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The legacy of Malik Badri

The initiative to Islamize the field of psychology which was completely secularised and void of spirituality like any other modern disciplines was primarily begun by Malik Badri. He continued this effort and contributed enormously to reinventing the Islamic tradition in psychology until his most recent death.

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Some journeys leave great impacts on people and transform them into legends. Malcolm X’s first journey to Africa in 1959 was of a kind. He visited many African nations including Sudan which became very special in his trajectory. He was pleased with the hospitality and courage shown by the Sudanese people. Throughout his life, he used to praise the unity and love of the Sudanese. The guide of Malcolm X in the Sudan visit was Malik Badri, who influenced Malcolm so dearly, to an extent Malcolm named himself Malik after his Hajj pilgrimage. Malik Badri was only 27 and a student of psychology at the American University of Beirut in 1959.

Malik Badri, the father of modern Islamic psychology, was the one who comprehended the undercurrents in Islam and Modern Psychology, and creatively combined the common grounds between them.  The initiative to Islamize the field of psychology which was completely secularised and void of spirituality like any other modern disciplines was primarily begun by Malik Badri. He continued this effort and contributed enormously to reinventing the Islamic tradition in psychology.

Life and Thoughts

Born in the city of Rufa in 1932 as the son of Babakir Badri, a great educationalist and the founder of the first girls’ school in Sudan. Malik Badri got his elementary education from his father’s school and completed his bachelors and masters in psychology from the American University of Beirut. After working a while as a professor at the same university, he went to Leicester University to pursue his doctoral research. From Middlesex medical school, he obtained a certificate in clinical psychology. He worked in many universities and institutions and served as the head of the psychology departments at the University of Khartoum and the University of Juba.

The department of applied psychology in Khartoum and Mohammed Bin Saud University were founded by him. The psychological clinic established by Malik Badri at the University of Riyadh is the first and best in Saudi Arabia to date. He has served in many positions in the field of psychology as a teacher and researcher in Ethiopia, Malaysia, England, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco.

During his undergraduate period, Malik Badri felt uneasy and hopeless in the then-dominant Freudian thoughts, especially psychoanalysis. The method of Freud of attributing all normal and abnormal behavior to unconscious sexual impulses was conceived as baseless by Malik Badri. Likewise, the client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers, the major challenge of Freudian psychology at that time, was non-judgemental and giving all responsibility to the client to enable themselves to find their own solutions. This method was also considered by malik Badri as losing the value of the therapy process. But as an undergraduate student, there were no alternatives before him. After reading, “Islam; The misunderstood religion” of Qutb and the articles of Maududi pushed Badri to engage deeply in Islamic psychological approaches. Both of their works were meant for the popular public and not deep scholarly works. Then onwards, Malik Badri understood that finding the Islamic responses to the challenges posed by secularism is the first step of Islamising psychology.

Islam and Psychology; Malik Badri’s journey

It was in 1963, he presented the first lecture related to Islamisation of psychology, at the University of Beirut. He understood that the lay audience was impressed while his colleagues weren’t satisfied with his ideas. They were a class of psychologists who prided themselves as followers of neutral science independent of any religious indoctrination. This was the common opinion of Arab social scientists of that period. They sarcastically asked Badri whether if there existed any evil physics and fasiq chemistry? If not, why does it only concern psychology?

Reading Hans Eysenck was a turning point in Badri’s life, he started to find answers for the grumbling questions he had. His books, “Uses and Abuses of Psychology”, “Sense and nonsense in Psychology” and “Fiction in Psychology” were clear responses to Badri’s doubts. Hans Eysenck, through his works, studied the Freudian method and exposed the underlying fallacies and deception in it. Even though Eysenck was an excellent theoretician and leading advocate of behavior therapy, he wasn’t a skillful therapist. It was Joseph Wolpe who followed Eyesenk’s path and practicalized this successfully.

