Truthful Dreams

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What is the truthful dreams? What does truthful dreams mean? What Islam says about dreams? What are the three types of dreams in Islam?

Among the Divine awards are truthful dreams, considered as a way of comprehending the realities of the unseen. During sleep, connection with the material world is reduced to a bare minimum and spiritual emotions, trapped inside the body, are strengthened. The clouds of the ego, which veil the panorama of the sublime, disperse and allow for clearer vision. Gazing at the realm of the unseen in this manner is made possible for certain righteous persons. Verification of what the insights seen during these dreams comes later on, after awaking.

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- has said:

“Only glad tidings (mubashshirat) are left behind from prophethood”, on which the Companions present asked what exactly was meant by these glad tidings.

“A truthful dream”, responded the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-. (Bukhari, Tabir, 5; Muslim, Salat, 207-208)

Mubashshirat are seen when the hearts of genuine believers become receptive to Divine inspirations and glad tidings during the dream.

In clarifying the meaning of the expression ‘glad tidings in the life of the world’ as it comes to pass in the verse “For them are glad tidings, in the life of the world and in the Hereafter…” (Yunus, 64), the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- has said:

“They are the truthful dreams a Muslim sees or is made to see.” (Tirmidhi, Ruya, 3)

Dreams are of three types:

  1. Devilish Dreams: These are dreams inspired by the devil with the purpose of casting fear, distress and sorrow; like a dream where one falls of a cliff or sees scenes of disaster and chaos that sends him into despair. These dreams are baseless. Should one see a hazy, complicated dream the details of which he can barely remember, he should not tell anyone about it and seek refuge in the Almighty from the lure of the Shaytan.

On the report of Abu Said al-Khudri –Allah be well-pleased with him- the Noble Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- has stated:  “If anyone of you sees a dream he enjoys, let him know that it is from Allah the Almighty. Therefore, he should thank Allah and recount this dream.”

According to another narration:

“He should tell this dream only to who he loves. If he sees a dream he dislikes, that is from Shaytan. He should therefore seek refuge in Allah from his evil and not tell the dream to anyone. That way, the dream shall not harm him.” (Bukhari, Tabir, 3, 46; Muslim, Ruya, 3)

It is further said in yet another hadith:

“Should anyone of you see a dream he dislikes, let him spit three times to his left, seek refuge in Allah from the evil of the devil three times and change his position from one side to the other.” (Muslim, Ruya, 5)

  1. Dreams Caused by an External Influence: These are scenes reflected onto a dream from one’s imaginings or daily circumstances; like drinking lots of water in a dream after having eaten a salty dish before falling asleep or the reflection onto a dream of a problem that has kept the mind busy during the day. These have no interpretation. They are baseless.
  2. Truthful Dreams: These dreams are remembered clearly. Inspired by the Lord, their nature is either that of glad tidings or warning. Certain designated angels receive these images from the Protected Tablet (lawh-i mahfuz) and instill them in the spirit of the sleeper with the command and permission of the Lord.

Truthful dreams are glimmers from the Protected Tablet that throw light on the future. The first stages of the prophethood of the Noble Messenger –upon him blessings and peace- consisted of truthful dreams, lasting for about six months.

The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says:

“As the Time[1] draws near, the dreams of a believer are almost never belied (they occur as they are seen). The truthful dream seen by a believer is one-forty-sixth of prophethood…and that which is from prophethood can never be a lie.”[2]

“Dreams are of three kinds: The first are the truthful dreams, glad tidings from Allah. The second are the fear and sorrow whispered by the devil. And the third are things a person communicates to himself. Whosoever sees something in a dream he dislikes, should not tell his dream to others…he should immediately get up an offer ritual prayer.” (Bukhari, Tabir, 26; Muslim, Ruya, 6)

“The truest dreams are seen by those who speak the truth most.” (Muslim, Ruya, 6)

“The most truthful dream is seen during the approaching dawn.” (Tirmidhi, Ruya, 3/2274)

Truthful dreams need to be interpreted by their experts; their signs need to be deciphered. Interpreting dreams is likewise a God-given expertise. There were times after ritual prayer when the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- would listen to and interpret the dreams of some of his Companions and provide insight into the forthcoming events signaled by their dreams.

