Ahmadi Muslims and the dream in Islam
For many Muslims today, and certainly for Ahmadi Muslims, access to the divine is one that those who are sufficiently devout and pious can directly experience in this life. Such experiences come in the form of true dreams which allow Muslims to be granted knowledge to help them make important decisions for themselves and for family members or alternatively, to prepare for events that are destined to happen and which cannot be altered (Amanullah 2009; Aydar 2009). In what follows, I consider some of the dreams of London-based Ahmadis which were recounted to me, supplemented with printed material from Ahmadi sources, both historical and contemporary on dreams and also the ready availability of material on Ahmadi websites. However, before outlining the importance of dreams for Ahmadi Muslims, it is necessary to provide a brief overview of the theological understanding of dreams in Islam.
Dream revelation can be said to be at the very origins of Islam, as it is said that the Prophet’s first knowledge of the Qur'an came in dreams, and he himself is reported to have been a competent dream interpreter for his companions. The text of the Qur’an itself includes dream material, much of which is also found in the Old Testament, and the Prophet is said to have reassured his followers that after his death an attenuated form of prophecy would remain in the form of ‘good dreams’. This is most frequently stated in a hadith which reads ‘the good dream is 1/46 of prophecy’.4 The interpretation of true dreams is a form of divination and offers a ‘form of access to God that was unmediated, thus circumventing the
Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 91 vaunted institutions of Koran and Sunnah’ (Lamoreaux 2002:4).5 In the centuries that followed the death of the Prophet, the science of dream interpretation became well-established across the Muslim world, with more or less congruent classifications for categories of dreams, only some of which are worthy of interpretation and of divine origin.6 The classification of dreams in Islam falls into three categories: true dreams which come from God; false ones from the devil; and confused ones that arise from the physiology and psychology of the individual. The latter two are not worthy of interpretation and indeed, dreams from the devil should be dealt with through apotropaic means, including prayer and the refusal to recount such a dream, lest the telling of it should make it come into being (Bausani 1985; Hoffman 1997:47).
Many manuals of dream interpretation were produced by Muslims and many of these bore the name of Ibn Sirin, although it is highly unlikely that Ibn Sirin ever actually wrote a dream interpretation manual himself (Lamoreaux 2002: 23-24). The central place of dreams and dream interpretation in Islam is revealed by Lamoreaux:
The large number of early dream manuals should not be lightly glossed over. It offers a superficial if telling indication of the importance of dream interpretation to Muslims of the early Middle Ages. Indeed, to judge from number alone, one would have to conclude that the interpretation of dreams was as important to these Muslims as the interpretation of the Koran. Some sixty dream manuals were composed during the first four and a half centuries of the Muslim era. During that same period, very nearly exactly the same number of Koranic commentaries were composed. In short, early Muslims composed as many commentaries on their dreams as they did on their Koran.
The importance of dreams is reinforced, for example, in the work of Kinberg (1993), who outlines the parallels between the good dreams of Muslims and the prophetic hadiths as forms of legitimation with functionally equivalent authority to judge between different law schools, decide on courses of action to follow at both personal and community levels and so forth.7 The significance of dreams continues in the modern era with a profusion of dream interpretation manuals in Muslim countries, and even, in Pakistan, the publication of a text in 1979 with the title Biography of the Prophet after the Death of the Prophet, which covers ‘the continuous and important sighting of the Prophet in dreams as reported in Islamic religious and biographical literature until the present time’ (M. ‘Abd al-Majid Siddiqi 1979 in Hermansen 2001:87). It is a widespread belief reported to me by several Ahmadis and also found in the literature (Heijnen and Edgar 2010:222; Amanullah 2009:104), that if the Prophet appears whole (i.e. you can see him from head to toe) in your dream and the message of the dream is in accord with the teachings of Islam, then it is a true dream and this is a means by which the Prophet, who is no longer among the living, can still offer guidance to the pious and devout.
Contemporary social scientists continue to explore the relevance and place of dreams and visions in Muslim life across the world,8 and it is clear from these studies that while the scientific rational world of modernity exists, so too, for some Muslims, does another realm, which may be reached through religious practice9 and through istikhara (lit. ‘seeking the best’), a dream incubation ritual. By accessing this other realm, individuals can gain spiritual guidance in their lives. Istikhara rituals are known throughout the Muslim world and are practiced by individuals who seek divine guidance on important matters, such as whether or not to accept a marriage proposal (Rahimian 2009; Aydar 2009; Edgar 2010; Mit-termaier 2010:96-100). For some Ahmadis, I was told, such prayers are about peace of mind when making an important life decision. Even children are taught how to perform istikhara prayers, as an Ahmadi children’s religious curriculum textbook makes clear:
When a serious and important matter is pending, it is recommended that after the Ishaa ’ Prayer [evening prayer] and just before retiring, two гака ‘aat [series of postures which starts from standing and ends with prostration] of voluntary Prayer should be said, to seek guidance and blessings from Allah. The following supplication should be made during these two гака ‘aat:
In addition to having a shared understanding of how to perform istikhara prayers and the circumstances in which prayers seeking divine guidance are justified, my interlocutors also explained that dreams received at different points during the night were to be evaluated differently. Those that a dreamer had early in the night were considered less significant than those received just before dawn.10 And for the istikhara prayers to work, the person hoping to receive divine guidance had to sleep on her or his right side. One interlocutor told me that after reciting the istikhara prayers in a ritually pure condition, a person could expect to receive a true dream, or perhaps even signs in waking life in the days after the istikhara prayer, or within 10 days and within 40 days at most. For Ahmadis, it
Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 93 was best if the istikhara prayers could be said by the person seeking guidance, or alternatively the person could ask a trusted and devout member of the community to pray on her or his behalf. It is also generally accepted among Ahmadis that the more pious a person is, the more likely the person is to receive a true dream. However, one interlocutor told me that if a person has something on their mind and might be leaning towards one particular resolution to the matter in question, it might be better for them to get another person to do the istikhara prayers and receive a dream with guidance. This was to avoid any possible bias in the outcome, though it was not clear to me if the bias was in the dream itself or in how it might be narrated and then interpreted.
