What bearings to visions have in Islam?
The Shari‘ah is a system that governs and manages all things perceived and processed from sensory experience. This is why one finds legal rulings in all aspects of life such as, industry, trade, medicine, and social issues. The rulings of Islamic law are not limited, therefore, to acts of worships and articles of faith as assumed by some. The Shari‘ah also concerns itself with other aspects of human life such as sleep and those things that are to be done to prepare for it such as making ablution, mentioning the name of God, sleeping on the right side etc as well as those things that occur during it such as dreams, glad tidings, and nightmares which can all be classified under the term visions. Thus Islam has not left anything, no matter how small, without dealing with it “We have neglected nothing in the Book.”
The scholars have been vigilant in defining the term “sleep” in order to appropriately cast rulings on visions. Ibn Amir al-Hajj has stated “Sleep is a state that occurs to the intellect that necessitates the incapacity of a person to perceive sensory things, to conduct involuntary actions, and the general use of the intellect.” Therefore based on this definition the following can be said about visions:
Visions, specifically night visions, are those images that are seen by a person while asleep.
Al-Mazari has said, “God creates in the heart of the sleeping person beliefs just has He creates in a waking person, and He does as He wills; He is not halted by sleep or waking states. These beliefs are knowledge of other things, which are created in a second state or they are things actually created. For instance if a person dreams that they are flying, it most probably means that this is a belief not according to what is naturally known so this is an indication that this is a belief of another thing created by God, and all things are created by God”
Visions According to the Sufis:
Some of the great Sufi saints have stated that visions are “from the imaginal realm and are henceforth called imagination. These are usually present with intellects bound to the heavens and souls that understand universals and particulars. These visions are thus an expression of these lofty understandings. These visions can either come from an ill disposition, or they can come from directing the self with imaginal strength to display a certain image. This second type is like one who concentrates on their absent beloved and the picture of the beloved appears in their imagination so they can witness the person. This is the first principle upon which revelation is based.”
Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Arabi has stated that the first principle of revelation is a true vision that is not confused for common dreams. And this vision does not occur except at night. Aisha has narrated that the beginning of the revelation to the Prophet was in the form of visions, he did not see a night vision except that it came as clear as morning. Revelation begins with visions and not other sense perceptions since meanings of the intellect are nearer to the imagination than to the senses; the senses are lower on the spectrum than meanings, which are higher and subtler, and imagination falls between the two. Since revelation is pure meaning, the beginning of revelation is the descent of these meanings in sensory forms that are present in the imagination that appear in sleep or waking states. Meanings that are sent to the senses must first pass through the imagination, as the imagination in reality is that which first perceives everything that appears to the senses.
If this Divine revelation appears in sleep it is called a vision and if it appears in a waking state it is called imagination meaning it was made manifest to the person. After this imaginatory visions are given to the angels so they can take the form of men and appear to other men who can be perceived by all people present. The Prophet would receive a revelation through his heart and he would physically feel the immense weight of this upon his body which is a type of temporary spiritual state since a permanent one such as this is not befitting to him. This is also why such temporary spiritual states would be highly intense.
Visions are therefore not only for the prophets, they are something that occur to all Muslims and the veracity of them increases with time as is mentioned by the Messenger of God, “As time increases a believers vision does not increase in falsehood. The most honest vision is for those whose speech is most honest, and the vision of a believer is one part of forty-six parts of prophecy. Visions are threefold: the true vision is a glad tiding from God, a vision from the grief of Satan, and a vision that occurs from people themselves. If one of you sees a vision that they dislike, let them arise, pray, and not speak of it to anyone.”
From this discussion it should be clear the importance of visions, their reality and their relationship to the Shari‘ah, and God is most high and all knowledgeable.