Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mental Illness in Islam

I came across an interesting journal article, entitled "Egyptian contribution to the concept of mental health" which was published in the Egyptian Mediterranean Health Journal, Volume 7, No. 3, May 2001, pp. 377-380 by A. Okasha, professor of Psychiatry at Ain Shams University in Cairo:

"Islamic era

The approach of Islam to mental illness can be traced most importantly to the Holy Quran. The most common word used to refer to the mad person, i.e. insane or psychotic, in the Quran is majnoon. The word is originally derived from the word jinn (the word jinn in Arabic has a common origin with words with different connotations and can refer to a shelter, screen, shield, paradise, embryo and madness). The Islamic concept of the insane that the sufferer is possessed by a jinn should not be confused with the concept of possession in the Middle Ages. In Islam, a jinn is not necessarily a demon, i.e. an evil spirit. It is a supernatural spirit, lower than the angels, that can be either good or bad. It has the power to assume human and animal forms. Some jinn are believers, listen to the Quran and help humans. Moreover, Islam is not only concerned with human beings but also with the spiritual world at large. In the Quran the jinn and the human being are almost always mentioned together. This has altered the concept and management of the mentally ill; although a person may be perceived as being possessed, the possession may be by a good or a bad spirit. Consequently one cannot generalize punishment or condemn unconditionally [5].

Apart from the concept of the mentally ill person being possessed, Islam has another positive concept where such an individual is seen as the one who dares to be innovative, original or creative, or attempts to find alternatives to a static and stagnant mode of living. This is to be found in various attitudes towards certain mystic philosophies such as Sufism, where the expansion of self and consciousness has been taken as a rationale to label some Sufis as psychotic. The writings of various Sufis do indeed reveal the occurrence of psychotic symptoms and much mental suffering in their quest for to self-salvation.

A third concept of mental illness is that there is disharmony or constriction of consciousness, which non-believers are susceptible to. This concept holds that there is a denaturing of our basic structure and disruption of our harmonious existence by egotism, detachment or alienation [5].

Islam also identified the unity of the body and the psyche. The psyche (elnafs) is mentioned 185 times in the Quran as a broad reference to human existence, meaning at different times body, behaviour, affect, and/or conduct, i.e. a total psycho- somatic unity.

The teaching of the great clinician Rhazes had a profound influence on Arab as well as European medicine. The two most important books of Rhazes are El-mansuri and Al-hawi. The first includes the definition and nature of temperaments and a comprehensive guide to physiognomy. Al-hawi is the greatest medical encyclopedia produced by a Muslim physician. It is the first clinical book presenting the complaints, signs, differential diagnosis and effective treatment of an illness. One hundred years later, Avicenna wrote Al qanun fi al-tibb, which was a monumental, educational and scientific book with better classification [5].

The first Islamic mental hospital appears to have been established in the early ninth century in Baghdad and to have been modelled on the Eastern Christian institutions, which seem to have been mainly monastic infirmaries. Among the hospitals that appeared throughout the Islamic world, perhaps the most famous one was the 14th century Kalaoon Hospital established in Cairo by the Sultan al-Mansour Kalaoon in 683 AH/1284 AD [6]. It had sections for surgery, ophthalmology, and medical and mental illnesses. Contributions by the wealthy of Cairo allowed a high standard of medical care and provided for patients during convalescence until they were gainfully occupied. Two features were striking: the care of mental patients in a general hospital and the involvement of the community in the welfare of the patients; these foreshadowed modern trends by many centuries [3]."

~ Excerpted from an article by Professor A. Okasha, Faculty of Psychiatry and Director of WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry at Ain Shams University in Cairo.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Islam's contribution to Psychology

As part of my doctoral dissertation research, I had to go back and find out if and how Islam made any contributions to the field of psychology.

