Why Do We Dream?

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Dreams ‘God takes men’s souls at the time of their death, and the soul which does not die, He takes in sleep. Then He keeps the soul that is destined to die at that time and returns the others to life for a set period.’ (39:42)

Dreams‘God takes men’s souls at the time of their death, and the soul which does not die, He takes in sleep. Then He keeps the soul that is destined to die at that time and returns the others to life for a set period.’ (39:42)

In the view of the Qur’an, sleep is outwardly the suspension of the natural forces in man, but it is at the same time a return of man’s spirit to his inner being. Sleep is the lesser death, and death is the greater sleep. In both cases, the spirit is transferred to a different world.” – Sayyid Musawi Lari, Resurrection, Judgment, and Hereafter

Dreams are one of the great mysteries of life that bear reflection. Although there is much that is not well understood about dreams by most people, one thing that is commonly acknowledged is that not all dreams are equal. That is, there are different types of dreams that we may experience.

Many dreams are derived from our worldly experiences and desires – these dreams seem to be a kind of processing of what is happening to us and what we are feeling in our lives at the time. If we have spent the day hard at work studying for our physics and German classes, a dream such as this might involve us discussing physics equations to someone in German, even if we don’t really understand what we’re saying. Other dreams of this type are common stress-related dreams that at first seem unrelated to our daily lives but upon further reflection are symbolic of worries and feelings. These include dreams of running as hard as you can to get away from a threat or to meet some appointment, but no matter how hard you run, you seem to be moving in slow motion, and various obstacles keep coming in your way. The symbolism and causes of these types of dreams are often obvious to the dreamer when he reflects on the feelings associated with them.

Another category of dreams are fantasies, imaginings, or illusions. These dreams are a form of play or recreation, in which a person may experience things not available to him in his daily life. For example, someone may dream he has knowledge and abilities unattainable in real life, he may imagine that he is living in a different time or place, or he may create entire worlds and universes for his exploration. Many fiction authors derive inspiration, sometimes very directly, from such dreams.

Finally, there are dreams that foretell events, sometimes directly and sometimes in symbolism that cannot be understood if someone does not have the necessary skill or knowledge. These include dreams in which a person senses a natural disaster before it occurs, or the death of a relative or statesman, and so on. Sura Yusuf in the Qur’an tells a history which openly acknowledges the precognitive nature of some dreams – in this particular case, dreams of a pharaoh, a prisoner, and a prophet. These are more common than many people suppose. Sayyid Musawi Lari, in Resurrection, Judgment, and Hereafter, recounts one such dream that he himself had: “On Saturday, April 24, 1962, a violent earthquake shook the city of Lar, leading to heavy losses of life and damage.

“About one week before the earthquake, I dreamed that a strong earthquake was shaking Lar, destroying buildings and raising up clouds of dust that covered the sky like thick fog. With this terrifying picture pressing on my mind, I woke up in terror, probably at about midnight. A particularly remarkable detail is that in my dream I had seen the small child of one of my relatives who lived in a neighboring house. I saw him passing in front of a part of the house that was about to collapse, so I called out to him to get out of the way, which he did. When the earthquake occurred, the only part of the house that collapsed was the one that had done so in my dream; the rest of the house remained standing, and nothing happened to the child, because when the earthquake happened, he began running from one corner to the other in panic, moving out of the way of danger just when that particular part of the house began to collapse!”

Sayyid Lari, as well as many other scholars of dreams from very diverse religious, scientific, and cultural backgrounds, believe that through dreams, sometimes man can gain awareness of complex matters and of the future. The nature of this occurrence is often described as waves emitted by the world of the Unseen being picked up by man’s soul, the receiver. When events are particularly traumatic, the waves of that event to occur tend to be stronger or perhaps more memorable, and thus more people report experiencing precognitive dreams of these events. Similarly, when a revolutionary idea evolves from dreams, it is suggested that the collective consciousness of people at the time of the dream produces a wave or field that guides the dreamer.

Robert Moss is an author who has written a number of books about dreams. His books provide suggestions on how to remember your dreams, understand them, and use them as a source of information to direct your future decisions. While he is not an Islamic authority or even en elite scientist on dreaming, his books are readily accessible and quickly digestible. One simple suggestion from Moss and many others is to keep paper and pen by your bed, and whenever you awaken in the middle of the night or in the morning, make note of whatever remnants of dreams you can recall. He claims that by paying attention to our dreams, we may solve problems in our dreams, prepare for future challenges, develop our creative ideas, address psychological conflicts in ourselves, improve relationships, and find our callings.

He cites many examples in history and in our common era in which people heeded their own dreams or the dreams of others to good result. The first Roman Emperor Octavius was saved from assassination when he responded to a friend’s dream about an impending attack. A friend of Moss’s family reported that her dad saved her mother’s life when he had a dream that a tonic she came home with was poison. When the next day she came home from the pharmacy with a new prescription, he refused to let her take it and took it the pharmacy for testing – it turned out to be rat poison that had been mislabeled. Wolfgang Pauli, Nobel laureate physicist, made the vast majority of his scientific advances through dreaming about the topics, holding discussions with other leading scientists like Einstein and Niels Bohr in his dreams, and pondering his dreams upon waking. It turns out that many great achievements in history in all disciplines were accomplished by people who used dreams to direct their work.

Many elite Islamic scholars and pious people have also reported amazing experiences through dreaming, in which they were visited by holy people and given instructions or information. Some of our narrations relate procedures that people may employ to achieve such guidance in dreams, including recitation of Ziarat Ashura daily as but one example.

We spend perhaps as much as a third of our lives in the state of the lesser death, when our spirits are in another realm that is free of many of the limitations of our physical world. The above is just a tiny survey of the evidence available that that time is not just serving some physiological purpose, but is also a time that informs our spirits and can greatly influence our lives and the course of history if we pay attention.

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