Prophet’s and Awliya’s knowledge of the unseen – ghayb

Prophet’s and Awliya’s knowledge of the unseen – ghayb


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Some people cite the verses of the Holy Qur’an which they translate to mean that Allah commands the Prophet to tell the companions that he has no knowledge of the unseen. I was surprised at hearing this and decided to write to you for your view. The stand of the real Ahl al-Sunna with respect to Rasulullah’s knowledge of the unseen will be appreciated. Also, what is the belief of Ahl al-Sunna regarding the awliya’s knowledge of the unseen?

Al-hamdu lillah wa al-salat wa al-salam `ala rasulillah: Knowledge of the Unseen is one of Allah’s prerogatives, exclusive to Him except insofar as He discloses it to His elect servants:

“He discloses not His unseen (ghayb) to anyone, except only to such a Messenger as He is well-pleased with.” (72:26)

Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani explained this verse thus:

It follows from this verse that Prophets can see some of the Unseen, and so do the saints (wali, pl. awliya’) that follow each particular Prophet also, as each takes from his Prophet and is gifted (yukram) with his knowledge. The difference between the two is that the Prophet looks at this knowledge through all kinds of revelation, while the saint does not look upon it except in dreams or through inspiration, and Allah knows best.1

Ibn Hajar quotes al-Qurtubi’s words confirming this:

The truthful, righteous Muslim (al-muslim al-sadiq al-salih) is he whose state matches that of Prophets and thereby is bestowed (ukrima) some of the same kind of gift they were, and that is to behold the unseen (wa huwa al-ittila` `ala al-ghayb). As for the disbeliever (al-kafir), the corrupt person (al-fasiq), and the contentious one who confuses matters for the listeners (al-mikhlat)— then no.2

It is incorrect and improper, therefore, to say that the Prophet did not know the Unseen except if such a statement is qualified, such as saying: “He did not know that of the Unseen which only Allah knows.” Otherwise it is untrue that the Prophet did not know the Unseen. How could such a claim be true of any truthful Prophet who brings news from His Lord, especially one who ascended above the seven heavens and the eight Paradises to His Lord’s presence, one who told of the events that attended creation, one who saw the events after resurrection, and one to whom was revealed the inimitable Qur’an? And Allah said to him:

And We granted you knowledge of what you knew not, and the bounty of Allah for you has been infinite. (4:113)

This is of the tidings of the Unseen which we reveal to you. You did not know it before this, nor your people. (11:49)

Say: … Allah has already informed us of the true state of matters concerning you: It is your actions that Allah and His Apostle will observe… (9:94)

And some of them hurt the Prophet and say, “He is all ear!” (i.e. gullible). Say: An ear of good for you: he believes in Allah, and believes the Believers, and is a Mercy to those of you who believe… (9:61) Imam al-Baydawi commented: “This verse is a warning that It is not due to his ignorance of your true position that the Prophet accepts what you say but out of leniency and mercy for you.”3

However, the Prophet did not like to boast and he always stressed that certain matters of the Unseen were Allah’s exclusive domain, especially knowledge of the Last Hour, and “the five things” mentioned at the end of Surat Luqman (31:34). This is confirmed by the hadiths:

1. Utiytu mafatihu kulli shay’in illa al-khams. “I have received the keys to everything (unseen) except the Five (which Allah alone knows).”4

Ibn Mas`ud similarly narrates: Utiya mafatihu kulli shay’in ghayr al-khams. “He has received the keys to everything (unseen) except the Five (which Allah alone knows).”5

Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani also cites, without weakening them, two very similar hadiths in Fath al-Bari:

Utiya nabiyyukum `ilmu kulli shay’in siwa hadhihi al-khams.

Utiytu mafatih al-ghayb.

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