The figure of the eunuch in non-Western cultures has long been an object of mystery and mystification to the West. This thought-provoking interdisciplinary work goes beyond sensationalism and stereotypes to offer a sensitive reconstruction of the historical role of the eunuch in Islam. In doing so, Eunuchs and Sacred Boundaries in Islamic Society offers an original and path-breaking exploration into some of the most fundamental aspects of Islamic religion, society, and culture.
Shaun Marmon describes how the eunuch as a category of person embodied ambiguity and played a crucial role in premodern Islamic society as both the guardian and mediator of critical thresholds of moral and physical space in the household, in the palace, and in the tomb. Making use of techniques from literary analysis, social history and anthropology, she brings together a wide array of sources ranging from literary works, historical chronicles, biographies, pilgrimage diaries, travelers' accounts, and previously unexamined archival material.
Through Marmon's account, the "sacred" eunuchs of Medina become historical guides into uncharted dimensions of Islamic ritual, political symbolism, social order, gender, and time. This fascinating study will be of interest to scholars and students of gender studies, ritual and culture studies, and Islamic cultural history and religion.
"The book deals with some important aspects of sexuality and religion. Its scholarship is impeccable; Shaun Marmon has made an exhaustive study of Arabic sources, including many unpublished manuscripts and has used European sources in a wide variety of languages. She has interpreted these documents with the keenest historical imagination and reconstructed most vividly the events and institutions of that period. To my knowledge, this is the first and only
systematic study on this particular subject"--Charles Issawi, Princeton University
"...An elegant and concise study...This is a book that students of Muslim institutions will find extremely valuable. For scholars of the more general topic of gender in history, it provides a beautifully documented case study..."--Journal of the History of Sexuality
"[T]he author is clearly exploring new grounds in Islamic studies...the author is to be commended for a thoroughly original and imaginative volume."--The Historian
"Rarely does a book combine elegance of style, depth of analysis, and an interesting topic as well as Marmon's study of eunuchs...will prove useful for graduate and advanced undergraduate students studying slavery, gender, medieval society, and Islamic family law."--Religious Studies Review
"[A] fascinationg and path-breaking work."--amluk Studies Review
"Marmon provides a richly textured account of the ways in which the eunuchs functioned as ideal mediators between the sacred charisma (baraka) associated with the Prophet's physical remains and generations of pilgrims to his tomb...[T]his book is a vital contribution to our understanding of these intriguing agents of mediation in medieval Muslim society."--American Historical Review