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Knowledge of the Unseen Is the Dominion of Allāh Alone

Al-ʿAllāmah ʿAbd al-Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād

Various proofs from the Qurʿan showing Allāh’s knowledge of the ghayb — a knowledge unbeknownst to mankind, jinn, nor anything else.

Allāh says:

قَالَ يَا آدَمُ أَنبِئْهُم بِأَسْمَائِهِمْ ۖ فَلَمَّا أَنبَأَهُم بِأَسْمَائِهِمْ قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُل لَّكُمْ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ غَيْبَ السَّمَاوَاتِ
وَالْأَرْضِ وَأَعْلَمُ مَا تُبْدُونَ وَمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْتُمُونَ

“He said: “O Ādam! Inform them of their names,” and when he had informed them of their names, He said: “Did I not tell you that I know the Ghayb (unseen) in the heavens and the earth, and I know what you reveal and what you have been concealing?”
(Al-Baqarah, 2:33)

Al-ʿAllāmah Abd al-Muḥsin al-ʿAbbād comments:

This verse proves the encompassing nature of the knowledge of Allāh—the Exalted in Might. He knows the unseen in the heavens and the earth, and that which His servants keep hidden, and that which they choose to reveal. There is nothing in the heavens or the earth that is hidden from Him.

Knowledge of the unseen in its entirety is the dominion of Allāh alone. Knowledge of the unseen in its entirety cannot be shared between Him and another. The Most Exalted in Might said:

قُل لَّا يَعْلَمُ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ الْغَيْبَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ

“Say: “None in the heavens and the earth knows the Ghayb (unseen) except Allāh.”
(Al-Naml, 27:65)

He also said:

وَعِندَهُ مَفَاتِحُ الْغَيْبِ لَا يَعْلَمُهَا إِلَّا هُوَ ۚ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ ۚ وَمَا تَسْقُطُ مِن وَرَقَةٍ إِلَّا يَعْلَمُهَا وَلَا حَبَّةٍ فِي ظُلُمَاتِ الْأَرْضِ وَلَا رَطْبٍ وَلَا يَابِسٍ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مُّبِينٍ

“And with Him are the keys of the Ghayb (all that is hidden), none knows them but He. And He knows whatever there is in (or on) the earth and in the sea; not a leaf falls, but He knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth nor anything fresh or dry, but is written in a Clear Record.”
(Al-Anʿām, 6:59)

He also said:

عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ فَلَا يُظْهِرُ عَلَىٰ غَيْبِهِ أَحَدًا ‎﴿٢٦﴾‏ إِلَّا مَنِ ارْتَضَىٰ مِن رَّسُولٍ فَإِنَّهُ يَسْلُكُ مِن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ رَصَدًا

“(He Alone) the All-Knower of the ghayb (unseen), and He reveals to none His ghayib (unseen). Except to a Messenger (from mankind) whom He has chosen (He informs him of unseen as much as He likes), and then He makes a band of watching guards (angels) to march before him and behind him.”
(Al-Jinn, 72:26-27)

Regarding His messengers (عليهم السلام), He said:

يَوْمَ يَجْمَعُ اللَّهُ الرُّسُلَ فَيَقُولُ مَاذَا أُجِبْتُمْ ۖ قَالُوا لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ

“On the Day when Allāh will gather the messengers together and say to them: “What was the response you received (from men to your teaching)? They will say: “We have no knowledge, verily, only You are the All-Knower of all that is hidden (or unseen, etc.).”
(Al-Māʾidah, 5:109)

Concerning His Prophet Ibrāhīm (عليه السلام), He said:

رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ تَعْلَمُ مَا نُخْفِي وَمَا نُعْلِنُ ۗ وَمَا يَخْفَىٰ عَلَى اللَّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي السَّمَاءِ

“O our Lord! Certainly, You know what we conceal and what we reveal. Nothing on the earth or in the heaven is hidden from Allāh.”
(Ibrāhīm, 14:38)

With regards to His prophet Nūḥ (عليه السلام), he said:

وَلَا أَقُولُ لَكُمْ عِندِي خَزَائِنُ اللَّهِ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ

“And I do not say to you that with me are the Treasures of Allāh, “Nor that I know the ghayb (unseen).”
(Hūd, 11:31)

Just as He ordered His prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to announce to his people that he does not know the knowledge of the unseen. He said:

قُل لَّا أَقُولُ لَكُمْ عِندِي خَزَائِنُ اللَّهِ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ

“Say (O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم): “I don’t tell you that with me are the treasures of Allāh, nor (that) I know the unseen.”
(Al-Anʿām, 6:50)

He also said:

قُل لَّا أَمْلِكُ لِنَفْسِي نَفْعًا وَلَا ضَرًّا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ

“Say (O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)): “I possess no power of benefit or hurt to myself except as Allāh wills.”
(Al-Aʿrāf, 7:188)

He also clarified that all news regarding past generations and information surrounding them was never seen by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) nor was he present when these occurrences took place. Rather, he was informed of them by means of revelation from Allāh—the Exalted in Might. As Allāh said, after mentioning the story of Nūḥ in Sūrah Hūd:

تِلْكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهَا إِلَيْكَ ۖ مَا كُنتَ تَعْلَمُهَا أَنتَ وَلَا قَوْمُكَ مِن قَبْلِ هَٰذَا ۖ فَاصْبِرْ ۖ إِنَّ الْعَاقِبَةَ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ

“This is of the news of the unseen which We reveal unto you (O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)), neither you nor your people knew them before this. So be patient. Surely, the (good) end is for the Muttaqūn (pious).”
(Hūd, 11:49)

Just as He said at the end of the story of Yūsuf:

ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهِ إِلَيْكَ ۖ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ أَجْمَعُوا أَمْرَهُمْ وَهُمْ يَمْكُرُونَ

“This is of the news of the ghayb (unseen) which We reveal by inspiration to you (O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)) . You were not (present) with them when they arranged their plan together, and (also, while) they were plotting.”
(Yūsuf, 12:102)

Its meaning: You were not with the brothers of Yūsuf (عليه السلام) when they spoke about killing him or casting him into the bottom of the well. Rather, you were informed of this occurrence by means of revelation from Allāh—the Exalted in Might. Likewise, the saying of Allāh—the Exalted in Might—concerning Maryam (عليها السلام):

ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهِ إِلَيْكَ ۚ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يُلْقُونَ أَقْلَامَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ يَكْفُلُ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يَخْتَصِمُونَ

“This is a part of the news of the ghayb (unseen, i.e. the news of the past nations of which you have no knowledge) which We inspire you with (O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)). You were not with them, when they cast lots with their pens as to which of them should be charged with the care of Maryam (Mary); nor were you with them when they disputed.”
(Āli-ʿImrān, 3:44)

Likewise, what was mentioned with regard to Mūsá (عليه السلام) in Surah al-Qaṣaṣ:

وَمَا كُنتَ بِجَانِبِ الْغَرْبِيِّ إِذْ قَضَيْنَا إِلَىٰ مُوسَى الْأَمْرَ وَمَا كُنتَ مِنَ الشَّاهِدِينَ ‎﴿٤٤﴾‏ وَلَٰكِنَّا أَنشَأْنَا قُرُونًا فَتَطَاوَلَ عَلَيْهِمُ الْعُمُرُ ۚ وَمَا كُنتَ ثَاوِيًا فِي أَهْلِ مَدْيَنَ تَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِنَا وَلَٰكِنَّا كُنَّا مُرْسِلِينَ ‎﴿٤٥﴾‏ وَمَا كُنتَ بِجَانِبِ الطُّورِ إِذْ نَادَيْنَا وَلَٰكِن رَّحْمَةً مِّن رَّبِّكَ لِتُنذِرَ قَوْمًا مَّا أَتَاهُم مِّن نَّذِيرٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ

“And you (O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)) were not on the western side (of the Mount), when We made clear to Mūsá (Moses) the commandment, and you were not among those present. But We created generations [after generations i.e. after Mūsá (Moses)], and long were the ages that passed over them. And you (O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)) were not a dweller among the people of Madyan (Midian), reciting Our Verses to them. But it is We Who kept sending (messengers). And you (O Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)) were not at the side of the Ṭūr (Mount) when We did call, [it is said that Allāh called the followers of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), and they answered His call, or that Allāh called Mūsá (Moses)]. But (you are sent) as a mercy from your Lord, to give warning to a people to whom no warner had come before you, in order that they may remember or receive admonition.”
(Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28:44-46)

The meaning of all of these verses and their likeness is that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) does not inform us of past generations from having seen them, nor was he present with them. Rather, he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) informs by means of revelation such that it is as if he saw and was present at the occurrences he relates. For example, he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “As for Mūsá, he is a brown-skinned man with wavy hair mounted upon a red camel, its nose and mouth tied with rope composed of palm fibres. It is as if I see him descending in the valley [of Makkah] reciting the talbiyah [as a pilgrim].”1 He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also said: “It is as if I gaze upon Yūnus ibn Mattá mounted upon a red camel, its build sturdy and stout, donning a wool garment, his camel’s nose and mouth tied with a palm rope while he recites the talbiyah.”2

Allāh has allowed our Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) to be acquainted with many matters of the unseen, but has not allowed his knowledge to be comprehensive in its entirety. This is because the knowledge of the unseen, in its entirety, is the dominion of none other than Allāh. For example, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) did not know of ʿĀʾishah’s (رضي الله عنها) innocence from the slander that was fabricated against her except after the revelation of the verses that are recited in Surāh al-Nūr. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said to ʿĀʾishah (رضي الله عنها): “O ʿĀʾishah! Such-and-such has reached me concerning you. If you are innocent, then Allāh shall declare your innocence. But if you have perpetrated a sin, then sincerely repent to Allāh and seek His forgiveness.”3

Another example is the incident in which the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was ignorant of the place of ʿĀʾishah’s (رضي الله عنه) lost necklace when she accompanied him during one of his excursions. The Messenger of Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and his companions began searching for it, while they had no water. In the morning, the verse of tayammum was revealed. When the camel upon which ʿĀʾishah (رضي الله عنها) was mounted was finally moved, they found the necklace under it.4 If the Messenger of Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم) knew the unseen, he would have told them from the very start of their search of its location under the camel, and they would have had no need to search for it.

