Where Do Dreams Come From?

Written by Stephanie Siam

It’s been a hard year. May God forgive me for complaining, but maaaaaaaan…’s been a hard year for me and my family. The day my life turned upside-down — Friday, March 13, 2015 — will forever remain burned into my mind’s eye.

I must admit, out of all of the trials and tests Allah has blessed me with this year (and, yes, I do mean “blessed”, as I believe we are blessed for remaining patient and coming through His trials for us), the most difficult was receiving the news of the untimely death of my father. I say “untimely”, of course, in human words; for Allah’s Timing is never unplanned.

griefAnd grief is a funny concept. If you’ve never experienced the death of a close friend or relative, it’s hard for me to explain how grief happens. It’s not a specific number of days where you cry and act sad, and then you sit up, shake it off and think, “Well, now on with life.”

No, grief is sneaky.

Art by LaShanna Cooper 2011
Art by LaShanna Cooper 2011

It hits you in the middle of your 10 am writing lecture because your student mentions the loss of their parents in a writing assignment.

It hits you when you hear your mother say to nobody in particular, when she thinks nobody is listening, “We had plans to do this together.”

It hits you when you realize your 2-year-old nephew has processed the realization that his grandfather isn’t coming home again.

And then you face it. And you think, “I’ve dealt with it.”

But then it hits you again when you remember the one thing your father wanted from you was to see you obtain your PhD and publish your still-unfinished book.

It hits you.

So, you escape down a path, thinking if you could just be alone for a while, you could process it. Possibly sleep could help.

But it follows you. And you’re staring into the eyes of your father again, and you know it’s not real, but you don’t care because you need this, this moment, this second, to see him again.


About a week ago, I had a dream that my family was preparing for my sister’s wedding.

It was going to be a big party, and a lot of relatives were coming from out of town. My mother and I had gone to the supermarket to buy food to prepare, and I was busy going around the store trying to find main course items that were big enough to feed a large group, yet not so expensive that my mother would go broke.

I happened to walk by a checkout aisle, and I looked up. My breath caught as I saw my father staring back at me. He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be there. They never know.

The next moment, we’re at the wedding hall, and everybody is busy getting dressed. My godparents are there, as would be expected. In real life, they’re wedding coordinators and florists. Family from all over is there. My sister looks beautiful. And there he is, dressed in a lovely suit, his blue eyes in a trance, as though he isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to be doing.

Among the bustling, I hear the constant murmuring, “He doesn’t know…” “Why doesn’t he realize?”

Despite being very much alive in the dream, he never appeared to be fully conscious of his state of being. He was my father. He was walking, talking, interacting…..but his eyes never relaxed into complete awareness of those around him. And because of this, nobody else could relax and enjoy the wedding. I thought, “It would be such a happier occasion if he wasn’t here. He doesn’t understand, he doesn’t know, and nobody is going to tell him.”

At every turn, he would be standing there, looking at me. Never knowing he was dead.

Many people may think this was a nightmare, to be followed by your late father throughout a dream that should have been focused on a happy celebration. But I woke not feeling scared or sad, but confused. And curious.

I’ve always felt dreams are important. And even after embracing Islam, I still felt there was meaning to them. After all, some prophets were blessed with dreams of revelation during their prophet hoods, such as Yusuf (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him). Yet, it was not until recently that I came to learn exactly what Islam say about dreams.

In his unprecedented book Muqaddimah, one of the great and foremost Islamic scholars, Ibn Khaldun classified dreams into three categories:

  1. Rahmani, or the truthful dream. This kind of dream comes directly from Allah. It is usually pleasant and sometimes premonitory. Additionally, it can often be taken as literal.
  2. Shaytani, or the untruthful dream. This kind of dream comes from the Shaytan, and it is often in the form of a nighmare.
  3. Nafsani, or the self-inspired dream (some even say these are angel-inspired dreams). This kind of dream is neither truthful or untruthful. It is usually a dream based on an idea, person or activity experienced during the day or recently prior to sleep. It often requires interpretation, either by self-study and reflection or by a dream interpreter (such as historically-renowned Muslim oneiromancer Ibn Sirin).

In fact, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself was reported by Sahih Al-Bukhari (3118) to have said:

A good vision (ru’ya) is from Allāh and a bad dream (hulm) is from Satan; so if one of you sees anything (in a dream which he dislikes), he should spit on his left side thrice and seek refuge with Allāh from its evil, and then it will never harm him.

So, it is with a clear heart and pure intention that I set about pondering what my dream meant.

I don’t claim prophet-status, and I don’t think it was literal; therefore, I am assuming it was not a dream directly from Allah. I was also not scared or worried upon waking, and I didn’t feel fear during the dream itself. Knowing this, I don’t think it was inspired by the Shaytan, either.

This leaves me with the third kind, or the dream that most often needs interpretation — the dream of self. And when I want to interpret my own dreams, there’s only one place for me to go — to the internet.

When searching for symbolism and reflecting on my personal thoughts, I use dream dictionaries, trying to process what each one says, attempting to find a connection between my subconscious and conscious selves, a pathway for communication. And so it happened that this time, I found this path almost immediately.

'Heaven' by Capella Garcia Arquitectura

To dream of a dead parent can often be seen as regret, or an unconscious desire to find closure. I didn’t get a chance to tell my father goodbye. Closure was not a possibility. But what was it that I regretted so terribly not being able to do? Tell him I loved him? Tell him I respected him?

The key to this answer was the wedding. In dreams, the theme of ‘marriage’ often appears as a commitment. However, I didn’t see the wedding itself — only the preparation. Therefore, my follow through on the commitment had been incomplete. And there was only one commitment I ever made that I didn’t follow through while my father was alive. One that he wanted, needed so badly for me.

But then it hits you again when you remember the one thing your father wanted from you was to see you obtain your PhD and publish your still-unfinished

Still, some interpretations say that seeing a dead parent alive again means that they’re telling you they’re okay. Just dropping in to let you know they made it to the other side. I want to believe this is true, that my father is with God.

But I also know my dad was an avid reader. And I think he was telling me I still haven’t finished his reading material.

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4 thoughts on “Where Do Dreams Come From?

  1. Alhamdulillah masha Allah
    This is a wonderful piece – fully thought out and precisely articulated! JAK for sharing your thoughts and sharing yourself.
    It is never too late for education – your dad will be patient😉


  2. Subhan Allah… I has a similar phase when my grandmother died. She was a very essential part of our childhood and we were VERY attached to her. I had alot of weird dreams about her at that time and did a huge effort trying tot rack the symbolism in my dreams and understand what was the message behind them.

    And the day my auntie, who was an unmarried lady who lived all her life with her mom, my grandma, died exactly one year and 5 days after her, I dreamed in the morning that she was dead and we were giving her the final bath.


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