Al-Jahiz (776-869): Superiority Of The Blacks To The Whites..Part 2

Al-Jahiz (in Arabic الجاحظ) (real name Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahr al-Kinani al-Fuqaimi al-Basri) (born in Basra, c. 781 – December 868 or January 869) was a famous Arab scholar, believed to have been an Afro-Arab of East African descent. He was an Arabic prose writer and author of works on Arabic literature, biology, zoology, history, early Islamic philosophy, Islamic psychology, Mu'tazili theology, and politico-religious polemics.


The Zanj say that the best green is the darkest green. God, may he be exalted said: And
besides these there are two gardens. When describing them so as to make people long for

them God called them dark green. Ibn Abbas said : they became dark green through
irrigation. Black ebony is the most solid and most durable of woods. It s also most
expensive , free of disease, best fit for art-work. It is so heavy that of all woods
expensive and cheap ones only ebony sinks in the water. Remember that even certain stones
do not sink while ebony sinks immediately. A person remains handsome as long as his hair
is still black and in paradise everyone will have black hair. The pupils of the eye, too
are black and are they not the most precious part of the human body. The most expensive
kohl is made of antimony which is black. This is why a hadith of the Prophet states that
God will have all the faithful enter paradise hairless (on their body) beardless, and
their eyes blackened with kohl. Man doesn’t have anything more useful in him than his
liver, which ensures the good operation of the stomach and the digestion of food and the
good functioning of the unit maintains the life of the body; however, the liver is black.
Man does not have anything more valuable, more expensive in him than the black bile of
his heart, a clot of black blood situated in the folds of this internal organ; it holds
in this heart the same place as the brain in the head. The woman does not have anything
sweeter and more pleasant than her lips, for the kiss; however, they are all the more
beautiful as they are as close to the black as possible. Du r-Rumma says (Basit): Sunk
are its lips blood-colored and purple, Of the same are her gums, fine and bright her
teeth. The most pleasant shade and freshest is the shade [well] black. The poet says
(Ragaz): Jet black, similar to the shade projected by the stone. Humaid b. Tawr says
(Tawil): We sought the shade of a cave, while our mounts Sought the wood shade shaded on
which would fall the evening, trees in the major shades, like Ascetic nuns, who prohibit
the wine. Allah created, the night for the rest and recovery, and the day for the profit
and the labor. One can also say that black is associated with activity as scorpions and
snakes come out at night and bring their poison into the night. This activity counts for
most wild animals and also ghosts. All this happens during the night. The blacks say; we
also resemble the night like this. They also say : the greatest of siestas that last the
longest is in the darkness of the closed door and windows. They also say : no color is
deeper and homogeneous then black. A proverb to say that something is very far: You will
not see this until tar becomes white and the raven gray-haired. According to the
philosophers, black is the accident that fills the area. Musk and amber are the best
perfumes. Both are black; as are the hardest rock. Abu Daddil al-Jumahi said the
following lines in praise of al Azzaq al Makhzumi who was called Abd Allah ibn Abd Shams
ibn al Mughira: My gratefulness to you is boundless; as long as there are rocks in the
valley of the Lebanon, you will be the object of praise and precious in value. Just as
there is no fault in the Black Stone.

The Arabs draw glory from the black color. If an objector advances; "On what is that
based, as they say: Such is of a pure white, bursting of whiteness, white and of clear