It should be apparent that while dreams are experienced by particular individuals, their narration and the interpretation of the dreams is a culturally shared practice. We cannot share or see the dream a person has, but we can interpret dream narratives and may do so according to a long Muslim tradition of dream interpretation that is legitimated by the Prophet Muhammad’s own dream interpretation practices.
Given the outline of the dream and its central place in Islam, it is not surprising to note the significance of dreams and their interpretation in the life and work of the founder of Ahmadi Islam. Indeed, a key source for the study of dreams in Ahmadi Islam is to be found in the Tadhkirah (Memoirs) of Ghulam Ahmad published in English in 1976 with the subtitle English rendering of the dreams, visions and verbal revelations vouchsafed to Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the promised messiah and mahdi (on whom be peace). This text, which is found in many Ahmadi homes, is a chronological listing of all the dreams, visions and revelations of Ghulam Ahmad gathered from his published writings. The material covered spans a period of over 30 years in his life, starting with accounts of his dreams in early youth and then more systematically from the dreams, visions and revelations dating from 1870 to 1908 (the year of his death). Although the dreams are ordered chronologically, they are drawn from books, pamphlets, journals and newspapers that often recount dreams experienced sometimes years prior to their initial publication.
The dreams are of several different kinds. There are some that are closely linked to the politics and religious battles of the time in which Ghulam Ahmad lived and recount his dreams and prophecies of victories over his enemies or of the kindness of God in ensuring that his troubles, legal, financial and otherwise, would soon be resolved in his favour. Some dreams are of a more personal nature and provide Ghulam Ahmad with foreknowledge of the death of a person, or of the means by which someone may be cured of a disease that doctors have been unable to treat, or of the turning against him of a follower. Other dreams attest to the spiritual authority and special purpose Ghulam Ahmad has in this life, his duty to revive Islam and reveal to the world the true path to salvation.
In terms of narrative strategy and authentication, a common approach of Ghulam Ahmad's is to state that he had a dream or vision that something was soon to happen and that he announced this to a local ‘Arya’11 who, as a Hindu revivalistand an opponent of Islam, would have no reason to vouch for the truth of the dream if it were not so. For example, Ghulam Ahmad writes:
Pandit Shiv Narayan, a distinguished Brahmo Samaj scholar, wrote to me from Lahore that he intended to write a refutation of part III of Braheen Ahmadiyya [a book by Ghulam Ahmad]. The letter had not yet reached me when God Almighty disclosed its purport to me in a vision. I related this to several Hindus and at the time of the delivery of the mail a Hindu Arya was sent to the post office so that he might serve as a witness. He brought the letter from the post office. I wrote to Pandit Shiv Narayan in reply: You desire to refute the possibility of revelation, yet God Almighty informed me through revelation of your letter and its content. If you doubt this you can come to Qadian and verify it, for your Hindu brethren are its witnesses.
(Ahmad, G. 1976:40)
In other dreams, Ghulam Ahmad refers to his foreknowledge that some of his followers will desert him and in his discussion of such revelations, he appears to make reference to cultural practices which can be understood in relation to both Sufi practices and those of the majority Hindu population among which he lived in colonial India. For example:
There was a gentleman in Ludhiana of the name of Mir Abbas Ali who had entered into the covenant of Bai ‘ah [initiation] with me. He made such good progress within a few years that his then condition was disclosed to me in a revelation (Arabic): Its roots are firm and its branches spread into heaven; which meant that at that time he was a sincere believer and all the indications supported this. ... If he discovered a dry piece of bread as my left over he would eat it as something full of blessings. ... At one time it was disclosed to me in a vision that Abbas Ali would stumble and draw away from me... . When the time came that I put forward my claim of being the Promised Messiah he took it ill and for some time did not disclose his uneasiness. Thereafter during the debate with Maulvi Muhammad Husain in Ludhiana concerning my claim he had the opportunity of associating with my opponents and then my vision concerning him became manifest and he turned against me openly.
(Ahmad, G. 1976:38)
Events are recounted to show how over time dreams, visions and revelations are manifested. They are sent by God in order to prepare Ghulam Ahmad for what is to come. One interesting point in this description of the relationship between Mir Abbas Ali and Ghulam Ahmad is in the eating of the leftover bread by Mir Abbas Ali as matter full of blessings. Such a practice resonates with Sufi customs and the consumption of tabarruk (blessed food),12 as well as being a commonly understood and respectful practice among Hindus for whom the prasad offered in temples to worshippers is explicitly understood as the leavings of the gods and is filled with their blessings. It may be that in some respects the actions of Mb Abbas
Ali always hinted at his future disavowal of Ahmadiyya Islam and that even in his most devoted period, his behaviour was such as to raise the suspicions of those who might have the capacity to understand what it truly meant. It may, however, simply be a way of recording the honour in which Ghulam Ahmad was held by paralleling the behaviour of Mir Abbas Ali with that of Umar, the close companion of the Prophet who later became the second successor (khalifa) to Muhammad. Umar’s preservation of knowledge and religion is sometimes symbolized in the Prophet’s dreams when Umar drinks the milk left by the Prophet (Hermansen 2001:75). Here the analogy would be the Prophet Muhammad and Umar with Ghulam Ahmad and Mir Abbas Ali, though this is not a perfect analogy, as Umar remained faithful while Mir Abbas Ali did not.
