by Bob O’Dell, Manifold Hope
Stories of Muslims having dreams of Isa (Jesus) in recent years have abounded, especially in the last decade.1,2 Besides awe and admiration for the work that God has initiated, many followers of Jesus have wondered what God’s purposes might be in bringing so many dreams to Muslims since the year 2000. In order to try to answer that question, we at Manifold Hope believe it essential to look back at these dreams historically.
The Bible reports many examples of persons having dreams and visions that led them to seek God, Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus being one of the most famous examples 2000 years ago. 3,4 But since Muslims turning towards Jesus as the Messiah and the way to God, as far as we know, is a relatively recent change in the 1400 year history of Islam, we need to ask ourselves
To answer those questions we will look at three early events where Muslims began to follow Jesus. In two movements in Indonesia and Ethiopia, many thousands of former Muslims ended up following Jesus, and in the third event in Damascus, many were willing but were hindered by other Muslims and their local government. While all three events occurred in the late 1800s, another 75 years would elapse before other movements of Muslims to Christ would be documented in the late 1900s,5 so we must give our full attention to the three main events of the 1800s.
The very first historic movement of Muslims to follow Jesus as the Son of God began in Indonesia in the mid-1800s.6 Here we define ‘movement’ as a location where more than 1000 persons were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. And for this movement, we must acknowledge and thank God for the work of many Dutch Missionaries who were responsible for carrying the good news of Jesus Christ to the main Indonesian island of East Java. In the reports and writings of the early missionaries, and their logs, later writers have been able to unearth some of the personal stories of the conversions of early Indonesians who saw their own lives change, became evangelists on their own, and ended up having the largest impact in reaching other Indonesians for Christ. 7,8
A Dutch missionary named W. Coolen settled in Ngoro in East Java Indonesia around 1828. In those early days he led some native Indonesians to Christ. Notable among these, because they became evangelists themselves in East Java were three former Muslims who came to faith: Paq-Dasima in 1838, Singa Troena in 1843 and Paulus-Tosari in 1844.9 Of these we know the most about Paulus-Tosari who was considered by C. Poensen to be “one of the oldest Christians in East Java and first in rank and influence” among the first wave of evangelists in the 1840s. 10
Paulus-Tosari’s Isa Dream
Paulus-Tosari had a dream that prepared his heart to receive the gospel from W. Coolen.11
Paulus-Tosari who was named Paq-Satipah prior to coming to faith in Christ, had a friend named Paq-Kariman who had met a white skinned ‘guru’ named W. Coolen who was teaching a new kind of doctrine. Paq-Kariman had heard of W. Coolen thru his father Paq-Tega who was a guru himself and who had admittedly lost a debate to W. Coolen, and was therefore calling on his own disciples to follow the teachings of W. Coolen. So with Paq-Kariman already favorably disposed to the new teaching he told the story and related some of the teaching to his friend Paq-Satipah about how W. Coolen taught that God had a son who died for the sins of mankind on the cross. Paulus-Tosari found this tale very beautiful and wanted to know more. However, Paq-Kariman introduced an error in his initial conversation to Paulus-Tosari, that God actually had two sons. It was decided that Paulus-Tosari should meet this man W. Coolen to hear his teaching soon. Yet, it was on that very night that Paulus-Tosari had a dream as related here:
The night after this, Paq-Satipah [Paulus-Tosari] had what was for him an unforgettable dream. He saw an iron ladder standing on the earth, reaching up to heaven; a European was climbing the ladder but when his head nearly reached the clouds, he went back down. “This is a sign”, he thought, “that the [doctrine or teaching] of this European must be the noblest of all.” He recounted this to Paq Kariman, who thought that this was a favorable dream.12
The figure in the dream was of a different skin color than his own, so clearly that is why Paulus-Tosari referred to him as a European. And not having met Coolen himself, we don’t know if initially Paulus-Tosari thought that the figure he saw in the dream was the missionary Coolen, or if he had thought this might be God’s Son. But without a doubt, over time he learned that it was Jesus Christ who rose, and over the years that followed, it was expected that he would have learned about Jacob’s famous dream with a ladder reaching up to heaven. For sure, the dream was unforgettable.
