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The line between true and false dreams


The interpretation of dreams has been exercised for generations. Ancient Greece had Apollo, the god of the sun, prophecy and dreams. Mesopotamia and Egypt likewise had special ministries responsible for dream interpretation.

The Bible, Job 33:14—18, says, “But God speaks again and again though people do not recognize, he speaks in dreams, in visions of the night when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in bed…” 

In the Qur’an, 11:63 – 64, Allah says, “Those who believed and used to fear Allah much (by abstaining from evil deeds and sins and by doing righteous deeds), for them are glad tidings, in the life of the present world and in the Hereafter…” The glad tidings in the life of this world, according to reliable traditions, are the good dreams a believer sees.  The Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) is quoted in Sahih Bukhari to have said, “Nothing is left of prophetism except Al-Mubashirat (conveyor of glad tidings).” They (companions) asked, "What is Al-Mubashirat?" He replied, "The true good dreams."

Various Prophets are known to have either received directives in dreams, or they used to interpret them. Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice of his son was a Divine directive received through dreams; many other Prophets like Joseph, Daniel, among others were experts in dream interpretation and indeed they interpreted many dreams. 

Prophet Joseph had a very hope-giving dream during his early age when he saw stars, the moon and the sun bowing unto him. This dream came true after decades when he gained power and influence in Egypt. The Prophet Muhammad, on the other hand, is quoted in the book of Bukhari to have said, "When the Day of Resurrection approaches, the dreams of a believer will hardly fail to come true, and a dream of a believer is one of forty-six parts of prophetism, and whatever belongs to prothetism can never be false."

The legendary dream interpreter Ibn Seerin added, "It used to be said there are three types of dreams: The reflection of one's thoughts and experiences one has during wakefulness; what is suggested by Satan to frighten the dreamer; or glad tidings from Allah…”

The Prophet Muhammad reportedly received his first directives through dreams up to a period of six months. He saw dreams and interpreted them. For instance, he saw in a dream at the eve of the Battle of Badr that his enemies were few in numbers, which he interpreted as victory on his side. The holy Prophet often asked his companions in the morning, “Who of you had a dream?” and then he would explain them.

Besides Christianity, Islam and the Greeks, primitive cultures – including primitive western cultures – recognized the significance of dreams in society. With the advent of modern civilization, the dream interpretation that had a religious (Animistic) perspective lost popularity to the western rationalistic attitude based on philosophic ideology. 

In his book, The Dreams in Primitive Culture, Jackson Steward says, “For a period all dreams and visions treated as irrational products of the human mind were no longer regarded as worthy of even the respect of investigation. Or if they were accorded a passing glance it was only to depreciate their importance or to rationalize the meaning to fit into some pre-conceived rationalistic or other view point…”

This greatly affected the importance attached to the so called Animistic perspective on dreams. Indeed some religious leaders in both Christianity and Islam have since tried to dismiss the art of dream interpretation as blasphemy. The advent of psychologists, who in essence do not believe in God, gave weight to the view that dreams were no longer Divine revelation, but an instrument for revelation of human nature.

Psychologists sprung up with convincing yet misleading explanations, further rendering the Animistic explanation meaningless. In some of these definitions by psychologists, Dr. C.G. Lincoln explains that the mind assimilates new symbols to represent old primary ideas through principles of similarity and identity. This is quite similar with the view of the Animists who maintain that the mind plays part in how dreams are interpreted. For instance if the interpreter discovers that you are a taxi diver and then you dream that you are driving a taxi, it is most likely that this was from the mind.

Sigmund Freud, a renowned European neurologist, initially defined dreams as disguised fulfillment of repressed wishes. He later modified his definition to “an attempted wish.”  In his works on dreams, Freud made interpretations on dreams just like many psychologists who tried to come up with dream dictionaries. 

The Animist perspective on dreams, however, remains much closer to the correct meaning of dream codes than the psychological perspective. Carl Jung dismissed the interpretations of his fellow psychologist – Freud – and labeled them “a mere prejudice of western civilization”.

Jung affirms that dreams should be treated as a reality coequal to the external world and that Freud’s interpretations center on family relationships.

True dreams come true even if not to the actual dreamer; but to his friend, helper or relative. Dreams have some consistent codes that appear and foretell specific events. When the psychological and Animistic interpretations collide, then the Animistic interpretation is correct.

Such cases include, for instance, the colour yellow. Psychological dictionaries sometimes associate yellow with joy, happiness, among others and yet the colour is a sign of disease, according to the Animistic interpreters, and this is the truth. Yellow, except in isolated cases where the dreamer has known it for long or has a special attraction to it, represents ill-health.

It is worth noting that any literature on dreams without the mention of Muhammad ibn Seerin is like discussing modern European history without the mention of the French Revolution. Praised for his unique memory and company to Anas bin Malik, Ibn Seerin exercised a wondrous expertise in dream interpretation. A few of the dreams he interpreted may suffice to demonstrate his expertise. A man came to him and said, “I saw myself in a dream getting the roots of a fig tree and I brewed them and then I drunk.” Ibn Seeren told him, “You have to fear God, the wife you have is your foster sister.”

In another narration, a man saw in a dream that his wife-to-be was very short and black. He went and inquired from the interpreter with an aim to cancel the wedding. But the interpreter told him to quickly marry the woman since the dream meant that she was very rich and her life span was very short. The man married the woman and soon she died and he inherited the riches.

It should, however, be clear that some dreams are true and others are false. Dreams that religious interpreters interpret are for those who dream while lying on the right hand. Whereas those dreamt lying on the stomach are nightmares.