In fact,Islam has received sparse attention for its contributions in the field of psychology, even though one of the first known texts on the interpretation of dreams was done by a Muslim from Basra, Muhammad Ibn Seerin (d. circa 729), whose work on dream interpretation appeared in a text published a few years after his death. Peter Adamson, in his detailed analysis on the thought of al-Kindi (d. 860), identifies the renowned philosopher as one of the first Muslim thinkers to reflect on the faculty of imagination: “Al-Kindi explores imagination most deeply in a treatise devoted to the phenomenon of prophetic dreams, entitled On Sleep and Dream.” (2007 p. 135). Adamson also notes “that al-Kindi consistently speaks of humans as possessing a power of “choice (ikhtiyar)” and “volition (irada).” But it would be too quick to conclude from this that that he makes human actions exempt from celestial causation. Perhaps the stars causally determine the choices we make, even though we are still choosing in a meaningful sense.” (p. 200).

Majid Fakhry writes that Al-Farabi (d. circa 950) attempted to explain phenomena “such as dreams, prognostication (kahanah), vision (ru’ya) and the prophetic office (nubuwwah), which is for him the highest stage attainable by humankind, through the use of the imaginative faculty.” (2002, pp. 90-91). Al-Farabi explored the topic where al-Kindi left off.

Lenn Goodman (2006), in his updated biography on Ibn Sina (d.1037) the physician renowned in the West as Avicenna, for his Canon on Medicine, explains Ibn Sina’s treatise on the substance of the soul. Ibn Sina was also one who viewed the brain as the seat of cognition and perception. Ebrahim Moosa’s biography (2005) of Al-Ghazali (d.1111), recounts that the famous theologian acknowledged the brain as an organ of sensory perception but identified the intellect as the critical faculty for the perception of inner reality. “Ghazali pointed out that the intellect is actually more intimately related to the heart than to the brain.”(2005, p. 225). Al-Tirmidhi (d.912) had much earlier identified the heart, and its inner four stations, as the most important human organ, as described by Robert Frager in “Heart, Self & Soul”(1999). Fakhry (2001) in his biography of Ibn Rushd (d.1198), known in the West as Averroes, recounts that the physician and jurist, expounded on a theory of knowledge, the faculties of the soul including memory and recollection, and the faculty of imagination.

According to Pormann & Savage-Smith in “Medieval Islamic Medicine,” the first hospitals were built in Baghdad in the 10th Century and “the care for the insane in hospitals was unprecedented and an important part of even the earliest Islamic hospitals.” (2007, p. 101). Michael Dols in his classic text: “Majnun: The Madman in Medieval Islamic Society” suggests that “the earliest evidence for the institutional care of the insane is the report that mentions the mentally disturbed patients in the hospital that was founded in al-Qatai, which was in the south-western quarter of present-day Cairo, by Ahmad ibn Tulun, the Abbasid governor of Egypt, in AD 872-3” (1992, p. 117). According to Dols, Al-Kindi opined that “homosexuality was not unnatural because it was practiced by animals” (1992. p. 98) and realized the therapeutic value of music: “Concerning its therapeutic value, al-Kindi integrated music thoroughly with the humoral theory: all notes, melodies, and rhythms had a humoral value.”(p. 169).

The first work on psychopathology was written by al-Tabari (d. 870), who, according to Dols, “used the tripartite division of the brain to locate psychic disorders” (p. 91). Dols reports that “Islamic physicians followed Galen in attributing a wide range of conditions to the malfunctioning of the brain.” (p. 91). Al-Razi (d. 925), the great Baghdad clinician, known as Rhazes, described symptoms and treatments for mental disorders especially melancholia. Pormann & Savage-Smith explain that in his “treatise On Spiritual Medicine”, Al-Razi makes the “case for the pursuit of pure knowledge and avoidance of the ‘afflictions of the soul’.” (2007, p. 48).

Finally, two great Sufis contributed to our understanding of Imaginal psychology through their notion of ‘alam al-mithal’ the imaginal realms. Suhrawardi (executed in 1191), the Persian theosopher, whose experiences of suprasensory reality are recounted in his Book of Conversations, inspired Henri Corbin’s posthumously published essay entitled “Mundus Imaginalis” in “Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam” (1995), and Ibn al-Arabi, (d. 1240) the inspired Andalusian Sufi Master personally experienced and wrote profusely about the world of imagination and its imaginal realms, as described by William Chittick in “Imaginal Worlds.” (1994).