Throughout the Tadhkirah, there are many examples of dreams, visions and revelations which directly associate Ghulam Ahmad with the prophets of Islam. This is a motif that serves to legitimate the position of Ghulam Ahmad and to authorize his claims to be the promised messiah and all of this within acceptable bounds, as it is generally acknowledged and accepted within Islam that true dreams are sent by God and that if the prophet Muhammad appears in such dreams it is as if he were present in actual form, for the devil cannot take the form of the Prophet (Krenkow 1912:77).
Nonetheless, a true dream is not something that can be taken for granted and not all people receive such dreams. Only the deserving and the pious are rewarded with the divine gift of such a dream and the more one becomes spiritually developed, the more likely one is to receive such dreams as a blessing from the divine. Lamoreaux (2002:57), referring to the work of Qayrawani (fl. early fifth century ah) cites the Qur'anic verse generally taken to refer to the granting of prophetic dreams as follows: ‘Those who believe and are pious have glad tidings (al-bushra) in this world and the next' (Q 10.63-10.64).
In this respect, the dream that opens the Tadhkirah is telling, as this dream vision is recounted as one that Ghulam Ahmad received in his ‘early youth’, and it is one in which he is led into the presence of the Holy Prophet and is given fruit dripping with honey, which is used to revive a corpse. This corpse is interpreted by Ghulam Ahmad as symbolizing Islam and he goes on to say:
Allah, the Exalted, would revive it [Islam] at my hands through the spiritual power of the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace). ... In this dream the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace) nurtured me with his blessed hands through his holy words and his light and the gift of fruit from his blessed garden.
Here Ghulam Ahmad is given, in his youth, a dream vision of his destiny. The very fact of receiving such a dream when young is significant and the mission with which he is entrusted even more so.
While not all Ahmadis can expect to receive true dreams of the import and quantity of the founder of Ahmadi Islam, and not all expect them, certainly not while still young, many Ahmadis do take their dreams seriously, and many homes
I have visited have a copy of the Interpretation of Dreams by Imam Muhammad Bin Sirin in their possession.13 A significant point to note about these manuals for dream interpretation is that they are translated and published by the Ahmadi community itself. This text is their own interpretation of the interpretations of dreams attributed to Ibn Sirin. As such, the text incorporates Ahmadi events, in particular the dreams of Ghulam Ahmad himself, into the text of Ibn Sirin. In the Ahmadi edition of the Interpretation of Dreams, the introduction, preface and short chapter, ‘The Wonders of Dreams’, integrates Ahmadi writers and translators into a text that is thought to have its origins in medieval Islamic thought.14 While such practices have a long precedent in Muslim traditions and serve not only to show respect for the wisdom of earlier ages and to avoid the sin of bid‘a (innovation), they also serve to project Ahmadi Islam back in time to a period several centuries before it came into existence and to assert that Ahmadi Muslims are continuing with the beliefs and practices of the Muslims of earlier times, not adding anything new and unwarranted. Such a position has political and not simply theological implications for the Ahmadi Muslim community today.
It is through dreams that ordinary members of Ahmadi Islam may come to a personal and unquestioned belief in life beyond this mortal one and also come to believe in divine predestination, aspects of which they may have a fleeting glimpse through their own dreams. In dreams, they may see or converse with deceased members of the family or receive a divine message to guide them when making important decisions in their lives.
While not everyone is fortunate enough to receive true dreams, and while some Ahmadis do not pay particular attention to dreams, there are some important moments in life when even the less devout may seek guidance through istikhara prayers. A key life cycle ritual when such true dreams seem to be particularly sought after is at the time of marriage, and many of the dreams I was told had to do with decisions about whether or not to accept marriage proposals or what kind of married life the couple could expect to share.15 In what follows I set out a range of dreams and how they were interpreted at the time of the dream itself and, in some cases, also how they were reinterpreted years later. That dreams can be given one meaning at the time they are experienced and then revised in the light of events that may take place years later attests not to the arbitrary nature of the dream and its interpretation but rather to the belief held by individuals that the dreams are tme but that people are not always able immediately to decipher them fully. The dreams, so long as they are not the result of physiological or satanic causes, thus remain true, it is the human interpretation of them that is limited and fallible.
One woman told me that her sister and her sister’s in-laws were not particularly devout but that when a proposal for the marriage of the sister’s daughter came along the family decided to ask a pious elder in the community to pray for them and ask for guidance on whether or not to accept the marriage. Following the istikhara prayer, the dream the pious elder received suggested that the marriage would not be a good one and so, despite the fact that both bride and groom were happy with the proposal, the marriage did not go ahead. Of course, as this marriage never took place, it is impossible to know if it would have been a successful union. This example suggests very strongly that even those who are not and do not consider themselves to be particularly devout may nonetheless put great store in the power of true dreams granted to devout persons when it comes to making important decisions.
Yet, in some cases, even when a less than ideal dream about a marriage is received following istikhara prayers the marriage may yet take place and in these cases pragmatic kinship considerations may outweigh a less than positive dream. Such was the case of a man who told me that when he was asked to consider his own marriage to a cousin, he prayed and received a dream which he asked his mother to interpret for him. In the dream the young man found himself at a well, and it took him a long time and great effort to get to the water at the bottom of the well. His mother interpreted the dream to mean it would take time, effort and patience to attain happiness in the marriage, symbolized by the water at the bottom of a deep well. The man wryly noted that both the dream and his mother's interpretation of it had turned out to be true and, several years after the marriage took place, he was still struggling to get to the water.
In yet another case, istikhara prayers and the dream that followed were used to justify and explain why a wedding was called off within days of when the ceremony was due to take place. In this instance, a young British Ahmadi woman had, in her own account of the incident, agreed to a marriage with her Pakistani cousin who was moving to the UK to be with his soon-to-be wife. The wedding date was set, invitations were sent out, the wedding hall was booked, the wedding clothes were ready and all the preparations had been made. With just a few days to go before the marriage, the woman decided that she could not go through with the wedding. At first her sisters, mother and father put this down to bridal nerves, but they soon realized that the woman was not going to budge from her decision. The repercussions for the family, more related to inter-family relations and reputation than to the financial loss that was by this stage inevitable, were unavoidable but were mitigated and to some degree accepted, when a senior and well-respected member of the family announced that following istikhara prayers she had received a dream which made it clear that this marriage should not go ahead. Here, no matter what some people may privately have thought, the authority accorded to true dreams was sufficient to provide a legitimate and to some extent face-saving way out of a marriage that the bride no longer wished to be part of.
