Answered by Shaykh Farid Dingle

Question: Assalamu alaykum

Does the Prophet know the unseen (Allah bless him and grant him peace)? Could you please explain the hadith of Aisha (Allah be well-pleased with her) ‘Whoever says that he knows what happens tomorrow is mistaken.’? (Bukhari)

Answer: Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

Dear questioner,

This question might seen complex but it is in fact very simple.

Allah knows things innately, and therefore knows everything. Created beings do not know things innately, so they can only know what Allah causes them to know. A prophet is caused to know things by conventional means (like the five senses and deduction) and by revelation.

Whatever Allah chose to cause the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to know, he knows; and whatever He chose to keep from him, He kept from him. The exact details are not a point of creed, but can be gleamed from various hadith.

Fuller Answer

What is it to know the “unseen”?

The unseen is term for things that we can only know through revelation. Knowledge of the unseen has been defined as ‘that which was unperceivable by the senses, and that which is neither known a fortiori or known by inference.’ (al-Nibras, Farhari)

Since the knowledge given to the prophets from Allah is either by revelation (which is like a fortiori knowledge with respect to them) or by exposing their senses to things that others can’t see or hear, whatever they know is not as such “knowing the unseen”. (al-Nibras, Farhari)

Who is shown the “unseen”?

Allah Most High says, ‘[He is] Knower of the unseen, and He does not disclose His [knowledge of the] unseen to anyone except whom He has approved of messengers.’ (Qur’an, 72:26-7)

These verses tell us that Allah gives special knowledge to his prophets and messengers (upon whom be blessings and peace). (Tafsir al-Tabari)

It is also possible that Allah give certain knowledge to a righteous Muslim by way of miracle. (Sharh al-Aqaid, Taftazani; Fatawa Shihab al-Ramli)

An example of this is when Sayyidna Umar saw in a dream the battle ground of his troops during a campaign in the Conquest of Persia and was able to tell them from Medina to stay next to the mountain in order to force the Persians to attach from one particular direction. (Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk, Tabari)

According to Sunni Islam, what exactly does the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) know?

As mentioned before, as long as we understand that Allah knows things innately while His creatures merely learn or are caused to know things, the fine line between Creator and created, between tahwid and shirk is decisively drawn. Thereafter, whatever Allah chooses to have any of His creation know is not of creedal concern.

There are certain hadiths wherein the Sahaba mentioned that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) ‘didn’t leave a bird in the sky save that he mentioned some knowledge concerning it.’ (Ahmad and Tabarani) Others mention that he mentioned ‘everything that would come to pass up until the Day of Rising.’ (Tirmidhi)

Imam al-Busiri is famous for the line ‘And of his knowledge is the knowledge of Tablet and the Pen.’

Commenting upon this, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami says, ‘[This] is because Allah Most High showed him everything in the Tablet on the Night of Ascension, and gave him knowledge of other things too.’ (al-Umda fi Sharh al-Burda, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami)

Knowing everything in the Tablet is something in principle possible for a normal human being, as explained by Imam al-Ghazali. (Qanun al-Tawil, Ghazali) Whether or not is has happened, or will happen, is not a point of creed.

Conclusion

The essential difference between our knowledge and Allah’s knowledge is that His is innate, while our knowledge is caused by His will and power.

Allah gives knowledge to certain individual of His creation by different means. However much knowledge Allah chooses to give a particular individual is not of major concern. It is like trying to pinpoint exactly how much happiness/wealth/health Allah will give any given person in Paradise.

I pray this helps.

Wassalam,
[Shaykh] Farid Dingle

Shaykh Farid Dingle grew up in a convert family in Herefordshire, UK. In 2007, he moved to Jordan to pursue traditional studies. Shaykh Farid continues to live in Amman, Jordan with his wife and kids. In addition to continuing his studies he teaches Arabic and several of the Islamic sciences.

Shaykh Farid began his journey in sacred knowledge with intensives in the UK and Jordan (2004) in Shafi’i fiqh and Arabic. After years of studying Arabic grammar, Shafi’i fiqh, hadith, legal methodology (usul al-fiqh) and tafsir, Sh. Farid began specializing in Arabic language and literature. Sh. Farid studied Pre-Islamic poetry, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, and Andalusian literature. He holds a BA in Arabic Language and Literature and continues exploring the language of the Islamic tradition.

In addition to his interest in the Arabic language Shaykh Farid actively researches matters related to jurisprudence (fiqh) which he studied with Shaykh Hamza Karamali, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, and continues with Shaykh Amjad Rasheed. 

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