Remember when mental healthcare for Muslim-Americans was unheard of? Today, Zakat Foundation of America’s Khalil Center project is not only providing spiritually based mental health services in three major U.S. cities, but it is also quickly expanding its reach into new regions in response to a fast growing need.
Khalil Center defines itself as a spiritual wellness center pioneering the application of traditional Islamic spiritual healing methods to modern clinical psychology. The organization is a Zakat Foundation sponsored project.
“We really want to revive the charitable notion and the Prophet’s principles of sincere care and compassion for your community,” said Hooman Keshavarzi, founding director of Khalil Center.
Mental health professionals at Khalil Center echo Keshavarzi’s vision.
“We realized Muslims needed a space that felt more comfortable,” said Dr. Fahad Khan, deputy director at Khalil Center, “a place where they felt they had someone to go to, a clinician that looked like them and provided therapy grounded within the principles of Islam.”
Within four years of its establishment, Khalil Center has opened clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago and New York, and soon it will be opening spaces in Toronto and Los Angeles.
The recent move to New York follows Zakat Foundation’s own development, as the foundation recently opened doors to a new Manhattan office. “In New York, we found people who would love the idea of Khalil Center in their city and love to be part of it,” Keshavarzi said.
That same energy and reputation resonated in Toronto. Earlier this year, Keshavarzi participated in leading Muslim mental health training sessions where more than 150 people, including the city’s Muslim institutional leaders and imams, arrived for extensive training.
“Khalil Center is way ahead of the game, and community leaders want to learn,” Keshavarzi said. “It’s not just about serving clients, but serving people who want to get mentored in this field.”
In Southern California, Khalil Center collaborated with local efforts advocating for mental health services in underprivileged communities. Together, they have mobilized local support for the opening of the new Los Angeles clinic.
Keshavarzi notes that instead of establishing completely new mental health centers on their own, these communities prefer to work with Khalil Center because of their progressive vision rooted in authentic tradition.
The buzz of Khalil Center has earned international recognition. Currently, Keshavarzi is working with Ibn Khaldun University in Istanbul on a crisis response trauma program. The program has the potential to be an immense resource for refugee communities in Turkey.
“It’s a greater synthesis between Zakat Foundation’s international work and domestic work,” Keshavarzi said.
The response from the national and global community reflects the necessity of Khalil Center. The organization serves more than 2,000 people a year in clinical services with 90 percent coming for spiritually integrated psychotherapy. And although they predominantly focus on contemporary issues facing American Muslims, services are not exclusive to any specific community.
So why did it take this long for an organization like Khalil Center to emerge?
Muslim societies often stigmatize mental health. However, this stigma is a rather new phenomenon. Historically, Muslim scholars widely documented mental illnesses like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety.
Hospitals in the Muslim world focused on mental health treatment. Keshavarzi briefly discussed a 14th-century Ottoman hospital that incorporated musical therapy as treatment. Even the architecture of the building was designed specifically to improve a patient’s mental state.
“The study of the self or the soul is very much an Islamic endeavor,” said Dr. Rania Awwad, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Stanford’s School of Medicine. “The early Muslim scholars studied not only the body or mind, but the heart and soul and spirit, and brought all those aspects together.”
Muslim minority communities — coming from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds — are also confronted with discrimination and Islamophobia.
“It’s the stress of being the outsider,” Dr. Khan said. “A Muslim has to worry about fitting in.”
Muslim-Americans, especially from the millennial generation, struggle to maintain their religious identity, sometimes creating dual identities to cater to multiple needs, or what Khan refers to as “third identities.” Dr. Awwad also cites post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a major issue, as many community members migrate from countries where there is trauma from war.
But as a result of daily treatment, Keshavarzi has noticed significant changes in patients. “We really see individuals get their life back,” he says, “or a sense of hopelessness to hopefulness. To see that is great. We own that responsibility as Muslim-Americans to care for our community.
“It’s the tradition we come from. We have a legacy we have to revive. Our deen [religion] is universal, for all time, for all people. This tradition has the capacity to heal the human soul and psyche. That impact will echo.”
Donate to the Khalil Center by clicking HERE, then scroll down to U.S. Programs and select “Khalil Center” in the drop down menu.