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176 176 Al-Jāḥiẓ on Flies and Other Things450 Abū ʿUthmān ʿAmr ibn Baḥr, known as al-Jāḥiẓ (“Pop-eye”), who died well into his nineties in 255/868–69, was one of the most versatile writers in Arabic . He wrote in a personal style, characterized by digressions, a mixture of seriousness and jesting, and by long, cumulative sentences, on an astounding range of subjects. His major work, al-Ḥayawān (Living Beings) deals, among many other things, with zoology, popular lore, poetry, language, and theology. One of the aims of the book is to show how God’s providence may be discerned in everything, including insignificant or abhorrent creatures. He belonged to the “rationalist,” Muʿtazilite movement in Islamic theology. The following passages are taken from a very long section on flies, which contains the usual digressions, some of which have been included. The omission of some parts is indicated by an asterisk. On the Various Kinds of Flies In the name of God and by God, praise to God! There is neither might nor power except through God. God bless and preserve our Master, the unlettered451 prophet Muḥammad, his family, his companions, and his pious, goodly, and excellent descendants. I enjoin you, perceptive reader and attentive listener, not to despise anything on account of the smallness of its body, nor to think little of it because of its trifling value. Know that a mountain is not better evidence of God’s power than a pebble, that this celestial sphere that contains our world is no better proof of God than a human body, and that small and delicate matters are like those big and sublime. Things do not differ in their true natures: it is those only among us who ponder matters who differ, those who fail to speculate, who ignore the points of difference and the defining distinctions. They differ inasmuch they desist from speculation and abandon it, or they investigate it from the wrong point of view, or they apply the wrong premises, whereas others begin their speculation from the right point of view and complete it with well-ordered premises. * 177 177 177 177 Al-Jāḥiẓ If you see any animal that is of no use (to mankind), apparently ignorant of how it avails,452 or so harmful that one should be extremely wary of it, such as animals with fangs, like snakes and wolves, or those with claws, such as lions and leopards , or those with stings, such as scorpions and hornets: know then that their usefulness lies in the tests and tribulations that God Almighty has prepared for the steadfast, those who understand this and who know that free choice and learning from experience cannot exist in a world that is wholly bad or purely good, that there must be a mixture of what is disagreeable and what is desirable, of what is painful and what is pleasurable, despicable and revered, what can be trusted and what must be feared. If the supreme reward results from free choice and experience , by which one attains the nearness of God Almighty and His eternal magnanimity , and if this can only be in an abode that is a mixture of good and bad, one that partakes in and is composed of usefulness and harm, a blend of easiness and difficulty, you should know therefore wherein lies the usefulness of the creation of the scorpion or the artfulness of the creation of the snake, and one should not despise gnats, moths, ants, or flies. * As for the creation of the mosquito, the ant,453 the moth, fly, dung beetle, drone, and locust: you should take care not to treat these hosts with contempt, nor to belittle the power of these created beings. Many a people has been driven from its lands by large ants, moved from their birthplaces by small ants, destroyed by mice, stripped of vegetation by locusts, tormented by mosquitoes, or had their lives corrupted by flies. They are a host that God Almighty sends when He wants to destroy a people after they have become tyrannical, despotic, and arrogant, so that they know, or that it be known through them, that their great might cannot withstand even a small part of God’s command. In this is a lesson for those who contemplate it, an admonition to those who reflect, a salvation for those with insight , a tribulation and a test, a torment and retribution, a true proof...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814745113
Related ISBN
9780814770276
MARC Record
OCLC
859687281
Pages
496
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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