Interpreting dreams is without a doubt a special science founded upon certain principles. Those with insight into this science are known as a muabbir; that is, an interpreter. Many books have been written on interpreting dreams for the benefit of the general public. The most famous of these are the works of Ibn Sirin and Muhyiddin Arabi -may Allah sanctify his secret-, often quoted by many other books of dream interpretation compiled up to this day. Be that as it may, interpreting dreams by simply drawing from the information provided in such works is not entirely a correct line of approach; as the gist of interpreting dreams is spiritual insight (kashf). The interpreter must therefore possess a spiritual command. One would otherwise face the dangers of a wrong interpretation, as pronounced by the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-:

“A dream comes true as said by its first interpreter.” (Ibn Majah, Tabir, 7) Dreams must therefore not be told to those who lack expertise. And the experts of this science have stated that ‘the first interpretation is valid and it cancels out the rest’.

According to what is explained in the epistle Mizanu’n-Nufus,[3] the science of dream interpretation is comprised of two parts: subjective (anfusi) and objective (afaqi). Anyone, elite or not, may acquire knowledge of objective interpretation; that is, it is possible to be trained in it by virtue of collecting interpretations made previously by spiritual experts from books or word of mouth. This way, many similar dreams may be decoded in light of previous interpretations.

Each entity seen in a dream is like a word in a language. In other words, each is virtually a language of its own. The meaning ascribed, by the dream language, to an entity seen during a dream is based on a distant relation. That is to say, this relation is not without a ground, a foundation. A snake, for instance, is taken to signify an enemy; and this meaning has its source in the narrative of Adam –upon him peace-. Each mode of behavior and movement the snake exhibits is thereby taken as signifying a specific attitude of the enemy. If the snake appears dead straight or motionless, for instance, it is then interpreted as a road.

On the other hand, many factors play a vital role in interpreting dreams; like the specific day, night or the season of the year in which the dream is seen. For example, whereas the realization in life of a dream seen during winter is delayed, a dream seen towards daybreak is generally quick to come true. Yet, more often than not, such interpretations are deficient as they do not take into regard the different temperaments of the dream seer.

The science of objective dream interpretation is, in contrast, exclusive to the elite (khawass) and always needs the assistance of spiritual insight (kashf), as distinguishing a divinely (rahmani) dream from a devilish (shaytani) requires Divine inspiration. Moreover, since human beings drastically differ from one another in temperament, even the same dream seen by two different people may carry different meanings. Appreciating this subtlety demands a spiritual command.

This calls to mind how two people had once come to Ibn Sirin, telling him that they had both dreamt that they were offering a sermon on the pulpit. Ibn Sirin told one of them that he would be undertaking pilgrimage and the other that he would be hanged. Both interpretations were soon realized.

Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- explains:

“I had once dreamt of three moons falling into my room. I recounted it to my father Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with him-. He kept silent and did not give me an answer. Only when the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- passed away and was buried in my room, did he say, ‘There…the first and the best of the three moons you had dreamt about!’” (Muwatta, Janaiz, 30)

When the Muhajirun arrived in Medina, lots were drawn to nominate their brothers from among the Ansar. Othman ibn Mazun –Allah be well-pleased with him- fell to the family of Ummu’l-Ala al-Ansariyya –Allah be well-pleased with her-. They immediately took him and lodged him at their home. A short time later, however, he was struck down by an illness. The family saw to his treatment but to no avail, as he passed away not long after. Ummu’l-Ala then saw Othman –Allah be well-pleased with him- in her dream where he had a flowing tap. She immediately explained her dream to the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, who said:

“That is his deeds, flowing for him.” (Bukhari, Tabir, 13, Janaiz, 3, Shahadat, 30, Manaqibu’l-Ansar, 46)

Another woman had come to the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- for him to interpret her dream in which the central pillar of her home broke and fell in front of her. The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- asked the lady whether or not she was married, and if she was married, where her husband was. The lady told him that her husband had gone out on a journey but still had not returned. The Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- thereupon informed her that her husband would soon return safe and sound and they would rejoice over it. The dream was realized exactly as it was interpreted.

