Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Dreams, Visions, and Muslims

The man in a white robe that you met in your dream has a message for you. Call this number. . .
     That was a newspaper advertisement which appeared in the West Bank town of Ramallah in 2011. How interesting that the writer could assume that someone out there was dreaming about a man in a white robe! It is far from unique. In my post of January this year, I recorded seven cases of remarkable Damascus Road type conversions. No. 6 was about a lapsed Lebanese Christian who went to Saudi Arabia on a business trip and received a visit from both an angel and from Jesus himself. At the time, I took the story from a review of Tom Doyle's book, Dreams and Visions; Is Jesus awakening the Muslim world? (Thomas Nelson, 2012). Since then, I have acquired the book itself, which has proved a real eye-opener.
     About a decade ago, those of us who work in Muslim outreach started to hear about something new in the world of Islam. God was opening the closed hearts of Muslims by giving them spectacular dreams and visions. At first, the stories were rare, but today these amazing accounts of God breaking through to Muslims have become a common occurrence. We find that about one out of every three Muslim-background believers has had a dream or vision prior to their salvation experience. [p 127]
     Doyle himself relates a large number of case histories which have been confirmed. In many cases, it is obvious that he himself met the recipient. However, he conceals their real names, as well as other details which might help to identify them - and for obvious reasons: these new converts face a much fiercer persecution than anything the Roman Empire provided. Islamic law requires the death penalty for anyone who leaves Islam, and in many countries this is actually the law of the land. Even where it isn't, they still face murder and mob violence, while the authorities look aside. Even in our own countries, they are often so harassed and persecuted by their own sub-group that they are forced to go into hiding. (Check out this report as well.) I even remember a recent case where a convert was forced to leave Britain and migrate to Australia in order to escape - essentially a religious refugee from the very motherland of freedom.
     Nevertheless, the dreams they experience are compelling. The operative word here is "spectacular". The recipients distinguish them from the normal run-of-the-mill dreams, which tend to become fuzzy on awakening, if not forgotten.
     Muslims who have dreams about Jesus remember the experience, complete with the concrete details. The specifics stay with that person. I've talked with dreamers who, even ten years after their dream experience, can recount every component of it. [p 260]
     The dream Jesus acts just as He did on earth. He almost invariably expresses his unconditional love - which is something new to Muslims. The dream sends them on a spiritual quest. They were used to thinking of Him as a prophet; now they seldom have any difficulties accepting His divinity. What they want are answers.
     In my earlier post, I pointed out how the religious experiences described were out of all proportion to any slight initialising circumstances. Nevertheless, we must accept that it is normal for an issue troubling a person to spill over into his dreams, and those on a spiritual quest are likely to have dreams pointing them in one direction or another. In a society such as the Middle East, which puts store on dreams, this can be important. Let us therefore apply Occam's razor and first examine some simple cases.
    (1) This is a simple one, and it took place in Chicago, where the Wheaton Bible Church started a Sunday school class for Muslims. Mirna and her son, Mohammed attended and, after several meetings and the experience of Christian love, Mirna prayed for a sign. A week later, her son started having dreams about Jesus. Mirna could recognize a sign when she saw one, and it was not long before she took the plunge - literally, in this case, for it meant being baptized. The interesting thing is that it was only Mohammed who received the dreams, but only his mother who responded (at the time of writing).
    (2) In Saudi Arabia no religion but Islam is permitted. Not even foreign workers are allowed the right to worship, or to even possess Bibles. And to Mecca itself no non-Muslims are permitted entry. But one thing the rulers can't keep out is the internet, which brings in, not only pornography, but also the gospel, and for that reason there are many secret believers present. One of these is Nasreen. Trapped in a boring marriage, she heard a friend tell her about vacationing in London. This set her to browsing the web for holidays, until she found one on "Biblical Tours of the Holy Land". From this she was led to Christian chatrooms, after which she began having dreams of Jesus, and one thing led to another . . .
     Well, in these two cases, the dreams began after the initial interest in Christianity. Let us therefore progress to cases a bit more difficult to rationalise.
    (3) Noor lived in Cairo, the mother of eight and the third wife of a man who had just taken a fourth wife. One night, out of the blue, Jesus appeared to her in a dream to tell her of His overwhelming, unconditional love for her. Then, in the dream, before He left, He told her that, on the morrow, His friend would instruct her in everything she needed to know about Him. At that point, He introduced her to the friend. That was the very first dream she had had of such a nature. The following day, among the throngs of Cairo's central market (and no-one who hasn't been to a Middle Eastern market can appreciate how crowded it can be) she saw him: the "friend" of her dream, the same clothes, the same glasses, the same smile. His name was Kamal. He was a native evangelist and, yes, he did take her to a solitary spot and explained to her everything she needed to know. And, lest you still imagine that this was some sort of co-incidence, Kamal would never normally have entered the central market, except that, on that occasion,  he had an overwhelming impression that God had a special assignment for him there.
    (4) The following took place in Kabul. Josh was officially employed with an NGO in Afghanistan, but unofficially was an undercover missionary. Not that his activities had been completely overlooked; he had been imprisoned several times because of it. One day a stranger called Halik pleaded with him to come to his house, because he knew God had sent him. Reluctantly, suspecting a sinister motive, Josh obeyed. Halik's wife and three children were waiting for him. It turned out that Halik had seen him, Josh in his dreams for the previous seven nights in a row, and the night before a man called Jesus appeared in his dream to tell him that Josh had a message from Him. The upshot, of course, was that Halik and his wife became Christians three days later, and they now lead an underground house church of twenty members.
     Now let's move on to something more dramatic.
    (5) Doyle also met Mateen in Kabul, and found his story one of the most remarkable he had heard. Mateen was a man of peace in a land of war, so he used to regularly go into the woods north of the city, and especially to a particular grove of junipers, in order to pray to Allah for himself, his family, his country, and especially for an end to the war. He had been an interpreter for an American called David, who showed him the stories of Jesus and St Paul, but Mateen had no intention of converting. However, David did offer to pray that his woodland vigils would bring him closer to God.
     Then, one day in the juniper grove, he came across a man in white robe, so bright he could barely gaze at Him without squinting. There is no need to ask Who it was. This was no dream; it was one of the most spectacular visions imaginable. The two spoke together for several minutes as if they were the closest of friends. The same thing happened the next day - and the next. Now Mateen is one of the estimated 30,000 Christians in Afghanistan, but he carries his faith openly, despite arrests, beatings, and death threats. He is under no illusions that it will all end with his martyrdom.
     This is not the only vision, as distinct from dreams, mentioned in the book, but let us move on to something even more dramatic.
     (6) The internet is not the only force which can pierce Islamic theocracies' barricades. Satellite TV gives a whole new meaning to the term, "television evangelist". Two of the most effective are Zakaria Botros, the Coptic priest who preaches in Arabic, and Hormoz Shariat, the "Billy Graham of Iran". And because official Iranian television is pretty boring, 45 million of the country's 75 million inhabitants have access to illegal satellite channels, and so are available to watch Hormoz's Iran Alive! program.
     One of those who watched it - and not with benevolent intentions - was Dina of the Female Secret Police (FSP), whose job was to hunt down anyone violating the mullahs' code of modesty or - hell forbid! - anyone who converted. Scenes of flogging, imprisonment, and torture were part of her way of life. And on her days off she used to watch Hormoz and fill his telephone line with abuse and invective.
     Then, on that fateful evening, he asked if Islam had brought her any happiness she could point to.
     "There are other problems not connected to my religion that I am experiencing now," she replied. Then she told him that she was unmarried, and that her mother was dying painfully of cancer. They were both going to commit suicide that night, she practically boasted. Right now. On his program. What did he think of that?
     I suppose at this point Hormoz remembered the text: "Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit" (Mark 13:11). Well, he said in effect, if you are going to die anyway, why not put it off for seven days, pray to Jesus for help, and see what happens? Then, without more ado, and before she could get out of it, he led her in prayer. Of course, she didn't mean it. And ...
     Nothing happened.
     At least not for four days. On the morning of the fifth day she heard footsteps of what she assumed was an intruder. But it wasn't. It was her mother - who should have been bedridden and in unbearable pain. Jesus had come to her as a vision in the night, and she was healed. Needless to say, her confession generated unprecedented interest in the power of prayer, not to mention God's mercy towards His enemies. In a secret meeting of Iranian believers,Tom Doyle met Dina, her mother, and Dina's new husband, also an ex-Muslim, for Dina left the morality police and became one of Christ's agents in the growing underground churches of Iran.

