According to Edgar, militant Islamists such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban use dreams “to inspire and validate violent jihad”. Dreams also play a role for Islamic State militants. In general, dreams are important in Islam and its many branches such as Sufi, Salafi, Sunni, Shiite, as well as the Allawite and Ahmadiyya minority sects.
In Islamic tradition there are three categories of dreams:
- Dreams (hilm / ahlam)
- Normal everyday dreams (manam)
- Divinely sourced dreams (ru’ya /ru’an)
The first category is based upon human desire and these dreams may come from the devil (shaitan) and from the ego (nafs). The second category is the result of one’s own thinking. Both are categorized as meaningless dreams and only the third category is considered a true dream. The meaning and function of these dreams in Islamic tradition completely differs from Western understandings of dreams. In fact, the West views dreams as interpreting the dreamer’s inner world and subconscious. However, in Islamic tradition, dreams are not a reflection of one’s subconcious, but, instead, a discernment of the hidden affairs of the world. Namely, dream interpretation leads toward the outward and not the inward, which is the opposite of the Western view which considers dream content – particularly in the Freud perspective – as mirroring and encoding experiences of the past.
In Islam, true dreams have several meanings and functions. True dreams are viewed as a source of metaphysical knowledge, divination and revelation. They are considered as an alternative form of knowledge of the invisible affairs of the world, of the future and provide guidance for ethical and religious practice. In sum, true dreams are thought of as a way to communicate truth from the supernatural world (dar al-haq)
In the Qur’an divine intervention through dreams is scarce but does happen. An important example is Sura 8/43:
Remember in thy dream Allah showed them to thee. As few: if He had shown them to thee as many, Ye would surely have been discouraged, and ye would surely have disrupted in (your) decision: but Allah saved (you): for he knoweth well the (secrets) of (all) hearts.
In this verse, the Prophet described his “true dream” that he had before the Battle of Badr. In this dream, God made the army perceive the enemy as smaller than they actually are, which gave them more courage to fight. Moreover, according to Edgar, this verse is linked with jihad and it is the only one that blends the dream concept with the jihad concept.
In the jihadism world, there are many leaders that undertake actions or important decisions following dreams. In these cases, militants were inspired by the true dreams from God, seeing them as a favorable omen and believing them to be divine revelation. Indeed, in Islam, dreams are future oriented and are not viewed as a merely description of the ego or of the dreamer’s own past.
There are many examples of leaders who have made very important decisions through their dreams. An example is what Osama bin Laden famously said after the 9/11 attacks:
“Abdallah Azzam, Allah bless his soul, told me not to record anything (…inaudible…) so I thought that was a good omen, and Allah will bless us (…inaudible…). Abu-Al-Hasan Al- ((Masri)), who appeared on Al-Jazeera TV a couple of days ago and addressed the Americans saying: “If you are true men, come down here and face us.” (…inaudible…) He 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 said: “So I wondered if that was a soccer game or a pilot game? Our players were pilots.” He (Abu-Al-Hasan) didn’t know anything about the 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.”
Unidentified man off camera: “Abd Al Rahman Al-(Ghamri) said he saw a vision, before the operation, a plane crashed into a tall building. He knew nothing about it.”
Another example is the dream of Mullah Omar, who declared that a sacred figure visited him in order to save Afghanistan and implement Shari’a Law. He interpreted this dream as an absolute imperative. Moreover, the importance of dreams is witnessed by Rahimullah Yusufzai, who said Mullah Omar came up with war strategies from his dreams:
“I kept these stories, no big military operation can happen unless he gets his instructions in his dreams; he was a big believer in dreams […] I was told by so many Taliban leaders, commanders, fighters: look, you know, Mullah Omar is a holy man and he gets instructions in his dream and he follows them up.”
Islamic State members as well as al-Qaeda and Taliban members, believe in true dreams and view them as divine inspiration.
In March 2015, the Kurdish Democratic Party website reported that “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ordered his fighters to withdraw from the city, following his dream where he met Prophet Mohammed, who ordered him to leave Mosul city.” Al-Baghdadi and Mullah Omar’s decision-making were influenced by their true dreams. While the dreams could be fabricated, it is considered a serious sin in Islamic tradition to lie about dreams. There is said to be a special place in hell for such people.
