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5 - Sexuality in Baghdad in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries ce

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2024

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Mathew Kuefler
San Diego State University
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Relying on a spectrum of sources tackling sexual practices ranging from the normative and historical to the didactic and entertaining, this chapter approaches sexuality in ninth- and tenth-century Baghdad as an organizing principle in Abbasid society. It focuses on prescriptive sexuality and sexual ethics as they were regulated and delineated in early Islamic religious texts. Sexual practices, depicted mainly in literary texts, are discussed within the context of the institution of the harem. Finally, nonconformist sexuality is addressed through the lens of an eclectic collection of genres ranging from literature and poetry to medical manuals. A comparative appraisal of the sources shows that while in the caliphal harem concubinage eventually replaced marriage, in elite and common urban households marriage appears to remain the dominant institution. Nonconformist heterosexual and homosexual behaviour was generally depicted as part and parcel of the lifestyles of the urban and ruling elite. A main conclusion is that the influx of enslaved women granted the institution of female slavery a prominent historical and discursive role in shaping the contours of normative and nonconformist sexual relations.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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