Dreams have fascinated mankind from times immemorial. From pious prophets to scientists and philosophers, all have cherished dreams and divined messages in them. So, what are dreams? One definition was given by Sigmund Freud: “Dreams represent a disguised fulfilment of a repressed wish”. Freud believed that studying dreams provided the easiest road to understanding the unconscious activities of the mind. His theory popularised dream interpretation. Carl G. Jung broke away from Freud and the Psychoanalytic Society to adopt a more humanistic approach to psychology. He saw dreams as part of a natural process of healing and explored the meaning of dreams through mythology, symbols, etc, that connect to the imagination and soul.
When one looks at the Quran and Hadith, one finds that dreams are a significant 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, Allah says in holy Quran: “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).
At another place in Surah Al-Zumr, Allah 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.
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 (s.a.w) started seeing true dreams before receiving revelation (Bukhari). The Prophet (s.a.w) 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).
The famous scholar Imam al Ghazali said about dreams, “In ‘tariqat’ (the tasawwuf discipline), dreams start in the beginning. The mystics see spirits of the Prophets (peace be upon them all) and the angels in their wakeful moments, listen to their voices and acquire vision from them. This state approves one’s faith and the faith culminates into certainty. The fortunate ones treading this path find the truth of life and their belief gets reassured. The barriers are removed and a spiritual contact is established with the beloved holy Prophet (s.a.w).”
The famous hymn (Qaseeda Burdah) moulaye sallewasalim dayem, in the praise of the holy Prophet (s.a.w) written by Imam Sharrf ud din Busiri, was also the result of a dream. Imam al-Busiri was paralysed, so he wrote a poem (Qasidah al-Burdah) in praise of Rasulullah with hope that Allah would cure him. One night, he fell asleep and saw the Messenger of Allah, who told him to recite what he had written. Rasulullah was so pleased that he placed his cloak over Imam al-Busiri. When Busiri awoke, he was completely cured. When Busiri went to the market the next day, he found a darvesh who caught him by his hand and asked him to recite the same naat which he had recited in the holy court of the most highest. Busiri asked the darvesh how he knew about that, to which the darvesh said that when Busiri was reciting the hymn, he was also listening to it. Busiri presented the naat to the darvesh and he sang it to every soul. Hence it became famous.
Let me conclude with the beautiful verse of Rumi:
“In like manner this world, which is only a dream,
Seems to the sleeper as a thing enduring for ever.
But when the morn of the last day shall dawn,
The sleeper will escape from the cloud of illusion;
Laughter will overpower him at his own fancied griefs
When he beholds his abiding home and place.
Whatever you see in this sleep, both good and evil,
Will all be exposed to view on the day of resurrection.”