By necessity, the human society needs a reformer to bridge the gaps among its sectors, to correct its error, to complete its deficiency, and to enable it to stand on its own. The reason for all of this is the fact that the elements of corruption are present in it.
Had there been none to curb the nation's evil intentions, their whims and desires would have played havoc with them and divided them, so much so that even a relative would not be able to trust his relative, and all individuals would be the victims of their own ambition. Such a reformer is chosen by the Master, Glory to Him, from among His servants because He, and only He, is the One Who best knows the purity and integrity of the souls, of their renunciation of what displeases the Lord of the Worlds.
He will have to be protected against the immoralities the servants of Allah have and against all abominable inclinations so that he may not partake of them and thus worsen the situation and abandon informing others and guiding them to the paths of guidance and warning them against the pitfalls of perdition.
Allah had created the greatest Prophet (S) from the light of His sanctity and bestowed upon him the most perfect of good ethics to the extent that he surpassed in his good conduct everyone else and excelled over every being in existence. He, therefore, started explaining what is divinely permissible and what is not, supported by divine inspiration.
One's pen is surely incapable of defining such a brilliant personality about which the Prophet (S) said to the Commander of the Faithful, “Nobody knows Allah except I and you; nobody knows me except Allah and you, and nobody knows you except Allah and I.”1
Since the Prophet (S) was not to live forever, being a mortal like any other human being whose end is predetermined, and since a number of his injunctions were quite general the time for whose specifics had not come yet, it was mandatory on the legislator that called for reforming the nation to appoint a successor to continue the march in his footsteps, in his determination, sincerity and infallibility.
Nobody knows what someone hides within himself except his Creator. Had the nation been entrusted to select such a person, it would have been impossible for it to distinguish one person from another because of its inability to determine the characteristics that had to be present in the Imam.
Chaos, corruption, disputes and dissension would then result. This is contrary to the Munificence of the Master, Glory to Him.
“Your Lord creates whatever He pleases and chooses: they have no choice to make in the affair” (Sura Al-Qasas, 28:68).
“No believing man nor woman has any choice with regard to their affairs if Allah and His Messenger make a decree, and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger strays a manifest straying” (Sura Al-‘Azab, 33:36).
Succession [to the Prophet] is a divine post for which Allah, the most Exalted One, enables someone to carry the burdens of prophethood, so he conveys the message and calls for the details of the Shari’a brought by the Supreme Saviour.
He will guide the ignorant, alert the heedless, discipline the transgressor and explain in detail what the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his Progeny, had summed up either to secure the common good of people, or he neglected to explain it because it was not opportune to do so yet.
After the Message had been conveyed by the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), he was succeeded by his son al-Hasan then by al-Hasan's brother al-Husayn, the Master of Martyrs, then by his (Husayn’s) son ‘Ali Zayn al-’Abidin, then by his son Muhammad al-Baqir followed by his son Ja’far as-Sadiq followed by his son Musa al-Kaďim followed by his son ‘Ali al-Riďa, then by his son Muhammad al-Jawad then by his son ‘Ali al-Hadi, then by his son Hasan al-’Askari, then by his son the Awaited One, Abul-Qasim, Muhammad al-Mahdi, may Allah hasten his reappearance.
Consecutively narrated traditions have told us that Allah, the Great, deposits with the Imam, whom He appointed for the nation as the proof and the guiding light whereby those who stray are guided, a divine power and a light whereby he can inquire about the beings and what happens in existence of events and epics. An authentic hadith says, “When one of us is born, a pole of light will be raised for him whereby he sees the deeds of Allah's servants and whatever takes place in the lands.”2
Such a statement refers to the divine power poured by the Truth, Glory to Him, for the purpose of discovering all facts as they are, be they statements or actions or anything else relevant to the material or spiritual world. It is through such a divine power that the curtains of ignorance are lifted and the barriers of heedlessness are removed; so, nothing remains except that it is present before them in its essence and before their holy selves.
