Part 17

The science of dream interpretation Icon

January 21, 2022

This belongs to the sciences of the religious law. It originated in Islam when the sciences became crafts 553 and scholars wrote books on them.

Dream visions and dream interpretation existed among the ancients, as among later generations. It existed among former (pre-Islamic) religious groups and nations. However, their dream interpretation did not reach us, 554 because we have been satisfied with the discussions of Muslim dream interpreters.

In any case, all human beings can have dream visions, and these visions must be interpreted.

Truthful Joseph already interpreted visions, as is mentioned in the Qur’an. 555

Sound tradition in) the Sahih, on the authority of the Prophet and on the authority of Abu Bakr, likewise establishes (the existence of dream visions). Dream vision is a kind of supernatural perception. Muhammad said= “A good dream vision is the 46th part of prophecy.” 556 He also said= “The only remaining bearer of glad tidings is a good dream vision, beheld by - or shown to - a good man.” 557

The revelation given to the Prophet began with a dream vision. Every dream vision he saw appeared to him like the break of dawn. When Muhammad went away from the morning prayer, he used to ask the men around him, “Did any one of you see a dream vision during the night?” He asked this question in order to derive good news from dream visions, which might refer to the victory of Islam and the growth of its power.558

The reason for perception of the supernatural in dream visions is as follows: 559 The spirit of the heart, which is the fine vapor coming from the cavity in the flesh of the heart, spreads into the veins and, through the blood, to all the rest of the body. It serves to perfect the actions and sensations of the animal powers. The (spirit) may be affected by lassitude, because it is very busy with the sensual perception of the five senses and with the employment of the external powers. When the surface of the body, then, is covered by the chill of night, the spirit withdraws from all the other regions of the body to its center, the heart. It rests, in order to be able to resume its activity, and all the external senses are (for the time being) unemployed. This is the meaning of sleep, as was mentioned before at the beginning of the book. Now, the spirit of the heart is the vehicle of man’s rational spirit. Through its essence, the rational spirit perceives everything that is in the divine world, since its reality and its essence are identical with perception. It is prevented from assimilating any supernatural perception by the veil of its preoccupation with the body and the corporeal powers and senses. If it were without that veil or stripped of it, it would return to its reality, which is identical with perception. It would thus be able to assimilate any object of perception. If it were stripped of part of it, its preoccupation would be less. It is thus able to catch a glimpse of its own world, since external sense perception, its greatest preoccupation, now occupies it less. Its (supernatural perception) corresponds (in intensity) to the degree to which the veil is withdrawn from it. Thus it becomes prepared to receive the available perceptions from its own world that are appropriate for it. When it has perceived these perceptions from its own worlds, it returns with them to its body, since, as long as it remains in its corporeal body, it cannot be active except through corporeal means of perception.The faculties through which the body perceives knowledge are all connected with the brain. The active part among them is the imagination. It derives imaginary pictures from the pictures perceived by the senses and turns them over to the power of memory, which retains them until they are needed in connection with speculation and deduction. From the (imaginary pictures), the soul also abstracts other spiritual- intellectual pictures. In this way, abstraction ascends from the sensibilia to the intelligibilia. The imagination is the intermediary between them. Also, when the soul has received a certain number of perceptions from its own world, it passes them on to the imagination, which forms them into appropriate pictures and turns those perceptions over to the common sense. As a result, the sleeper sees them as if they were perceived by the senses. Thus, the perceptions come down from the rational spirit to the level of sensual perception, with the imagination again being the intermediary. This is what dream visions actually are. The (preceding) exposition shows the difference between true dream visions and false, “confused dreams.” All of them are pictures in the imagination while an individual is asleep. However, if these pictures come down from the rational spirit that perceives (them), they are dream visions. But if they are derived from the pictures preserved in the power of memory, where the imagination deposits them when the individual is awake, they are “confused dreams.” 560 It 561 should be known that true dream visions have signs indicating their truthfulness and attesting their soundness, so that the person who has the dream vision becomes conscious of the glad tidings from God given him in his sleep. The first of these signs is that the person who has the dream vision wakes up quickly, as soon as he has perceived it. It seems as if he is in a hurry to get back to being awake and having sensual perception. Were he (to continue) to sleep soundly, the perception given him would weigh heavily on him. Therefore, he tries to escape from the state (in which he has supernatural perception) to the state of sensual perception in which the soul is always fully immersed in the body and the corporeal accidents.

