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The Dream in Islam

The Dream in Islam: From Qur'anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration

Iain R. Edgar
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 178
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  • Book Info
    The Dream in Islam
    Book Description:

    The war in the Middle East is marked by a lack of cultural knowledge on the part of the western forces, and this book deals with another, widely ignored element of Islam-the role of dreams in everyday life. The practice of using night dreams to make important life decisions can be traced to Middle Eastern dream traditions and practices that preceded the emergence of Islam. In this study, the author explores some key aspects of Islamic dream theory and interpretation as well as the role and significance of night dreams for contemporary Muslims. In his analysis of the Islamic debates surrounding the role of "true" dreams in historical and contemporary Islamic prophecy, the author specifically addresses the significance of Al-Qaeda and Taliban dream practices and ideology. Dreams of "heaven," for example, are often instrumental in determining Jihadist suicidal action, and "heavenly" dreams are also evidenced within other contemporary human conflicts such as Israel-Palestine and Kosovo-Serbia. By exploring patterns of dreams within this context, a cross-cultural, psychological, and experiential understanding of the role and significance of such contemporary critical political and personal imagery can be achieved.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-236-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword. Anthropological Skepticism Encounters Dreamed Realities Following Fieldwork in Pakistan
    (pp. xi-xx)
    Steve Lyon

    Edgar’s timely and creative contribution to the study of dreams among Muslims and possible Islamic foundations is important for a number of reasons. Not least of which is the fact that talking about dreams is a way of communicating things about the world around dreaming. There are individual approaches to dream interpretation, and one must be cautious subscribing to an overly prescriptive and simplistic understanding of what dreams “mean” in any given context, nevertheless, there are broad cultural patterns in which those individual idiosyncrasies exist. Edgar’s concentration on dreams places him in a fairly unique position in the world. He...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Islam is the largest night dream culture in the world today. In Islam, the night dream is thought to offer a way to metaphysical and divinatory knowledge, to be a practical, alternative, and potentially accessible source of imaginative inspiration and guidance and to offer ethical clarity concerning action in this world. Yet dreams, even purportedly true dreams, are notoriously difficult to validate and, sometimes, to interpret. This book explores some key aspects of Islamic dream theory and interpretation, and as well as exploring the role and significance of night dreams to contemporary Muslims in general, it considers many examples of...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Context and History: Dreams as Perceived Metaphysical and Divinatory Knowledge in Islam
    (pp. 7-26)

    Islam was both born in and gave birth to spiritual dreamtime. The Prophet Muhammed is said to have receivedruyan(the plural ofruya) or “true dreams” from Allah for six months before the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an. Bukhari, compiler of the best-known hadiths (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammed) reports the words of Muhammed’s wife, Aisha, stating the “commencement of the divine inspiration was in the form of good righteous [true] dreams in his sleep. He never had a dream but that it came true like bright day light.” Indeed, it is said that 1/46th...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Methodology
    (pp. 27-41)

    Previously, I have considered the role of dreams in politics (Edgar 2002: 79–92). Also, in my book on imagination-based research methods, I discussed the problems that may occur when one wants to use and validate dreams as data (Edgar 2004a: 60–80). While we cannot ever know directly another person’s dreams, as social scientists we can study the worldly usage and indeed the politically legitimating function of dreams. How do dreams inspire and evoke emotion and novel insight? How and when do Muslims believe them to be true dreams from Allah? How do dreams play a role in the...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Istikhara: Islamic Dream Incubation
    (pp. 42-53)

    An important part of dream lore in Islam is the (outside of the Islamic community) relatively little-known phenomena ofIstikhara.Istikharahas one main practice with either a focus on consequent daytime guidance or guidance through dream symbolism. Different authors stress the importance of daytime guidance while others stress guidance experienced through dreams (Aydar 2009: 123–36; Gouda 1991: 7). In this chapter I am focusing onIstikharaas dream incubation and the dream’s interpretation in the Islamic tradition. My recent studies of the role of night dreams in Islam (Edgar 2004b, 2006, 2007) has shown thatIstikharais a...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Sufism and Dreaming
    (pp. 54-64)

