Refutation of Munawwar al-Barelwi and his Article on Ilm al-Ghayb


by Zameelur Rahman

A couple of errors:

1. On pages 9 – 11, he reproduces Ahmad Rida Khan’s argument that Qur’an 16:89 which states the Qur’an is an explanation of all things (kull shay’) is “a decisive proof that Allah gave our Messenger the knowledge of all creatures and all past and future events.” He bases this on “kull” (all) being general and “shay'” meaning “things brought into existence.” [I will ignore the point that if this were decisive (qat’i) in proving this claim, it contradicts his later comment that there is legitimate scope for disagreement when it comes to whether he possesses such knowledge or not, as it is disbelief to deny decisive evidence.] This tafsir, not only contradicts the exegesis of nearly all previous mufassirin and is thus innovated, but results in a contradiction:

On p. 6 he says no prophet was granted the knowledge the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) was granted and he says later that he is the most knowledgeable of all creation. However, Qur’an 6:154 and 7:145 says Musa was given tablets which was an “explanation of all things” (tafsilan li kulli shay), using the exact words (kull shay’) as 16:89. This means Musa (‘alayhi salam) also had the same knowledge as the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). Qur’an 17:12 says “all things” were explained to humanity. Qur’an 18:84 says Dhu al-Qarnayn was given a “means” to all things; “means” according to the Salaf meant “knowledge” (‘ilm) – see Tabari’s tafsir on the verse. Hence, if based on the words “all things” in 16:89, it is determined the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) had complete knowledge of all created things, this is also established for Musa, Dhu al-Qarnayn, and all humanity.

The reality is, of course, “all things” refers to a specific set of things, and in the case of 16:89 “things which mankind are in need of for their religious affairs.” Al-Tabari narrated from Mujahid (student of Ibn ‘Abbas and expert mufassir from the Salaf) in the commentary of 16:89 with a sound chain that “all things” means “of what is lawful and unlawful” or “what is commanded and forbidden.” Al-Tabari also narrates from Ibn Mas’ud that he said, “Every science was revealed in this Qur’an and everything has been explained for us in the Qur’an.” However the chain of this narration is weak [Al-Qasim ibn Hasan, al-Tabari’s shaykh is unknown as mentioned in Mu’jam Shuyukh al-Tabari; the next narrator Husayn ibn Dawud, also called Sunayd is weak as mentioned by al-‘Asqalani in al-Taqrib and the narrator from Ibn Masud who is simply referred to as “a man” is unknown – hence, the chain is weak]. And although Ibn Kathir favoured this exegesis attributed to Ibn Mas’ud, he specifies Ibn Mas’ud’s statement to mean “every beneficial knowledge” which “mankind is in need of in the affairs of the world and the religion, their livelihood and their afterlife.” Al-Razi says in the tafsir of 16:89 it means all the principles of Islamic law and religion can be found in the Qur’an. He specifically excludes worldly knowledge from the interpretation of the verse. Baydawi says it means “from the matters of religion in detail or in summary by giving reference to Sunnah and Qiyas.” Jalalyan says “which mankind are in need of from the issues of Shari‘ah.” Ibn al-Jawzi, Baghawi, Khazin, Nasafi and other mufassirun say the same.

Hence, the claim that this verse is a decisive proof that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) has complete knowledge of all created things and all events, is a ridiculous claim that is at odds with all recognised tafsirs. This claim was refuted by al-Barzanji in the printed copy of Ghayat al-Ma’mul.

2. On p. 21 onwards, he has a section on “Deobandi fatwas” of disbelief for those who believe the Prophet has knowledge of ghayb. However, either due to ignorance or dishonesty, he did not mention the fact that this is a traditional position, that the itlaq (unqalified usage) of the term “knowledge of ghayb” for any besides Allah is disbelief. It may be qualified by saying “knowledge given by Allah” or it may be referred to as “disclosure” (izhar) and not “knowledge” in which case it will be permissible; but its itlaq is not permissible. Ibn al-Humam and Ibn Abi Sharif say in al-Musamarah/al-Musayarah:

Similar is knowledge of the ghayb, i.e. the absence of knowledge of the ghayb is just like the absence of knowledge of some issues. Hence, the Prophet does not know thereof except what Allah (Exalted is He) informed him occasionally. The Hanafis have mentioned explicitly in their furu‘ (secondary laws of jurisprudence) that the belief that the Prophet knows the ghayb is disbelief due to conflict with His statement (Exalted is He) “Say; None in the heavens nor on earth besides Allah knows the ghayb” (27:65).

(وكذا علم المغيبات) أي وكعدم علم بعض المسائل عدم علم المغيبات فلا يعلم النبي منها (إلا ما أعلمه تعالى به أحيانا وذكر الحنفية) في فروعهم (تصريحا بالتكفير باعتقاد أن النبي يعلم الغيب لمعارضة قوله تعالى قل لا يعلم من فى السموات والأرض الغيب إلا الله) الله أعلم

كتاب المسامرة في شرح المسايرة في علم الكلام ٢: ٨٦ –

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On p 6, he quotes al-Kattani as saying “there is no disagreement among the people of knowledge, that is the entirety of them, that he, upon him be peace and blessings, was informed by Allah Most High about a large quantity of unseen matters” (la khilafa bayna ahli al-‘ilmi kullihim fi annahu ‘alayhi al-salatu wa al-salam kana mu’allaman min qibali Allah ta’ala bi al-mughayyabat al-kathirah) and he concludes from this sentence, “there is no dispute amongst Muslim theologians…our Prophet (Allah give him peace and blessings) had knowledge of the unseen.”

Al-Kattani’s description “was informed by Allah of a large quantity of unseen matters” is changed to “had knowledge of the unseen.” This is significant in terms of his quotes from the Deobandi scholars as they consider the latter statement disbelief but not the former. Al-Kattani himself recognises a difference between “being informed of the unseen” and “having knowledge of the unseen,” as he quotes Ibn Hajar al-Haythami as saying in his al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyyah:

None but Allah knows the unseen (ghayb). Although, others besides Him know particulars of it, it is by His revelation and disclosure to them. Therefore, it is not [permissible] to say without qualification that they know the unseen, since they have no attribute by which they can independently know it. Moreover, they do not know, but were taught. Moreover, they were not taught the unseen in absolute terms because whoever is informed something from it, the Prophets and their peers who have been shown [that knowledge] participate with him in it [i.e. in having that knowledge – therefore it is not “absolute unseen”].”

لا يعلم الغيب إلا هو ومن سواه إن علموا جزئيات منه فهو بإعلامه واطلاعه لهم وحينئذ لا يطلق أنهم يعلمون الغيب إذ لا صفة لهم يقتدرون بها على الاستقلال بعلمه وأيضا هم ما علموا وإنما علموا وأيضا هم ما علموا غيبا مطلقا لأن من أعلم بشيء منه يشاركه فيه الأنبياء ونظراؤه ممن اطلع

Shah Wali Allah al-Dihlawi wrote: “It should be known that it is necessary to negate from [the Prophets] the attributes of the Necessary (Exalted is His Glory) like knowledge of the ghayb, power over the creation of the world etc.” (Al-Tafhimat al-Ilahiyyah)

ليعلم أنه يجب أن ينفى عنهم صفات الواجب جل مجده من العلم بالغيب والقدرة على خلق العالم إلى غير ذلك

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Regarding his definition of ghayb in the introduction, his purpose is to prove that it is permissible to say “so-and-so has knowledge of the ghayb,” however the quotes he uses to prove this are decontextualised and may in fact give a very different meaning:

He quotes al-Razi saying: “If it is said: do people know the unseen or not? Our reply is: we previously mentioned that the unseen is divided into that which has evidence to it and that which does not have evidence to it. As for that unseen which has no evidence to it, Allah alone has knowledge of it, and that which has evidence to it, it is not inaccurate to say we know the unseen to which there is evidence.”

Al-Razi wrote this in reply to an objection that if in the verse (Qur’an 2:3), “ghayb” is taken to mean the unseen, it would imply its itlaq(i.e. applying it without qualification) to people would be correct but this is in conflict with verse 6:59 amongst others. He replies:

If it is asked: Do you say “a servant knows the unseen” or not? We say: We have explained that the unseen divides into that for which there is proof and that for which there is no proof. As for the one for which there is no proof, then He (Glorified and Exalted is He) knows of it, and none besides Him; and as for the one which there is proof for, it is not wrong for you to say: “We know from the unseen that for which we have a proof.” This sentence is clear in its expression so is not confused [with knowledge of the type of unseen exclusive to Allah]. Based on this reason, the scholars have said: Adducing evidence using the one who was present against the one who was absent is one of the types of evidences.
إن قيل أفتقولون: العبد يعلم الغيب أم لا؟ قلنا قد بينا أن الغيب ينقسم إلى ما عليه دليل وإلى ما لا دليل عليه أما الذي لا دليل عليه فهو سبحانه وتعالى العالم به لا غيره، وأما الذي عليه دليل فلا يمتنع أن تقول: نعلم من الغيب ما لنا عليه دليل، ويفيد الكلام فلا يلتبس، وعلى هذا الوجه قال العلماء: الاستدلال بالشاهد على الغائب أحد أقسام الأدلة

The highlighted part is critical as it shows al-Razi does not allow its itlaq for people, but says it must be qualified so as to avoid confusion with the type of ghayb exclusive to Allah in the manner he showed – by saying “we know from the unseen that for which we have a proof” and not just “we know the unseen.” In other words, al-Razi says only when this qualification is made, that we know the ghayb for which there is evidence, are we permitted to say this. Hence, the conclusion drawn from al-Razi’s statement in the above article “We are allowed to attribute knowledge of the unseen to humans” is not sound based on what he said.

Mawlana Thanawi in Hifz al-Iman at the start of his answer makes a similar point:

“Ghayb” in absolute terms according to its unqualified usage (itlaq) in the Shari’ah is meant that unseen matter for which no evidence has been erected, nor is there a medium or a means to its perception. For this reason, “None in the Heavens and the earth know the ghayb besides Allah” (27:65), “If I were to know the ghayb…” (7:188) and other such verses were revealed. To call that knowledge acquired through a medium “ghayb” requires a qualification (qarinah) [to explain the intent is that ghayb acquired through a medium], for to use the knowledge of ghayb for creation without qualification may be conceived as shirk [as it may be confused with the type of ghayb that is exclusive to Allah, i.e. that for which there is no evidence] and is thus prohibited and impermissible.

Mutlaq ghayb sey murad itlaqat shar‘iyyah meyh wehi ghayb hey jispur ko’i dalil qa’im neh ho or uskey idrak keliye koi wasitah or sabil neh ho. Isi bana pur “la ya‘lamu man fi al-samawati wa al-ard al-ghayba illa Allah” or “law kuntu a‘lam al-ghayb” wa ghayrah furmaya giya hey. Or jo ‘ilm bi wasitah ho is pur ghayb ka itlaq muhtaj qarinah hey to bila qarinah makhluq pur ‘ilm ghayb ka itlaq muham shirk ho ney kiwajh sey mamnu‘ wan a ja’iz ho ga (Hifz al-Iman p. 14)

‘Allamah al-Kawthari, who is mentioned in the above article, also made the same point where he said “knowledge by means of disclosure from Allah is not from the [real definition of] ghayb at all” (العلم بإعلام الله لا يكون من الغيب في شيء), as once there is a means to its knowledge it is technically no longer ghayb.

