How to Master the Art of Islamic Dream Interpretation
Learn the secrets of interpreting dreams from Islamic tradition and discover the meanings of symbols, categories, and prophetic visions
- 1 The Soul and the Angel of Dreams
- 2 The Influence of Land and Culture on Dream Interpretation
- 3 The Consideration of Social Customs and Religious Norms
- 4 The Social and Religious Aspects of Dream Interpretation
- 4.1 The Influence of Different Religions on Dream Symbols
- 4.2 The Investigation and Analysis of Dreams
- 4.3 The Knowledge and Skills Required for a Dream Interpreter
- 4.4 The Causes and Consequences of Forgetting Dreams
- 4.5 The Importance of Listening and Verifying
- 4.6 The Establishment of Religious References
- 5 The Elements and Categories of Dream Interpretation
- 6 Examples of Dream Interpretation
- 7 Examples of Dream Interpretation from Islamic Tradition
- 8 Examples of Prophetic Dreams from Islamic Tradition
The Soul and the Angel of Dreams
Some dream interpreters agree that dreams are seen by the soul and are understood by one’s consciousness. Shaikh Abdul Ghani Nabulsi explains in his book Ta’atir-ul Anum that “the soul resides within one’s heart, and the functions of the heart are dictated by one’s brain.
When one falls asleep, his soul becomes like an extended ray of light, or like a sun, where he can see what the angel of dreams reveals to him through the effulgent light of his Lord. When one’s senses come to wakefulness, it is as though a cloud has come to cover the sunlight.
When one wakes up, he may remember through his soul what the angel of dreams has showed him.” Someone said: “Spiritual feelings are greater than one’s physical awareness. For the soul represents the truth, and the senses can only recognize what is physically perceivable.”
The Influence of Land and Culture on Dream Interpretation
For a dream interpreter, it is also necessary to know that the soil is different from one land to another, because each soil is watered by a different quality of water. That is why dream interpretation may vary from one land to another. As we explained earlier, dream interpretation requires a concise knowledge that must be based on the fundamentals of one’s religion, inner spiritual values, and moral and cultural traditions.
Dreams also are influenced by the atmospheric condition of the land and culture. For example, if one who lives in a hot country sees snow or hail in his dream, it means rising prices or drought. On the other hand, if one lives in a cold country and sees snow, rain, and hail, it means a good harvest and prosperity.
Examples of Cultural Differences in Dream Symbols
In India, for example, mud means money, while for another country it may mean an adversity. Also in India, breaking wind in a dream means good news, while in another country it may mean hearing bad words. In one out of four countries, fish in a dream means marriage, or money, while in other countries a fish means a bad stench. Quince, which is known in Persian as Safarjal in a dream means comfort, beauty, and glory for an Iranian person, while it means travels, or departure for an Arab.
Eating a dead animal in a dream means acquiring unlawful money for those who believe in the impermissibility of doing so. As for those who see no harm in eating the flesh of a dead animal, when they see that in a dream, it means benefits, or profits.
The Role of Timing in Dream Interpretation
Timing is also crucial. If one who is stricken with cold symptoms sees himself warming up in the sun, or near a burning bush in the winter time in a dream, or if he sees himself wearing winter clothing, or using hot water to wash with, etcetera in a dream, it means recovering from his illness, while doing so in the summer time means health complications, or adversities.
The meanings of dreams also differ in values. For instance, if a devout worshiper sees himself wearing a soldier’s uniform in a dream, it means invalidation of his worship, while if a non-fighting soldier sees that, it means going to war, and victory. As for the rest of people, it means a dispute, an argument, and corruption.
The Consideration of Social Customs and Religious Norms
A dream interpreter must also be considerate of other social customs and religious norms. For example, eating raw herbs in a dream means unlawful money and disturbances for Sabians and Judaeo-Christian priests, for it is not permissible in their traditions.
The Jews forbid the eating of certain roots, the Greeks forbid chicken, and the Muslims forbid drinking wine. Thus these elements ina dream represent unlawful earnings for such religions. If a Muslim woman sees herself committing adultery inside a mosque ina dream, it means gaining bad reputation, while ifa Hindu woman sees that dream, it means rising.
The Social and Religious Aspects of Dream Interpretation
The Influence of Different Religions on Dream Symbols
In station of nearness to her lord, for in Hinduism they consider sexual intercourse an act of worship. The Magians and Zoroastrians worship the fire, so if one of them sees himself kindling a fire or prostrating to the fire in a dream, it has positive connotations and benefits. The same goes for worshipers of the sun or the moon.
The Investigation and Analysis of Dreams
The dream interpreter must investigate each dream based on religious opinions, logic, idioms, crucial factors, dictating circumstances, parables, what is deemed correct, and he should not express a firm opinion, as we shall expand on this subject at a later part of this introduction.
The Knowledge and Skills Required for a Dream Interpreter
A dream interpreter must have knowledge of the Qur’anic references, Qur’anic interpretations, sayings of God’s Prophet, upon whom be peace, allegorical meanings and parables. He also must know the prophetic traditions, tales of the prophets, the wisdom they imparted to their followers through interpreting their dreams, and the conclusion they themselves have earned from that experience.
A refined interpreter in this art also must cultivate the essence of social norms, history, fables, poetry, proverbs, languages, etymology of words, synonyms, homogeneity, contrariety, etcetera. He also must be an honest and respected person, and he must care for the way he earns his living, what he eats, and what he drinks, and he must be a sincere and a God-fearing person.