The woman saw the same dream again, while her husband happened to be on journey, during the caliphate of Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with him-. This time, she went to the Caliph to have her dream interpreted. Like the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- before him, the Siddiq –Allah be well-pleased with him- inquired the lady for some information about her husband. He afterwards told her that her husband had died on the road.

Confused and in panic, the woman said, “The Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- had interpreted the same dream as referring to my husband’s safe return!”

“True”, replied he. “That was the insight he was given and this is what I am inspired with.” It was not long before the news of her husband’s death reached Medina.

Correctly interpreting dreams is an extremely difficult and even impossible undertaking without a spiritual command, in that the dream-world presents things and states of extraordinary nature, illusory, obscure and almost illegible.

The Almighty declares in the Quran how He had endowed Yusuf –upon him peace- with expertise in this science.[4]  While in prison, Yusuf –upon him peace- had listened to a baker and a former cupbearer of the palace tell him their dreams. The baker explained to him how he had dreamt of carrying a tray full of bread on his head when a flock of flying birds closed in and ate all the bread. Yusuf –upon him peace- informed the baker that he would end up being hanged and that a flock birds would pick away at his head. The cupbearer, on the other hand, told Yusuf –upon him peace- that in his dream he was serving the king as cupbearer, like before, which the Prophet interpreted as signaling his “return to the palace as cupbearer.” These insights were soon realized in the exact manner foretold.

As has been mentioned above, the science of dream interpretation is based chiefly on spiritual insight (kashf). For this reason, the interpreter must possess a spiritual ranking.  It was said that the late Celaleddin Ökten, who I had the good fortune to study under during my years at Istanbul Imam Hatip Lise (High School), used to exert great expertise in interpreting dreams. He would mention that dreams could only be interpreted with a lucid and spiritual heart and that the accuracy of an interpretation always depended upon the piety of the interpreter.

During his youth, Celaleddin Ökten –may Allah have mercy on him- used to teach courses on religion at high schools; leading a pious life with a spirited heart. It was during those years he became famous with his accurate dream interpreting. After giving some examples of his experiences in interpreting dreams, he would go on to lament:

“Then came a time when the curtains came down…as courses on religion were abolished by the state and I was appointed a teacher of philosophy. And once I began swimming in the murky sea of reason-engendered philosophical theories, the springs of my heart all dried up.”

Another renowned case of a truthful dream is as follows:

Imam Busiri, the poet behind the famous Qasidah-i Burda, one day came across a spiritually enlightened old man while on his way home.

“Busiri!” the old man called out to him. “Did you see the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- in your dream last night?”

“No, I did not”, replied Busiri. The old man parted ways without saying another word. But his question had ignited the fiery love and affection the Imam had in his heart for the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-.

That night, however, the Imam did see the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- in his dream. When he woke up, he felt an inexpressible joy and peace take over his heart. Thereafter, he began writing many poems paying homage to the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, a read of which would throw many devotees of the Prophet into the ocean of his love.

But a short time later, he became hemiplegic; he lost sensation in one half of his body. No longer able to walk, he could not even move a finger without a struggle. It was then that he wrote the celebrated Qasidah-i Burda, through which he sought a healing from the Lord. The night he completed the qasidah, he saw a dream, where he read to the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- what he had written; and happy to hear the poem, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- stroked the part of his body that was paralyzed. It must have been some love, as upon waking up, Imam Busiri saw that he was fully cured, on which he offered his deep thanks to Allah, glory unto Him.

