the natural constitution of a creature (khilqa) and every accident of feebleness (caraḍat) in a living thing (ḥayawān) is determined by its class (jins). Incapacity (cajz) and blemishes (cayb) appear in accordance with its value (miqdār) and its power (tamakkun) [1.104.1–2].

Therefore, according to the Addressee, the discerning of faults, blemishes and defects is a feature of determining the ‘class’ of a creature or thing. That which is indeterminate or mixed in terms of its class will for him be prone to blemishes and defects. The extent of its defectiveness will be determined by an assessment of its value, capabilities and class. We can conclude two things from this: that the Addressee is a purist and an elitist; and that the process of categorisation and the epistemology of classifying become crucial in the debate between him and al-Jāḥiẓ over the assessment of what one sees and perceives.

There appears to be several aspects to the Addressee’s critique. That the (p.246) book in general is defective because it can be said to belong to more than one class of things; that al-Jāḥiẓ’s books in particular are especially vulnerable to this charge; and that The Book of Living is especially blameworthy because it devotes so much attention to creatures like the dog and the rooster which are both held in low esteem and do not deserve to be the subject of a scientific debate between two learned doctors of theology, al-Naẓẓām and Macbad.

When it comes to this last point, the Addressee seems to hold the position expressed by the Ḥādīth expert Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj: that it is better to keep quiet about reprehensible doctrines than to glorify them with public discussion:

For to turn away from the doctrine which is to be rejected is more likely to annihilate it and to consign to oblivion the repute of its holder. It is also less likely to make of it a guidance (tanbīh) for the ignorant [Ṣaḥīḥ1.75.9–10].

Moreover, in Part 1, pp. 36–7, we saw that this was the very thing that Ibn Qutayba found so reprehensible about al-Jāḥiẓ’s writings. It is one of the practices about which so many cultural actors from the third century seem to voice the profoundest unease.

In a work in many ways similar to The Book of Living, The Treatise on Quadrature and Circumference, Kitāb al-Tarbīc wa-al-Tadwīr, we learn that the second Caliph cUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb ‘found fault (cāba) with a certain important personage, and said, “This man has a tendency to frivolity (ducāba)”’ (Pellat 47.2, §85). Elsewhere in the work, al-Jāḥiẓ offers to give a concise summary of the doctrines entertained by those who hold that ‘all levity is better than all gravity’ and those who argue that ‘good and bad are divided equally between them’ (Pellat 65.8–10, §115). An apologist for triviality (al-muḥāmī can al-hazl: Pellat 65.12, §116) explains that

Levity (muzāḥ) becomes a blemish (macīb) and triviality (hazl) becomes blamed simply because the person who employs them (ṣāḥib) cannot avoid exposing himself to going beyond the right measure and thereby risking the fond indulgence of his friend [Pellat 66.5–7, §117].144

Al-Jāḥiẓ proposes the view which recognises that gravity is generally preferable to levity and triviality, a case for which can sometimes be made, whereas gravity always finds proofs in its favour (Pellat 68.1–3, §120). He would (p.247) seem to agree therefore that levity if untrammelled does tend to ifrāṭ, exceeding the appropriate measure but is unwilling to outlaw it completely.145

So another aspect of al-Jāḥiẓ’s treatises especially blameworthy in the eyes of a rigorous purist is that they mix two categories which ought to be kept separate, the dignified and the undignified: jidd wa-hazl, gravity and triviality. We could even be tempted by some of his many remarks on this subject into imagining that al-Jāḥiẓ might admit some of the justness of the critique of the Addressee in The Book of Living, were it not for the resoluteness and vehemence with which he counters his opponent’s arguments.

But this would be to overlook the vitally important presence of the third party to the dispute: the audience of listeners and readers. It is the appeal, if not the possible consonance, of the Addressee’s critique with the value system of the audience which gives al-Jāḥiẓ’s response its urgency. That they may also be elitists and purists and so reject and condemn his book and the wisdom which it offers for the proper reading of nature is what really worries him.

Paradigmatic therefore is the passage in the Qurɔān, in The Cave, where the mysterious companion explains to Moses why (in verse 71) he scuttles the ship they have boarded:

The ship belonged to some paupers who laboured on the sea. I wanted to render it defective (acība-hā) as there was a king behind them who commandeered every ship by force [Q. Kahf 18: 79].146

And so, like the mysterious unnamed companion of the Qurɔān, the Addressee has rendered al-Jāḥiẓ and his library defective.

B. Reproach

In the previous section, I suggested that such a committed, extensive and passionate rebuttal of the Addressee’s critique could easily have provoked the wrath of a superior and that I have a predilection for imagining the Addressee(s) to be dead. There is a further unique characteristic of the ‘Introduction’: al-Jāḥiẓ has modelled it on the citāb, the reproach, one of the recognised ‘intentions’ (aghrāḍ, also regularly translated as ‘genres’) of poetry.

The reproach offers four clear advantages. Firstly it was frequently composed among social equals. Secondly, it was not as dismissive or as irrevocable (p.248) as the hijāɔ, the poetic invective, an act of aggression designed to damage the reputation and social standing of its victim, be they the poet’s peer or his superior. Some invectives signal the end of a relationship. Others seek to keep the relationship alive. This is because, thirdly, the citāb is a mixed mode of address, hovering between praise and lampoon. As the philologist, chronographer and poetry expert Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī (d. 350/961 or 360/971) explains in his redaction of the collected poems, the dīwān, of Abū Nuwās:

I have arranged for the threnodies to follow the panegyrics because they are praise of the dead, and then the reproaches to follow them because they are half praise and half invective. Then I have arranged for the renunciant poems to follow the invective because they criticise the world just as invective criticises men’s honour. Then I have kept the remaining chapters separate from the preceding and have gathered them together because they belong to the class of pleasure and frivolity (hazl), and I have made some of them cross into others. I will consider these chapters exhaustively in accordance with the condition which I have set for them, should God the Exalted wish.147

In other words, the reproach is suasory but not necessarily punitive: it allows al-Jāḥiẓ to propose the moral improvement of the Addressee, whereas the invective seeks to punish its victim by successfully convincing an audience of its powers of persuasion as invective and so damning its victim as execrable.148

If we consider the poems gathered together by Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī in the fifth chapter of his redaction of the dīwān of Abū Nuwās under the rubric of citāb, reproach, the appeal of this mode of address for al-Jāḥiẓ soon becomes apparent. Thus poem §25 (1.398.2–6) is a reproach of al-cAbbās b. al-Faḍl b. al-Rabīc because, as a result of al-c Abbās’s leisurely approach to compensating the poet, Abū Nuwās has been compelled to sell his horse, cannot afford a mule or a donkey and so must walk everywhere. In poem §33 (1.402.1–403.9) Abū Nuwās reproaches the inhabitants of Egypt for their want of hospitality. There is also a series of six poems, §§27–32 (1.399.11–340.4) directed at a certain cAmr al-Warrāq, one of which seeks to keep the ties between the two intact, while the rest bewail his inconstancy as a companion. There is even one poem, §26 (1.398.7–399.10) in which the poet reproaches himself for his invective of Hāshim b. Ḥudayj whom he had previously lampooned for (p.249) his pretensions in natural philosophy.149 In other words, the reproach, citāb, was also a means whereby a poet might seek to undo the damage which an earlier poem had wrought. It could be used for what we would think of as serious matters such as imprisonment: thus we learn from one reproach that the poet has been wrongly imprisoned because unfairly traduced (Poem §4, 1.386.6–1). But mostly, these poems are occasional pieces, expressions of everyday disappointment, be it because a patron has been slow in paying the poet (Poem §1, 1.382.3–383.12) or because none of his friends would give him a scroll of papyrus (qirṭāṣ) (Poem §23, 1.397.5–8). The following are typical:

  1. 1. A comrade has disappointed the opinion I had of him: one usually expects good of comrades.

  2. 2. He treated me nicely with words until he got some money and a position,

  3. 3. When he turned away, twisting his mouth in a sneer, as if he were as rich as Qārūn.

  4. 4. I disapproved of this behaviour and I reproached him – after all, sincere advice (nuṣḥ) is guaranteed among brothers —

  5. 5. But for all my reproaches, he sauntered along with his nose in the air, though he is of lowly origins among his people.

  6. 6. I came to you in conciliation. Be off with you, it is a disgrace to know you! [Poem §9, 1.389.2–9].

  7. 1. Praise be to God – Has my experience (tajriba) of people not warned me away from them,

  8. 2. That I prevent my soul from its desire? My insolvency has humiliated me in front of them:

  9. 3. I remained silent in the face of time and its calamities until time shat on my head [Poem §15, 1.392.1–8].

  10. 1. I praise God who has made me dwell in the Abode of Contempt!

  11. 2. All those in whom I had placed hope have treated me harshly – even my tongue.

  12. 3. Those who see me will not point to my brothers after I have gone (?):

  13. 4. Those who think well of people are smitten with the calamity which smote me.

  14. (p.250) 5. I had a close friend of whom I expected much against uncertain events:

  15. 6. His spirit (rūḥ) was my spirit though we were enfolded in two bodies;

  16. 7. His ambition (hamm) was my ambition and my ambition was his ambition in everything;

  17. 8. He did not disobey me and I did not disobey him. What he said was enough for me.

  18. 9. But then he treated me harshly when I outdid him in the disturbances brought by time.

  19. 10. He abandoned plain speech (taṣrīḥ) when forsaking me but I could write out his meanings in a fine hand,

  20. 11. For the man of intelligence (cāqil ) discerns in allusiveness (tacrīḍ) the exegesis (tafsīr) of clear speech (bayān) [Poem §16, 1.392.9–393.6].

This last poem, §16, is a wonderful meditation on the severing of friendship. The actions of the poet’s companion have left him speechless: his companion’s truculent treatment consists in his abandoning unequivocal language in favour of allusiveness. This recourse to the language of ambiguity has forced the poet to seek to parse and explicate his ideas. This he takes to be a sign that their close companionship has been terminated by the other. No longer are they two hearts beating as one.

Abū Nuwās’s poems of reproach, then, rehearse the entire gamut of social interactions expressed in a full range of emotional registers. One feature which all poems have in common is that they unanimously avoid naming the person to whom the reproach is addressed or about whom it is intended. This, I expect, is the fourth advantage which the mode of citāb, reproach, offered al-Jāḥiẓ when directing at the Addressee his ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living. The reproach then was a mixed poetic mode, between eulogy and invective. This makes it a perfect match for an ‘Introduction’ that is itself a mixed form, one which blends khuṭba (homily) and muqaddima (formal introduction) in the manner of a risāla, an annunciatory epistle.

C. Disputation

Those like al-Jāḥiẓ who would dispute and contest the arguments of another thinker or system or sect or religion had a choice between engaging in a munāẓara, a speculative contest, or a mucāraḍa, a contestatory emulation. (p.251) Both have analogues in poetry, both were public affairs (i.e. they needed the presence of an audience in order to be genuinely valid and valuable) and both are predicated upon the interrogation and defence of the component parts and argumentative steps in any doctrine, tenet, statement or system. Both were intended to be tests, the equivalent of verbalised chess games. At stake in these tests were not only the ideas but also those who stood for them: their proponents. Therefore they depended not only on reasoning and analytical skills but also on how well a participant could express those skills in words. And given that speech was thought of as an action the disputation was a moral activity – it was thought to reflect well or badly on the character of those who participated in it.

D. Munāẓara

The munāẓara is properly speaking a debated disputation in which both parties agree to consider, investigate and scrutinise (naẓar) the merits of an idea or object or set of objects or an argument or belief supported by one of the two parties to the debate. In other words a munāẓara can be either an interrogation or a debate. In the third century it was a sort of loosely ritualised activity, in the sense that it had an often tacitly acknowledged code of procedure and set of rules.

In the munāẓara, two opposing camps or objects voice their respective virtues and merits. It is very similar, and sometimes indistinguishable, from the mufākhara. In al-Jāḥiẓ’s extant corpus, The Vaunting Contest of Slavegirls and Slave-boys, Mufākharat al-Jawārī wa-al-Ghilmān, The Vaunting of Blacks over Whites, Fakhr al-Sūdān calā al-Bīḍān, and the debate between the Proponent of the Dog and the Proponent of the Rooster in The Book of Living are examples of this style of arguing. A cognate form is the vaunt, as when for example al-Jāḥiẓ in his Noble Qualities of the Turks, Manāqib al-Turk, mounts a defence of an otherwise undervalued, misunderstood or maligned object. His evident skill in the art of munāẓara as debate, manifest in so many of his writings and implied by so many of the titles of his lost works, led to al-Jāḥiẓ being dismissed as a sophist and as dishonest or insincere (a quibbler capable of arguing for one thing and its opposite).150

The munāẓara enacted and performed through question and answer finds its textual realisation in the dialogic structure of many third-century (p.252) treatises, especially in the formula in qīla … qulnā: ‘if it is said …, then we respond’.151 There are also treatises in which the question and answer format is expressed directly and not mediated, manifestly as an instruction from teacher to pupil on how to defend the school’s position. Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq in his Epistle on his translations mentions that he even converted some of Galen’s books into epitomes patterned on the question and answer style (see e.g. §95, Bergsträsser 42.18–19). In al-Jāḥiẓ’s extant corpus the work which belongs most firmly to the practice of the munāẓara as interrogation is The Treatise on Quadrature and Circumference with its relentless sequence of hundreds of questions.

