The short answer? Not much, but what’s there is priceless. There are only a few ayaat touching on the notion that dreams impart truth, but they grant us a clear idea of the position we need to take up toward this very important means of divine communication.
Generally speaking, far from being a forbidden area of occult knowledge, dream interpretation has the Quran’s stamp of approval. But we really need to pray that we’ll be ready for our dreams on two fronts— our ability to interpret the dream’s meaning for us and our capacity for obedience.
Dreams in History
For all of human history dreams have delivered guidance, creative inspiration, and epiphany. Niels Bohr, the father of quantum mechanics, saw the structure of the atom in a dream. Inventor Elias Howe only figured out how to make a sewing machine after a dream about the mechanics of a needle penetrating fabric. And Albert Einstein’s dream about sledding down a mountainside faster than the speed of light was foundational to the development of his theory of relativity.
Dreams have also lead many astray. Battles have been lost, relationships destroyed, and accidents endured by dreamers who just didn’t get it. This is because dreams simply can’t be interpreted at face value and require that the dreamer have a close conscious contact with— and obedience to— the giver of dreams. Even for the obedient dreams can bring on a heap of pain, as in the story of Yusuf, when his father Yacoub warned him not to tell his brothers that he’d dreamed of eleven stars and the sun and the moon bowing to him.
He said, “O my son, do not relate your vision to your brothers or they will contrive against you a plan. Indeed Satan, to man, is a manifest enemy. [Quran, 12:5]
And let’s not forget the test of all tests: Ibrahim’s dream in which he saw God commanding him to sacrifice his son.
And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, ‘O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.’ He said, ‘O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.’ [Quran, 37:102]
The Psychological Importance of Dreams
The psychological importance of dreams has been an important topic of study in the history of letters, and today receives a great deal of attention in academia. The famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw dreams as important sources of insight into the contents of the unconscious mind. Their purpose, he noted, was to compel the conscious mind to reflect and take a stance on what the dream was saying.
This modern finding, arrived at after years of careful study and research in the 20th century, shows how much the Quran was ahead of its time, because the Quran is clear that a dream’s interpretation is just as important as the dream itself. What’s more, a dream, being complex of symbols charged with emotion, can’t be read like a book.
Dreams as Messages From God
But there’s something here that neither psychology— not science in general— can ever acknowledge because of its limitation as a tool of ultimate knowledge, and that is that dreams and visions are tools by which Allah (swt) has spoken to his servants.
[Remember, O Muhammad], when Allah showed them to you in your dream as few; and if He had shown them to you as many, you [believers] would have lost courage and would have disputed in the matter [of whether to fight], but Allah saved [you from that]. Indeed, He is Knowing of that within the breasts. [Quran, 8:43]
Our prophet (peace be upon him) could have interpreted this dream as a trick. A lesser man would have been angry at Allah (swt) for showing him a dream of what was the opposite of what really happened, but Mohamed was wise enough to see, when he saw the true size of the enemy, that Allah (swt) had shown him the dream of the few to give him the true picture: despite their numbers, his enemy would be defeated.
Similarly Ibrahim learned that sacrificing his son was not, in the end, the thing that Allah (swt) wanted.
Alhamdulillah that there’s no part of our being that isn’t known and in some way addressed by our loving creator. Let’s prepare ourselves for understanding by studying the Quran and praying for guidance in all things.
May your mind and heart be opened,
The Understand Quran Academy Team