    There is a long tradition in Sufism, the mystical way of Islam, of the inner guide, Friend of God, or shaykh who advises the seeker of his/her path of return to God. Sufi shaykhs are typically guided by true dreams (alruya). This guide can be found in the outer world and/or in the world of dreams. Sometimes the seeker will dream of their mystical Friend many years before actually meeting him, and then may carry on receiving guidance dreams. In Shia Islam, the inner guide is often one of the Twelve Imams, eleven of whom died and the twelfth, who...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Militant Jihadist Dreaming in the Middle East and the United Kingdom
    (pp. 65-78)

    In the prophetic Islamic tradition, militant Islamic jihadists also seem to relate to their night dreams. Certain patterns inform jihadist dream interpretive narratives: First, jihadists are reported to receive divine inspiration, guidance, and divinatory “news” of future events in this world and the world hereafter. Second, dream narratives in part legitimate jihadist actions for the dreamers themselves, for their followers, and for the Islamic nation, theUmmah. Third, dream visions connect the dreamers with the past (mythical) reality of the Prophet Muhammed and his companions, the Golden Age of Islam. Also, dreams actually introduce this glorious past into the present....

  11. CHAPTER 6 Dreams of Mullah Omar, Taliban Leader
    (pp. 79-94)

    Mullah Muhammed Omar founded the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and was effectively Afghanistan’s ruler from 1996 to 2001 when the regime was ousted by the United States and its allies, following the attack on New York on 9/11. The United States and its allies attacked Afghanistan under the rule of Mullah Omar and the Taliban because it allegedly harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement. The Taliban regime adopted a form of Sunni Islam that prohibited the education of girls in schools and implemented a strict form of Sha’ria (Islamic law) based on Qur’anic teachings. Stringent dress codes were...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Dream Interpretation Resources (Dictionaries) in Islam
    (pp. 95-110)

    “A general characteristic of the Arabian dream-books is that almost anything can mean everything, a result partly of the compilatory nature of these books and also of the inventiveness of the contributors who exploited the interpretive potential of metonymy, metaphor and paronomasia or false etymology, which are their favourite tools, together, of course, with Quaranic and other allusions” (van Gelder 1999: 509).

    In chapter 1 I introduced the significant role of night dreams,alruya, in the birth and history of Islam. In chapters 5 and 6 I examined how contemporary Islamic militant jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban...

  13. CHAPTER 8 A Comparison of Islamic Dream Theory and Western Psychological Theories of the Dream
    (pp. 111-118)

    In one essential respect there is an ontological gap between Islamic and most Western psychological theories of the dream: their differing conceptions of the Self and what Western psychology views as the unconscious. The unknown hinterland of the Self in Islam and also Christianity is deemed to be the house of God, the Godhead, from which the voice of the Lord, the Prophet, and Shatan can all be heard, often in dreams. No such spiritual ontology defines the broadly secularist concept of the hidden worlds of the psyche in Western psychology. Freudian psychology, in particular, obstinately defines all psychic contents...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 119-123)

    As I have shown, Sufism is replete with dream narratives of divine import. In militant jihadism, this similarly seems to be the case. Almost all studies of contemporary militant jihadism position the Wahhabi Sunni version of militant jihadism in contradistinction to Sufism. Sufism with its positive attitude to true dreams has shaykhs as mediators with Allah. Sufism sometimes also includes the veneration of saints’ tombs. Militant Sunni Islamists reject these aspects of Sufism. Indeed both Islamic outlooks often consider the other to be un-Islamic. What my data and exposition show is that Wahhabist militant jihadists have a similarly high respect...

  15. EPILOGUE. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Imagination, Creativity, and Political Agency in the Inspirational Night Dream in Islam
    (pp. 124-136)
    Elisabeth Kirtsoglou

    In this bold, original, and timely book Edgar captures ethnographically and restores analytically an extremely difficult subject, that of the “inspirational night dream in Islam.” Anthropological research on dreams is definitely not a new field (see, for example, Tedlock 1987; Edgar 1995; Mageo 2003; Stewart 2004). Nevertheless, the theorization and analysis of dreams in general, and the “true dream” in particular, remains a difficult and awkward venture. In an earlier article (cf. Kirtsoglou 2010) I have tried to touch upon some of the reasons that make the anthropological analysis of dreams an extremely intricate endeavour. In the present epilogue I...

  16. Glossary
    (pp. 137-138)
  17. References
    (pp. 139-145)
  18. Index
    (pp. 146-150)