Are dreams real? What does Islam say about this?
Does dream have keys to hidden truth? Are they real? Do they have clues for future events?
If yes, is every person's dream real or is it only pious people whose dreams are real? What about a non Muslim dream? Are their dreams real? I am asking this question because dreams have been used in almost all religions, even to an extent that in some religions the whole religious influence is based on dreams.
Dreams (رؤیا) have different kinds, authentic or not authentic, and the authentic ones are themselves symbolic or realistic.
First note that sleeping according to Quran is very similar to death:
وَهُوَ الَّذِي يَتَوَفَّاكُم بِاللَّيْلِ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا جَرَحْتُم بِالنَّهَارِ ثُمَّ يَبْعَثُكُمْ فِيهِ لِيُقْضَىٰ أَجَلٌ مُّسَمًّى ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
It is He who doth take your souls by night, and hath knowledge of all that ye have done by day: by day doth He raise you up again; that a term appointed be fulfilled; In the end unto Him will be your return; then will He show you the truth of all that ye did. [6:61]
اللَّـهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا ۖ فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَىٰ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
It is Allah that takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed verily in this are Signs for those who reflect. [39:42]
Actually death in Islam is not merely an almost instantaneous phenomena of soul being detached from the material body, but it is a period of life and takes some time which may be comparable to the whole person's life in length, although it would seem like almost instantaneous to us. Dream is similar to death in that soul is detached from the material body in both of them. Even note that the word یتوفی in these two verses comes from وفی which implies completely returning back something in the sense of being troth. So that the souls can (not necessarily do as it would be clear from what follows) experience things and states as a death person experiences.
Not every asleep person would dream, but if he dreams then the dreams are three-fold:
Dreams with bodily origin, for example some dreams seen after eating heavy meals, or some dreams while the person is ill and in fever, or some dreams when the body is not in a comfortable state; although not all dreams in these cases are necessarily fake
Dreams rooted in the happenings experienced by the guy before falling asleep, say during the day or the past couples of days; or thoughts that have affected the person much so that intensely engaging his mind such that he cannot stop thinking about them (including demands and wishes or scary things or similar things) even the person may be not thinking about the subject but if the subject has affected his soul much he would recall the issue while asleep in the form of a dream
Dreams that are honest, captured by the soul during its travel in the other world. Such dreams occurs mainly in some specific hours of the night. Everyone may experience such dreams. However such dreams can either be symbolic or realistic. There are some issues about why the dreams are usually symbolic but let me pass over them, you can set a research about it by yourself, if you mind.
During the honest dreams (the third category above) people may be shown some facts about past, present or future, regarding themselves or others; they may be let experience some situations, and even they may encounter some examinations of Allah while being in such dreams. mainly the honest dreams that are of "news" type, about some facts, may be symbolic or realistic, the other kind of honest dreams are almost always realistic or almost realistic. Those dreams that are symbolic but need to be interpreted and the interpretation of the dreams based on the symbols observed is itself a science, though not an ordinary science, but anyway teachable and learn-able. This science is referred to in Quran with the title "تأویل الأحادیث" (the interpretation of stories), e.g. see [12:6]:
وَكَذَٰلِكَ يَجْتَبِيكَ رَبُّكَ وَيُعَلِّمُكَ مِن تَأْوِيلِ الْأَحَادِيثِ وَيُتِمُّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكَ وَعَلَىٰ آلِ يَعْقُوبَ كَمَا أَتَمَّهَا عَلَىٰ أَبَوَيْكَ مِن قَبْلُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْحَاقَ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ
"Thus will thy Lord choose thee and teach thee the interpretation of stories (and events) and perfect His favor to thee and to the posterity of Jacob - even as He perfected it to thy fathers Abraham and Isaac aforetime! for Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom."
Or similarly [12:21] and [12:101], and the applications of this science is also reported in [12:36,37], [12:45-49] and [12:100].