Although in the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living al-Jāḥiẓ addresses his critic directly in his reproach, he does not rely on the munāẓara but has recourse to its counterpart, the mucāraḍa. The practice of the mucāraḍa is predicated upon the notion of comparison (carḍ). One can compare one claim (dac) or proof (dalīl) or justification (cilla) with another and in so doing the disputant who proposes a mucāraḍa proposes that both parties step outside the aggression of interrogation to seek argumentative analogues. The process of effecting such a comparison often entailed the representation (ḥikāya) of other positions and pronouncements, usually in the form of verbatim or paraphrastic quotation. Accordingly it was rejected by some theorists of dialectic as a dilution of the munāẓara and so was at best frowned upon and disapproved of. A consideration of its poetic analogue is instructive.

E. Mucāraḍa

The poetic mucāraḍa may be a poem which was composed as part of a series of compositions by various poets on the same theme and so offered up to an arbiter for adjudication as to selecting the best of the bunch. But also it will often be a poem based by one poet upon a prior composition by another poet. It is thus both an act of homage and an act of contestation: imitation as emulation. And in this case the poet will often use a significant proportion of the words, ideas and images of the poem of which it is an emulatory imitation. It was the prevalence of this stripe of intertextuality which contributed to the obsession with literary theft (sariqa) voiced by so many critics of poetry. These features are prominent in the mucāraḍāt al-Qurɔān, those cases (p.253) which the tradition records for us where writers accepted the challenge posed in the Qurɔān to emulate and imitate it.152

The dialectical mucāraḍa, a contestation informed by the incorporation and imitation of the words, tenets or arguments of someone else (i.e. by the appropriation of the opponent’s own argumentative tools), is not uncommon in al-Jāḥiẓ’s epistles. It is well suited to written contestations, as it allows the writer of the contestation to stage the debate and in so doing affords him the privilege of narrating the defeat of an opponent. There are therefore two possible types of textualised mucāraḍa:

  1. 1. a comparison and representation;

  2. 2. a comparison and representation with a narrativised victory.

Thus in his On Deeming Reasoned Speech Superior to Silence, Tafḍīl al-Nuṭq calā al-Ṣamt, al-Jāḥiẓ mentions the receipt of a treatise from the addressee and proceeds, as far as we can tell (in view of the loss of the addressee’s treatise), to quote and/or paraphrase the words of his opponent’s treatise and incorporate them within his rebuttal of the other’s defence of silence. Thus the mucāraḍa depends upon the practice of ḥikāya, representation, the practice at which the Addressee takes such umbrage in the ‘Introduction’ (see Part 3, §11 and §13). In the debate between the Apologist of Poetry and the Apologist of Books recreated in the first section of the ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living (1.71.13–84.6), a victory is recorded (see Part 3, p. 166 and the Appendix, pp. 458–9). In other texts, however, such as The Book of the Partisans of cUthmān, Kitāb al-cUthmānīya, the imperatives of comparison (carḍ) and representation (ḥikāya) predominate, and while the debate is still staged, an explicit victory narrative is excluded. Thus the reader occupies a middle ground between these positions tantamount to the ethical tenet so beloved of the Muctazila, the intermediate position between the two positions, al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn.

The ‘Introduction’ to The Book of Living, as an instance of mucāraḍa, occupies a middle ground. It represents the words and arguments of the Addressee and sets out to show why and how they are refragable and indefensible because erroneous. Al-Jāḥiẓ’s triumph is implied, though not taken for granted. This procedure is adopted because he wants to convince not only (p.254) the Addressee of the justness of his case but also the audience of listeners and readers, whose approbation is not assured but which must be earned. His contest with the Addressee is an attempt to persuade this audience to side with him and not with his opponent. The treatise is an attempt to manufacture the ideal reader out of its contestation with the Addressee and the indication of his errors.

F. A Shared Value

Repugnance at, and disapproval of, blemishes, faults and defects is a key part of the elite community of values and feeling to which al-Jāḥiẓ belongs. The discourse of cayb is a socialising response, one which defines and bonds an in-group who subscribe to it and know how to recognise it and, by dividing them off from the rest of society, relegates all others to the out-group. While al-Jāḥiẓ may not agree in this particular case with how and what they identify as part of the discourse of cayb, he obviously values the esteem of this group, which is manifestly not something which he can either take for granted or presume to receive – for otherwise, he would not go to the trouble of appealing to them as he does.

The behaviour of this in-group is dominated by their attempts to avoid the discourse of cayb, by their fear of being castigated as blameworthy through association with, or commission of, something defective. This fear of being singled out as defective, the fear at the loss of power and standing which this would entail, the fear of ostracism, is a phenomenon which is interactive and so external (i.e. it is governed by how others respond to us) but is equally internal and personal (i.e. it determines how we as individuals manage our person, cultivate our behaviour, censor our thoughts and feelings).

By challenging this value system from within al-Jāḥiẓ runs the risk of being completely ostracised from the in-group. The process of exposure, of ostracism, has already begun, however, in the form of the Addressee’s censure of his books as blemishes. Al-Jāḥiẓ’s continued membership of this elite group will depend upon the success of his rebuttal of the criticism and his persuading the in-group of the rightness of his vision and the error of the Addressee’s. Where he differs from them is in what is to be identified and rejected as shameworthy and in the process whereby it is rejected.153

(p.255) G. A Cohesive Society

At the heart of the disagreement between al-Jāḥiẓ and the Addressee in the ‘Introduction’ lies a fundamental disparity over how to classify things. Therefore he exhorts the Addressee to become more adept at deriving inferences from signs, and not simply or exclusively, as some scholars maintain, become a better (i.e. less lazy) reader or drop his antipathy to Muctazilism. The Addressee must learn to read existence properly in terms of mushāhada, the apparent testimony of what we see (Ḥayawān 1.206.17–207.6: see Part 6, pp. 405–6) and not to dismiss what we see based on inadequately formulated schemes of classification.

The altercation between author and Addressee over how to read The Book of Living and how to determine what is blameworthy and what is commendable is a dispute about epistemology (how do we make these decisions and what are the categories and schemes of classification upon which we base them?) and ontology (how do we perceive the nature of the existence of things through classification?). It is also a contest over social values. It is the cohesiveness, the jamāca, of society which is threatened by the erroneous categorisation of existence, by the rejection of books as objects of shame and by the inability properly to understand the complex interactions between the trivial and gravely serious.

(p.256) 4.5 The Cohesiveness of Society

However we resolve ‘the enigma of the addressee’ or specify the nature of the Addressee’s invective, the force of some of al-Jāḥiẓ’s arguments in the first section of the ‘Introduction’, notably the proposition that books are highly effective agents of social cohesion, remains. Let us recap briefly. In the process of rebuttal of the Addressee’s charges he enumerates more than thirty of his own works which have been attacked, explains how God has ordered His creation and discusses His disposition of human society, arguing incessantly that the book as artefact is a central, indeed a necessary, part of holding that society together. In an important sense, the overarching argument of this section of the ‘Introduction’ is al-Jāḥiẓ’s pleading his case in favour of preserving the community from corruption through schism, heresy or deviant belief by means of his writings.

But what does this have to do with living things? Surely, pigeons, flies, snakes, lizards and creepy-crawlies as topics for a book are at the farthest remove from the cohesion of the Muslim community which is supposed somehow to ensue from reading the work?

A. The Opening of Volume Seven of The Book of Living

Al-Jāḥiẓ was not unaware of the force of this query. Volume Seven of The Book of Living opens with a densely argued reiteration of the ‘Introduction’ in which some answers to these questions are provided.

Al-Jāḥiẓ begins with a prayer to God that, in his eagerness (maḥabba) to finish the work, he might avoid intercalating the false between the lines of the true, and that he might not

(p.257) strengthen the weakness of falsehood by means of pleasing words and conceal the reprehensible by means of delightful composition (taɔlīf ) [7.5.6–7].

Instead the true should only be clarified through the true, and probative arguments should only be explicated through other probative arguments. An author should not entice others to study and pursue the truth and urge them to declare its pre-eminence

with invented poems (al-ashcār al-muwallada), fabricated ḥadīths (al-aḥādīth al-maṣnūca) and weak isnāds (al-asānīd al-madkhūla), with anything which has no witness beyond the claims of the person who utters it and no-one to declare it true apart from someone whose knowledge (macrifa) cannot be trusted [7.5.9–11].

Speech may seduce the soul (fitna) and become prattling, and prolixity is to be avoided, because those who talk too long, do so without reflecting properly on what they are saying (7.5.11–12).

Al-Jāḥiẓ declares that he is out of step with his time, because he approaches other thinkers and writers with the intention to think well of them and their achievements and to excuse any lapses they may be guilty of.154 Many of those who take it upon themselves to read books and study knowledge, however, ignore the rest of the work and single out

the weak word, the foolish expression (lafẓa) or some other aspect of the composition (taɔlīf ) which has become liable to a certain amount of disapproval or has fallen foul of a degree of perturbation in its author, or is even one of those lapses in concentration (wahm) which occur in books, fumbles caused by vexation (ḍajar), mistakes of the copyist (nāsikh) and the poor memory of the collator (mucāriḍ) … [7.6.3–6].

It would be best if readers were to attend to the ideas of a book with a sound intellect, on their guard against the effects of envy, or the habitual consequences of excessive haste, or seeking to avoid the ethical dispositions (akhlāq) of those who hold forth with too much volubility because they are too mean-spirited or who let their tongues run away with them because they do not understand what they are saying (7.6.6–9).

(p.258) The praiseworthy qualities of what they read should preoccupy them more than its blameworthy qualities, for this

is more seemly with regard to approved conduct (al-adab al-marḍī) and righteous disposition (khīm), it bears a greater resemblance to sagacity (ḥikma) and is at a greater remove from the sway of flippancy (ṭaysh), it is closer to the habits of our ancestors (salaf ) and the lifestyle of our predecessors (al-awwalīn). God is more likely to reward such readers with a secure reception for their own books and the successful defence of their arguments (ḥujja) on the day when they contend (munāḍala) with their opponents and seek to knock (muqāraca) out their enemies [7.6.9–14].

Thus al-Jāḥiẓ provides his audience with moral and ethical advice on how to comport themselves as authors, debaters and readers, as well as giving them guidance on how to read and receive his own treatise. We should note that readers are also themselves writers: Al-Jāḥiẓ is speaking to a cohort of makers, and not simply consumers, of books. Next al-Jāḥiẓ turns to a description of his own treatise:

God pity you! (yarḥamu-ka Allāh). This book is not on the obligatoriness of the promise of Paradise and the threat of Hell-fire, so that the Murjiɔī will object to it, or on the preferment of cAlī, so that the cUthmānī will react vehemently (yanṣib) to it. It is not on justifying the appointment of the two arbiters of cAlī and Mucāwiya (taṣwīb al-ḥakamayn),155 so that the Khārijī will become enraged with it, or on proving human capacity to be anterior (taqdīm al-istiṭāca), so that those who disagree with its anteriority will object to it, or on affirming the concrete existence (tathbīt) of accidents (acrāḍ) so that the proponent of material bodies (ṣāḥib al-ajsām) will disagree with it. It is not on the subject of declaring Basra to be superior (tafḍīl ) to Kufa, Mecca to Medina, Syria to Mesopotamia (jazīra), on declaring non-Arabs to be superior to Arabs, cAdnān to Qaḥṭān, cAmr (b. cUbayd) to Wāṣil (b. cAṭāɔ), so that thereby the partisans of Abū al-Hudhayl might rebut the partisans of al-Naẓẓām, or on declaring Mālik (b. Anas) to be superior to Abū Ḥanīfa, or on declaring Imruɔ al-Qays to be superior to al-Nābigha and cĀmir b. al-Ṭufayl to cAmr b. Macdī Karib or cAbbād b. (p.259) al-Ḥuṣayn to be superior to cUbayd Allāh b. al-Ḥurr. It is not on declaring Ibn Surayj superior to al-Gharīḍ, Sībawayh superior to al-Kisāɔī, the supporter of Jacfar superior to cAqīl,156 the forbearance (ḥilm) of al-Aḥnaf superior to the forbearance of Mucāwiya, or on declaring Qatāda superior to al-Zuhrī. Every one of these types (ṣinf ) has a group of partisans (shīca), and every one of these individuals has a numerous army who will litigate on his behalf: the impetuous imbeciles among them are many, the scholars among them (culamāɔ) are few and fair-minded scholars (anṣāf culamāɔihim) are even fewer still [7.7.1–8.3].157

In sum, third-century cAbbasid society is riven with partisanship and is fragmented into competing groups, each of them revelling in mukhāṣama, forensic litigation, jadal, dialectical debate, mufākhara, vaunting matches, and munāẓarāt, speculative controversies. Of course, al-Jāḥiẓ is hoist with his own petard, as the ebullient composer of numerous such works, to say nothing of the many debates which jostle one another in The Book of Living.158

In his Kitāb al-Jawāhir (The Treatise of Precious Stones), the scientist and scholar al-Bīrūnī describes human beings as vigorously competitive (and he was followed by the German scholar Franz Rosenthal who describes Islamic society in similar terms).159 Its competitiveness is at its most brutally evident here in al-Jāḥiẓ’s portrayal of a community riven by the competing claims of cultural and intellectual superiority among its members.

Al-Jāḥiẓ forestalls any criticism that he may be exaggerating by describing an incident which he witness at Bāb Muways b. cImrān (in Baṣra) in which a Basran and a Kufan debate the respective merits of two types of grapes and come to blows. The Kufan cuts off the Basran’s finger and the Basran puts out the Kufan’s eye.160 A short while later, al-Jāḥiẓ says, he saw them enjoying a drink in each other’s company as the best of friends, with no understanding of what occasions anger or happiness (7.8.4–9).

