The unseen (ghayb)

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Can anybody other than God know the unseen (ghayb)?

The concept of the unseen pertains to what is suprasensory and metaphysical or even meta-cosmic. In this sense, the past, as well as the future and everything beyond ordinary human senses are all included in the concept of the unseen, provided that some concrete indications have not been manifest. However, in a narrower sense of the concept, the Unseen pertains only to the future and what I intend here to concentrate on is the tidings God’s Messenger gave of certain future events.

The knowledge of the Unseen is, first of all, with God. This is evident from some Qur’anic verses, such as the following:

With Him are the keys of the Unseen, none knows them but He. He knows whatever is in 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 wet, fresh or dry but is in a Manifest Record. (al-An‘am, 6.59)

Say, [O Muhammad]: ‘I do not tell you that with me are the treasures of God, nor that I know the Unseen, nor do I tell you that I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me’. Say: ‘Are the blind and the one who sees equal? Will you not then reflect’? (al-An‘am, 6.50)

Say: ‘I have no power over any benefit or harm to myself except as God wills. If I had the knowledge of the Unseen, I should increase good for myself and no evil should have touched me. I am but a warner and a bringer of glad tidings unto people who believe’. (al-A‘raf, 7.188)

These verses clearly state that the knowledge of the Unseen is with God. Does this, however, mean that no one can, by God’s leave, obtain any part of the knowledge of the Unseen?

In order to answer this question, we should consider the following points:

  • Everything man has, like health, knowledge, and power, essentially belongs to God and is, accordingly, from God. We have no power except that with which He has endowed us . We have no knowledge except what He has taught us or what He has enabled us to learn. Likewise, we see through His enabling us to see and hear through His enabling us to hear. Since this is so, the verses do not absolutely exclude man from possessing, by God’s leave, some knowledge of the Unseen.
  • The concept of the Unseen does not only relate to the future, it also relates to the past. The Qur’an presents the stories of past nations as the stories of the Unseen. Historical re-searches make us informed of the past.
  • Many people can, by God’s Will, get some glimpse of the future, partly or generally, in dreams or through some other ways which it is not proper to explain here.
  • The Qur’an, like the universe and man, is an organic entity, each verse being interrelated to the others. So, the first and foremost interpreter of the Qur’an is the Qur’an itself. In which case, the complete and true understanding of a verse depends on the understanding of other relevant verses. As a principle of creed, and as explicitly declared in the verses mentioned above, the knowledge of the Unseen, like power, seeing, and hearing, belongs to God. However, He reveals the knowledge of some of the Unseen to a Messenger whom He has chosen, as declared in the following verse:

    [God alone is] the knower of the Unseen and He does not disclose His Unseen to anyone, except a Messenger whom He has chosen. (al-Jinn, 72.26–7)

God revealed to His Messenger many of His secrets and the Messenger informed his nation about some of them which they needed to know. The number of the predictions which he made and were reported in authentic books of Tradition exceeds three hundred. These predictions fall into three categories:

  1. His predictions concerning his own time;
  2. The predictions relating to events that would follow his departure from the world;
  3. His miraculous explanations, which seem, at first sight, easy to make but can only be understood in conjunction with scientific developments.

In the following sections, some examples will be given from each category.


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