Islamic Hospitals in Medieval Egypt and the Levant

with Ahmed Ragab
hosted by Nir Shafir
This episode is part of an ongoing series entitled History of Science, Ottoman or Otherwise.
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From Baghdad to Cairo to Edirne, hospitals were major and integral components of medieval and early modern Islamic cities. But what role did they play in these cities and their societies? Were they sites for the development of medical knowledge? In this podcast, Professor Ahmed Ragab examines the history and significance of hospitals in Mamluk Egypt and Syria. He argues that we must view these medieval hospitals as charitable institutions that provided needed services and drugs to the urban poor, rather than the early progenitors of our modern medical institutions. Over the course of the interview we explore how these hospitals functioned as charitable institutions, what type of medical theories and treatments they employed, why medieval rulers regarded them as so important, and why their importance decreased after the sixteenth century.

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Ahmed Ragab is Richard T. Watson Assistant Professor of Science and Religion at Harvard Divinity School. His book, The Medieval Islamic Hospital: Medicine, Religion, and Charity is available from Cambridge University Press as of September 2015.
Nir Shafir is a doctoral candidate at UCLA studying Ottoman intellectual history. (see

Episode No. 193
Release date:26 July 2015
Location: Harvard University
Editing and Production by Chris Gratien
Bibliography courtesy of Ahmed Ragab

Dols, Michael W. "The Origins of the Islamic Hospital: Myth and Reality." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61, (1987): 367-390

Horden, Peregrine. "The Earliest Hospitals in Byzantium, Western Europe and Islam." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 35, no. 3 (2005): 361-89.

Pormann, Peter E. "Islamic Hospitals in the Time of Al-Muqtadir." In Abbasid Studies Ii: Occasional Papers of the School of Abbasid Studies, Leuven, 28 June-1 July 2004, edited by John A. Nawas, 337-81. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies, 2010.

Pormann, Peter E. "Medical Methodology and Hospital Practice: The Case of Fourth-/Tenth-Century Baghdad." In In the Age of Al-Farabi: Arabic Philosophy in the Fourth-Tenth Century, edited by Peter Adamson, 95-118. London: Warburg Institute, 2008.

Shefer-Mossensohn, Miri. Ottoman Medicine: Healing and Medical Institutions, 1500-1700. Albany: SUNY Press, 2009.