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Social And Economic Effects Of The Plague On Medieval Islam Societies

1379 words - 6 pages

The Bubonic Plague, known more commonly as the Black Death, was a fatal disease that ravaged Asia and Europe during the mid-14th century. Although the destruction the Plague brought upon Europe in terms of deaths was enormous, the Islamic world arguably suffered more due to the fact that plague epidemics continually returned to the Islamic world up until the 19th century. The recurrence of the disease caused Muslim populations to never recover from the losses suffered and a resulting demographic shift that arguably helped Europe to surpass the Islamic world's previous superiority in scholarship.
The Islamic world had suffered at least five major plague epidemics before the Black Death in the 14th century, yet the Black Death was far more deadly than any of the previous epidemics that had hit the Islamic world. Medieval Muslims had no scientific explanation for the disease and thus Islamic societies began to believe that the plague was of divine origin. Religious teachers declared that for the righteous Muslim death by plague was a blessing, a martyrdom like death in defense of Islam, which ensured the victim a heavenly reward. For the infidel death by plague was considered a punishment for sin that condemned one to hell. As with all acts of Allah, the pestilence seen as just, merciful, good, and could not be avoided. Since God specifically chose each victim, there could be no random spreading of the disease by contagion, nor could one escape death by flight or medication. From these views, Muslims formed three basic tenets for coping with the plague: The disease was a mercy and martyrdom from God for the faithful Muslim but a punishment for the infidel, a Muslim should neither enter nor flee a plague-stricken land, and there was no contagion of the plague because diseases came directly from God (Dols, 23).
These tenets began to cause a social divide in the Islamic world. Contrary to the popular view, Muslim scientists and physicians had a tough time believing in these tenets, the third one in particular, due to the increasing amount of evidence that a contagion actually existed. In addition, physicians usually felt it was their duty to treat those infected in any way they could; this conflicted with the theological view held by many Muslims that the Plague was a direct product of God and thus must simply be endured. Even some theologians began to have issues with these tenets when the plague hit the holy city of Mecca in 1349. The Islamic Prophet had promised that no disease would never come to either Mecca or Medina, so when the holy city was devastated by the disease, people began to doubt the disease’s proposed holy origin. Some Muslims reasoned that the Plague's presence in Mecca was a direct result of some of its inhabitants being unbelievers, while others rejoiced that it never spread to Medina. The disagreement between those who believed the Plague was the doing of God and those who did not created tension in medieval Islamic society.
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