Awliya‘s Knowledge of the Ghayb (Unseen)

Unveiling of the Unseen

Kashf or unveiling consists, according to al-Sharif al-Jurjani’s definition in his Kitab al-ta`rifat, in “apprehending beyond the veil of ordinary phenomena, whether by vision or experience, the meanings and realities that pertain to the unseen.” It is a kind of intuitive knowledge or discovery that typifies Allah’s Friends, whose rank Allah extols with the affirmation:

Lo! Verily the friends of Allah are those on whom fear comes not, nor do they grieve (10:62).

Many sayings of the Prophet mention the various types and ranks of the saints, as Suyuti has shown in his collection of these sayings in his fatwa already mentioned entitled: al-Khabar al-dall `ala wujud al-qutb wa al-awtad wa al-nujaba’ wa al-abdal or “The reports that indicate the existence of the Pole, the Pillars, the Leaders, and the Substitutes” in his Hawi li al-fatawi. These and other types of perfected individuals form the khawass or elite of the pious, whom Allah also calls the siddiqin (saints, literally “Most Truthful Ones”) and ranks directly after the Prophets and before the Martyrs in the verse:

Whoso obey Allah and the Messenger, they are with those unto whom Allas has shown favor, of the Prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous. The best of company are they! (4:69)

Their position in relation to Allah on the Day of Judgment is even described as an object of desire for the Prophets in the following sound hadith of the Prophet related by `Umar and others. This is the narration of Abu Malik al-Ash`ari from the Musnad of Imam Ahmad:

When the Prophet finished his prayer he turned to face the people and said: “O people! Listen to this, understand it, and know it. Allah has servants who are neither Prophets nor martyrs and whom the Prophets and martyrs yearn to be like, due to their seat and proximity in relation to Allah.”

One of the beduin Arabs who came from among the most isolated of people twisted his hand at the Prophet and said: “O Messenger of Allah! People from humankind who are neither Prophets nor martyrs and yet the Prophets and the martyrs yearn to be like them due to their seat and proximity in relation to Allah?! Describe them for us!”

The Prophet’s face showed delight at the Beduin’s question and he said:

“They are of the strangers from this and that place. They frequent this or that tribe without belonging to them. They do not have family connections among themselves. They love one another for Allah’s sake. They are of pure intent towards one another. On the Day of Resurrection Allah will place for them pedestals of light upon which He will make them sit, and He will turn their faces and clothes into light. On the Day of Resurrection the people will be terrified but not those. They are Allah’s Friends upon whom fear comes not, nor do they grieve.”30

Another famous description of the characteristics of awliya was given by Sayyidina `Ali, as related by Ibn al-Jawzi in the chapter devoted to him in Sifat al-safwa:

They are the fewest in number, but the greatest in rank before Allah. Through them Allah preserves His proofs until they bequeath it to those like them (before passing on) and plant it firmly in their hearts. By them knowledge has taken by assault the reality of things, so that they found easy what those given to comfort found hard, and found intimacy in what the ignorant found desolate. They accompanied the world with bodies whose spirits were attached to the highest regard (al-mahall al-a`la). Ah, ah! how one yearns to see them!

The knowledge of the awliya’ may attain higher levels than that of any other knowledge of humankind and jinn including in certain cases even the knowledge of Prophets. The preternatural knowledge or powers which Allah bestows on some of His friends (awliya’) who are not Prophets have a firm basis in the Qur’an: for example, the wali who was with Prophet Sulayman and brought him the throne of Balqis faster than the blink of an eye. He was characterized as “one who had knowledge of the Book” as Allah stated:

One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said: I will bring it thee (O Sulayman) before thy gaze returneth unto thee… (27:40)

and this is Prophet Sulayman’s scribe Asif ibn Barkhya according to the Tafsir Ibn `Abbas and the majority of the scholars, i.e. a non-Prophet human being:

“One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture”: i.e. an angel… or Jibril… or al-Khidr or Asif ibn Barkhya Sulayman’s scribe, which is the most correct, and the jumhur (majority) agrees upon it…31

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