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Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World

Blighted Bodies

Kristina Richardson

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Outlines the complex significance of bodies in the late medieval central Arab Islamic lands

Did 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 difference
  • Addresses broad cultural questions relating to social class, religious orthodoxy, moral reputation, drug use, male homoeroticism and self-representation in the public sphere
  • Moves towards a coherent theory of medieval disability and bodily aesthetics in Islamic cultural traditions


1. Physical Blights in Islamic Thought
2. Drug Overdose, Disability and Male Friendship in Fifteenth-Century Mamluk Cairo
3. Recollecting and Reconfiguring Afflicted Male Bodies in Fifteenth-Century Literary Anthologies
4. The Science of Men: Hadith Transmitters and Their Marked Bodies
5. The Blight of Male Baldness in Sixteenth-Century Mecca

About the Author

Kristina L. Richardson is an Assistant Professor of History at Queens College, City University of New York, and has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Universities of Münster and Bonn in Germany.


Richardson has written an original and highly learned first book that reveals much about the cultural construction of difference and disability and about scholarly friendships and communities that shaped that culture.

- H-Disability, H-Net Reviews

'With few exceptions, we hardly have any scholarly treatment of the historically nuanced social and cultural condition of physical and mental impairment…This is why Richardson’s Difference and Disability in The Medieval Islamic World is so important. It is an indication of the growing field of disability history, and its expansion beyond mainly Western concerns.'

- Miri Shefer-Mossensohn, Tel Aviv University, Review of Middle East Studies

- Miri Shefer-Mossensohn, Tel Aviv University, Review of Middle East Studies
'Kristina L. Richardson offers us invaluable insight [in her new book] which discusses disability, friendship, drug abuse, scholarly scandal, and love.'
- Taraneh Wilkinson, LA Review of Books
'This book provides a plethora of information about Islamic attitudes to people with disabilities...Although written within a specific historical framework, Kristina Richardson’s book transcends these boundaries and provides the reader with new data on the literary, legal, and theological debates on the roles that people with disabilities could hold in society and in the religious life of their communities, beyond the Mamluk and Ottoman eras.'
- Vardit Rispler-Chaim, University of Haifa, Journal of the American Oriental Society