Monday, December 25, 2023


 عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ ‏
"‏ مَنْ رَآنِي فِي الْمَنَامِ فَقَدْ رَآنِي فَإِنَّ الشَّيْطَانَ لاَ يَتَمَثَّلُ بِي ‏"

It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Whoever sees me in a dream has (really) sees me, for Satan cannot imitate me.”   

Today in Seerah Intensive we learned about this hadith, amongst many other things. The topic of today was early Makkah — we only covered the period from revelation until the beginning of the open call to Islam. This was dubbed early Makkah.

Dreams are a pretty interesting subject, and a fun one that a lot of people love to discuss, because it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I like having dreams, I think. Dreams are by some sources correlated with better sleep health. Dreaming happens during REM sleep, which is the most advanced part of sleep. Per the Cleveland Clinic:

REM sleep makes up about 25% of your total time asleep. Your first REM cycle of a sleep period is typically the shortest, around 10 minutes. Each one that follows is longer than the last, up to an hour.

Each REM cycle gets longer. This requires you to have more sleep cycles, which typically last from ninety minutes to two hours. Less sleep equals less sleep cycles, and less REM sleep, which is apparently bad. From a 2017 publication:

We are at least as dream deprived as we are sleep deprived. Many of the health concerns attributed to sleep loss result from a silent epidemic of REM sleep deprivation. REM/dream loss is an unrecognized public health hazard that silently wreaks havoc with our lives, contributing to illness, depression, and an erosion of consciousness... It examines the consequences of REM/dream loss and concludes with recommendations for restoring healthy REM/dreaming.

Sleeping is good, and if you sleep, you get more dreams. But I do not think that the possibility of seeing the Prophet (SAW) in a dream is correlated with the number of REM cycles you have. With the heavy emphasis on night prayers, I doubt that pious people who get to see the Prophet in their sleep are having large numbers of sleep cycles. Perhaps they are being refreshed and re-energized by some other force, but I do not think this is explainable by modern science. 

Freud suggested that dreams come from man's unconscious mind, rather than being sent to him by the gods or supernatural forces. This clashed with many people of the past. Freud regarded dream interpretation as some kind of hyper-powerful tool to psychoanalyze the patient, which is not generally accepted today as 100% true. His input to the field is valued by modern scientists, but considered incomplete as far as I can tell. There is a lot of science about dreaming. Dreaming is controlled by the forebrain, but isn't possible without REM sleep, which is controlled by the brain stem. In some research, dreaming is less related to perception, or the vivid sensory experiences collected in the forebrain, and more related to imagination — things pumped from deep within the brain. 

Converging evidence from multiple fields of study, including phenomenology, development, neuropsychology, functional imaging, and neurophysiology, support the notion that dreaming may be closely related to imagination, where brain activity presumably flows in a “top-down” manner. Viewing dreams as a powerful form of imagination can help explain many of their unique features, such as sudden transitions, uncertainty about people and places, poor subsequent recall, disconnection from the environment, and offers testable predictions for future studies.

Okay, so: dreaming happens during REM sleep, this is good for health. REM sleep happens when you sleep more and with a higher quality. Dreams involve memories in some capacity, but are not entirely constituted of real memories. 

Back to the idea of seeing the Prophet in dreams — where would that come from? I don't think we have a scientific explanation for this, and we likely will not. We know for a fact that seeing the Prophet in your dreams means you saw the Prophet as per the authentic hadith. That does not mean that there are no elements of imagination involved. Someone who thinks about the Prophet (SAW) all the time seems likely to constantly store the Prophet in short term and long term memory. My speculation is that there is some kind of metaphysical angle to this, and that Allah (SWT) harnesses our body's systems for things like showing us the Prophet in our dreams. And Allah knows best.

I am sorry for today's learning, I was very much out of my depth writing about science, Islam, and dreams, all three subjects I have zero clue about.