And sometimes a dream following istikhara prayers may only make full sense to the dreamer some years after the dream itself. One woman told me of a dream before her own marriage which she had after istikhara prayers. In this dream, she found herself in a lush green park in the centre of which was a large marquee frill of women. At the heart of the marquee was the khalifa, all dressed in white and surrounded by radiant light. The woman was holding a letter with Arabic verses on it. The women in the marquee parted to let her reach the khalifa and hand him her letter. After reading it, he said that the letter was a good one but it was not meant for her. In spite of this, the woman felt immensely happy and left the marquee feeling good. The letter in her hand blew away. In dreams, the colours white and green have positive connotations and the general emotional tenor of the dream was of one filled with happiness. The woman married and had, by all accounts, a happy but short marriage which ended when her husband died suddenly. After his death, the woman understood her dream to have been one that foretold a happy marriage but which also sought to prepare her for the end of her happiness, as she now equated the letter which blew out of her hand to the husband who was not destined to remain with her.
These marriage-related dreams were recounted to me by the people who either had the dreams themselves or had the istikhara prayers and the dreams that followed said for them. In some cases they prepared individuals for future happiness or hardship, while in other cases marriages that were destined to fail were thus avoided. In all cases, the dreams were believed to be true ones and hence were taken seriously, even if the individual the istikhara dream was intended for was not for an especially devout person. But not all dreams are true ones, and I end this section, a little anomalously, with a marriage-related dream that was not told to me by the person who dreamt it and which it was generally assumed was not the result of an istikhara prayer. This dream was recounted by a group of women who used it to show that not all dreams are true ones and that one needs to be alert to this possibility. The dream in question was the matter of some discussion as it involved the fourth khalifa at the point in his life when he had been recently widowed. A woman who was herself divorced with children, so the context for this dream narrative begins, sought the audience of the khalifa to share with him her dream. Such meetings are not uncommon as all Ahmadis can request and be granted such meetings and the khalifas are known to bless dreams that foretell good marriages among the faithful.16 This dream, however, was one in which the widow saw herself as the spouse of the khalifa. The khalifa's response was to say the dream was, as the woman who told the tale to me put it, ‘devilish’. Some dreams are indeed thought to be sent by the devil and in this case the woman had mistaken the dream for a tme one but the khalifa had seen the truth of the matter and quickly dismissed the woman from his sight. Further discussion among the women showed that the divorced woman by sharing her dream with the khalifa had behaved in a manner that lacked decorum and modesty. One person suggested that by claiming to be a worthy wife to the khalifa, the woman had declared herself to be of the same spiritual standing and worth as the khalifa but this was evidently not so as in fact all she had done was to have ‘lustful dreams of being with her "spiritual father”'. Dream narratives are never singular events; they are interpreted according to religious beliefs and cultural conventions. For Muslims, the dream itself is one part of a whole that includes the source of the dream and the status and moral condition of the dreamer, which have to be considered together when dream interpretation is undertaken.
However, not all dreams are received following istikhara prayers. In many cases people have dreams which they recall on waking and are so vivid and emotionally powerful that they cannot be ignored. Putting aside the dreams from the devil which should be ignored lest they come true, and those dreams that are simply the confused products of individual psychology, precisely those Freud considered worthy of study and which Muslims, using a different framework for
Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 99 classifying what is worthy of interpretation disregard, there remains a category of dreams sent to guide the faithful to prepare them for what is to come and to orient their actions and the maimer in which they deal with future events.
As one might expect, the dreams that are most vivid and hence the ones most likely to be remembered are ones that the dreamer and the interpreters of dreams within the community can link to events in the life of the person who either has the dream or those the dream is about. Sometimes, the precise meaning of a dream only becomes clear to the dreamer with the passage of time. One such dream was recounted to me by an Ahmadi woman who described seeing her deceased grandfather in a dream she had when she was a child. The grandfather did not speak but beckoned her to follow him down a staiiway that led into darkness. The next morning she told her father her dream and his immediate, somewhat anxious, response was to ask her if she had followed her grandfather. To the relief of her father she had not descended the staircase in her dream. A short time later, the woman’s father died, unexpectedly. Years later this dream was still vivid for the woman and was a dream she now understood as one that was sent to warn and prepare her for a grievous loss to come, the death of her father. The meaning of the dream, however, while it may not have been clear to this woman in her youth was certainly clear to her father who understood that to follow his own deceased father into the depths was to join him in death. And, when I once recounted this dream to a group of Ahmadi women, it was equally clear from their expressions that they too understood what this dream was about. The only matter left unclear in the dream, in fact, was the identity of the person who was to follow the woman's grandfather to the grave. In other instances also, I was told that if a person you know is deceased comes to you in your dream and takes you by the hand to lead you away, you had better put your affairs in order, as your time on earth is coming to an end. Such dreams may be, as one person put it, ‘frightening’, but they are also in some ways reassuring. Death is not the end and one has been given the chance to leave this life in an orderly fashion, saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done in good time.