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Indeed, you bring your disputes to me and it may be that some of you are more intelligent in your arguments than others. Thus, whomever is given that which is the right of his brother as a result of his speech, then I have only allotted for him a share of the Fire so let him defer from absconding with it.”5 If he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) knew the unseen, he would have been able to discern the truly deserving one among the claimants from the falsifier.

When the servant girl said [as part of a poetry praising the martyrs of the Day of Badr]: “Among us is a Prophet who knows what shall occur tomorrow”, he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) replied: “Abandon this saying, and say that which you used to say [i.e., praising the martyrs of Badr].”6

Just as it was authentically confirmed that he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) did not know what will happen to his companions after his demise. He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “People from among my companions shall come to the body of water that was given to me [i.e., al-Kawthar on the Day of Judgement]. To the extent that when I have recognised them, they will be prevented from it. So, I will say: “My companions!” So [Allāh] will say: “Indeed, you do not know what they innovated after you.””7 This refers to the companions who apostated after his (صلى الله عليه وسلم) death, and were subsequently killed by the armies sent by Abū Bakr (رضي الله عنه) to fight the apostates.

As for the saying of al-Buṣīrī in al-Burdah8: “Indeed, this entire dunyá and the hereafter are but representations of your [the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم)] goodness. The pen [that wrote everything in existence fifty thousand years before the creation of the heavens and the earth] and the preserved tablet [upon which it wrote] are both within the confines of your knowledge”, this is representative of exceeding the limits concerning which Allāh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) are not pleased. For such statements can only apply to Allāh. It is Allāh whose goodness is represented in the contents of this dunyá and the hereafter. He alone has the knowledge of the pen and the preserved tablet.

The aforementioned passages are plainly evident in negating mankind ever encompassing the knowledge of the unseen. As for the angels, Allāh has similarly negated their knowledge of it in His saying:

قَالُوا سُبْحَانَكَ لَا عِلْمَ لَنَا إِلَّا مَا عَلَّمْتَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ

“They (angels) said: “Glory be to You, we have no knowledge except what you have taught us. Verily, it is You, the All-Knower, the All-Wise.””
(Al-Baqarah, 2:32)

As for the Jinn, their knowledge of the unseen has also been negated in His saying:

فَلَمَّا قَضَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ الْمَوْتَ مَا دَلَّهُمْ عَلَىٰ مَوْتِهِ إِلَّا دَابَّةُ الْأَرْضِ تَأْكُلُ مِنسَأَتَهُ ۖ فَلَمَّا خَرَّ تَبَيَّنَتِ الْجِنُّ أَن لَّوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ الْغَيْبَ مَا لَبِثُوا فِي الْعَذَابِ الْمُهِينِ

“Then when We decreed death for him [Sulaymān (Solomon)], nothing informed them (jinns) of his death except a little worm of the earth, which kept (slowly) gnawing away at his stick, so when he fell down, the jinns saw clearly that if they had known the unseen, they would not have stayed in the humiliating torment.”
(Sabaʾ, 34:14)

Also, His saying concerning them:

وَأَنَّا لَا نَدْرِي أَشَرٌّ أُرِيدَ بِمَن فِي الْأَرْضِ أَمْ أَرَادَ بِهِمْ رَبُّهُمْ رَشَدًا

“And we know not whether evil is intended for those on earth, or whether their Lord intends for them a Right Path.”
(Al-Jinn, 72:10)

[1] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 5913 and Muslim: 422.
[2] Authentic: narrated by Muslim: 420.
[3] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 2661 and Muslim: 7020.
[4] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 334 and Muslim: 816.
[5] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 2680 and Muslim: 4473.
[6] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 5147.
[7] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 6582 and Muslim: 5996.
[8] Translator note: Al-Burdah is a poem written by al-Buṣīrī (762-840 AH) who was described as being from among the Huffāẓ of ḥadīth. Al-Sakhāwī said concerning him: “He used to copy books and had elegant handwriting, but with frequent distortional errors.” See al-Aʿlām by al-Zarkilī 1:104. As for al-Burdah, Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn said regarding it: “There are matters contained therein that pertain to disbelief that exit one from the fold of Islām. Although we do not claim the writer himself to be a disbeliever—that is, al-Būṣīrī—as we are unaware of the reasons that drove him to compose this poem. Rather, we say: Its verses contain disbelief. Whoever adopts it as a creed is a disbeliever. This is a general, encompassing statement that we make concerning it. We also obligate upon the believer to completely refrain from perusing the verses of al-Burdah due to the magnanimous matters of shirk it contains. While also consisting of verses whose meanings are good and sound. The truth is accepted from whomever brings it, whoever they may be. Just as falsehood is rejected from whomever brings it, whomever they may be.” See Fatāwá Nur ʿalá al-Darb 4:2.

Source: Kunūz al-Qurʾān:169-173
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: February 18, 2024
Edited: February 18, 2024

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