Islamic Dream Traditions

Few Western dream researchers have any familiarity with the rich dream traditions of Islam. The Muslim faith first emerged in seventh century B.C.E. Arabia as a profound revisioning of early Jewish and Christian beliefs and practices. One theme the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) drew from the scriptures of those two religions was a reverence for dreaming. In the Qur’an, as in the Jewish Torah and the Christian New Testament, dreams serve as a vital medium by which God communicates with humans. Dreams offer divine guidance and comfort, warn people of impending danger, and offer prophetic glimpses of the future. Although the three religions drastically differ on many other topics, they find substantial agreement on this particular point: dreaming is a valuable source of wisdom, understanding, and inspiration. Indeed, as I will propose in this brief essay, Islam has historically shown greater interest in dreams than either of the other two traditions, and has done more to weave dreaming into the daily lives of its members. From the first revelatory visions of Muhammed to the myriad dream practices of present-day Muslims, Islam has developed and sustained a complex, multifaceted tradition of active engagement with the dreaming imagination. Quoted from OVERVIEW Reflections on the Dream Traditions of Islam

Mohammed’s sacred book, the Koran, essentially embodies the same beliefs about dreams. There is the same effort to make a distinction between true, or divine, dreams, and false dreams; the same dependence on certain rituals to induce good dreams or to defend oneself against the dangers of bad ones; the same reliance upon holy interpreters and suspicions of false and misleading prophets; the same recourse to sanctioned dream books, usually the Koran, or texts based closely upon it. There was, too, the decline in the therapeutic use of dreams begun by the Jews (the healing aspects of oneiromancy survived more strongly among the Greeks and Romans). And there was the growing awareness, which we noted in Isaiah, that some dreams at least might have a physiological cause. Four types of dream, at least, were considered false, but not inspired by demons: those of persons of evil disposition; of wine drinkers; of eaters of depressing foods such as lentils and salt meat; and of children.

The prophet Mohammed himself attached great significance to dreams. Each morning he would ask his disciples what they had dreamed during the night, interpret the dreams he thought of value, and tell them his own dreams. And from the Koran and the numerous Mohammedan dream books it is plain that the principles of dream interpretation that the prophet used were those already familiar to us from other Near Eastern religions. His followers attached much importance both to truthful telling of the dream and believed, incidentally, that it was best told immediately on waking and to the quality of the interpreter.

To aid his task, they thought he should take into account the name of the dreamer, his age and place of origin, and his occupation, religion, rank, and condition in life. This emphasis on the personal characteristics of the dreamer represents an advance over the mechanical interpretation of dreams, in which the dreamer or interpreter simply turns to the dream book to find the meaning of a symbol (a crude technique on which many modern dream books rely), and it is much closer to contemporary psychological practice, where the dream is examined for the insight its symbols give into the whole personality of the dreamer.

Certainly this stress on individual circumstances gave much greater sophistication to the process of interpretation. Not only did it permit the same symbol to mean different things to different dreamers; it also opened the way to a more elaborate symbolic system. The interpreter was no longer confined to the use of similarities or contraries; the distinction between good but self evident dreams, and enigmatic but false dreams, became less significant; and more subtle interpretations were possible. Quite apart from a hierarchy of importance, which gave great prestige to the dreams of rulers and little authority to those of poor people (“they are constantly in grief and anxiety . . . and if they have good predicted, its fulfilment is distant”), Mohammedan dream codes gave priority to the dreams of men, and among women to the dreams of married women who were chaste and dignified. The matter was taken so seriously that interpreters were held in high favour and magnificently rewarded for beneficial interpretations. And where the interpreters differed, the consequences could be grave. A religion based on the Koran (the first part of which had been revealed to Mohammed in a dream), a movement whose possession of the holy city of Mecca had been promised in a dream, and a people to whom dream interpretation was an everyday affair, were likely to express any schism of faith in the same manner. The division of Islam into conflicting factions a split that threatened the whole Mohammedan empire was actually based on the dream of Mohammed, which the Sunnis used to justify the rights of his successors.

The ways in which Arabic dream theories worked are clearly seen in the writings of Gabdorrachaman, which became known in Europe through a French translation in 1664. If an egg appeared in a dream, it concerned women, for the Koran says: “Women are like an egg hidden in the nest.”

Because Mohammed once called a shrew “a little adulteress,” all dreams about shrews relate to faithless wives. If a word appears in a dream, it will be realised literally, or in precisely the contrary sense. If a man of probity dreams that his hands are tied, this merely indicates his aversion from evil, but in a wicked man such a dream prognosticates his final damnation. Later Mohammedan dream theory also introduced astrological ideas, relating dreams to the phases of the moon and planets, to the day of the week or the month. These concepts as they spread eastward through Asia fused with rather different oriental attitudes to dreams.


Islam has a foundation in dreams because of the Lailatal-Miraj or Night Journey of Mohammed’s dream. In it he was initiated into the mysteries of the cosmos.