The term psychology may not have been used by these Muslims of the past but the work of knowledge of the self and its regressive instincts and the knowledge of the refinement of the human soul have received consistent and steady attention since the birth of Islam to the present day. However, the notion that Islam has, or could have, its own psychology, per se, has not been a part of mainstream tradition. With the exception of the Sufis who pursued the mystical dimension of Islam and its alchemical transformations of the soul, resulting in the emergence of a Sufi psychology, no other corpus of a contemporary psychology of Islam exists.

In stark contrast, over the past one hundred years, in the Western tradition of the psychology of religion, the most prominent thinkers from William James, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung to Abraham Maslow, Roberto Assagioli and Eric Fromm, from Murray Stein to Edward Edinger and others, have all engaged in diverse psychological inquiries within the context of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. The same cannot be said of the psychology of religion as it pertains to Islam, either by Western thinkers or by Muslim intellectuals and physicians.

In evolving a contemporary psychology of Islam, any reliance on or influence from non-Muslim sources may, in certain important quarters, be considered objectionable or unacceptable to many Muslims. However, to suggest that the psychology of religion, as a Western epistemology, has nothing to add to the understanding of contemporary Islam merely limits the faith to a myopic perspective both for practitioners of Islam and for Muslim practitioners of modern psychology. This myopia also limits access to those who seek to appreciate not only the rich spiritual heritage of Islam but also its relevance and potential universal application to the well-being of humanity. Moreover, to suggest that Islam lacks the capacity to embrace Western knowledge systems debases the original message of Islam. The Qur'an and the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) have always claimed that it was to be a universal message for humankind. The Prophet himself exhorted the faithful to seek knowledge even in China. An entire civilization evolved, expanded and flourished because Islam was once an open epistemological system.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The other side of Siratal Mustaqim

Truth is a Pathless Land

The Dissolution of the Order of the Star

The Order of the Star in the East was founded in 1911 to proclaim the coming of the World Teacher. Krishnamurti was made Head of the Order. On August 2, 1929, the opening day of the annual Star Camp at Ommen, Holland, Krishnamurti dissolved the Order before 3000 members. Below is the full text of the talk he gave on that occasion.

Truth is a Pathless Land
by J Krishnamurti

We are going to discuss this morning the dissolution of the Order of the Star. Many people will be delighted, and others will be rather sad. It is a question neither for rejoicing nor for sadness, because it is inevitable, as I am going to explain.

You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, "What did that man pick up?" "He picked up a piece of Truth," said the devil. "That is a very bad business for you, then," said his friend. "Oh, not at all," the devil replied, "I am going to let him organize it."

I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.

So that is the first reason, from my point of view, why the Order of the Star should be dissolved.

In spite of this, you will probably form other Orders, you will continue to belong to other organizations searching for Truth. I do not want to belong to any organization of a spiritual kind, please understand this. I would make use of an organization which would take me to London, for example; this is quite a different kind of organization, merely mechanical, like the post or the telegraph. I would use a motor car or a steamship to travel, these are only physical mechanisms which have nothing whatever to do with spirituality. Again, I maintain that no organization can lead man to spirituality.

If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth. So that is another reason why I have decided, as I happen to be the Head of the Order, to dissolve it. No one has persuaded me to this decision.

This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies. Then you will naturally ask me why I go the world over, continually speaking. I will tell you for what reason I do this: not because I desire a following, not because I desire a special group of special disciples. (How men love to be different from their fellow-men, however ridiculous, absurd and trivial their distinctions may be! I do not want to encourage that absurdity.) I have no disciples, no apostles, either on earth or in the realm of spirituality.

