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Eighth century

Comic figure


Biographical Data . Juha is a popular comic hero, found under various names—including Goha and Abu Nuwas— in the jokes of North Africa, Southwest Asia, East Africa, and Iran. Over the centuries, well-known scholars have debated whether he really lived and when. Several early works mention him as a member of the tribe of Banu Faz-ara and a resident of al-Kufah in Iraq. He is said to have lived a hundred years, to have been connected with some well-known people of the eighth century, and to have died during the reign of Khalifah al-Mansur (754-775). The earliest reference to him is from the early ninth century in the essays of al-Jahiz, who mentioned him among other people known for their follies.

Comic Character . Juha appeared as the central figure in a collection of anecdotes called Kitab Nawadir Djuha, which is mentioned in the tenth-century literary encyclopedia of Ibn Nadim. By that time, Juha had come to represent a Charlie Chaplin-like figure who constantly blunders and gets involved in futile schemes but comes up with witty retorts that expose other people’s vanity, gullibility, and stupidity. His proverbial silliness often includes nuggets of wisdom and compassion for the human condition. Later authors, including the well-known historian al-Suyuti (1445-1505), thought Juha was an invented personage, and he lovingly said, “No one should laugh at him on hearing of the amusing stories told against him; on the contrary it is fitting that everyone should ask God to give him profit from the blessings of Juha.” In fact, Juha’s self-sacrifice for the sake of laughter is considered laudable. Modern authors have concentrated on cataloguing the several hundred anecdotes about him and believe they can trace back a core group of more than one hundred original stories to the spread of the Arabic language and Islam in the period 632-656. Local lore was added to the original body of stories over the centuries, and in modern times books, television, and motion pictures have spread Juha’s fame throughout the Muslim world.


C. Pellat, “Djuha,” in Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-ROM version (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

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Juha. Opera in 3 acts by Merikanto to lib. by A. Ackté after novel by J. Aho. Comp. 1920–2. F.p. Finn. Radio 1958, (stage) Lahti Mus. Coll., Finland, 1963, Edinburgh Fest. 1987.

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