Al-Zamakhshari also made the same point: “We only know of it [i.e. ghayb] that which we were made to know, or a proof for it was erected for us, and for this [reason] it is not permissible to say without qualification “So-and-so knows the ghayb.””

وإنما نعلم منه نحن ما أعلمناه، أو نصب لنا دليلاً عليه. ولهذا لا يجوز أن يطلق فيقال: فلان يعلم الغيب

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The quote that he produces from al-Raghib al-Asfahani was said specifically about the usage of the word “ghayb” in Qur’an 2:3. In this definition, he is referring to the ghayb that is obligatory for everyone to believe according to Qur’an 2:3, not the general usage of the word ghayb. Here is a fuller translation of al-Raghib al-Asfahani’s definition of ghayb:

Ghayb is a verbal noun of [ghaba in the sentence] “the sun went out of sight (ghabat)” etc. when it is concealed from the eye. It is said: “Such-and-such was hidden (ghaba) from me.” He Almighty said [quoting Sulayman (peace be upon him)]: “Or is he [i.e. Hudhud] from the absent ones (gha’ibin)?” (27:20).It [i.e. ghayb] is used for everything hidden from the senses and all that is hidden from the knowledge of people in the sense of [being] absent. He said: “There is nothing of the hidden in the heaven and earth except [it is] in a clear book.” (27:75)

It is said of a thing [that it is] “unseen” (ghayb) and “hidden” (gha’ib) by its consideration with [respect to] people, not with Allah Almighty, for nothing is hidden from Him, as an atom’s weight in the heavens and earth do not escape Him (Qur’an 34:2). His statement “Knower of the unseen and seen” (6:73) i.e. what is hidden from you [not Him] and what you see.

The “unseen” (ghayb) in His statement: “they believe in the unseen” (2:3) [refers to] that which does not fall below the senses (hawass) and the starting point of the intellects (bidayat al-‘uqul) do not necessitate it; and it is only known by the report of the Prophets (upon them peace); and by its rejection the term “apostasy” (ilhad) applies to a person. (Raghib al-Asfahani, al-Mufradat, Maktaba Nazar Mustafa al-Baz, 2:475)

The “definition” that he uses therefore is specifically regarding its use in the abovementioned verse.

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Within the second category of ghayb in al-Razi’s classification (the one for which there is evidence and can be applied to people), that information which is hidden to some but known to others by sense perception is also included. For example, the Qur’an says of the stories of Maryam, Nuh and Yusuf that they are from the “tales of ghayb” (3:44, 11:49, 12:102), although these stories are only ghayb with respect to the people around the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), not the previous peoples who witnessed the events described. Hence, Mawlana Thanawi’s assessment, that with respect to this kind of ghayb, for which there is evidence and there is a means to its perception, it can be applied to everyone, “because every person has some knowledge which is hidden to another” (kyunkeh her shakhs ko kisi ne kisi eysi bat ka ‘ilm hota jo dusre shakhs sey makhfi hey) is sound. Jurjani/Iji make the same argument to disprove the view of the philosophers that knowledge of ghayb is a special quality of prophets.

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An example of a clear error or dishonesty is his comment:

He [Shah Ismail] wrote on p. 103, “Whether such person believes he knows this intrinsically or through knowledge granted by Allah, in all cases shirk is established” Here we notice that Dihlawi denied even the attribution of granted knowledge of the unseen (ilm ata’i) from creation.

In Taqwiyat al-Iman, this statement “whether such person believes he knows this intrinsically or through knowledge granted by Allah” is not about “knowledge of the unseen” as claimed in the article but – in the Arabic translation of Abu al-Hasan al-Nadwi – it is about: “encompassing knowledge inclusive of every time and place from which the weight of an atom is not hidden – an attribute exclusive to Allah.” (al-‘ilm al-muhit al-shamil li kulli zamanin wa makan alladhi la ya’zubu ‘anhu mithqalu dharrah, sifatun khassatun bi Allah) (Risalat al-Tawhid, tarjamatu Tawqiyat al-Iman, Lucknow, p. 35) So when he says “whether such person believes he knows this intrinsically or through knowledge granted by Allah, it is shirk” he is referring to attributing such total and complete knowledge to any creature.

This definition of ghayb is expressed clearly in Imam al-Nasafi’s (d. 710) Tafsir:

الغيب هو ما لم يقم عليه دليل ولا أطلع عليه مخلوق

Ghayb is that for which no evidence has been erected and no creation has comprehended it.”

Based on this definition, none of creation has knowledge of ghayb, and to say they do is shirk as such ghayb is possessed only by Allah, and thus the belief that it is possessed by another is kufr as stated by the Hanafi imams. Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari said in Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar:

“In sum, knowledge of ghayb is a matter exclusive Him – Glorified is He – and there is no path for the servants to it.”

بالجملة فالعلم بالغيب أمر تفرد به سبحانه ولا سبيل للعباد إليه

And a little later he wrote:

“Know that the Prophets (upon them blessing and peace) do not know the unseen matters (mughayyabat) of things except what Allah has taught them from time to time. The Hanafis have mentioned with clear statements that by believing the Prophet (upon him blessing and peace) knew the unseen one is declared a disbeliever due to conflict with His (Exalted is He) statement: “Say: None in the heavens and earth knows the unseen but Allah.””

