WILLOWBROOK, Illinois — Zakat Foundation’s Khalil Center recently held a public, daylong mental health workshop to teach Islam’s traditional concepts and techniques of character reform in light of modern positive psychological research.
“The conference emphasized a high degree of mental health professionalism and research of the lost legacy of Islam’s rich self-development tradition,” says Hooman Keshavarzi, a doctor of clinical psychology and licensed psychotherapist who founded the Center.
“It shared this in light of proven behavioral science applications from modern psychology, which it integrated into practical communal presentations that people could apply on a spiritual level in their day-to-day lives.”
Some 150 highly diverse participants packed the Center’s Changing Our Condition themed annual Wellness Conference at The Mecca Center. The workshop highlighted 11 foundational Islamic concepts for mental health reform, including positive thinking (husna dhun), patience and gratitude (sabr wa shukr), and the psycho-spiritual equilibrium between fear and hope (al-khawf wa’l-raja’).
“We must start with focus on the self in a deep way in order to build the self because much of modern anxiety and distress – in individual character, relationships, and in community and society – come from the tendency in modern life to focus on external factors,” Keshavarzi said.
“We tend to focus on someone who messed up our life, or politics, or social justice, or on our social sphere of interactions. Because of this, there’s a loss of ‘my own sphere’ and development.”
Presenters Drs. Rania Awaad and Fahad Khan, Khalil Center practitioners, for example, are duly trained professionals both in the Islamic sciences and mental health. Awad is a Stanford University psychiatrist highly trained in Islamic Law and a licensed teacher of Quran recitation, which she has memorized.
Khan, who has also memorized the Quran and is a longtime student of Islamic studies, is a doctor and practitioner of clinical psychology.
“The presenters opened a window to a world that people didn’t know existed in Islam, and a lot of people gave us such good, powerful feedback during the presentations, which is why we called them workshops,” Keshavarzi said.
“Islam is rich in self-development that concentrates on individual practical application. People expressed great appreciation for this. Presentations spoke to each person’s needs as an individual – not theoretically but effectively by integrating practical techniques that participants could take home with them and implement.”
Keshavarzi said mass trends toward practices of yoga, meditation, and even sciences of time management, gratitude, forgiveness, and meaningfulness stem from the yawning gap that exists in people’s lives between focus on the external and the need for self-development.
“It makes a great deal of difference in the lives of people when they know, I am doing this not just for my worldly life advancement, or because science says so, but because these are good values that my religion says I should inculcate in myself and live by. That is far more empowering and resonant when someone knows that they are carrying out more than a simple strategy. They are living their religion.”
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