KC 2: A Glimpse into the Living Islamic Tradition: Reading Abū Zayd al-Balkhī and Imām al-Ghazalī in light of Modern Psychology



This is the second session in the 6-session Khalil Center Educational Series.

This presentation will provide attendees with an exposure to the richness of the Islamic intellectual heritage as it pertains to human psychology, pathology and its treatment. The Islamic intellectual heritage is a long-standing living tradition whose scholarly works have been underexplored within contemporary psychology. The scholarly works, and in some cases scholarly exchanges between Muslim scholars contributed to the diversity of Islamic intellectual discourse in addressing the physical, metaphysical and rational branches of knowledge. These conversations demonstrated the intersection between theology, law, philosophy, medicine and spirituality contributing to the abundance of literature related to human cognition, behavior, emotions and spirituality despite the absence of a distinct field of psychology.

With a growing modern interest in Eastern philosophies and medicine, the Islamic tradition in this presentation is presented as an illustration of diverse perspectives that can enhance the field of modern psychology. A reading of two very notable Islamic scholars’ contributions to human psychology, ontology of the human psyche and its treatment by drawing directly from their treatises will be discussed.

Firstly, Abu Zayd al-Balkhi, a 9th century polymath will be used as a sample of a medically oriented treatise that discusses preventative behavioral medicine and cognitive techniques as interventions for the treatment of mood disorders and Obsessive-compulsive disorders. In fact, the seminal publication of Sustenance of the Soul by the polymath al-Balkhī is one of the earliest documented manuscripts specific to mental and spiritual health (al-Balkhi,2013). Awaad and Ali’s (2016) comparative analysis yielded a complete convergence between the current symptomology for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) and Abu Zayd’s original manuscript. A comparative analysis will be provided with regard to the applicability and utility of his proposed theories of human psychological treatment as well as cognitive interventions in light of modern empirical evidence.

Secondly, a presentation of the psychology of the 12th century polymath, Imam Al-Ghazalī, will be provided as a sample of a more theologically and Sufi oriented treatise on psycho-spiritual reformation. Al-Ghazalī’s ontology of the human psyche and principles of change presented in his ‘revival of the religious sciences’ will be outlined. Al-Ghazalī’s discussion of the mind-body relationship will also be extracted from his writings as a proposed integrative working model of how to faithfully harmonize and integrate cognitive neuroscience with metaphysics. Additionally, Imam Al-Ghazalī’s principles of change and interventional mechanisms will be highlighted as proposed psychospiritual strategies for mental heath treatment.

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