The twelfth-century Syrian warrior, poet and memoirist, Usama ibn Munqidh, found the liberty that the Franks of the Crusader principalities allowed their women quite extraordinary. He also did not think that the Franks were very bright and he told this story about a Frankish wine-seller in Nablus, at that time part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem: 

‘So one day he came back home and discovered a man in bed with his wife. The Frank said to the man, ‘What business brings you here to my wife?’

‘I got tired,’ the man replied, ‘So I came in to rest.’

‘But how did you get into my bed?’ asked the Frank.

‘I found a bed that was all made up, so I went to sleep in it,’ he replied.

‘While my wife was sleeping there with you?’ the Frank pursued. 

‘Well, it’s her bed,’ the man offered. ‘Who am I to keep her out of it?’

‘By the truth of my religion,’ the Frank said, ‘if you do this again, we’ll have an argument, you and I!’

As Aristotle noted in the Poetics, ‘Comedy represents the worst types of men; worse however, not in the sense that it embraces any and every kind of badness, but in the sense that the ridiculous is a species of ugliness or badness.’ A great deal of medieval Arab humour aimed at ridicule or disparagement. Common butts included Franks, Kurds, Bedouin, schoolteachers, drug addicts, misers, gluttons, cuckolds and stupid people more generally. 

The rest of this article is only available to subscribers.

Access our entire archive of 350+ articles from the world's leading writers on Islam.
Only £3.30/month, cancel anytime.


Already subscribed? Log in here.

Not convinced? Read this: why should I subscribe to Critical Muslim?

Elsewhere on Critical Muslim: