We do not actually speak with anyone in our dreams. We see no-one, and our eyes are closed. We neither run, nor walk. No monsters frighten and chase us, no green and spacious lawns spread out before us. There are no skyscrapers we are scared to look down from or crowds of people. In the face of all these images, we are, in fact, alone in bed. The loud noises from the crowds we imagine to be surrounding us, never in fact reach into our silent room.
When we imagine ourselves to be running very fast, we are not in fact moving at all. When we imagine ourselves to be having a heated discussion with someone, we do not in fact even open our mouths. Yet during dreaming, we experience all these things very vividly. The people around us, our surroundings and the things we experience are so realistic that we never imagine that these things are actually part of our dream.
We may even dream of being hit by a car and receive a very clear impression of the pains that result. We truly feel the fear we experience as the car approaches, it speeds toward us, and the moment of impact. We have no doubt as to the reality of these sensations. This is all experienced solely in our minds. Yet we do not realize that this is the case. Even if we are told—in the dream—that we are actually dreaming, we completely discount the possibility and are utterly convinced of the reality of the dream world we are inhabiting. We have all the same physical experiences as when we are awake. No evidence might require us to suspect that we are, in fact, dreaming.
Dreaming is a powerful example demonstrating that the external world for us is in fact a perception. In the same way that someone dreaming has no doubt that his surroundings are real, so it is very difficult to be convinced that the reality of what we refer to as “the real world” is only in our minds. Yet how we perceive the images we call “real life” is exactly the same as how we experience dreams. Both images form in the mind. We have no doubt as to the reality of either set of images as we observe them. Yet we do have proof that dreams are not real. When we awaken, we say, “It was all just a dream.” So how can we prove that we are not dreaming at this very moment?
Allah imparts this truth in His verses:
The Trumpet will be blown and at once they will be sliding from their graves towards their Lord. They will say, “Alas for us! Who has raised us from our resting-place? This is what the All-Merciful promised us. The Messengers were telling the truth.” (Surah Ya Sin, 51-52)
The proof of this at this moment is the scientifically imparted evidence. In this case, the moment that we’ll wake up from the dream will be when we depart from this earthly life. So the right thing to do is to regard this world as mere illusion for us, as something we experience in the mind, and behave accordingly.
Réné Descartes describes the realism of dreams as follows:
I dream of doing this or that, going here or there; but when I awake I realize that I have done nothing, that I have been nowhere, but have been lying quietly in bed. Who can guarantee that I am not dreaming now, or that even my entire life is not a dream? 1
Never, of course, can we guarantee that the people around us, or even the life we are experiencing at this moment, are not a dream. When we dream, we can touch a piece of ice and perceive its cold wetness and transparency in a perfect form. When we smell a rose, we perceive its unique scent in an equally flawless manner. The reason is that the same processes take place in our brains when we really smell a rose or only dream that we are doing so.
That being so, we can never know when we are experiencing the true image and perfume of a rose. In fact, we never have direct experience of a real rose in either case, and in either event. Neither the image nor the perfume of the rose are anywhere in our brains. Therefore, neither case represents reality.
If someone is aware that he’s dreaming, he will not be frightened by a car approaching, will realize that the goods and money he acquires are transitory, and will harbor no greed for them. He knows that there is a real world outside the dream one. Therefore, his surroundings are of no importance or value to anyone who knows he is dreaming.
This also applies to the period we refer to as “real life.” For someone who knows that this life is not real, that it is presented merely in the form of perceptions, nothing he experiences in connection with this “real” world is of any importance. Just as with dreaming, he is aware of the false nature of an unreal life, even as he lives it. He now realizes that the people expecting gain from him do not actually exist, and that the deceptive beauty and attractions around him in fact consist of illusions. There is therefore no point in his thirsting for things that exist in this world or expending energy on any personal gains. He lives in a passing, transitory world and knows that his true life will begin after this one.
The writer Remez Sasson has this to say:
It is like a movie show. A person watching a movie gets so involved with the characters and with what happens on the screen. He may become happy or sad with the heroes, gets depressed, shouts or laughs. If at a particular moment he decides to stop watching the screen and manages to withdraw his attention from the movie, he gets snapped out of the illusion the movie creates. The projecting machine will go on projecting images on the screen, but he knows that it is only light projected through the film onto the screen. What is seen on the screen is not real, but yet it is there. He may watch the movie, or he may decide to close his eyes and ears and stop looking at the screen. Have you ever watched a movie, when at some point the reel got stuck or there was a power failure? What happens to you when you watch an interesting, absorbing film on the television and then suddenly there are commercials? You are snapped out of the illusion to the world around you.
When you are sleeping and dreaming, and someone wakes you up, you feel thrown out of one world to a different one. It is the same in the life we call reality. It is possible to wake up from it.2
People who wake on the Day of Resurrection are described in verses:
The Trumpet will be blown. That is the Day of the Threat. Every self will come together with a driver and a witness: “You were heedless of this, so We have stripped you of your covering, and today your sight is sharp.” (Surah Qaf, 20-22)
2. Remez Sasson, “Reality Versus Imagination and Illusion,”