He explains that this is because his society (jumhūr) has forgotten how to pause (tawaqquf ) when confronted by a doubt-inducing problem (shubha), and how to persevere (tathabbut) when forming a decision (ḥukūma) (7.8.10–11). Rather society knows only ‘yes’ and ‘no’: the latter for ire, the former for pleasure:

(p.260) the qualities of the freeborn (ḥurrīya) have been set aside (cuzilat), discussion of what is licit and illicit has died, and mention of the reprehensible and the seemly has been rejected (rufiḍa) [7.8.13–14].

Society is so morally corrupt that al-Jāḥiẓ quotes a wise utterance to the effect that the old vices of hypocrisy (riyāɔ) and hauteur (nafkh) are missed, presumably because they entail the prevalence of their opposites, sincerity and modesty (7.8.15–16).

After a brief reminder that the seventh volume of The Book of Living is devoted to the elephant (in the form of some authorial guidance accompanied by the provision of a table of contents) (7.9.1–3), al-Jāḥiẓ explains his purpose in the work:

In these books we have sought to provide information about the evident and complementary arguments (ḥujaj) and overlapping indications (adilla mutarādifa)161 which concern the classes (ajnās) of animals, to point to the decisive proofs (burhānāt) that God the Exalted has clothed them in, the true realities (ḥaqāɔiq) of which can only be known through cogitation (fikra), and the signs (calāmāt) that God has wrapped them in, the benefits of which can only be obtained through pondering His lessons (cibra). We have sought to show how He has divided wondrous instances of wisdom among them – subtle senses, ingenious abilities, and such understanding as He has inspired (alhama) them with; the cowardice and bravery He has filled them with, the ability He has given them to perceive what will nourish and sustain them, and the ability to sense what their enemies will attempt which He has made part of their natural intelligence (fiṭna): so that this may become an occasion (sabab) for caution, and caution may become an occasion for watchfulness, and watchfulness an occasion for safety. They even surpass the watchfulness of the man of worldly experience (al-mujarrab) and of the fearful man among the folk of capacity (istiṭāca) and reflection (rawīya) who is sought after (maṭlūb) (?). Take for example what is related of the watchfulness of storks (gharānīq) and cranes (karākī). There are numerous similar instances (ashkāl ) of this, so much so that when people coin proverbs, they use these creatures as examples, and they express criticism and praise in terms of what they observe among wild birds and other creatures … [7.9.4–10.1].

(p.261) There next follows a list of thirty proverbs in which living creatures provide the point of comparison for a variety of human characteristics and behavioural patterns, reiterating al-Jāḥiẓ’s profound commitment to operating within the norms of the Arabic-speaking community (7.10.2–9).

B. A Diminished Anthropocentrism

But why should we base our evaluations of human behaviour on our assessments of the animal kingdom? Are human beings not at the top of the hierarchy of being?

He, Exalted and Great, has shown us this correlation (munāsaba) and this shared connection (mushāraka). He put our abilities to the test by putting them above us in some matters and by putting us above them in most matters. He intended thereby not to deprive us of any probative argument (ḥujja), or of the occasion to speculate on a paradigmatic sign (cibra), or of that which, upon cogitation (fikra), is an admonishment (mawciẓa). Just so He disapproves of our inadvertence (sahw) and negligence, our folly (baṭāla) and insouciance (ihmāl ). Therefore, He has brought it about that in all of our estates (aḥwāl )162 we do not open our eyes without alighting upon some type of indication (dalāla) or one of the forms (ashkāl ) of decisive proofs (burhānāt). He has made the evident signs (āyāt) they contain an incentive to contemplation (tafkīr) and He has made all the types (aṣnāf ) of wonders that He has hidden in them knowable through uncovering them [7.10.10–11.4].

They include the obvious which calls you to Him and indicates what powers He has, and the hidden which augments your confidence in interpreting matters when you reach its true reality (ḥaqīqa), in order that, for all the excellence of your reasoning intellect and the capabilities (taṣarruf ) of your capacity to act (istiṭāca), you might know that when your inability to match in deed the ability of something less capable than you becomes evident, He who gave you pre-eminence over it in terms of capacity and reasoned speech (or logic: manṭiq) is the very One who gave it pre-eminence over you in various other things; that you have both been given the ability to do what you were created for and you each achieve what you have been charged to do; and that he who is unable to build the way the surfa bug163 (p.262) can or to arrange (tadbīr) things the way the spider does, despite the paltriness, abjectness, weakness and minuteness of their bodies, ought not to wax proud on the earth or to strut and swagger arrogantly, or to resort to verbal threats, take oaths or act without consultation. This is so that man might understand that his intellect is a gift from his Lord, that his capacity to act simply a loan borrowed (cārīya) from Him, and that he can only pray for His blessing to continue through ever giving thanks, and runs the risk of cancelling it by failing to give thanks [7.11.4–13].

After a passage like this, it is difficult to maintain that al-Jāḥiẓ unquestioningly and without qualification put man at the apex of the hierarchy of creation. Such a position is given to us by God but even then it is subject to qualifications and limitations. We take it for granted at our peril.

Al-Jāḥiẓ next proceeds to describe how God has arranged the organisation of animal behaviour as a way of testing man to respond in proper terms: gratitude, knowledge and the dispelling of ignorance (7.11.14–12.8). He then reiterates the universal appeal of the argument from design, which extends even beyond Muslims to appeal to all adherents of organised religions:

This book will find no opposition among all those who declare the shahāda, pray in the direction of the qibla, and eat ritually slaughtered meat. It will find no opposition among all the deviants (mulḥid ) who profess the resurrection and give credence to revealed laws, even if they reject a few or many of them, except for the Eternalist (dahrī) [7.12.8–11].

C. The Eternalist

The Eternalist, or as some would render it the ‘Materialist’, the Dahrī, is a bogeyman of third-century religious discourse. Those so labelled can hold a variety of positions, of which al-Jāḥiẓ’s opponent is broadly representative. They apparently believed in the pre-eternal force of primordial matter, but are rarely named and identified in the sources: we know of few adherents of the Dahrīya by name. Third-century texts can be very reluctant to name the object of their contumely, preferring to refer to them via epithets such as al-mulḥid, the deviant, al-jāḥid, the repudiator, or as here al-dahrī.164 They take their identity from the following verses of the Qurɔān (Q Jāthiya 45: 21–26), to which al-Jāḥiẓ’s characterisation is largely indebted:

(p.263) Or do those who perpetrate evil deeds think that We will render them like those who believe and work righteous actions, their coming back to life and dying being equal? Their judgement is bad! (21). God created the heavens and the earth with the truth and so that every soul will be recompensed for what it has acquired. They will not be mistreated (22). Have you not seen the man who takes his desire (hawā) as his god, the one whom God has led astray, despite knowledge, on whose hearing and heart He has set a seal, and over whose sight He has placed a covering? Who can guide aright after God? Are you not mindful? (23). They say, ‘There is nothing but our life here and now. We live. We die. We are destroyed only by Time (dahr)’. In this they possess no knowledge – they are just guessing (24). When our signs (āyāt) are recited to them clearly, their only argument (ḥujja) is to say, ‘Bring us back our fathers if you are truthful’ (25). Say, ‘God brings you to life, then brings you to death, then brings you together for the Day of Standing in Judgement on which there will be no doubt, but most people do not know this’ (26).

The key verse is verse 24: the denial of God’s existence, the refusal to acknowledge that life and death come from Him and that He will resurrect us to be judged, combined with the veneration of the potency of Time. Whilst strictly speaking the individual in verse 23 who makes a god of his caprices and his whims is different from those who deny god in order to give primacy to Time (verse 24), but is rather an example of wilful belief which is punished by God who leads him astray, in al-Jāḥiẓ’s description of the Eternalist’s system, wilful desire, the pre-eternity of Time and the rejection of the moral universe upon which the Day of Judgement is predicated are conflated:

For he it is who denies divine lordship (rubūbīya); who holds commanding right and forbidding wrong to be inconceivable; who rejects the possibility of apostleship; who makes clay (ṭīna) primordial matter; who repudiates reward and punishment; who knows not licitness or illicitness; who avers that the world contains no proof which indicates a craftsman and his handiwork, a creator and his creation. It is he who makes the celestial sphere (which does not know the difference between itself and someone else, which does not distinguish between new and old and between good and bad, which is not capable of increasing its motion or decreasing its (p.264) revolution, of alternating rest with motion, of coming to a halt for the blink of an eye or of turning from its course) the origin and the destruction of all this good craftsmanship, of subtle and momentous matters, of these wondrous instances of wisdom and perfect arrangement (tadābīr), of novel composition (al-taɔlīf al-badīc) and wise disposition (tarkīb), all according to an identified pattern and a known order, at the extremes of subtly fine wisdom and perfect fabrication! [7.12.11–13.5].165

Not only is the Eternalist incapable of giving a rational account of the order of creation (i.e. his system cannot accommodate the argument from design), he has no reason (religious or moral) to object to a treatise which celebrates this design:

What’s more, this Eternalist ought not to object to this book even if it proves the contradiction of his system and invites us to what is contradictory to his beliefs, for the Eternalist does not countenance any religion, creed, revealed law (sharīca) or community of belief (milla) on earth, he does not countenance any inviolability in what is licit – in fact he does not recognise the concept; nor does he know of any terminus to what is illicit – he does not recognise this concept either. He does not expect punishment for wrongdoing nor does he hope for reward for doing good.166 What is right in his opinion and what is true in his judgement are simply that he and the herbivore are equal and that he and the carnivore are equal. According to him, the objectionable is simply that which goes against his desire (hawā) and the good is simply that which agrees with his desire (hawā): the whole of existence (amr) revolves around disappointment and success, pleasure and pain [7.13.6–13].

The Eternalist does not share in the moral and evaluative universe of the audience (the adherents of revealed religions, i.e. monotheists) for whom al-Jāḥiẓ has written the work.167 Whether he heaps opprobrium on all books or not is all the same to this individual – there is no reward or punishment for him in this life or the life to come:

What is correct for him is simply such benefit as he acquires, even if he were to kill one thousand upright men for the acquisition of one bad dirham. Therefore this Eternalist fears no punishment, no opprobrium, and no (p.265) chastisement, eternal or terminable, if he were to leave off attacking all books, and he expects no reward in this world or the next, if he were to criticise them and oppose them vehemently. This book therefore must be secure for all of humanity, since it has this attribute and is directed to this end. God, the Exalted, is He who suffices, who brings success through His subtle design (luṭf ) and His assistance, for He hears, is close, and does what He wills [7.13.13–14.5].

D. A Palliative Work for a Riven Society

Al-Jāḥiẓ, then, has chosen to describe God’s creation as an appeal to unite the community of believers, including an appeal to those who adhere to any organised religion, even if it is not Islam. The only human it could possibly exclude is the Eternalist and it would make no sense, in terms of his creedal system, for him to object to its promotion of the design argument. He simply does not have the language or the conceptual apparatus with which to mount such an objection.

The Book of Living is a palliative work written for a riven society, one which seeks to build a new consensus on the basis of one incontrovertible piece of evidence on which all will agree: that life as a product of creation necessitates a creator whom we should celebrate out of gratitude for the blessings He has showered upon us. The book, as an artefact, and this book, The Book of Living, in particular, is the most appropriate vehicle for such a celebration. It is a powerful attempt to act as a channel for God’s clemency (raḥma), as a response to His declaration in the Qurɔān that through clemency He has brought harmony to His people, the community of believers:

Had your Lord willed, He would have made men one community yet they would not cease to differ (118) apart from those on whom your Lord has mercy. He created them for this. The word of your Lord has come to pass: ‘Surely I will fill Jahannam of jinn and men together’ [Qurɔān Hūd 11: 118–19].

(p.266) 4.6 An Encyclopaedia to Save Society

What society needed, then, as an antidote to the strife which had riven it, was a book which sought to describe the wonders of God’s creation. The Book of Living is a miscellany, a florilegium and an ordered inventory of creation. The totalising ambition of the treatise tempts us to make of it an encyclopaedia, the mission of which was to save society by celebrating the majesty of God’s creation, easily and readily discerned and capable of generating consensus.

A. The Encyclopaedia

To describe The Book of Living as an encyclopaedia, however, is to describe it as something which it is obviously not, at least at first sight. It is not in any formal sense what we might today identify as an encyclopaedia – say, the magnificent Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert or The Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Many in the field of Islamic studies might nominate The Encyclopaedia of Islam or the Encyclopaedia Iranica, but I am not at all sure that we can, properly speaking, have an encyclopaedia of one subject.)

Most of us would reasonably expect of an encyclopaedia that it be comprehensive, representative, systematic and ordered with a view to easy retrievability of the knowledge it contains: according to the letters of the alphabet, perhaps, the predominant arrangement for modern encyclopaedias, though in the past this was often held to be a random and contingent imposition on its materials – in other words, an arrangement which the materials do not themselves display. Most of us would also expect an encyclopaedia to be a compilation, to be multi-authored, to come in many volumes, to provide illustrations where necessary and above all to provide us with the final word on any subject about which we consult it (‘final’ at least at the time of the (p.267) writing of the article), though this is more an index of our lust for data than of any inherent feature of the encyclopaedia.

In the publishing history of encyclopaedias, as the case of the eighteenth-century publisher Charles Joseph Panckoucke’s revision of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie demonstrates, ‘finality’ is a commodity offered by the publisher to his book-buying public. I expect that most writers of encyclopaedic entries are at heart only too conscious of the ephemerality of their contributions.168

Such works had not yet, by the middle of the third century, been composed in Arabic and it is moot whether they were ever composed in Arabic. When we realise that the Islamic tradition held knowledge to be incommensurable and inexhaustible, this absence is hardly surprising, for the ideal encyclopaedia, one which educates its readers through the encircling and encompassing of knowledge, is antonymical and antipathetic to such a conception. Just as the length of a man’s life is known only to God, so too is the sum of all knowledge. It is much more common for us to encounter specimens of living, human encyclopaedias.

