On Dreams and Reality

Ibn Batuta had initially set out to from his hometown in Morocco to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca but the meanings his dream(s) held for him and his encounters with some of the great sufis of his time exerted a huge influence on his journey and perhaps altered its course in many ways. His encounter with Burhan al-Din Lung (the Lame), whom he met in Alexandria, was the first one of such kind.

One day, when I had entered his room, he said to me:’I see that you are fond of travelling and wandering from land to land.’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I am fond of it,’ although there had not as yet entered my mind any thought of penetrating to such distant lands as India and China. Then he said: ‘ You must certainly, if God will, visit my brother Farid al-Din in India, and my brother Rukn al-Din Zakariya in Sind, and my brother Burhan al-Din in China, and when you reach them convey to them a greeting from me.’ I was amazed at his prediction, and the idea of going to these countries having been cast into my mind, my wanderings never ceased until I had met these three that he named and conveyed his greeting to them. (The Travels of Ibn Battutah, Macintosh-Smith 2002, 8)

Later, when he goes on to meet Shaykh Abu Abdallah al-Murshidi who was well versed in the science of dreams and their interpretations; Ibn Batuta asks him to interpret a dream.

That night, as I was sleeping on the roof of his cell, I dreamed that I was on the wing of a huge bird which flew with me in the direction of the qiblah, then made towards the Yaman, then eastwards, then went towards the south, and finally made a long flight towards the east, alighted in some dark and greenish country, and left me there.
I was astonished at this dream and said to myself, ‘If the shaykh shows me that he knows of my dream, he is all that they say that he is.’ ..So I related it to him and he said: ‘You shall make the Pilgrimage to Mecca and visit the tomb of the Prophet at al-Madinah, and you shall travel through the lands of al-Yaman and al-Iraq, the land of the Turks, and the land of India. You will stay there a for a long time and you will meet there my brother Dilshad the Indian, who will rescue you from a danger into which you will fall.’ (The Travels of Ibn Battutah, Macintosh-Smith 2002, 12)

Ibn Batuta mentions this dream as a testament to the wisdom of the shaykh who interpreted his dream as well as to convey a sense of the degree of truth that his dream embodied. Needless to say many years later when he travels to India he is saved by Dilshad from a calamity as was predicted.

It is interesting to note that in one of the oldest translations of the book (albeit abridged) that I found, thanks to archive.org, the translator, Samuel Lee, in typical Orientalist fashion dismisses off hand the entire tradition of dream interpretation and its significance whatsoever, in his remark in the footnote about the saints who can interpret dreams (awliya al mukashifeen)

Awliya al Mukashifeen – These seem to be nothing more than perpetuators of the ancient practices of divining mentioned so often in the Hebrew Bible. The influence these impostors still possess in the East is very great, as may be collected from the text in this place. (The Travels of Ibn Batuta 1829, Lee Samuel, 9)

Although admittedly there is now no dearth of people both in the East and West who dismiss dreams and their interpretations as complete mumbo jumbo. Nevertheless in the Islamic tradition dreams and their meanings have a strong scriptural (Quranic) and traditional (Prophetic Hadith) basis.

Muhammad Ibn Sirin who lived in the 7/8th century was a very pious and well respected scholar and a sufi (mystic) of his time and wrote one of the first books ever written on dream interpretation called Muntakhab Al-Kalam fi Tafsir Al-Ahlam (The Key Declamation on Dream Interpretation) which is considered by dream interpreters in the Muslim world as a major source of knowledge that enriched the spirit of readers as well as dream interpreters for the past one thousand years. Professor Mahmoud Ayoub adapted his translation Ibn Seerin’s Dictionary of Dreams based on Ibn Sirin’s original work, which is a very interesting and informative read for anyone who is interested in dreams and their significance according to the Islamic inner traditions.

I remember in my sophomore year at university a friend, who had aced the midterm exams scoring two standard deviations above the mean, entered the class and walked over to where we were seated. He looked a little worried and told us that he had a strange dream the night before.  He saw that he was contesting his “B+” grade that he was awarded in the course even though he was well ahead of the rest of the class up until the finals! Based on the relative grading system it meant that he would really have to under-perform exceptionally compared to the rest of the class in the final exams to end up with a B+ from a projected A+ grade.

No sooner had he finished narrating his dream another friend, in true spirit of friendship, suggested casually that it meant that he would get a B+ and would somehow mess up his final. We joked about it but none of us took it seriously..fast forward a month and he eventually ended up messing his final and landing a B+!

Until then I always thought that it was only folklore that the first interpretation anyone offers for a dream is what really colors the outcome. I remember being told that one should only share their dream with someone they trust. Someone who will avoid callously commenting about it. This was only to be the first of the numerous times I saw dreams manifested in real life.

Interestingly when going through Ibn Sirin’s book I came across a passage on the significance of relating ones dream and to whom it should be related to

God’s Prophet (uwbp) also said: “A dream sits on the wing of a flying bird and will not take effect unless it is related to someone.” Therefore, one should only tell his dream to a trustworthy person, a pious and a knowledgeable person. (Ibn Seerin’s Dictionary of Dreams, pg xxv)

Something similar to this has been reported in the following hadith as well

Waki bin Udus narrated that Abu Razin Al-Uqaili said: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, ‘The believer’s dreams are a portion of the forty six portions of Prophet-hood. And it is on the leg of a bird, as long as it is not spoken of. But when it is spoken of, it drops.’I think he said: And it should not be discussed except with an intelligent one or a beloved one. (Hadith No. 2278, Chapters on Dreams, Jami’ At-Tirmidhi, Vol. 4)



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