i. In pre-Islamic Persia. See Supplement.

ii. In the Persian tradition.



Dreams and their interpretation (ḵᵛāb, roʾyā; ḵᵛāb-gozārī), an integral part of the Persian world view, as well as the Shīʿite notion of “inner prophethood” (nobowwat-e bāṭen; Fahd, 1966b, p. 351). Dreams are divided into two main categories: those that occur only during sleep (ḵᵛāb, nawm, roʾyā) and those that occur while awake or in a state of semiwakefulness (wāqeʿa “vision,” roʾyā). They are further subdivided into those that are “true” and “false” (ḥolm, ażḡāṯ-e aḥlām, etc.). “True” dreams include those experienced by believers (moʾmenūn), saints (awlīāʾ), and prophets (anbīāʾ), both those that require interpretation and those that do not (Ebn Sīrīn, 1302/1884, p. 5).

A three-part typology of dreams can be drawn from the work of R. G. A. van Lieshout (pp. 12-34) and G. E. von Grunebaum (pp. 11-20). Type 1 is the “passive” or “enstatic” dream, of which there are three subtypes: a “recognizable” visual perception or a symbolic form; a message conveyed by a figure, recognized by the dreamer; and, less frequently, an “objective record,” for example a piece of paper (bāb) found in the morning or marks on the dreamer’s body (MacEoin, p. 56). Type 2, the “active” or “ecstatic” vision, is more prevalent in the Islamic and Persian experience than in the Greek tradition; it occurs in a special state “between sleep and wakefulness.” The dreamer experiences either unusual ecstasy, awe-inspiring yet with cognitive elements; a departure from the body, often guided by an angel; or transformation into a winged creature that flies to fantastic realms. Type 3 is the dream that must be interpreted; this type is more often reported in popular literature, where dreams show the way to treasure, warn of imminent danger, or bring cures and the like.

In epic, legends, and popular tradition. In Persian myth and epic literature many dreams of kings and heroes are recounted. In one of the darkest mythic episodes, in the version compiled by Abū Manṣūr Ṯaʿālebī, the evil king Żaḥḥāk dreams of his own demise: Three men enter his palace and kill him. His dream interpreters warn that he is to be brought down by a prince named Ferēdūn, as yet unborn, whose mother is descended from King Tahmūraṯ. Zāl foresees his marriage to Rūdāba in a dream. According to the Bundahišn and the Kār-nāmag,Bābak dreams that the sun and moon appear from Sāsān’s forehead and cover the land (Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, pp. 12-14, 36, 221-22; cf. Ḵᵛāb-gozārī, p. 5). The only named interpreter of dreams in this work, however, is Bozorgmehr (see BOZORGMEHR-E BOḴTAGĀN), who, while still a youth, gains royal favor by explaining Anōšīravān’s dream after the mōbeds (priests) have failed (Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 299).