face? We will answer: By this, the Arabs do not mean the whiteness of the skin, but
rather the nobility and purity of character. The Hudr (of Banu) Muharib draw glory from
their dark color, and people with the black dye are called among Arabs the hudr.
As-Sammah b. Dirar says (Tawil): The camels leave in the evening Zarud, and [the setting
sun] covered Zubala with the coat of the night. The poet says (Ragaz); Until the moment
when the morning draws me from a dark night, Like the valiant knight who takes from the
sleeve the well soaked sword. The Arabs qualify the iron as dark, because it is hard,
and that it is dark means black. Al-Harit b. Hilliza says (Munsarih): When we force our
camels from the branches of palm tree of Bahrain, a race not stopped until Al-Hisau
retains them. We then put to defeat the troop of the son of Umm Qatam, The ones with
the dark weapons of Persia. Al-Muharibi said the following about his being a member of
the Khudr clan. Every man of virtue knows I'm a member of the Khudr clan of the tribe of
Qays. Not easily to command; not enduring any injustice, and mentally sharp. The clan of
Mughira are the Khudr of the tribe of Makhzum . Al Makhzumi spoke the following lines,
which were also from al-Fadl ibn al-Abbas al Lihbi: I am the famous Al Akhdar, very well
known The dark one in the land of the Arabs. Those finding me in a contest as adversary,
find a noble man. The one who fills the bucket to the knot in the rope. The Khudr of the
Ghassan tribe are the royal house of Jafna. Al Ghassani said: According to Al Hakam I'm a
descendent from the royal Khudr. Of those who paid the blood money to those of Baris.
Some poet; maybe Hassan mentions the Khudr of the Ukaym tribe; saying; You are not from
the nobles of the clan Hashim, neither from the Jumah, Khudri, and the other powerful.
The ten sons of Abd el Mottalib the grandfather of Mohammed were all black and strong.
The Amir ibn al Tufayl said that the Kaba was well guarded when he saw them on black
camels going around the Kaba. Ibn Abbas was black and very tall. Those of Abu Talib's
family , who are the most noble of men, are more or less black.

The Zanj say: The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) said: I was send to the red and the black. And
everybody knows that the Zanj, Abyssinians and Nubians or surely not white or red but
definitely black.

We know that Allah, the Most Powerful and Exalted, sent His Prophet (to the people), all
of them: Arabs and non-Arabs (ajam) alike. And if he (Muhammad) said: I was sent to the
ruddy (Al-ahmar) and the dark-skinned (al-aswad), then in his view we are neither ruddy
nor light-skinned (bid); so he was sent to us. Indeed, his use of the dark-skinned refers
to us, as the people (of our community) are in one of these categories (i.e. either ruddy
or dark-skinned). Therefore, if the Arabs are ruddy, then they belong to the Byzantines
(Rum), Slaves (Saqaliba), Persians and Khurasanis. But if they belong to the dark-skinned
peoples, then they are a sub-category of our stock.

So they are called medium-complexioned and brownish-black (sumr sud) when they are classified with us, as the Arabs use the masculine gender to refer to a group consisting of females and males
and if the Prophet – may Allah be pleased with him – knew that the Zanj, Ethiopians and
Nubians were not ruddy or light-skinned, rather dark-skinned, and that Allah Most High
sent him to the dark-skinned and the ruddy, then surely he made us and the Arabs equals.
Hence, we are the only dark-skinned people. If the appellation dark-skinned applies to
us, then we are the pure Sudan, and the Arabs only resemble us. Therefore we are the
first people to whom he was missioned. Thus the appellation of the Arabs is predicated on
ours, since we alone are designated dark-skinned, and they are not so designated unless
they are part of us. The Zanj also say: The Arabs think that the more people the better
but we are the most numerous on this world, and have the most children. You can say there
are two kinds of people among us (among the Zanj) the ants and the dogs. Trying to
measure the amount of Arabs with the amount of ants you will see the ants are more
numerous. Well then still add the dogs to that amount. You really have to add on the
people of Abyssinia, Nubia, Fazzan, Marawa, Zaghawa and all the other black tribes.
Qahtan is far from Adman. We are closer kin to the Abyssinians and our mothers are closer
kin then those of Adnan are to Qahtan. When talking about languages the one from Ajuz of
the Hawazin tribe is very different. Languages can be very different but still have the
same origin; or have different origins but resemble each other anyhow. The language in
the different regions of Khurasan differ as well as those of Jibal and Faris it all
depends on the region but they have the same origin.. They say: You have never seen the
genuine Zanj. You have only seen captives who came from the coasts and forests and
valleys of Qanbuluh, from our menials, our lower orders, and our slaves. The people of
Qanbaluh have neither beauty nor intelligence. Qanbaluh is the name of the place by which
your ships anchor.

