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Islamic militant jihadists are inspired by night dreams, suggests research

(9 June 2008)

The inspirational night dream, or ruya, is a fundamental, inspirational and even strategic part of the militant jihadist movement in the Middle East and elsewhere.

This is the conclusion of a study of the reported dreams of many of the best-known al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders carried out by Dr Iain Edgar a social anthropologist at Durham University.

Edgar identified four key themes from his research:

• Islamic militant jihadists are inspired by night dreams

• Islamic militant jihadists legitimize their actions partly on the basis of night dreams

• The inspirational night dream can be more ‘real’ than reality, connecting the individual to a mythical past

• Militant Jihadism can be directly authorized by dream content

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival today (Friday 6 June) on the cultural significance of sleeping and dreaming Edgar said: “Islam is probably the largest night dream culture in the world today. The night dream is thought to offer a way to metaphysical and divinatory knowledge, to be a practical alternative and accessible source of inspiration and guidance, to offer clarity concerning action in this world.”

Edgar interviewed individuals in the UK, Pakistan, Northern Cyprus and Turkey to identify the key features of the inspirational night dream. He also reviewed transcripts including that of Osama Bin Laden, who has spoken of the night dream in the context of his concern that “the secret [of the 9/11 attacks] would be revealed if everyone starts seeing it in their dreams.”

“It has been suggested that dream narratives are cynically adopted for propaganda purposes”, says Edgar. “This could of course be the case for some individuals but the range and number of reported narratives I have researched strongly argue against this. Even if reported jihadist dream narratives are fabricated, the fact that Muslims often believe them and are mobilized to jihad partly on their account is of significance”.

On the significance of the research Edgar said. “Overall, how Moslems, and people in general, understand their night dreams is a powerful tool in assessing their worldview and implicit key motivations. The understanding of night dreams offers an entrée into the deepest recesses of the self, and the emerging self. There is little doubt that one’s lived world-view and unconscious, mythic world-view are predictive of one’s sympathies and potential actions.”

Event Details:

States of Mind, Sleeping and Dreaming
Cheltenham Town Hall, Friday 6 June 2008 12-1pm, £6 (£5)
Tickets: www.cheltenhamfestivals.com or Box Office 01242 227979

The event is supported by the Wellcome Trust