Nor is it the lure of money, nor the desire to live a comfortable life, which attracts me. If I wanted to lead a comfortable life I would not come to a Camp or live in a damp country! I am speaking frankly because I want this settled once and for all. I do not want these childish discussions year after year.

One newspaper reporter, who interviewed me, considered it a magnificent act to dissolve an organization in which there were thousands and thousands of members. To him it was a great act because, he said:

What will you do afterwards, how will you live? You will have no following, people will no longer listen to you.” If there are only five people who will listen, who will live, who have their faces turned towards eternity, it will be sufficient. Of what use is it to have thousands who do not understand, who are fully embalmed in prejudice, who do not want the new, but would rather translate the new to suit their own sterile, stagnant selves? If I speak strongly, please do not misunderstand me, it is not through lack of compassion. If you go to a surgeon for an operation, is it not kindness on his part to operate even if he cause you pain? So, in like manner, if I speak straightly, it is not through lack of real affection -- on the contrary.

As I have said, I have only one purpose: to make man free, to urge him towards freedom, to help him to break away from all limitations, for that alone will give him eternal happiness, will give him the unconditioned realization of the self.

Because I am free, unconditioned, whole -- not the part, not the relative, but the whole Truth that is eternal -- I desire those, who seek to understand me to be free; not to follow me, not to make out of me a cage which will become a religion, a sect. Rather should they be free from all fears -- from the fear of religion, from the fear of salvation, from the fear of spirituality, from the fear of love, from the fear of death, from the fear of life itself. As an artist paints a picture because he takes delight in that painting, because it is his self-expression, his glory, his well-being, so I do this and not because I want anything from anyone.

You are accustomed to authority, or to the atmosphere of authority, which you think will lead you to spirituality. You think and hope that another can, by his extraordinary powers -- a miracle -- transport you to this realm of eternal freedom which is Happiness. Your whole outlook on life is based on that authority.

You have listened to me for three years now, without any change taking place except in the few. Now analyze what I am saying, be critical, so that you may understand thoroughly, fundamentally. When you look for an authority to lead you to spirituality, you are bound automatically to build an organization around that authority. By the very creation of that organization, which, you think, will help this authority to lead you to spirituality, you are held in a cage.

If I talk frankly, please remember that I do so, not out of harshness, not out of cruelty, not out of the enthusiasm of my purpose, but because I want you to understand what I am saying. That is the reason why you are here, and it would be a waste of time if I did not explain clearly, decisively, my point of view.

For eighteen years you have been preparing for this event, for the Coming of the World Teacher. For eighteen years you have organized, you have looked for someone who would give a new delight to your hearts and minds, who would transform your whole life, who would give you a new understanding; for someone who would raise you to a new plane of life, who would give you a new encouragement, who would set you free -- and now look what is happening! Consider, reason with yourselves, and discover in what way that belief has made you different -- not with the superficial difference of the wearing of a badge, which is trivial, absurd. In what manner has such a belief swept away all the unessential things of life? That is the only way to judge: in what way are you freer, greater, more dangerous to every Society which is based on the false and the unessential? In what way have the members of this organization of the Star become different?
As I said, you have been preparing for eighteen years for me. I do not care if you believe that I am the World-Teacher or not. That is of very little importance. Since you belong to the organization of the Order of the Star, you have given your sympathy, your energy, acknowledging that Krishnamurti is the World-Teacher -- partially or wholly: wholly for those who are really seeking, only partially for those who are satisfied with their own half-truths.
You have been preparing for eighteen years, and look how many difficulties there are in the way of your understanding, how many complications, how many trivial things. Your prejudices, your fears, your authorities, your churches new and old -- all these, I maintain, are a barrier to understanding. I cannot make myself clearer than this. I do not want you to agree with me, I do not want you to follow me, I want you to understand what I am saying.

