What is there to read in the following pages? It starts with dreaming and the Chishtis. The next part deals with dreams of the Sufi shaykh ash-Sharani, which are similar to the dreams we, i.e. ordinary people, have. That is why the explanations of such dreams are also useful to us. Then we are confronted with the dreams of a very famous dream interpreter from Damascus, shaykh an-Nablusi. The article concludes with the vision of shaykh ad-Dabbaagh from Africa concerning dream interpretation.
A Chishti dream
Hazrat Mir Khurd is a murid of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya. He often dreams about his pir and his dreams are at times conflicting with one another: He tries in his dreams to kiss the feet of his murshid, but is not allowed to do so. His shaykh then extends his hand to him in order that he (Mir Khurd) should kiss it. The implication hereof is a renewal of his initiation. The majesty of his murshid often overwhelms him, so much so that he doesn’t dare to ask any question. He, however, subsequently learns that his pir has invited him in a friendly way.
These dreams are important to Hazrat Mir Khurd. He even informs us of the exact number of times – i.e. 361 times – his murshid appears in his dreams.
Hazrat Mir Khurd quotes the following lines of Hazrat Amir Khusraw about Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya:
Is it you or is it in dreams,
That I see the sun in the night?
Hazrat Mir Khurd at times doubts if it really his murshid he sees in his dreams, but then he realizes that the Prophet has said that shaitan cannot assume his outward shape in a dream, so it is also impossible for him to appear as his shaykh, because his shaykh is the representative of the Prophet.
Hazrat Mir Khurd makes it clear that his murshid completely fills his heart, when he dreams about him:
The friend assumes so much space in the narrow heart,
That there is no room any more for annoyance about others.
The dreams of shaykh ash-Sharani
You should not assume that the Sufis are only blessed with extraordinary dreams. There are fortunately also more normal records. It is said that dreams are different when you are a beginner or a more advanced person on the Sufi path. The Egyptian Sufi ‘Ali al-Khawwas stated that the Sufis who are quite advanced travellers on the path have more warning dreams which are more frightening, than the dreams of a beginner who needs to receive confirmation by means of lovely dreams.
Shaykh ash-Sha’rani, a student and a friend of the Egyptan Sufi ‘Ali al-Khawwas, has dedicated a long chapter in his “Lataa’if al-minan” to dreams. These dreams show in encrypted form his mistakes or spiritual dangers:
“To the gifts of mercy, which I have received from God, the Elevated, belongs that He shows me in dreams what things in the field of good and bad I’ll experience in future, so that I can protect myself against it, except for those cases which are not determined as my fate. This is counted among the messages sent by God to the believers, but this is only known to the perfect friends of God…”
“I have received signs, by means of which I’ve made aware of the kind of thing, which will take place, but not the actual event itself…”.
“When I dream that I walk around a fig tree, then I know that I may do something bad, like in the story of Adam. And when I dream, that I eat from this tree, then for sure I know that I’ll become ensnared in this evil. When I dream that someone picks a fig from the tree and gives it to me to eat, then I know he’ll be an actor in the future event similar to the act of Eve towards Adam”.
The fig in itself has no negative meaning. Shaykh ash-Sha’rani gives a personal interpretation, which is valid for himself. The symbol of the fig implies in general baraka or blessing.
“When I dream that I sit together with those who have died, I know that my heart has died in regard to good acts and when I dream that I’m together with a blind person, I know that I’ve become blind in regard towards the path of the divine truth. Then I turn around (in repentance towards God)”.
“When I go to bed, without reciting my wird (litany) and when I don’t care about it, then I dream the next night that my camel on which I ride, gets lost and that I travel in an area with lots of rocks and thorns. When I fall asleep in the beginning of the nightly prayer, then I see myself travel to Mecca , but I travel a mile or more separated from the other pilgrims, depending on the remaining time to still say the prayer”.
“In case I have assumed a quality of an animal, I see myself in a space surrounded by a fence in the midst of animals; I have at times had the dream that I have embraced the creature whose attributes I had assumed, be it an animal or a human being…”.