Most of the works usually designated as classical Arabic encyclopaedias are probably better described with other names: the miscellany, the florilegium, the catalogue, the cosmography, the bureaucratic reference work, the universal history. Of course, the texts thus designated display one or more of the features of the model (modern) encyclopaedia which I have sketched, being compilations, for example, or multi-authored, grandiose in their ambition, or universalising – in other words they are inflections of Arabic encyclopaedism, but still I hesitate to call them encyclopaedias.169

But am I right in proposing the modern version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a model encyclopaedia? When I compare it with the Encyclopédie, a work which is both heuristic and descriptive (its entries are designed to serve as opportunities for more discoveries), I am inclined to argue that it represents a formal impoverishment of the encyclopaedia as a textual performance, for the encyclopaedia is not so much an identifiable genre as a totalising aspiration, a contact zone of discursive practices, and something of a shape-shifter, being characterised by a multitude of formal realisations. It is for precisely this reason that the term, itself a humanist neologism, is so labile and has been applied to so many different texts.

(p.268) In the Arabic-Islamic context, it is encyclopaedism, the totalitarian urge to communicate as much knowledge as is humanly possible and in so doing both to provide a complete account of existence and to imitate the divine insofar as is humanly possible, and not any formal characteristic, which distinguishes a work as an encyclopaedia. This is precisely why, as Borges’s ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ (1941–2) reminds us, a work of fiction can be more encyclopaedic and thus inspire more conviction in its contents than many other books which go by this name.170

In the Arabic tradition, I would identify three books as encyclopaedic in this totalitarian sense: the Qurɔān, al-Jāḥiẓ’s Book of Living and al-Fārābī’s First Principles of the Views of the Inhabitants of the Virtuous City (MabādiɔĀrāɔ Ahl al-Madīna al-Fāḍila; hereafter, The First Principles).

B. The Qurɔān

The Qurɔān is the ultimate book. A terrestrial and incomplete realisation of a celestial master text, it is both perfect and imperfect at the same time. It is complete and all-sufficing, an inventory of the divine revelation gifted by God to His Prophet Muḥammad, and so is the only book which the believer will ever require, and yet it is a work which demands interpretation. In other words, it asks its readers to have recourse to other sources in order to comprehend it. Therefore over the centuries Muslims have constructed one of humanity’s greatest and most compendious book cultures in response to it. It is absolutely central to how a Muslim ought to live and think and feel. It is the alpha and omega of the manifold world views, religious, cultural and intellectual, which have constituted Muslim existence.

It is thus the quintessential Muslim encyclopaedia: comprehensive, in that it covers all of existence; moral, in that the knowledge it imparts is essential to spiritual and personal well-being; this knowledge is retrievable through memorisation, audition and contemplative reading; it corrects and rectifies all previous revelations by removing human perversions of the original message; it also emerged as an organisational structure around which the world of Islamic knowledge could be organised.

Some argue that each individual verse of the Qurɔān is a cosmos in itself. As the truest glimpse man can ever achieve, on earth, of divine omniscience, it is a work in which God, in the first person, speaks to us via His Prophet (p.269) about God. It thus is supremely self-referential, to the point that the interpretation of the Qurɔān in terms solely of the Qurɔān became one of the cherished modes of exegesis. And yet, its meaning is inexhaustible. According to the jurist and exegete Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) some of it is only known to God, some is only known through privileged explanation given by God to Prophet Muḥammad (and thus we need to have recourse to the Sunna, the record of Muḥammad’s life and sayings), and some of it can be known by man through the interpretations of the exegetes. In the Shīcī tradition, of course, the divinely inspired Imam is the bridge between the terrestrial and celestial encyclopaedia of revelation.171

C. Al-Fārābī’s First Principles of the Views of the Inhabitants of the Virtuous City

The Book of Living and al-Fārābī’s work The First Principles are responses to the encyclopaedism of the Qurɔān. The First Principles is a text written in the tradition of Islamic Neoplatonism and in keeping with the trend in late Greek Aristotelianism to emphasise the centrality of the intellect to ontology (an approach known as ‘noetics’). It is a totalising inventory of the cosmos in the form of a meticulous, rigorous, emanationist account of existence. A work in nineteen chapters, it begins with God, the First Cause (1), proceeds to the Angels (2 and 6), the celestial bodies (3 and 7) and the sub-lunar bodies (4–5), the natural bodies made out of prime matter (8–9), and man and the forms of society he creates (10–12 and 15–19). Chapters 13 and 14 deal with psychology and noetics. The emphasis is on how these different levels of existence ‘ought to be described’.172 And yet this globalising structure is also encountered in Arabic theological monographs from the fourth century, such as al-Ashcarī’s Kitāb al-Lumac, Book of Blinding Insights.173

Al-Fārābī is among the most encyclopaedic writers in the Arabic tradition. He responds to the works of Aristotle as an encyclopaedia. On the basis of Aristotle’s works al-Fārābī, the incarnation of philosophy (which thereby attains its consummation in him), the last and most complete representative of the School of Alexandria, produces his globalising and oracular visions of being. Informed with the lessons of The First Principles, the reader will be empowered to discipline his soul and intellect, in order not only to discern and describe the true nature of existence, but to ascend the ladder of (p.270) being and realise man’s ultimate felicity: divinisation. In this sense, The First Principles is a mucāraḍa (an emulation) of the Qurɔān – an encyclopaedia of all that the philosopher must know so as to achieve true bliss.174

D. The Book of Living as Encyclopaedia

In what sense is The Book of Living an encyclopaedia? If there is one essential feature shared by all the discursive performances we are tempted to identify as encyclopaedias it is comprehensiveness. I have repeatedly noted the ‘totalising ambition’ of The Book of Living. The encyclopaedia is also a moral endeavour. The knowledge which it gathers and imparts is in the process declared to be useful knowledge, of the sort which will improve those who consult it. Thus, the encyclopaedia is parasitic.175 It can only come into existence thanks to its dependence on pre-existing knowledge which it can gather and collect and so designate as useful. It is preparatory – or rather prefatory: a gargantuan self-annulling paradox, often of vast scope and scale, which, by means of all that it is, prepares its reader for all that it is not, by demanding that the reader leave it behind, often for the contemplation of God or the interpretation of existence or the application of the knowledge it has imparted. At the same time, the encyclopaedia is a work of deception; it professes comprehensiveness whilst silently suppressing what it excludes. It can only seem to contain totality through being surreptitiously selective. It is also a work of aspiration. It yearns to mimic God in His omniscience, despite being only too conscious that as a human, and so imperfect, activity, it is doomed to failure. Thus the encyclopaedia is a mentality and a state of being. It is receptive to everything (at least potentially). It is universalising and intends thereby to make up for the limitations of human reason. It is insatiable and omnivorous, using as support almost any source or authority which will offer it sustenance. In the words of Luciano Berio, it is a ‘tendency to embrace a totality’, a way to think and to be.176

Therefore, as I read it and despite my contention that the classical Arabic Islamic tradition produced no encyclopaedias in any generally accepted sense in modern usage, The Book of Living is al-Jāḥiẓ’s most encyclopaedic work extant: it aims to give an account of all of the signs of God’s creation. It tries to achieve this through its presentation of creation as a semiotic system, a system of signs established by God as indications of His majesty, divided into (p.271) signs which merely point to God and other signs (i.e. human beings) who are endowed with the capacity to draw reasoned conclusions both from these other signs and from their own existence as signs.

The inventory of materials which The Book of Living chooses to collect (creation) is a pre-existing inventory, one waiting for its collector to bring it together. These materials are not static, of course. And so correspondingly, the ways used to ensnare them in written words are not static although the form imposed upon the materials is itself pre-existing.

The alternation of topics and of the serious and the trivial, jidd and hazl, is in the first instance dictated to the collector by the psychological capacities of his readers whom he seeks to woo through this blandishment. But this hurly-burly of topics mirrors the hurly-burly of creation: the book is as tumultuous as the creation it recreates. Its underlying disposition of taṣnīf (arrangement by chapters) is like ‘life’ (ḥayawān: Q. cAnkabūt 29: 64): simple (in the obviousness of its indications) and complex (in the diversity of its indications).177

The totalising vision of the encyclopaedia, as multiform as the multiple discursive fields it collects, is one of the reasons why The Book of Living appears to be such an interstitial text. It is a chimera, a will-o’-the-wisp which refuses to be contained in any one format. It is a series of textual manoeuvres rather than a particular thing; an attitude, an adjective, rather than an object, a substantive. The Book of Living is a textual intermediacy caught between yearning for the absolute and the frustration of the incomplete; between the perfect taxonomy and the cornucopia of exceptions to that taxonomy; between the universal and the particular, the eternal and the contingent.

E. Comprehensiveness

There is a story of an encounter in Helsinki in 1907 between Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius. Sibelius sought to explain to Mahler the ‘profound logic’ which was to bind together the theme of the symphony. His rigorous vision elicited from Mahler the response that ‘the symphony must be like the world. It must be all-embracing’. In this exchange, we can discern the crisis of the totalising work: the epistemological aporia posed to the encyclopaedist in the form of the ‘professional disease’ of selection.178

Encyclopaedias are always incomplete collections. This is one of the (p.272) reasons why the Islamic tradition preferred to locate encyclopaedism in the person and not the book, thereby ensuring that the collection of knowledge could only be terminated in death and perhaps continued throughout eternity in Paradise.

Among the many problems which beset the encyclopaedist, from the mustering of data and the devising and articulation of its schemes of organisation, no problem is more pressing than the realisation that the encyclopaedia remains incomplete, no matter how comprehensive, no matter how compendious and exclusive, no matter how vaunting the ambition, grand the vision and dedicated the encyclopaedist. It may highlight and celebrate the information which it frames by means of inclusion, but it equally and simultaneously points to the information which it neglects by means of exclusion.

Exclusion is the most expressive strategy available to those encyclopaedists whose work is not determined by a totalising imperative but is selective or polemical or normative, a declaration not only of correct method but also a categorisation of the kinds of knowledge worth cultivating or acquiring, however comprehensive such encyclopaedists may intend to be in terms of what they include. Such works are, in principle if not always in practice, capable of being finished: their end, even when it is not accomplished, is plotted as rigorously and as carefully as their commencement.

For those encyclopaedists who want to encompass the sum and total of all available knowledge, whose collections are effectively descriptive, exclusion is the ghost in the machine – it is what subverts and undermines the totalisation of their work. It is as pernicious as nihilism or scepticism. Such works, by their very nature, are not capable of being finished. They come to an end, often with the death or the despair of the encyclopaedist, but they are never finished, for the sum of all available knowledge is like Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’ – the place where complete synonymy obtains between library and universe. Yet even in their optimism, such descriptive encyclopaedists must somehow confront the spectre of exclusion.

Al-Jāḥiẓ’s solution is ingenious: he composed a book which is both descriptive and normative – in other words, The Book of Living is both inclusive and exclusive. By considering creation as a system of signs in a book which is itself a reordering of those signs, al-Jāḥiẓ is able to guide his audience to seek the correct interpretations of the signs which his treatise contains and (p.273) so to establish for them the mechanisms whereby all the signs not contained in his treatise can in turn be successfully interpreted. The treatise is an interpretative key to the signs which it includes and thus becomes an interpretative key to the signs which it excludes. The semiotic system is universal: its interpretation, which is effectively the expression of grateful praise of its Maker, knows no limits save in the death or the imbecility of the interpreter.

But as we learn from the terrifying psychological and epistemological despair which the ‘Library of Babel’ inspires in its inhabitants, a universal system is effectively a useless system. It is one which, like omniscience, quite simply is beyond the capacity of any one human being. This is why al-Jāḥiẓ’s totalising inventory is predicated upon interpretation. There are bad as well as good forms of interpretation. So, in addition to any acts of selections which the compiler of the totalising work may make (as when in Volume Seven of The Book of Living, al-Jāḥiẓ justifies his exclusion of the marine world), it is interpretation which becomes the primary mechanism for the moral activity of exclusion as well as inclusion. Good and bad interpretations are estimative processes, that is they provide value judgements about what they include and exclude. It is thus that al-Jāḥiẓ’s encyclopaedia becomes practicable, scriptable and capable of performance.

In order to succeed in its proselytising mission to heal society through its intonation of God’s creation, The Book of Living must create its readers, those capable of recognising it for what it is and of learning the lessons of good and bad interpretation. It bases this mission on the homiletic, universalising appeal of the Argument from Design, but it is only by creating such readers that it can save society. For as Conte remarks of Pliny’s Natural History, if the encyclopaedist were to attempt to circumscribe the multiplicity of uses to which the encyclopaedia could be put, he would limit its utility and thereby nullify his own utility. In so doing the encyclopaedist would invite identification as an author who had predetermined and foreordained the uses to which readers could put his book. For al-Jāḥiẓ, a Book of Living thus articulated would despoil his reader of the capacity of ikhtiyār, choice, and thus deny him the possibility of Paradise by invalidating his status as mukallaf, as an agent charged by God with moral responsibility. In other words, were the Book of Living to be anything other than what it is, it would be a book destined to destroy rather than salvage society.179 (p.274)


(1) . I would like to thank Professor Rebecca Stott for pointing out to me how much I was taking for granted in this part of my book.