Such a light dispels the darkness, so the one seeing will find what the deep darkness had veiled from him standing before his very eyes. Abu ‘Abdullah, Imam as-Sadiq (‘a), has already informed us of how the Lord, Great is He, bestowed upon Ahl al-Bayt the ability to be acquainted with what happened to the early generations and what will happen to the last ones, what is in the heavens and in the earth, and what was and is, so much so that all things are present before their very eyes.3
Then he records explaining thus, “Whatever belonged to the Messenger of Allah (S), the same belongs to us except his prophethood and wives.”4
There is no exaggeration in this statement that comes from those whom Allah had purified according to the text of the Holy Qur’an that says,
“Allah desires to remove from you, O Ahl al-Bayt, all abomination and purifies you with a perfect purification” (Sura Al-‘Azab, 33:33).
in order to be able to carry the most divine superabundance. There is no miserliness in the Supreme Lord, numerous are His Signs.
To exaggerate about someone is to point out one of his characteristics which may either be comprehended or not, due to the limitation of one's own comprehension. Reason does not negate the divine generosity. How could it, since the most Great One pours His bounties upon those who go to extremes in their oppression and who rebel against the sanctity of His Greatness, as if they were the ones who were doing Him a favour?!
Yet all of this did not stop Him from showing mercy and benevolence to them and granting them His favours. It is as though they had been the ones who did Him a favour! Yet all this did not stop Him from showing mercy to them and benevolence to them and granting them of His favours that whose treasures are not exhausted, nor can it fail anyone who seeks it. This is one of the self-explanatory causes.
If the condition of the Overwhelming Lord, Praise to Him, is as we have just described with regard to those tyrants, how would He, the Omnipotent and the Great that He is, fare with the truth relevant to Ahmad (S) whom He created from the most sacred light, great is He, indeed?! So a meeting took place between an ever-flowing fountainhead and souls that are always ready to give.
It is no bid’a at all in what is narrated about them, peace and blessings of Allah be upon them, bearers of the knowledge of the unknown, with what Allah's servants do or do not, and with what happened in the lands or what will.
The knowledge of the unknown, in as far as they, peace be upon them, are concerned, is not relevant only to the Creator, the most Exalted One, so that it would be inaccessible to them. Such knowledge is characteristic of the Almighty Himself. As far as the Imams are concerned, Allah, Praise to Him, bestowed upon them such knowledge. It is through His grants and Munificence that they could know the nature of things and of events.
The knowledge of the unknown, then, is of two types:
1) One which has to exist and which comes only from the Creator of the heavens and the earth. It depends on Divine boons. It is what the prophets and their wasis had had, and it is to such type of knowledge that the scholar of exegesis al-‘Alusi attracted our attention when he explained the following verse:
“Say: None in the heavens and in the earth knows the unknown except Allah” Al-‘Alusi said, “It may be said that, as a matter of fact, the knowledge of the unknown, from which everyone other than Him, the most Exalted One, is excluded, is that which is specifically relevant to one person without means whereby he acquires it.
2) As regarding the knowledge with certain individuals, this is acquired when He somehow bestows it upon them; so, it cannot be said that they were familiar with the unknown through the first avenue, for one who says so will certainly be committing apostasy. Rather, it should be said that they were distinguished from others when they were acquainted with the knowledge of the unknown.”5
A testimony to this fact is what Imam Abu Ja’far al-Jawad (‘a) said once to his wife, Umm al-Fadl, daughter of caliph al-Ma’mun, when she unexpectedly found herself menstruating. She said to him, “Nobody knows the unknown except Allah” Said the Imam (‘a), “And I know it because Allah, the most Exalted One, acquaints me with it.”6
The Imams (‘a) are at all times in need of Divine favours. “Had it not been for the continuity of their link with Him and the consecutive boons which He bestows upon me,” said Imam Abu ‘Abdullah, as-Sadiq (‘a), “I would have exhausted what I have with me.”
He has also said, “Had it not been for an increase every Friday evening in what we have, what is with us would have depleted.”7 The Imam (‘a) by saying so meant to tell us that the Imams' knowledge is directly from the Creator, the most High, and that they are in continuous need for His knowledge and for the continuation of His mercy, Glory to Him.
