“What is the position of Islamic scholarship on seeing Allah in dreams, waking, and the afterlife?”
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari (Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK) gave a detailed answer to this on SunniPath.com. Especially interesting to me was the question of seeing Allah Ta’ala in dreams or not.
I was quite sure about the rest already, but usually when I tell anecdotes like that of Imam Ahmed bin Hambal, which gets mentioned in the answer below, I get scolded or interrupted by various people. Why? Because according to their highly opinion none is able to see Allah Ta’ala awake or asleep whatsoever, which created doubts in my mind as well.
Alhamdulillah, this Fatwa helped me to fully understand this issue.
As far as the vision of Allah Most High in a dream is concerned, Imam al-Taftazani (Allah have mercy on him) states in his commentary of Imam Nasafi’s al-Aqa’id:
“As far as the vision of Allah in sleep is concerned, it is something that has been related from many predecessors (salaf). And there is no doubt that this is a type of observation by the heart rather than the eye.” (Sharh al-Aqa’id al-Nasafiyya, P: 135)
Mulla Ali al-Qari (Allah have mercy on him) states in his renowned Sharh Fiqh al-Akbar:
“The majority of the scholars are of the view that the vision of Allah Most High in sleep is possible, without any given description of modality (kayfiyya), direction (jiha) or quiddity (hay’a). It is recorded that Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) said: “I saw Allah Most High 99 times whilst asleep.” Then he saw Him the hundredth time also, the story of which is long and not feasible to be mentioned here. It is recorded that Imam Ahmad (Allah have mercy on him) said: “I saw Allah Most High in a dream, I said: “O Lord! How is it possible to achieve closeness to You?” He replied: “By the recitation of my speech (Qur’an).” I said: “O Lord! Recitation with understanding or (even) without understanding?” He replied: “With or without understanding.” It is also narrated from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) that he said: “I saw my Lord in my sleep.” Hence, the vision of Allah in sleep is recorded from many predecessors (salaf) and it is a type of observation by the heart observed by noble people…” (Sharh Fiqh al-Akbar, P: 356-357)
Imam al-Bajuri (Allah have mercy on him) states:
“As far as seeing Allah Most High in sleep, it is narrated from Qadhi Iyadh that there is no difference of opinion regarding its occurrence and truth, for the Satan cannot take the form of Allah Most High like he cannot take the form of the Prophets (peace be upon them)…..” (Tuhfat al-Murid, P: 118)
The above-mentioned few texts of the scholars indicate clearly that Allah Most High can be (and has been) seen in a dream. It is something that His noble and pious servants are blessed with, and one cannot deny its occurrence. Indeed some Ulama did deny the possibility of seeing Allah in sleep, but that is a minority position not accepted by the majority of the scholars.
Imam al-Bajuri (Allah have mercy on him) has mentioned some additional notes regarding the vision of Allah in sleep in his commentary of Jawhara al-Tahid.
He states that, if one sees Allah in a manner that is not impossible for Allah, then one has surely seen Him. However, if one sees Him in a form that is impossible for Him such as seeing Him in a form of a specific individual, then that is not Allah rather it is the creation of Allah, and the dream will need to be interpreted by those qualified to do so. Some scholars said that even in such a case, one did actually see Allah, but the form seen is not the reality of Allah; rather, it is reflecting the mind of the one having the vision. (Tuhfat al-Murid Sharh Jawhara al-Tawhid, P: 118)
Imam Ibn Sirin (Allah have mercy on him), a major classical scholar considered to be a master in the science of interpreting dreams, states in his renowned book, The Interpretation of Dreams: (This book incidentally covers over 900 dreams with their meanings explained. It explains what facts are to be taken into account when interpreting a dream, when is a dream regarded as true or false, etc.)
“Sayyiduna Daniyal (peace be upon him) relates that if a believer was to see Allah Most High in his dream unequalled and incomparable, as is related in the verses of the Qur’an and in the Hadiths, he will be blessed with the magnificent sight of Allah Most High (in the hereafter) and his needs will also be fulfilled. If an individual was to see a dream in a manner that he was standing before Allah Most High and that He Most High was watching him, then the dream is a sign of his piety and spiritual well-being. He will be chosen for forgiveness, and if he is sinful he will repent.” (Ta’bir al-Ru’ya, P: 67)
Imam Ibn Sirin then goes on to mention many types of dreams in which one sees Allah Most High and gives their interpretations. For example, if one sees that Allah Most High is talking secretly with one, then this means one is close to Allah Most High. If one sees that Allah Most High is advising one and giving one Nasiha, then this alludes to the fact that Allah Most High is not completely happy with one’s actions. A glad tiding from Allah is a sign of His pleasure and admonition from Allah is a sign of His wrath and anger (ibid). For more details, one may refer to Imam Ibn Sirin’s above-mentioned book, but one should consult a reliable scholar of knowledge, piety and wisdom before coming to any sort of conclusion.
To sum up, the vision of Allah Most High is rationally possible and the believers will be blessed with this vision in the hereafter. However, no one is able to see Allah in this world whilst in a state of being awake besides the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), and regarding the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) too, there is a difference of opinion amongst the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all). As far as seeing Allah in sleep is concerned, this is possible and is related from many pious servants of Allah, saints and scholars.
And Allah knows best
Go here for the entire Fatwa.