Spooky Arab tales for Halloween: Lebanon’s Dr Dahesh of miracles

The spooky tale of a mystical man with supernatural powers is a popular bedtime story in Lebanon.

Lebanon's Dr Dahesh [Omar Houssien/Al Jazeera]
Lebanon's Dr Dahesh [Omar Houssien/Al Jazeera]

The Middle East abounds in tales of spirits and their antics. Today, Al Jazeera brings some of these tales to life.

Legend has it that sometime in the early 20th century, a man walked into a crowded Beirut barber shop and asked for a haircut. The barber’s chair was occupied and the shop was filled with people waiting for their turn.

“You’ll have to come back later,” the barber said, snipping as he spoke.

The man who came for a haircut did not argue or make a fuss. He turned and walked out the door, but not before he had left something behind. His head.

This is the legend of Dr Dahesh, a popular tale grandparents in Lebanon tell their grandchildren. Dahesh means to astound or inspire wonder in Arabic. But the person known as Dr Dahesh is not a fable; he was a real person.

He was born in Jerusalem on June 1, 1909, as Salim Moussa Achi. He was a writer and poet – and illusionist, apparently – and the founder of a spiritual doctrine known as Daheshism.

Dr Dahesh was surrounded by mysticism. His disciples told stories of his 2500 “spiritual revelations” and miraculous acts, such as cleansing leprosy or “plucking a live bird from a painting”. He is said to have brought people and birds back from the dead and summoned candy from other dimensions. Where Jesus turned water to wine, Dahesh turned lottery tickets into winners.

His various personalities could seem to appear in different places simultaneously. In his youth, he allegedly escaped an Iranian firing squad by sacrificing one of these personalities.

He also made enemies with some of Lebanon’s founding fathers — including the country’s first prime minister and a president who imprisoned him and tried to strip him of his Lebanese nationality. Perhaps his most spectacular alleged feat: being killed and buried in Azerbaijan before instantly springing back to life.

Then there is the story of a young Palestinian woman named Hilda Murad Nassib. She claimed to see Dahesh perform many impressive miracles, including one that involved her late husband.

“[H]e asked me to throw [a] staff in the air and when it landed in his hand it had transformed, in a split-second, into a picture frame holding the picture of my late husband — a picture that I had never seen before,” Nassib allegedly testified. “Dr Dahesh, who lived in Beirut, never knew my husband, who lived in Jerusalem.”

Dahesh said he could rematerialise her husband, who had been reincarnated on another planet, but Nassib refused.

“Keep the picture then,” Dahesh said.

Source: Al Jazeera