His specifying Friday evening is due to its being a blessed one. It is blessed by the descending of Divine Munificence from the beginning of the evening till its end, unlike other nights. It is to such meaning that Imam al-Riďa (‘a) refers when he says, “Knowledge is made [by Allah] accessible to us; it is then that we know, and it is withheld from us, so it is then that we do not know.”8
In Surat al-Jinn, we read the following verse:
“The One Who knows the unknown, so He does not acquaint anyone with His knowledge of the unknown except a messenger with whom He is pleased.”(Sura al-Jinn, 72:26-27)9
Nobody who reads this verse should doubt (the gist of) what is stated above. The Messenger who stood the distance of two bows or closer was none other than the Seal of all the Prophets, the Messenger with whom Allah is pleased, the one over whom Allah never preferred anyone else from among all His creation. Imam Abu Ja’far, al-Baqir (‘a), used to say, “By Allah, Muhammad was the one with whom Allah is quite pleased.”10
Allah never distances the successors of the Prophet (S) from such a status after having derived their light from that of Prophet Muhammad (S). Another testimony is the answer provided by Imam al-Riďa (‘a) to ‘Amr Ibn Haddab.
The latter rejected the notion that the Imams, peace be upon them, had with them the knowledge of the unknown, deriving his argument from the above quoted verse. The Imam (‘a) responded to his rejection by saying, “The Messenger of Allah (S) is the one who was familiarized by Allah with His knowledge of the unknown, and we are the heirs of that Messenger who came to know Allah's knowledge of the unknown; so, we thus came to know what was and what will be till the Day of Judgment.”11
Why would not the Messenger with whom Allah was pleased be the same one whom Allah loved especially since the Creator, Glory to Him, honoured him by addressing him directly without an intervening angel? Zurarah reports saying that he once asked Abu ‘Abdullah, Imam as-Sadiq (‘a), whether the Messenger of Allah (S) used to be overcome with a swoon whenever he received revelation. “No,” answered the Imam (‘a), “it was not.
He swooned whenever he communicated with Allah, the Omnipotent, the Great, directly, without anyone intervening between them. As for Gabriel (‘a), he never visited him except after seeking and being granted his permission to do so. So, whenever he entered, he sat before the Messenger of Allah (S) just like a slave sitting before his master.”12
When the Messenger of Allah (S) was in no condition to grant permission for Gabriel to enter, the latter remained outside by the drainpipe till he was granted permission to enter.13
And he received the wahy without any angel intervening as proven by Burhan ad-Din al-Halabi,14 al-Suhayli,15 Ibn Sayyid al-Nas16, al-Suyuti,17 and al-Zarqani.18
Based on these traditions, which tell us about the status reserved by the Master, sublime are His Signs, for the greatest Messenger (S), Shaikh as-Saduq recorded his belief in the wahi and in the swoon [referred to above].19 The view held by Shaikh al-Mufid is not different from his.
Says he, “Wahy is of two types: one the Prophet (S) hears directly without anyone interferring, and one wherein he hears through the angels.”20 The great authority, Shaikh Muhammad Taqi al-Isfahani, who is well known as Aqa Najafi, follows in his footsteps. Add to this, the Prophet's knowledge of the Qur’an and whatever knowledge and secrets of natures and characteristics of things it contains even prior to its revelation to him.
What is most important is that the Master, Great is He, had told him not to make such knowledge public before receiving its revelation. He, Glory to Him, said, “Do not hasten with the Qur’an before its revelation is mandated to you.”21 Had the Prophet (S) not been fully acquainted with what the Glorious Qur’an contains of secrets and knowledge, such a prohibition from making it public would have had no meaning.
This quite clearly proves that the Prophet (S) knew what events took place and what events will take place, and that such knowledge was not totally dependent on Gabriel (‘a), descending upon him. The sacred boon that he had received from the Almighty had already acquainted him with all facts even before Gabriel was created...
At this juncture, another phenomenon becomes evident, one that was not realized by those who could not realize the degrees of greatness and beauty such a magnanimous personality enjoyed. It is the fact that the greatest Messenger (S) was familiar with reading and writing all languages regardless of their variations and methods of writing before and after his Prophethood due to his attainment of the highest degrees of [human] perfection.
