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Dreams and spirituality

March 15, 2012

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DREAMS are a fascinating experience of daily life. Psychologists, in trying to understand the symbolism and meaning of dreams, have come up with various theories. The first question we must try to answer is: what exactly is a dream?

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theory of dreams in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, was based on the premise that repressed aggressive and sexual instincts find an outlet into the conscious mind through symbols, and hence find fulfilment. He also established a link between dreams and insanity. His theory popularised dream interpretation. Carl G. Jung, broke away from Freud and the Psychoanalytic Society, started a more humanistic approach to psychology, saw dreams as part of a natural process of healing and explored the meaning of dreams through mythology, symbols etc., that connect to our imagination and soul.

However, when one looks at the Quran and hadith, one finds that dreams are a serious part of Muslim belief. During sleep the soul is supposed to leave the body temporarily and roam around in different spheres. Its experiences are seen and felt by the body in the shape of dreams, which sometimes convey information from the unknown. The more elevated the soul, the higher its sphere of spiritual experience.

In Surah Al-Ana’m, the Quran says, “He is the One who takes up your souls at night, and knows what you earned during the day, then raises you from it (sleep), so as to complete the time fixed (for you to live)” (6:60). Surah Al-Zumr says, “God captures the souls at the time of death as well as those whose time has not yet arrived, in sleep. Then He keeps back those whose death has been decreed and sends back for an appointed time, the others” (39:42).

In Islam, the soul leaves the body in sleep but remains connected to it so that, at the slightest stimulation, it jumps back into it.

When God decrees a person’s death, the soul is held back permanently, causing the physical body to die, while the soul lives on eternally.

Dreams are mentioned several times in the Quran. Prophet Ibrahim dreamt that he was asked to sacrifice what he loved most.

Knowing that this was God’s command, he spoke to his beloved son Ismail, a prophet-to-be, who consented to be sacrificed.

Prophet Ibrahim was successful in his trial and the boy was replaced with a ram (37:100-108}.

Prophet Yusuf saw a dream as a child: 11 stars and the sun and the moon prostrating before him (12:4). The meaning of the dream was made evident after decades when his stepbrothers and parents joined him in Egypt. The king of Egypt also related his dream in which seven lean cows devoured seven fat cows (12:43-44). The king was impressed by Prophet Yusuf’s gift of dream interpretation and made him the minister in charge of the treasury. His planning, based on his interpretation of the king’s dream and his own wisdom, saved Egypt from famine.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) started seeing true dreams before receiving revelation (Bukhari). The Prophet said that after him nothing would be left of prophecy, except for a true dream. He also said that dreams are one in 46 parts of prophethood (Bukhari) and, “Whoever sees me in a dream has truly seen me, for the devil cannot impersonate me” (Bukhari). One of the greatest desires of a true Muslim is to see the Prophet. The Prophet saw the conquest of Makkah in a dream (48:27) in 6 AH, two years before it happened.

The Prophet said there are three kinds of dreams. Firstly, meaningless dreams from one’s nafs or ego, secondly from Satan and thirdly, prophecies of good news from God (Bukhari).

Prophet Muhammad would listen to his followers’ dreams after fajr prayers (Bukhari) and would interpret them. The Prophet taught that dreams should be recounted only in front of a person who loves you or a person who is wise and has some knowledge of their interpretation (Bukhari).

The Companions of the Prophet used to confide their dreams to the Prophet or to Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique (Bukhari). The walis, or saints, were also given the gift of the interpretation of dreams as well as spiritual guidance through them.

Abdul Aziz bin Umar reported that he asked his deceased father in his dream which of his deeds did he find to be most sublime (or useful). The father replied, “Istighfar (asking for forgiveness)” (Zauqi Shah).

Abdul Wahab Shirani saw Imam Ghazali in his dream after his death and asked him how his Lord had treated him. Ghazali replied that He had forgiven him because of his patience in his act of writing. If a fly came and started sucking the ink from his pen he would wait until the fly had flown away of its own accord (Zauqi Shah).

Contrary to the common concept that one goes to sleep at the time of death, Prophet Muhammad said that human beings are asleep in this world and at the time of death they will wake up (Ibn Al-Arabi). The life of this world might well be a dream. The life to come might be the reality that is hidden from us and will become apparent on awakening in the hereafter.

The writer is a scholar of the Quran and writes on contemporary issues.

nilofar.ahmed58@gmail.com