Abu Zayd Al Balkhi

Do you know everything there is to Know about Abu Zayd al-Balkhi?

For those who have never heard him before, Abu Zayd al-Balkhi was a Muslim polymath who wrote many breakthrough documents about several different fields such as geography, sociology, grammar, and astronomy. He lived during 9th century in the Persian village Shamisitiyan.

His Legacy

Over the course of time, most of his work was gone leaving us with only a few of his initial transcript. The two most important documents that have been preserved are the ‘Balkhi School’ which is about terrestrial mapping and the ‘Sustenance of the Soul’.

Yagut al-Hamawi

Most of the information we get about Al-Balkhi’s life comes from his biographer Yagut al-Hamawi. Apart from his focus on his work, there are not many details on Al-Balkhi’s personal life other than the fact that he was described as a rather shy and contemplative person.

Sustenance of the Soul

The most famous work of Al-Balkhi is without a doubt his book ‘Sustenance of the Soul’. In this book, the author focuses on the physical health of the body and then on the mental illnesses, as were first analyzed by him. Through detailed analysis of human soul, the author attempts to describe a person’s psychological state. His insightfulness is really impressive until modern days.

Psychological Illness

Even in today’s world psychologists still, find it difficult to normalize a mental illness. This means that people who face those illnesses are still under social pressure and racism. They feel shame as their illness is still treated as a taboo. Al-Balkhi more than a millennium ago started writing about normalizing the mental illness. This is why his work remains so important and fundamental.

First Book for Self-Improvement

If you start reading the work of Al-Balkhi, you will come to realize that the language he uses is rather simple and easy to understand. This was not made by chance, as Al-Balkhi wanted to be able to be read by everyone. Many experts, as well as his biographer claim that this is another impressive aspect that distinguishes him from any other professional.

Ahead of his Time

There is no doubt that the work of Al-Balkhi was centuries ahead of his time. Many professionals still study his work, impressed by the different point of view that he had. Unlike his era, Al-Balkhi managed to distinguish the difference between soul, mind and the material world around him.

In his work, you can see the different types of depression he had found as well as the acknowledgement of obsessive thinking. Psychological matters that still concern the experts were thoroughly explained by Al-Balkhi in his transcripts.

Obsessional Disorders in al-Balkhi's 9th century treatise: Sustenance of the Body and Soul. (1)

Some argue that the earliest case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was reported by Robert Burton in his compendium The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) and that only in the 19th century did modern concepts of OCD evolve, differentiating it from other types of mental illness. In this paper, we aim to reveal an even earlier presentation of the malady we now call OCD based on the 9th century work, Sustenance of the Body and Soul, written by Abu Zayd al-Balkhi during the Islamic Golden Era. Discovery of this manuscript reveals that Abu Zayd al-Balkhi should be credited with differentiating OCD from other forms of mental illnesses nearly a millennium earlier than is currently claimed by anthologies documenting the history of mental illness. Particular attention is paid to al-Balkhi's classifications, symptom descriptions, predisposing factors, and the treatment modalities for obsessional disorders. Analysis of this manuscript in light of the DSM-5 and modern scientific discoveries reveals transcultural diagnostic consistency of OCD across many centuries. Theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are also discussed.


1: Obsessional Disorders in al-Balkhi's 9th century treatise: Sustenance of the Body and Soul. Written by Ustadha Rania Awaad  and Ali S.

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