Eunuchs and Sacred Boundaries in Islamic Society

Publication Year



In this thought-provoking interdisciplinary work, Shaun Marmon describes how eunuchs, as a category of people who embodied ambiguity, both defined and mediated critical thresholds of moral and physical space in the household, in the palace and in the tomb of pre-modern Islamic society. The author's central focus is on the sacred society of eunuchs who guarded the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina for over six centuries and whose last representatives still perform many of their time honored rituals to this day. 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.


"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 Its scholarship is impeccable; Shaun Marmon has made an exhaustive study of Arabic sources, including many unpublished manuscripts and has used European sources in a wide variety of languages.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."--Mamluk 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

Series Title
Studies in Middle Eastern History
Oxford University Press
New York