In the Šāh-nāma eighteen dreams are reported, most of them not mentioned or in different versions from those mentioned by Ṯaʿālebī. For example, Żaḥḥāk dreams of three men who strike him with a bull-headed mace and imprison him on Mount Damāvand (ed. Mohl, I, p. 37). Many dreams are predominantly informative, as when a horseman informs Sām that Zāl, the son whom he has abandoned in the wilderness, is alive (I, p. 111). Perhaps the most graphic dream recounted in the Šāh-nāma is that of Afrāsīāb, who sees a desert full of serpents and a sky full of eagles; the wind blows his banner to the ground, and a hundred thousand Iranian soldiers carry him off to Kāvōs. The astronomers (aḵtar-šenāsān) and wise men (beḵradān) theninterpret the destiny in store for Afrāsīāb (II, pp. 130-31; cf. Sīāvoš’s dream of his own destiny, I, pp. 193-94). Among the few places in the Šāh-nāma where the angel Sorūš appears is Gōdarz’s dream, in which the angel, seated on a cloud, informs him of God’s command (II, p. 239). The angel provides a nonsymbolic message, which results in action without the necessity for interpretation. In another such “clear” dream Ṭōs sees a radiant “candle” rising from the water; on it Sīāvoš is seated on an ivory throne, manifesting the full Kayanid glory (farra-ye kayānī; III, p. 36; cf. IV, pp. 114 ff.). When Ferdowsī himself dreamed that Daqīqī assured him that his endeavors in compiling the Šāh-nāma were not in vain, the dream needed no interpretation because the message was clear, not symbolic (IV, pp. 180 ff.). The most elaborate dream episode in the Šāh-nāma,consisting of nine interrelated but separate dreams, is that involving the Indian king of Qannūj (V, pp. 57 ff.). These dreams are, however, symbolic and must be interpreted. The only person capable of doing so is Mehrān, a wise ascetic who lives in the wilderness with the animals and eats mountain herbs. According to him, the dreams are a warning of an imminent attack by Alexander, which the king is not to resist (V, pp. 136 ff.). The only place in the Šāh-nāma where the term “dream interpreter” (gozāranda-ye ḵᵛāb) occurs is in the episode of Ḵosrow Anōšīravān and Bozorgmehr, in which Ferdowsī also expressed his own views: “Enlightened souls see in dreams all existing things” (VI, pp. 122, 123-24). In the final dream episode reported in the Šāh-nāma Bahrām Čōbīn regains his courage in his battle against the Arab invaders as the result of a dream and rearranges his army effectively (VI, pp. 306 ff.).

In Persian legends and popular narratives political authority is bestowed through dreams, as exemplified, for example, in tales about Abū Moslem Ḵorāsānī. In one such dream the Prophet Moḥammad, accompanied by Gabriel, appears to Abū Moslem and grants him the ax and other regalia of the fotowwa, emblems of his authority. He receives his sword from Salmān Fārsī (Lecerf, p. 374). In the Abū Moslem-nāma, a romance by Abū Ṭāher Ṭarsūsī (pp. 2 ff.),each of Abū Moslem’s forty companions, many of them representatives of guilds, dreams of events to come (Mélikoff, pp. 63-64) and receives magical powers, so that the blacksmith can make Abū Moslem’s sword, the wood carver his ax, and so on. Abū Moslem’s dream of the Prophet is typical of a genre that includes almost every royal figure, including Shaikh Ṣafī-al-Dīn, eponymous ancestor of the Safavid dynasty, who derived his authority from dreams of investment with miraculous powers (ḵawāreq-e ʿādāt wa karāmāt;Eskandar Beg, pp. 10-11, 13 ff.). Shah Ṭahmāsb claimed to have seen and conversed in a dream (wāqeʿa) with Imam ʿAlī, who foretold his victories in battle with the Uzbeks and others (Taḏkera, pp. 15, 23 ff.). The Ahl-e Ḥaqq still equate true inner dreamswith divine revelation (Mokrī). Other Persian legends of this genre are to be found in such popular works as Fīrūzšāh-nāma, Dārāb-nāma, Qeṣṣa-ye Ḥamza,and Dāstān-e Samak-e ʿAyyār (see Hanaway; Meyerovitch; cf.Chauvin).

