Posts Tagged ‘'Barbarians in Arab Eyes'’

Medieval Arab Writers on the Effects of the Sun on the Black Temperament

January 26, 2022

I put up a post the other day stating that we need to have more research into extra-European and non-White racial prejudice, as the situation is more complex than simply White hatred of people of colour. I mentioned the fact that 3rd century AD Chinese writers believed that people in the west, with blond hair and green eyes, were descended from monkeys. According to Stephen Howe’s Afrocentrism, they also had similar views about the Japanese. Some of the bigoted writers decided that the Japanese were descended from Chinese criminals who interbred with monkeys. Howe also notes in the above book that medieval Arab writers also had their own prejudices when it came to Black Africans, citing a 1992 article by Aziz al-Azmeh, ‘Barbarians in Arab Eyes’ in Past & Present. These writers believed that there was a distinct Black temperament and personality caused by the heat of the tropical sun. Howe writes

‘As Aziz al-Azmeh shows, numerous medieval Arab writers, drawing on a theory of climatic zones whi8ch seems originally to have been proposed by the Greeks, saw black Africans as suffering from a mental deficiency resulting from life in excessive heat and dryness: ‘Negroes therefore tended to be given to erratic behaviour, to levity, to prodigious sexuality, and to be much disposed to dance and rhythm, all because of the afore-mentioned effects of the sun’.’ (274). He also notes other books which discuss Arab racism, some of which deal with the Arab slave trade. This suggests that the Arab trade in Black slaves also had the effect of promoting ideas of Black inferiority. I can remember coming across a book on Arabic, which informed the reader that the word for ‘Blacks’ literally meant ‘the slaves’, but this was not held to be derogatory. This was in the 1980s, nearly forty years ago. Now in the 21st century real slave markets have opened in Libya, and Arab Sudanese enslaved Blacks during the civil war in the Sudan in the 1990s, that attitude, if it still exists, should be discarded.