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Dreams That Matter

Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Dreams That Matter
    Book Description:

    Dreams that Matterexplores the social and material life of dreams in contemporary Cairo. Amira Mittermaier guides the reader through landscapes of the imagination that feature Muslim dream interpreters who draw on Freud, reformists who dismiss all forms of divination as superstition, a Sufi devotional group that keeps a diary of dreams related to its shaykh, and ordinary believers who speak of moving encounters with the Prophet Muhammad. In close dialogue with her Egyptian interlocutors, Islamic textual traditions, and Western theorists, Mittermaier teases out the dream's ethical, political, and religious implications. Her book is a provocative examination of how present-day Muslims encounter and engage the Divine that offers a different perspective on the Islamic Revival.Dreams That Matteropens up new spaces for an anthropology of the imagination, inviting us to rethink both the imagined and the real.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94785-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. On Transliterations and Translations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Prelude
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction: Studying Dreams in Undreamy Times
    (pp. 1-30)

    “The government used to steal our money,” Ahmad says with a sad smile on his face. “But today things are even worse. Today they steal our hope, too.” Ahmad works for the Ministry of Agriculture in a town on the Red Sea coast. He has a good position and a spacious office, but his income is still barely enough for him, his wife, and their four children to support themselves. It is May 2007, and Ahmad and I are sitting in a street café on an alley in downtown Cairo where plastic bags and dust are swirling through the air....

  8. 1. Dream Trouble
    (pp. 31-53)

    “Hey! Have you heard yet? A Saudi Arabian woman called in and said she saw the moon breast-feeding a boy, and the shaykh said this means themahdīhas been born.” If you’re in Cairo (and if you speak Arabic), most likely you will have heard—if not this version, then a slightly different one. Maybe the woman was not Saudi Arabian but Palestinian. Maybe she did not see the moon breast-feeding a boy, but herself breast-feeding the moon, or the moon being breast-fed by the sun. You might also have heard that the shaykh asked the woman to perform...

  9. 2. Thresholds of Interpretation
    (pp. 54-83)

    As many Egyptians will tell you, Muhammad Ibn Sīrīn was the most prominent Muslim dream interpreter of all time. Like Freud in other cultural terrains, he overshadows all that can possibly be said, thought, and written about dreams in Egypt today. Ibn Sīrīn’s mother was a slave of Caliph Abū Bakr, and his father was taken prisoner in Iraq during the first Muslim conquests and later freed by Caliph ‘Umar.¹ Born in Basra, Iraq, in 654, Ibn Sīrīn was a pious yet reportedly eccentric cloth merchant and scholar who transmitted prophetic traditions and came to be described as a “man...

  10. 3. Seeing the (In)visible
    (pp. 84-111)

    “If you open your eyes, you’ll see thousands,” said the Azharite shaykh. He was referring to thousands of angels, saints, and other (in)visible beings. Dressed in formal Azharite attire, the shaykh was a special guest that night at themā’idat al-rḥmānwhere Shaykh Qusi’s disciples were serving food to up to three thousand people, as they did on every evening throughout the month of Ramadan. The group’smā’idat al-raḥmān, literally a “table of the All-Merciful,” is one of the many spaces set up in Cairo during the month of fasting where food is given out when it is time to...

  11. 4. Poetry and Prophecy
    (pp. 112-139)

    It is 16 July 2004, the opening night of themawlidof al-Sayyida Nafīsa, who was born 1,180 years ago. Located in Cairo’s City of the Dead, al-Sayyida Nafīsa’s mosque today is full of life, as are the square adjoined to it and the streets and alleys spreading out from it. It is about 10:30 p.m., and the night is just beginning. Maha is sitting on a sidewalk outside the mosque, drinking tea and declining offers from vendors who sell chickpeas, cotton candy, and plastic toys. She is watching streams of visitors who pass underneath the chains of colored lightbulbs...

  12. 5. The Ethics of the Visitational Dream
    (pp. 140-172)

    As every aspiring anthropologist there knows, days are never long enough in Cairo. Not only are there fieldwork to be done and fieldnotes to be written, but there are also numerous daily social obligations. Although neighbors in high-rise buildings might not always know one another, and although hours of traffic often separate friends and relatives, nonetheless Cairenes are often out to visit or return visits. As elsewhere, practices of hospitality in Cairo are not just entertainment but also “manifestly political and deeply moral” (Meneley 1996, 4). One aspect of this endless cycle of reciprocal hospitality is easily overlooked: not only...

  13. 6. The Royal Road into the Unknown
    (pp. 173-200)

    Al-Hagg Sayyid, an Egyptian in his eighties, once met a group of German doctors. He tried to explain to them the importance of dreams. “That’s empty talk,” they said and told him that they don’t believe in dreams. He responded, “You’re the children of Freud and of Nietzsche! But we as Muslims have to believe in dreams. If you don’t believe in dreams, you’re not a Muslim.” While telling me about his encounter, al-Hagg Sayyid smiled triumphantly, but I was left with a sense of unease. Is it reallyeitherFreud and NietzscheorIslam? What about Muslim dreamers who...

  14. 7. Virtual Realities, Visionary Realities
    (pp. 201-231)

    Al-qarya: the village. You have to see the village, he insists. I would like to agree, but I have no idea what village he is talking about. ‘Umar promises that he will give me a tour of the village; that he will call me in the morning to arrange a time to meet so he can take me there. I try to ask what village he means but receive no answer. As so often, ‘Umar has only a minute to spare at the gathering before he directs all his attention back to Shaykh Qusi. It is late, and I decide...

  15. Afterword: On the Politics of Dreaming
    (pp. 232-240)

    It was March 2003 and my third month of fieldwork when an article fromThe Independentreached me via e-mail one morning. Its title: “Baghdad Is a City Sleepwalking to War.” Its first sentence: “For Baghdad, it is night number 1,001, the very last few hours of fantasy.” Its author: no less than Robert Fisk, a well-known journalist often praised for his balanced and informative reports on the Middle East. It was no secret that Baghdad was about to be bombed heavily, although it was less predictable that it would fall under U.S. control less than one month later. Yet...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 241-264)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 265-268)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 269-288)
  19. Index
    (pp. 289-308)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-309)