Such a quality was not to be withheld from him. Had he not been thus endowed with such knowledge, he would have sought help from others whenever he needed to read or to write anything, and he would then have been in need of someone's favour: he is the embodiment of all favours and virtues. This is not only our view; it is the view to which renowned verifiers have submitted.22
The verse saying, “You do not write it with your own right hand” does not negate his knowledge of writing; it only negates his own writing it down, and there is no connection between such recording and his ability to write.
He, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, was familiar with writing, but he did not actually write anything down, and the reason for that is the doubt those who disbelieved in him would have then cast as the Holy Qur’an states.
We can conclude from all the above that Allah, the Almighty and the Great, bestowed upon the Imams from among the offspring of the Prophet (S) all the merits and virtues which their most holy grandfather had had with the exception of his prophethood and his wives. He, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, being the Seal of the Prophets of Allah that he was, was permitted to marry more than four women.
Anyone who does not know the implication of the knowledge of the unknown, which these geniuses had, is surely to find such an issue tremendous, so he rejects it. One who does not know the fiqh of the Shari’a unknowingly admits the error of his belief.
Shaikh Zadah al-Hanafi says, “Qasim al-Saffar caused a verdict labelling as “illegal” any marriage based on one merely testifying to the unity of Allah and to the Prophethood of the Messenger of Allah (S), claiming that such person had also to believe in the Prophet's knowledge of the unknown. But the head of the Tatar-Khans rejected the notion that he should be called an apostate because certain things are demonstrated before the purified soul of the Prophet (S), so he thus comes to acquire some of the knowledge of the unknown whereas Allah has said,
“The One Who knows the unknown, so He does not acquaint anyone with His knowledge of the unknown except a messenger with whom He is pleased.”(Sura al-Jinn, 72:26-27)23
Neither of these men understood the meaning of “the knowledge of the unknown” discussed here, nor did either of them realize the truth about the Seal of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, so they said whatever they were able to comprehend and no more.
Having explained its connotation, the discreet reader has no excuse for hesitating, or for entertaining any doubt. Yes, nobody can deny that the Creator, Praise is due to Him, has with Him knowledge with which He, and only He, is familiar, the knowledge which He did not share with anyone else at all, including the time of the Hour.
As regarding Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) denying having any knowledge of the unknown, such as the following statement of Imam Abu ‘Abdullah, as-Sadiq (‘a), “Strange how some people claim that we know the unknown! None knows the unknown except Allah I was about to hit my bondmaid when she ran away from me and hid: I have no idea in which room she hid!,” this statement is interpreted as being said by way of taqiyya due to the presence at the time of men like Dawud al-Raqqi, Yahya al-Bazzaz, and Abu Busayr.
These men could not comprehend the mystery of how Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) knew what they knew. Abu ‘Abdullah (‘a) wanted to deny having any knowledge of the unknown in order to demonstrate his support for those men's beliefs. What supports this theory is Sadir, the narrator of this incident, visiting the Imam (‘a) thereafter and expressing to him his amazement at how he denied his knowledge of the unknown.
The Imam comforted him by saying that he knew what was even more than that: the Book of Allah in its entirety and all the knowledge and secrets it contains. Yet this incident is brushed aside by al-Majlisi, who states so in his book Mir'at al-’Uqul, due to the ignorance of those who have narrated it.
The reason why the Imam (‘a) denied knowing his bondmaid's whereabouts may have been to deny having seen her in her hiding place rather than having known where that place actually was. His phrase “I have no idea” means: “I did not actually see in which room she entered;” otherwise, one who has said about himself “The knowledge of what had passed before me is with me, and so is that which has not come to pass” cannot be ignorant of his bondmaid's whereabouts.
When Mubashshir knocked at the door of Abu Ja’far, Imam al-Baqir, and the maid went out to open it, he caught her hand, whereupon Abu Ja’far (‘a) called upon him from inside the house, “Enter, may you lose your father!” He entered and apologized by saying that he did not entertain any ill thought but only wanted to increase (his conviction that the Imam knew who was at the door). The Imam (‘a) said to him, “Had the walls obstructed our vision as they obstruct yours, we and you would have been on par.”24
He also said once to Muhammad Ibn Muslim, “Had we been ignorant of what you all do or not do, we would not have been preferred over the rest of the people,” then he mentioned the incident at the Rabatha involving him and his fellow with regard to the subject of Imamate.25
The Prophet's hadith: “Had I known the unknown, I would have acquired plenty of goodness” does not carry any meaning other than the Prophet (S) being in need of Allah, the most Exalted, to acquire knowledge, and that he did not know the unknown on his own.
