What is the reality of dreams? How can we understand them? Are dreams an insight into the unseen future? Why does God allow certain people to view the future? What does modern neuroscience have to say about it? Science has attempted to unravel this mystery that we experience for at least 1/3rd of our lives. But the domain of research remains limited to only normal night visions that help in memory consolidation and are influenced by overall cognitive behavior. But what about seeing something in your sleep and that thing actually happens after sometime. Bit by bit and detail by detail, you see your dream playing out in real life. This is what is called a "Ru'ya Saadiqa" (true vision) in Islam.
There are many dreams mentioned in the Quran but the one that has a deep impact on the history of our civilization is the dream of Prophet Abraham sacrificing his son. We celebrate Eid al Adha commemorating the momentous event that followed from a 'dream'.
So I've had this question for a long time. The question is why did Allah command Ibrahim (as) to sacrifice his son? What did the dream actually mean? Was it a command to replicate what he saw or is there something more to it? In the Quran, we have been exhorted to reflect and contemplate. And in doing so we've been given the assurance that it would lead to a greater and deeper knowledge about Allah and His attributes. What can we learn from this command of Allah to His Prophet? What makes the understanding of this dream difficult is that Allah Most High prohibits practices of human sacrifice and even killing of one's children in the Quran explicitly. (6:140, 17:31, 6:151, 81:8, 16:59)
So the question is why does Allah command something in the Quran that He Himself prohibits somewhere else in the same book. What is at stake is the consistency and congruity within the Quranic text, which happens to be one of the clearest proofs of the truth of the Quran and its biggest miracle. “Do they not then consider the Quran carefully? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much contradiction” [an-Nisa’ 4:82]
An important point that needs to be understood is that there is a difference between the text of the Quran and its understanding and interpretation by scholars. What is being refuted in the article is the latter. Why? This interpretation, while being similar to the biblical narrative of the sacrificial lamb, does not fit well with the overall scheme of the Quran. Because of the similarity between the Abrahamic religions, there was a strong influence of biblical exegesis on Tafsir studies, especially in the areas of Israelite history. While this influence was fruitful in many cases, at times it led to a compromise in the overall picture. As in this case.
I came across Shaykh Imran Hosein, scholar and expert of Islamic Eschatology and his views on this matter. According to him and his teacher, the great Islamic Philosopher from the Indian Subcontinent Dr Fazlur Rahman Ansari, it is an act of great disservice to the Quran that if an ayat is understood in isolation from the rest of the Quran and hence out of its context. Throughout the Quran, Allah prohibits human sacrifice calling it pagan, satanic and unislamic. Then emphasis is made on the prohibition of killing one's own children. How can we understand this command to Ibrahim (as) to 'sacrifice' his son in the light of these various prohibitory ayaats? Clearly we would be taking the former ayat and isolating it from the rest of the Quranic text and hence leaning towards an 'out of context' understanding. Additionally, it would also mean that the Quran contradicts itself, which is impossible. (We seek refuge in Allah from claiming that). Hence, the ayat has a deeper meaning that needs to be recovered.
When the proper methodology to study the Quran is applied to this subject and the different ayaat pertaining to it are brought together harmoniously, all the while maintaining the superiority of the Quran over the Hadith and not the other way round, we will have to conclude that the dream that Ibrahim (as) sees in which he is sacrificing Ismail (as) does not mean that Allah wants him to kill his son. Rather, it is a dream and a dream has a message about the future (khabr) and the message has an interpretation, a meaning (Ta'wil and Ta'beer). And when Ibrahim (as) enacts what he saw in the dream, that is a display of his utmost acceptance and whole hearted consent with the Qadr (will) of Allah regarding the fate that awaits his progeny from one of his sons.
The Quran is a living book and a guidance for humanity till the End of Time (41:53, 16:89). This means that earlier scholarship has not exhausted the meanings of the Quran. Infact, with the passage of time, more meanings are bound to emerge from the Quranic text to be explored by future scholarship. The Quran is not finite like other books. On the contrary, there are infinite depths of meanings in every verse, that only the passage of time can reveal. Accordingly, this particular understanding of the ayat was only possible due to the events that unfolded in history. Earlier scholarship has done it's best in the time frame that they lived in. But there were historical events that they did not have access to, which would've enriched their understanding of particular ayaat. Utilizing the correct methodology, modern Islamic scholarship possesses this advantage over earlier scholarship. This can be seen especially in the understanding of End Times hadith. It is the job of modern scholarship to incorporate the element of ‘time’ and future events in their methodology (Usul and qawaid) to understand the Islamic eschatological literature
“And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said, “O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I sacrifice you, so see what you think.” (37:102)
A dream is a window overlooking future events. The dreams of Prophets are as true as other forms of revelation. Prophets are given access to the knowledge of future events. But with room for their choice. What do I mean by that? During the Night Journey (Isra) of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), Gabriel (as) presented the Prophet with two bowls, one having milk and the other with wine. The Prophet was given a 'choice' between the two. He chose milk and Gabriel (as) remarked, "you have chosen Fitrah (natural disposition on which humans were created). You're Ummah will stay on the right path. If you had chosen wine, your Ummah would go astray". (Sahih Bukhari 3394)
Ibrahim (as) has been called an Ummah (a nation) in the Quran (16:120) as from him and his two sons, Ishaaq and Ismail, the two great nations of the Israelite people (Jews and Christians) and the Ishmaelite people (the Muslims) come forth. Him seeing the dream does not mean that he needs to slit his son's throat literally, rather he has been given access to events that will unfold in the future. Being the father of the great nations that will take over the world stage as the countdown to the Last Day begins, he is given access to the future of his progeny. Allah while educating the Angels does accept that the price of the free will bestowed to humanity is that most will misuse it and shed blood and sow corruption (2: 30)
So the dream represents that impending blood shed humanity will witness and Abrahim's lineage from one of his son's will be victim to it. It's as if he is being told that things are going to get very grim as times moves on. And one of your sons will pay the price for the establishment of truth and justice on earth. In the Quran, whenever the struggle between good and evil, oppression and justice is discussed, three groups are mentioned. One that oppresses, one who being true to their covenant with God, fight against oppression and offer their lives, becoming martyrs and the last that fights and becomes victorious. The last two are both successful in the sight of God and that is why He Most High does not regard people who have been sacrificed for a noble cause, dead. Rather they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision (2:154)
This is how history will play out (from the advent of the Last Prophet) that a continuous battle of struggle and strife against oppression and justice ensues. Sometime it would seem that the oppressors are winning, but in the end the victory is for the righteous. Some of the righteous write their tale of victory with their own blood and others are made to survive and establish a just order. This is the meaning of Ibrahim (as)'s dream and the people who are paying the price of truth and justice with their own lives are from the lineage of Ismael (as) ie the Muslim Ummah.
