Closely Related, but Different

Some Arabic Writers on the Human–Ape Relationship


Several medieval Arabic zoographical writers include the ape (qird) in their texts on animals, and many of them share the idea that apes are similar to humans. This paper will discuss some stances taken on this simi­larity, with a focus on the philosophical motivation given in each case, that is, whether the ascribed similarity is argued for on morphological, habitual, temperamental, or other grounds. Through this particular focus and by consulting a broader set of texts, the article builds on previous scholarship on apes in Islamicate societies. The sources considered range from older adab (roughly, “belles-lettres” ) material, such as that found in al-Jāḥiẓ’s (8th/9th century CE, Iraq) ‘K. al-Ḥayawān’ (‘Book of Animals’), to Aristotle’s biological writings and Galen. The paper briefly addresses implications for the supposed borderline between humans and animals (for example, the use of apes as substitutes for humans in dissections). The question arises of whether, according to the authors considered, this divide is fixed or rather blurred, with a possible overlap between already existing established spe­cies. Another related question is whether this borderline can be transgressed in a way reminiscent of Darwinian evolutionary theory by allowing for a temporal develop­ment of one species into another, a claim made by some scholars, at least with regard to al-Jāḥiẓ.


Apes, Arabic, Human–Animal Studies, Similarity, Zoography