اعلم أن الأنبياء عليهم الصلاة والسلام لم يعلموا المغيبات من الأشياء إلا ما أعلمهم الله أحيانا ، وذكر الحنفية تصريحا بالتكفير باعتقاد أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يعلم الغيب لمعارضة قوله تعالى قل لا يعلم من في السماوات والأرض الغيب إلا الل

Regarding his “analysis” of the discussion on ‘ilm al-ghayb from al-Barahin al-Qati’ah on pp. 18-9:

The book al-Barahin al-Qati’ah is available here and the discussion can be found on pages 53-7. Al-Barahin al-Qati’ah is written as a polemic against ‘Abd al-Sami Rampuri’s Anwar Sati’ah which runs along the top of the page in al-Barahin. It would therefore be misleading to quote stand alone statements from al-Barahin without taking account of what arguments and evidences were offered in Anwar Satiah which theBarahin is addressing.

Rampuri says (from p. 179 onwards of above copy): An attribute can only be described as being particular (khass) to Allah if it is found in Allah alone and no other. Having knowledge of the entire world is not peculiar to Allah and is therefore not a particular attribute of His such that associating another in it equates to shirk. He then mentions a number of reports which indicate the Angel of Death is present and knowing of everything on earth. E.g. Tabari narrated under the commentary of 6:61 and 32:11 via a number of chains that Mujahid (the student of Ibn ‘Abbas) said: “The earth is made like a large round vessel (tast) before the Angel of Death and he takes from wherever he wishes; and he was appointed helpers who take the souls and then he takes them from them.” Many similar reports stating the Angel of Death has complete knowledge of the earth and the people residing in it from the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), Ibn ‘Abbas and others were mentioned by al-Suyuti in al-Durr al-Manthur under the commentary of 32:11 and in his Sharh al-Sudur which Rampuri refers to.

Rampuri concludes that that the Angel of Death is present in every place on earth. He then says if it is argued the Angel of Death is a high ranking Angel, then the example of the shaytan being present (mawjud) in every place (har jagah) can also be used. He quotes from al-Durr al-Mukhtar where it says the shaytan is present with every person, and then he quotes Ibn ‘Abidin’s commentary: “Allah has given him ability over that [i.e. to be with every son of Adam] just as he gave the Angel of Death the ability of the like of that.” (Radd al-Muhtar – وأقدره على ذلك ، كما أقدر ملك الموت على نظير ذلك)

After this, Rampuri gives the example of the sun and moon being everywhere visible on earth. And he says “since the sun is present in every place while it is in the lower heaven, the soul of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) that is above the seven heavens in the ‘Illiyyin, if his gaze from there falls on the whole earth or many places thereof…what impossibility is there?” (p. 180) He clarifies at this point that although the Prophet’s soul is in the ‘Illiyyin it has a strong connection with his physical body in the grave. He further states, that since the Angel of Death, shaytan, sun and moon can be present and visible in all places on earth, this is not a unique (khas) attribute of Allah, and because of the Prophet’s superiority he is also endowed with this quality; but he clarifies that the claim is not made that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is like the shaytan in being present at and knowing the despicable places of kufr and fisq (p. 181).

In response to this, Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, clarifies what is particular and unique (khas) for Allah in His attributes (p. 53 onwards of the Barahin linked above). He starts by saying: “The entire ummah (tamam ummat) has this belief that whatever quantity of knowledge the revered Pride of the World (upon him peace) and all creation were granted by Allah Almighty, to affirm an atom’s weight more knowledge is shirk. This is known from all books of Shari’ah. Allah Almighty says: “To Him belongs the Keys to the Unseen, none but He knows them.” (6:59).” (p. 53) He then quotes the passage from al-Durr al-Mukhtar, Fatawa Alamgiriyya and al-Bahr al-Ra’iq to the effect that if a person were to make Allah and His Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) witness to his marriage he becomes a disbeliever for attributing knowledge of the ghayb to him – which in this case refers to knowledge for which there is no evidence and was not revealed, and thus attributing such knowledge to him must be with the belief that it is intrinsic to him and was not granted. Al-Saharanpuri then says that it is not only by equating his knowledge with Allah’s knowledge that will make this belief shirk but even believing he has knowledge of the marriage session for which there is no proof. He then clarifies what is meant by the particularity of Allah’s attributes contrary to what was stated by Rampuri: “The belief of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah is that none of Allah Almighty’s attributes are found in His bondsmen. Those things which are the shadow of His attributes which He bestows on anyone, no one has the ability to ever increase on them. Hearing and sight, knowledge and power, are real only for Allah Almighty and metaphorical for creation: “Nothing is like unto Him, and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing” (Qur’an 42:11). Thus whoever has been given whatever quantity of knowledge, power etc., he cannot increase that in the slightest. That quantity which was given to the shaytan, and the Angel of Death and the sun and the moon in which state they were created, they [themselves] have no power to increase on them; and more [than the quantity which was given to them] will not emerge from their actions. Greater or lesser virtue is not dependent on this greater or lesser quantity [given by Allah]. Hazrat Musa upon him peace was much greater and more virtuous than Hazrat Khidr upon him peace. Despite this, in the knowledge of unveiling (kashf) he was much less than Hazrat Khidr. Even then that quantity received by Hazrat Khidr, he has no power to have more than that, and despite Hazrat Musa’s superiority he did not receive it; he could not create [in himself] knowledge of unveiling equal to the inferior Hazrat Khidr. Moreover, [regarding] the sun and moon, the form and vast light upon which they were created and the expanse of the knowledge given to the Angel of Death and shaytan, this condition is known by evident eye-witnessing and clear texts. Now, to make an analogy with them of one more virtuous that the like of what is in this inferior being is present in him it is not the job of any sane person of knowledge.” (pp. 54-5) [after this, comes the paragraphs quoted by Nuh Keller and Munawwar Atiq]