There is no doubt about that, for everyone believes that Allah, the most Exalted, is the One Who bestowed upon the Prophet (S) and upon his offspring, peace be upon them, the divine faculty whereby they were able to acquire the knowledge of the world.26
Another testimonial is when Imam as-Sadiq (‘a), who was with his followers in jail, asked his followers about the presence of those who were spying on them. They told him that they had no knowledge of such spies.
He, thereupon, said, “Thrice do I swear by the Lord of this building that had I been present with Moses and al-Khidr (‘a), I would have told them that I am more knowledgeable than [both of] them, and I would have informed them of the knowledge with which they were not familiar. They were, indeed, granted the knowledge of what had already passed and what is to pass till the time of the Hour, and we [Ahl al-Bayt] have inherited all such knowledge from the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his Progeny.” 27
This narration is authentic; nobody accuses Ibrahim Ibn Ishaq al-Ahmar of any weakness in what he narrates. We, furthermore, say that it does not contradict his vast knowledge due to the fact that the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) are not obligated to reveal all what they knew.
Rather, they had to act upon whatever met the principle of taqiyya, or due to their concern about some of their companions on account of being under surveillance. His statement is similar to another wherein he said, “I know what is in the heavens and in the earth, and what is in Paradise and in hell; I know what was and what will be.”
Having said so, the Imam (‘a) realized its tremendous effect on his audience; he was concerned about those who were in his company then and there, so he (‘a), went on to say, “I came to know all of it from the Book of Allah: The most Exalted One says that His Book contains the explanation of everything.”28
The Imam (‘a) took into consideration his companions' condition, so he brought them an argument to convince them, and so were the other Imams (‘a) in as far as their knowledge of temporal circumstances and personal conditions were concerned.
His statement about Moses and al-Khidr (‘a), that they were granted the knowledge of what was, does not contradict al-Khidr's knowledge of the future of the young boy [whom he killed], for it is one of the causes with which Allah informed him for a temporal reason.
As regarding the Imams, peace be upon them, stating that when one29 of them wants to know something, Allah informs him of it, it does not prove the limitation of their knowledge at a particular time.
Such a statement proves that putting the divine power with which they are endowed at birth to work depends on their will which is determined by the presence of an interest necessitating the revelation of a veiled fact and producing what they had had with them of treasured knowledge. Yet this explanation occurs in no more than three narrations all of which are refuted by al-Majlisi in his book Mir'at al-’Uqul, proving the weakness of some of them and the ignorance of those who reported the others.
What can be concluded from the above is that Allah, the most Sublime, has bestowed upon His purified vicegerents a divine faculty whereby they could comprehend events, the nature of things, the secrets of everything, in addition to whatever good or evil takes place in the universe.
There is no exaggeration in all of this especially since the nature of these Imams is capable of absorbing such divine overflow, and since the Lord, Glory to Him, is never miser in what He grants those upon whom He bestows of His knowledge. The Imams, peace be upon them, have declared the same, saying that they always are in need of His subsequent blessings, Great is He; otherwise, their storehouse of knowledge may deplete.
This is not unexpected with regard to those whose ultimate objective is to obey Allah Almighty, and whose substance is integrity. Such are Allah's friends and the truthful ones in addition to those whom the Creator appointed as the custodians of His Shari’a.
This view is endorsed by renowned critics and is stated by Shaikh al-Mufid on p. 77 of Al-Maqalat, and by al-Majlisi on p. 187, Vol. 1, of Mir'at al-’Uqul. Al-Ashtiyani, the critic, has followed in their footsteps as stated on p. 60, Vol. 2, of his commentary on Shaikh al-Ansari's Letters.
