Awliya‘s Knowledge of the Ghayb (Unseen)

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

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Among the greatest of lies is to ascribe to one’s eyes the sight in a vision or dream of what one did not see.

Nothing remains of prophecy except the glad tidings (mubashshirat). They asked him: What are they? He said: The good vision or dream. (al-ru’ya al-saliha).34

That kashf is an opening granted by Allah that is completely independent of one’s own exertion or capacity for learning is clear from the saying of Abu Hurayra: “I have retained from the Prophet two large vessels of knowledge”:35 he used the term “vessels” to preclude the connotation of learning on his part, since liquid is not taught to the vessel, but poured in it. This indicates a state of passive receptivity, independent of exertion or skill. Another hadith, also in Bukhari, confirms that the Prophet was literally pouring knowledge into Abu Hurayra rather than teaching it:

Narrated Abu Huraira: I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I hear many narrations from you but I forget them.” The Prophet said, “Spread your covering sheet.” I spread my sheet and he moved both his hands as if scooping something and emptied them in the sheet and said, “Wrap it around you.” I wrapped it round my body, and I have never since forgotten a single Hadith.36

Just as the true dream is a characteristic of the believer, so is kashf a characteristic of belief according to the following hadith:

From al-Harith ibn Malik al-Ansari (some chains have: al-Haritha ibn al-Na`man al-Ansari): He passed by the Prophet who asked him: “How are you this morning O Haritha [sic]?” He replied: “This morning I am a real believer.” The Prophet said: “Take care of what you say: what is the reality of your belief?” He said: “I have turned myself away from this world by keeping awake at night and by keeping myself thirsty by day; and I can almost see the Throne of my Lord in full sight; and I can see the people of the Garden of Paradise visiting each other; and I can almost see the people of the Fire wailing to each other in it.” The Prophet said: “O Haritha, you do know: therefore cleave to it.” Some versions add: “This is a believer, Allah has illumined his heart” (mu’minun nawwara Allahu qalbah).37

The Prophet highlighted `Umar’s gift in this respect in particular:

In the nations before you were people who were spoken to (muhaddathun) though they were not prophets. If there is anyone in my Community, it is `Umar ibn Khattab.

It is related by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, and Ahmad. It is elucidated by the two hadiths in Tirmidhi (which he graded hasan) whereby “Allah has engraved truth on the tongue of `Umar and his heart” and “If there were a prophet after me verily it would be `Umar.” Tirmidhi adds to the muhaddath narration that according to Ibn `Uyayna “spoken to” means “made to understand” (mufahhamun), while in his narration Muslim adds: “Ibn Wahb explained “spoken to” as meaning “inspired” (mulhamun),” and this is the majority’s opinion according to Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari (7:62:#3689) who adds “spoken to” means “by the angels.” Nawawi and Ibn Hajar said respectively in Sharh Sahih Muslim and Fath al-Bari:

The scholars have differed concerning “spoken to.” Ibn Wahb said it meant: “inspired” (mulhamun). It was said also: “Those on the right, and when they give an opinion it is as if they were spoken to, and then they give their opinion. It was said also: the angels speak to them… Bukhari said: “Truth comes from their tongue.” There is in this a confirmation of the miracles of saints (wa fihi ithbatu karamat al-awliya).38

The one among [Muslims] who is “spoken to,” if his existence is ascertained, what befalls him is not used as basis for a legal judgment, rather he is obliged to evaluate it with the Qur’an, and if it conforms to it or to the Sunna, he acts upon it, otherwise he leaves it.39

One of the “Salafis” claimed that since the hadith states “If there is anyone in my Ummah, it is `Umar,” it must follow that at most the number of such inspired people is one. However, it is wrong to think that other Communities had many but this Community only one, as Ibn Hajar also stated in his commentary on that hadith. What is meant by the hadith is the perfection of the quality of ilham (inspiration) in `Umar, not its total lack in other Muslims, and Allah knows best.

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