Detailed discussion of dreams in the Muslim culture is beyond the scope of
this article. Instead, we provide an overall summary of the importance of dreams
in Muslim culture. Muslims in general have great interest in dreams and dream
interpretation. In general, Muslims consider dream to be a kind of supernatural
perception. One Hadith states that the Prophet (pbuh) said, "A good dream vision
of a pious man is a forty-sixth part of prophecy" [SM 2263]. It has also been
reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said, "A good vision (ru'ya) is from Allah and a
bad dream (hulm) is from Satan; so if one of you sees anything (in a dream which
he dislikes), he should spit on his left side thrice and seek refuge with Allah
from its evil, and then it will never harm him" [SB 3118).
Oneiromancy is a traditional type of dream interpretation that is common in the
Muslim world. In general, Muslims have much higher regard for dreams and dream
interpretation than people from Western societies. Muslim countries
traditionally used the terms Tabir or Tafsir for "dream interpretation", and
dreams continue to play an important role in the lives of modern Muslims.[32,33] Muslim interest in dreams and dream interpretation has not been well
documented in the English literature, and most Western dream researchers are not
familiar with the rich traditions of dreams and dream interpretation in Islam.
The theories, insights, and observations of dreams proposed by Muslims over the
past 1400 years correspond with many of the recent theories developed by Western
psychologists during the past 150 years. Traditionally, Muslims believe that
dreams appearing in the last third of the night are more truthful. This correlates
with the current scientific understanding that the longest periods of REM sleep
occurs during the last third of the nocturnal sleep period, when dream imagination
is most active.
The Quran uses several terms to refer to dreams, such as ru'ya (vision) [verses
48.2], hulm (dream)
52.3], manam (sleep) [verse
37.10], and bushra (tidings) [verse
10.6]. Because of the central role of the
Quran in the Muslim faith, discussions of dreams are fundamental to Islamic dream
interpretation. Dream description plays a major role in three Suras (chapters) of
1.Sura 12, Yussuf (Joseph): This Sura provides a condensed version of the story of
Joseph and some of the best known references to dream interpretation.
2.Sura 37, As-Saffat (Ranks): This Sura focuses on Allah's command to the Prophet
Abraham to sacrifice his son.
3.Sura 8, Al-Anfal (Spoils): This Sura describes a dream of Prophet Muhammad
(pbuh). "(And remember) when Allah showed them to you as few in your (i.e., the
Prophet's) dream; if He had shown them to you as many, you would surely have been
discouraged, and you would surely have disputed making a decision. But Allah saved
you" [verse 8.43]. This verse describes the experience of the Prophet (pbuh) the
night before a particular battle (Badr), when the Muslim army was across the
valley from its enemy.
The night journey (Laylat al-Mi'raj) in Sura 17 (Al-Isra) says, "Glory be to Him
(Allah) Who took His slave (Muhammad) for a journey by night from Al-Msajid Al-
Haram (in Mecca) to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa (in Jerusalem) whose surroundings We have
blessed, that We might show Him (Muhammad) some of Our signs" [verse 17.1]. Some
Western scholars who have written about dreams in the Quran consider this journey
as one of the dreams of Muhammad (pbuh).[4,34] However, although this journey
occurred in a short period in one night, in the Muslim faith, this miraculous
journey is considered to be a physical journey, not a dream. In particular, the
body and soul of Muhammad (pbuh) travelled from Mecca to Jerusalem and then
ascended to heaven. This led him to the wonders of heaven, where he met with many
prophets and messengers who had gathered to meet him, and He led them in prayers.
Therefore, we will not discuss this journey as a dream.
Some interpreters of the Quran have interpreted verse 39.42 ("It is Allah who
takes away the souls (Wafat) at the time of their death, and those that die not
during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and
sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for people who
think deeply") as Allah seizing souls during death and sleep (dream). For
instance, the Islamic scholar, Al-Qurtubi (1214-1273 C.E.), noted that true dreams
are visions experienced while the soul is separated from the body during sleep,
whereas nightmares and lying dreams occur when the soul has returned to the body,
but before it has again taken firm root.
Numerous Muslim philosophers have proposed theories of dream interpretation. Ibn
Arabi (1164-1240 C.E.) proposed a metaphysical system that merged Islamic theology
and Greek philosophy.[4,35] Ibn Sirin (653-728 C.E.) is the best-known dream
interpreter in Islamic history,[4,36] and his method of dream interpretation
reflects the fact that dream interpretation is important in the Quran and Hadith.
He proposed that the interpretation of dreams depends on the personal
characteristics and life circumstances of the individual. Ibn Khaldun, a great
Muslim scholar and thinker (1332-1402 C.E.), considered dream interpretation to be
a science. In the monumental Muqaddimah (An Introduction to History), he
classified three types of dreams: (i) dreams from Allah (Allah), which are clear
and unmistakable in their meaning and content; (ii) dreams from Angels, which are
received in the form of allegory and require interpretation; and (iii) dreams from
Satan, which are confused dreams that are futile.[2,37]
In the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in
our knowledge of sleep physiology, sleep disorders, and the importance of sleep.
Islam and other ancient religions also provide significant information about the
historical and cultural views of sleep, and these precede modern scientific
studies by hundreds or thousands years.[1,2] The Quran describes different types
of sleep, and these correspond with different sleep stages identified by modern
sleep scientists. About 1400 years ago, Muhammad (pbuh) stressed the importance of
sleep for good health and the Quran stresses the importance of the alteration of
night and day. A nap (Qailulah) is a well-established cultural practice in the
Islamic culture. For some Muslims, the nap has religious dimensions. Modern sleep
scientists acknowledge the beneficial effect of short naps. Muslims have been
following certain sleep habits for hundreds of years, following the instructions
and practices of their Prophet (pbuh). Modern sleep scientists currently recommend
many of these same practices. Dream interpretation is an established science in
the Muslim literature and Islamic theories of dream interpretation correspond with
many theories currently proposed by modern sleep scientists.
We suggest that sleep scientists examine religious literature to understand the
views, behaviors, and practices of ancient people in regard to sleep and sleep
disorders. Such studies may help to answer unresolved questions in sleep science
or lead to new areas of inquiry.
This paper was partially supported by a grant from the
University Sleep Disorders Center, King Saud University and King Abdulaziz City
for Science and Technology.
Source of Support: University Sleep Disorders Center, King Saud University and
King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology
Conflict of Interest: None declared.
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Articles from Annals of Thoracic Medicine are provided here courtesy of Medknow
Prof. Ahmed S. BaHammam is professor of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine; director Sleep Disorders Center, College of Medicine, King Saud University.
Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information
- National Institute of Health
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