What is Dream Interpretation in Islam
The Islamic State appear to attach considerable importance to dreams and have started publishing dream accounts of martyred jihadists. Do IS see this as a way of ‘calling’ potential lone wolf jihadists to action?
Over the last decade, several studies have shown that militant Islamists make extensive use of reported night dreams to inspire, announce, and validate violent jihad. Bin Laden himself brought up dreams in one of the first videos released after 9/11. Mullah Omar was understood by his followers to have founded the Taliban, and run his campaign, inspired and even guided by his dreams. Dream accounts can be found of numerous other well-known militants, including Richard Reid, the failed shoe bomber, the two core 9/11 planners, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, and the ‘20th’ suicide bomber, Zacarious Moussaoui.
This tradition has continued with Islamic State (IS) members and sympathisers who appear to attach considerable importance to dreams. This article updates the discussion and analysis of the role of dreams for IS jihadists, and, through looking at some recent case studies, asks whether IS is publishing martyred jihadist dreams as a way of ‘calling’ potential lone wolf jihadists to action.
Dreaming in Islam
To understand the jihadi appreciation for dreams, it is important to first understand that dreams are both historically and contemporaneously important in Islam. Indeed, today, Arabic TV programs are replete with dream interpretation programs and the internet is awash with Islamic dream interpretation websites.
The dream tradition is similar across all the main branches of Islam: Sunni, Shia, Salafi and Sufi, as well as amongst the minority Alevi and Ahmadiyya sects. In the Sufi mystical traditions, dreaming is highly regarded. While Sufis have traditionally paid the most attention to dreams, the more literalist Salafis appear to have become more interested in them over time.
The Islamic tradition distinguishes between three types of dreams: the true dream (al-ru’ya), the false dream, which may come from the devil (shatan), and the meaningless everyday dream (hulm) which could be caused by what has been eaten by the dreamer and comes from the nafs (ego, or lower self). The interpretive tradition regarding the “true dream” (al-ru’ya) is a fundamental feature of Islamic theology. The true dream tradition is reported more extensively in the hadith.
Islamic dream interpretation differs from Western attitudes to dreams, which, being largely shaped by a scientific materialist outlook of the world, generally see dreams as bearing little or no relevance for people. But in Islam, dreams are understood as, on occasion, offering a portal to the divine will, and are seen as the only appropriate form of future divination. Dreams have a special authority as they are believed to communicate truth from the supernatural world (dar al-haq). Lamoreux summarises the importance of dreaming in Islamic societies:
“Dream interpretation offered Muslims a royal road that led not inward but outward, providing insight not into the dreamer’s psyche but into the hidden affairs of the world. In short, the aim of dream interpretation was not diagnosis, but divination.”
THE THREE TYPES OF ISLAMIC DREAMS
Dreams are broken into three parts according to the Sunnah:
- Ru’yaa – good visions (dreams)
- Hulum – bad dreams
- Dreams from one’s self
Abu Hurayrah narrated Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “There are three types of dreams: a righteous dream which is glad tidings from Allah, the dream which causes sadness is from Shaitan, and a dream from the ramblings of the mind. (Sahih Muslim).
We can see true dreams are from Allah Ta’aala as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “True dreams are from Allah, and bad dreams are from Shaitan.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).
True believers are more likely to happen to those who are truthful in their lives as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Those of you with the truest dreams will be those who are most truthful in speech” (Sahih Muslim).
Good dreams are also from Allah Ta’aala. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “If anyone of you has a dream that he likes then it is from Allah. He should thank Allah for it and narrate it to others.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) Good deeds consist of people doing Halaal (lawful) acts.
One should share their dreams with those they like as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “If one sees a good dream, let him expect good, and not tell it except to those he likes.” (Muslim) An example of this is Yaqoob (AS) telling his son, Yusuf (AS) concerning his dream about eleven stars and the sun and the moon prostrating to him (scholars have said the eleven stars were his brothers, and the sun and the moon represented his mother and father): “He said, “O my son! Relate not your vision to your brothers lest they arrange a plot against you. Verily! Satan is to man an open enemy.” (Surah Yusuf 12:5) We know the half-brothers of Yusuf were jealous of him to begin with so telling them the dream would probably only serve to increase the jealousy.
Muhammad (S) also told us, “Nothing is left of prophethood except glad tidings.” Those with him asked, “What are glad tidings?” He (S) replied, “Good dreams.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
As stated above bad dreams are from Shaitan. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us what to do upon seeing a bad dream. “So when one of you sees a dream which he does not like, he should spit on his left side three times, seek refuge with Allah from Shaitan thrice, and change the side which he was lying (Sahih Muslim) and in another narration in Muslim, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us if we spit three times and seek refuge from Allah then it (the dream) will not harm them.” (Sahih Muslim).
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also told us that if we saw a bad dream to “stand up and offer prayer.” (Sahih Muslim).
Bad Dreams Should Not Be Disclosed
Muhammad (S) said, …If he has a dream that he dislikes, then it is from Shaitan. He should seek refuge with Allah from its evil, and he SHOULD NOT MENTION IT TO ANYBODY, then it will not harm him.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari). If one does tell somebody about the bad dream then there could be the chance that some harm will come out of it.
These dreams come from one’s thoughts and are neither from Allah or Shaitan.