Islamic Studies Islam and Disabilities
Kristina Richardson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0224


Researchers of Islam and Islamic cultures and societies have approached the topic of the body from various theoretical positions, though work on disabled bodies is decidedly more rare. This de-emphasis can be attributed, in part, to the historical development of the field of disability studies. Critical disability studies only emerged as a field with a defined methodology in the 1970s in the United States and the United Kingdom. Initially, disability scholars focused primarily on histories of modern North America and the United Kingdom, and these areas are still heavily represented in such journals as Disability Studies Quarterly and Journal of Religion, Disability and Health. In other journals, such as Sign Language Studies, the representation of studies of non-Western societies is strong. As will be shown in this bibliography, sources in western European and Middle Eastern languages are emerging in the discipline, though there remains much more research to be undertaken.

General Overviews

General works on Islam and disability are few. Ghaly 2010 and Rispler-Chaim 2006 (cited under Disability in the Qurʾan, Hadith, and Islamic Law) are general introductions to disability in Islamic law. Haj 1970 is the only available monograph-length treatment of disability in the Islamic world. It is a dated survey of mentions of disability in Arabic sources, but the author advances no arguments about disability. Bhatty, et al. 2009 is a review of current literature on disabilities in Islamic theology, law and history, and in the same volume Gharaibeh 2009 synthesizes data about the conditions of disabled people in the contemporary Arab world. Hafsi 2000, Hoffman 1995, Johansen 1996, and Khuri 2001 largely treat the subject of the human body in Arab-Islamic cultures.

  • Bhatty, Isra, Asad Ali Moten, Mobin Tawakkul, and Mona Amer. “Disability in Islam: Insights into Theology, Law, History, and Practice.” In Disabilities: Insights from Across Fields and around the World. Vol. 1. Edited by Catherine A. Marshall, et al., 157–176. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009.

    The authors usefully synthesize much of the material cited in this very bibliography, as they examine a wide range of historical, legal, sociological and theological literature related to disabilities and Islam.

  • Gharaibeh, Numan. “Disability in Arab Societies.” In Disabilities: Insights from across Fields and around the World. Vol. 1. Edited by Catherine A. Marshall, et al., 63–80. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009.

    Gharaibeh analyzes the structural inefficiencies, armed conflicts, genetic factors, and poverty that create and reproduce the marginalization of disabled citizens in many contemporary Arab states.

  • Hafsi, Bedhioufi. Corps et traditions islamiques: Divisions ontologiques et ritualités du corps. Tunis: Noir sur Blanc, 2000.

    The author, a sociologist, examines the effects of colonial domination on indigenous notions of the social and ritual bodies in contemporary Muslim North Africa.

  • Haj, Fareed. Disability in Antiquity. New York: Philosophical Library, 1970.

    In spite of its title, this work covers history from 632 to 1258 CE in the central Islamic lands. It is an anecdotal survey of disablement caused by disease, armed conflict, and corporal punishment, summarizing much of this history but advancing no arguments about it.

  • Hoffman, Valerie J. “Islamic Perspectives on the Human Body: Legal, Social and Spiritual Considerations.” In Embodiment, Morality, and Medicine. Edited by Lisa S. Cahill and Margaret A. Farley, 37–55. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-015-8424-1

    This article provides a wide-ranging introduction to many topics pertaining to Islam and the body, such as contraception and abortion, the relationship between body and spirit, saints’ bodies, ritual purity, sickness and health, nudity, sexuality, and gendered bodies.

  • Johansen, Baber. “The Valorization of the Human Body in Muslim Sunni Law.” In Law and Society in Islam. Edited by Devin J. Stewart, Baber Johansen, and Amy Singer, 71–112. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 1996.

    Probes 10th- to 12th-century Hanafi Transoxanian legal literature on the sale and trade of human bodies.

  • Khuri, Fuad. The Body in Islamic Culture. London: Saqi, 2001.

    Khuri, an anthropologist, draws on Islamic foundational texts (Qurʾan and hadith) to discern “body ideology” in the contemporary Arab-Islamic world, then reads the body as a system of semiotic signs.

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