While walking to the mosque for the fajr prayer that morning, elated to be cured, he came across Sheikh Abu’r-Raja -may Allah sanctify his secret- who asked to him to recite the qasidah in which he praises the Best of Creation -upon him blessings and peace-.

“I have many poems like that. Which one are you asking for?” inquired Imam Busiri.

“The one you read to in the presence of the Messenger of Allah”, said Sheikh Abu’r-Raja. “I noticed he was greatly delighted to hear it.”

Knowing very well that nobody had yet heard the qasidah, Imam Busiri was stunned.[5]

There are many cases in the Islamic world where many secrets pertaining to the realm of the unseen (ghayb) are exposed to the righteous, be it through spiritual insight, foresight, inspiration or truthful dreams. But then again, there stands the immutable Divine declaration that:

“Say: No one in the heavens and the earth knows the unseen but Allah” (an-Naml, 65). This, then, calls for a few explanatory words.

In actual fact, the core of this explanation is comprised in the hadith al-qudsi, “…and when I love him, I (virtually) become his tongue that speaks, heart that comprehends, ears that hear, eyes that see, hands that hold and feet that walk…” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 38) The center of spiritual insight and inspiration is the spirit the Lord has breathed into man. The eyes placed on the head may seem to be the medium only of external vision; but facing the ‘divine light’ placed in those eyes, the curtains of the unseen may become dysfunctional, to the degree the Almighty allows. In such a case, it is again the Almighty who is exposing the unseen; man has otherwise no power to see, hear or know what remains behind the curtain. Only through the grace of Allah, glory unto Him, and His informing does man know end up knowing what was previously hidden.

The Almighty indeed reveals in the Quran that He does reveal certain information concerning the unseen: “This is of the declaration relating to the unseen which We reveal to you…” (Al-i Imran, 44)

With that said, the unseen is of two kinds: the absolutely unseen and the relatively unseen.

The unseen, which can be known to no other than the Lord, is referred to as the absolutely unseen. Knowing something of it has nothing to do with one’s personal aptitude. What can ever be known of it may only be through the informing of the Lord. So an insight into the absolutely unseen is only as much as the Lord allows.

The relatively unseen, on the other hand, are things known by some and unknown by others. For example, only a person himself, and nobody else, may know how much money he has in his pocket. Certain facts which may be unseen and therefore unknown to some may be simple knowledge for others.

The unseen spoken of here in relation to the saintly servants of the Lord is the unseen in the absolute sense. And anything known thereof is known only to the degree the Almighty allows.

No matter how accurately they may foresee and pass judgment on certain events before they happen, true saints never make a public claim to possessing a command of spiritual insight and foresight. There are such men, staring at whose faces remind one instantly of the Lord. Pearls of wisdom spill forth from their tongues. They do not speak, as it were, but are rather made to speak. Still, they are humble in the face of the blessings of the Lord, certain that man is a weak and may easily give in to conceit and transgress his limits. The feeling of self-importance is, without a doubt, the greatest danger. When this danger becomes a lively threat, the Almighty may give one the taste of helplessness in order to warn him.

Spiritual foresight, insight and truthful dreams are really nothing but Lord gracing His righteous servants by virtue of inspiring them with unseen realities.

[1]        According to scholars of hadith, the expression ‘as the time draws near’ may refer to the equinox or the closing in of time either with the approaching Day of Judgment or at dawn towards sunrise.

[2]        Regarding the fact that truthful dreams are one-forty-sixth of prophethood, it has been said that the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- saw truthful dreams during the first six months of his twenty-three years of prophethood; and a period of six months is equal to one-forty-sixth of twenty three years.

[3]        Written by Hafiz Hulusi Effendi, the chief mudarris of Bayezid Mosque, the epistle was printed in 1305 (AH) in Istanbul.

[4]        See al-Yusuf, 6-111.

[5]            See, Ilhan Armutçuoğlu, Kaside- Bürde Manzum Tercümesi, p. 7-10.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications

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