With this profound experience just having happened, Paulus-Tosari and Paq-Kariman proceed to travel to Ngoro to meet W. Coolen. Paulus-Tosari met Coolen and asked basic questions about the Christian faith. He then stayed over to hear Coolen preach in a church meeting the next day, a Sunday. The text that Coolen used was Matt. 5 starting in verse 1 (the Sermon on the Mount). This seems providential, as the man who had just concluded thru a dream that the teaching of W. Coolen would be the noblest of all, begins now to hear directly thru Coolen, the teaching of Jesus himself! Would Paulus-Tosari indeed conclude that the teaching of Jesus was the noblest of all? The record of what happened shows a decisive and immediate impact upon Paulus-Tosari.
What a sermon! He had never heard anything like it. Hanging on the speaker’s every word, not a single word was lost on him, and his soul was crushed by the awareness of his many sins, which he had, until then, had committed so frivolously and without any pangs of conscience. How damnable his past life now seemed to his spirit! He felt quite sinful and poor, so that the prayer arose in his soul, that it would please God to make him one who was truly rich, to an heir to the kingdom of heaven. “Until now,” he thought constantly during the return trip, “I only lived to amass money and I lied and deceived people daily without feeling any guilt before God.” 13
After that amazing experience of hearing the direct words of Jesus, Paulus-Tosari then desired to learn as much as he could, and began studying the New Testament on his own. And he was formally baptized in September of 1844.
So we see the sequence of events that led to the conversion of the native Indonesian, and former Muslim, Paulus-Tosari:
Although records are sparse, we do not know if dreams or visions were common for others in Indonesia in the early days. But we do have reports of two other events in Indonesia in the early years that would indicate that Paulus-Tosari’s experience was not a one-of-a-kind in Indonesia.
Other early events in Indonesia
In addition to the experience of Paulus-Tosari, two other reports in Indonesia in the early years indicate that his experience was not unique.
In 1867, thru the preaching of another native Indonesian evangelist named Tunggul Wulung, Radin Abas became a follower of Christ and was baptized. Radin Abas ended up taking the Christian name ‘Sadrach’ (from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) and became the most successful of all Indonesian evangelists, eventually becoming known as “Sadrach, the Apostle of Java”. While he had no reported dream before his conversion, in 1868, one year after his baptism, Sadrach, received by his own words a ‘divine call’ to preach the gospel. Sources don’t record the exact form of this call – e.g. dream, vision, audible voice — but it immediately changed his life and resulted in his immediate relocation to another area of East Java to beginning his ministry. 14 He was said to leave with tears in his eyes “for the place that God would lead him”, reminiscent of the call of Abraham. Sadrach went on to have the most fruitful ministry in terms of follower of Christ. More than 3000 people would follow Jesus by the early 1870s and the movement would eventually grow to 10,000 to 20,000 thousand ‘church members’ by his death in 1924.
Sadrach’s story is exciting not only because he was the most successful evangelist to Muslims of all the early movements, but as a founder of the first indigenous church movement among former Muslims. Through his work were formed indigenous churches that kept to the truth of the gospel, but did not require its members to take on European Christian traditions. Outside of Indonesia, the fledgling movement was first ignored, and then considered to be highly controversial, if not heretical. Eventually the movement gained a name The Group of Free Christians, and it was only accepted as a legitimate free standing church by the European Christian community in Indonesia beginning in 1883.
In 1869, one of the future converts of Sadrach, named Kyai Karyadikrama was initially sent to meet Sadrach by an audible voice. While Kyai was sitting outside an audible voice told him to go to a certain location (where Sadrach was currently residing) and ask for the ‘shepherd boy’ in order to receive divine truth. Sadrach was nicknamed ‘shepherd boy’ at that time, so he was easily found based on the audible instructions.15
DAMASCUS, SYRIA 1868
In 1868, the year that former Muslim Sadrach in Indonesia was receiving his ‘divine call’, an amazing event occurred to Muslims in Damascus as reported in the biography of Sir Richard Burton, who was British consul in Damascus at the time.16
In a poor neighborhood of Damascus resided an esoteric sect of Muslims referred to as Shazli Muslims. They were led by Abd el Karim Matar a self-taught Muslim mystic, who himself was attempting to model the methods of a Sufi mystic named Abd al-Husayn Shadili who died in Mecca some 600 hundred years earlier in 1258. About 40 of these Muslims had come together each night in the lower quarter to specifically pray for “enlightenment before the Throne of God”. They became conscious of a presence among them, and used to hear and see things that they did not understand. This went on for two or three months without them coming to an understanding of what these things meant, until something happened on a particular night.