Dreams in religion. Dreams have an especially important place in Shiʿism; the infallible imams are all considered to have had “true dreams,” which served as sources for their continued inspiration by God, even though revelation had ended with the Prophet (Corbin, tr., p. 385). The imams are considered to have been especially adept at interpreting symbolic dreams, which gave them access to esoteric knowledge. A work on dream interpretation, Taqsīm, has been widely attributed to the sixth imam, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (for the inclusion of this book in a work by Teflīsī, see below). According to later Shiʿite jurists (see Majlesī), it was a major source of esoteric knowledge. One of the earliest jurists, Moḥammad b. Yaʿqūb Kolaynī (d. 329/940), whose al-Oṣūl men al-kāfī served as a model for development of Shiʿite jurisprudence, also wrote a work on dream interpretation, Taʿbīr al-roʾyā (see Kolaynī, p. 8). Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesī (d. 1110/1698) quoted from Kolaynī’s work on dream interpretation in his own chapter on the subject(pp. 176 ff.), where he also referred to Ketāb al-taʿbīr ʿan al-aʾemma, a collection of reported teachings on dreams by the imams. One of the significant principles stated there is that the dreams of “believers” are true (roʾyā al-moʾmen ṣaḥīḥa). The imams or other “signs” may appear to any believer, who will thus also gain access to esoteric knowledge. The occultation of the twelfth imam, who possessed a higher visionary knowledge (in Henry Corbin’s terms a hierognosis; tr., p. 382), is of special significance in the Shiʿite view of dreams, for he “resides” in Ḥūrqalyā, a realm of the imagined worldand may thus be “seen” through dreams (Corbin, tr., p. 405). Dreams thus inform the believer of “inner” knowledge (bāṭen)not apparent when he is awake and not associated with phenomenal existence. The believer must, however, perform certain acts in order to prepare for the imams to appear, inform, and guide him in dreams. The conditions are elaborated at length in several Shiʿite works (e.g., Nūrī,pp. 417-20).

Dreams also play a central role in legitimizing the Shiʿite institution of welāya,that is, the guardianship of the elect over the multitude. This channel is, for example, fully described in Shaikhi literature, especially by Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾī (d. 1241/1826), who considered the authority of his own investiture dreams to be undisputed (MacEoin, p. 57). These dreams were closely paralleled in the visionary experiences of Moḥammad-ʿAlī the Bāb, who reported a dream in which he drank blood from the severed head of Imam Ḥosayn (MacEoin, p. 84 n. 44; cf. Amanat, pp. 168-69). Bahāʾ-Allāh, too, placed special emphasis on the revelatory function of dreams (pp. 34-35).

Among Persian works on dream interpretation Ḥobayš Teflīsī’s Kāmel al-taʿbīr (13th century; p. 3) occupies a special place; in it the author refers to the earlier Ketāb-e oṣūl ofDānīāl-e Ḥakīm, Taqsīm ofJaʿfar al-Ṣādeq,Ebn Sīrīn’s Ketāb-e jawāmeʿ, Ebrāhīm Kermānī’s Dastūr, Jāber Maḡrebī’s Ketāb-e eršād, Esmāʿīl b. Ašʿaṯ’s Taʿbīr, Moʾmenī’s Kanz al-roʾyā, Taʿbīr ofʿAbdūs, Ḥall (Jamal in the printed text) al-dalāʾel fi’l-manāmāt,and Īżāḥ al-taʿbīr ofṬāmūsī (see Ḵᵛāb-gozārī, p. 6; Afšār,pp. 1-9; for other works on dream interpretation, see Fahd, 1966a, pp. 330-63; Storey, II/3, pp. 466-72). The anonymous Ḵᵛāb-gozārī of the twelfth or thirteenth century has only partially survived; it is similar toTeflīsī’s workand includes an extensive introduction to the subject of dream interpretation, in which the main koranic passages and pertinent prophetic traditions are cited.



(For cited works not found in this bibliography, see “Short References.”) Ī. Afšār, “Andar fawāyed-e loḡawī-e kāmel al-taʿbīr,” in S. Ḥ. Naṣr, ed., Majmūʿa-ye maqālāt-e taḥqīqī-e ḵāvar-šenāsī-e ehdāʾ be Hānrī Māsa/Mélanges d’orientalisme offerts à Henri Massé, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, pp. 1-9.

ʿĀlamārā-ye Šāh Esmāʿīl, ed. A. Montaẓer-Ṣāḥeb,Tehran, 1349 Š./1970.

A. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal. The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1840-1850, Ithaca, N.Y., 1989.

Bahā-Allāh, Haft Vādī, Chahār Vādī,Hofheim-Langenhain, Germany, 1988.

