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The Reader in al-JāḥiẓThe Epistolary Rhetoric of an Arabic Prose Master$
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Thomas Hefter

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780748692743

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748692743.001.0001

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Undisclosed Origins and Homelands

Undisclosed Origins and Homelands

(p.121) 3 Undisclosed Origins and Homelands
The Reader in al-Jāḥiẓ

Thomas Hefter

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter is a discussion of several of al-Jāḥiẓ’s writings on various ethnicities and homelands and the contentious debates that often arose concerning their respective merits. It begins with a brief discussion of how the author’s conceptions of heredity, physical environment, education and individual choice interact in his characterizations of different races and peoples. This is followed by close readings of four texts demonstrating how al-Jāḥiẓ seeks to defuse accusations of bias in his handling of races and lands by quoting addressees and other speakers, whose own origins go unmentioned. The delicacy of the situation and the wisdom of his rhetorical strategies will become all the more apparent as we discuss how his own theological understanding of divine purpose led to a conviction that a person is naturally biased by a particular love of his own birthplace—a bias from which a writer could not exempt himself even as he sought to compare lands and peoples in a spirit of fairness.

Keywords:   Race in Islamic civilization, Environmental determinism, Ambiguity, Human geography

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