An Introduction to Dream Interpretation
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Dreams. To some, they are merely a trivial part of life and possess no meaning. To others, they hold meaning but have no significant impact on their lives. Historically, however, people held the belief that dreams possess meaning and subsequently had an influence on their lives. This continues to be the case for the majority of people today.
The revelations to the Prophets affirm dreams as an integral part of not only Prophethood, but of Revelation itself, "The beginning of the Revelation that came to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was true dreams in a state of sleep." [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
Another report states, "The dream of a mu’min (believer) is one of the forty-six parts of Prophethood." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Types of dreams
There are 3 types of dreams a person sees in his sleep:
Dreams from Allah (ﷻ)
Dreams from evil spirits/shayatin
Dreams due to one’s daily experiences
Examples of dreams
Mention when Yusuf said to his father, "O my father, indeed I have seen in a dream eleven stars and the sun and the moon; I saw them prostrating to me." [12:4]
And the king said, "Indeed, I have seen in a dream seven fat cows being eaten by seven that were lean, and seven green spikes of grain and others that were dry. O eminent ones, explain to me my dream, if you are indeed dream interpreters." [12:43]
They replied, "It is but a mixture of false dreams, and we are not learned in the interpretation of dreams." [12:44]
But the one who was freed and remembered after a time said, "I will inform you of its interpretation, so send me forth." [12:45]
He said, "Yusuf, O truthful man, explain to us about seven fat cows eaten by seven that were lean, and seven green spikes of grain and others that were dry – that I may return to the people; perhaps they will know about you." [12:46]
Yusuf explained, "You will plant for seven years consecutively; and what you harvest leave in its spikes, except a little from which you will eat. Then will come after that seven difficult years which will consume what you saved for them, except a little from which you will store. Then will come after that a year in which the people will be given rain and in which they will press (olives and grapes)." [12:47-49]
"Certainly has Allah showed to His Messenger the dream in truth. You will surely enter Al-Masjid Al-Haram, if Allah wills, in safety, with your heads shaved and hair shortened, not fearing anyone. He knew what you did not know and has arranged before that a conquest near at hand." [48:27]
There were a number of factors in Yusuf’s life that had led him to this point. One of those factors was the dreams that he would see and their impact (or manifestations) in his own life, and in the economic life of the lands he was acquainted with – Egypt and Shām.
Yusuf had a mastery in interpreting dreams. He interpreted his own dreams as well as that of others, Muslim or otherwise.
He interpreted the eleven planets as his eleven half-brothers; the sun and the moon as his parents; their 'prostration' as an acknowledgement of his brothers' wrongdoing, and also as an acknowledgment of his status and rank in the sight of Allah, due to his sublime forbearance and exalted level of kindness.
All the prophets had a mastery in interpreting dreams. The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was no exception. In fact, he would routinely ask his Companions after the Dawn Prayer to narrate to him their dreams. He did this to such an extent that one who did not see a dream would worry and assume something wrong of his iman as did 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar.
The Prophet (ﷺ) like the previous Prophets interpreted dreams whilst considering the following sources:
Inspiration from Allah and farasah (reading acumen of facial and body language)
Language, environment, culture and history of the person seeing the dream
Symbols, signs, colours, numbers and movements
Timings and seasons in which the dream was seen
Al-Wahye (Quran & Sunnah)
Dreams originate from Allah (ﷻ), and therefore the Wahye is the primary frame of reference because that too is from Him, "…and We taught him (Yusuf) the interpretation of events/dreams." [12:21]
The Companions observed the Prophet (ﷺ) interpreting dreams. They learnt much via this method. In fact, some of the companions would then interpret dreams in the presence of the Prophet like Abu Bakr.
Dream interpretation will not cease to continue
There will continue to be a group of people from the Ummah of Muhammad (ﷺ) who will be proficient in interpreting dreams; that is because it is part of conveying and establishing the Deen of Allah (ﷻ).
It is incredibly important to be aware that interpreting dreams is not too dissimilar from issuing a fatwa (a specific verdict). Therefore, even an expert and experienced dream interpreter must be careful.
No matter the level of expertise, it is always difficult to arrive at certainty in one’s interpretation. The Prophet (ﷺ) said to the greatest person after the Prophets, the Siddiq: Abu Bakr when he interpreted a dream, "You are correct in some, and you are wrong in some." [Muslim]
Thus, a master dream interpreter should always resign back to Allah (ﷻ) by saying, "And Allah knows best."
The master dream interpreter should layer his interpretation in a coating of glad tidings. That is because Allah (ﷻ) shows these dreams to people to either encourage them to be determined in order to attain more success and happiness, or to warn them of coming harms, so they be ready and prepared.
Seeing true dreams
The quantity and accuracy of a person’s dreams are in accordance to his bond with Allah (ﷻ). The more genuine and truthful a person is in his character and personality, the more true his dreams become, and the more true dreams will direct him in his short and long term needs and yearnings. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "The most truthful among you will see the most truthful dreams." [Muslim]
May Allah (ﷻ) make all of us amongst the Siddiqin. Ameen!
With this, we suffice this brief introduction to dreams and interpretations. In due time we will—Allah willing—publish more articles on this subject and answer any queries therein.
All praise is for Allah, Rabb of all that exists.