V. Chauvin, “Les rêves du trésor sur le pont,” Revue des Traditions Populaires 13, 1898, pp. 193-96.

H. Corbin, L’imagination créatrice dans le soufisme d’Ibn ʿArabī, Paris, 1958; tr. R. Manheim as Creative Imagination in the Ṣūfism of Ibn ʿArabī,Princeton, N.J., 1969.

Moḥammad Ebn Sīrīn, Montaḵab al-kalām fī tafsīr al-aḥlām, Cairo, 1302/1884; repr. Cairo, 1963.

T. Fahd, “Les songes et leur interprétation selon l’Islam,” in A.-M. Esnoul et al., eds., Les songes et leur interprétation. Sources orientales II, Paris, 1959.

Idem, La divination arabe, Leiden, 1966a.

Idem, “The Dream in Medieval Islamic Society,” in G. E. von Grunebaum and R. Caillois, eds., The Dream and Human Societies,Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966b, pp. 351-63.

Abū Ḥāmed Ḡazālī, Eḥyāʾ ʿolūm al-dīn. Ketāb ḏekr al-mawt IV,Cairo, n.d., pp. 504-11.

G. E. von Grunebaum, “Introduction. The Cultural Function of the Dream as Illustrated by Classical Islam,” in G. E. von Grunebaum and R. Caillois, eds., The Dream and Human Societies, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966, pp. 3-21.

W. Hanaway, “Formal Elements in the Persian Popular Romances,” Review of National Literature 21, 1971, pp. 139-61.

Ḵᵛāb-gozārī, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

Moḥammad b. Yaʿqūb Kolaynī, al-Oṣūl men al-kāfī I, tr. M.-B. Kamareʾī, ed. M.-B. Behbūdī and ʿA.-A. Ḡaffārī, Tehran, 1382/1962.

J. Lecerf, “The Dream in Popular Culture. Arab and Islamic,” in G. E. von Grunebaum and R. Caillois, eds., The Dream and Human Societies, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966, pp. 366-79.

R. G. A. van Lieshout, Greeks on Dreams,Utrecht, 1980.

D. MacEoin, From Shaykhism to Babism. A Study in Charismatic Renewal in Shīʿī Islam, Ph.D. diss., The University of Cambridge, 1979.

Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesī, Beḥār al-anwār. Ketāb al-samāʾ wa’l-ʿālam, bk. LXI, Qom, n.d.,pp. 151-244.

J. Matīnī, “Ḵᵛābhā-ye Ahūrāʾī-e Ābtīn,” Īrān-šenāsī 3/2, 1991, pp. 369-81.

I. Mélikoff, Abū Muslim, le “porte-hache” du Khorrassan. Dans la tradition épique turco-irannenne. Paris, 1962.

E. Meyero-vitch, “Les songes et leur interprétation chez les Persans,” in A.-M. Esnoul et al., eds., Les songes et leur interprétation. Sources orientales II, Paris, 1959, pp. 175-87.

M. Mokri, “Les songes et leur interprétation chez les Ahl-e-Haqq du Kurdistan,” in A.-M. Esnoul et al., eds., Les songes et leur interprétation. Sources orientales II, Paris, 1959, pp. 191-204.

Mīrzā Ḥosayn Nūrī, Najm-e ṯāqeb dar aḥwāl-e Emām-e ḡāyeb,Tehran, 1306/1888. Taḏkera-ye Šāh Ṭahmāsb,Berlin, 1343/1924.

Moḥammad b. ʿAlī Tahānawī, Kaššāf eṣṭelāḥāt al-fonūn I, ed.A. Sprenger, Calcutta, 1862, pp. 597-606.

Abū Ṭāher Ṭarsūsī, Abū Moslem-nāma (Ḥamāsa-ye Ḵorāsānī), ed. E. Yaḡmāʾī, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976.

Abu’l-Fażl Ḥobayš b. Moḥammad Teflīsī, Kollīyāt-e kāmel al-taʿbīr . . ., Tehran, n.d.

(Hossein Ziai)

Originally Published: December 15, 1995

Last Updated: December 1, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 5, pp. 549-551