Dreams: Robert Fisk - Visions that come to men as they sleep
- Robert Fisk: Visions that come to men as they sleep
For many extreme Muslims, dreams are a serious affair.
Osama bin Laden is a dream-believer
Saturday, 26 January 2008
As a little boy, I had a recurring nightmare and it
always featured my grandfather's dog. Arthur Rose had
a Labrador called Sir Lancelot Lance for short and
I adored this dog. I think he liked me too, because we
raced around Arthur's great lawns together and when I
tried to trip him up, he tried to trip me up and when
I lay on the ground, he would sit with his back to me
and bang his heavy, powerful tail into my face.
But in my nightmares I would be confronted by a
hostile Lance no friendly Lab now, but a biting,
barking wolf-like creature, his face contorted with
hatred. He would torment me until my cries of fear
brought my father to my bed. He would shake me
repeatedly until I freed myself from this fearsome,
We westerners tend to regard dreams as a haphazard
phenomenon wrought by the sleeping diminution of a
still working brain, a coma of flotsam thrown up by
our daily experiences. But for many extreme Muslims,
dreams are a far more serious affair. The Prophet
Mohammed received his message from God the Koran
after a series of dreams lasting six months, and there
are those who believe that the entire text of the
Koran was received by the Prophet in a dream-like
Dreams, in other words, were no mere reflection of the
idle human brain but could be a direct communication
from God. Dr Iain Edgar of Durham University's
Anthropology Department has sent me the results of his
own investigation into this phenomenon, the experience
of the "true dream" ruya in Arabic which, he
believes, "is a fundamental, inspirational, and even
strategic, part of the contemporary militant jihadist
movement in the Middle East and elsewhere."
Describing Islam as "probably the largest night dream
culture in the world today," Edgar quotes a hadith
(saying of the Prophet) in which Mohammed's wife Aisha
says that the "commencement of the divine inspiration
was in the form of good righteous dreams in his sleep
... He never had a dream but that it came true like
bright of day." An 8th-century dream writer from Basra
in southern Iraq, Ibn Sirin who wrote Dreams and
their Interpretation divided dreams into the
spiritual (ruan), those inspired by the devil, and
"dreams emanating from the nafs (which means "running,
hot blood") an earthly spirit that dwells in the
dreamer's body and is distinct from the soul."
I fear that my grandfather's ferocious Labrador must
be placed among the latter. But these ideas should not
be trifled with. Mohammed Amanullah presented a paper
at Berkeley three years ago which stated that half of
the 12 Muslim staff in the religious studies
department at a Malaysian university reported "true"
dreams, 50 per cent of which revealed the Prophet. One
hadith quotes the Prophet as saying that "whoever has
seen me in a dream, then no doubt, he has seen me, for
Satan cannot imitate my shape."
Osama bin Laden certainly is a dream-believer. Not
only did he once tell me that one of his "brothers"
had a dream that he had seen me in a Muslim gown,
bearded and riding a horse, and that this must mean I
was a "true Muslim" a possible attempt at
recruitment which I swiftly turned down but
following September 11, he was quoted as saying that
"Abul-Hassan al-Musri told me a year ago: 'I saw in a
dream, we were playing a soccer game against the
Americans. When our team showed up in the field, they
were all pilots!' He (al-Musri) didn't know anything
about the (9/11) operation until he heard it on the
radio. He said the game went on and we defeated them.
That was a good omen for us."
Yosri Fouda, an al-Jazeera journalist who interviewed
al- Qa'ida planners Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid
Shaykh Mohammed in 2002, reported that al-Shibh spoke
of experiencing many dreams about the brothers before
the attacks. "He would speak of the Prophet and his
close companions as if he had actually met them."
Al-Shibh was to recall that "Mohammed Atta [one of the
leading September 11 hijackers] told me that Marwan
[el-Shehdi] had a beautiful dream that he was flying
high in the sky surrounded by green birds not from our
world, and that he was crashing into things, and that
he felt so happy."
Fouda notes that "green birds" are often given
significance in dreams; green is the colour of Islam
and flying birds are a symbol of heaven. Edgar notes
that bin Laden's recounting of the dream in which the
luckless Fisk was seen as an imam has me mounted on a
horse which according Iain Edgar symbolises a
"person's status, rank, honour, dignity, power and
glory." Well thanks, but no.
Richard Reid, the British would-be shoe bomber,
referred to a dream in which he tried to hitch a ride
in a pick-up truck which was full and was forced to
travel in a smaller car. The truck presumably
represented the four aircraft used on September 11
from which Reid was excluded, and the car was the
American Airlines plane on which Reid was forced to
try to "catch up" with his 19 comrades.
Zacarias Moussawi, the Frenchman of Moroccan origin
who may have been the intended 20th hijacker, found
that his own dreams of flying a plane into a tall
building became a significant issue in his 2006 trial
in the US. Rahimullah Yusufzai, by far the wisest
journalist reporting in Pakistan, was told by the
Taliban that its founder, the one-eyed Mullah Omar,
"gets instructions in his dream and he follows them
up." A dream was the genesis of the Taliban's
foundation. Mullah Omar once telephoned Yusufazai to
ask for an interpretation of a dream in which a "white
palace" was on fire. He knew that Yusufzai had been to
the White House. Did it look like the White Palace?
This was before September 11.
Extraordinarily, Qari Badruzzaman Badr, a Guantanamo
ex-prisoner, recounted to the Daily Times in Lahore
how "many Arabs had dreams in which the Holy Prophet
personally gave them news of their freedom ... One
Arab saw Jesus who took his hand and told him that
Christians were now misled. Later the other prisoners
could smell the sweet smell of Jesus on his hand."
Jesus, in other words, a major prophet of Islam, is
telling the Muslim prisoners that the Christians are
misled. As Edgar comments: "What a transcendence of
their oppression this dream message must have seemed!"
But there are false dreams. A Peshawar imam recounted
how a man told him that the Prophet said he could
drink alcohol. But when the man admitted that he
himself drank alcohol, the imam said he had not seen
the Prophet, only a self-justification for drinking.
Alas, I fear there is no hope for us infidels!
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