News / Middle East

    Analysts Study Jihadists' Dreams of the Caliphate

    Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, stand around a large banner with Arabic writing that reads,"Muhammad" during the celebration of Moulid Al-Nabi, the birth of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 23, 2015.
    Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, stand around a large banner with Arabic writing that reads,"Muhammad" during the celebration of Moulid Al-Nabi, the birth of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 23, 2015.

    Just days before Islamic convert Elton Simpson attacked a controversial “Draw the Prophet Muhammad” contest last May in Garland, Texas, he asked jihadists online to arrange an interpretation of a dream he had of “a woman in a hijab looking down at him on a road.”

    Nothing is known — at least publicly — about what the dream interpreter may have counseled, but women on the path of jihad in dreams often are interpreted as offering the prospect of paradise. Some analysts argue this dream may have been the final incentive for the Garland shooting that left a guard wounded and Simpson and his accomplice dead, shot by a traffic cop.

    If it was, Simpson is not alone among Islamic militants who say they were inspired to action by a dream. Western intelligence agencies are taking increasing notice of dream accounts shared by jihadists on social media sites and in telephone and email exchanges, if only to provide pieces in the puzzle of the jihadist mind, say current and former intelligence officials.

    “We are not talking Minority Report here,” said a U.S. counterterrorist official on condition of anonymity. The reference is to the 2002 movie starring Tom Cruise, where a futuristic “PreCrime” specialized police unit uses psychics to stop murderers before they kill.

    “But we are interested in dream accounts, to see if they can assist us in predicting a possible recruit’s behavior or where they are on the trajectory of radicalization,” the official added.

    FILE - Recruits belonging to Somalia's al Shabaab rebel group march during a parade at a training base in 2011.
    FILE - Recruits belonging to Somalia's al Shabaab rebel group march during a parade at a training base in 2011.

    Intelligence assessments

    According to Iain Ross Edgar, a social anthropologist at Britain’s Durham University and a leading expert in the field of dreams, Western intelligence agencies have been curious for some time about jihadist dreams.

    “At a conference, a Western intelligence official told me, ‘Everyone we are watching is into dreaming,’" Edgar said. "Everyone they looked at was into their dreams and the dreaming got stronger as they came closer to being recruited." 

    Edgar added, “Intelligence officials seem interested in whether dream narratives and reports can be used as ancillary remote assessment tools, whether dreams can predict whether a tipping point has been reached for someone contemplating doing something and then going on to secure bomb material.”

    Islam has a strong dream tradition, diverging from Western Christian culture on what dreams mean. Fourth-century theologians Augustine and Jerome redefined dreams as superstition. Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud saw dreams as the road to the unconscious and the past.

    For Islam, true dreams — those not deemed false and the work of the devil or everyday dreams of no major significance — are about the future, offering premonitions, but also guidance from the Divine.

    Dream tradition

    The Prophet Muhammad was a great dreamer. There are three examples of dreams in the Quran. And some of the most important events in early Islam are related to dreams — including a night dream in which Muhammad received the basis of Sharia law and met Jesus and others regarded as prophets.

    Muhammad is said to have begun each day by asking his companions about their dreams.

    Jihadists are no different from other Muslims in how they view the importance of dreams, according to Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. “They do it because it is Islamic orthodoxy. Most, if not all, practicing Muslims believe dreams can contain messages from God or premonitions of the future.

    "They believe it because scripture strongly suggests it. It's not widely known in the West, because Muslims don't talk about it very openly; dreams are intimate things and should only be shared with close friends or family,” said Hegghammer.

    But jihadists and those on the recruitment path have been sharing their dreams. And dream they do — from the failed British shoe bomber Richard Reid to the planners of the catastrophic September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 — Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.

    According to several accounts, Taliban leader Mullah Omar was summoned by a dream to implement Sharia law and a true Islamic state. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden reportedly worried that the September 11 plot would be revealed beforehand because so many of his followers dreamed about the mission.
    And Islamic State leaders and their foot soldiers are no laggards when it comes to dreams giving them self-serving credence as prompts for action.

    FILE - Undated image posted on a militant website shows fighters from the Islamic State militant group marching in Raqqa, Syria.
    FILE - Undated image posted on a militant website shows fighters from the Islamic State militant group marching in Raqqa, Syria.

    Inspiration, guidance

    Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaida in Iraq, the precursor to the Islamic State group, is said to have become a jihadist partly because of a sister’s dream of a sword with the word “Jihad” displayed on one side and the Quranic verse, “God will never abandon you and will never forget you” on the other.

    “For Islamic militant jihadists, dreams and visions are a key way of confirming and legitimating to others their ideological worldview and the path to becoming a shahid, a holy martyr,” according to Edgar, author of the first academic paper on the significance of dreams in Islamic State ideology.

    Whatever the veracity of individual dream narratives, there is a pattern of reliance on divinatory dreams for inspiration and guidance, he argued. They take dreams into account when deciding to join, become a foreign fighter, volunteer for missions, select a military strategy or, if a lone wolf, picking a target.

