This is the first of a two-part article that aims at discussing the creation of medical madrasas for Muslims in 7th/13th-century Damascus. This part briefly examines the relationship between medical practitioners and rulers, especially in the Ayyubid period, and studies a number of works written by religious scholars and physicians —often addressed to their patrons—, in which they tackled problems affecting the practice of medicine and its scientific status. I particularly focus on the polemics against pietistic groups who adhered to the doctrine of tawakkul (reliance on God), the emergence of the genre of “prophetic medicine”, and the denunciation of those physicians who impugned the universality of medical principles. This article will provide a wide contextualisation for the discussion of the phenomena that lead to the creation of medical madrasas, which will be analysed in detail in the second part.
The most famous piece of the collection of Rasāʾil written by the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ is probably the animal fable included in Epistle 22, known in its English translation as “The Case of the Animals versus Man before the King of the Jinn.” The complexity and thematic richness of the work allows multiple readings and it has often been interpreted as a fable denouncing cruelty against animals. The abrupt ending of the work recognising the superiority of men, however, seems to contradict the ecological spirit that animates the debate. This article approaches this contradiction from a narratological point of view. Together with the genre of animal fables, especially the Kalīla wa-Dimna, the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ rely heavily on the tradition of the qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ to recreate a setting that would have evoked in the educated audiences both the descriptions of the pre-Adamite era, where animals were free and had the ability to speak, and the consequences of the creation of Adam and his preordained fall. The recognition of these parallelisms and other proleptic clues creates a gap between the expectations of the characters and those of the readers, which can be interpreted as dramatic irony.