After this original dream initiation, Mohammed found further instruction in his dreams over many years. Mohammed would daily ask his disciples about their dreams, tell them his interpretations, and then share his own dreams with them. It was after hearing the dream of one of his disciples that Mohammed started the daily call to prayers – adhan. Dream interpretation is greatly revered among the Muslims. The interpretation of dreams was considered to be a noble science, taught to Adam by God himself and passed by Adam to Seth, by Seth to Noah, and then on down to Mohammed. It was seen as a vital way Allah communicates with humans.

This positive statement gives dreams a much greater standing than in Christianity and Judaism.

The Holy Qur’an on Dreams

To turn to dreams, the true ones inspired by God to a person’s soul cannot be explained except with reference to religion which deals with things spiritual. Unfortunately religions, other than Islam, due mainly to the loss or to corruption of their Divine Books, do not throw light on the mystery of true dreams. Fortunately, we have in our hands the Divine Book of Islam, the Holy Qur’an, which is admitted by friend and foe to be free from human interference and corruption, and which is available to us today exactly in the words in which it was revealed. So let us turn to that Sublime Book for guidance on the subject of true dreams.

The relevant verse of the Holy Qur’an on the subject of true dreams is:  

“And it is not vouchsafed to a mortal that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger and revealing by His permission what He pleases. Surely He is High, Wise (42:51).”

An explanation of these three forms of Divine communication with man will be found in footnote 2235 to the above verse in the world-renowned English translation and commentary of the Holy Qur’an by the late Maulana Muhammad Ali, and on page 203 of the masterly book by the same author entitled, The Religion of Islam. I quote from the latter book as follows:

“The second mode of God’s speaking to man is said to be from behind a veil and this includes dreams….”

Discussing this form of Divine communication with a human being, the learned Maulana, after quoting the Holy Qur’an, goes on to say: “This shows that, according to the Holy Qur’an, revelation in its lower form (including true dreams) is the common experience of all mankind, of the unbeliever as well as of the believer, of the sinner as well as of the saint.

The words within brackets in the above quotation are mine. They have been inserted to make the quotation clear to a person who does not get an opportunity to read the whole explanation given in the learned book quoted from.

True dreams are the greatest honour done to man by his Beneficent Creator. They relate mainly to the future. And when they are proved to be true by later events, they help man to understand that there is a Supreme Being Who possesses knowledge of the future, of the unseen, which man does not. They also help man to understand, when the true dreams come in reply to his prayers, that they did not go unheard by the Merciful Providence to Whom he prayed. Thus true dreams create a living faith in a Living God.

The Holy Qur’an tells us that the gift of interpreting true dreams is given by God to those who deserve it because of their moral and spiritual purity, and because of their leading a pious life of devotion and prayer to God. But if such a gifted person is not known to the readers of this article, they should themselves turn in prayer and devotion to God Who sent the true dream, to seek an understanding of the dream.

One must remember that man is answerable to his Creator only in respect of his deeds and faith, the complete guidance of which is contained in clear terms in the Holy Qur’an. Man is not answerable if he fails to understand the real significance of a true dream. So he should live his life according to the clear directions by his Creator, Who alone knows why He has created man and the way by which man can attain to the object of his creation. True dreams are only incidental evidence of the existence of God and His knowledge of the future. That knowledge is not possessed by anyone else unless it is given to him by God.

(Taken from Dreams: by the Naseer Ahmad Faruqui Sahib The Light (July 1999))

Mohammed quoted parts of the bible in the Koran. The story of Joseph interpreting dreams is used to show how God is the source of such interpretation. To quote, “you shall be chosen by your Lord. He will teach you to interpret visions.” (Sura 16). Such dreams were seen as ways God directed the life of the person they were given to.

Mohammed also describes some of his own dreams and how they helped direct his decisions and actions.

In the Hadith (sayings of Mohammed) methods of working with dreams are given, along with statements about their importance. For instance Mohammed is quoted as saying, “A dream rests on the feathers of a bird and will not take effect unless it is related to someone.” So the importance of telling someone else is stressed, and this suggests working in pairs or in a group that reverence dreams as important. He goes on to say, “tell your dreams only to knowledgeable persons and loved ones,” and beware those who will use your dreams against you. Also, a dream in which Mohammed appears is said to be a true dream, and one to be taken particular notice of.

Ibn Arabi, drawing upon Greek theology, says there are three basic types of dream. The first is an “ordinary” dream. This comes about by our imagination, fears and desires creating the imagery and drama of this type of dream.

The second and more important type of dream originates from “Universal Soul.” This is probably much the same as what Carl Jung calls the ‘collective unconscious’, except that the Universal Soul is seen as having a more spiritual quality. Such dreams move beyond the personal and reveal truths that are more universal. But these dreams are still expressing in symbols so still need to be explored to discover the treasures of insight they contain.

The third type of dreams are direct revelations showing the subtle reality behind the forms of everyday life. See Techniques for Working your Dreams

In some Indonesian Muslim teachings, human consciousness is often seen to be dominated by forces of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and forces resident in material objects. This means humans fail to recognise their true nature, and forever feel desirous of material goods, or are led by animal urges. The spiritual force behind dreaming is a means of being delivered from unconscious dominance by these forces. So dreams would show how our will has been weakened or taken over by such forces acting upon us.

