The Prophet's (SAW) companion, Ibn Abbas (RA), is reported to have asked: "Do you know what is the departure of knowledge?," and answered, "It's the death of the scholars." (Transmitted in Musnad Ahmad, with a sound chain)
Today, I am saddened by the report that our beloved teacher and scholar, Professor Malik Badri, passed away. May Allah grant him the highest degree in the Jannah, and give his family ample patience. We have lost an enormous amount of knowledge with his departure from this world.
Prof. Malik, as we called him, was truly a giant. He was a path-breaking scholar in the field of Islam and psychology, a wonderful teacher, and a role model. His father-like figure and gentle manners made his classroom such a warm place. He was truly a fount of knowledge. His classes were not monologues; he always engaged his students and encouraged deep discussions of whatever the topic of the day was. Prof. Malik used to refer to us, students, as sons and daughters. "My son... my daughter..." were the words with which he would preface his answers or comments. I had a great good fortune of studying with him at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) in Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s, which - at the time - was an amazing graduate school, led by Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas. It had an astonishing faculty, consisting of some of the most brilliant Muslim minds at the time. It was a privilege to study at ISTAC.
Born in Sudan in 1932, Prof. Malik studied at the American University in Beirut during the time when the Arab/Muslim world was undergoing a tremendous transformation due to the end of the colonial era. Prof. Malik obtained his PhD in psychology from the University of Leicester in England, and his postgraduate certificates in clinical psychology from London University. He had a rich academic career, was an accomplished clinical psychologist, and served as UNESCO expert.
He was among the first to point out the biases in Western social sciences, and to question their utility in non-Western (especially Islamic) contexts. His book, "In the Lizard's Hole: the Dilemma of Muslim psychologists," written in the early 1970s, should be required reading for any Muslim social scientist (Later on it was published as "The Dilemma of Muslim Psychologists"). In this book, he questioned the suitability of the main psychological theories of the day - Freudian psychoanalysis and Skinnerian behaviorism - in the Muslim contexts. He showed how basic assumptions of these theories are antithetical to an Islamic epistemology and ontology. He called for a critical appraisal of Western social sciences and invited Muslims to think more organically about how these were to be developed in Muslim societies. Many who today talk about decolonizing knowledge should pay attention to Prof. Malik's works.
I remember how he would bring Western psychology textbooks to our classrooms and point to the historical development of psychology as presented in these books. Invariably, they would talk about ancient Greece and Rome, and then jump to post-Enlightenment Europe. The 7-8 centuries, between the 7th and 15th, where Muslims were flourishing intellectually were simply not mentioned, as if they never existed. Likewise, China or India were never mentioned. He didn't simply talk about these things; he showed us how to spot these biases and - most importantly - how to rectify them.
Another favorite pedagogical tool of his was to ask us to look for the word "happiness" in the index of these psychology textbooks. We would go back and forth but would be unable to find it. He would then ask, "how good is this psychology if it never talked about human happiness?" This would lead to rich discussions on the goals of psychology, and how should Muslims study this discipline. For him, psychology should lead to happiness. Of course, his definition of happiness was not purely an emotional state; it was a spiritual category, as understood by the generations of Muslim scholars and sages.
He talked in class about a fascinating manuscript he was working on, Al-Balkhi's Masalih al-abdan wa'l-anfus (The wellbeing of body and soul). He told us that al-Balkhi understood such fine points of psychology which the psychologists only started discovering in the 20th century (al-Balkhi lived in the 9th century!). Al-Balkhi used cognitive and musical therapies centuries before it became a widespread practice. Eventually, Prof. Malik published the part of this manuscript that focused on the soul, with translation and commentary, as "Abu Zayd al-Balkhi's Sustenance of the Soul."
Building on this book and on his own rich knowledge and experience, Prof. Malik wrote one of the most introspective and helpful books a Muslim (or any person) could read, "Contemplation: An Islamic Psychospiritual Study." In it, he led the reader to the path of self-discovery and spirituality through reflection, meditation, and contemplation - and all rooted in Islamic spiritual ideas and practices. Reading this book always returns me to the happiness that pervaded through Prof. Malik's classroom.
One of the amazing facts of Prof. Malik's life was that he was the host to Malcolm X when the latter visited Sudan in 1959. Prof. Malik wrote about this visit in a newsletter for a Malaysian university (I don't have a copy and if anyone reading this does, I would appreciate it if you could send me a scan of that article). Each of Prof. Malik's classes was a journey that led deep into the vast areas of knowledge, history, and personal anecdotes.
In 2014, I was blessed with spending almost three weeks in Malaysia with Prof. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman, a former rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) and another towering Muslim intellectual from the same generation as Prof. Malik. We were working on a textbook project with the IIUM. Prof. Malik visited us several times and discussed the project in relation to psychology. Even though he was already in his 80s, he was lucid and sharp as ever. He honored me by calling me his son and brother.
The current generation of Muslim social scientists, in particular psychologists, would do well to carry on his legacy by studying Prof. Malik's works and by continuing to build strong foundations for an Islamic approach to psychology, rooted in Islamic epistemology. Prof. Malik showed us that this was possible by combining the first-rate scholarship with a strong knowledge of, and commitment to Islam.
May Prof. Malik Badri's memory be blessed, may he reside in Jannah al-Firdaws, and may we continue the good works he had started.