This book reconstructs the role of midwives in medieval to early modern Islamic history through a careful reading of a wide range of classical and medieval Arabic sources. The author casts the midwife's social status in premodern Islam as a privileged position from which she could mediate between male authority in patriarchal society and female reproductive power within the family. This study also takes a broader historical view of midwifery in the Middle East by examining the tensions between learned medicine (male) and popular, medico-religious practices (female) from early Islam into the Ottoman period and addressing the confrontation between traditional midwifery and Western obstetrics in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Introduction; 1. Islamic views on birth and motherhood; 2. Midwifery as a craft; 3. The subordinate midwife: male physicians versus female midwives; 4. The absent midwife; 5. The privileged midwife; 6. Ritual, magic, and the midwife's roles in and outside the birthing place; 7. From traditional to modern midwifery in the Middle East; Concluding remarks.