It is clear throughout this discussion that al-Saharanpuri is concerned with attributing such knowledge to any creature which is believed to be possessed by him intrinsically as it has not been established he was granted it by Allah. This is made very clear on p. 56 where he directly challenges Rampuri’s definition of particular (khass): “The particularity of Allah Almighty’s knowledge is that it is intrinsic and real (zati, haqiqi) the consequence of which is encompassment of all things while the knowledge of all creation is metaphorical (majazi) and shadowy (zilli) according to the quantity granted by Allah Almighty.” He then states just because the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is in the ‘Illiyyin and better than Angels, this does not at all establish his expansive knowledge of worldly matters. Importantly, he concludes his remarks by saying that there are two possibilities for the belief of the author (Rampuri): either it is pure ignorance (jahl mahz) because he establishes such granted knowledge for the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) on the basis of such invalid analogy, but he states clearly that this view is not shirk as it is not believed he possessed it intrinsically; or if the possession of such knowledge is not established, then to affirm it for him is shirk as it implies the knowledge is real and intrinsic. (pp. 56-7)

From this last section, it is clear and leaves no room for doubt, what exactly Mawlana Saharanpuri considered shirk – i.e. affirmation of knowledge for a creature in spite of evidence as this suggests belief in intrinsic knowledge for that creature which is exclusive to Allah; and he states that this is the belief of the ignorant (jeysa juhala ka ye aqidah hey) (p. 57)

Now that the context is clearly understood, Mawlana Saharanpuri’s statement in question on p. 55 can be appreciated. Nuh Keller’s article translates it as follows: “The upshot is that we should carefully note that if, after seeing the state of Satan and the Angel of Death, we affirm that the Pride of the World (upon whom be blessings and peace) has all-encompassing vast knowledge of the earthly sphere (ilm muhit zamin), contravening without proof decisive scriptural texts and proceeding solely from false analogy, then if this is not outright shirk, how should it be a part of faith? Such vastness [of knowledge] is established for Satan and the Angel of Death through scriptural texts. Through what decisive scriptural text has the Pride of the World’s vastness of knowledge been established, that one should affirm an act of shirk by rejecting all scriptural texts?” In his analysis Nuh Keller falls into the trap that is intended by selectively quoting this passage without context; he says: “It is difficult to see how the attribute of knowledge that Khalil Ahmad ascribes to Satan and the Angel of Death should become “shirk” when affirmed of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace): either it is a divine attribute that is shirk to ascribe to any creature, or it is not.” The reason it is shirk when affirmed for the Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is exactly what he states in that paragraph, that in the absence of evidence when such knowledge is affirmed for the Prophet (salllallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), because it suggests intrinsic knowledge which is exclusive to Allah, it is shirk. In the case of the Angel of Death and satan, however, such knowledge is confirmed by transmitted reports and is therefore acknowledged as granted knowledge and there is no chance of shirk. This explanation of the passage (which is clear in context and only misunderstood when isolated) was also clarified by Mawlana Husayn Ahmad Madani in al-Shihab al-Thaqib in his refutation of Ahmad Rida Khan’s misrepresentation of Barahin.

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Now that the context is understood and the passages from Barahin can be properly appreciated, it is possible to demonstrate Ahmad Rida Khan’s and the article above’s deception:

Ahmad Rida Khan wrote in Husam al-Haramayn: “Indeed he has stated explicitly in his book al-Barahin al-Qati‘ah…that their shaykh Iblis is more expansive in knowledge than Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace).” – innahu sarraha fi kitabihi al-Barahin al-Qati‘ah…bianna shaykhahum Iblis awsa‘u ‘ilman min Rasul Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. He also quotes from Nasim al-Riyad: “Whoever says so-and-so is more learned (a‘lam) than Allah’s Messenger, he has insulted and degraded him so he is an insulter so his ruling is the ruling of an insulter.” He also translates a sentence from Barahin as follows: “This vastness in knowledge is established for shaytan and the Angel of Death by clear text, and which clear text is there on the vastness of the knowledge of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) such that all texts are rejected thereby to establish one shirk?” (inna hadhih al-si’ata fi al-‘ilmu thabatat li al-shaytani wa malak al-mawt bi al-nass, wa ayyu nassin qat’iyy fi si’ati ‘ilmi rasul Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam hatta turaddu bihi al-nusus jami’an wa yuthbatu shirk)

Ahmad Rida Khan therefore wanted to suggest that Barahin says in absolute terms (mutlaqan) that the shaytan has more knowledge than the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam); however, the passage is clear in referring to “encompassing knowledge of the earthly sphere” (ilm muhit zamin). And when he says “this vastness” (yeh wus’at) it refers to knowledge of the earth, not knowledge in general. This is absolutely clear from the passage, yet Ahmad Rida blatantly misrepresented it said it is “explicitly clear” (sarih) in stating the shaytan has more knowledge (awsa’u ‘ilman) than the Prophet; and his quote from Nasim al-Riyad confirms this. Moreover, he quotes from halfway through a paragraph so the impression is given that “this knowledge” (hadha al-‘ilm) refers to all types of knowledge and not just knowledge of the earthly sphere. Al-Muhannad ‘ala al-Mufannad of al-Saharanpuri also mentions this deception of Ahmad Rida: “our discussion about it was only in regards to some of these temporal particulars [i.e. ilm muhit zamin], and for this reason we used the demonstrative noun to indicate that the objective in affirmation and negation there was those particulars, and nothing besides [them]. However, the iniquitous distort the speech and do not fear the reckoning of the Knowing King.”