To see and even speak with deceased relatives in dreams is not particularly unusual. Hoffman (1997:47) relates that in a survey in Egypt in the 1990s, 50% of Egyptians said their deceased kin had visited them in their dreams, in many cases to ask for something specific to be done. These dreams were not considered out of the ordinary or especially religious in nature. Several Ahmadis told me of such dreams and also of how they can be a comfort to the bereaved. Not only do such dreams repeatedly reinforce the belief that death is not the end of life and that there are means of communication still possible between kin, they can also reassure the living that their kin have found peace. There is also justification in the Qur'an:
for the belief that in the sleeping state, the spirits of the living and the dead are together in the divine presence. This is found in 39:42:
God takes the souls of those who die, and of those who do not die, in their sleep; then He keeps those ordained for death, and sends the others back.
Although the verse says that God takes the souls of those who die, not their spirits, most commentators ... do not distinguish between the two, and take the verse as an indication that the human spirits are temporarily released from the body during sleep, and if God decides, He can make this separation permanent. Sleep is therefore analogous to death, and the condition and location of the spirit in sleep and in death are the same. Therefore, the spirits of the dead and the living are able to meet in the realm of al-barzakh, where the spirits dwell until the resurrection of the bodies on the Last Day.
A recently widowed middle-aged woman told me how difficult she was finding it to adjust to life without her husband and how a dream her husband’s sister had helped her to think about her future more positively. In this dream, the deceased brother, who had not been able to say goodbye to his close kin while still alive, told his sister that he was content and at rest. This dream was a great comfort to the widow and reassured her not only about her husband but also made it possible for her to begin to think about her work, her faith and her future in less bleak terms.
Another widow, a young woman, recounted a very vivid and unpleasant dream she had a short time before her husband’s death. In her dream she is jumping from one stone to another to make her way across ground covered in a multitude of wriggling fish coming out of the muddy earth, thrashing about and struggling to breathe. In the dream she is tiying to get to a tall, yellow, windowless building she can see far ahead at the top of a steep hill. The building is shaking. Eventually she makes her way up to the top of the building despite its narrow, claustrophobic corridors. Movement in this dream is difficult, either trying to avoid slipping on dying fish or constrained by the structure of the very building the dreamer has to navigate to deliver something she is holding. When she gets to the top of the building a man who looks like her husband, but who is much older than him, opens a door and asks her for what she has in her hand. He takes this from her and promptly shuts the door on her. The woman remembers thinking in her dream that it is strange for her to have straggled all this way and to be treated like this.
What was interesting about this case was not so much the dream itself as the choices the woman made when interpreting the dream. For some Ahmadis, the community’s dream interpretation book is sufficient to work out what a particular element in a dream or a whole dream means. For others, people within the community who are considered to be skilled in dream interpretation can be called on to decipher particularly significant dreams. For the widow in this instance, a senior woman was asked to interpret the dream, but her interpretation was not one that met with the approval of the widow or her family. The fish were interpreted as women, with the implication that the husband had not always been loyal to his wife. The narrowness of the building and its height were interpreted as symbolic of the straggles the widow would now face in life. Rather than accept an interpretation that did not accord well with the marital relationship and nature of the
Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 101 husband as understood by the widow and her close kin, another female dream interpreter, a woman considered to be very pious, was consulted to see if a different reading of the dream was possible. In the event it was, and an interpretation of the fish out of water as signifying difficulties, stress and woes was forthcoming. The yellow colour of the building was recognized by all to symbolize sickness. This dream, it was also agreed, came from God and as with some of the dreams described earlier, it was sent to warn of the death that was soon to occur. A key point to note is that the same dream can be interpreted in different ways and the meaning is one that depends not only on the content of the dream but on the knowledge the interpreter also has of the person who had the dream. The dream and the dreamer are interpreted together as was, it is considered, the practice of Ibn Sirin about whom a popular story recounts the different interpretations he gave of the same dream brought to him by two men. In this tale each man dreamt of the call to prayer. For one man the interpretation was that he would go on hajj while for the other man the dream meant he was a potential thief. In each case the dream was interpreted according to a different verse in the Qu’ran and in relation to Ibn Sirin’s assessment of the piety of the man who had the dream. The first was a righteous man and the second an impious one, hence the difference in the interpretations of the same dream (Amanullah 2009:103).
A final category of dreams which deserves more discussion but which I only briefly mention are those converts narrate they received, sometimes years before they had ever even heard of Ahmadi Islam or contemplated becoming Ahmadis. One such dream from a woman who converted from Christianity was recounted as follows:
I constantly had a dream about a white lady. The dream was that the white lady started at the bottom of my bed and over the years she came nearer and nearer to me (I used to have the same dream constantly) and only appeared to me to be a white glowing shape. I never saw her face but I knew it was a lady. It was always glowing and brilliant white. Eventually over the years it came closer to the side of my bed and bent over me so that it was nose to nose to me. I then became aware that it was actually a face of a man. This really frightened me because all the time that I used to have this dream, I would wake up screaming, as I used to believe it was a sign that I was going to die. ..
When I met Huzoor [the khalifa] I found out that he was the man who I had been seeing in my dreams. He told me that when the shadow bent over me that was where my heart was and that was God’s way of telling me what He wanted [me] to do. He said that he could see I was shocked and that I needed to think about these things. He advised [me] to go away and think about what he had said and that it was up to me now to decide what I was going to do.17
These dreams, with hindsight, are recalled as significant and meaningful dreams that help guide the convert, but only when the time is right. Such dreams are sent to help the converts recognize the decisions they need to make to developspiritually and are very similar to those recounted by murids, the disciples of Sufis, who recognize the Sufi leader they are to follow because he has appeared to them in their dreams long before they ever meet in person, or, if the Sufi saint is deceased, before visiting his shrine (Werbner 2003:135; Hoffman 1997:48).
