By Everett K. Rowson
Islamicate sexualities: translations across temporal geographies of desire, edited by Kathryn Babayan and Afsaneh Najmabadi (Harvard University Press, 2008)
Extract: The French Dominican William of Adam, writing about 1318, explains “In the Saracen sect any sexual act at all is not only not forbidden, but permitted and praised.” He goes on to excoriate, among the Saracens, effeminate men who shave their beards, adorn themselves in women’s finery, and sell themselves to other men with whom the proceed to cohabit as husband and wife, as well as eastern Christians who fatten up and adorn their sons to cater to the unnatural lusts of the Saracens, who race to buy them up. However distorted his polemic may be, William was clearly aware not only of the mukhnannath (the effeminate cross-dresser to whom Muslim societies accored a recognized, if not universally approved, role) but also of the recruiting practices of the Mamluk regime in Egypt and Syria (1250-1517 CE), whereby boys from outside the realm of Islam, mostly Turks and some of them Christian – were purchased as slaves, imported, converted to Islam, trained as soldiers, and manumitted, thereby becoming part of the ruling elite (with the possibility of rising to the position of sultan). Where sodomy actually fits into this picture is not an idle question, although it is a complicated one, and the world of the Mamluk sultans is not devoid of parallels to the case of Edward II, although the differences are as important as the similarities.