As-Sallamu-Alaykom dear brothers and sisters,

            One of the most controversial topics when it comes to Sunni and Shia dialogue is the discussion of ‘Ilmu ‘l-ghayb (who has it, has anyone been shown any aspect of it etc).

My personal experience with Sunni Muslims and Salafies has caused me to categorise them (those who I debate on this topic) into two categories.

The first group which we will deal with first states that not a single person has been shown any aspect of the unseen, this group is the easiest to deal with so let us start with them first than we will move on to the second.

 But before we deal with the first group let us get a better understanding of what Ilmu-‘l’ghayb is.

 Sayed Muhammad Rizivi in his book titled ‘’Shi’ism: Imamate and Wilayat’’ states:

‘’…There is another kind of knowledge that cannot be acquired by human senses; it comes from God. That knowledge is known as ‘ilmu ‘l-ghayb, knowledge of the unseen. For example, knowledge about the future events (past, or present as well) or the inner thoughts and intentions of a person, etc.

Ghayb” is the opposite of “shuhûd – the present, the seen”. Sometimes the ghayb is absolute (e.g., the inner most intentions of a person) and at other times it is relative (e.g., what a person has hidden inside his house, it is ‘unseen’ for outsiders). The term “ghayb-unseen, hidden” is used from the perspective of the created beings only. For Allah there is no difference between ghayb and shuhûd. The Qur’an describes Allah as: “…Knower of the unseen and the seen…” (39:46; 62:8)’’      (’Shi’ism: Imamate and Wilayat chapter 7) 


It is very important that you understand the concept of ‘ilmu’l-ghayb before you continue with the article so please re-read if you have to, before you continue on with the article.

As I said before the first group states that no one can be inspired with the knowledge of the unseen and no one has been shown the knowledge of the unseen, they will then present the following verses to prove their case:

[027:065] Say: No one in the heavens and the earth knows the unseen but Allah; and they do not know when they shall be raised.


[006:059]  And with Him are the keys of the unseen treasures — none knows them but He; and He knows what is in the land and the sea, and there falls not a leaf but He knows it, nor a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything green nor dry but (it is all) in a clear book.

[035:038] Verily God knows (all) the hidden things of the heavens and the earth: verily He has full knowledge of all that is in (men’s) hearts.

[039:046] Say: O Allah! Originator of the heavens and the earth, Knower of the unseen and the seen! Thou (only) judgest between Thy servants as to that wherein they differ.

First and foremost there is nothing wrong with these verses; they are from the Quran so no doubt are they true.

 It is true that only Allah (sawt) has the knowledge of the unseen, and it is true that Allah (sawt) has the key of the unseen, but does that mean that no one else can be shown the unseen?  Do these verses anywhere state that Allah (Sawt) cannot grant this knowledge to any of his servants? Our answer to that is no, and there are many reasons for this.

Reason number one for why we say no; can be seen from Ayat Al Kursi which states

, Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth (2:55)

So this verse is quite clear that no one can be inspired with the knowledge of Allah (sawt) (not all of his knowledge obviously) except if Allah (sawt) wills it to happen. One important fact here is this verse does not specify a single person; it is a general statement, so having the knowledge of the unseen which is part of the knowledge of Allah (sawt) can be granted to anyone if Allah (sawt) wills.

The second verse which will refute those who are in category number one can be seen in Surah 11:49 which states

[011:049] This is of the tidings of the Unseen which we inspire in thee (Muhammad). Thou thyself knewest it not, nor did thy folk (know it) before this. Then have patience. Lo! the sequel is for those who ward off (evil).

So as we can Allah (sawt) has inspired to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) knowledge of the unseen (in this case of the past).

Our final verse which we will use to refute those who believe that no one but Allah (sawt) can see the unseen comes from Surah 72:26-27 which states:

[072:26-27] “He (alone) knows the Unseen, nor does He make any one acquainted with His Mysteries, – “Except an apostle whom He has chosen: and then He makes a band of watchers march before him and behind him


According to verse 26 and 27 of Surah 72, Allah (sawt) may allow an apostle whom Allah (sawt) has chosen to know some of the unseen.