The dreams recounted here work at different levels. For Ahmadi Muslims they provide continued guidance from God and his prophet at the level of the individual life as well as at the level of the community as a whole. Such dreams link ordinary Ahmadis to the khalifa, the spiritual head of the Ahmadi Muslims, as his dreams and theirs work to reinforce each other. In this way the prophetic charisma of the khalifa reveals itself as relational, in Weberian terms, where the charisma of a leader only exists when legitimated by followers who themselves experience charisma in attenuated form (Weber 1978:242).1S Fortunate and deserving individuals may receive dreams of the future in which they see the khalifa-to-be and so are encouraged to dedicate themselves and their families to the service of the Ahmadiyyat. Together, these reinforce a belief in faith and in the Ahmadi community in particular, despite the hostility of other Muslims and the problems that many Ahmadis face because of their faith. Dreams serve as means to discover what may or will be and produce a sense of the world in which the ‘mystical’, or as Corbin (1966:406ff) put it, the ‘imaginal’ is ever present and the dividing line between the natural and the supernatural is not one that is impermeable or subject solely to scientific scrutiny. For Ahmadi Muslims, as for many other Muslims in the world today, there are things we cannot know about the future but which may be revealed to the deserving through prayer and dream.
In 1998 Tahir Ahmad, the fourth khalifa, published a 756-page book with the title Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth. This short title encapsulates in many respects the particular combination of logical rational scientific thought in the sendee of divine revelation which constitutes, for Ahmadis, the incontrovertible knowledge and truth to be found in Ahmadiyya Islam. It is in the merging of modern science and rational scientific processes with an unshakeable faith that science, logic and reason are only worthy when in the service of religion that makes it possible for Ahmadis to be both firmly grounded and successful in the disenchanted modern world while yet retaining a capacity for enchantment and belief in a transcendent realm which remains accessible to those who possess sufficient faith to recognize it. A page on the official website of UK Ahmadis, Al Islam, which describes this book provides an insight into just how the necessary combination of science and revelation is understood by Ahmadis as:
any divide between revelation and rationality, religion and logic has to be irrational. If religion and rationality cannot proceed hand in hand, there has to be something deeply wrong with either of the two. Does revelation play any vital role in human affairs? Is not rationality sufficient to guide man in all the problems which confront him? ...
[The book] examines a very diverse and wide range of subjects including the concept of revelation in different religions, history of philosophy, cosmology, extraterrestrial life, the future of life on earth, natural selection and its role in evolution. It also elaborately discusses the advent of the Messiah, or other universal reformers, awaited by different religions....
The main emphasis is on the ability of the Quran to correctly discuss all important events of the past, present and future from the beginning of the universe to its ultimate end. Aided by strong incontrovertible logic and scientific evidence, the Quran does not shy away from presenting itself to the merciless scrutiny of rationality.
The two realms, the enchanted and the rational, are perhaps best conceived, not as a case of one eliminating and replacing the other over time, but rather as both always co-existing and possessing permeable and blurred boundaries. In this view of enchantment and rationalization what matters is which aspect, the enchanted or the disenchanted, is foregrounded, to what extent this happens, and why this is so at any given moment. Enchantment is thus understood as a relative term and rational-organization may serve to permit the ordered, and occasionally less ordered, expression of enchantment into the social world.
While we may go about our everyday lives in the rational modern realm, therefore, the enchanted realm is never far and may enter the mundane world to rouse us from our disenchanted everyday existence at any moment. Constant reminders of the possibilities of other realms beyond our limited visible and material world can be made concrete and are to be found in mass produced material objects and modern media products themselves. The faithful may seek to find ways to preserve their experiences of religious and spiritual enchantment by possessing or consuming products imbued with the charisma found in holy persons and places.
And this may be achieved, in part, by technological means through what Bilu and Ben-Ari (1992) describe as ‘manufactured charisma’ in their study of lineage or clan charisma in modern Israel. In this context Bilu and Ben-Ari show how the unquestioned charisma and saintly status of Rabbi Israel Abu-Hatseira was transmitted at the time of his death to his rather less saintly son. The metaphor of ‘manufactured charisma' is used to ‘capture both the basic precariousness and the organizational basis of. . . charisma in contemporary societies’ (Bilu and Ben-Ari 1992:673). This is a charisma that no longer depends for its transmission on word of mouth and informal networks, but rather on the mass reproduction of the images of the deceased Rabbi Israel Abu-Hatseira in photographs, on television, on key rings and other goods, and in the repeated retelling of his life story incorporating his many saintly deeds and prophecies published in monthly journals, in books and in children’s literature. Together the ‘newspapers, magazines, and television programs create an atmosphere in which a leader can appear to be everpresent and larger than life' (Bilu and Ben-Ari 1992:681). These mass reproduced images and tales serving to mythologize the life and deeds of the saint make it possible for devout followers to ‘bring the saint home’ by hanging photographs of him on the walls of their homes to keep him ‘both visible and accessible’ (Bilu and Ben-Ari 1992:681). Yet none of this would have the affective and religious meaning that it does for the devout in Israel if it did not develop from, and build on, pre-existing understandings of sainthood, culturally legitimated notions of charisma19 and religious practices that derive from the North African homeland of Rabbi Israel Abu-Hatseira. In this case the relocation of North African ‘folk veneration of saints among the Jews of North Africa’ to Israel matters not simply as a continuation and mere repetition of faith practices but more precisely because it is ‘a major, if not the major, cultural idiom and constituent in the collective identity of these people' (Bilu and Ben-Ari 1992:674).
For the Jews of North African heritage who have migrated to Israel, just as for the Ahmadis from the subcontinent who now make up the British Ahmadi diaspora, a key component of their collective religious identity draws on notions of charisma that have their origins in a home place that is becoming increasingly distant in time and is no longer a part of the lived experience of many devotees. Nonetheless, the connections with the source of their faith, the charismatic saint for the Jews of Israel and the promised messiah for the Ahmadis, can be brought into the home and made permanently visible and present through photographs, television programs and other objects that recall the charisma, lives and deeds of divinely inspired religious leaders and their descendants. Through such media and objects imbued with the potential for recalling charisma in mundane settings, the realm of the enchanted can be kept ever-present. In fact, I cannot recall visiting a single Ahmadi home, including those of people who do not consider themselves to be particularly devout, that did not have photographs of the promised messiah and the Ahmadi Khalifas adorning the walls of the sitting room and where, even if no one is paying immediate attention to it, MTA is often on the television providing a continuous background hum of pious and educational religious programming. For many London Ahmadis who knew the fourth Khalifa, Tahir Ahmad, and have fond memories of their meetings with him the regularly broadcast repeats of programs he made for MTA keep his words, his deeds and his presence very much alive. For those who did not come to know him personally during his life, the television programs make it possible to feel as if they know him.