Another sign is that the dream vision stays and remains impressed with all its details in the memory of (the person who perceived it). Neither neglect nor forgetfulness affects it. No thinking or remembering is required, in order to have it present (to one’s mind). The (dream vision) remains pictured in the mind of (the dreamer) when he awakes. Nothing of it is lost to him. This is because perception by the soul does not take place in time and requires no consecutive order, but takes place all at once and within a single time element. 562 “Confused dreams,” on the other hand, take place in time, because they rest in the powers of the brain and are brought from the power of memory to the common sense by the imagination, as we have stated. (The process is an action of the body,) and all actions of the body take place in time. Thus, they (require) a consecutive order, in order to perceive anything, with something coming first and something else coming later. Forgetfulness, which always affects the powers of the brain, affects (them). That is not the case with the perceptions of the rational soul. They do not take place in time and have no consecutive order. Perceptions that are impressed in (the rational soul) are impressed all at once in the briefest moment. Thus, after (the sleeper) is awake, (his) dream vision remains present in his memory for quite some time. In no way does it slip his mind as the result of neglect, if it originally made a strong impression. However, if it requires thinking and application to remember a dream vision after a sleeper is awake, and if he has forgotten many of its details before he can remember them again, the dream vision is not a true one but a “confused dream.” These signs belong in particular to (prophetic) revelation. God said to HisProphet= “Do not set your tongue in motion to make haste with (the revelation of the Qur’an). It is up to us to put it together and to recite it. And when we recite it, follow its recitation. Then, it is up to us to explain it.” 563 Dream visions are related to prophecy and revelation, as is stated in (the sound tradition of) the Sahih. Thus, Muhammad said= “A dream vision is the forty-sixth part of prophecy.” 564 In the same way, the characteristics of dream visions are related to the characteristics of prophecy. One should not consider that as unlikely. It appears to be this way. God creates whatever He wishes to create.

As to the idea of dream interpretation, the following should be known. The rational spirit has its perceptions and passes them on to the imagination. (The imagination) then forms them into pictures but it forms them only into such pictures as are somehow related to the (perceived) idea. For instance, if the idea of a mighty ruler is perceived, the imagination depicts it in the form of an ocean. Or, the idea of hostility is depicted by the imagination in the form of a serpent. A person wakes up and knows only that he saw an ocean or a serpent. Then, the dream interpreter, who is certain that the ocean is the picture conveyed by the senses and that the perceived idea is something beyond that picture, puts the power of comparison to work. He is guided by further data that establish the character of the perceived idea for him. Thus, he will say, for instance, that the ocean means a ruler, because an ocean is something big with which a ruler can appropriately be compared. Likewise, a serpent can appropriately be compared with an enemy, because it does great harm. Also, vessels can be compared with women, because they are receptacles, and so on. 565

Dream visions may be evident and require no interpretation, because they are clear and distinct, or because (the ideas) perceived in them may be very similar to (the pictures) by which they are represented. Therefore, it has been said in (the sound tradition of) the Sahih, “There are three kinds of dream visions. There are dream visions from God, dream visions from the angels, and dream visions from Satan.” 566 Dream visions from God are those that are evident and need no explanation. Dream visions from an angel are true dreams that require interpretation. And dream visions from Satan are “confused dreams.”

It should be known that when the spirit passes its perceptions on to the imagination, (the latter) depicts them in the customary molds of sensual perception. Where such molds never existed in sensual perception, (the imagination) 567 cannot form any pictures. A (person who was) born blind could not depict a ruler by an ocean, an enemy by a serpent, or women by vessels, because he had never perceived any such things. For him, the imagination would depict those things through similarly appropriate (pictures) derived from the type of perceptions with which he is familiar - that is, things which can be heard or smelled. The dream interpreter must be on guard against such things. They often cause confusion in dream interpretation and spoil its rules. The science of dream interpretation implies a knowledge of general norms upon which the dream interpreter bases the interpretation and explanation of what he is told. For instance, they say that an ocean represents a ruler. Elsewhere, they say that an ocean represents wrath. Again, elsewhere, they say that it represents worry and calamity. Or, they say that a serpent represents an enemy, but elsewhere they say that it represents one who conceals a secret. Elsewhere again, they say that it represents life, and so on. 568

The dream interpreter knows these general norms by heart and interprets the dreams in each case as required by the data establishing which of these norms fits a particular dream vision best. The data may originate in the waking state. They mayoriginate in the sleeping state. Or, they may be created in the soul of the dream interpreter himself by the special quality with which he is endowed.

Everyone is successful at the things for which he was created. 569

This science never ceased being transmitted in the circles of the early Muslims. Muhammad b. Sirin 570 was one of the most famous experts in (dream interpretation) among them. Certain norms of dream interpretation were written down on his authority.

People have transmitted them down to this time. Al-Kirmani 571 wrote on the subject after Ibn Sirin. Recent scholars have written many works on it. The books in use among contemporary Maghribis are the Mumti’ and other works by Ibn Abi Talib al-Qayrawini, 572 a scholar from al-Qayrawan, and the Kitab al-Isharah by as-Salimi 573 which is one of the most useful and briefest 574 books on the subject.

There also is the Kitab al-Marqabah al- ‘ulya by Ibn Rashid, 575 who belonged to (the circle of) our shaykhs in Tunis. Dream interpretation is a science resplendent with the light of prophecy, because prophecy and dreams are related to each other, and (dreams) played a part in the (prophetic) revelation, as has been established in sound tradition.


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