This understanding is necessary because your belief has not transformed you but only complicated you, and because you are not willing to face things as they are. You want to have your own gods -- new gods instead of the old, new religions instead of the old, new forms instead of the old -- all equally valueless, all barriers, all limitations, all crutches. Instead of old spiritual distinctions you have new spiritual distinctions, instead of old worships you have new worships. You are all depending for your spirituality on someone else, for your happiness on someone else, for your enlightenment on someone else; and although you have been preparing for me for eighteen years, when I say all these things are unnecessary, when I say that you must put them all away and look within yourselves for the enlightenment, for the glory, for the purification, and for the incorruptibility of the self, not one of you is willing to do it. There may be a few, but very, very few.

So why have an organization?

Why have false, hypocritical people following me, the embodiment of Truth? Please remember that I am not saying something harsh or unkind, but we have reached a situation when you must face things as they are. I said last year that I would not compromise. Very few listened to me then. This year I have made it absolutely clear. I do not know how many thousands throughout the world -- members of the Order -- have been preparing for me for eighteen years, and yet now they are not willing to listen unconditionally, wholly, to what I say.

As I said before, my purpose is to make men unconditionally free, for I maintain that the only spirituality is the incorruptibility of the self which is eternal, is the harmony between reason and love. This is the absolute, unconditioned Truth which is Life itself. I want therefore to set man free, rejoicing as the bird in the clear sky, unburdened, independent, ecstatic in that freedom . And I, for whom you have been preparing for eighteen years, now say that you must be free of all these things, free from your complications, your entanglements. For this you need not have an organization based on spiritual belief. Why have an organization for five or ten people in the world who understand, who are struggling, who have put aside all trivial things? And for the weak people, there can be no organization to help them to find the Truth, because Truth is in everyone; it is not far, it is not near; it is eternally there.

Organizations cannot make you free. No man from outside can make you free; nor can organized worship, nor the immolation of yourselves for a cause, make you free; nor can forming yourselves into an organization, nor throwing yourselves into works, make you free. You use a typewriter to write letters, but you do not put it on an altar and worship it. But that is what you are doing when organizations become your chief concern.

How many members are there in it?” That is the first question I am asked by all newspaper reporters.

How many followers have you? By their number we shall judge whether what you say is true or false.” I do not know how many there are. I am not concerned with that. As I said, if there were even one man who had been set free, that were enough.

Again, you have the idea that only certain people hold the key to the Kingdom of Happiness. No one holds it. No one has the authority to hold that key. That key is your own self, and in the development and the purification and in the incorruptibility of that self alone is the Kingdom of Eternity.

So you will see how absurd is the whole structure that you have built, looking for external help, depending on others for your comfort, for your happiness, for your strength. These can only be found within yourselves.

You are accustomed to being told how far you have advanced, what is your spiritual status. How childish! Who but yourself can tell you if you are beautiful or ugly within? Who but yourself can tell you if you are incorruptible? You are not serious in these things.

But those who really desire to understand, who are looking to find that which is eternal, without beginning and without an end, will walk together with a greater intensity, will be a danger to everything that is unessential, to unrealities, to shadows. And they will concentrate, they will become the flame, because they understand. Such a body we must create, and that is my purpose. Because of that real understanding there will be true friendship. Because of that true friendship -- which you do not seem to know -- there will be real cooperation on the part of each one. And this not because of authority, not because of salvation, not because of immolation for a cause, but because you really understand, and hence are capable of living in the eternal. This is a greater thing than all pleasure, than all sacrifice.

So these are some of the reasons why, after careful consideration for two years, I have made this decision. It is not from a momentary impulse. I have not been persuaded to it by anyone. I am not persuaded in such things. For two years I have been thinking about this, slowly, carefully, patiently, and I have now decided to disband the Order, as I happen to be its Head. You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned, nor with creating new cages, new decorations for those cages. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free.”

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Friday, June 5, 2009

President Obama on the Ethics of Islam

In an inspiring speech made by President Barak Hussein Obama at the University of Cairo on June 4, 2009, in an attempt to jump start a "new beginning" between the USA and the Muslim world, he reminded his audience that:

"The holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as it if he has killed all mankind.

And the holy Quran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.

The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism; it is an important part of promoting peace."