“In case I have little spiritual purity in my relationship with God, the Elevated, then I get a dream in which I purify myself with stinking water, which is insufficient to perform the ritual purification”.
“In case I regard all my activities (with satisfaction) I get a dream the next night, that I am playing with those who are doomed to fail”.
“In case I do something which the hypocrites do, then I dream of carrying a large piece of wood, heavy or semi-large or with a certain height, which depends on the act (of hypocrisy); the smallest piece is a piece of firewood of the tamarisk”.
This refers to sura 111, wherein the wife of Abu Lahab (who is one of the harshest opponents of the Prophet) is being described as the portress of firewood. Shaykh ash-Sha’rani considers himself also as a carrier of firewood when he acts like a hypocrite. The load becomes heavier depending on how heavy his sins are.
Shaykh ash-Sha’rani continues thus about his dreams:
“In case I spend the night in sleep, instead of praying all of the night, then I see myself in a boat, which takes me in the direction of Damiete. In case I’ve neglected to say the night prayer, then I dream that I go to Mir Ghamar or Samanhur or other places, which depends on what I’ve neglected to do”.
“In case I go from the place where I live to Abu Sha’ra, then I know that I’ve descended from the maqam (spiritual station), which I had realized when I was in Cairo, to a lower station, and I have made no progress because of something I may have done in Cairo”.
“In case I have covered up the shameful situation experienced by a Muslim in actual life, then I dream the following night that my beard will be scented with musk, amber, perfume and camphor”.
“When I see myself in the area of the town called al-Batilliyya I know I have done something useless (batil). Then I turn away from it. When I see myself roaming and roaming in that area, then I know that it will be hard for me to leave this useless affair behind me”.
“When I see my master Abu’l-Hasan al-Ghamri laughing, I know that I’ve done something good, but when I see him frowning, then I know I have done something bad. When I however see shaykh Aminuddin – may God be satisfied with him – frowning, then I know that I’ll undertake something which implies betrayal of religion, and that is why I turn away from it.”
“One day I wanted to stop the children of my (deceased) brother Abdul Qadir to leave my room by means of the door. That is why I informed them about a secret door. Then I had a dream about shaykh Aminuddin in the night. He had opened a door in the cell where he performed his retreat. By means of this door people could enter his house. I then realized that I had neglected the teaching of God about the orphans, because I was sorry to see that I saw him open a door to his cell, wherein he had hidden his money and other essential things for life. He was having some fear regarding these things, because he was afraid to disappoint the orphans (He could no longer take care of them if his money would get stolen)”.
“In case someone comes to me and slanders an innocent person, and when I start having doubts about that person, then I’ll see him in the next night with pure white clothes. I thus know that the slanderer has been lying”.
“In case I dream that I’m wearing a green garment, which is soiled with ink, then I know that someone denigrates me in a meeting, while others accept his opinion, because the green garment is the clothing of the pious, but it doesn’t remain undamaged, when someone hurts his colleague”.
“in case I hear that someone gets slandered and I don’t reject it, then I’ll dream during the night that I’m listening to forbidden musical instruments and that I participate in a feast with lots of alcoholic drinks, and wine is poured all over my clothing and soils it”.
A dream about a treasure
It is said that there was a man with a poor wife, who had a house called Zahman. He had a dream in which he found treasure in Damascus. He took no action until the dream had been repeated several times. As he was poor, he went to Damascus. Someone asked him: Where are you from? He answered: From Rayy.
He then explained that he has had a dream that he’d find a treasure in Damascus. The man from Damascus laughed and said: It is now several years since I have been having dreams that there is a house in Rayy called Zahman, and that there is a treasure in it. I have not trusted my dream. You are a simple-minded man!
Upon hearing this the man from Rayy returned, arriving at his house. He dug up the earth and found a golden mortar weighing 90 kilograms and thus he became rich.
Shaykh Hamadani tells this tale in the 12 th century Aja’ib Nama (Book of Marvels). Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi presents us a 13 th century version in his Masnawi. It appears as a Hasidic tale some centuries later in a European setting (see Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim). Paulo Coelho has told the same story in 2002 in his novel The Alchemist.