It is beneficial for a dream interpreter to have knowledge about astrology, numerology, lucky days of the week, lucky hours of the day and the night, natural medicine, and psychology, besides other sciences.
The Causes and Consequences of Forgetting Dreams
The prophet Daniel, upon whom be peace, has said: “One may forget his dream because of four reasons: 1- his sins; 2- contradiction between his deeds and intentions; 3- lack of sincerity; and 4- changes of his spirit.” Imam Ja’afar Al-Sadiq, God bless his soul, once said: “If one forgets a dream he saw at night, he should calculate the numerological value of the letters of his name on the basis of the ‘Abjad’ system.
He then should deduct the number nine from the total. If they result in an even number, then his dream is positive. If the total produces an odd number, then his dream has negative connotations.” The dream interpreter also should ask the person who forgot his dream how did he find himself when he woke up. If the person who forgot his dream finds his hand over his fingers, he could have seen little trees. If he finds his hand laid over his ribs, then it could be women that he saw, etcetera. (See Body).
The Importance of Listening and Verifying
A dream interpreter must listen to the complete story, and its minute details. He also must investigate and find acceptable religious references (Usul) for each element in the dream. If he does not fully understand the dream, or if he is unable to find such references, then it is better for him to refrain from making up an interpretation. In that case, he will be giving a religious ruling, though dreams relate to psychology.
Indeed, it will be a sin to tell a false interpretation, while one will be rewarded if he remains silent when he does not know the answer. Mohammad Ibn Sirin was the most renowned master in this science, and he often refrained from interpreting someone’s dream. Perhaps, he would interpret only one out of every forty dreams when asked to do so. Of three out of four such dreams, he used to say: “I do not know the meaning of this dream.”
The Establishment of Religious References
The dream interpreter must investigate the dream and establish its acceptable religious references. It is related that Mohammad Ibn Sirin used to spend a good part of the day questioning the person about himself, his life, type of work, living condition, and surrounding circumstance, for a dream interpreter is not a prophet and cannot tell about the future.
The Elements and Categories of Dream Interpretation
The Basic Categories of Dream Symbols
Beside the religious references, a dream interpreter also must know the basic categories which connect the elements of the dream. Thus he should know that wheat, barley, flour, honey, milk, wool, iron, salt, and earth, etcetera, represent money.
He should also know that a weasel, a coyote, a lion, a wolf, a rope, a tree, a bird, or a beast, etcetera, represent men; and that a saddle, a bed, and female birds, etcetera, represent women, and that a pitcher, a pillow, a bowl, a basin, etcetera, represent servants. He should also know that anything that has no end in a dream is not attainable, while leaving a boat in a dream means descending in rank.
The Ranks of Dream Interpreters
In his book Tabaqiit Al-Mu’abbireen, (i.e., The Ranks of Dream Interpreters) AI-Hassan Bin Al-Hassan AI-Khallal, God bless his soul, noted some seven thousand five hundred interpreters. He then divided them in fifteen categories:
- the prophets;
- the companions;
- the followers;
- the scholars;
- the ascetics;
- professional interpreters who wrote books on this subject;
- Jewish interpreters;
- Christian interpreters;
- Magian interpreters;
- polytheists from the pre-Islamic period;
- soothsayers, prognosticators, palm readers, and fortunetellers;
- Magicians; and
- physiognomists and allegorists.
Examples of Dream Interpretation
The Perspective of the Interpreter
The perspective which one assumes in his interpretation of someone’s dream is crucial. Once a Caliph saw his teeth falling out in a dream. He called a dream interpreter and asked him about the meaning of his dream. The interpreter replied: “The entire family of my master will perish.” The Caliph became upset, and he called for another interpreter and told him the dream.
The second dream interpreter replied: “The dream of my master, the prince of the believers, is true, for he shall live the longest amongst his relatives.” Immediately, the Caliph embraced the man and rewarded him for his skill and tactfulness. In this case, both interpreters gave the same meaning, though the presentation is different.
The Influence of the Deceased
Once upon a time, a king hired a private tutor to teach his children the Qur’an and proper conduct. After the teacher had died, one day the king’s children went to visit the grave of their teacher. After paying the customary greetings, they sat beside his grave and engaged in a mundane conversation, ate some fruits, and threw the peels and pits on the side of the grave.
That night, the teacher came to the king in a dream and told him: “Instruct your children to refrain from visiting my grave, for they have certainly offended me.” When the children learned from their father about what happened, they cried and exclaimed: “God bless his soul, for surely he is still teaching us proper conduct, even after his death.”
The Interpretation of Mixed Symbols
A man came to Mohammad Ibn Sirin and said: “I saw a pot filled with milk, then someone brought a second pot of the same size which was filled with honey. He then poured the honey into the milk, and miraculously, the first pot contained both of them without any spillage. Further on, he poured some foamy substance on the top, and I sat with some friends eating and skimming the foamy substance first. Suddenly, the contents of the pot turned into a head of a camel, and we kept on eating from it.”
Ibn Sirin replied: “What a wretched dream you had! The milk represents inherent purity. What is poured into it has nothing to do with inherent purity. Your eating of the scum means waste, and neither you nor your friends will benefit from it, for God Almighty has said: ‘For the scum will be thrown off.’ (Qur’an 17:13) As for the camel in your dream, it represents an Arab leader, and in this case, he is the Prince of the believers, the Caliph Omar Bin ‘Ahdul-Aziz, and you are backbiting him and sweetening your calumny with honey.”