Presently, about forty of them, headed by Abd El Karim Matar, met for their usual night prayers. After prolonged devotional acts, all fell asleep, and our Lord was pleased to appear to all of them separately. They awoke simultaneously, and one, taking courage, recounted his vision to the others, when each responded “I also saw Him”.
Christ had so consoled, comforted and exhorted them to follow His faith, and they were so filled with a joy they had never known, that they were hardly dissuaded from running about the streets to proclaim that Christ is God” Burton Added, “but they were admonished that they would only be slaughtered”.
A second collective dream brought a vision of a saintly old man with a long white beard, dressed in a coarse brown garment and holding a lighted candle. The Shazlis searched the city for three months to find such a guide and eventually came across Fray Forner, a Spanish Franciscan monk living in a monastery in the northern section of Damascus, and told him of the visions and mystical raptures they experienced. Now they questioned their own Islam and wondered if there was not something better. They told Forner that the old man in the vision had said ‘sweetly’ “Let those who want the truth follow me.” 17
Frank Forner confided with Richard Burton and his wife Isabel, concerned of course that the conversion of Muslims away from their faith could result in both his and their deaths. Some protestant missionaries heard of the Shazli’s and attempted to proselytize the group. Richard Burton disguised himself as a Muslim and tried to learn their doctrines and attempt to find a peaceful solution to the problem. He reported that twenty-five thousand Shazli’s were ready for baptism, and they would become Roman Catholics, not Protestants.
Sir Richard Burton may have been deeply affected by their plight in an altruistic way, or perhaps he had reason to believe that his next move would be successful, but in any event, it was his next move that abruptly ended his career in Damascus.
Sir Richard Burton offered to finance the resettlement of the Shazli’s outside Damascus. He would buy land, have houses built and move the Shazlis, all twenty-five thousand of them, and would not expect repayment or taxes.18
This was a significant turn of events for a man who had previously been seen to have very little sympathy for Christians! In the days that followed, twelve of the leading Shazli’s were imprisoned in chains, and Fray Forner died mysteriously. Burton’s proposal for a mass baptism and relocation was made to local Turkish authorities in Damascus and rejected. Sir Richard Burton was fired soon after, and relocated, which he later interpreted as persecution for a just cause. We don’t know what became of the Shazli’s after that. But, Isabel Burton stated “From that date began the ruin of Damascus and the visible and speedy decline of Syria”.19
Paul Balisky has researched an amazing story of Ethiopian Muslim Shaikh Zakaryas who led a Muslim movement to Christ beginning with two profound visions that he experienced in 1892.
Sir Zäkaryas’ first vision was that of a man coming from the East sent by God to give him special wisdom and greater insight into the teaching of the Quran. The second vision was of three shaikhs who appeared to him advising him to be bold in interpreting the Quran. They instructed him to preach against that which conflicted between the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Quran. Two of the messengers then ascended to heaven, and one remained behind to comfort and encourage Zäkaryas in the task he had been assigned.20
He procured an Arabic Bible from the Swedish Mission and preached in the area of Soqota, Wag from 1892 to 1895. In 1896 he transferred his ministry to Bagemder and gained followers in the Tigrenya and Amharic-speaking population. By his death in 1920 his baptized followers numbered about 7000.
Now let us try to answer the questions.
When did these dreams begin in modern times?
The first known Isa Dream was in 1844 in Indonesia.
Were the early movements of Muslims to Christ occurring with such dreams, or did they begin much later?
Dreams and Visions were present in the three major movements of Muslims to Christ that began in late 1800s: in Indonesia, Syria, and Ethiopia. God has confirmed his methods thru the mouths of 2 or 3 witnesses.21 Dreams were specifically used in two of those cases, and visions were used in at least one case. Two of those three movements resulted in many thousands of baptized believers.
What might the facts reveal to us about God’s purpose and methods regarding dreams, and the reaching of Muslims?
