781-868 AD

Al-Jahiz was an Arabic medieval literary scholar and scientist who wrote on many topics including Arabic literature, biology, zoology, history, philosophy, theology and disability. He was born and raised in Basra, Iraq, and lived later in Baghdad and Samarra.

His book on disability was called: The Lepers, the Lame, the Blind, and the Squinting (Al-Barsan wal-Argan wal-Umyan wal-Hawlan). In the book he talks about physical infirmities such as skin disorders, lameness, paralysis, and deafness along with physical characteristics such as baldness, leanness, and ugliness (Dols, 1983, p. 901). In this book Al-Jahiz makes a case for social inclusion of the disabled.

However, in another book, called The wonders of creation, Al-Jahiz takes a negative stance toward those with hearing impairment. He comments about someone he knows who is deaf: People are bored in his company and he is a burden on them. He is unable to listen to any of the people's stories and conversations. Though present it is as though he were absent, and though alive it is as if he were dead." (translated by F. Haj, Disability in Antiquity, q.v., p. 159). In yet a third book Al Jahiz reflects on relationship between speech and hearing in the deaf:

Theologians say that your dumb man is deaf: his inability to speak is due not to any malformation of the tongue, but to the fact that having never heard sounds, articulated or otherwise, he does not know how to produce them. Not all deaf people are completely dumb, and there are also degrees of deafness. [Gives examples of loud noises that some deaf people can hear.]

Others can hear words if spoken in their ear, but otherwise they hear nothing, even if the speaker raises his voice; if the speaker positions himself so that the sound goes right into their ear, they understand perfectly, whereas if he speaks just as loudly into the air, the sound of his voice not being concentrated and conducted along a canal into the brain, they do not understand (Pelat, 1969, p. 164).

Writings by Al-Jahiz

Al-Jahiz (1998). Al-Barsan wal-Argan wal-Umyan wal-Hawlan (The Lepers, the Lame, the Blind and the Squint-eyed), ed. Abdel-Salam Haroun. Cairo: the General Organisation for Cultural Palaces.

AL-JAHIZ. Kitab al-hayawan. ed. Harun, Cairo. In: C Pellat (1969) by DM Hawke. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Writings about Al-Jahiz

Dols, M. (1983). The leper in medieval Islamic society. Speculum, 58, 4, 891-916.

Haj, F. (1970) Disability in antiquity, p. 159. NY: Philosophical Library.

Pellat, C. (1969). The life and works of Jahiz, (translated by D. M. Hawke from French text published in 1967). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Review of life and works of Al Jahiz Retrieved March 9, 2010.