Did you know that our Muslim ancestors used to use architecture as part of the treatment for those with Psychological distress? Are you familiar with models of the self/Nafs as part of understanding what imbalances in mental illness? Were you aware that Islamic Counselling is now increasingly available in Britain at competitive prices for those who would enjoy a faith-sensitive development process at times of difficulty?
If the answer to any of the above was no, then you may be pleased to find out that on Wednesday 27th July over 200 people gathered in London to discuss precisely these issues and more, at the second ever Islamic Psychology Conference.
Organised by Ethnic Health Initiative, this event brought together a range of health professionals and the lay public to explore this lesser known facet of Islamic Medicine.
The session opened with the reflections of Professor Rasjid Skinner, Consultant Clinical Psychologist who explored some of the drawbacks of mainstream ‘Western’ psychological therapies. A brief video message from Professor Malik Badri, author of The Dilemma of Muslim Psychologists was screened, calling us to recognise the importance of worldview on public psychology. Ayesha Aslam from Sakoon Muslim Counselling Service gave us an insight into the powerful work that Islamic Counselling can achieve in relieving the distress of community members with experiences deemed taboo by our community. The importance of a culturally sensitive ear, was emphasised by her case study of an individual who was falsely classified as Psychotic by a Non-Muslim counsellor before he sought their services, because he recited Arabic and rocked backwards and forwards when he prayed! In another example, a Muslim with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder had been told by his Non-Muslim counsellor to abstain totally from prayer as part of the treatment process! Clearly, a role for Islamic Counselling is key here, as well as the wider education of Non-Muslim healthcare practitioners about Islam.
In the afternoon, Lynne Ali-Northcott, who works with substance addiction in the Bangladeshi community, presented her fascinating research into the effect of Ramadan on Muslim heroin users. Year after year, she has consistently noticed that as soon as Ramadan hits, Muslim heroin users suddenly cease using drugs for 30 days and 30 nights. She was intrigued by their capacity to do this and constructed her own research project around it. What she discovered was that Muslims who had been fasting throughout their childhood, somehow entered a different mode of being, in which all environmental triggers to drug abuse were no longer as potent. She suggests that something about the intrinsic rituals within Islam, such as Prayer and Fasting, may be helping addicts to substitute their maladaptive habits, with healthier habits. Indeed anecdotally she observes that those who embrace Islam most fully outside of their drug rehabilitation programme, are most likely to maintain their recovery.
Other speakers included Stephen Maynard, Stephen Weatherhead and Saiyyidah Zaidi who advocated new ways of dealing with old problems holistically, but most of all came the call for greater research into this under-prioritised area.
Our ancestors, such as Al Kindi (9th Century) and Al Ghazali (11th Century) did a lot of work on Pyschology – perhaps it is high time, in this world of imbalance, that our community carried the torch of research and development forwards.