The Daily Star Newspaper Articles
The following is a combined article (due to duplicity) originally written by Leslie Farmer on August 31, 1969 and by Imad Shehadeh on October 11, 1965. Both appeared in The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper:
Dr. Dahesh Can Foretell, Change Wood Into Gold...For World Of Spirits
Lebanon and the Arab World have been grappling with the idea of “the Astonisher” for over 20 years. Is he what about 40,000 people in Lebanon say he is—a man with extraordinary spiritual power?
Dahesh (“the Astonisher”) seems to care little about what people think or say. He sits in his old flat near the Sanayeh, Beirut, writes literary works with amazing rapidity, receives whoever wishes to meet him, and when he says goodbye to them they’re usually too confused to answer.
A man who claims to be the vehicle for a power that can foretell the future, change the past and turn a wooden object to gold, Dr. Dahesh bears his uncommon name with some justification.
“Dahesh”—the professional name of a man in his early fifties, born Salim al-Ashi—means “Amazer.” Dr. Dahesh has been amazing his fellow men nearly since his birth and shows no signs of slowing down.
Head of a sect that may nuber some 40,000 souls or more, Dahesh began his remarkable career at the age of four. His right hand man, physician Dr. Farid Abu Suleiman, explains it all as an attempt to revive religious faith in an age of materialism by demonstrating through the performance of miracles, the existence of spiritual powers.
“Dr. Dahesh, (now is traveling) is one of the men who serves as an intermediary between the spiritual and the material world,” said Abu Suleiman. “Before him there were other prophets; each of them, at certain times, was possessed by what Christians call the Holy Spirit; these were the times when they performed their miracles—or rather when the Spirit, acting through them, performed the miracles. Dr. Dahesh is the intermediary for the same Spirit; he does not perform miracles, but the Spirit does. And the powers of the Holy Spirit are limitless.”
Dahesh, Abu Suleiman said, first became conscious of his powers when he was four years old. When he played marbles with other children, the marbles kept disappearing in the course of the games and only Dahesh could tell the others how to find them in the most improbable places.
When Dahesh was five, he ran away from the orphanage near Jounieh where he received his first and only formal instruction and walked to Beirut. From then on, until his books started selling—when he was about twenty—he lived without working. “When I put my hand in my pocket,” he told “The Daily Star” in an early interview, “I would always find five or ten pounds, enough to keep me.”
When Dahesh was five, Abu Suleiman said, he was playing with other children in Beirut and noticed a small crowd forming nearby. The group of children went to see what was happening, Dahesh among them. They saw a man obviously a foreigner, trying to talk to the crowd. Dahesh went up to the stranger and began to speak with him in a foreign language; after they had exchanged a few words, the man walked away. The little boy explained to his playmates and the crowd that the stranger was an Indian who had lost his way. “I told him how to get to where he wanted to go,” he said.
Since the middle of 1930’s Dahesh has lived by his writings—part spiritual, part cultural—which bring in a comfortable sum every month. In between-times, he amazes believers and unbelievers alike by the prodigies he performs in his efforts to bring back men from materialism.
If Moslems, Christians and Jews would return to the principles of their religions and practice them, we would be happy,” says Abu Suleiman. “Unfortunately, few of them now apply them. The essence of all these religions—and Daheshism—is the same, although each reaches this essence in a different way.
“Daheshism shares many of the beliefs of the three religions. To become a Daheshist one must believe in the existence of God, the immortality of the Soul and last judgment and follow the Ten Commandments. Daheshists also, like Moslems, do not believe in the crucifixion—that is, they do not believe that it was Christ who was crucified.
“Daheshists differ from Christians, Jews and Moslems however, in that they believe in reincarnation—although both the Koran and the Bible make a number of references to reincarnation,” said Abu Suleiman. The only reason Dr. Dahesh performs miracles is so people may believe.”
Mrs. Mahmoud Baltaji, wife of a leading seaman in Lebanon tells of the ring she had lost “ages ago.” She speaks of the time about a year ago when she thought she’d challenge Dahesh. She remembers how she asked him to get her ring back for her. “He told me to look at my finger, and there it was. The same ring.” Hypnotism? Not so, says Mrs. Baltaji. She reasons that it could not be mesmeric tactics since the wring is still with her and has been seen by everybody.
Judge Mahmoud Bikaii decided to challenge Dahesh some time ago. What happened with the judge is the talk of the nation till today. Bikaii, bent on exposing the Dahesh legend, brought him a losing lottery ticket and expressed a desire to have it win LL. 10,000. As soon as he made the request, according to him, he was told to check his number again. It was the winning number—LL. 10,000. Still not convinced, the judge asked Dahesh’s right-hand man, Dr. Farid Abu-Suleiman, to cash it and immediately phoned the national lottery department, told the people responsible the story and told them to check thoroughly before they paid out anything.