The meaning is clear. You can find this treasure in your own heart.
Dreams regarding shaykh an-Nablusi
Mustafa al-Bakri dreamt of shaykh an-Nablusi giving him a permission ( ejaaza ) in both the Qadirriya and Naqshbandiyya. The next day he visited the shaykh in his house and asked him to provide the ejaaza in writing.
However, the shaykh exploded with anger, exclaiming: “I gave you permission. I gave you permission. The two worlds are one”.
Husayn al-Baytamaani was ordered by shaykh an-Nabulusi in a dream to die and to come to life again afterwards. Then the shaykh approached him. When their palms were pressed together he gave him the bay’ah (initiation) in the spiritual path of God ( tariq Allah ) and the tahlil zikr ( la ilaha illallah ).
When he woke he told shaykh an-Nabulusi the dream. He rejoiced: “It is exactly so. The bay’ah between spirits is stronger and more powerful than between bodies”.
The spiritual son
When shaykh an-Nabulusi was 80 years old, he had a dream in which he saw himself in his old house near the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi was sitting in the courtyard, eating breakfast in the company of shaykh an-Nabulusi’s mother, Zaynab. She was present in the role of the wife of shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, while shaykh an-Nabulusi was his son along with several children, his dream brothers and sisters.
Shaykh ad-Dabbaagh makes it clear that humans combine in their persons both a dhaat (corporeal being) and a ruh (spirit). Noetic experience in sleep and wakefulness depends upon two aspects, khawaatir and idraakaat . Khawaatir denote random thoughts that cross the mind, while idraakaat are comprised of sensory perceptions and intellectual ideas.
Ideas or perceptions vary according to whether they are perceived through the dhaat or the ruh. The corporeal body processes its sensory perceptions by means of the qalb , the heart. The spirit sees through a special faculty of basira or inner sight.
What is perceived by the spirit in sleep is necessarily pure, where the opposite is true for what is perceived by the corporeal being. Moral lapses obscure your dhaat. Consequently, a dream coming from the untainted spirit requires little or no interpretation. However, what is perceived in a dream by the sullied corporeal being, on the other hand, is laden with symbolic content.
In case you dream that someone is hurting you with a stick, the interpretation would differ depending upon whether it was your ruh or dhaat that perceived the attack. If it were your spirit, which is filled with truthful, pure light, then the event would occur exactly as foretold. If it were the bodily being, wherein the light was false, then perhaps the dream would only mean that you would be hit by a stick in the street.
Khawaatir are thoughts and feelings with a result on the heart. They have markedly different effects depending on whether you are in a state of wakefulness or sleep. When awake, the duller, corporeal being prevails over the more sensitive spirit.
Thus when the idea of making the pilgrimage occurs to you while awake, it is only the perception of the pilgrimage that crosses your mind. Similarly, when an abstract thought like the idea of heaven or hell occurs to you while awake, you receive only a general impression.
In contrast, while in a state of sleep, the senses of the corporeal being are dormant. With the dhaat no longer dominant, the ruh is now more susceptible to what happens in the heart and in turn the spirit stimulates sensory perceptions – idraakaat – e.g. eyesight. In these circumstances when you dream you now actually see yourself in the highest heavens or on pilgrimage.
Al-Lamati for years on end beseeched his murshid, shaykh ad-Dabbaagh, to teach him how to interpret dreams and the shaykh resolutely refused: “Ask me about anything and I will tell you about it except this, for it derives from hidden things”. Unlike the shaykh an-Nabulusi, whom we’ve already encountered, shaykh ad-Dabbaagh showed no interest in explaining the techniques that underlie dream interpretation.
Shaykh ad-Dabbaagh states about the science of dream interpretation which “cannot be perceived through study because it depends on knowledge of the dreamer’s condition beyond that of his dhaat , e.g. is he an urban or a desert dweller, is he educated or common, and as to his profession, is he a grocer or a merchant or an artisan, and is he rich or poor, as well as other circumstances which are almost limitless”.
These external and eternal factors determine the content and the significance of any dream. One size of interpretation does not fit all. The interpretation of dreams is intuitive and therefore cannot be taught.