It is now perfectly clear that some may be acquainted with the mysteries of the unseen, IF Allah (Sawt) allows them.  Before we move on to category two I would like to stress one thing which is; that no Shia believes that the Prophets or the Imams or anyone possesses the knowledge of the unseen, but we believe that they are shown it or Allah (sawt) may inspire the knowledge , rather than having the knowledge independent of Allah (Sawt).


Now let us deal with category two.


This category believes that only the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been inspired with the knowledge of the unseen.


We will first prove that other prophets haven been given special knowledge from Allah (sawt)


[003:049]And I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely therein is a Sign for you if ye did believe;   (Prophet Isa)


[061:006 And remember, Jesus, the son of Mary, said: “O Children of Israel! I am the apostle of God (sent) to you, confirming the Law (which came) before me, and giving Glad Tidings of an Apostle to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad.” But when he came to them with Clear Signs, they said, “This is evident sorcery!” (Prophet Isa)


 [012:096] Then when the bearer of the good news came, He cast (the shirt) over his face, and he forthwith regained clear sight. He said: “Did I not say to you, ‘I know from God that which ye know not?'”   (Prophet Yusuf)


[027:016] And Solomon was David’s heir. He said: “O ye people! We have been taught the speech of birds and on us has been bestowed (a little) of all things: this is indeed Grace Manifest (from God.)”  (Prophet Suluyman)


[002:251]  By God’s will they routed them; and David slew Goliath; and God gave him power and wisdom and taught him whatever (else) He willed. (Prophet Dawud)


[012:006]“Thus will thy Lord choose thee and teach thee the interpretation of stories (and events) and perfect His favour to thee and to the posterity of Jacob – even as He perfected it to thy fathers Abraham and Isaac aforetime! For God is full of know ledge and wisdom.”    (Prophet Yusuf)


[012:037] He said: The food which ye are given (daily) shall not come unto you but I shall tell you the interpretation ere it cometh unto you. This is of that which my Lord hath taught me. Lo! I have forsaken the religion of folk who believe not in Allah and are disbelievers in the Hereafter. (Prophet Yusuf)



So as we can see other prophets of Islam have been given knowledge by Allah (sawt) as the above verses proved, and all those incidents were done by the power of God Almighty, and not by their own.


Once that is proven those in category one and two will state ‘’ how about the Imams then? They are not prophets let alone Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but you Shia’s believe that they have knowledge of the unseen how so?’’

Before we go on let me state one more time, that the Imam’s do not have the knowledge of the unseen, they are the servants of God, and if God wishes to inspire an Imam with knowledge of the unseen then that is all by the power of Allah (sawt).

 Now it is the belief of the Shia’s that the Imams are the inheritors of knowledge from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), so whatever  was  revealed to the prophet whether it is about future events, or past events it is our belief that the Imams would inherit that knowledge since they are his true successors.

The Holy Quran states:

[081:024]And he (Muhammad) withholds not knowledge of the unseen.

According to the Holy Quran, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is not selfish when it comes to the knowledge of the unseen, he allows others, or tells others about the knowledge of the unseen when he deems fit and who better to receive direct knowledge from the Holy Prophet then the man who was declared:

“I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gate; whoever is desirous of knowledge must enter by that gate.”   (al-Khwarazmi, al-Manaqib, p. 40; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. III, p. 126; al-Khat.ib al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, Vol. IV, p.348; Ibn Hajar, al-Sawa’iq, p. 73; Ibn al-Athir, Usud al-Ghabah, Vol. IV, p.22.)

The Messenger said to his daughter Fatimah al-Zahra (AS): “Would it not please you that I have married you to the first Muslim in my nation, their most knowledgeable, and their greatest in Wisdom.”

(Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v3, p136)


As we all know the imams are the inheritors of knowledge and whatever knowledge was bestowed upon the Prophet of Islam, subsequently this knowledge (including of the unseen) went to Imam Ali (as) and to the rest. To further emphasize this very important point here are two famous Hadith from our sixth and seventh imam.

365. 3. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Prophet Dawood (David) (p) inherited the knowledge of the prophets (who preceded him), Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) (p) inherited (the knowledge of) Prophet Dawood (p) and Prophet Muhammad (p) inherited (the knowledge of) Prophet Sulayman (p) and we are the inheritors of the knowledge of Prophet Muhammad (p) (Kitab Al Kafi: Book 4, Chapter 33)

Yahya bin Abdullah asked imam Musa al-Kadhim (as) saying: “May I be made your ransom, they are claiming that you know the Unseen?” He replied: “Glory be to Allah! Put your hand on my head; by Allah there is no hair on it and on my body except that it has been aroused. No, by Allah it is nothing other than the inheritance from the Messenger of Allah(s)”.  (Bihar al-Anwar, v.20, pp. 102-103)

So as we can see the Imams are the inheritors of knowledge (of the prophet) and common sense would say, that if someone is the inheritor of knowledge of the prophet, that would also include the knowledge that Allah (sawt) has bestowed on the Prophet in the matters of the unseen as well.

Someone might than go and say ‘’ so the only way an Imam can have knowledge of the unseen is from inheritance?’’

This above statement is only partly true, Ayat Al Kursi (as we saw in the beginning of the article) stated that no one can have the knowledge of Allah (Sawt) EXCEPT if he wills, (not all of Gods knowledge of course) and as I have noted that statement was a general statement not to someone specific unlike verse 26-27 of Surah 72 which was speaking only about an apostle.  You may ask ‘’ well why would Allah (sawt) give your Imams knowledge of what they want when it comes to certain matters of the unseen?’’

Simple, Shia’s believe that the Khalifa is appointed by Allah (sawt) not by nomination as was the case with the second Khalifa, or declaration as with the first Khalifa, or by compulsion as was the case with other Khalifa’s. With this said, if an Imam whom was appointed by God Almighty wanted guidance or inspiration from the appointer do you not think he would receive it? 

To further re- iterate my positions here are two Hadith from Imam Jaffar as-saddiq (as)

390. 4. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) was asked: Does an Imam have the knowledge of the unseen? The Imam (p): No, but when God wishes an Imam (p) to know it, He reveals it. (Kitab Al-Kafi: Book 4, Chapter 45)

391. 3. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Whenever an Imam wants to know anything; God inspires him with the required knowledge. (Kitab Al-Kafi: Book 4, Chapter 46)


Alhamdulillah by the grace of God almighty we have answered category number one and two using the book of Allah (sawt) and have proved that the knowledge of the unseen though held by God and him alone, has been inspired and shown to others.

Before I end the article I would like to go over a few things.

 Number one: If anyone is to receive knowledge whether it be about the past, present, or future this is all done by God almighty, NOT by the power of a prophet, or an Imam. God is the holder of all things; it is all up to him if he wishes to inspire a prophet or a human or an Imam, not up to them.

Number two: The definition of Ilmu-‘l’ghayb states that ‘’Sometimes the ghayb is absolute (e.g., the inner most intentions of a person) and at other times it is relative (e.g., what a person has hidden inside his house, it is ‘unseen’ for outsiders).’’ With the latter part highlighted I would like to also state that at times knowledge can unravel aspects of the unseen with the underlined part in mind.

Number three:  The imam’s (Leaders) we believe are chosen by God Almighty just like the Prophet was chosen by God (of course with different purposes), with that said we believe that since God appointed them to lead, we also believe that God can and would inspire them with the required knowledge that they needed.



2 Responses to “Knowledge of the Unseen (Ilmu ‘l-ghayb)”

  1. Bill Bartmann Says:

    Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! 🙂 I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read.. ..


  2. Jun Kalis Says:

    Perfect explaination and thanks for the efforts coz i acquired more knowledge again. Allah bless!

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