Prophecies require interpretation

[ BACK ] The critics of the Ahmadiyya Movement are constantly raising the objection that some sign or other of the coming of the Messiah or the Mahdi has not been fulfilled by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, or that some prophecy or other has not been fulfilled through him. These objections would not have been raised if the critics had known of the coherent and well-defined philosophy in Islam relating to prophecies and their fulfillment. We deal with this subject in case the objectors are really unaware of the logic underlying prophecies and of the fine and subtle points taught by Islam in this respect.

By way of introduction, to prophesy means to give information in advance of some event to happen in the future. The Arabic word for prophecy is naba'-un. There are two kinds of prophecies: Warnings and glad tidings. Prophecies giving good news are called wa`da (lit. promise), while those delivering a warning are known as wa`eed (lit. conditional threats). Wa`da strengthens one's faith by conveying good news that are then fulfilled. The purpose of wa`eed is to warn people of the grave consequences of their evil deeds, so that they may turn to God and mend their ways. Hence the aim of prophecies is to create living faith in God in the hearts.


Prophecies received through spiritual, not physical, senses

The first point to note is that when God informs His chosen ones and other righteous servants of events of the future, or shows them a scene with physical happenings, the recipient receives this information not through his physical senses such as the eye, but through his spiritual senses in a dream or vision. Furthermore, all religious scriptures and all the religious savants of Islam are agreed that most dreams and visions need to be interpreted, there being only one prophecy in a hundred which may be fulfilled literally.

The Holy Quran, in its account of Joseph's history, mentions three dreams containing prophecies which were interpreted and fulfilled metaphorically:

1. Joseph's own dream is mentioned in the following words:

"I saw eleven stars and the sun and the moon, bowing down before me."

(The Holy Quran, ch. 12, v. 4)

This prophecy, which indicated the greatness to which Joseph was to rise, was not unraveled until Joseph had risen to become the head of the Treasury in Egypt. When he attained that honour, he said: "This is the interpretation of my dream of old which my Lord has made to come true" (12:100). Hence the significance of the dream was that great and powerful men would obey him, not that anything would literally bow down to him.


2. A fellow-prisoner of Joseph had a dream which he related as follows:

"I saw myself carrying bread on my head, and the birds were eating of it."


Joseph interpreted the dream in this way: "He shall be crucified so that birds will eat from his head" (12:41).


3. The king of Egypt, the country where Joseph was imprisoned, had a puzzling dream as follows:

"And the king said, I saw seven fat kine which were being devoured by seven lean ones, and seven green ears and seven others which were dry."


In interpreting this dream, Joseph took "seven fat kine" to be seven years of good harvest and "seven lean ones" to be seven years of drought.

From these three examples, it will have become obvious that while the words of a prophecy may say one thing, they are taken to mean something different. It will also be seen that even sinners and disbelievers can have true dreams.

Besides the above examples from the Holy Quran, the Hadith books contain numerous instances of dreams and visions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad which he related, and which were interpreted by him or his followers in a metaphorical sense. A few such examples are given below:

[1.] "I was asleep when a cup of milk was brought to me. I drank of it until its freshness could be seen coming out of my nails. Then I gave what remained to Umar ibn al-Khattab. People asked, What did you take it to mean, O Messenger of God? He said, Knowledge."

(Bukhari, Book 3: Kitab al-`Ilm, ch. 22)


[2.] "While I was asleep I saw people brought before me wearing shirts, some of which extended as far as their chests, while others were shorter than this. Umar was brought before me, and he was wearing a shirt which was [so long that it was] trailing. People asked, What did you take it to mean, O Messenger of God? He said, Religion."

(Bukhari, Book 2: Kitab al-Iman, ch. 14)


[3.] "I was asleep when I saw two gold bracelets on my hands. I was perturbed by them. Then a revelation came to me in my dream to blow on them. I did, and they blew away. I took them to mean the two liars to arise after me, the first Aswad Ansi, and the second Musailama, the liar of Yamma."

(Bukhari, Book 61: Kitab al-Manaqib, ch. 25)


[4.] "I saw in a dream that I moved my sword and the leading part of it broke. This was the misfortune to befall the Muslims on the day of [the battle of] Uhud."

(Bukhari, Book 92: Kitab al-Ta`bir, ch. 44)


[5.]"In a dream I saw cows being slaughtered. These were the Muslims on the day of Uhud."

(ibid., ch. 39)


[6.] "I saw, as it were, a black woman with disheveled hair, leaving Madina till she reached Mahya`a which is called Juhfa. I took it to mean that the pestilence of Madina had shifted there."

(ibid., ch. 41)


[7.] "The Holy Prophet said: I saw [in a dream or vision] a spotted dog putting his mouth in the blood of members of my family. This was taken to mean Shimr [the assassin of Imam Husain] who had leprosy."'

[8.] "Imam Husain, peace be upon him, said that he heard his father [Hazrat Ali] say: I heard the Holy Prophet say that a ram would violate the sanctity of the Ka`ba so I wonder if I am that ram."

The commentators of Hadith have written that this prophecy applied to Abdullah Ibn Zubair.

[9.] "It is related from Aishah that the Holy Prophet said [to her]: You were shown to me in a dream twice [before marriage]. A man was carrying you wrapped up in a silk cloth saying, This is your wife, look at her face. So when I opened it up, it was you. I said, If this is from God it shall be fulfilled."'

(Bukhari, Book 92: Kitab al-Ta`bir, ch. 20)

These hadith show that dreams and visions usually stand in need of interpretation.