Dreams; between reality and illusion

Dreaming is one of the physical abilities bestowed upon human beings. However, interpreting dreams is not a job for all, says Abbas Di Palma

Studying human potentialities and capabilities is not an easy task. The human being is a very complex creature: from his physical abilities to his power of thought and his soul’s faculties, he has been subject to numerous studies undertaken in the field of humanities and even metaphysics. One of the more interesting features of the mysterious human realm is undoubtedly the world of dreams.

According to Islamic traditions, some dreams have special peculiarities. In the twelfth chapter of the Qur’an, they hold a particular and meaningful position along the narration of the story of Prophet Yusuf. The holy Qur’an mentions a dream that Yusuf related to his father Ya’qub who told him not to reveal it to his brothers because they would plot against him. The Qur’an also describes the capability of the Prophet Yusuf to interpret dreams as an adult, as he did, for example, when he interpreted the dreams of his two fellow prisoners and that of Pharaoh.

From Yusuf’s story, we learn that sometimes even the dream of a child can be truthful. Another important factor to be deduced is not to reveal our dreams to any random person, especially if there is the possibility of aversion from their side. Rather dreams could be recounted to those who are worthy of hearing them, as in the case of the two prisoners who asked Yusuf’s interpretation as he was a good man: “Inform us of the interpretation of these [dreams] for we surely find you of the good-doers” (12:36).

Also a Prophetic narration adds: “The truthful dream is one of the seventy parts of prophecy”. This tradition could also be translated using “truthful vision”. However, many Muslim scholars have interpreted it as “dream”. Furthermore, prophetic histories bring witness that a good number of prophets received revelations through a truthful dream like the history of Abraham and his son Ismael: “He said: -My son! I have seen in a dream that I sacrifice you. So consider what you think-. He said: -My father! Do as you are commanded if God wills you will find me among the patient-. So when both of them submitted themselves and he laid him down on his forehead we called out to him saying: – You have fulfilled the dream. That is how we reward the good-doers.” (37:102-105).

Even in the case of the Prophet of Islam, we have details on how even before receiving the final revelation from the Archangel Gabriel; he used to have very blessed dreams. Even during his mission, he dreamt about his victorious entrance into Makkah of which the Qur’an says: “God has fulfilled for His Messenger the dream: you shall enter the holy mosque safe and secure” (48:27).

Moreover, the expression ‘truthful dream’ implies that not all dreams are in fact ‘truthful’ and they may not be meaningful, illusory or even satanic (not devoid of evil influence). It has been said that usually dreams accompanied by suffering, anxiety and confusion are not truthful dreams but it would be very difficult to generalise and provide a full set of rules related to this topic as rationality is not able to grasp dreams and the way they work.

We may say that dreams are connected to ‘another world’ and they may be able to reawaken in us certain dormant realities already present in our soul. It is true that the relation of man with his soul and the ‘other world’ is not confined to dreams but this does not mean that dreams should be discarded and considered unworthy or a phenomenon devoid of meaning.

In the exegesis Majma’ al-Bayan the author Allamah Tabrisi reports that Ubbada Ibn Samit, a companion of the Prophet, asked him about the verse: “Those who believed and are God-wary shall have glad tidings in this life and in Hereafter” (10:63-64) and the Prophet said that it was a reference to a good dream. In ‘al-Ikhtisas’ the author Shaykh Mufid reports a tradition from the great Imam al-Sadiq saying: “When a servant disobeys God and God wants good for him, He scares him in the dream so that he may stop with his sin”. All these examples point out the fact that there is a connection between certain types of dreams and the spiritual life of individuals.

In our modern era, the question of the interpretation of dreams has become popular in some non-religious circles. Some curious personalities have presented criteria and ideas disconnected to spiritual realities. Islamic scholars have introduced many ways for distinguishing between real and illusory dreams; however, for the sake of brevity, it would be enough here to say that when a dream coming from a faithful person is clear it may be considered truthful while if it is ambiguous it may be in need of clarification or even illusory.

Obviously, familiarity with certain unexplored areas is fundamental to get this type of certainty whose related knowledge is studied at times as a branch of ulum al-ghariba (the non-descriptive sciences). Certainly, the awareness of the soul is a valid support for this as it is said when the believer’s soul is in a state of sleep, it moves to the sky and all that it sees there is the truth while all that he sees in the earth is illusory. ‘Moving to the sky’ here does not mean that the soul totally leaves the body but rather refers to its extension similar to the vision of the sun while its rays radiate to the earth.

A truthful dream can therefore make us aware of many hidden and meaningful things which we don’t think much about: this is why sometimes we get wisely inspired by dreams and at other times we find future events shown in them. Although a faculty of distinction is needed for a correct understanding, it one should not underestimate the phenomenon as a whole.



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