An Unknown Aspect in the Life of Al-Jahiz

An Unknown Aspect in the Life of Al-Jahiz

By Mohammad Khalil

Al-Qasemi Magazine, Vol.1 (2009)

Introduction: This study aims at shedding some light on another aspect in the broad and exciting life of al-Jahiz (159 h.-255 h.). This aspect is related to the moral side of al-Jahiz’ life and the doubts that have been raised about it. It investigates his attitude about the widespread phenomenon of Uranism/ homosexuality), which is sometimes called “inversion” when it occurs among the two sexes. Inversion is a kind of sexual deviation that is characterized by the individual’s attraction to the same sex, for which modern psychologists use the term “homosexuality” among males and “lesbianism” among females. However, this study focuses on homosexuality among men in Islamic society in general and al-Jahiz and his generation in particular.

To achieve this goal, I had to investigate the stories and information in classical sources, which, despite their rarity, neither confirm nor deny categorically that al-Jahiz practiced ‘homosexuality’. However, if these bits and pieces of information in the classical sources are collected, they can form a certain image that can give a clearer idea about this characteristic.

Most researches avoid dealing with this moral trait of al-Jahiz’ character, preferring not to indulge in it, and rather keeping it secret for unknown or justified reasons. Probably, this attitude is apparently a result of oversensitivity towards the subject itself, or for fear to harm al-Jahiz’ status or the value of his literary position, as some researchers believe, though, in my view, neither the moral aspect nor even the religious one are likely to raise or lower, or increase or decrease the value of an author or his writing status in any way. These criteria should not be part of the criteria and standards of judging writers and their writings. In fact, they do not affect the advantages or disadvantages of an author or his works at all. In view of this, one can argue that the researchers’ precautions stem from other sources and probably have certain justifications. Dealing with this aspect in al-Jahiz’ life does not mean in any way to dispraise or lower the value of his works, whether he practiced Uranism or not. There is a unanimous attitude among both Arab and non-Arab scholars that al-Jahiz is the ‘Master’ of Arabic rhetoric due to his great contribution to Arabic literature and both Arab and international thought. Al-Jahiz’ works are more than three hundred and sixty in various fields of human knowledge and sciences. Some of the famous sayings about his works are: “al-Jahiz works teach the mind first, and literature next”. Another one says in exaggeration: “I will be satisfied in Heaven with al-Jahiz’ books more than with its paradise!” The most well-known books that al-Jahiz wrote are al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin, al-Hayawan, al-Bukhala’, al-Rasa’el.

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