Ibn Hajar al-Haythami states the following:
“The verses stating: “Say: None knows the unknown in the heavens and in the earth save Allah” and “The One Who knows the unknown, so He does not acquaint anyone with His knowledge” do not contradict the prophets' and the walys' knowledge of portions of the unknown.
They know of such knowledge because Allah Almighty informs them of it. This is not the same knowledge like that relevant to Him whereby He is praised and glorified. In both of these verses, He is simply saying that none shares His knowledge of the latter.
As far as other types of knowledge are concerned, He informs whomsoever He pleases of some of the knowledge of the unknown. The Almighty informing His prophets and friends of some of the knowledge of the unknown is possible; it is not impossible at all.
Anyone who denies it is stubborn. It goes without saying that such granted knowledge does not in the end lead to the recipients sharing with Allah the knowledge which He has reserved for Himself and whereby He is praised, glorified, and is known since eternity. This is the same view upheld by al-Nawawi in his verdicts”.30
This clearly proves that Ibn Hajar was not too far from accepting the notion that the walis knew the unknown, but he did not agree with the Shi’as with regard to their belief that their Imams from among Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them, are capable of knowing the events which took place as well as those which will take place till the Day of Judgment.
He believes that such ability is characteristic of the Great Creator. The criterion he has set for the walis to know some of the knowledge of the unknown is their being empowered by their Master, Glory to Him, to do so; He is the One Who informs them of some of the knowledge of the unknown. Such empowering, he believes, keeps the Shi’a beliefs in check.
If the criterion of Allah Almighty empowering others to know the unknown becomes the particular divine faculty of certain individuals who are the offspring of the Messenger of Allah (S), then it is quite possible that such faculty reaches its utmost limit to the extent that it will not be confined to some but rather to all such knowledge, so much so that one of such individuals may see things as if they are before his very eyes as Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) says.
The exception to this, of course, is the knowledge that Allah Almighty has confined only to Himself. None can be acquainted with such knowledge even if he reaches the degree beyond the zenith of perfection.
This is also the view held by Ibn Hajar. Al-Naishapuri, author of the Tafsir, has recorded it as follows: “If the walis are not granted such a faculty, it is either because Allah is entitled not to grant a believer what he wants, or because the believer simply is not worthy of it, and either one is far from the other. If a believer is empowered to attain it, it surely is the very greatest of all of what He grants a servant of His. If the One Who is most generous does not withhold the very best, He likewise is generous enough not to give what is the least.”31
He further says, “There is no contradiction between the verse saying, ‘No soul knows what it shall earn in the morrow' and the advance knowledge of the Prophet (S) of the conquest of Mecca and of the imminent wars against the renegades, those who deviated from the right path, and the apostates. All what the verse says is its negation of the knowledge of the future, but if this is done by Allah informing someone of it, then the case is not so. It is quite possible that Allah informs His Prophet (S) of what will be.”32
The word “al sara’ir” in the said verse connotes inclusion of everything; thus have these scholars all agreed upon when they discussed the judge recording something in their discussion of legislation. Al-Shihab al-Khafaji, on p. 398, Vol. 2, of his book Sharh al-Shifa, indicates the same in a chapter dealing with his names. On p. 514, he includes a section dealing with his miracles. On p. 4, Vol. 21, of Ruh al-Ma’ani, al-‘Alusi comments on the phrase “you do not write it down with your own right hand” in the verse referred to the above by saying, “A group of scholars once discussed this phrase and were of the view that he [the Messenger of Allah] knew how to write.”
Then he quoted al-Bukhari saying in his Sahih, “He (S) wrote down the covenant of the peace treaty [of al-Hudaybiya].” Prof. ‘Abdul-’Azim al-Zarqani, on p. 260 (first edition) of his book Manahil al-’Irfan, records what negates that he learned how to write but that he already knew how to. On p. 249, Vol. 6, of Tahthib Tarikh Ibn ‘Asakir, the author states that Abul-Walid al-Baji wrote a dissertation about the Prophet (S) being able to write, and he is supported in his views by Ahmad Ibn Muhammad al-Lakhmi and Ja’far Ibn ‘Abdul-Jabbar in addition to others.