Living in a home in which one is surrounded with material reminders of the enchanted and the charisma of religious leaders in the form of photographs, books and media products, creates not only a pious Muslim space within which everyday life can unfold but also allows for the possibility of the divine to enter directly into the quotidian. The fine line that exists between prosaic everyday life and the irruption of the potentially cataclysmic millennial into the mundane is one that can perhaps be understood with reference to a sermon the fifth khalifa gave in London in 2011. This sermon was delivered six years after the Danish cartoon controversy,20 sparked by the publication in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper of 12 images of the prophet Muhammad which were considered disrespectful by Muslims, and just a few days after they were reprinted in France,21 some three years after the global financial crash of 2008. These events were recalled by the khalifa in his Friday sermon on 4 November 201122 as part of a narrative enjoining Ahmadis to recognize the benefits that come from financial sacrifice for the jama ‘at. The sermon’s rhetorical strategy was repeatedly to invoke past historical attacks on Ahmadiyyat and more generally on Islam to reinforce a message of ultimate victory in spite of current apparent weakness by declaring that ‘none can contend with God's decree. They can observe that even today, each time the Community has been suppressed in any way at all, it has moved onwards and progressed’. Yet, in spite of the continuing belief in the ultimate success of the jama 'at, worshippers were reminded of the consequences for all humanity of the offences committed against God by those who lack faith, for:
the world is heading towards destruction anyway. In places natural disasters have occurred and in other places financial devastation is increasing. The reason for this is because people have forgotten God and are offensive about God’s beloveds. They are daring God’s sense of honour. The world needs to be alerted to fear of God. Ahmadis are doing this work. If the rest of the Muslims understood this, not only would they adorn their world and final end they would also be the recipients of God’s blessings.
(Friday sermon summary, 4 November 2011)
This was followed by a statement that resulted in panic buying and a fear of what the immediate future held for a section of the Ahmadi jama ‘at. A written summary of this part of the sermon in which the khalifa warned about possible food shortages, or perhaps worse, if the people of the world did not recognize their creator and pray to be spared punishment, reads:
As an aside, Hudhur said there is no telling where the financial crisis will lead and how intense it will get. While there is no need panic, Ahmadis should definitely stock few days’ dry food supply at home at all times as a precautionary measure. Hudhur explained that underdeveloped countries are used to such situations and people make some provision or the other but here [in the West] people do not know what such a crisis entails. The last crisis they faced was in WWII and their new generation has no idea of what can come to pass. Hudhur said while taking the precautionary step of stocking some food supply, we should also pray that may God enable the world to recognise their Creator and is saved from chastisement.
(Friday sermon summary, 4 November 2011)
This stark warning, despite a clear request not to panic, from a khalifa believed to be chosen by god to lead the faithful, following as it did after a reminder of the publication of insulting cartoons of the prophet, the global financial crash and a warning about food shortages resulting from the sins of a world heading for punishment and destraction, so worried some members of the community that they rushed out to buy and stockpile rice, tins of food, and dry goods in enormous quantities. Some of those I spoke with at the time described family homes with corridors and rooms so crammed with boxes and cartons of food that they were no longer easy to move about in. The dividing line between a routine and mundane existence and a world in which divine retribution is always about to be meted out on the non-believers is a fine one for some Ahmadis who are living, as they consider themselves to be, in ’the latter days'. Needless to say, the Ahmadi leadership quickly took control of the situation and in some cases even visited people in their homes to reassure them that they could continue with their normal lives and do so without fear. In the greater scheme of things this was one small and swiftly contained incident, but it is one that speaks to a worldview in which the messiah has already come,23 the latter days are upon us and the end, if not actually imminent, is already underway.
Thus, while Ahmadis can and do read books and watch programs produced by the jama ‘at to find answers to explain how logic and reason can be drawn upon to support their faith and even provide evidence of the truth of their beliefs, much of the deeply felt conviction that there is more to life than the visible material world around us comes from the experiences individuals themselves have and which connect them directly with forms of knowledge that they consider cannot be explained other than by a belief in the divine and in a life beyond this mortal one. Some of the experiences which convince believers that they can receive or seek guidance from the divine and through which the deceased and the divine can communicate by crossing from the enchanted realm to the mundane world take place in dreams. And through true dreams individuals may come into direct and umnediated contact with the divine.
Individuals who are fortunate enough to experience true dreams, or the family and friends of such individuals are also, because of these experiences, not only given proof of the truth of Islam but also of its continuing relevance for life today. The true dreams of pious but ordinary members of the jama ‘at also mean that the true dreams of the khalifas and other leading members of the jama ‘at are accepted as legitimate, but in their case as having implications not just for one person or one family, as is the case for ordinary people, but for the entire jama ‘at. Such
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Figure 3.1 2018 UK Billboard ‘The Messiah Has Come’
Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 107 dreams are just one way in which the enchanted remains ever present and can guide the choices individuals make and even, when the khalifa has true dreams, guide the future direction of the jama ‘at itself.
I conclude this examination of the place of dreams among Ahmadi Muslims by briefly considering dreams about the fifth khalifa. I then discuss how a dream of the fourth khalifa has served to tie together the enchantment of prophecy and faith to a new institution requiring additional bureaucratic organisation.