The natives in the Bilad Zanj are in both Qambalu (Pemba) and Lunjuya (Unguja), just as
Arabs are the descendants of Adnan and Qahtan in the Middle East.
You have yet to see a member of the Langawiya kind, either from the coast (al-Sawahil),
or from the interior (al-Jouf). If you would meet these, you would forget the issue of
fair looks and perfection. Now if you refuse to believe this, saying that you have yet to
meet a Zanji with the brains even of a boy or a woman, we would reply to you, have you
ever met among the enslaved of India and Sindh individuals with brains, education,

culture and manners so as to expect these same qualities in what has fallen to you from
among the Zanj. Yet you know how much there is in India of mathematics, astronomy,
medical science, turnery and woodwork, painting, and many other wonderful crafts. How
does it happen that among the many Indian captives you have made there has never been one
of this quality, or even a tenth of this quality? If you say, People of standing,
intelligence and knowledge only live in the centre, near the seat of government; these
are hangers-on uncouth types, peasants, people of the coast and swamps and forests and
islands, plowmen and fishermen, we answer you; the same is true of those who you see and
those you do not see of us. Our answer to you is as your answer to us. They say; If a
Zanji and a Zanji women marry and their children remain after puberty in Iraq, they come
to rule the roost thanks to their numbers, endurance, knowledge, and efficiency. On the
other hand, the child of an Indian and an Indian woman, or of a Greek and a Greek woman,
or of a Khurasani and a Khurasani women remain among you and in your country in the same
condition as their fathers and mothers. The child of two Zanji parents does not remain
thus after puberty, so that we do not find, among ten thousand, one who does what we
said, except when a Zanji mates with a non-Zanji woman or a Zanji women with a non-Zanji
man. Were it not for the fact that neither the Zanji man nor the Zanji women has much
desire for people of other races, we would see an abundant progeny for Zanji men, while
Zanji women hardly respond to non-Zanji men. They say: Likewise, you whites are not very
active in seeking progeny from Zanji women, and the Zanji women falls pregnant more
swiftly to a Zanji than to a white man. They say; it hardly ever happens among you that a
man has a hundred children sprung from his loins, unless it is a Caliph, and then it is
because of the large number of his women. You don’t find this among the rest of you.
Among the Zanj so large a progeny would not be considered remarkable, for there are many
such in their country. A Zanji woman bears about 50 times in about 50 years, each bird
being twins, so that there are more then ninety. For it is said that women do not bear
children when they reach 60, except for what is told of the women of Quraysh in

The Zanj are the most eager of all God’s creatures for their women, and so also their
women for them. They are also better compared to other women. Please think about what we
have said. We have used facts from history as arguments and explained or quoted poetry
from Arabs and others. Al Farazdaq was the one specialist of women and he had tried all
races and remained unsatisfied. So he finally married Umm Makkiya the Zanj women and
stayed with her. Forgetting all others because of her qualities. He made the following
verse: He quotes Arab poet Farazdaq (d730) How many a tender daughter of the Zanj walks
about with a hotly burning oven as broad as a drinking bowl. Dananir the daughter of
Kabawayh al Zanji lived with Asha Sulaym. She was extremely black. Once she dyed her
hands with henna and her eyes with black kohl. He made the following verse of it. She
dyes the palm of her hands, palms as if clipped off from her forearm. She dyes the henna
with her black color. She seems with the kohl in her pencil, as if she is applying kohl
to her eyes with part of her skin. She answered with the following poem: Uglier than my
color is the blackness of his arse. Contrasting with his skin, which is like palm pith or
even whiter. In the streets they started calling him black and the street kids yelled it
and he divorced her. The day of their wedding he had said: Dinars are of poor metal; and
her response was: A white head is worse then my black color. The worst however are gray
eyebrows. He kept quiet for some time and then attacked again. When she finally brought
disgrace on him he divorced her. They say; If white men look on black women without
desire, so too do black men look on white women without desire, for passions are habits
and mostly convention. Thus, for the people of Basra, the most desirable women are
Indians, the daughters of Indian women and Ghuris; for the Yemenis the most desirable
women are Ethiopians and the daughters of Ethiopian women; for the Syrians the most
desirable women are Greeks and the daughters of Greek women. Each people has a taste for
the women whom they import as slaves and captives, apart from the exceptions, and no
inferences can be drawn from exceptions.