After seeing the dream, Ibrahim (as) quickly goes to his son to relate the dream. Ismail (as) being a young boy at the time beautifully remarks, “O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the patient.” (37:102)
When both father and son had prepared themselves for the fulfillment and acceptance of what they saw as the decree of Allah. Ibrahim (as) receives revelation. “O Ibrahim, You have fulfilled (and accepted) the vision. Indeed, this is how We reward the good-doers. That was truly a revealing test. And We ransomed his son with a great sacrifice''.(37:104-107)
This clearly shows that It was not the command of Allah that Ibrahim (as) literally sacrificed his son. Rather there was a deep meaning to it which was accepted wholeheartedly by both father and son.
The verb , 'saddaqa' means, "accept wholeheartedly, believe, fulfill". Hence, this can also mean that Ibrahim (as) accepted this destiny and this historical playout of events, wherein the progeny from his son Ismael (as) would sacrifice themselves in the struggle between justice and oppression. This is further corroborated by the term "Dhibhin Adheem" (a great sacrifice)
Scholars have interpreted this to mean the ram that Allah sacrificed instead of Ismael (as) and the annual sacrifice Muslims worldwide make to celebrate the 10th of Dhul Hijjah that is Eid al Adha. But it could truly express the great sacrifices of the progeny of Ismail (as) ie the Ummah of Muhammad (ﷺ) ever since.
While the Muslims suffered greatly in the early years of Islam, but what was about to be witnessed would be way more horrific. The Prophet (ﷺ) saw a dream, when he was in Medina. He did not reveal the details but he woke up with his face red with horror. He exclaimed,"Destruction is upon the Arabs. An opening has been made in the barrier of Gog and Magog" (Sahih Bukhari 7135)
Who are Gog and Magog? They are one of the major signs of the Last Day. They are extremely powerful, but at the same time, highly corrupt human beings who would take over the world and rule over all global institutions in the End Times. This dream proves that the destruction of the wall of Zulqarnain and release of Gog and Magog commenced in the very lifetime of the Prophet (ﷺ).
Some Muslim scholars like the famous Ibn Kathir and Al Hamawi identified the Medieval Jewish Empire of Khazaria as Gog and Magog. Even the Muslim traveller Ibn Fadlan expressed similar views. These Euroasian barbaric tribes (Khazar, Magyar, Huns, Angles,Saxons) converted to Judaism and Christianity around the time of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and then launched the most destructive attack on the Muslim world in the form of the various Crusades. This was the first wave of attacks from Gog and Magog. If that wasn't enough, they turned back in a few centuries to devour the Muslim World as Colonialists. By abolishing the Khilafa and destroying all remnants of Islamic culture, they replaced Muslim political, social, economic and educational institutions with Western ones. This led to the great Muslim amnesia of its glorious past achievements. If this wasn’t enough the same powers of Gog and Magog, after taking over global institutions like UN, IMF, World Bank, NATO etc launched series of attacks on the Muslim nations in the name of 'war on terror' killing millions in propaganda led petrodollar wars. Just make a list of countries grossly affected by war and economic depravation, most will be Muslim majority countries. Is this by accident?
The Muslim Ummah has been under attack millitarily, economically, intellectually, socially from the same forces of Gog and Magog that many notable scholars like Dr Muhammad Iqbal, have located in the Western Civilization. On these lines, the Prophet (ﷺ) predicted, "My nation will be destroyed by military strikes and epidemics (biological attacks)" (Musnad Imam Ahmed 4,390). This millennium long sacrifice of the Ummah is what Prophet Ibrahim saw in his dream, which was further confirmed by the dream of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and his statements on the End Times that the "Dhibhim Adheem (great sacrifice) is the Ummah of Muhammad (saw). And each year we celebrate this day by sharing our food with the needy and reliving the patience and devotion exhibited by our spiritual ancestor Ismail (as) who lovingly accepted the decree of Allah.
Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.