Islam and Freud

Lubna Rehman Freud’s Dream Interpretation in the Light of Islamic Dream Ideas Questions about dreams, about why do we have them and what do they mean are questions that have been a subject of debate for centuries. On the one hand we have scientists who believe that we dream for physiological reasons alone and that dreams are essentially mental nonsense devoid of psychological meaning: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. ” The idea that dreams are nothing more than “meaningless biology”. On the other hand we have a coalition of Freudians which includes Dr.
Fleiss who found his dream interpretations “quite accurate” and other dream analyzers who committed to the view that we dream for psychological reasons and that dreams always contain important information about the self or some aspects of one’s life which can be extracted by various methods of interpretation. This camp says that “an uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter. ” The third camp is the one occupying the middle ground, that believes both of the extreme positions on the function and meaning of dreams to be partly right and partly wrong.
Its proponents such as Alfred Adler argue that dreams may have both physiological and psychological determinants, and therefore can be either meaningful or meaningless, varying greatly in terms of psychological significance. Allan Hobson was also for a psychological meaning of dreams but he thought no need to lock it under layers of secretive subconscious meanings. The fourth and another important camp about dreams in the Muslim faith. In the Qur’an, as in the Jewish Torah and the Christian New Testament, dreams serve as a vital medium by which God communicates with humans.