This is therefore a clear example of Ahmad Rida distorting the meaning of the text, which his Berelwi followers have to answer for. Munawwar Atiq also states “the authors of Baraheen claimed Satan’s knowledge was greater than the Noble Prophet’s,” which is an obvious falsehood, as the Barahin only states that in the encompassing knowledge of the earth satan’s knowledge is more expansive, not that in general it can be stated his knowledge is greater than the Prophet’s (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). Munawwar Atiq would also have committed kufr by his own standards as he states: “[al-Saharanpuri] argu[ed] Satan had such knowledge and was therefore more knowledgeable,” – the phrase “and was therefore more knowledgeable” is an insertion from him suggesting he believes if the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) did not have encompassing knowledge of the earth, satan would be more knowledgeable; now, he believes the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) only gained this knowledge later in his life not early in his prophethood, which means according to him it can be said “satan was more knowledgeable than the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) before this point!” This backfiring of their argument was explained by Mawlana Madani in al-Shihab al-Thaqib. Based on Mawlana Sahanpuri’s contention that absolute vastness of knowledge is not in the physical realm but in the spiritual realm, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) would always have been the most knowledgeable regardless of his knowledge of the world.

Moreover, Rampuri in Anwar Sati’a clearly states that the shaytan is present in such places that are abhorrent while the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is not present in such places. Would this now equate to favouring the satan over the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam)? And why was not a fatwa of kufr placed on him? Mawlana Safdar asks this in Ibarat Akabir (p. 161).

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Munawwar said: “these authors…committed shirk according to their own standard by proving vast knowledge for Satan – which they considered shirk when proven for the Prophet (Allah give him peace and blessings).” This has been answered above based on the context of the entire passage being about the haqiqi (real) and dhati (intrinsic) knowledge being particular (khas) to Allah. When such knowledge is affirmed without evidence for the Prophet (salllallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) it implies dhati knowledge and is therefore shirk. When it is affirmed for the satan it is via transmitted proof that Allah granted him this ability and knowledge so is not shirk.

He then said: “[They] violated their own standard for accepting textual evidences in aqidah as they offered a baseless report to establish an aqidah point that the Noble Prophet (Allah give him peace and blessings) did not possess knowledge of the unseen whereas they themselves demanded decisive textual proof to prove the vast knowledge of our Prophet (Allah give him peace and blessings)!”

These reports were given as examples. That the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) does not know the unseen is established in several verses of the Qur’an. Moreover, al-Saharanpuri’s quotation of the statement “I do not know what will be done to me,” is in fact mutawatiras it is established in the Qur’an that this was his statement (46:9). Regarding Ahmad Rida’s diatribe in Husam al-Haramayn that al-Saharanpuri quoted the narration “I do not know what is behind a wall,” from Shaykh ‘Abd al-Haqq while the latter refuted it himself; the book al-Saharanpuri quoted from was Ashi’at al-Lam’at in which ‘Abd al-Haqq used it in the context of proof, whereas he rejected it in another book. Mulla ‘Ali Qari also uses this narration in his Mirqat as a proof; although it is no doubt baseless. However, its meaning is sound, that, unless taught by Allah, he does not know what is behind a wall, and this is what ‘Abd al-Haqq said in Ashi’at al-Lam’at.

Furthermore, there are many narrations in which the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) denied knowledge of worldly matters. He said: “You are more knowledgeable of the matters of your world.” (Muslim) Mulla Qari said under the commentary of this hadith: “In the hadith is an indication that he (upon him blessing and peace) does not generally pay attention but to the matters of the afterlife.” With respect to the narration from Tirmidhi “I knew whatever is in the heavens and earth,” Mulla Qari says it must be restricted to particular important matters of the world. He said: ““I knew whatever is in the heavens and earth,” meaning whatever Allah (Exalted is He) gave him knowledge of, of what is in them [i.e. the heavens and the earth] of angels, trees etc. and it is an expression about the expanse of his knowledge which Allah opened for him. Ibn Hajar [al-Haythami] said: “Meaning, all existents which are in the heavens, rather and what is above them, as is acquired from the story of Mi‘raj, and ‘the earth’ is in the sense of genus, i.e. and all that is in the seven earths, rather what is below them.” I say: It is possible by ‘heavens’ is meant the upper direction and by ‘earth’ the lower direction so it includes all. However, the restriction that we mentioned [of angels, trees and the like] is necessary, since it is not proper to unqualifiedly use “all” (jami‘) [for the knowledge of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)] as is apparent.” (quoted in al-Kawkab al-Durri 4:250-1) The reason this is improper is probably because it contradicts other clear texts showing the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) did not have full knowledge of the earthly sphere, and also because it would imply he is aware of the filthy knowledge associated with this world which is unfitting for him.

Munawwar said: “These authors in fact openly argued that the Noble Prophet’s knowledge (Allah give him peace and blessings) was so limited that he did not even have knowledge of his own fate (Allah forbid!).” They did not say this, but quoted a narration stating “I do not know what will be done to me.” Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said this may mean that detailed knowledge of what will happen to him in the afterlife was denied him while brief (mujmal) knowledge that he will enter paradise was given to him.