The Negroes also have the sweetest breath and the greatest amount of saliva being in this
respect like the dog as compared with other animals. The Zanj say: Black delights the
eye. When the eyes hurt a common prescription is sitting in the dark with a rag over the
eyes. Good eyesight is the most precious thing for a person. They say : The blacks are
more numerous than the whites. The whites at most consist of the people of Persia, Jibal,
and Khurasan, the Greeks, Slavs, Franks, and Avars, and some few others, not very
numerous; the blacks include the Zanj, Ethiopians, the people of Fazzan, the Berbers, the
Copts, and Nubians, the people of Zaghawa, Marw, Sind and India, Qamar and Dabila, China,
and Masin... the islands in the seas between China and Africa are full of blacks, such as
Ceylon, Kalah, Amal, Zabij, and their islands, as far as India, China, Kabul, and those

They say; Al-Ishtiyan the blind man used to say; There are more blacks than whites, more

rocks than mud, more sand than soil, more saltwater than sweet water. They say; The Arabs
belong with us and not with the whites, because their color is nearer to ours. The
Indians are more bronzed than the Arabs, and they belong to the blacks. For the Prophet,
God bless and save him, said; I was sent to the red and the black, and everyone knows
that the Arabs are not red, as we already have stated above. He said; This advantage
belongs to us and to the Arabs, as against the whites, if the Arabs want it. If they do
not want it, then the advantage is ours alone against all the rest. The Zanj also say: If
we are more numerous because of Zabaj alone we would still be far superior to you because
of our merit. If it happens that the king of Zabaj has problems with the citizens, and
they don't pay their taxes, he sends his army of thousands of people not with orders to
beat and fight them. He does give orders for his soldiers to settle between them till
they pay them. His army is bothering the people so badly by taking food and clothing from
them that it is easier to pay the taxes. If they still don't pay he sends more regiments.
The local rulers always wind up paying for fear he and his people will finally be
destroyed by the army.

Once a king of Zabay reached an estuary which is several parasangs long and wide. In his
camp he heard a women crying. He interrupted his meal to go and ask what had happened. He
was told that the son of the women was eaten by a crocodile in the swamp. The king got
angry because a creature existed that just like him took the right to decide on live or
dead of his people. He dived into the water, all his soldiers followed him. They
finished every single crocodile in the place with their hands. The people of Zabay alone
are half of the population on earth. On the ends of the inhabited world all are black
people. These ends are more populated then the central area, just like the circumference
of a windmill in the wind is bigger than the pivot of that windmill. It is like the
balcony of a house; it is narrow but as it goes all around the house its total area is
bigger then the house itself. After the land of Zabay there are no more white people as
we have reached there the periphery of the world where all are black. This is a proof
that we are more numerous then the whites and we have the right to be proud of it. One of
the white poets said: You are not more then they in number and glory belongs to those
bigger in number. The Zanj also say: The Copts too are blacks. Abraham the friend of God
married one of them and so was born a big prophet the ancestor of the Arabs; Ismael. The
Prophet (p.b.u.h.) also married one of them and Ibrahim was born. The angel Gabriel when
addressing the prophet called him father of Ibrahim. The Zanj also say: The Black Stone
is from paradise. The darker a piece of copper the more it is worth.

To those who despise the color black, we would reply that the excessive lanky, thin, and
reddish hair of the Franks, Greeks, and Slavs, the redness of their locks and beards,
the whiteness of their eyelashes, are uglier and more loathsome. There are no albinos
among blacks, but only among you. The Zanj also say : We also have philosophers from
among us as well as theologians and we have fine manners. God may he be exalted , did not
make them black in order to disfigure them; rather it is their environment that made them
so. The best evidence of this is that there are black tribes among the Arabs, such as the
Banu Sulaim bin Mansur, and that all the peoples settled in the Harra, besides the Banu
Sulaim are black. These tribes take slaves from among the Ashban to mend their flocks and
for irrigation work, manual labor, and domestic service, and they take their wives from
among the Byzantines; and yet it takes less than three generations for the Harra region
to give them all the complexion of the Banu Sulaim. This region is such that the
gazelles, ostriches, insects, wolves, foxes, sheep, asses, horses and birds that live
there are all black. White and black are the results of environment, the natural
properties of water and soil, distance from the sun, and intensity of heat. There is no
question of metamorphosis, or of punishment, disfigurement or favor meted out by Allah.
Besides, the land of the Banu Sulaim has much in common with the land of the Turks, where
the camels, beasts of burden, and everything belonging to these people is similar in
appearance: everything of theirs has a Turkish look. The soldiers of the frontier
garrisons on this side of the Awsim sometimes come across Byzantine sheep mixed up with
sheep belonging to the local inhabitants, but they have no difficulty in distinguishing
the Byzantine flocks from the Syrian by their Byzantinity. When one comes across the
descendents of Bedouin men and women who have ended up in Kurasan it is immediately
apparent that they are the barbarians of these parts.