    Former senior FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole said dreams may be helpful, up to a point, in trying to assess whether someone is dangerous or not.

    “Psychiatrists and people in mental health will use dreams to try to understand what is happening with a person,” she said. “But dream interpretation is highly subjective. There is no science of dream interpretation. It comes down to memories, and the dreamer will often add missing material. Dreams can be very suggestive.”

    And so can interpretations of dreams. O’Toole said dream interpretations “can be used to influence, to recruit, to persuade and to direct. And being able to monitor shared dream accounts could be useful in providing prior warnings.”

    “You use as much information as you can to make a danger assessment,” she said.

    Terrorism researcher Hegghammer argued that the dreams of Islamic State militants — as well as other aspects of jihadi culture, from poetry to songs known as nasheeds — warrant close study, because they can shed light on the emotional appeal that encourages some people to enlist and play an active role in extremist Islamic groups.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Maria
    January 24, 2016 9:17 AM
    True dreams are one of the tools to get guidence to go in right path,Islam is religion of peace not violence.if someone causes harm and hurt people and relate it to religion than they are showing their personal interest behind.Islam teaches peace and reason for hundreds to enter in Islam is its good teachings not violence which do not actually exist in this religion

    by: Atia
    January 10, 2016 4:37 PM
    As others have mentioned, dreams can be a true message from God, however these "jihadists" (if had a real dream) are not intrepeting what their dream means correctly. In Islam, we are taught to respect and not hurt one another even though there might be some differences present. These jihadists are using their dream in a wrong way, as an explanation for their desires. Morover, Jihad is suppose to be a kind and respectful way for spreading the religion of Islam by handing flyers to people, having conventions to teach others etc. not forcing people into joining Islam. Islam teaches that everyone has the right to what religion they wish to believe in and others need to accept that. Muslims can teach them about their own religion, but not force them through terriost acts. Hopefully, this can shed some light about Islam and the true way for Jihad.

    by: JME from: Montreal
    January 09, 2016 10:57 PM
    The term Jihad basically means struggling or striving in the name of the religion. Now being a Jihaddist does not mean that you are automatically suppose to become a terrorist. Terrorism is NOT Jihad. From a true Islamic perspective, being a Jihaddist means that you're basically protecting and defending your religion, which is done in many different manners. For instance, there is Jihad of the Pen, which means that a person would protect and defend its religion through writing and language. That is basically what i am currently doing. True Islam can never be Terrorism. Islam says that if you kill one person, it weighs the same as killing the entire humanity.

    by: Aisha
    January 08, 2016 12:16 AM
    Dreams are impulses from subconscious
    If we are detached from external world or feel an issue very deeply we do get dreams that may be a guidance.Interpretation is very subjective and will be based on individual perceptions.The application of dreams is the end result of a persons expectations .Dreams are what exemplify the spirit,mind and remind us of existance of divinity.

    by: Shamaila Bajwah from: Canada
    January 04, 2016 1:40 PM
    It is true that true dreams are believed to be signs from God in Islam, but many times dreams can just be subconscious thoughts and mean nothing at all. This article reveals how "Jihadis" are using their dreams to certify their actions. However they are using the wrong interpretation of their dreams to follow the wrong groups. If their dream feels true they must learn of the interpretation from a reliable source instead of learning from recruiting extremists who misinterpret dreams to lure people into their groups.

    by: Syed
    January 03, 2016 10:49 AM
    Even today the physical  world  or the material  world is too young  to  understand  what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)'s divine dreams were about  and how his grace discussed and concluded some divine  messages from it.

    True dreams forecast events that may follow but it takes some one above the ordinary to understand and differentiate  between  a holy dream  and  a recurring delusion.The fact is that the person who sees a great dream is more important, than the dream itself before the dream can be taken seriously.A dream cannot be used to plot against any one or anything. Everywhere  in history  whether it be Prophet  Yousaf (a.s)( Joseph) or any other holy man or woman, they were all communicating with God  through dreams at times; and they were wise and God-fearing humans who didn't ever forcibly try to make their dreams come true;  like in The life of Yousaf/Joseph (a.s) and as we see in The Pact of Hudaiybiya, The Prophet  Muhammad  (Many Peace  and  blessings  be upon him) and The Muslims  returned  without performing Hajj despite having seen a dream of circumambulating the Kaba, for that was in the common interest of the Arabs and a prerequisite for establishing peace first, which was always his grace (s.a) 's top most priority.

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    January 02, 2016 10:55 AM
    The Islamic psychotic murderers truly are psychotic if they think their dreams are a valid reason for slaughtering innocent people. They will be annihilated.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 01, 2016 3:58 PM
    The ISIL Caliphate is not a dream? .. Remember, al-Baghdadi has already established most of his self declared ISIL Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, [and now], the US and western European countries must eliminate that ISIL Caliphate before it expands into other countries? .. and before they send more ISIL terrorists and sympathizers to attack the US and western countries? .. The Caliphate is real (but not completely finished) and not a dream as some so-called military analysts would have you believe? .. know your enemy is the golden rule or you'll never defeat him, but because he knows you, he may end up outlasting and defeating you?

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