'True' dreams 1/46 of prophecy

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

MUSLIMS use two value-laden Arabic words for "dream", ru'ya and hulm, respectively "vision" and "fantasm" — both of which are mentioned in the Qur'an and the Prophetic Sunnah — which differ widely in application and significance, the first one being good and the latter either bad or meaningless.

When the dream originates from a higher spiritual source — such as God or the angels — it is a "truthful vision" (ru'ya sadiqah). This is the term the Mother of the Believers Aisyah used when she described the beginnings of the descent of revelation upon Prophet Muhammad, upon him and his family blessings and peace. Such visions are not only uplifting as a rule, but they also present meaningful disclosures which are invariably confirmed in a wakeful state: "He would never see a vision," she continued, "except it subsequently came true as surely as the cleaving of the dawn." The Prophet saw in his dream that he had conquered Mekah long before the conquest took place, after which the Quranic verse was revealed: "Allah has fulfilled the vision of His Messenger in very truth" (46:26). Similarly, Prophet Joseph saw 11 planets prostrating to him (12:4), which stood for his 11 brothers who eventually came under his sway.

If, however, the dream originates from a lower source such as one's ego (nafs), the devil (syaitan) or a collaboration of both, it is considered either insignificant or harmful. Examples of nafs-bound dreams are sexual fantasies, dreaming of water when thirsty, wealth or other preoccupations rooted in one's psyche as well as incoherent narratives. Examples of satanic whisperings are dreams that affect one's spirit negatively. All such phenomena the Qur'an calls "a confused jumble" (12:44, 21:5), hence the Prophet himself made the semantic distinction: "Ru'ya is from God while hulm is from the devil." He recommended to recount only dreams of the first type. As for bad dreams, we are ordered to keep their harm at bay by seeking refuge in God from them and strictly never retelling them to anyone.

Islam forbids the interpretation of dreams to all but experts. This prohibition is in recognition of the positive or negative effect dreams can have on our wakeful state and also because of the ineffable connection between their interpretation and reality in light of the Prophetic hadith, "Dreams are one out of 46 parts of Prophecy." A similar hadith states: "Nothing remains of the beginnings of Prophethood except the good vision a Muslim may see." Among the few people to whom the Companions confided their dreams were the Prophet himself and his close friend Sayyiduna Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, both of whom expert interpreters. Among the Muslims of the succeeding generation, the most eminent interpreter was Ibn Sirin, who warned against amateurs: "This matter is connected with religion, so look well from whom you take your religion!" When Imam Malik was asked whether anyone could interpret dreams, he replied: "What! Is religion a plaything?"

Perhaps the most ironclad guarantee of a good dream in Islam is the Prophet's statement that "Whoever sees me in dream has truly seen me, for the devil cannot impersonate me". However, apart from his direct contemporaries, how can one be sure that one is seeing Prophet Muhammad and not something else he imagines to be the Prophet? The ulema answered: Know the Prophet's characteristics so you can be sure. This is why Imam al-Tirmizi compiled al-Syamail al-Nabawiyya, the most famous collection of hadiths (about 400) on the physical and moral Attributes of the Prophet, which he closed with the above-cited narrations on the high status of truthful dreams in Islam and the warning of Ibn Sirin against unqualified interpreters. In this respect, the Syamail is a manual on how to see the Prophet — a momentous glad tiding, dearly to be wished in the life of a Muslim.

The Brunei Times