On the passing of Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar: An Interview with Dr. Carrie York Al-Karam

On Sunday October 18, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar passed from this world peacefully in her sleep in Chicago, Illinois.  It is difficult to do justice to a scholar, activist, teacher, and mystic of her stature, and when considering how to write about her transcending, speaking with one of the people who benefited from her legacy was a natural idea.  

Her daughter, Davar Ardalan, wrote an excellent piece on Dr. Laleh’s life and passing, which you can find here. You can also read about her life via this article as well.

While the articles I linked are excellent, I wanted to also pay tribute to her through my own words, so I gathered a few other thoughts, and discussed Dr. Laleh’s passing with a Muslim woman who is in the tradition of Islamic psychology, Dr. Carrie York Al-Karam. 

A distinguished contributor in her own right to the field of Islamic Psychology, Dr. Carrie is the founder of Alkaram Institute, and a well-known author and speaker. We are grateful she agreed to speak with Muslim Girl about Dr. Laleh’s life, work, and contribution.

Muslim Girl: We are all incredibly sad at the passing of an intellectual giant, scholar, teacher, and mystic, Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar. In mourning her passing, our personal knowledge of people comes to mind, as well as the impact of their work.  How did you come to be familiar with Dr. Laleh’s work, and with Dr. Laleh herself?

Dr. Carrie: I came to know of Laleh’s work on the translation of the Quran years ago. I also knew of her work with the enneagram and what she called “traditional psychology” but had not been in contact with her until last year. When we launched the Alkaram Institute in July 2019, she was one of the first people to reach out and congratulate us. She sent me a couple of signed copies of her Islamic psychology books, asked me to do a review of one of them on Amazon, and then in the fall, I asked if I could interview her for the twelfth annual Muslim mental health conference, as there was a special track on Islamic psychology.

As many people know, that conference, which was supposed to be in March, 2020 in Chicago got postponed due to Covid and eventually happened online in July, 2020. So, it turns out we did our talk over Zoom, which in hindsight was probably a good thing because it captured the talk so much better than had we done it in a meeting room and all the logistical issues that come with recording in that format.

She wanted Muslims to make the Quran the central force in their lives.

It is very possible that it was her last public talk. With her passing, its title has so much more meaning – “Islamic Psychology and a Life Well Lived: A Conversation with Author, Editor, Scholar, and Retired Licensed Professional Counselor Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar.” A life well lived, indeed! We discussed her legacy towards the end of our 40-minute chat. I specifically asked her what she wanted to be remembered for most since she had contributed so much. Her answer was that she wanted people to remember the Quran. She didn’t necessarily mean to remember her translation of it. She wanted Muslims to make the Quran the central force in their lives.

Can you speak to the significance of Dr. Laleh’s work in the field of Islamic psychology and Sufism?

I’m not an expert in the field of Sufism, so I’m not really able to elaborate on the significance of her work in that domain, although clearly with the number of publications she has on the topic, as well as being a life-long Sufi herself, I’m sure her impact is immeasurable.

In terms of Islamic psychology, I would say she is definitely one of the “modern mothers” of the field. Malik Badri (b. 1932) is often credited with being the father of modern IP, and I don’t disagree with that. But I would say that Laleh is also a founder. She did, after all, contribute many books specifically to this field, with many of them being written in the 1990s when the field didn’t really even exist as a thing yet. She left behind a treasure trove of scholarly contributions and to highlight and honor that work, here is a list of some of them:

  1. God’s Will Be Done. Vol. 1 Traditional Psychoethics and Personality Paradigm (1993).
  2. God’s Will Be Done: Vol. 2 Moral Healer’s Handbook (1994).
  3. God’s Will Be Done: Vol. 3 Moral Healing Through the Most Beautiful Names (1994).
  4. Rumi’s Original Sufi Enneagram (2013).
  5. Quranic Psychology of the Self: A Textbook on Islamic Moral Psychology (2019).
  6. Moses and Khidr: Consciousness Between the Two Seas of Reason and Intuition and an Analysis Based on Quranic Psychology (2019).
  7. Encyclopedia of Quranic Psychotherapy: A Manual of Healing Traditional and DSM-5 Moral Imbalances (2020)

Would you be willing to speak to any impact that her work has had on you personally?

The biggest impact she had on me personally was her love. Laleh stated publicly that she follows the religion of love. My experience of her during our year and a half friendship is that she had this joie de vivre, a light about her. I have recently come to know other members of her Sufi tariqa, and they also have this loving presence about them, which is really quite interesting. In short, the biggest impression she left on me is love, and love never dies.

We are left with an amazing treasure trove of knowledge from Dr. Laleh of which we can barely hope to scratch the surface. If you were to encourage people who wanted to familiarize themselves with her work where would you suggest people start? What do you think are some of the key parts of her legacy?

I have listed most if not all of her Islamic psychology publications above. It is my hope that people interested in the various fields in which these works can be situated will use them as foundations for further lines of inquiry. It is also my hope that everyday people will be inspired by and benefit from the wisdom that they contain.

We all know that one of Dr. Laleh’s most notable and significant accomplishments was that she translated the Quran, and while this is an accomplishment for anyone, more so for women, as most translators have been men. With this in mind, what parts of Dr. Laleh’s legacy do you think are the most important for us to focus on as Muslim women?

I think Laleh’s life example is one of incredible strength. She spoke publicly about being a divorced mother who raised 3 children and struggled to make ends meet. She endured a lot of criticism regarding her Quran translation, and as we discussed in our talk, she worked a lot in isolation because many of the fields to which she was contributing, such as Islamic psychology and even Muslim mental health, were not yet formed. She not only endured and pushed through, she thrived, and was a beacon of love and a producer of an enormous amount of scholarly work that will bear witness for her as sadaqa jariya, insha’Allah.

She was a beautiful example for all people to follow, both women and men alike.

She was a woman, mother, grandmother, scholar, author, editor, trailblazer, and more. She also loved God, the Quran, and was committed to all that she believed in, regardless of external circumstances. In short, she was just herself and all that God destined her to be. She was a beautiful example for all people to follow, both women and men alike. I have no doubt she was received by God in a high station of paradise. When it’s my time, I hope she will be waiting for me at the pearly gates and that I’ll get from her the subject line of our final email together “A Hug and a Hello.”

May her blessed soul rest in peace, ameen.

**You can learn more about Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar and her work in the following interview from the Muslim Mental Health Conference in 2020, just this last summer. We will dearly miss Dr. Laleh, and pray that she is smiling on us and our work from heaven.  Inni lilahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon.

Sarah is a social worker in the San Francisco Bay Area with at-risk and homeless youth. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God.