al-Bayaan wa al-Tabyeen by al-Jaahidh الجاحظ
The author is Abu ‘Uthman ‘Amr ibn Bahr ibn Mahbub al-Kinaa’ee, known as al-Jaahidh (d. 255 Hijri). He was born in Basrah, and among his teachers were Abu ‘Ubaydah, Abu Zayd al-Ansari, and al-Akhfash. He was a brilliant polymath who wrote on many subjects including Philosophy, ‘Aqeedah, Politics, Economics, History, Geography, Mathematics, Ethics, Sociology and Literature. It is said that he wrote over 350 books, most of which, sadly, have been lost.
One of the last books he wrote was al-Bayaan wa al-Tabyeen, an encyclopedic work, the main axis of which revolves around rhetoric and eloquence. The three main areas that he covered at length in this book are:
- He deduced and derived the principles and meanings of ‘style’ (bayaan)
- He spoke about the art of oratory, and its literary conventions.
- He defended the eloquence of the Arabs against the peoples’ accusations against it.
These topics were covered in extreme detail, so he ended up covering all that is related to the orator (khateeb) – the traits, qualities, and knowledge he must have – examples of the most beautiful styles from the Qur’an, hadith, poetry, and speeches, the blessings of having an eloquent tongue, how different tribes would use the same word, the different types of rhetorical devices (balaaghah) in poetry and rhyming prose (saj’) with examples from the Hadith, speeches, and proverbs, and even going on discuss rhetoric and eloquence in relation to the ascetics (zuhhaad).
So important did this book become that Ibn Khaldun mentioned in his book al-Muqaddimah,
“We heard our shaykhs say in class that the basic principles and pillars of the science and art of literature are contained in four works: Adab al-Kaatib by Ibn Qutaybah, al-Kamil by al-Mubarrad, al-Bayan wa al-Tabyeen by al-Jahiz, and al-Nawadir by Abu ‘Ali al-Qali al-Baghdadi. All other books depend on these four and are derived from them.”