Journal of Anxiety Disorders
A modern conceptualization of phobia in al-Balkhi’s 9th century treatise: Sustenance of the Body and Soul
by Awaad, R. & Ali, S.
Morbid fears and phobias have been mentioned in religious, philosophical and medical manuscripts since ancient times. Despite early insights by the Greeks, phobias did not appear as a separate clinical phenomenon in Western medicine until the 17th century and has evolved substantially since. However, robust investigations attempting to decipher the clinical nature of phobias emerged in pre-modern times during the oft-overlooked Islamic Golden Era (9th-12th centuries); which overlapped with Europe’s medieval period. An innovative attempt was made by the 9th century Muslim scholar, Abu Zayd al-Balkhi, in his medical manuscript “Sustenance of the Body and Soul,” to define phobias as a separate diagnostic entity. Al-Balkhi was one of the earliest to cluster psychological and physical symptoms of phobias under one category, “al-Fazaá”, and outline a specific management plan. We analyze al-Balkhi’s description of phobias, according to the modern understanding of psychiatric classifications and symptomatology as described in the DSM-5.