Types of Dreams
Human beings spend almost a third of their lives sleeping. For all we know, the dream-state is peculiar only to them. We have all had dreams that range from the mundane to the really bizarre. More surreal visions include traveling to other realms like Alice in Wonderland, escaping zombies, and bitten by Dracula on a flying carpet. My best friend claims to dream only in black and white, and never wishes for dreams to come true because most of them are dreadful!
Dreams have significance to us, and whatever pop psychology says, we can usually attach meanings that are relevant to us. Through the ages, people have interpreted dreams by a variety of methods. In ancient times people considered them to be sent by gods to predict the future or to cure some disease. Greeks commonly believed that dreams foretold the future, though Aristotle did insist on the importance of sense-impressions. Modern theories stress that dreams are an extension of the waking state.
The psychoanalytic method of Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams caught the world by storm. He suggests that thinking during sleep tends to be “primitive” and the effects of “repression” are reduced. Thus, wishes repressed during wakefulness by the conscious mind (sex and aggression, traces of experience, infantile memories) are released during the dream-state. His protégé, Carl Jung theorized that dreams were just a sublimation of forbidden wishes as compensatory for the way we are not living our lives.
Modern science still hasn’t penetrated the mystery of the origin of dreams. Physiological studies indicate that a dream state is characterized by rapid eye movements (REM) and active brain waves. However, science cannot determine the content of the dream because only the dreamer is experiencing it. The researcher has to depend on accurate recall by the dreamer, and anybody who wakes up from sleep know just how elusive the details of dreams are – even if it is a vivid one. The theories of Freud and Jung assume that the only possible origin for dreams was human because, in their opinion, “God is a figment of the human imagination, and the spirit world does not exist!”
Prophetic dreams are mentioned in many religious texts including the Bible and the Qur’an. Dream interpretation is mentioned in the Qur’an and was regularly practiced by the Prophet (PBUH). The Islamic concept of dreams as framed by the Prophet: “There are three types of dreams: a righteous dream that is glad tidings from Allah; the dream which causes sadness is from Satan; and a dream from the ramblings of the mind.”
Good dreams are a gift from Allah, and should be taken positively, and narrated to others. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said “Indeed messengership and prophethood have ended, so there will be no messenger nor prophet after me – except glad tidings.” People asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah, what are glad tidings?’ “Good dreams,” he replied. He also said: “The dream of a righteous person is one of forty six parts of prophethood.”
Since good dreams are associated with prophethood and are from Allah, lying about them is forbidden. The reason why lying about dreams has severe punishment is that lying about dreams is lying about Allah. The one who claims it claims something which Allah has not shown him, and it is greater than lying about His creatures.
The dreams of the Prophets were a form of revelation. Ayesha narrates “Divine revelation began to come to Allah’s Messenger in the form of righteous dreams in his sleep. Whenever he had a dream it would come true (clearly) like daybreak.” Ayesha explained that a true righteous dream was one that occurred in the waking state exactly as seen in the dream. That goes a long way to explain why Abraham (PBUH) went as far as to sacrifice his son on the basis of a dream – and how it has become the rite of Hajj (pilgrimage) for Muslims evermore.
Alah says, “When he (Abraham’s son) was old enough to walk with him, he (Abraham) said, ‘O my son! I have seen in a dream that I offered you in sacrifice. What do you think?’ He replied, ‘O my father! Do as you are commanded. Allah Willing – you will find me steadfast.’ So when they had both submitted themselves to the Will of Allah and he had laid him on his forehead (for sacrifice), We called out to him: “O Abraham! You have already fulfilled the dream (vision)! It is in this way that I reward the righteous.” [As Saffaat 37:102-105]
Apart from the dream of Abraham, three other dreams are recorded in the Holy Quran, in Chapter Yousuf, the story Allah describes as ‘the most beautiful of stories’ where Joseph said: “O my Lord! Thou has indeed bestowed on me some power and taught me something of the interpretation of dreams and events. O Thou Creator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art my protector in this world and the Hereafter take Thou my soul (at death) as one submitting to Thy Will (as a Muslim) and unite me with the righteous.” [Yousuf 12:101]
Among the miracles that Allah bestows on His prophets to convince folk of their veracity, Joseph got the gift of dream interpretation. At a very early age, Joseph was having prophetic dreams. He tells his father, Jacob, that he saw “eleven stars and the sun and the moon prostrating before him.” His concerned dad tells him “My dear little son! Relate not thy vision to thy brothers lest they concoct a plan against thee. For Satan to man is an avowed enemy.” [12:3-4]
According to commentators, this means that even good dreams should not be proclaimed to all and sundry in case someone who is jealous interprets it negatively. Or it may even lead to the plotting of some harm against the dreamer.
The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Good dreams are from Allah and bad dreams are from Satan.” This does not necessarily mean that they are limited to believers. Although the true dreams are a gift from Allah to His righteous slaves such as the Prophets and the believers in general, they are sometimes given to non believers. The Holy Qur’an records incidences of Prophet Joseph interpreting dreams of two pagan prison inmates, which were true. “Now with him there came into the prison, two young men. Said one of them, ‘I see myself (in a dream) pressing wine.’ Said the other, ‘I see myself (in a dream) carrying bread on my head and birds are eating thereof.’ ‘Tell us’ they said ‘the truth and meaning of it, for we see that you are one that does good to all.'”
He said, “Before any food comes to feed either of you I will surely reveal to you the truth and meaning of it ere it come to pass… that is part of the (Duty) that my Lord has taught me’…’O my two companions of the prison! As to one of you he will pour wine for his king to drink; as for the other he will hang from the cross and birds will eat from off his head.'” [12: 36, 37, 41]
But only a Prophet can tell “ere it come to pass” if the dream is true or not. Ordinary folks have to wait for the dream to actually come true before we know if it was a true dream or not, regardless of how pious a person is or how many earlier dreams came true.
Another famous true dream recorded in the same chapter is that of the pagan king of Egypt in Joseph’s time, which shows that true dreams are neither restricted to Prophets nor to Muslims. “The king (of Egypt) said: ” ‘I do see (in a vision) seven fat cows whom seven lean ones devour and seven green ears of corn and seven others withered. O chiefs expound to me my vision if it be that you can interpret visions.’ ‘A confused medley of dreams, and we are not skilled in the interpretation of dreams,’ they said.” [12:43, 44]
At which point, Joseph gives the correct interpretation – seven years of famine after seven years of plenitude. Forewarned, the people save enough grain to tide them over, and a major scale disaster is averted.
True dreams are among the signs that Allah creates within human beings pointing to His existence. (Anyone who has had a true dream will tell you so) Evolution, relativity, or thermodynamics are all very well, but they still don’t explain how dreams come true.
Allah says: “I will show them My signs in the furthest regions (of the earth) and in their souls, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” [ash-Shura 42:53]