Infants, children, and death in medieval muslim society: Some preliminary observations

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Abstract

Summary: This paper deals with the rates and causes of infant and child mortality in medieval Muslim society and adults' reactions to this phenomenon. It sheds some light on the reality of children's lives, on the one hand, and on concepts of childhood which were prevalent among adults-at least in upper strata of urban society-on the other. The paper presents testimonies to the high rates of infant and child morality in Middle Eastern cities. It discusses some natural causes such as malnutrition, infant disease, and plague in addition to typical accidents involving children, violence, child abandonment, and infanticide.Adult reations to the death of infants and children found their expresssion in legal and theological discussions concerning for instance the ways in which deceased infants and children should be treated and their fate in the Hereafter. These discussions reflect not only the religious problems connected with untimely death, but also the awareness of religious scholars of the uniqueness of childhood. Moreover, poems of lamentation and cosolation treatises for bereaved parents mirror adults' emotional confrontation with the phenomenon of child death. The very existence of a special genre of writings compiled in order to offer religious and psychological support to bereaved parents indicate that the death of a child was regarded as a great loss and that parents could hardly accept it even in times of plague when rates of infant and child mortality were particularly high.The paper analyses the main motifs of some of the consolation treatises and highlights the tension between the moving emotional reactions of adults a refelcted in them, on the one hand, and the religious attitude of restraint and self-control praised by the authors on the other. These contradictory motifs exemplify the complexity of the concepts of childhood and the variety of the attitudes towards them in medieval Muslim society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-368
Number of pages24
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Volume3
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1990

Keywords

  • Adults' reactions to children's death
  • Causes of death
  • Concepts of childhood
  • Consolation treatises
  • Death rates
  • History of childhood
  • Infant and child mortality
  • Juridical writings
  • Medieval Muslim society
  • Poems of lamentation
  • Theological writings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)

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