Signs and Symbols

Are dreams and visions particularly important in Islamic tradition?

In the Qur’anic story of Joseph (Sura 12) Muslims find the paradigm of religious insight as represented by the ability to interpret dreams. Traditional Islamic sources further describe a wide range of religious and spiritual experiences, beginning of course with Muhammad’s role in the unfolding revelation of the Qur’an. The Prophet “sees” mysterious visions as part of the divine communication. Later religious figures, especially noted spiritual guides and Friends of God, have left numerous personal accounts of their dreams and interpretations of them. Muhammad himself is one of the presences they report meeting most often in dreams and visionary experiences. These reports tell of encountering various holy persons in addition to the Prophet, especially those who had in life been of particular significance to the dreamer or visionary. Sufis sometimes tell of meeting the mysterious Khizr, a figure included in many lists of prophets, who appears for the purpose of initiating the dreamer into the Sufi path through investiture with the “patched frock” (khirqa). Though the accounts sound as if they are reporting events as “real” as having breakfast, most are clearly talking about spiritual experiences that are well beyond the ordinary and thus are not subject to ordinary scrutiny.


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