(2) . See the excellent studies by Touati, L’armoire and Kohlberg, A Medieval Muslim Scholar, especially pp. 71–4. On bibliography generally: Balsamo, Bibliography; Blair, ‘A Europeanist’s perspective’, especially pp. 210–11. Biography in Arabic: Cooperson, Classical Arabic Biography, especially pp. 1–23 (a foundational study); al-Qadi, ‘Biographical dictionaries’, pp. 23–75 (with full bibliography on pp. 23–4). For Yaḥyā b. Macīn’s extensive library, see Touati, L’armoire, p. 48.

(3) . Kohlberg, A Medieval Muslim Scholar, pp. 75–81. In the following examples, I do not mean to extrapolate from later writerly practices, habits and assumptions only then to read them back into the third century. This brief excursus, informed by a technique common in the study of the history of ideas and arguments, seeks to uncover, in the light of later developments, some aspects of an earlier practice which may otherwise remain obscure.

(5) . Alfarabius, De Platonis Philosophia; Alfarabi, Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.

(6) . I owe this observation to al-Qadi, ‘Biographical dictionaries’, p. 34. See also Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, pp. 101–6. Al-Qadi’s article is a response to Rosenthal’s remarks on p. 101 concerning theology, history, learning, biography and scholarship: see ‘Biographical dictionaries’, p. 28.

(7) . I will refer to this work in a shorthand form when providing page and line references as ‘Kraus’. Al-Bīrūnī does not identify the addressee who has asked him to write the work. The tone of the address has led some scholars to propose that this is an epistle exchanged between colleagues, which of course it may well be. It was not unknown, however, for aristocratic commissioners of biographical works to specify that their biographer compose the work as an epistle between intimates, as the Caliph al-Muctaḍid (r. 279–89/892–902) required Sinān b. Thābit b. Qurra (d. 331/942) to do: Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, pp. 48 and 104.

(8) . The line numbers I give do not always correspond with those in Kraus’s edition (p.486) because he does not count book titles as lines of his page! There have been numerous studies and partial translations of the work: see David Pingree, ‘Bīrūnī II: Bibliography’, EIr, IV, pp. 276–7 (with a full list of references to the relevant secondary materials).

(9) . Al-Bīrūnī presumably intends the Taɔrīkh al-Aṭibbāɔ composed in 290/903 for the Vizier al-Qāsim b. cUbayd Allāh: this work was edited by Rosenthal, ‘Isḥāq b. Ḥunayn’s Tarîḫ al-Aṭibbâɔ; see also his description of the MS: ‘From Arabic books and manuscripts VII’, pp. 10–11; on its chronology, see Zimmermann, ‘The chronology’; on the Vizier, see Osti, ‘Al-Qāsim b. cUbayd Allāh’.

(10) . Al-Rāzī, al-Sīra al-Falsafīya, in al-Rasāɔil al-Falsafīya, pp. 98–111; Butterworth, ‘Al-Rāzī: The Book of the Philosophic Life’; McGinnis and Reisman, Classical Arabic Philosophy, pp. 36–44; Butterworth, ‘Ethical and Political Philosophy’, pp. 272–5.

(11) . On these Manichaean works, see de Blois, Dictionary of Manichaean Texts, pp. 52–3 (sirr), 69 (faraqmāṭiyā), 35 (jabbār), 73 (kanz), 61 (ḍiḥḥ), 31 (injīl ), 54 (al-shāburaqān).

(12) . Q. Nūr 24: 40.

(13) . I do not understand the phrase ghayr al-jirra wa-al-qaṣɔa.

(14) . For this use of the q-r-b root, see qarāba in al-Bīrūnī, Fihrist Kraus 6.14, a work dedicated by al-Rāzī to the governor of Khurāsān and which bears the name of its dedicatee.

(15) . AR 1.363–84, translated in Adamson and Pormann, Philosophical Works, pp. 281–96; Jolivet, ‘L’épître’; Adamson, ‘The Kindian tradition’; reprised in his Al-Kindī, pp. 28–33 and 35–6 and passim; Endress, ‘The cycle of knowledge’, pp. 110–11.

(16) . On the Banū al-Munajjim, see M. Fleischhammer, ‘Munadjdjim, Banū ’l-’, EI2, VII, pp. 558–61; the commissioner of the epistle Abū al-Ḥasan cAlī b. Yaḥyā (b. 200/815–16) is discussed on p. 559.

(17) . The standard edition is still that of Bergsträsser, Ḥunain ibn Isḥāq (henceforth simply Bergsträsser); Bergsträsser, Neue Materialen; Richard Walzer, ‘Djālīnūs’, EI2, II, pp. 402–3; Gotthard Strohmaier, ‘Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāk. al-cIbādī’, EI2, III, pp. 578–81; Meyerhof, ‘New light on Ḥunain Ibn Isḥāq’; Ullmann, Medizin, pp. 36–7 and 115–16; Ullmann, Islamic Medicine, pp. 9–11; Lieber, ‘Galen in Hebrew’; Strohmaier, ‘Galen in Arabic’.

(18) . Compare this passage of The Book of Living with Ḥunayn Bergsträsser 5.13–17.

(19) . See further Ḥunayn Bergsträsser 38.15–17 and 44.6–7, where Ḥunayn notes the uncertainty that comes from relying on his memory.

(p.487) (20) . I am unsure of the phrase shayɔan in kāna shadhdha cannī min-hā. I have decided to see in it a reference to Ḥunayn’s loss of his books and the defective-ness of his memory (a rhetorical move intended to stave off any criticism by his patron that he has not fulfilled the terms of the commission). I wonder if there is a pun in dhakara 2.2 and 2.3 (in its sense of remembrance) and ḥifẓ in 1.10.

(21) . I have conjectured that the apostrophe of the unnamed patron ends here and Ḥunayn addresses cAlī b. Yaḥyā. As so often, it is very difficult to determine the precise contours of direct speech and indirect speech.

(22) . I am unsure whether the phrase aqbaltu afhamu means ‘I began my studies’ or ‘I attained legal majority’?

(23) . This is Job of Edessa whose Syriac philosophy of nature is discussed in Chapter 5.1.

(24) . Entries updated by a redactor: §§33 (23.1–3), 41 (25.12–15), 48 (27.10–12), 49 (27.13–28.15), 53 (29.9–30.9), 57 (31.5–9), 61 (31.19–32.3), 64 (32.14–17), 69 (34.8–14), 75 (36.1–4), 92 (41.3–10), 101 (43.16–44.5), 102 (44.6–11), 104 (45.1–5), 115 (47.10–48.8), 124 (50.13–51.2), 125 (51.5–9), 126 (51.10–13), 127 (51.14–16): see also 52.16–20. The information about Ḥunayn’s revision of his own work, production of another catalogue based upon another compilation in Greek, and comments on the relation of the copied text with cAlī b. Yaḥyā’s exemplar are to be found on Bergsträsser 52.13–15, 52.16–20 and 52.21–53.2 respectively.

(25) . See Walzer, ‘Djālīnūs’, EI2, II, p. 402; Strohmaier, ‘Ḥunayn’, EI2, III, p. 579.

(26) . See, e.g. 5.3–9, 11.5–9, 12.22–23.4, 15.16–21, 16.10–13, 24.1–4, 27.1–4 (revisions); §§22, 23, 32, 77, 81, 111 (114, partially rendered), 129 (untranslated works); §123, a work in which the commissioner of the translation does the collating and improves the text. Ḥunayn notes that he converted two works into question and answer format (§§92 and 95) and in a number of Hippocratic works, reinserted the original text into the body of Galen’s commentary: §§88, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 99, 100. Several misattributions are corrected: §§34, 35, 65, 80, 101 (in this last entry, Galen corrects an ascription to Hippocrates, Ḥunayn an ascription to Galen!).

(27) . See Ḥunayn Bergsträsser 18.19–19.5 and also 38.2–4 (Alexandrian distortion) and 52.11–13 (Ḥunayn’s outline of his yearly programme for the remainder of Galen’s books).

(28) . See Ḥunayn Bergsträsser 1.11–13, 3.5–10, (25.19–20: I think that this reference to the occurrence of an obstacle is too vague to be understood as referring (p.488) to the loss of his library), 42.5–6, 49.1–2; Strohmaier, ‘Ḥunayn’, EI2, III, p. 579.

(29) . Translation: ‘The autobiography of Ḥunayn ibn Isḥāq (809–873–877)’, in Reynolds, Interpreting the Self, pp. 107–18; study: Cooperson, ‘The purported autobiography’; for texts as recalcitrant in this way, see Montgomery, ‘Editor’s introduction’.

(30) . On the confiscation of al-Kindī’s library, see D. R. Hill, ‘Mūsā, Banū’, EI2, VII, p. 640–1.

(31) . See Bergsträsser §§17, 37, 50, 76, 103.

(32) . The verb naqala, to transfer, is used at Bergsträsser 24.4.

(33) . See, e.g. §§3 (5.1–9), 4 (6.2–7), 5 (6.14–17), 7 (8.9–11), 11 (10.4–6), 13 (11.3–4), 16 (15.4–10), 43 (26.1–2), 79 (37.11–13), 125 (51.6); and 52.6–11 where Ḥunayn gives his own age and the year at the time of composing the catalogue.

(34) . See also al-Bīrūnī, Fihrist Kraus 1.4, 1.7 and 4.1 for comparable uses of the root sh-w-q.

(35) . Cf. Bergsträsser 7.20 (naḥw qūwat al-mutacallimīn); 17.16–17, wa-huwa bacdu ḍacīf lam yaqwi fī al-tarjama. There is of course an allusion here to the philosophical use of qūwa as potential and to the Galenic concept of the special bodily faculties (in Greek dynameis): see Gourevitch, ‘The paths of knowledge’, p. 130.

(36) . Bergsträsser 8.4, 21.19–20 (pun on tashrīḥ and shawāhid ), 22.2–3, 33.18, 40.3, 43.10, 43.15.

(37) . On the significance of the Galenic paradigm in some Arabic philosophical autobiographies, see Menn, ‘The Discourse on the Method. I came too late to the study by König, ‘Conventions of prefatory self-presentation’. What he says about Galen can very easily apply, mutatis mutandis, to al-Jāḥiẓ. The Galenic presence in the Jāḥiẓian corpus merits further consideration.

(39) . Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, Sayyid 2/1, 157.1–172.3 = Tajaddud 307.9–312.20 (biography: 157.1–159.2 = 307.9–308.3 and 308.25; last will and testament: 159.2–160.16 = 308.3–25; bibliography: 160.17–172.3 = 308.26–312.20). In Ibn Abī Uṣaybica, cUyūn al-Anbāɔ, 86.9–105.32, the entry is organised as follows: (1) biography: Riḍā 86.9–91.5; (2) the organisation of Aristotle’s books: Riḍā 91.6–94.19 (Ṣācid al-Andalusī: 91.6–92.24; al-Fārābī on the Organon: 92.25–94.19); (3) last will and testament: Riḍā 94.20–95.22; (4) biography reiterated; the education of Aristotle: Riḍā 95.23–98.16 (Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq’s (p.489) account of the philosophical education of princes according to the Greeks and how Aristotle was instructed by Plato: Riḍā 95.23–96.27 and 98.10–13; with an inventory of Aristotle’s philosophical maxims recited on the occasion he was recognised as a philosopher pupil of Plato: Riḍā 96.28–98.9); (5) Aristotle’s philosophical maxims (ādāb): Riḍā 98.17–103 (including the Octagon of Justice: Riḍā 102.22–103.1); (6) the catalogue of Aristotle’s books: Riḍā 103.2–105.31 (Ptolemy: Riḍā 103.2–105.16; Ibn Abī Uṣaybica: 105.17–31). Ptolemy’s epistle to Ghallus is mentioned at Riḍā 86.15–20 (biography); Riḍā 94.20–21 (will); Riḍā: 103.2 (books). The relevant section of it, folios 10a–18a of the Istanbul MS Aya Sofya 4833 (it is part of the collection which contains Falsafat Aflāṭūn), has been edited and translated by Hein, Definition und Einteilung, pp. 388–439. The format of Ptolemy’s epistle conforms to the pattern of a standard epistle commissioned in Arabic: (1) Hein 416.3–12: the request and its fulfilment – Ptolemy’s decisions about what to include and the format of the catalogue; (2) Hein 416.13–418.4: confusion over the ordering of the crafts and the method of listing only by title; (3) Hein 418.4–8: uniqueness of the epistle; (4) Hein 418.9–16: table of contents; (5) Hein 418.16–18: promise to provide additional information if requested by the addressee; (6) Hein 420–38: 102 titles are listed by name only. Thus, it contains no mention of the last will and testament. See Gutas, ‘The spurious and the authentic’, pp. 22–7; Aouad, ‘Aristote de Stagire: Prosopographie’; Endress, ‘The cycle of knowledge’, p. 108.

(40) . Chraïbi, ‘L’émergence’; Freimark, ‘Das Vorwort’ (especially pp. 72–86 on the third century, including brief discussions of al-Jāḥiẓ on pp. 74–8 and Ibn Qutayba, pp. 78–83); Bray, ‘Lists and memory’. See generally Derrida, ‘Outwork, prefacing’ in Dissemination, pp. 1–65.

(42) . Qiyān Rasāɔil 2.143.2–10; The Epistle on Singing-girls, §1; Cheikh-Moussa, ‘La négation d’Éros’; Montgomery, ‘Beeston and the singing-girls’. Several of al-Kindī’s philosophical epistles follow this convention: Risālat al-Kindī ilā Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Khurasānī, AR 1.186.9–10; Risālat Yacqūb b. Isḥāq al-Kindī ilā cAlī b. al-Jahm, AR 1.201.3.

