Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World

Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World: Blighted Bodies

Kristina L. Richardson
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World
    Book Description:

    Outlines the complex significance of bodies in the late medieval central Arab Islamic landsDid you know that blue eyes, baldness, bad breath and boils were all considered bodily 'blights' by Medieval Arabs, as were cross eyes, lameness and deafness? What assumptions about bodies influenced this particular vision of physical difference? How did blighted people view their own bodies? Through close analyses of anecdotes, personal letters, (auto)biographies, erotic poetry, non-binding legal opinions, diaristic chronicles and theological tracts, the cultural views and experiences of disability and difference in the medieval Islamic world are brought to life.Key Features >Investigates the place of physically different, disabled and ill individuals in medieval Islam Organised around the lives and works of 6 Muslim men, each highlighting a different aspect of bodily differenceAddresses broad cultural questions relating to social class, religious orthodoxy, moral reputation, drug use, male homoeroticism and self-representation in the public sphereMoves towards a coherent theory of medieval disability and bodily aesthetics in Islamic cultural traditions

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4508-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    By the 9th/15th century, a distinct, stripped-down visual and literary aesthetic had found expression in Egyptian and Syrian art and literature. The paring down of scenic backgrounds to a wash of colour in paintings, of intricate forms to simplified outlines in visual media, of three-dimensional figures and sets to two-dimensional silhouettes in shadow theatre, and of idiom and formulae to more straightforward language in literature all departed from 8th/14th-century stylistic norms that prized thematic and visual detail, layering and explication. Two exemplary paintings that typify this style receive treatment here for their unique figural representations and later for their relationship...

  7. 1 ʿĀhāt in Islamic Thought
    (pp. 22-35)

    Islam is a praxis-orientated religion, meaning that religious devotion resides in and on the body and is expressed through such bodily acts as ritualised prayer, fasting, dietary restrictions, modest dress and pilgrimage to Mecca. With bodies figuring so centrally in Islamic theology, it is essential for any study of bodies in Islamicate culture to examine how bodies are presented in the Islamic source-texts of Qur’an and hadith, which provide the basic narratives about the body which Muslim theologians and scholars have used in constructing and refining notions of the body and physical difference.

    Included among the approximately 6,000 verses of...

  8. 2 Literary Networks in Mamluk Cairo
    (pp. 36-71)

    The English term ‘disability’ focuses on physical and cognitive performance and productivity – what the body can or cannot do. The equivalent classical Arabic term ʿāha literally means ‘blight’ or ‘damage’, and it can refer to objects both inanimate (crops, trees) and animate (human and non-human animals). The category of blightedness certainly encompasses ‘disability’, but incorporates aesthetics and character. Blights disrupt beauty and can constitute character flaws. Like ‘disability’ or ‘handicap’ today, the meaning of blightedness was changing and performing new work in culture throughout the Islamicate Middle Ages. For instance, from the 8th to the 13th centuries, blue eyes...

  9. 3 Recollecting and Reconfiguring Afflicted Literary Bodies
    (pp. 72-95)

    The adab anthology (majmūʿa), such as proliferated in the Mamluk era, challenges modern literary historians’ conceptions of authorship, authorial style and originality. Abdelfattah Kilito has argued that, in classical Arabic literature, ‘individual style hardly exists. Instead, each genre possesses its own “composition”, a set of recurrent features common to a number of works. Given these features, the reader can easily determine the genre to which a given text belongs and move from that text to the consideration of related texts.’¹ In the Mamluk period, anthologies incorporated various organisational, structural and schematic features. Thomas Bauer, in a thorough investigation of available...

  10. 4 Transgressive Bodies, Transgressive Hadith
    (pp. 96-109)

    Anthony Grafton argues that ‘to the inexpert, footnotes look like deep root systems, solid and fixed; to the connoisseur, however, they reveal themselves as anthills, swarming with constructive and combative activity’.¹ The classical Arabic equivalent of the footnote was the isnād, or chain of transmitters that preceded texts of Arabic literary anecdotes, historical reports and excerpted speech in medieval texts. The isnād functioned essentially to authenticate narratives and speech through oral testimonies of learned figures, rather than through reference to written records. Although manuscript production was robust in the Islamicate Middle Ages, ‘a book could not adequately substitute for the...

  11. 5 Public Insults and Undoing Shame: Censoring the Blighted Body
    (pp. 110-137)

    One can read any 10th/16th- or 11th/17th-century biography of the famous Meccan historian Jār Allāh Ibn Fahd (891–954/1486–1547) and find no mention of his biographical compilation Al-Nukat al-ẓirāf fī man ubtuliya bi’l-ʿāhāt min al-ashrāf (Charming Anecdotes about Honourable People Who Were Afflicted with ʿĀhāt), a book that caused quite a commotion when it was completed in Rajab 948/October or November 1541.¹ The curious silence surrounding al-Nukat al-ẓirāf may stem from a consensus on the book’s insignificance, or from peer discretion about a book that brought much dishonour to its author and his family’s legacy, or even from an...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 138-156)
  13. Index
    (pp. 157-158)