Coming from a Sunni-Sufi background, there was a great emphasis on dreams and visions in my religious upbringing. People would have conscious “visions” and dreams of Prophets, angels and jinns coming before them and sending them a message about the truth, dreams etc. This would have potentially dangerous effects because if a religious authority had a dream that someone he knew was fornicating, that person would get into unwarranted trouble. Even though it could easily have been just a dream.
We called these visions “Kashf” and they were believed to be messages from Allah and the Prophet.
There was one man in our community in Bangladesh known for having Kashf. I knew him as Mullah Abdus-Subhan. He was an old man. In his childhood, he had to drop out of school to become a rickshaw driver for financial purposes. While he may not have had high economic standing, he had a great reputation in our religious community for his Kashf ability. People would come to him for advice, assuming his advice was from divine Kashf.
The Mullah would often see prophets visiting our religious gatherings in Bangladesh and people around him would be awestruck. Even I would believe him.
One time he claimed to have a Kashf where he foresaw Imam Mahdi coming to power in my lifetime. I asked him to tell me more about Imam Mahdi. The Mullah told me that before Imam Mahdi comes, there will be two great wars already fought by Muslims. The first one will be between Muslims and Christians. I immediately interpreted that as The Crusades. The second war will be between Muslims and all disbelievers. I connected that to the war on terror and the Iraq War during that time.
The Mullah then raised my hopes and said that when Imam Mahdi sparks an uprising, the entire world will be one unified Islamic caliphate and for a brief time everybody will follow Islam the correct way.
I became excited and brought this excitement back to the United States. At the time I was the only devout Muslim in my school, so I perceived myself as a disadvantaged worshiper of Allah in a sinful society. But I was thrilled just “knowing” that all of my classmates will be Muslim one day. I even had a crush on a non-Muslim white girl in school and was thrilled that she would be Muslim one day and I could marry her.
When I would speak to my Muslim American friends, I would tell them in private that there is a great caliphate coming our way. They would look at me weirdly and tell me to just pray 5 times a day, be a good person, and do good in school. It’s the common advice of your average American Muslim. I would pray 5 times a day, do good in school, be respectful to others etc. but this fantasy of an Islamic utopia was always in the back of my head.
After reading this, some may think that I would align with ISIS of today. This may not be entirely accurate. All my elders condemned the Jihadi movements and I naturally followed their footsteps. There was a moment when I asked my great uncle if Osama Bin Laden was restoring the Caliphate. My great uncle said that Bin Laden killed civilians so he certainly has no possibility for affiliation with Imam Mahdi. I then followed suit and rejected Bin Laden’s associations with Islam.
I didn’t envision a Caliphate uprising through militancy however. I strangely believed that Muslims living model Sufi Islamic lives would convert the masses to Islam.
If I had continued following that specific Islam, I would not agree with ISIS today because my religious elders condemn them. However if I decided to be individualistic in my religiosity; combined with how politically active I became over the past few years; this yearning for an Islamic caliphate; my contempt of western society from when I was religious; and the soaring popularity of Islamism over the years; then we may have had something to worry about.
Looking back at it, I realize how attractive the Caliphate dream can be to the Muslim who buys into that prophecy. Extreme religiosity can make a person insecure because they become stranded between their religious conviction and their nonreligious society. But the idea that society can align with their religious convictions becomes a fantasy, and the global caliphate fulfills this fantasy.
Thankfully my Islam wasn’t a militant Islam. Who knows where my life would have led if it were.
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