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Analysis of Dreams That Matter by Amira Mittermaier



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    Question 1: As a result of several religious and secular organizations cohesively taking charge in the attempt to ban a popular television program in Egypt: Ru’a, which elaborates on the themes of dreams and dream interpretation, the issue of the world of dreams became thus more of a controversial discourse. Muslim reformers aim to assist the Muslim world in its quest for renaissance through political, social and economic reform. They stand on the side that frowns upon the issue at hand. Their ultimate goal would be to ban dream interpretations from the masses and mass media.

    Historically speaking, reformists argue that nothing in Islam actually confirms such practices; hence, leaving no room for Islamic faith in dream visions. Moreover, in the reformist opinion these beliefs only confuse the masses. Reformists seek to educate the masses to rely more on their mind then on their dreams. Although the Muslim religion has been criticized as an irrational, reformists insist in demonstrating its highly rational physiognomies. Politically speaking, many leaders have taken fundamental decision based dream visions, such as Ben Laden’s and the Taliban Movement.

    The thing is dream visions can move the visionaries, their neighborhoods and even entire societies. However, dreams and their interpretation trouble rationality and the institutions that are at the pursuit of defining Islam for the community. Ultimately, dream interpretation disrupts the cultural hegemony that reformist are trying to build; therefore, in restricting dream interpretation practices to the private sphere, results in a reduced degree of interruption in the larger social purpose. Question 2: Dreams of direct interaction with the prophets Yusif or the prophet Muhammed have very important implications for this dreamer’s future.

    These dreams involve the formation of a direct association or relationship with these religious figures. This relationship entitles a transferal of this divine ability to interpret dreams. These prophetic dream visions are considered as a form of initiation for the dreamer in the world of dream interpretation. The interaction with the dreamed about prophet occur in a realm called the “Barzakh” which is considered to be a liminal stage, in between two realities and two realms. The prophet visioned must complete a specific action for this transference to occur.

    An example of this account could be the story of an Egyptian spiritual man, Ibn Sirin who dreamed of the prophet Yusif. In his dream he asks the prophet to teach him how to interpret dreams, to that Yusif responded, “Open your mouth” (68). The prophet spat in the dreamer’s mouth and low and behold the dreamer woke up able to interpret dreams. Once the divine talent is acquired, the interpreter may chose to study dream interpretation text in order to ground their interpretation; however, this mostly depends on his or her audience.

    Many describe seeing the prophet as a spiritual honor, something that only the spiritually advanced individual many experience, excluding the uneducated masses. Question 3: Deemed as the father of psychoanalysis, Dr. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) transformed the world of dream interpretation with his work “The Interpretation of Dreams. ” He began to analyze dreams in order to understand the individual’s personality and how this information may relate to a plausible pathology.

    On the other hand, Islamic tradition ascribes a supernatural dimension to dreams, depicting it as a means to communicate with the divine and at times acquire certain powers. According to Mittermaier, the two main differences between these two systems of dream interpretation stand as the following. First, for Freudian psychoanalysis, dreams are about the innermost desires as the author writes: “dreams will reveal a more honest self, but it will certainly not disclose a more moral one” (141) On the other hand, Islamic dream interpretation revolves around ethics and moralities disclosing its moral nature.

    Moreover, Freud dream analogies have reduced all dreams to a single category; while, Muslim dreams encapsulate various categories of dreams that are hierarchized into three categories of spiritual responsibility and importance. Mittermaier also conveys some similarities between the two schools of thoughts. Both believe that the dream has the potential to direct the dreamer towards utopian openings. Both attribute a causal connection between the inner states or as Freud puts it the “unconscious” of the dreamer and the content of the dream.

    Finally, although many Muslim dream interpreters dismiss psychoanalysis of dreams, a few Shaykhs such as Shaykh Nabil believe that using Freudian concepts and analogies bring Islamic dream interpretation “up-to-date”, making the consumption of the terminology its own production. Question 4: In her book Mittermaier puts forward a transcultural methodology to looking at the controversial themes of Muslim dream interpretation in Egypt. Untimely she brings about the political implications of an important dream interpretation tradition within the Egyptian community as she attempts to give a voice to the complex meanings of dreams.

    Her acknowledgment of the Freudian model, known for its pervasiveness in the western world brings a modern twist to the traditional practices in Egypt. As she discusses the socio-political implications on the traditional practice, one sees the reality within dreams and their repercussions on everyday Egyptian life. Dreams matter because they destabilize the boundaries between what is real and imaginary through their supposed guidance. I have never really taken the time to look at this liminal space between what is real and what is imaginary. Dreams for me have always been part of the imaginary.

    I have never related the realistic possibilities of dreams that many religious figures have developed in the “Dreams that Matter” given my lack of religiosity. Psychologically speaking, although I don’t firmly hold on to Freudian theories, I do believe that dreams shed light on a person’s innermost thoughts. I believe that simply remembering dreams is a matter of personal capacity, one I don’t possess. I suppose that dreams and religiosity are two different entities, although the spiritual may intertwine them by giving dreams a deeper significance than the non-spiritual and the non-religious.

    Question 5: When reading the initial lines of this ethnography, the author describes the heavy atmosphere and political ambiance. As one of her informants says: “The government used to steal our money. Today they steal our hope. ” I couldn’t help but think back to last January the Egyptian revolution that disposed of the Mubarak regime. It was one of the rare times where one could have hope for the abolition of the injustice lived. This feeling made me want to know even more about how dreams actually matter in a political stance.

    In general, anthropologists are instructed study a theme that is distant from their own background. This instruction is intended to make them an objective observer in the field. In the case of Dreams that Matter, Mittermaier’s goes against the standard and elects to study on something very personal. She combines both her parents’ backgrounds to create a larger meaning. That personal touch attracted me to wanting to know more and relate more to the author making me enjoy the book more given that I am no longer just reading a series of events and information.

    As an immigrant child, I related to her need to combine both these backgrounds and make sense of the puzzle that she grew up in. I find myself constantly trying to peace the puzzle of my cultures together. Overall, it was a very interesting book and I learned a lot about something I though I already knew given my background in psychology and Islamic culture. Although I found her introduction very alluring, I lost interest in her theoretical elaborations because it lost its personal touch.

    Analysis of Dreams That Matter by Amira Mittermaier. (2016, Dec 23). Retrieved from

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