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The important points to note from the above is Mawlana Saharanpuri’s attribution of shirk in this passage, if read in context, is clearly with respect to believing this in the absence of evidence which suggests intrinsic knowledge; he even mentions explicitly that if it is believed such complete and encompassing knowledge of the world is granted by Allah to him (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) it is not shirk but is ignorance. Therefore the allegation that he committed shirk based on his own standard by affirming such knowledge for satan is a distortion of the meaning of this passage. Moreover, Ahmad Rida lied when he claimed al-Saharanpuri explicitly stated (sarraha) that satan’s knowledge is more expansive than the Prophet’s, as al-Saharanpuri only said this in relation to encompassing knowledge of the world, and not in absolute terms. In absolute terms, he has clearly stated in al-Muhannad, no one is more knowledgeable than the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam); as he is the most learned about Allah (ana a’lamukum bi Allah – Bukhari).

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With regards to the story of Khidr and Musa, Imam al-Razi stated: “It is possible that a non-prophet is superior to a prophet in sciences/knowledge upon which his prophethood does not depend.”

يجوز أن يكون غير النبي فوق النبي في علوم لا تتوقف نبوته عليها

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Regarding his “analysis” of the passage from Hifz al-Iman on p. 19, Munawwar concludes: “The careful reader notices that Thanawi claimed the Noble Prophet’s (Allah give him peace and blessings) partial knowledge was not a unique speciality. How did he deny this? It was by comparing Prophetic Knowledge to that of lowly creatures, every layman and insane people.”

The first sentence is true but the last sentence, “it was by comparing Prophetic Knowledge to that of lowly creatures,” is not. The quote from Hifz al-Iman does not make any comparison (tashbih) of prophetic knowledge; i.e. he does not say “the knowledge of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) was like the knowledge of so-and-so.” Rather, he said “such knowledge of the unseen (eysa ‘ilm gayb) is possessed by so-and-so.” By “such knowledge of the unseen” is not meant “prophetic knowledge of the unseen” or knowledge possessed by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) as Ahmad Rida and Munawwar miscontrued it, but refers to “partial knowledge of the unseen” (ba’z ‘ulum ghaybiyya).

Ahmad Rida said in Husam al-Haramayn: “He [i.e. Mawlana Thanawi] stated explicitly (sarraha) in it [i.e. Hifz al-Iman] that the knowledge of unseen matters [possessed] by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), the equivalent of it has been acquired by every child and madman…” (sarraha fiha bi anna al-‘ilm alladhi li Rasul Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam bi al-mughayyabat fainna mithlahi hasilun li kulli sabiyyin wa kulli majnun). Note: he says this meaning is explicitly clear (sarih). A little later he writes “Look…how he makes [the knowledge of] Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) equal to so-and-so and so-and-so.” For a sentence to be sarih it means no other meaning is possible. However, although the word eysa may mean the “exact equivalent” (mithl) as Ahmad Rida translated it (fa inna mithla hadha al-‘ilm bi al-ghayb…), it can also mean “this type” of knowledge. In other words, the passage from Hifz al-Iman could either mean the knowledge of unseen possessed by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is possessed by those others (the meaning which Ahmad Rida imputed to him) or the type of partial knowledge of unseen is possessed by those others; the latter meaning is specified by the sentence immediately after (which Ahmad Rida did not quote while including translations of sections before and after it, and Munawwar does not quote it either although it is present in Nuh Keller’s article): “For every individual knows something that is hidden from another individual” (kyunkeh hur shaks ko kisi ne kisi eysi bat ka ilm hota hey jo dosre shaks sey makhfi hey). If this was not clear enough, Mawlana Thanawi was asked the question, did you say “knowledge of the unseen just as it is possessed by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), the same is possessed by every child, madman…” (the questioner says this was the allegation made by Ahmad Rida) (ghayb ki batoh ka ilm jesa ke janab Rasul Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam ko hey eysa hurr buchchoh…). Mawlana Thanawi replied, he nowhere wrote this and this revolting (khabis) thought did not even cross his mind. He then explains what is meant by the word “eysa“: “the intent of the word eysa was not that the knowledge that is actually possessed by him has been acquired by so-and-so, Allah’s refuge is sought from this, rather the intent of this word eysa is that which was mentioned above i.e. in general partial knowledge [of the unseen].” (lafz eysa ka yeh matlab nehi keh jeysa ‘ilm waqi’ meh huzur sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam ko hasil hey ilakh na’uzu bi Allah minha bulkeh murad is lafz eysa sey wuhi hey jo uper mazkur hey ya’ni mutlaq ba’z ‘ilm). This answer was printed together with Hifz al-Iman under the title Bast al-Banan in the year 1329 H/1911 AD, more than a decade before the death of Ahmad Rida, yet he did not acknowledge it, let alone retract from his original statements. This demonstrates Ahmad Rida had no intention to “correct” the aqidah of supposedly misguided people, but rather to deceive others into believing certain people committed acts of disbelief though they are innocent of these charges.

In sum, the sentence is not explcitly clear (sarih) in the meaning Ahmad Rida falsely claimed, rather the other meaning explained above is also a possible meaning of the sentence and is in fact the most obvious meaning from the context (as Thanawi also states in Bast al-Banan).

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Munawwar says: “[He] ignored the crucial point that virtue was not restricted to full knowledge (kull ghayb), but in fact, even partial knowledge was virtuous.”

