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Given major US news this week, this is a story about LIFE: evolution, man/woman ... and the BEST DAMN WAY to die!

You probably learnt that Charles Darwin was the originator of the theory of natural selection, in “On the Origin of Species” (1859).

Not quite.

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2. 1,000 years before Darwin, Abū ʿUthman al-Baṣrī (known as al-Jāḥiẓ الجاحظ) conceptualised on how environment influenced an evolution of species, in his Kitab al-Hayawan (‘Book of Animals’).
3. Born in Basra, Mesopotamia in 776, al-Jāḥiẓ’s grandfather was an African (probably Ethiopian) camel merchant. Al-Jāḥiẓ claimed he was from the Banu Kinanah tribe near Mecca in the Hejaz, Arabia.

As wealthy camel traders, Mecca would have been an wise settlement.
4. Al-Jāḥiẓ was a polymath. He excelled in literature, lexicography, poetry, biology, zoology, history, philosophy, politics, and psychology.

He learnt Greek to translate Hellenistic scientific theories into Arabic, and completed 200-300 books in his lifetime (~30 survive).
5. Moving to Baghdad in 816 during Islam's Golden Age, he was welcomed into the elite salons and palaces, and coveted by princes and sultans as patrons.

Al-Jāḥiẓ became one of the most dominant early intellectuals in the fabled Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom).
6. Proud of his African heritage, al-Jāḥiẓ wrote on race in his 'Risalat Mufakharat al-Sudan ‘ala al-Bidan' (Treatise on the Superiority of Blacks Over Whites), on the qualities of the people of Sub-Saharan and East Africa.

Harsh even at the time, it was to counter racism.
7. In ‘On The Zanj’, he wrote:

“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 favour meted out by Allah.”
8. His most famous work is 'The Book of Animals' — a 7 volume encyclopaedia of 350 animal varieties.

He hypothesised on natural selection, environmental adaptation, survival of the fittest, selective traits, and the idea that man evolved from animals...who evolved from plants.
9. He wrote:

"Animals engage in a struggle for existence — for resources, to avoid being eaten, and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species...
10. ...Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring…Every weak animal devours those weaker than itself. Strong animals cannot escape being devoured by other animals stronger than they. In this respect, men do not differ from animals.”
11. In 1617, Lebanese scholar Ibrahim al-Haqilani published passages of al-Jāḥiẓ’s evolutionary theory into Latin. In 1671, Ibn Tufayl’s 12th c theories of evolution was published in Oxford.

They're said to have influenced Linnaeus, de Buffon, and Lamarck (18-19th c).
12. Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather), a naturalist, had studied these works. He triggered Charles’ interest — who learnt Arabic to read for himself.

In a May 1838 letter, Charles wrote of the Arab contributions to science; certainly he’d been influenced by al-Jāḥiẓ.
13. John William Draper—contemporary of Darwin—called Darwin’s work ‘the Mohammedan theory of evolution’ in 1878.

George Sarton in ‘Introduction to the History of Science’ (1918) wrote that it was al-Jahiz who seeded evolution/adaptation theories.
14. So when Charles Darwin wrote “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, his understanding was in part predicated on al-Jāḥiẓ’s theories ... a millennia before.
Oh... and as for THE BEST way to die?
15. Al-Jāḥiẓ returned to Basra in 868 after 50 years in Baghdad and Samara.

In his library stacked with a lifetime of books, he wrote until the very end…

…until a pile of books collapsed on top of him, and crushed and killed him.

Seriously: is there no better way to die?
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