Since 1908 there have been five successors, khalifas, to Ghulam Ahmad, and four of these were related to him as son, grandsons and, most recently, a great-grandson.24 The khalifas themselves, although elected by a representative body of senior males in the Ahmadi organization, are all considered to have been preselected by God, and the election process is one that merely confirms a choice already divinely made. In the case of the present khalifa, this position is reinforced by the publication and internet availability of the dreams of members of the Ahmadi community and others who declare that they had dreams of the fifth and current khalifa prior to his election in 2003. One such document is entitled Dreams Foretelling the Fifth Khilafat (Seen before the Elections). It is available in Urdu and English in hard copy in an Ahmadi journal and also electronically.25 This particular selection includes 40 dreams by men and women and includes at least one dream as recounted by a non-Ahmadi who saw the fifth khalifa in his dream in 2002 - a fact which he only realized after the khalifa had been elected when he saw the new khalifa’s photograph. In this respect, this dream by a non-Ahmadi of the future khalifa is reminiscent of many accounts told by Sufis who describe seeing their future spiritual guides in dreams long before they ever meet them in the flesh or visit their shrines.26 The Ahmadi dreams foretelling the future khalifa are listed by author, date of the letter in which the dream was transmitted, and dream content. A typical example runs:
In 1997 I saw a dream that you are visiting my home in Rabwah wearing ‘Hazoor’s’ [the khalifa’s] turban and are also dressed like ‘Hazoor’. I address you as ‘Hazoor’. I ask, where is the bodyguard? Then I ask how did this come to pass? You respond that it is a blessing of Allah upon yourself. For a moment I feel as if you are lost in the feeling of gratitude to your Lord. I touch your arm and that brings you around and you start walking again. In the dream I am told that your name is Masroor Ahmad. I had never met you before. I swear upon God that when after a gap of 10 years I was visiting Rabwah I saw you and found you as I had seen you in the dream. In the dream your countenance had a light to it that I have not seen before.27
Sometimes the same dreams appear in a variety of published and electronic sources so that, for example, the dream of the non-Ahmadi person who saw the fifth khalifa in his dream before he became khalifa appears not only in the dream collection cited here but also in the August 2008 edition of the Ahmadi eGazette, the Al Islam eGazette.In this way, dreams are told and retold in a variety of media and in different contexts, sometimes summarized or reordered, but nonethelesseach time reaffirming the intervention of the divine will through dreams. The sense of encompassment by a world beyond the mundane becomes pervasive. For those who are able to perceive it enchantment is all around. Ahmadis seeing, hearing and reading such dream material cannot but be convinced, not only as a consequence of the significance attached to dreams by their faith and by the Ahmadi hierarchy that controls official media output, but by the sheer quantity of such material. Khalifas as divinely chosen represent the best and only leadership choice for Ahmadi Muslims, so much so that the khalifa has the authority and power, should he wish, to overturn any decision made at a lower level in the organization. This power to overturn decisions made at lower levels in the organization, as well as the potential for revelation and divine inspiration, means that change can happen and innovation become incorporated into the movement when authorized by the khalifa himself, yet such changes may also be presented in the form of a traditional means - through dreams and the guidance they offer.
One example from the dreams and practice of the fourth khalifa will make clear how this process works. The fourth Khalifa, Tahir Ahmad, states in his biography that he had received divine revelations from his childhood, and as he grew older he ‘experienced direct revelations from God’ (Adamson 1991:52).29 One of his dreams, in particular, led to the development of a new Ahmadi institution, the waqf-e-nau. In this dream, as recounted to me by two Ahmadi women, the khalifa saw an army of young Ahmadis who had gone thr oughout the world. This was an army of boys and girls who were changing the world, not through violence but through peaceful ways.
The khalifa interpreted his own dream in a series of Friday sermons where he said that unborn children were to be dedicated to this cause and to become a peaceful army. This dream, in 1987, became the waqf-e-nau scheme and was announced as a decisive new stage in the proselytizing mission of the Ahmadiyyat:
On 13th April 1987 Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV explained that very powerful divine inspiration suggests that with the dawn of the second century of Ahmadiyyat numberless venues will be opened for the domination of Islam and Ahmadiyyat for which a large number of upright devotees, well versed in spiritual and secular knowledge will be needed to cause a revolution in the field of preaching. To achieve this purpose Huzur announced a splendid initiative. The initiative is known as Waqf-e-nau. In response many people hastened to offer their children and the initiative was well taken by the Community. Such children are the asset of the Jamaat, who are destined to play an unprecedented role in spreading the name and the faith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) all over the world.30
The children dedicated in this way, I was told, are occasionally selected pre-birth on the basis of a dream the mother-to-be has, and the children themselves are often described by their parents as special and having particular characteristics that make them suited to the role that has been divinely chosen for them. Given the emphasis on sex segregation and the more circumscribed life of females in
Enchantment and the ethic of brotherhood 109 the Ahmadi community, it was said to be evidence of God’s divine mission that the majority of children dedicated to waqf-e-nau in the early years were born male.31 Now that the scheme is more established, however, the numbers of male and female children dedicated to the scheme have somewhat evened out, though boys continue to outnumber girls.32
In this instance a dream, followed by a series of sermons,33 led to the dedication of thousands of children over a period of some three decades and the requirement to set up schools, employ teachers and administer a new international institutional structure, including the annual conventions at which khalifas address the waqf-e-nau.34 The khalifa’s dream has also resulted in the dreams of women during their pregnancies and their conviction that their unborn child has, by divine will, been predestined to become a ’new endowment' for the transmission of Ahmadiyya Islam throughout the world. The dreams of these women which may, following an istikhara prayer, be in the form of a general feeling of tranquillity or as a good omen with the vision of the Qur'an covered in green cloth, also serve to reconfirm the truth and the authority of the original dream of the khalifa.35 His true dream is thus reinforced and supported by their own true dreams.