The discussion in Hifz al-Iman is about unrestrictedly using (itlaq) the term “knowledge of ghayb” for the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). He said in its technical meaning no one can share this designation with Allah as it means knowledge for which there is no evidence or means. In its non-technical definition, which includes knowledge which is absent from some but available to others (as evidenced by Qur’an 3:44, 11:49, 12:102), everyone has some of this knowledge. To specify the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) with the designation of possessing knowledge of the ghayb (itlaq ‘ilm al-ghayb) and thereby distinguishing him from the rest of creation is incorrect as he does not possess complete knowledge of it, and partial knowledge is not unique to him. This was also mentioned in books of Kalam in response to philosophers who claimed prophets are distinguished by knowledge of ghayb; see for example the quote from Sharh al-Mawaqif translated here. Similarly, Mahmud ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Isfihani (674-749 H) wrote in his commentary of Baydawi’s Tawali’ al-Anwar: “The philosophers with respect to the religious law, took the position that a prophet is one who has been identified as having three specific characteristics: a) he is one who is well-acquainted with the unseen…If the philosophers meant by ‘being well-acquainted,’ an acquaintance with all the unseen, then by consensus that would not be a condition for an individual to be a prophet. If they mean by it an acquaintance with only some of the unseen things, then that [also] would not specifically designate a prophet, since everyone might admissibly have an acquaintance with some of these unseen things.” (translation by James W. Pollock, available here p. 962)

Thanawi’s point therefore that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is not distinguished in the possession of this non-technical type of ghayb is sound, based on the same reasoning used by ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji and Mahmud al-Isfihani. Uniquely designating him with knowledge of the unseen therefore is inaccurate.

Munawwar’s argument, “For example, the degrees among ulama are considered virtuous even though their knowledge is partial,” is therefore irrelevant as the discussion is about uniquely designating the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) with knowledge of the unseen. A better illustration of Mawlana Thanawi’s argument would be to say: It would not be accurate to claim only so-and-so is blessed with knowledge, since he does not have complete knowledge by agreement and his partial knowledge is shared with others.

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His discussion regarding Shah Isma’il’s position on pp. 19-21 is taken mostly from Gibril Haddad’s unfortunate review, the flaws in which can be found here. And his quotations from Deobandi authors on pp. 21-2 stating that the belief that a creature possesses knowledge of theghayb is kufr and shirk is clearly justified by the statements of the scholars quoted in above posts – “ghayb” technically means that knowledge to which there is no evidence and means, and such knowledge belongs only to Allah, so to attribute it unqualifiedly/unrestrictedly/absolutely (mutlaqan – i.e. without qualificaiton) to another is shirk.

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Regarding his quotation from Shah Isma’il on p. 20, “If someone asks about the number of leaves on a tree or the number of stars in the sky, then one should not say “Allah and His Messenger know” because only Allah knows the unseen, what does the Messenger know [about them]?”

The full passage (from the recent English tr. which is consistent with the older English tr., the Arabic tr. and the original Urdu):

It is narrated in Sharh As-Sunnah by Hudhaifa {May Allah have mercy on him} that the Prophet {peace be upon Him} said:”Do not say, what Allah and Muhammad {Peace be upon Him} wished, but you should only say, what Allah wished.”

It means that none of the creatures has a say in the matters concerning Divinity, no matter how great and close one that creature could be. For instance, one should never say that if Allah and His Messenger wished, it should happen so, since all the things in the world happen by the Will of Allah only and not by the will of the Prophet. If someone enquires of you as to what a person really conceals in his heart, or when that person shall be marrying or how many leaves that particular tree bears or how many stars are there up in the heavens, never respond to him by saying that these things are only known by Allah and His Prophet, as the knowledge of the unseen rests with Allah and not with His Prophet. However, there is no harm if someone says such a thing in regard to the religious matters as Allah has given a full knowledge of religion to His Prophet and has commanded people to comply with the instructions of His Prophet. (p. 129)

This statement is confirmed by the Hanafi texts which clearly state that if somebody says the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is witness of the marriage session, he has disbelieved, as he attributed the unseen to other than Allah – and Shah Isma’il specifically mentions marriage, as well as other worldly details, amongst the things knowledge of which cannot be attributed to him unconditionally. [As Ibn Nujaym quotes the Hanafi fatwa books: وفي الخانية والخلاصة لو تزوج بشهادة الله ورسوله لا ينعقد ويكفر لاعتقاده أن النبي يعلم الغيب – “In al-Khaniyya and al-Khulasa: If one were to marry by making Allah and His Messenger witness, the marriage will not take place, and he becomes a disbeliever for believing that the Prophet knows the unseen.”] Shah Isma’il’s statement is therefore consistent with these texts.

Moreover, he clarifies that to say this (“Allah and His Messenger knows”) with respect to Shari’ah rulings, there is no harm, because Allah has informed the Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) of the matters of religion.

In context – as an explanation of the hadith and with the concluding comment – therefore, this passage from Taqwiyat al-Iman is not as outrageous as Munawwar tried to make out in his article.

Reiterating and summarising the Hanafi view, Ibn ‘Abidin al-Shami wrote in Radd al-Muhtar (vol. 6 p. 385): “To claim knowledge of the ghayb [for anyone] clashes with the clear text of the Qur’an, so one becomes a disbeliever by this [claim]; unless he attributes it explicitly or by indication to a means from Allah (Most High) like revelation [to prophets] or inspiration, and likewise if he attributes it to a sign determined by Allah (Most High) as the normal course of nature.”

دعوى علم الغيب معارضة لنص القرآن فيكفر بها إلا إذا أسند ذلك صريحا أو دلالة إلى سبب من الله تعالى كوحي أو إلهام وكذا لو أسنده إلى أمارة عادية بجعل الله تعالى
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