When Malik Badri recognized that Behaviour therapy was evidence-based and homogenous to Islam, he decided to go to London to learn the theoretical foundations and become a therapist. Professor Eysenck suggested Badri to Victor Meyer who was the best trainer in behavior therapy in London. The experience of Badri in the field of teaching psychology helped Badri to learn the ideas and theories within a short span of time. Meyer and Badri developed an intimate relationship and constantly shared their insights and thoughts. Badri once expressed his concerns about treating patients like Pavlovian dogs and argued for the need of humanizing the relationship between therapist and patient. Meyer after hearing this was deeply impressed and complimented him by saying these novel ideas should be published. The paper was published in The American Journal of Psychology with the title “A new technique for the systematic desensitization of pervasive anxiety and phobic reactions” with four advanced changes to Wolpe’s systematic desensitization theory. Victor Meyer mentioned this paper in his fresh book and towering psychologists like Steven Hollon and Martin Seligman endorsed this paper as a valuable study.

When Badri was awarded the certificate of behavior therapy, he waited for the apt opportunity to introduce elements of Islam into psychology. And during his professorship at Khartoum, he shared his thoughts with Taha Basheer, head of the psychology department, who gave him consent to practice his way. Badri started to experience many productive results from this new method. Then he established the first psychology clinic of Riyadh University and continued his inquiry and experiments in Islamic Psychology. At that point in time, he was invited to the annual conference of the Association of Islamic Social Scientists in Indianapolis, where he presented “Muslim psychologists in the lizard’s hole” which led to many debates and discussions between Muslim academicians.

The fair response from Muslim social scientists to this paper motivated Badri to write a book covering all the concerns in this subject. Badri’s ‘The Dilemma of Muslim Psychologists’ was published in 1979. It was a scathing criticism against psychotherapy and secular western psychology. It also included the contributions of Muslim scholars like Imam Ghazali, Al Balkhi, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Sina, Al Razi and their contributions to psychology especially their techniques of treatment of the mentally disturbed.

Malik Badri’s works

The term psychology refers to the systematic study of the psyche. The word psyche means human mind and soul. This branch of knowledge is called ilm nafs in Islamic discourse. Unlike modern psychology, it is hardly possible to see Psychology in Islam as an independent discipline but spread in other disciplines.

Apart from this, Abu Zayd Al Balkhi, a 9th-century Islamic scholar who authored more than 60 books in different disciplines, in his treatise named “Sustenance of Soul” was much more focused work on Psychology and this work was translated by Malik Badri. This treatise was exclusively for Psychology and he was the first psychologist to differentiate between neurosis and psychosis. He wrote extensively about the interrelatedness of mental and physical well-being.

Badri began conscious efforts to popularise the contributions of Muslim scholars to the field of psychology which was deliberately ignored by the mainstream historians beginning from Greek thinkers and leaping above the contributions of Muslims to the age of enlightenment. Badri’s 20 books and scholarly articles in Arabic and English are clear pictures of finding common grounds between Islam and Modern Psychology. Until his last breath, he taught various courses and was actively engaged in educational activities. In 2017, he founded the international association of Islamic Psychology (IAIP), a research center and think tank of Muslim psychologists. It was a fulfillment of Badri’s thoughts to create a hub for Muslim psychologists. In September 2020, Abdullah Rothman, the executive director and major disciple of Malik Badri, was appointed as the principal of Abdul Hakim Murad’s Cambridge Muslim College, which is the point of convergence of western and eastern knowledge traditions. This provides fresh hope that Badri’s efforts will climb further heights and not be left in vain.

Malik Badri, who was affectionately called Baba Malik by those who recognized his contributions and loved him was the father of modern Islamic psychology. From an underdeveloped country of Sudan Badri worked hard with great dreams and became an internationally acclaimed academician and influenced a large number of people. He served as the professor emeritus at the Ahfad University and as the Ibn Khaldun chair at IIUM. His journey and works which were aimed at inordinate goals and will live further on.

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