The physician and the other: Images of the charlatan in medieval islam

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Physicians have always tried to demarcate themselves from the Other, whom they labeled as a "charlatan." During the medieval period, Arabic physicians such as al-Rāzī attacked charlatans in their theoretical and deontological writings, and, like their Greek predecessors, called on the authorities to stamp out malpractice. Their advice was partly heeded, as can be seen from manuals on market inspection (hisba). Physicians accused their colleagues of quackery based on charges of incompetence or deceit, which must be seen partly as an attempt to protect themselves from potential competitors. Certain groups of society, including women and Jews, were an especially convenient target. Moreover, charlatans also appear in nonmedical texts such as al-Ǧaubarī's manual on tricksters and al-Harīrī's Assemblies or Maqāmāt. These accounts suggest that, despite the calls of the medical elite to exclude quacks from the marketplace, the latter were able to attract customers and continue to practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-227
Number of pages38
JournalBulletin of the History of Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2005


  • Anti-Semitism
  • Female practitioners
  • Market inspection (hisba)
  • Medical deontology
  • Medieval Islamic medicine
  • Quackery


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