We perceive by the senses a large number of things, distinguish them one from another, put them in order by our reason, and thus end up by establishing domething solid around us. We call that construct "reality" and do not doubt that it is real.
According to Ibn 'Arabi, however, that kind of "reality" is not reality in the true sense of the word. In other terms, such a thing is not Being (wujud) as it really is. Living as we do in this phenomenal world, Being in its metaphysical reality is no less imperceptible to us than phenomenal things are in their phenomenal reality to a man who is asleep and dreaming of them.
Quoting the famous Tradition "All men are asleep (in this world); only when they die, do they wake up," he remarks:
The world is an illusion; it has no real existence. And this is what is meant by "imagination" (khayal). For you just imagine that it (i.e. the world) is an autonomous reality quite different from and independent of the absolute Reality, while in truth it is nothing of the sort... Know that you yourself are an imagination. And everything that you perceive and say to yourself, "this is not me", is also an imagination. So that the whole world of existence id imagination within imagination.
What, then, should we do, if what we have taken for "reality" is but a dream, not the real form of Being, but something illusory? Should we abandon once for all this illusory world and go out of it in search of an entirely different world, a rellay real world? Ibn 'Arabi does not take such a position, because, in his view, "dream" "illusion" or "imagination" does not mean something valueless or false; it simply means "being a symbolic reflection of something truly real."
The so-called "reality" certainly is not the true Reality, but this must not be taken to mean that it is merely a vain and groundless thing. The so-called "reality", though it is not the Reality itself, vaguely and in distinctively feflects the latter on the level of imagination. It is, in other words, a symbolic representation of the Relaity. All it needs is that we should interpret it in a proper way just as we usulally interpret our dreams in order to get to the real state of affairs beyond the dream-symbols.
Referring to the above-quoted Tradition, "All men are asleeep; only when the die do they wake up", Ibn 'Arabi says that "the Prophet called attention by these words so the fact that whatever man perceives in this present world is to him as a dream to a man who derams, and that it must be interpreted."