     If these were isolated incidents in some localised area of the world, they would still be extraordinary. But Doyle cites them from as far afield as Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank, Afghanistan, even Mecca itself. Indeed, it was in Mecca during the pilgrimage that one woman had a man in a luminous white robe materialise in her tent at night, and somehow she knew Who it was. Then, channel surfing back in Jordan, she froze at hearing an Egyptian preacher say, "Some of you have had a vision of Jesus..." Yes, the phenomenon is becoming well known among those in the right positions.
     Where will it all end? God only knows. His ways are not ours. But He once promised that "Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions" (Joel 2: 28).

Addenda: In this article you will read about the conversion of an ISIS jihadist who had Jesus turn up in a dream to tell him, "You are killing my people." Indeed, one of the Christians, before he was killed, gave him a Bible, and one thing led to another. . .

     Another article tells the story of Daniel Massieh, born Muhammad Kamel in Egypt. He was a religious Muslim with the usual false ideas about Christianity, so when a friend invited him to church, he assumed that when the service ended, the congregation would start drinking alcohol and "carrying on". Instead, they recited the Lord's Prayer.
     Still determined to mock Christianity, Massieh asked for copy of the prayer and said later that night when he began to read it for the first time, he started to laugh. To him, the idea that God could be your father was blasphemous because God could not have a relationship with a woman. Massieh began mockingly speaking to God and asking him, “God, are you really my daddy?”
     It was during this moment that Massieh says the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a wave and for the first time in his life, he felt the love of God wash over him and he heard Him say into his ear, “Yes, I am your Father.” As a result of that moment, Massieh converted to Christianity, borrowed his friend’s Bible and began a mission in life – to try and get other Muslims to witness God and convert to Christianity.
     You might note that this bears some resemblance to the conversion of John Wright, recorded in my earlier article.
      Here are some other accounts.