Courage, Temperance, Justice and the Enduring Wisdom of the late Scholar Laleh Bakhtiar

Renowned Iranian-American Scholar, Laleh Bakhtiar, lauded for Islamic spirituality and Quranic critical thinking, dies at 82.

Laleh Bakhtiar, an Islamic and Sufi scholar and the first American Muslim woman to translate the Quran, passed away peacefully on Sunday October 18, 2020 in Chicago, from Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a rare blood disorder. She was 82.

Born in Tehran on July 29, 1938 and raised in America, Dr. Bakhtiar dedicated more than 50 years of her life to the study of the mystical or Sufi dimensions of Islam and to revisiting Islamic texts from a Muslim woman’s perspective. Dr. Bakhtiar was the Founder and President of the Institute of Traditional Psychology and Scholar-in Residence at Kazi Publications.

Author Laleh Bakhtiar in the 1970’s

Dr. Bakhtiar authored, translated, edited, and adapted over 150 books including with Nader Ardalan, and . One of her proudest accomplishments came in 2007 with her translation of the Quran called Since the advent of Islam, the translators and interpreters of the Quran have mostly been men.

In May 2016, Dr. Bakhtiar was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mohammed Webb Foundation in Chicago for her contributions to the American Muslim community.

“As a women’s advocate she challenged patriarchy by using her mighty pen, as a spiritual confidant she set a tone for scholars and activists to create an open debate by sharing feelings that ranged from the most general to the most intimate and as a spiritual exemplar she inspired young generation of women with her deep humility and service to community.” — Daisy Khan, the Founder of WISE Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality

May 17, 2020 Dr. Bakhtiar was featured as part of Muslim Women Zoom Into the Quran

Contributions to Islamic Psychology

Dr. Bakhtiar has also been lauded as a pioneering scholar and practitioner in the emerging discipline of Islamic Psychology. Her new book, , has helped Quranic Psychology claim its place as its own science, incorporating Ethics, Medicine, Natural Philosophy, and Philosophy.

Samuel Bendeck Sotillos, editor of

Laleh Bakhtiar in the 1960's

Dr. Bakhtiar attended Holton Arms High School in Maryland. She received her BA in History from Chatham College in Pennsylvania, and Masters degrees in Philosophy and Counseling Psychology and a Ph.D. in Educational Foundations from the University of New Mexico. She is also a Nationally Certified Counselor. For over 30 years, Dr. Bakhtiar studied Islam under her teacher, Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr. In addition to and , she has authored many books on Islamic unity, architecture, psychology, psychoethics, and moral healing through the Sufi Enneagram.

Growing up in Washington, DC, Dr. Bakhtiar’s favorite books included Louisa May Alcott’s and and, oh yes, she loved and . As the family historian, she saved thousands of letters and mementos from 1880 to the present between her mother, father and siblings as they travelled in between America and Iran.

Dr. Bakhtiar’s mother, Helen Jeffreys, was a constant source of inspiration throughout her life. Helen was born in Weiser, Idaho, at the beginning of the 20th century. Working as a nurse, she met Iranian physician Dr. Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar at Harlem Hospital. Previously, Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar had emigrated to Ellis Island, NY in 1919. They fell in love and were married at New York City Hall in 1927.

In the 1950s, Helen travelled to Iran as a public health nurse as part of President Truman’s Point Four Program. The rural improvement project sent American experts in agriculture, health, and education to work in villages in less-developed countries. Traveling in the remote mountains of Chahar Mahal in her own jeep, Helen worked with the legendary Bakhtiari tribe of Iran, helping women learn about the importance of health care. The people of Chahar Mahal loved Helen and years later would name a mountain and protected environmental region in her honor. That same spirit of service to community is what inspired Dr. Bakhtiar in her path as an Islamic scholar.

The parents of Laleh Bakhtiar: Dr. Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar and Helen Jeffreys Bakhtiar New York City 1931

“Our story, like the story of so many emigrants, would never have been if it had not been for Ellis Island and the hope that it inspired so many such as my father to make the great journey to the shores of America in order to gain an education.” — — Laleh Bakhtiar May, 2014

In her final days, Dr. Bakhtiar was surrounded by her family who comforted her, even through social distancing, by reading messages of prayers coming in from all over the world, including one from her mentor Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who praised her for standing up for “Islam, Sufism and the truth.” Her children took turns reading her passages from , writings of the poet Jalal al-Din Rumi, the philosopher Al-Ghazali, and played music from singer and songwriters Joan Baez, James Taylor, Yusuf Islam’s Tea for the Tillerman 2 and a rendition of Amazing Grace by her grandchildren.

Dr. Bakhtiar will be laid to rest in Chicago, where she has been a scholar-in-residence at Kazi Publications, managed by publisher Liaquat Ali. She is survived by her children Mani Helene Ardalan Farhadi, Iran Davar Ardalan, and Karim Ardalan; her grandchildren Saied, Samira, Rodd, Ryon, Aman, Amir, Ryan, and Layla; as well as her daughter-in-law Susan Khalili and sons-in-law Shervin Farhadi and John Oliver Smith. Her surviving siblings are Parveen, Jamshid, Lily, Maryam, Parvaneh, Shahrbanou, Afsaneh, Norooz, Pirooz, and Abol.

On Sunday November 15, 2020, WISE, Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, based in New York City, will host a virtual memorial for Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar at 1pm EST and present her with a lifetime achievement award for scholarship in religion and spirituality.

“She dared to see beyond the horizon, maintained her trust in God, led by example, influencing countless women and men through her servant leadership, scholarship and spiritual integrity.” — Daisy Khan Founder of WISE

Reflections on Dr. Bakhtiar’s work and contributions

Jordanian Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad, Chief Advisor for Religious and Cultural Affairs to King Abdullah of Jordan, endorsed her translation of the Sublime Quran on Amazon:

Dr. Bakhtiar’s translation of the Quran is a universal translation meaning there are no parenthetical phrases further interpreting and elaborating a verse, thus allowing the translation to be free of any transient political, denominational or doctrinal bias. Her translation has generated intense scrutiny and criticism as well as praise and recognition from around the world.

Through the years, Dr. Bakhtiar heard from hundreds of Muslim women, battered women, and social service groups who thanked her for bringing an alternative translation into the public eye. As a keynote speaker in New York in July 2014 for Turning Point, an organization for Muslim women and girls affected by domestic violence, Bakhtiar turned to the Quran itself to empower the audience to be brave and strong as they transformed their lives. Shireen Soliman, the Board Chair of Turning Point, described the personal impact of Bakhtiar’s work:

In December 2009, American novelist Dave Eggers recommended on Oprah.com. In an August 2009 article Eggers said:

Contact: Davar Ardalan, Davar@ivow.ai

Resources and Interviews:

The Complete Quran Recitation by Laleh Bakhtiar

Laleh Bakhtiar on her life, recorded by Samira Ardalan

The Sufi Enneagram Course: Knowing Ourselves and Developing Moral Healing November 2018

Laleh Bakhtiar interview with Matt Scott 180º of Impact (September 2018)

Laleh Bakhtiar interview with Homa Sarshar

Myelodysplastic Syndrome Foundation

IVOW Founder and Storyteller in Chief

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