(43) . Ṣinācat al-Kalām Rasāɔil 4.243.3–10 (even though this text is an excerpt in an anthology, this passage reads like the prefatory address); see also Fakhr al-Sūdān Rasāɔil 1.177.6–7; Khalidi, ‘The boasts of the Blacks’, p. 3; Ducatez and Ducatez, ‘Al-Ǧāḥiẓ, Kitāb Faḫr al-Sūdān’, p. 6; Schoeler/Toorawa, The (p.490) Genesis of Literature, pp. 59–60. See also my description of al-Kindī’s Risāla fī Kammīyat Kutub Arisṭūṭālīs, Chapter 4.1, pp. 183–4.

(44) . Ḥabīb b. Khidma Abū Rāɔiṭa al-Takrītī: Keating, Defending the ‘People of Truth’.

(45) . Note the presence of a concluding prayer at 214.4–5, §45.

(46) . This work is an engagement, as are so many of al-Jāḥiẓ’s works on speech and oratorical practice, with compositions such as Ibn Abī al-Dunyā’s (d. 281/894) al-Ṣamt wa-Ādāb al-Lisān in Mawsūcāt, Volume 5. See generally Librande, ‘Ibn Abī al-Dunyā’.

(47) . It begins with the paratext ammā bacd.

(48) . This matter has been excised by the fourth-century anthologiser of the collection copied in the MSS which Hārūn edited: Rasāɔil 3.55–109.

(49) . I have used the excellent internet resource www.arts.usyd.edu.au/research_projects/sibawiki/homepage but refer only to the edition of Hārūn. There is a partial French translation by Troupeau, ‘La Risālat al-Kitāb’. See the comments of Schoeler and Carter, discussed in Chapter 2.5, pp. 102–3; M. G. Carter, ‘Sībawayhi’, EI2, IX, pp. 524–31, argues that the Risāla presents an ordered statement of Sībawayhi’s ‘linguistic propositions’ (p. 526), which he discusses in more detail in Sībawayhi, pp. 65–7; see further Carter, ‘The parsings of Sībawayhi’s Kitāb. Marogy, Kitāb Sībawayhi, discerns in these chapters the ‘basic presuppositions of grammar’ (pp. 27–30); see also Suleiman, ‘Sībawayhi’s “parts of speech”’ (a compelling comparison of Sībawayhi’s pronouncements with the style of Euclidean geometry).

(50) . Compare my version of these obscure headings, which I do not fully (if at all!) understand, with that of Schoeler/Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature, pp. 87–9.

(51) . Cross-references: Hārūn 1.12.10, 1.14.13, 1.20.13, 1.21.14, 1.22.13, 1.24.9–10, 1.25.2, 1.32.7–8; iclam: 1.17.11, 1.19.1, 1.20.17, 1.21.4, 1.22.3, 1.22.6, 1.22.9, 1.23.5, 1.23.17, 1.24.8, 1.24.16, 1.26.7. Schoeler/Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature, p. 88, find in the paratext iclam and in its accompanying paratext a-lam tarā, ‘do you not see’, strong support that the Kitāb is fundamentally a written work.

(52) . Schoeler/Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature, pp. 87–9, argue that the Kitāb is a syngramma which did not involve any student in its compilation (p. 87).

(54) . Al-Kindī, Oeuvres philosophiques [referred to as RJ]; I also refer to the edition by Abū Rīda, Rasāɔil al-Kindī [AR]. See also Al-Kindi’s Metaphysics; Adamson and Pormann, Philosophical Works, pp. 10–57.

(p.491) (55) . See further RJ 39.22; AR 1.122.21: la-nukmil al-āna hādhā al-fann al-thānī; and the cross-reference at RJ 69.3–4; AR 1.143.10–11, as well as the concluding topic at RJ 69.4–5; AR 1.143.11–12. Note also the cross-references to other works by al-Kindī at RJ 11.5; AR 1.101.5, and RJ 13.19–20; AR 1.103.8–9. See also Ivry, Al-Kindi’s Metaphysics, p. 115, for a discussion of the opening addresses of al-Kindī’s epistles. Al-Kindī addresses the son of al-Muctaṣim, Aḥmad, at RJ 177.6–11; AR 1.244.10–16. A similar mode of address is encountered at AR 1.214.6–8, though it is not clear whether al-Kindī addresses the Caliph or his son.

(56) . There are three editions of the work: by Dāwūd al-Jalabī, Majallat Lughat al-cArab, 8 1930, pp. 686–90 (based on the no longer accessible Mossul manuscript); Pellat, ‘À propos du Kitāb al-Futyā de Jāḥiẓ’; and by Hārūn in Rasāɔil 1.313–319. I have consulted the text in the manuscript Mīr Dāmād Ibrāhīm Pāshā 949 folios 95a–97b and its nineteenth-century copy Leiden Or 4821, made for van Vloten and with his marginalia. I would like to thank Professor Lejla Demiri for acquiring a copy of the Istanbul MS for me.

(57) . On this topos, see Manāqib al-Turk Rasāɔil 1.5.2; Cheikh-Moussa, ‘À propos d’une traduction’, p. 134. Compare this opening supplication with one of al-Jāḥiẓ’s epistles to Abū al-Walīd Muḥammad, the son of Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād: Nābita Rasāɔil 2.7.2: aṭāla Allāh baqāɔa-ka wa-atamma nicmata-hu calay-ka wa-karāmata-hu la-ka, May God prolong your life and complete His beneficence and His generosity to you.

(58) . The quotation of this perennially popular Ḥadīth among thinkers on the organisation of the Islamic community displays al-Jāḥiẓ at his politically most mainstream and consensualist: for its afterlife, see the references given by Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought, p. 270, note 58.

(59) . Reading taṣduq with Hārūn for Pellat’s tuṣaddaq and al-Jalabī’s muṣaddiq. Both MSS leave the first consonant unpointed.

(60) . I vocalise, with Hārūn, ikhtarta-hā for ikhtartu-hā in Pellat.

(61) . On the resonance of this phrase, see Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1.34.1, ḥummāl al-āthār wa-nuqqāl al-akhbār. Naẓar may of course be used in a less specific sense than ‘speculation typical of the Kalām’. Ibn Qutayba combines a use of naẓar with ḥukm of a special kātib in the personal service of the caliph (sulṭān) in Adab al-Kātib, Grünert 9.1, note a; al-Dālī 11.9 (a marginalium which al-Dālī has restored in the text); see also Grünert 10.6 and 11.1; al-Dālī 12.13 and 13.6.

(62) . All three MSS give this as singular: al-dac.

(p.492) (63) . Reading naḥtajja for yujnaḥa (Pellat, after al-Jalabī), and Hārūn’s taḥtajja. The word is unpointed in the MSS.

(64) . The MSS and Pellat and al-Jalabī read wa-āli-hi.

(65) . For versions of this saying involving the word kurāc, see Ullmann, Wörterbuch, 1970, pp. 131–4.

(66) . I think this is what this classically convoluted piece of Jāḥiẓian syntax seems to say. It is literally: for the tongue of his opponent’s opponent.

(67) . Pointing, with Hārūn, taḥtamila for yuḥtamal (Pellat 543.17).

(68) . Reading yuɔkhadh with the MSS and Pellat and al-Jalabī for Hārūn’s yūjad.

(69) . Reading al-caqib with the MSS, al-Jalabī and Pellat for Hārūn’s al-mucaqqib. The reading of the Ḥayawān is al-caql.

(70) . I read ḍacufat with the MSS and Hārūn for Pellat’s dhahabat.

(71) . Al-Kindī, Fī al-Falsafa al-Ūlā, RJ 11.16–13.14; AR 1.102.1–103.3 expresses a similar theory of progress in order to justify his use of pre-Islamic philosophical speculation.

(72) . With the MSS and al-Jalabī and Pellat for Hārūn’s tacrīf.

(73) . I prefer al-nāṣir li-al-ḥaqq, the reading of the Ḥayawān: the helper of the truth.

(74) . Literally: the wind of the scholars (culamāɔ) has blown favourably.

(75) . Following the MSS and al-Jalabī and Pellat rather than Hārūn’s cīy.

(76) . See Chapter 4.3, ‘The Enigma of the Addressee’, pp. 232–3, for a discussion of some of the implications of this passage; cf. Ibn Qutayba, Adab al-Kātib, Grünert 1.8–9; al-Dālī 6.1: khawā najm al-khayr wa-kasadat sūq al-birr wa-bārat baḍāɔic ahli-hi, the star of goodness has fallen, the market of piety has crashed and the goods of its folk are worthless. In his important discussion of ‘gratitude for benefits’, Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership, pp. 78 and 196, note 40, discerns an appropriateness in the commercial approach to the ‘barter of nicmah and gratitude’ which he argues captures perfectly the open-ended and on-going nature of the exchange. On p. 95 he also comments on the frequency and openness with which ties such as that which al-Jāḥiẓ hopes to establish with the Chief Judge were voiced. See further Chapter 4.3.

(77) . Cf. Ḥayawān 1.89.7–15.

(78) . Reading with the MSS, al-Jalabī and Hārun takhrim-hu, ‘to pierce his nose and make him submissive’, for the equally plausible tuḥrim-hu, ‘banish him’, read by Pellat.

(79) . Hārūn reads with the MSS athabta for Pellat’s athnayta, ‘you praise it’.

(80) . Reading with the MSS, al-Jalabī and Pellat mūjiban (bis) for Hārūn’s second mūḥiyan, which I suppose means, ‘an inspiration for’. I have preferred to see (p.493) in the slightly ungainly repetition of mūjiban an emphatic expression of the obligations governing the code of gift-exchange.

(81) . Cf. al-Kindī, Fī al-Falsafa al-Ūlā, RJ 9.15–11.1; AR 1.101.1–2, on the superiority of knowledge of the cilla to knowledge of the maclūl.

(82) . For a similar expression, see Ḥayawān 1.61.8–9 (Yūnus b. Ḥabīb) and Rosenthal, Knowledge, p. 249 with note 4; on ḥukm: Frank, ‘Al-Aḥkām’; cf. the phrase wa-laysa ḥukm al-kitāb fī hādhā al-bāb ḥukm al-kalām: Ibn Qutayba, Adab al-Kātib, Grünert 16.2; al-Dālī, 17.6.

(83) . The exact expression is ‘to join my rope (ḥabl) with your rope’.

(84) . Rosenthal, Knowledge, pp. 70–154; cf. El Shamsy, ‘The first Shāficī’, p. 318, note 56, for the suggestion that cilm is synonymous with fiqh in Shaficite writings. Al-Kindī criticises the equation of knowledge as a trade in Fī al-Falsafa al-Ūlā, RJ 15.6–12; AR 1.104.5–7.

(85) . For this (less common?) meaning of the verb dalla bi, which I have rendered as ‘to assent’, see Lane, Lexicon, p. 900, column b. Professor van Gelder is in favour of Hārūn’s reading madhilat bi-hi as the lectio difficilior: he refers to ‘al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ under QWL: al-qawl: al-kalām aw kull lafẓ madhila bi-hi l-lisān’. He notes that ‘the phrase is taken from Ibn Jinnī’s Khaṣāɔiṣ (ed. al-Najjār, i, 17): ammā al-qawl fa-aṣlu-hu anna-hu kull lafẓ madhila bi-hi l-lisān’. Unfortunately, while attractive, the reading is Hārūn’s improvement: the Topkapi, Dār al-Kutub, al-Azhar and British Library MSS all read dallat bi.

(86) . Compare al-Jāḥiẓ’s statements with Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s description of his method in quoting, representing and refuting the ideas which he opposes in his Nihāyat al-cUqūl: Shihadeh, ‘From al-Ghazālī to al-Rāzī’, p. 164 and pp. 168–9. Shihadeh argues that al-Rāzī’s method of taqsīm is a combination of Aristotelian demonstration and ‘the “investigation and disjunction”’ characteristic of the Kalām. Like al-Jāḥiẓ, al-Rāzī was criticised for being overly interested in the arguments of others to the detriment of his own position.

(87) . On the cultural dynamics of al-Jāḥiẓ’s overture to Aḥmad b. Abī Duɔād, cf. the rich and important article by Touati, ‘La dédicace’. A comparison with al-Muqaddasī’s stratagem in his Aḥsan al-Taqāsīm as explored by Touati, pp. 326–9 is very instructive. See further his discussion of the patronage of manuscripts: L’armoire, pp. 77–97. For al-Naẓẓām’s political theories, see van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft, III, pp. 380–92 (epistemology) and 416–18; The Flowering, pp. 146–8; Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought, pp. 66–7.

(88) . See Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought, pp. 28–9. It is worth comparing al-Jāḥiẓ’s stance in this work with Crone’s description of his Muctazilī (p.494) contemporaries (Medieval Islamic Political Thought, pp. 65–9), with whom he is radically at variance, and with her depiction of Sunnism: Medieval Islamic Political Thought, pp. 219–55, with which he has much in common.

(89) . For the development of this process during al-Jāḥiẓ’s lifetime and the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil, a process to which I think he alludes in this Risāla, see the studies of Melchert, ‘The religious policies’; Melchert, ‘Traditionist-jurisprudents’; Lucas, ‘The legal principles’; and El Shamsy, ‘The First Shāficī’.

(90) . Peter Freimark, ‘Muḳaddima’, EI2, VII, pp. 495–6 (on the format); Chraïbi, ‘L’émergence’, p. 93. He argues for the impact of the Greek materials on the transition from risāla to muqaddima, particularly of a genre I do not consider in this part, the madkhal.

(94) . For a translation, see Juynboll, ‘Muslim’s introduction’.

(95) . This is the isnād mucancan, in which the preposition can, on the authority of, is the sole indicant of how the tradition was transmitted: see Juynboll, ‘Muslim’s introduction’, p. 296, note 4. He identifies the opponent tentatively as al-Ḥusayn b. cAlī al-Karābīsī (pp. 293–4, note 3).