While the strategic military and political choices of leaders are influenced by true dreams, militants are also influenced. Take the example of Abul Harith ath Thaghri, in which he explains who Abul-Muthanna as-Sumali was. He was a fighter that “after being imprisoned by the Crusaders for seven years, he was able to flee Canada despite being banned from travel.” Additionally, the author stresses that as-Sumali had a dream:
He (Abul-Muthanna as-Sumali) had a dream in which the Hur (the maidens of Paradise) gave him glad tidings of martyrdom on a specific date (one which I have forgotten). A week before his martyrdom, several of our friends decided to go shopping for new military attire. He told them he wouldn’t be going with them, because he was expecting martyrdom soon, and narrated to them his dream. When that day arrived, it happened that all Islamic State soldiers were placed on alert due to sudden advances of the Nusayri army and their Rafidi allies on the frontlines near Kafar Hamrah (in the northern Aleppo countryside). Abul-Muthanna rushed to battle and advanced in the direction of the enemy, fighting, until he was severely wounded, bleeding until he surrendered his soul to his Lord. Due to the intensity of enemy fire, it was not possible to extract his body from the forward position he had reached. May Allah accept him and add the blessing of caliphate we enjoy today to the scroll of his good deeds and that of all other martyrs.
In this dream, the Hurs (virgins in the paradise) told him of the exact moment of his martyrdom. For Abul-Muthanna this true dream was a positive premonition. In addition, it is interesting to note that he narrated his dream to his comrades, probably as if to say that his time was near and he could not go shopping at all, because during this time the aspiring martyr must prepare himself through prayer and other rituals. Moreover, his decisiveness during the battle was extremely strong, because it was derived from his true dream. He was sure he would die and go to heaven where he would be with the virgins (Hur al-‘Ayn).
There are many other examples of dreams like this, but what is important to understand is that the true dream is not simply something that comes from ego but something that puts the dreamer in communication with the divine, which can decide victory, legitimize defeat, inspire or demoralize armies, reveal omens, tactics, marriages, decision-making, and even the future.
To deeply understand the importance of true dreams is very crucial to combatting radicalization and terrorism at a local level. During investigations, police can use this knowledge to prevent the radicalization process. There are many cases in which dreams have been intercepted in investigative operations. An example is the case of the radicalization process of Yahia Mawad Mohammed Rajeh who was condemned in 2006 for terrorism in Italy with Rabei Osman El Sayed Ahmed who was his mentor.
During the indoctrination process of Yahia, Rabei told Yahia his dream:
“Rabei tells Yahia that Rome will be occupied after Constantinople, if God wants … He (Rabei) then assures Yahia that he is ready to leave for the martyrdom: I purified myself, I went to make the pilgrimage in Mecca, I made a great pilgrimage … I just miss reaching the group, I prayed at the mosque, and God is my witness, the only desire to be fulfilled that I miss … I miss two prayers and (then) I can direct me towards death for God (shahada) and my dream will be realized … He then says he dreamed of the prophet, who will surely appear to him again in a dream: I saw him (the Prophet) four times, I swear to you on the name of God, once he was happy with me and another time, he was angry with me … and the last time I dreamed him and I was holding a gun … and I dreamed of my brother Mujaheddin … And the Prophet also told him that he will be among those who will go to heaven.
It is very clear that Rabei Osman was ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of God. According to his dream, both men would be martyred. The Prophet, in his dream, told him that his comrade will go to heaven and probably, his comrade, “brother Mujaheddin”, was Yahia. At the end of the indoctrination, Yahia was ready to leave for Syria or some other country, and the dream would be executed.
The dream in this indoctrination process appears only at the end of the process, when the recruit (Yahia) has already been well assimilated into the ideology. Dreams are often used in the final part of the indoctrination process, when the thoughts turn into action. Therefore, from an operational point of view, when moments like the one reported above are intercepted, it may be firmly concluded that radicalization is complete and the action is close.
In conclusion, dreams are important from both the academic and operational point of view. Dreams, in the Islamic tradition, are as central as many other cultural traits such as poetry or music. However, dreams are exploited by jihadists for different purposes: indoctrinating, pushing towards militancy, decision-making processes, strategies and tactics war, etc. Therefore, it is necessary that the study of jihadi culture continues to uncover these little-known cultural traits. Moreover, from the operational point of view, understanding the importance of jihadi dreams can actually change the fate of an investigation.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.
 Edgar I. R. “The Dreams of Islamic State”, Perspectives on Terrorism, Volume 9, Issue 4, p. 72 (August 2015)
 Ibid, p. 73
 Jihadi Culture p. 130 and note 11
 Jihadi Culture p. 133
 Transcript of Osama bin Laden videotape, December 13, 2001
 Jihadi Culture p. 141
 Edgar I. R. “The Dreams of Islamic State”, Perspectives on Terrorism, Volume 9, Issue 4, p. 79. (August 2015)
 Dabiq magazine, Issue 15, p. 10
 Ibid p.10
 Electronic surveillance