The first case of Indonesia deserves special attention. As the first Muslim movement to Christ, it sets a pattern that should be considered fundamental among the three cases. In the case of Indonesia we have all the elements of a “perfect conversion” starting with work from missionaries, conversation, preaching and bible study. And yes, God used an Isa Dream in this case as a tool to prepare the heart of Paulus-Tosari for his conversion to Christ. So these dreams are seen to be part of the tool-kit that God uses for Muslims, but they are not his only tools. Dreams work best in conjunction with ‘sent ones’ who are able to share the good news about Jesus Christ.22
Even from the 1800s, we can also learn that dreams were used bring together the dreamer and the evangelists who had the understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ. We saw this in the case of the Shazli’s of Damascus to find the monk, and the audible voice for Kyai Karyadikrama to seek out and find the ‘shepherd boy’ Sadrach, the Apostle of Java. Incidentally, this was one of the outcomes of the vision of Paul the Apostle.
In none of the cases in the early 1800s, were key leaders that had dreams or visions devoid of contact with more seasoned believers in Christ. This was very evident in Indonesia and Syria, albeit less evident in Ethiopia contact was documented early on between Shaikh Zakaryas and a Swedish Mission. Eventually even Zakaryas was baptized and inducted into the Orthodox Church.
While the historical records covering the leaders of these movements may bias our knowledge, we can infer that God uses dreams and/or visions as part of the process of rising up key leaders in the church. This is especially true in the case of Zakaryas he received his calling from those events. Zakaryas’s 30 year track record and the fruit of his ministry leading to thousands of baptisms, along with his consistent and unwavering devotion to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in a Muslim culture provides the confidence that the visions were real, and effective, just as Paul’s Damascus vision was.
So Why are Isa Dreams so Common with Muslims today?
The fact that God used dreams of Jesus in the very first movements of Muslims to Christ give us a clue to look back even further to the origins of Islam find the answer.
Mohammed’s first vision, said to be of the angel Gabriel occurred in a cave in 610.23 Over his ensuing life, and until his death in 632 he continued to have visions and dreams. In Islam the Prophet Isa was holy and conceived with a virgin birth. Indeed he is called the Messiah and the Word of God in the Koran, as he is in the Bible. The biggest disconnect between the Koran and the Bible is that the Koran has “additional revelation” in it that conflicts with the Bible, but is said in Islam to override and replace the revelation of the Bible. As believers in Jesus we are instructed to disregard additional revelation that conflicts with the teachings of the Bible, even if an angel of light comes and gives it to us and to consider that one accursed.24 And furthermore we are warned that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.25
At Manifold Hope, we believe this is the key to understanding the preponderance of Isa Dreams for Muslims. We know that Satan must work within certain limits, but within those limits is allowed much creativity in how he works among men.26 But where Satan moves in power to take an advantage over men, God will move even more powerfully after waiting an appropriate amount of time. For instance, in the story of Job, Satan sowed the wind, and reaped God’s whirlwind.27 In the New Testament case of the Gadarene demoniac, while Satan sent a legion of demons to destroy him, after he was set free and Jesus was told to leave the area, it was thru that very man that so many of the Gadarene people were able to hear the gospel.28 Satan leveraged Paul’s desire to persecute the early Christians, but he was later used to bring the good news of God to the Gentiles.29
In summary, we believe that because Satan used dreams and visions to bring ‘extra’ and ‘errant’ revelation to Mohammed that would turn the thinking of over 1.4 Billion Muslims around the world, God is bringing dreams and visions directly among those 1.4 Billion people, to reach them directly and personally with the truth of Jesus Christ, showing them that Isa is the way, the truth and life, and the only means to be reconciled to Almighty God. What Satan did to one man, Mohammad, God, having waited patiently for more than 1200 years is now willing to do for potentially millions of people.
Truly, this is not a case of God playing an unfair trick on Satan. He has no right to complain that God is appearing to so many Muslims in all kinds of varied and creative dreams and visions. Of course it is not God’s only tool, but it is a wonderful tool that takes no regard for the darkness of a given situation, and is able to immediately touch both the mind and the heart. Muslims will always have a respect for dreams and visions, because foundation of Islam made extensive use of them. Almighty God, who created the ability of the mankind to dream in the first place, has, is, and will continue to use dreams and visions to bring the truth of Jesus Christ directly to Muslims, and the world is the benefactor.
Those of us who are followers of Jesus should ask ourselves in response – if God cares this much about Muslims, how can I join His work already in progress?