Also about dreams you may like to see the following verses:
وَإِذْ قُلْنَا لَكَ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ أَحَاطَ بِالنَّاسِ ۚ وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الرُّؤْيَا الَّتِي أَرَيْنَاكَ إِلَّا فِتْنَةً لِّلنَّاسِ وَالشَّجَرَةَ الْمَلْعُونَةَ فِي الْقُرْآنِ ۚ وَنُخَوِّفُهُمْ فَمَا يَزِيدُهُمْ إِلَّا طُغْيَانًا كَبِيرًا
Behold! We told thee that thy Lord doth encompass mankind round about: We granted the vision which We showed thee, but as a trial for men,- as also the Cursed Tree (mentioned) in the Qur'an: We put terror (and warning) into them, but it only increases their inordinate transgression! [17:60]
قَدْ صَدَّقْتَ الرُّؤْيَا ۚ إِنَّا كَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُحْسِنِينَ
"Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" - thus indeed do We reward those who do right. [37:105]
لَّقَدْ صَدَقَ اللَّـهُ رَسُولَهُ الرُّؤْيَا بِالْحَقِّ ۖ لَتَدْخُلُنَّ الْمَسْجِدَ الْحَرَامَ إِن شَاءَ اللَّـهُ آمِنِينَ مُحَلِّقِينَ رُءُوسَكُمْ وَمُقَصِّرِينَ لَا تَخَافُونَ ۖ فَعَلِمَ مَا لَمْ تَعْلَمُوا فَجَعَلَ مِن دُونِ ذَٰلِكَ فَتْحًا قَرِيبًا
Truly did Allah fulfill the vision for His Messenger: ye shall enter the Sacred Mosque, if Allah wills, with minds secure, heads shaved, hair cut short, and without fear. For He knew what ye knew not, and He granted, besides this, a speedy victory. [48:27]
Yes dreams are real. As the Prophet (May Allah's Peace and blessings be upon Him) said there are three kinds of dreams,
- One from Allah
- One from Shaytaan
- One from ones self.
The Prophet (May Allah's Peace and blessings be upon Him) also said that when the end of time draws near, the believers dreams won't lie, and the most truthful dreams are those of most truthful talk Source.
True dreams can be seen by non-Muslims, the evidence for that in the story of the king:
And [subsequently] the king said, "Indeed, I have seen [in a dream] seven fat cows being eaten by seven [that were] lean, and seven green spikes [of grain] and others [that were] dry. O eminent ones, explain to me my vision, if you should interpret visions."
In Quran there have been several cases of real dreams, and it was not limited to the people who were Muslim or even believed in the only God.
Allah ordered his great prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) through his dream, to sacrifice his son Ismail:
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."
Famous cases are in the story of prophet Yusuf:
And this dream came into reality several years later when his father, mother and 11 brothers traveled to Egypt to meet him.
Later in prison, Yusuf predicted the future of the two other prisoners based on their dreams:
O two companions of prison, as for one of you, he will give drink to his master of wine; but as for the other, he will be crucified, and the birds will eat from his head. The matter has been decreed about which you both inquire
And also he predicted the next 14 years of Egypt of the dream, not seen by a Muslim, but by the king:
And [subsequently] the king said, "Indeed, I have seen [in a dream] seven fat cows being eaten by seven [that were] lean, and seven green spikes [of grain] and others [that were] dry. O eminent ones, explain to me my vision, if you should interpret visions.
وَقَالَ المَلِكُ إِنِّي أَرَى سَبْعَ بَقَرَاتٍ سِمَانٍ يَأْكُلُهُنَّ سَبْعٌ عِجَافٌ وَسَبْعَ سُنْبُلاتٍ خُضْرٍ وَأُخَرَ يَابِسَاتٍ يَا أَيُّهَا المَلأُ أَفْتُونِي فِي رُؤْيَايَ إِن كُنتُمْ لِلرُّؤْيَا تَعْبُرُونَ - يوسف:43
So what we can infer is:
- The true dreams exist, and for sure many false dreams also exist
- The future can be predicted by some of them, but everybody cannot - It was only Yusuf who could understand the dream of the king
- They are not only seen by the Muslims. Other people can also see true dreams
- There have been single dreams, like the one of the king of Egypt that changed the life of thousands or millions of people
- But it's not a simple case for many people to select the true from false dreams, and even harder to understand the meaning of a dream.
Narrated Abu Hurairah Radhiyallhu 'anhu: I heard Allah's Messenger Shallalahu 'alaihi wasallam saying,
"Nothing is left of An-Nubuwwah (Prophethood) except Al-Mubashshirat." They asked, "What are Al-Mubashshirat?" He replied, "The true good dreams (that convey glad tidings)."
[Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol.9, Hadith No.119]
Narrated Abu Hurairah Radhiyallahu 'anhu: Allah’s Messenger Shallallahu 'alaihi wasallam said,
"The (good) dream of a faithful believer is a part of the 46 parts of An-Nubuwwah (Prophethood)."
[Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol.9, Hadith No.117]