The lottery people needed no coaching. When Dr. Abu-Suleiman produced the ticket, they informed him that they needed one week to get the money ready (considering the fact that the LL. 10,000 prize had already been paid out). There followed a week of examination—the ink, the paper, the printing were gone over thoroughly, but all was in order. The result was a marked fall in the sale of lottery tickets in Lebanon, which prompted the lottery department to file a futile complaint against Dahesh.
Other stories being circulated about Dahesh sworn to by top personalities in Lebanon, have generally confused the Lebanese public and left them suspended between incredulity and tentative belief. The most effective story about Dahesh’s deeds is connected with the late president of the Lebanese republic, Beshara Khoury, who it is said, was driven to a nervous breakdown by Dahesh.
“I have no desire to hurt anyone,” Dahesh told The Daily Star this week, “but what you hear about what I did to President Khoury is true. I was forced to turn on him when he persecuted me, deprived me of the Lebanese nationality and tried to drive me out of the country.”
The culminating challenge to Dahesh’s powers came when the local branch of the Associated Press sent six of its men to try him. They brought with them a blank piece of paper, which they wanted turned into a one-pound note. The deed was done before their eyes, and the writing they had not forgotten to put on the piece of paper was still present on the one-pound note.
Dahesh’s alleged prophecies are also on the top of the list as far as talk in the Arab World is concerned. He was said to have told of the assassination of U.S. President Kennedy five months before it took place, specifying the hour and the number of bullets.
So much for the stories about Dahesh. The man himself, pleasantly plump with a jovial face and a quiet, open manner of speech, claims he is quite ordinary “when I don’t have the spiritual power.”
Dahesh, who was listening to the story with great interest, said at this point, “One thing you should know—I never realize what happens when I get this power. I’m generally told about these happenings later.” Another thing known about Dahesh is that he nerver charges anything for the things he shows people or does for them. He is offended if anyone offers.
Dahesh, Abu Suleiman said, never takes money for what he does, as his only aim is to demonstrate the power of the Spirit; nor is he aware of what he is doing while a miracle is being performed. Daheshists derive spiritual, rather than material profits from their adherence, and do not share in the powers of their leader.
“My only motive in doing these things to whoever comes to me,” he said, “is to prove to the people that the Spirit exists, even though science has advanced so much.” He explained that the 20th century, the age of materialism, has weakened people’s faith in the Spirit. These spiritual manifestations, he said, “prove beyond a shadow of doubt the existence of the Spirit and ultimate punishment or reward.”
How does he make his living? “My books bring in around LL. 4,000 a month, which is more than I need. Since 1936, I have printed ten books, which are still selling very well. I have 40 others ready to be printed.” And Dahesh writes with a vengeance, He claims to have “never blotted a line,” and he challenges every literary man in the Arab World (“I know only Arabic”) to a literary contest. “Print the challenge,” he said.
“I am willing to stand before any committee with any number of Arab literary figures. Let them give us any subject whatsoever, and set a time limit. I’m sure I’ll win.” The challenge is made by a man who reportedly had no education whatsoever. “I had two months of schooling in an orphanage in Ghazir, over Jounieh,” Dahesh says. “I was ten at the time. I ran away and walked all the way to Beirut.” And Dahesh never did a lick of work. Asked how he used to make his living before his books started paying, he said, “I was never in need. I used to put my hand in my pocket and find five pounds, or ten pounds. Nothing much, but enough.”
And the man doesn’t plan to do any work in the future either. “I’ll live like I’ve lived till the day I die,” he says. Which brings up the subject of death, and a story printed by the Arabic magazine “Al-Mukhtasar” (Buenos Aires) in 1947. Jubran Massouh, owner of that magazine, announced that Dahesh had been captured and executed as a spy in Iran. “I had been exiled from Lebanon at the time, for converting some people to Daheshism, but I have never left Lebanon, as hundreds here can tell you.”
Speaking with a straight face, Dr. Abu Suleiman informed The Daily Star that Dahesh has six heavenly Personalities which appear every once in a while—all looking exactly like him, speaking like him, didtinguished only by their manner of dress. “It was one of those six that they killed in Iran,” he explained. Dahesh agreed readily. “I have spoken to some of the six myself,” he said, “and they got me out of many messes when I was at daggers drawn with President Khoury.”
The trouble is, according to Dahesh (whose actual name is Salim El-Ashi), that “people will not believe, although I’m not asking them to believe without first seeing. I can change their pencils to gold in one second. I can change paper to money. I can do anything they ask me to do. What more can I do to make you believe?”
He does not have to do anything to make 40,000 people in Lebanon believe. They already do. One of them is Deputy Beshir Osman, who reportedly visited Dahesh just before the elections and was told how many votes he was going to get. “It was the exact figure,” Osman tells everyone.