(96) . On the khuṭba, see Qutbuddin, ‘Khuṭba.

(97) . In this respect, the Risāla is formally parallel to The Book of Living and The Book of Clarity and Clarification. See A. J. Wensinck, ‘Khuṭba’, EI2, V, pp. 74–5, who describes how Prophet Muḥammad’s preaching favoured brevity and included the shahāda and ḥamdala. The doxology in al-Shaficī’s text contains the ḥamdala at Shākir 7.9, §2; the shahāda at Shākir 8.10–11, §8. Lowry, Early Islamic Legal Theory, p. 372, identifies §§1–178 as the Introduction to the Risāla, which he partitions as follows: ‘A. Mission Topos (¶¶1–43) B. Importance of Law (¶¶44–52) C. Discussion of the Bayān (¶¶53–130) D. Arabic in the Qurɔān (¶¶131–178)’.

(99) . Adab al-Kātib, Grünert 1–20.8; al-Dālī 5–20.12; Lecomte, Ibn Qutayba (mort en 276/889), pp. 102–7 (the comment khuṭba bi-lā kitāb occurs on p. 106 but is unattributed); Lecomte, ‘L’introduction du Kitāb Adab al-Kātib; Günther, ‘Praise to the book!’, pp. 133–8 (on Adab al-Kātib); Ibn Qutayba began his (p.495) khuṭba with ammā bacd, the faṣl al-khiṭāb, presumably in imitation of the khuṭbas of Prophet Muḥammad: see Wensinck, ‘Khuṭba’, EI2, V, p. 74.

(100) . Literally ‘body’: jism.

(101) . Q. Ṣad 38: 20; see Bray, ‘The physical world’.

(102) . Ibn Qutayba’s engagement in this work with al-Jāḥiẓ’s Kitāb al-Bayān requires some further study. For example, he mentions the extraordinary mental discipline shown by Wāṣil b. cAṭāɔ in avoiding in his public pronouncements the letter ‘r’ which he could not pronounce properly but damns it with faint praise (Grünert 15.8–16.2; al-Dālī 17.2–5) and so does not participate in the encomium which al-Jāḥiẓ lavishes upon Wāṣil in The Book of Clarity and Clarification.

(104) . This matter has an essentially epistemological or literary theoretical dynamic according to Thomas Hefter, ‘You have asked’, who discerns the presence of ‘self-parody’ (and in The Book of Living ‘comic pathos’: p. 119) in al-Jāḥiẓ’s representation of his own positions (or those close to his own positions) in the debates he depicts in order to empower the reader to make sense of the arguments and decide for himself by avoiding a confrontation between author and reader. The Addressee thus becomes, in his words, an ‘intermediating presence’ (p. 28). Unfortunately (for this is a brave and considered thesis), Hefter is unable, in my opinion, convincingly to demonstrate the presence of Jāḥiẓian ‘self-parody’ in the epistles he singles out for discussion in his Chapter 2. In the first instance one would need to demonstrate that such a notion of ‘comic pathos’ was entertained by al-Jāḥiẓ or his society.

(105) . Touati, ‘La dédicace’, p. 331 with notes 22 and 23, and p. 332, note 26, describes, under the cAbbasids, the caliphal institution of the caṭāɔ, the stipend, for the ulema: al-Muctaṣim, for example, suspended the stipend of those who did not declare the createdness of the Qurɔān under the Miḥna. Emoluments of the judiciary such as those received by Abū Yūsuf (‘La dédicace’, p. 331, note 22) were probably distinct from the caṭāɔ of the ulema.

(106) . See Touati, ‘La dédicace’, pp. 329–30 for those scholars who kept aloof from this system or who, constrained to accept benefactions, used the money to do charitable works. In the emergence of this trend we can discern the hegemony of the reluctance of the Ḥadīth scholars and especially the Ḥanābila to have anything to do with those in power and authority. The examples which he cites from the second and third centuries stand out, of course, because they are exceptions to the predominant social paradigm. His discussion of the semantics (p.496) of hadīya, pp. 338–9, is indispensable as is Mottahedeh’s discussion of iṣṭināc: Loyalty and Leadership, p. 83. The studies of Jocelyn Sharlett are a welcome addition to the field: Patronage and Poetry, ‘Tokens of resentment’, ‘The thought that counts’; Stetkevych, The Poetics of Legitimacy (on the panegyrical poem as part of the gift exchange).

(107) . See Touati, ‘La dédicace’, pp. 339–40 with note 51 (as is so often the case, we only hear about this aspect of the system when it does not work).

(108) . On patronage and clientage see the articles contained in Bernards and Nawas, Patronate and Patronage; Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership (on the tenth and eleventh centuries: pp. 82–93 are especially relevant); see Montgomery, ‘Al-Jāḥiẓ’s Kitāb al-Bayān, pp. 114–15 (on multivalency); Montgomery, ‘Abū Nuwās’, pp. 79 and 103–5 (on this aspect of Badīc and on the truth value of poems). Touati, ‘La dédicace’, is essential for the phenomenon described in this paragraph.

(109) . Of course we can never be sure that this is not a feature of the textual tradition as it has been preserved. Were the names removed by the author or the copyists as the work moved from the patron’s circle to a wider readership, presumably the paying public?

(110) . See Touati’s discussion of al-Tawḥīdī’s al-Imtāc wa-al-Muɔānasa: ‘La dédicace’, p. 346, note 66.

(111) . On this, see van Gelder, The Bad and the Ugly, p. 88 and note 78; Smoor, Kings and Bedouins, pp. 53–62 and 211, note 404.

(112) . See Part 6 for more on this possibility.

(114) . See Hefter, ‘You have asked’, pp. 14–18 and 25 for some thoughts on how al-Jāḥiẓ may seek to guide a reader to a judicious appreciation of his words.

(115) . Al-Jāḥiẓ crosses swords with the Eternalist once more at 4.85.16–93.6 (and probably also in the discussion of istiṭāca at 4.77.12–85.15, in refutation of his argument that the actions of animals are determined; see Geries, ‘Quelques aspects’, pp. 83–8 (though his page references are not always reliable); van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft, III, pp. 392–4 (for al-Naẓẓām’s engagement with the dualists and eternalists) and IV, pp. 451–5 (on the Dahrī position). In his Epistle on the Quantity of the Books of Aristotle, Risāla fī Kammīyat Kutub Arisṭūṭālīs, AR 1.375.9-376.11, al-Kindī associates the Eternalist’s basic position with the unbelievers who opposed the prophethood of Muḥammad.

(116) . Some have proposed that the Addressee is the reader who is critical of Muctazilism: Geries, ‘Quelques aspects’, pp. 69–70; Un genre littéraire, pp. (p.497) 28–31; and Manṣūr, The World-View, p. 41. Schoeler/Toorawa, The Genesis of Literature, pp. 101–2, see in the address a ‘literary conceit’. See also Hefter, ‘You have asked’, p. 119 and note 44. For Miller, ‘More than the sum’, the Addressee is a fellow Muctazilite who advocates abstract speculation over the analysis of material reality advocated by al-Jāḥiẓ.

(117) . Carter, Sībawayhi, pp. 132–3.

(118) . Geries, Un genre littéraire, p. 30, note 1, who notes that in his Interpretation of the Divergence of the Ḥadīth, Taɔwīl Mukhtalif al-Ḥadīth, Ibn Qutayba also answered some of the queries posed in the Kitāb al-Tarbīc wa-al-Tadwīr: see Part 1, pp. 36–7. Al-Jāḥiẓ’s relationship with the Vizier is studied in Montgomery, ‘Al-Ǧāḥiẓ and Hellenizing philosophy’, ‘Beeston and the singing-girls’, and ‘Jāḥiẓ on jest and earnest’.

(119) . Pökel, ‘Ernst und Scherz in der klassischen arabischen Literatur’ (unpublished) argues that for al-Jāḥiẓ seriousness and levity form a pedagogical concept and that reflection on jidd and hazl was related to notions concerning dietetics.

(121) . The phrase is used to commend the dead at Ḥayawān 1.76.5–6, when al-Jāḥiẓ applies the phrase raḥima-hu Allāh tacālā (May God the Exalted have mercy on him!) to Ibn al-Biṭrīq. For the second person used to refer to someone who has passed away: al-Radd calā al-Naṣārā Rasāɔil 3.331.7 (al-Jāḥiẓ engages and disagrees with a position taken by al-Naẓẓām, who is presumably dead by the time of writing the work); Risāla fī al-Ḥakamayn, p. 431.4: as we cannot identify the Addressee Ibn Ḥassān, we have no way of knowing whether he is dead or not. See also Ḥayawān 5.524.10 (it is unclear again whether the Addressee is living or dead). This is not to be confused with the paratext, voiced in the muḍāric, directed at one’s opponent encountered in some third-century texts: yarḥamu-ka Allāh at Ḥayawān 1.25.9, 1.163.11 and 7.7.1; Maqālat al-Zaydīya Rasāɔil 4.311.1 (yarḥamu-nā wa-iyyā-ka). Cf. Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1.24.2 (ammā bacd yarḥamu-ka Allāh bi-tawfīq khāliqi-ka); 1.37.15 (wa-bacd yarḥamu-ka Allāh); 1.76.7 (wa-hādhā al-qawl yarḥamu-ka Allāh fī al-ṭacn fī al-asānīd). Compare this with the scribal gloss: qāla Muslim raḥima-hu Allāh (1.56.1) and see also Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1.63.11–12.

(122) . There are other references to The Book of Living: Bayān 1.60.15: ‘there is a speech (kalām) on this subject included (yaqacu) in The Book of Living’; 1.225.16–18: ‘were it not that this is more appropriate and proper as part of the Treatise on Man and Woman and of the Chapter of the Speech on Man (qawl al-insān) in The Book of Living, then we would mention it here at this point’. The reference (p.498) to Ḥayawān at Bayān 1.186.11–16 is a scribal gloss: ‘this chapter is included (yaqac) in the Treatise of Man (kitāb al-insān) [MSS other than Dār al-Kutub 4370 Adab: ‘in the Kitāb al-Ḥayawān’] and in the difference between the male and the female, as an entirety (tāmman), for this chapter is not the sort of thing which belongs in the subject matter (bāb) of The Book of Clarity and Clarification. But the opportunity (sabab) presents itself and so it is presented along with it in as much as it will energise (tanshīṭ) the reader of the book – taking it out of its proper chapter, when it is long, for a particular reason to do with knowledge (li-bacḍ al-cilm), is more relaxing for the mind (qalb) and will augment its energy (nashāṭ), if God wills’. Al-Jāḥiẓ here and at Bayān 1.225.16–18 seems to refer to the version of The Book of Living which Ibn al-Nadīm says included The Book of Women (see Chapter 2.2, p. 61).

(123) . Touati, ‘La dédicace’, pp. 335–7 discusses the identity of the dedicatee and is inclined to prefer Ibn Abī Duɔād over Muḥammad b. cAbd al-Malik, and notes the political expediency of concealing the name of the Addressee.

(124) . Al-Tanūkhi, al-Faraj bacd al-Shidda, I, p. 361. The public denunciation of al-Jāḥiẓ by Ibn Abī Duɔād and the latter’s magnanimity are paradigmatic for the Valencian Ibn al-Abbār (595–658/1199–260), Ictāb al-Kuttāb, 154.7–156.14; see Touati, ‘La dédicace’, p. 337 with note 41.

(125) . See Touati, ‘La dédicace’, p. 337, for this.

(126) . Yāqūt, Mucjam al-Udabāɔ, 16.99.15–100.10; translation also given by Pellat, Life and Works, pp. 7–8.

(127) . See Part 1, p. 470, note 2, for studies of al-Mutawakkil’s reign.

(128) . Rasāɔil 3.301–351; translated partially into English by Finkel, ‘A Risāla of Jāḥiẓ’; into French by Allouche, ‘Un traité de polemique’. Reynolds, A Muslim Theologian, pp. 141–2 (on al-Jāḥiẓ’s works against the Christians), and pp. 148–50 and 167–70 on features of his polemic; Thomas, ‘Al-Jāḥiẓ’, pp. 709–12.

(129) . There is no indication in the text that the letter to which al-Jāḥiẓ refers is actually from al-Fatḥ. In fact The Rebuttal of the Christians is slightly unusual for his epistles in that its uses the second person plural mode of address: in other words al-Jāḥiẓ is either addressing a group of people or he is addressing the Caliph (using the deferential plural). A misconstrual of aḥdāth at Rasāɔil 3.303.8 as ‘new’ rather than ‘young’, ‘immature’ (in the sense of theologically under-developed) has led some to wonder whether al-Jāḥiẓ is addressing new converts to Islam: see Reynolds, A Muslim Theologian, p. 34, note 66 and p. 193, note 11; see also p. 136, note 210. I take the word to refer to groups such (p.499) as the Nābita and the Ḥashwīya whom al-Jāḥiẓ repeatedly refers to in terms of juvenility. See my forthcoming edition and translation of the Nābita and al-Radd calā al-Naṣārā for The Library of Arabic Literature.

(130) . Al-Ṭabarī, Taɔrīkh, III/3, 1436.3–17; Al-Ṭabarī, The History of al-Ṭabarī. Volume XXXIV, pp. 151–2; Hugh Kennedy, ‘Al-Mutawakkil calā ’llāh’, EI2, VII, pp. 777–8 (p. 778); see also Part 1, pp. 31–2.

(131) . The World-View, pp. 92–6 and 11–13 (respectively). Geries, ‘Quelques aspects’, p. 69, also puts the composition of the work to what he identifies as the waning of Muctazilism and the beginning of the period when al-Mutawakkil promoted Sunnī Islam, two characterisations of the period with which few scholars are nowadays in sympathy. See further Melchert, ‘Religious policies’.

