There can be no doubt that Allah has kept knowledge of the Unseen his exclusive domain.
He says: “No one who is in the heavens and the Earth knows the Unseen except Allah; and they do not know when they shall be resurrected.” [Sûrah al-Naml: 65]
Allah reveals some matters of the Unseen to his select servants among the angels and the Prophets. He does not reveal to them everything, only what He wishes to reveal.
Created beings have not been made capable of knowing everything of the Unseen. How could it be otherwise when Allah Himself is the greatest of all things Unseen. Can anyone compass Allah with their knowledge?
When we read the story of Adam’s creation in the Qur’ân, we can see clearly that the angels did not have knowledge of the Unseen.
Allah relates to us the dialogue that transpired between Him and the angels at that time:
And when your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to place in the earth a vicegerent.’, they said: ‘What! Would you place therein such as shall make mischief in it and shed blood, while we celebrate Your praise and extol Your holiness?’ He said: ‘Surely I know what you do not know.’
And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: ‘Tell me the names of these if you are right.’ They said: Glory be to You! We have no knowledge but that which You have taught us. Surely You are the Knowing, the Wise.’
He said: ‘O Adam! Inform them of their names.’ Then when he had informed them of their names, (Allah) said: ‘Did I not say to you that I surely know what is Unseen in the heavens and the Earth, and I know what you manifest and what you hide?” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 30-33]
Allah also tells us in the Qur’ân that the Prophets (peace be upon him) do not possess any knowledge of the Unseen save what He chooses to reveal to them.
He says: “Say (O Muhammad): I do not say to you that I possess Allah’s treasures, nor that I have knowledge of the Unseen. I do not say to you that I am an angel. I follow only that which has been revealed to me.” [Sûrah al-An`âm: 50]
In this verse, Allah states clearly to us that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not know everything about the Unseen. Indeed, in this verse Allah had instructed him to tell his followers directly that he did not have such knowledge.
Indeed, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not even know everything that was going to happen to him during the course of his life. He knew only some of these things – what Allah chose to reveal to him.
Allah commands him in the Qur’ân to convey this fact to the people: “Say (O Muhammad): I do not possess for myself any benefit or harm except what Allah wills. If I had known the Unseen, I would have brought on for myself a lot of good and nothing evil would ever befall me. I am but a giver of warnings and of glad tidings for a people who believe.” [Sûrah al-A`râf: 188]
This should become all the more obvious to us when we study the Prophet’s biography. From the events of His life, we can clearly see that he had no knowledge of the Unseen except what Allah had revealed to him. How often did he and his Companions suffer from misfortune and adversity? If he had known the Unseen, he would have avoided these hardships and would have protected his Companions from them. If a person were to look for examples of such misfortunes from the Prophet’s biography, he would find that indeed almost all his biography is a series of trials and hardships.
Some deviant people who wish to attribute to themselves and others the ability to know the Unseen, cite certain spurious evidence from the Sunnah to support the idea that the Prophet (peace be upon him) and others can possess such knowledge.
They like to cite the hadîth attributed to Ibn `Umar that the Prophet (peace be upon him) supposedly said: “Allah raised up the world for me so I could look upon it and see what will exist on it until the Day of Judgment just as I see the palm of my hand. Allah has made it as clear for me as it was for the Prophets before me.”
This is a spurious hadîth.1
It is wrong to even attribute this statement to the Prophet (peace be upon him), let alone use it to prove a point that is in direct contradiction to the Qur’ân.
Another hadîth that they often cite is a statement attributed to the Companion Abû Dharr al-Ghifârî, whereby he is to have said: “Muhammad (peace be upon him) had left us in the following state: that there was not even a bird in the sky flapping its wings without his having already imparted to us knowledge about it.”
There is disagreement about its chain of transmission.2
However, the pertinent question here is: What does the hadîth mean?
In his book entitled Gharîb al-Hadîth
, al-Khattâbî explains the hadîth as saying that the Prophet (peace be upon him) completely and thoroughly expounded on Islam so that nothing remained ambiguous. He even explained to them all the rulings related to birds – what of them is lawful and what is unlawful, how they should be slaughtered, what a pilgrim must pay if he kills one during the Hajj, and so forth. [Gharîb al-Hadîth
We know that this is certainly what Abû Dharr had meant, because al-Tabarânî relates the hadîth with the following wording:
Abû Dharr said: “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) had left us in the following state: that there was not even a bird flapping its wings in the air without his having already imparted to us knowledge about it. Then he said (peace be upon him): ‘Nothing remains that brings you closer to Paradise or further from the Hellfire except that it has been explained to you’.” [al-Mu`jam al-Kabîr
This more complete narration of the hadîth makes it clear that what the Companions had learned about birds was in relation to the Islamic rulings about them. They were not given a full categorization of bird species or told what was going to happen to each and every one of them until the Day of Judgment. No rational person would even entertain such an absurd idea.
After the unambiguous and indisputable evidence from the Qur’ân and Sunnah that only Allah has knowledge of the Unseen, is it right for someone to bring forth spurious and inconclusive evidence to the contrary? Such is the conduct of people in whose heart is a disease.
Allah says: “He is the one who revealed to you the Book. In it are clear verses – they are the basis of the Book – and others that are allegorical. As for those in whose heart is a disease, they seek after what is allegorical seeking discord and seeking their own interpretation. No one knows their interpretation save Allah; and those who are firm in knowledge say: ‘We believe in it. It is all from our Lord.’ None will take heed except people of understanding.” [Sûrah Al `Imrân
1. This hadîth is mentioned by al-Qastallânî in his book al-Mawâhib al-Ladunniyah (3/559) in which he quotes it from al-Tabarânî. Al-Tabarânî mentions this hadîth in al-Mu`jam al-Kabîr, as mentioned by al-Haythamî in Majma` al-Zawâ’id (8/287) and by Abû Nu`aym in Hilyat al-Awliyâ’ (6/101). Na`îm b. Hammâd relates the same hadîth in al-Fitan, (1/27 No. 2).
All these narration are through Sa`îd b. Sinân through Abû al-Zâhiriyah through Kuthayr b. Murrah from Ibn `Umar. Ibn Hajr, in ,em>al-Taqrîb (No. 2333), classifies Sa`îd b. Sinân al-Humsî as: “someone to be abandoned”. Al-Dâraqutnî and others have accused him of fabricating hadîth.”
For this reason, we fund that al-Haythamî, when he records this hadîth, takes pains to mention how severely weak Sa`îd b. Sinân is as a narrator. [Majma` al-Zawâ’id (8/287)]
2. This hadîth is related by Ahmad in his Musnad (21361,21439, and 21440), al-Tabarâni in al-Mu`jam al-Kabîr (2/155-156 No. 1647), Ibn Hibbân in his Sahîh (No. 65), and others.
According to al-Dâraqutrnî, it is narrated by Mundhir al-Thawrî with an incomplete chain of transmission from Abû Dharr. Though its incompleteness is sufficient for the hadîth to be weak, there are other narrations that support its meaning and lend credence to it.