This exists in all things. Thus we see that locusts and worms on plants are green, and we
see that the louse is black on a young man’s head, white if his hair whitens, red if it
is dyed.

Our blackness, O people of the Zanj, is not different from the blackness of the Banu
Sulaym and other Arab tribes we have mentioned. And the very blackness of the
Zanj is like the total whiteness of the white men.

The same rules apply to the brown color of the children of mixed marriages, also on their
appearance, their habits in eating and desires. A poet when talking about Usaylim ibn al
Alnaf al Asadi mentioned the blackness of the people of Yemen. There is Usaylim, easily
noticed by those searching . He belongs to the elite chiefs through his line of descent.
Others then in fear of his royal birth clap their hands. Black musk is applied to his hair as well as perfumed oil. If the black Yemenites would make him a woolen cloak, they
have to make it thin and wide. A slave of the Bana Jada; being laughed at because of his
black color said: They ridicule me because of my black color. I answered that only very
stupid men can do so. Because as much as my skin is black I am in character white. I help
friends in their needs as well as women traveling in their litters. When I have to face a
fight (litt: the lance) I am called father of Saraq. The wife of Amr ibn Sha treated Irar
ibn Amr badly. Because he was the son of a black women. Because of this he said the
following on the children of Abyssinian and Zanj women: Did she not notice that I'm grown
up and humble, so that I do not answer anger with anger? Like the courageous I bow in
silence. If a courageous man would find it proper he would bite deeply. Her aim was to
humiliate Irar and those wanting to do so are very unjust. Although he is dark, he has
a very good figure If you really are like me and have principles, then be for him like
the date butter which smoothens the skin. If not get away even by horse, with provisions
for 5 days without rest stops. As regards the Indians, they are among the leaders in
astronomy, mathematics in particular, they have Indian numerals, and medicine; they alone
possess the secrets of the latter, and use them to practice some remarkable forms of
treatment. They have the art of carving statues and painted figures. They possess the
game of chess, which is the noblest of games and requires more judgment and intelligence
than any other. They make Kedah swords, and excel in their use. They have splendid music,
including that of the kankala, an instrument with a single string mounted on a gourd,
which takes the place of the many stringed lute and cymbals. They know a number of
sprightly dances.

To them belong the variety of arts from sword fighters to magicians and fumigators and
medical skills. They posses a script capable of expressing the sounds of all languages as
well as many numerals. They have a great deal of poetry, many long treatises, and a deep
understanding of philosophy and letters; the book Kalila wa-Dimna originated with them.
They are intelligent and courageous, and have more good qualities than the Chinese. Their
sound judgment and sensible habits led them to invent pins, cork and toothpicks, the
drape of clothes and the dyeing of hair. They are handsome, attractive and forbearing,
their women are proverbial, and their country produces the matchless Indian aloes which
are supplied to kings. They were the originators of the science of fikr by which a poison
can be counteracted after it has been used, and of astronomical reckoning, subsequently
adopted by the rest of the world. When Adam descended from Paradise, it was to their land
that he made his way.

The Zanj also say : Among our good qualities are our good singers. As you can find among
the slave girls from Sind. Also nobody is a better cook then the black slaves from Sind.
Also moneychangers will never entrust their money then to those from Sind or their
descendents as they are found to be better in those affairs, more alert and worthy of
thrusting . One hardly ever finds a Greek or a Khorassan in a position of trust in a
bank. When the bankers of Basra saw the excellent affairs that Faraj Abu Kub, a Sindi,
had negotiated for his master, each of them took a Sindi assistant. They all wanted to
make the profit his master had made. Caliph Sultan Abdelmalik ibn Mcrwan often said, "El
Adgham is a master among all the Orientals." This El Adgham is also mentioned by Abdullar
ibn Khnazim, who calls him, "An Ethiopian, a black son of Ethiopia. And this is all that
came to my mind about what the blacks could be proud about. In former books we wrote of
the pride of the Qahtan and later on if God whishes I will write on the pride of the
Adnam against the Qahtan in much of what they said.

Al-Jahiz (776-869): Superiority Of The Blacks To The Whites part 1

Great Muslim Scholar and Writer Al-Jahiz ( December 868-January 869)

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