Recent Scholarship: History of Medicine and Islamic Law

Earlier this month, the Egyptian online newspaper Mada Masr published a detailed and richly illustrated interview with Khaled Fahmy (University of Cambridge) discussing his recent book, In Quest of Justice: Islamic Law and Forensic Medicine in Modern Egypt (UC Press, 2018).


Focusing on changes in medicine and law in the 19th century and their mutual impacts, Fahmy suggests an alternative narrative of the formation of the modern Egyptian state. …

[Fahmy:] I wanted to write the story in a way that would make the body the main unit of analysis, because I’m talking about the human body and conflict over the body. … And so I decided I’d write five chapters corresponding to the five senses …

Let me move to the fifth chapter next, which is about touch. This chapter is about torture. I was trying to explain, after a discussion of the legal and medical systems, why torture was abolished at a certain point in judicial history, specifically, in 1861. What was the role of torture in the legal system? It wasn’t some secret practice; it was public but suddenly it was abolished. Why? I examined the law, and found a decree explicitly called the “Decree of replacing flogging with incarceration.” I kept noting how Foucauldian this was, with the prisons and autopsy. Prisons supplanted torture as a means of punishment, and autopsy replaced flogging as a means of obtaining confession and establishing proof. There was no longer any need for torture.

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