In early Islamic teachings, no distinction was made between sleeping dreams and waking visions. The world of imagery existent in dreams and visions was seen as having reality. This world, the alam al-mithral, exists halfway between the material world and the intellect. In today’s language we might call this the world of the psyche, with its imagery. The Islamic teachings say this should not be seen as fantasy. The world ofalam al-mithral can be entered by trained imagination and perception. Its imagery expresses truths of its nature. The reality of its landscape can be verified by others who explore its subtle territory – the territory of dreams and visions. See Hallucinations

This sounds very much like an early description of lucidity, and the levels of awareness within that experience. See Waking Lucid Dream

Kelly Bulkeley says, “Valerie J. Hoffman’s work on the role of visions in contemporary Egypt indicates that for present-day Muslims religious revelatory dreams are a surprisingly widespread phenomenon. Hoffman argues that the experience of such dreams does not indicate a pre-modern or naively superstitious mentality; on the contrary, the people she describes are well-educated, technologically proficient, and psychologically healthy. Although many Westerners assume modern civilization and religious faith are mutually antithetical, the Egyptians Hoffman studies are living proof that this is not universally true.

See Lucidity – Awake in Sleep and Lucidity – The New Frontier; also Levels of awareness in Sleeping and Waking

 (From Dream Encyclopeadia  According to tradition, Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, was born in A.D. 570, the same year Mecca was attacked by the army of Abraham, ruler of Yemen. At the age of forty, during the holy month of Ramadan while he was sleeping in a mountain top cave between the hills of Safa and Meeva, near Mecca, he received the first revelation of the Koran, By that time, he had already experienced visions of isolated luminous and sonorous impressions that he described as “the breaking of the light of dawn.” He himself was never able to translate some of those images, which appear as isolated letters placed at the beginning of several parts of the Koran.

In the Lailatal-Miraj or (Night Journey), the dream in which Mohammed’s religious mission as well as portions of the Koran were revealed, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, leading Elboraq, a half-human silver mare. Riding Elboraq, and led by Gabriel, Mohammed travelled to Jerusalem in an instant, and there he conversed and prayed with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Continuing on his journey, he traversed the seven celestial spheres. Each sphere is infused with its own colour, the esoteric meanings of which relate to the seven levels of existence: material, vegetable, animal, human, and three more beyond ordinary human nature. Then he reached across the ocean of white light, and, finally, he approached God. According to some versions of the story, Mohammed also descended to the depths of the earth.

Belief in the inspiration given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel during this dream is a fundamental element of Islam. According to Mohammed, he is the last prophet placed at the end of a long line of precursors, who had been inspired in the same way. Their inspiration, to which Islamic theology gives the name revelation, was destined to be made public, and such inspiration ceased after Mohammed’s death.

Mohammed interpreted the most significant dreams, and reported his own. By doing this, he believed he could glean from the dreams any messages from God.  )

 (Ibn al-Arabi   The visionary mystic Ibn al-‘Arabi, Muhyi ad-Din (1165-1240), born in Murcia, Spain, is considered the greatest Sufi theorist and expounder of metaphysical doctrine. He studied at Seville and Ceuta, and, after visiting Mecca and Baghdad, he settled in Damascus.

Ibn El-Arabi provided a remarkable theory of imaginative cognition and claimed to have considerable visionary experiences and a remarkably lucid imagination. He stated that “this power of the active imagination developed in me visually in a bodily, objective, extra-mental figure just as the angel Gabriel appeared bodily to the eyes of the Prophet.” This apparition left him in an astonished state for many days, to such a degree that he could not even take nourishment. He continued to contemplate the figure for a long time without tasting a bit of food, experiencing neither hunger nor thirst.

This visionary event was the source of Ibn al-‘ Arabi’s work The Spiritual Conquests of Mecca, which was the product of a long spiritual maturation. During a visit to the Black Stone in Mecca, he met the figure that had appeared to him in his vision, which he recognised and described as a young man who was neither living nor dead. He suddenly perceived the temple as a living being and asked his visitor to accept him as his disciple and to teach him all of his secrets. He was so overwhelmed that he lost consciousness.

An explorer of altered states of consciousness, Ibn El-Arabi also advocated the practice of what we today would call lucid dreaming: “A person must control his thoughts in a dream. The training of this alertness… will produce great benefits for the individual. Everyone should apply himself to the attainment of this ability of such great value” (Arabi, cited in Van de Castle, p. 441 Our Dreaming Mind by Robert Van de Castle).

Islam has a foundation in dreams because of the Lailatal-Miraj or Night Journey of Mohammed’s dream. In it he was initiated into the mysteries of the cosmos.

After this original dream initiation, Mohammed found further instruction in his dreams over many years. Dream interpretation was greatly revered among the Muslims.

See Secrets of Power Dreaming – Dreaming of Death – Creation Prayer and Dream Interpretation – Peer Dream Group – Peer Dream Group  


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