(133) . See Hallaq, Origins and Evolution, pp. 99–101 (‘extra-judicial tribunals’).

(134) . See van Gelder, ‘Compleat men, women and books’, p. 242. Mamlūk bureaucrats were expected to know a great deal about ‘snow’: van Berkel, ‘The attitude towards knowledge’, especially p. 163.

(135) . See Montgomery, The Vagaries of the Qaṣīda, pp. 169–71 and p. 177.

(136) . The metre is khafīf. Professor van Gelder notes that the poet is Mūsā b. Yasār, known as Mūsā Shahawāt.

(137) . I am grateful to Professor van Gelder for his help with this phrase, which I had not understood.

(138) . Ibn Abī Uṣaybica, cUyūn al-Anbāɔ, 99.12–14 and 100.15 respectively.

(139) . See also Ḥayawān 1.24.3, cayb qawl Ziyād, and 1.24.4, lacn qawl shāciri-him. At 1.15.6, al-Jāḥiẓ explains a verse of poetry by alluding to the expectation that those close to a person ought to share that person’s views on who and what is to be found blameworthy. At Ḥayawān 6.16.8–17.1, he acknowledges that his omission of marine life, however justified, makes his book defective.

(140) . De Goeje 29.9–35.11; Shākir 95.1–101.6, §§112–28. See for example Qudāma, Kitāb Naqd al-Shicr, 100.3 and 104.3 (cuyūb al-lafẓ), 106.2 (cuyūbi-hi), 108.9 (cuyūb al-wazn, cuyūb al-qawāfī), 111.6 (cuyūb al-macānī); van Gelder, The Bad and the Ugly, pp. 62–75.

(141) . See further Ṣaḥīḥ 1.74.5–7, the ‘faults (macāyib) of the transmitters of the Ḥadīth’.

(142) . Pellat, ‘Une risāla de Ǧāhiẓ’. For mustacmal Pellat, p. 283, note 2, proposes mustahmal, which would render the last clause pleonastic with its predecessor: ‘the punishment is something to be despised’. By al-wacīd and al-ciqāb eschatological punishment as well as earthly chastisement is intended.

(p.500) (143) . In addition to the instances of the verb cāba listed in Part 3, §3.2, p. 130, see: Ḥayawān 1.37.10, 1.38.11 and 12, 1.38.14, 1.41.10.

(144) . See van Gelder, ‘Mixtures of jest and earnest’, pp. 95–106; van Gelder, ‘Arabic debates of jest and earnest’, p. 204, on the destabilising effects of mixing jest and earnest.

(145) . See the passages translated by van Gelder, ‘Mixtures of jest and earnest’, pp. 100–6.

(146) . See Montgomery, Vagaries, pp. 199–200.

(147) . Dīwān Abī Nuwās, 1.3.8–12 (the new, revised, edition of Wagner’s 1958 Cairo edition).

(148) . See van Gelder, The Bad and the Ugly, pp. 6 and 33.

(149) . For a translation and discussion of his invective of Hāshim b. Ḥudayj, see Montgomery, ‘Abū Nuwās’, pp. 99–100.

(150) . For the Greek and Syriac precursors of this style of thinking, see van Ess, ‘Disputationspraxis’, pp. 52–9; van Ess, ‘The beginnings of Islamic theology’ (Greek and Byzantine rhetorical practice, the Patristic tradition and Christian polemic); Cook, ‘The origins of Kalām (Syriac theology). For an overview of the theological munāẓara, see, in addition to van Ess’s ‘Disputationspraxis’, his Theologie und Gesellschaft, IV, pp. 725–30; for the centrality of manners to the debates, see Stroumsa, ‘Ibn al-Rāwandī’s ɔ adab al-mujādala; Stroumsa, Freethinkers of Medieval Islam. The poetic materials are studied in Reinink and Vanstiphout, Dispute Poems and Dialogues; see also the in-depth study of Ibn al-Rūmī by McKinney, The Case of Rhyme.

(151) . See Hans Daiber, ‘Masāɔil wa-Adjwiba’, EI2, VI, pp. 636–9; Calder, Studies in Early Muslim Jurisprudence, pp. 39–66, on its use in early Ḥanafī legal texts.

(152) . Van Ess, ‘Disputationspraxis’, pp. 42–4 and 52; van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft, IV, p. 727; Kennedy, ‘Labīd, al-Akhṭal and the oryx’. There is a substantial body of scholarship on literary theft, borrowing and plagiarism in Arabic: see Naaman, ‘Sariqa in Practice’ who reviews this scholarship on pp. 271–2. On imitating the Qurɔān: Stroumsa, Freethinkers of Medieval Islam, pp. 137–9. For an assessment of the mucāraḍa as a reductio ad absurdum in later Kalām, see Shihadeh, ‘From al-Ghazālī to al-Rāzī’, p. 159.

(153) . My thinking on this topic has been informed by Williams, Shame and Necessity, especially Chapter Four (‘Shame and Autonomy’) and Endnote One (‘Mechanisms of Shame and Guilt’). Hefter, “‘You have asked’”, p. 31, note 11 and pp. 79–80, drawing on the work of Bakhtin, makes a distinction between ‘unidirectional’ and ‘varidirectional’ statements and relationships. In the (p.501) former the addressee is portrayed as representative of the concerns and interests of the audience, while in the latter, he is not. Hefter argues that the author is in agreement with unidirectional statements and in disagreement with varidirectional ones. In terms of my reading of the ‘Introduction’, the relationship between addressee and audience is unidirectional (they share the discourse of cayb) while that between the author and the addressee and audience is varidirectional (al-Jāḥiẓ participates in but does not share their discourse of cayb).

(154) . For the extent to which he is at variance with the paraenetic literature, compare the sentiments in favour of avoiding ḥusn al-ẓann expressed by cAlī b. cUbayda, Jawāhir al-Kilam, Zakeri 6.15–8.7.

(155) . This is the subject of one of al-Jāḥiẓ’s extant treatises: Pellat, ‘Inventaire’, **§31, Kitāb Taṣwīb cAlī fī Taḥkīm al-Ḥakamayn, The Justification of cAlī’s Appointment of the Two Arbiters.

(156) . Jacfar and cAlī were sons of Abū Ṭālib and brothers of cAlī the son-in-law of the Prophet, married to his daughter Fāṭima. I would like to thank Professor van Gelder for his help with this passage.

(157) . All aspects of the cAbbasid cultural and intellectual canon are touched upon in this list, from topics of theology, to legal scholars, poets, singers, cities, grammarians and Ḥadīth practitioners. See Jidd Rasāɔil 1.240.11–241.4 for a similar denunciation of the damage wrought on society and social relations by the fanaticism engendered by such debates.

(158) . See e.g. Geries, Un genre littéraire, pp. 11–12 for the cultural tradition of debate, pp. 20–3 for al-Jāḥiẓ’s works in which he contrasts or compares two polarities, and pp. 26–7 for the proposal that he wants to go beyond a ‘simple reproduction of the quarrels of the aṣḥāb al-khuṣūmāt’; van Gelder, ‘Arabic debates’, pp. 204–9. Compare this vision of ‘factionalism’ with the account of factions given by Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership, pp. 158–67.

(159) . See Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought, pp. 284–5 on al-Bīrūnī; Rosenthal, ‘The study of Muslim intellectual and social history’; Bray, ‘Lists and memory’, p. 213 and pp. 220–1 for an assessment of Ibn Qutayba’s introduction to his Kitāb al-Macārif, a compendium, its author informs his reader, designed to promote social success by avoiding any risk of being embarrassed through lack of knowledge.

(160) . The verb faqaɔa echoes part of the excursus on the Bedouin practice of blinding stallion camels at Ḥayawān 1.17.3–10, one of the several verbal echoes (with tawaqquf, tathabbut, shubha, and ḥurrīya) in this section of Volume 7 suggesting that the first section of the ‘Introduction’ (if I am correct in thinking that (p.502) it is later than the original version of the treatise) resumes certain concerns of the preface to Part 7.

(161) . The idea seems to be that these signs point to the same message (and so are effectively synonyms) and come in close succession to one another, as if one was riding behind the other on the back of a camel. The root rdf has both meanings.

(162) . For this sense of ḥāl, see Ḥayawān 1.99.4–8; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1.34.3–4 (al-ḥāl wa-al-martaba); al-Kindī, Risāla fī Kammīyat Kutub Arisṭūṭālīs, AR 1.369.6 (ṣalāḥ al-ḥāl fī dār munqalabi-hi).

(163) . The surfa is a kind of caterpillar or bug, red with a black head, which builds its house in the shape of a coffin.

(164) . This phenomenon merits further study. On the contours of dahrī thinking and the kinds of people who seemed to have espoused dahrī beliefs, see now the important series of articles by Patricia Crone which I was unable to take full account of in this book: ‘Dahrīs,’ EI3, pp. 59–66; ‘The Dahrīs according to al-Jāḥiẓ’, pp. 63–82; ‘Ungodly cosmologies’; and her book, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran. Rural Rebellion and Local Zoroastrianism, especially Chapters 12 and 19.

(165) . See Manṣūr, The World-View, pp. 46–8; Adamson, Al-Kindī, pp. 181–206 for how al-Kindī integrated this notion of the celestial spheres into his monotheism.

(166) . On the collocation of ciqāb and thawāb, see e.g. Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1.25.2, which Juynboll, ‘Muslim’s introduction’, p. 265, note 4, describes as one of the ‘main categories of traditions’ as they had been established in the third century.

(167) . Compare al-Jāḥiẓ’s description of the Eternalist position, informed by the condemnation of a group of unbelievers in Qurɔān Jāthiya 45: 24, with Crone’s account of how society without revelation was figured, a state in which there would be no morality or law (Medieval Islamic Political Thought, p. 264). Al-Jāḥiẓ’s position is that the Eternalist thus requires revelation or God in order to engage his treatise in debate. See also Manṣūr, The World-View, p. 48, who views al-Jāḥiẓ as seeking to rise above his own ‘individuality’ and address all of humanity.

(168) . Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment, especially Chapter 8, ‘The Ultimate Encyclopédie’, pp. 395–459.

(169) . See van Gelder, ‘Compleat men’, p. 244 (knowledge as incommensurable), pp. 247–51 (‘walking encyclopaedias’). Compare the views of Pellat, ‘Les encyclopédies’; Charles Pellat, ‘Mawsūca’, EI2, VI, pp. 903–7; Biesterfeldt, (p.503) ‘Enzyklopädie’. See also Rosenthal, The Technique and Approach, especially pp. 60–3 (‘Specialization and Encyclopedism’); Heinrichs, ‘The classification of the sciences’.

(170) . d’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse; Schwab, ‘Translator’s introduction’, in d’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse, pp. ix–lii (especially pp. xxxi and xlv); Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, pp. 241–2, characterises the encyclopaedia, of which Isidore’s Etymologiae is paradigmatic, as ‘a transgeneric literary form or macrogenre’. See also Harvey, ‘Introduction’, in Harvey, The Medieval Hebrew Encyclopedias; van Ess, ‘Encyclopaedic activities’; Blair, ‘A Europeanist’s perspective’, pp. 201–5.

(171) . For a convenient summary of the centrality of exegesis of the Qurɔān in the development of Arabic learning and of al-Ṭabarī’s tripartite account of the levels of comprehensibility: Leemhuis, ‘The Koran and its exegesis’. On the Bible as a structure for organising the world of human knowledge: Sheehan, ‘From philology to fossils’.

(174) . In this respect, I differ in my choice of text representative of the early Greek-Arabic encyclopaedia from those proposed by Biesterfeldt, ‘Medieval Arabic encyclopedias’. Elaborations: Gutas, ‘The Greek and Persian background’, and Endress, ‘The cycle of knowledge’. I do agree with the several basic assumptions underpinning these studies: that the originary encyclopaedia in the Greek-Arabic tradition is the Aristotelian corpus (authentic and spurious) because Aristotle attempted a philosophical investigation of what there is and what there is to know about it; that the Arabic-Islamic reproduction and transcription of the Aristotelian encyclopaedia was inspired by its comprehensiveness and its philosophical acuity; and that in their recreation of the Aristotelian encyclopaedia, the philosophers writing in Arabic strove to capture the unity of knowledge: in their classifications we can discern most clearly their aim to figure the all-embracing cycle of knowledge informing every rational and (p.504) intellectual activity; that the cycle of knowledge thus figured the way in which existence was really ordered and arranged.

(175) . As Professor Bray remarked to me in a personal communication, all medieval Arabic books are parasitic in this manner.

(176) . My characterisation of the encyclopaedia leans heavily on Fowler, ‘Encyclopaedias’, and North, ‘Encyclopaedias and the art of knowing everything’. Berio made this comment à propos his choral work Coro: Two Interviews, p. 67.

(177) . See the excellent discussion of ‘The strategies of encyclopaedism’, by Carey, Pliny’s Catalogue of Culture, pp. 17–40. Rosenberg, ‘Early modern information overload’, suggests that a significant difference between the medieval and early modern encyclopaedia is the transition from reflecting the universe to reflecting possible ways of knowing ‘a changing universe of representation’ (p. 5).

(178) . The phrase is Gian Biagio Conte’s: ‘The inventory of the world’, Genres and Readers, p. 68. For the meeting between Mahler and Sibelius: Ross, The Rest is Noise, p. 178.

(179) . Genres and Readers, p. 68. I have also been profoundly influenced by Conte’s marvellous discussion of the role of the addressee and reader in Lucretius’s De rerum natura, in the chapter entitled ‘Instructions for a sublime reader’.