Washington, Sept 16 (ANI): A new study has revealed that the traditional practice of using night dreams to make major life decisions is in widespread use among modern Muslims.
Durham University anthropologist Dr Iain Edgar, study leader, focused on the centuries-old practice of Istikhara, or Islamic 'dream incubation'.
His study is the first comprehensive and the most contemporary academic study on Istikhara prayer and practice, which can also include daytime prayer about an important decision.
Anecdotes of modern-day use of Istikhara include Muslims and their families deciding on the suitability of marriage proposals, an Islamic business leader making decisions on an important investment, and a politician who was deliberating over whether to accept a high profile post.
One example cited in the research is a Pakistani woman living in the UK, who did Istikhara about her daughter's future marriage.
She dreamt of a good looking bowl of dates, which did not taste very nice, imagery which she interpreted as anticipating the outcome of the marriage.
Istikhara is typically learnt from family members and, although the practice varies between countries and individuals, a follower would typically say two additional, specific prayers at night during which they would focus on the big question.
They would then lie on their right side and attempt to 'hold the question' as they sleep. Some followers would look for an answer the following morning but in different traditions Istikhara would be done for seven nights.
People who practice Istikhara rely on symbolism to make their decisions.
The colours white or green, imagery of important religious figures or beautiful things would indicate that the proposed action was positive.
The colours black, yellow or red, an unpleasant person or ugly things are viewed as negative.
Once followers get an answer, they are bound to use the advice as it is viewed as the will of Allah.
Through his fieldwork across the globe, Dr Edgar, who was working with his Ph.D student, David Henig, also found evidence of individuals practising Istikhara on behalf of others - for example, Islamic healers in Bosnia - and advertisements for their services in popular magazines.
Dr Edgar has been studying dreams in world cultures for over 25 years.
"Dreams have always had a very important role to play in Islam - the Qur'an shows that the prophet Muhammed was a great dreamer.
"Dream interpretation in Islam is a spiritual way of divining the future and submitting oneself to the personal unconscious and the will of Allah.
"Muslims are often reticent about the use of Istikhara, but through our studies we found evidence of its widespread use amongst a wide variety of Muslims, living in different areas of the world and with different socio-economic backgrounds.
"In Western culture, we say "let's sleep on it" when we have difficult or stressful decisions to make, and often things will seem clearer in the morning. Istikhara is a spiritual version of this practice," Dr Edgar said.
The study has been published in the September 2010 edition of the academic journal History and Anthropology. (ANI)