Dreams offer divine guidance and comfort, warn people of impending danger, and offer prophetic glimpses of the future, offer a valuable source of wisdom, understanding, and inspiration. Satan also plays a major role in dreams by bestowing dreams that cause grief or even purely sexual dreams (unlike Freud’s sexual ‘interpretation’) which requires the dreamer to take a bath. Trying to cover up the cultural chasm between Islamic and Western traditions, this paper is an attempt to highlight and contrast the Islamic and Freudian ideas of dream interpretation.
The simple fact is that all humans dream, and thus dreaming itself is a bridging phenomenon between the two traditions. Freud thought that the function of dreams was to allow the release of repressed thoughts and impulses which cause excitation in neural activity. The only way that the wish could be subdued is by the release of the “nervous energy” that was caused by it. Also, Freud noted that “though the number of symbols is large, the number of subjects symbolized is not large. In dreams those pertaining to sexual life are the overwhelming majority…
They represent the most primitive ideas and interests imaginable. ” Therefore, the same “dream symbol” meant that they both had the same repressed wish. | Part of what made people skeptical about Freudian theories is this notion of universal dream symbolism. That is, if two people have the same visual imagery in a dream, is it the case that it has the same meaning? Some scientists dismiss the notion of meaning all together. | Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, two Harvard University scientists stressed that the motivating force for dreaming is not psychological but physiological.
Muslims on the other hand have been paying close attention to their dreams for nearly 1500 years, and their insights and observations have many significant points of contact with the theories developed by Western psychologists over the past 150 years. With the very definition of who the Islamic interpreters of dreams are, Muslims can discard the very existence of Freud’s ideas. Sunnah says that the interpreters of dreams are either Prophets or their followers. Or else, they have to be good, pious and knowledgeable people who know the Quran, the sunnah, Arabic language and the culture and tradition of the people.
Like Islam, even though Freud did look at the content, significance, purpose, the person, his people, state, job and livelihood; Freud limited his growth when he theorized that personality is developed by the person’s childhood experiences. He was always sure about his disbelief in religion. He actually envisaged that as the masses of people become further educated, they would ‘turn away’ from the ‘fairy tales of religion. ’  Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud took an exception.
He wrote, “Freud has unfortunately overlooked the fact that man has never yet been able singlehanded to hold his own against the powers of darkness — that is, of the unconscious. Man has always stood in need of the spiritual help which each individual’s own religion held out to him. ” Jung agrees with Freud that dreams may look backward to past experiences, but he argues that dreams also look forward to anticipate what the dreamer’s future developments may be . Jung did not mean that dreams predict the future, only that dreams can suggest what might happen, what possibilities the future might hold.
Hence, Carl Jung, a totally opposite pole of Freud and a non-deliberate support to Islam, believes in the “religious man” unlike to Freud who believed in the “psychological man”. Freud’s perception of dreams seems so much influenced by secularism and so he seems to approach dreams from a materialistic point of view. To him, unlike Islam, dreams represent purely material meanings and the characteristics of dream life are a disconnected activity of separated organs or groups of cells in a sleeping mind. Freud took dreams to be like phobias and obsessions.
He classified dreams into wishful thinking, being aggressive or sexual and considered most of the symbols that appear in dreams to be sexual which represent the male or female sexual organs. As can be seen in the book “Interpretation of Dreams”, all kind of playing, slipping, breaking branches etc were all symbols of masturbation according to him and breaking of teeth was something symbolic to castration. He observed that these symbols are “a sort of substitute for the thought process, full of meaning and emotion”. Where he interprets a lock and key to be a sexual act, the Hadith interprets it to be a symbol of wealth, power and authority.
Where he thinks of a knot to be another sexual act, a knot according to Islamic dream interpretation symbolizes grief. Unfastening of the knot symbolizes a freedom from grief. So, even though one can agree with him that these symbols carry a lot of meanings but one can also disagree with him on the kind of the meaning that they carry. It is not always true that all the dream symbols would carry the same message of aggressiveness and sexuality. Looking at our normal life and the dreams that we get from time to time it is not true that all of them fall under these categories as Freud claims.
Some dreams reveal more important messages to an individual or to society. Logically speaking, human beings are different and so they think differently, therefore, even their dreams, which may be representing another world of creation, must be of different kinds and each dream by necessity must have a different message that it carries. Therefore, Freud’s allegation that most dreams are sexual is not acceptable. Nevertheless, his division of dreams into simple and complex is acceptable. Islam’s disagreement with him lies in, among other things, the way he describes the simple dreams, which he called “wish ulfillments category”. In his words he elaborated this category by saying “these are connected with day time life. The wishes, which are fulfilled in them, are carried over from daytime and as a rule from the day before, and in waking life they have been accompanied by intense emotion”. It is also not true that all the simple dreams are carried over from daytime and it therefore follows that not all of them are wish fulfillments of a dreamer. Furthermore, his rule of such dreams coming from the day preceding the dream is also not true to all the dreams of this kind.
An example to illustrate this will be of a dream analyst who was sent to Africa on a government mission. He confirmed that as much as he wished in his trip to East Africa to have a dream on Africans, he was not successful in the period of some months he spent with them. In Islam dreams are taken to be of great significance. They are not merely a matter of wild recollections of one’s activities in his alertness that may resurface to someone in his sleep; rather they are a form of connection of the soul in its spirituality with the other unseen world.
This can be easily observed in our daily activities or even in something as least-considered as clothes which do have spiritual connotations. For example a woman wearing silk clothes in her dream implies her getting married, acquiring wealth or even a ceremony of some forthcoming mourning. This clearly proves how dreams, as against Freud’s theory, do have religious and not just materialistic links. In Surah Al-Ana’m, the Holy Quran says, “He is the One who takes up your souls at night, and knows what you earned during the day, then raises you from it (sleep), so as to complete the time fixed (for you to live)”.
Surah Al-Zumr says, “God captures the souls at the time of death as well as those whose time has not yet arrived, in sleep. Then He keeps back those whose death has been decreed and sends back for an appointed time, the others”. Hence, in disagreement with Freud, Islam sees a complete connection with God while dreaming. Where in Islam the dream is related to the truthfulness of the dreamer, Freud’s theory proves it to be the preceding day’s affair; where Freud believed dreams to only gratify unconscious desires and longings, Islam showcases them as a glimpse into the future, a hint or sometimes even a warning.
Being irreligious, and especially a non-Muslim, Freud did very little for the dream-theory propounded by different religions. Though his “Interpretation of Dreams” presents an unprejudiced and almost unerring analysis of dreams, it includes only a few types of dreams. It gives us a mixture of different kinds of fallacious dreams while totally ignores the veracious dreams because veracious dreams have almost nothing to do with one’s psyche; and were, therefore, totally unknown to psychologists like Freud.
Also, since the future is more important than the past of a dreamer, he would definitely prefer Islamic Hermeneutics in order to know about his future. Where Freudian Hermeneutics is the product of the researches/studies of one individual, in the Western context, in the ‘Modern’ post-Renaissance period; Islamic Hermeneutics represents a divinely revealed system incorporating the entire structure of human existence in this world and the next, which is in itself detailed, complete and traditionally active since many centuries in various parts of the Islamic world.

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