Majnūn: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society

Publication Year



Michael W. Dols, Ph.D. 1971

This is a study of madness in the medieval Islamic world. Using a wide variety of sources--historical, literary, and art--the late Michael Dols explores beliefs about madness in Islamic society and examines attitudes towards individuals afflicted by mental illness or disability. The book demonstrates the links between Christian and Muslim medical beliefs and practices, and traces the influence of certain Christian beliefs, such as miracle-working, on Islamic practices. It breaks new ground in analyzing the notions of the romantic fool, the wise fool, and the holy fool in medieval Islam within the framework of perceptions of mental illness. It shows that the madman was not regarded as a pariah, an outcast, or a scapegoat. This is a comprehensive and original work, with insights into magic, medicine, and religion that combine to broaden our understanding of medieval Islamic society.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
I. Healing Natural and Supernatural: Medicine, Religion and Magic
1:Galen and Mental Illness
2:Galen into Arabic
3:The Reformulation of Greek Medicine
4:Medical Madness
5:Other Causes of Insanity
6:The Treatment of the Insane
7:Religious Healing: The Judaeo-Christian Background
8:Religious Healing in Islam
9:The Theory of Magic in Healing
10:The Practice of Magic in Healing
II. Perception: Profane and Sacred
11:The Romantic Fool
12:The Wise Fool
13:The Holy Fool
III. Unreason: Privilege and Deprivation
14:Insanity in Islamic Law
15:The State and the Insane


“Michael Dols' majestic survey of the place of madness and the madman in Islamic society is a tour de force ... Dols has undertaken a breathtakingly extensive journey through obscure as well as well-known texts in diverse fields.” Newsline, October 1993 –

“Impressively wide-ranging monograph ... The range and thoroughness of Dols's Majnun means that his book has permanent value as a chrestomathy.” Times Literary Supplement –

“The most striking feature of this book is the deep interest of the author to know his unusual subject without passing any judgements himself. The meticulously researched details only serve to make this book a more fascinating read.” Maryam Jameelah, Muslim World Book Review, 15, no. 2, 1995 –

“No one has done a comprehensive study. At long last, Michael Dols has done exactly that and created a magnificent piece of scholarship...this is a major contribution not only to the field of Middle Eastern studies, but also to the field of medical and psychiatric history. It is essential reading for anyone interested in medical or intellectual history. - International Journal of Middle East Studies

anyone who is interested in anthropological, historical or legal aspects of mental illness or deviant behaviour will find the contents extremely interesting. No one with an interest in transcultural psychiatry or Islamic society can find it less than totally fascinating.” - British Journal of Medical Psychology

“A work of great erudition.” - Aziz Al-Azmeh, History Workshop Journal, Vol. 41, '96

“He has left an enduring legacy in his study of madness in medieval Islam ... His book will without doubt be the standard work on the subject for years to come. Encyclopaedic in scope, ranging from Galenic medicine to popular beliefs, from prophetic medicine to holy healing, from literary madmen to the cult of saints, it incorporates a wealth of materials from a wide variety of sources ... his book is a pioneering contribution, and its value should not be underestimated ... the book should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in this fascinating and complex subject.” - Julie Scott Meisami, Oriental Institute, Oxford, Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. 7, 1, Jan '96


Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press
Oxford; New York