1

I have heard this term from multiple people with different interpretations and which confused me on the fundamental level.

What is meant by ilm e ghaib and why everyone debates on whether Nabi had it or not?

4

Literally, it just means "knowledge of the unseen".

"The unseen" (al-ghaib) here refers to things which are impossible for us to know, but which Allah knows because He knows everything. It is generally presumed to mean things like:

  • Knowledge of future events
  • Knowledge of the heavens

It could also more generally refer to things which are known, or at least knowable, by some people but not by others. For example:

  • Knowledge of what's in the hearts of mankind (e.g. I might know what's in my heart, but I can't know what's in the hearts of others)
  • Knowledge of past events (e.g. I wasn't around during the time of Abraham, so I was not a witness to any of his actions. However, his actions were obviously known and seen by himself and his contemporaries)
  • Knowledge of what's happening elsewhere (e.g. I have no knowledge of what's happening outside my house right now, but the people who are out there right now do)

As for whether the prophet himself had ilm al-Ghaib, it is clear that many of his revelations are of the unseen (i.e. he makes many revelations about the nature of Allah, the heavens, the future and the past), and it is commonly understood that his knowledge of al-Ghaib was knowledge that Allah chose to grant him rather than anything he knew on his own. To the best of my knowledge, the debate is in regards to how much Allah revealed to him of al-Ghaib and what (if anything) he knew beyond what has been clearly transmitted to us in the literature; I don't know of any significant opinions which claim that he had the absolute ilm al-Ghaib which only Allah has.

2

Ilm-e-Ghaib is knowledge of unseen or hidden matters.

There is no debate on whether the Prophet had Ilm-e-Ghaib in absolute terms, there is a part of this knowledge that is known to the Prophet:

عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ فَلَا يُظْهِرُ عَلَىٰ غَيْبِهِ أَحَدًا ﴿٢٦﴾ إِلَّا مَنِ ارْتَضَىٰ مِن رَّسُولٍ فَإِنَّهُ يَسْلُكُ مِن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ رَصَدًا

[He is] Knower of the unseen, and He does not disclose His [knowledge of the] unseen to anyone Except whom He has approved of messengers, and indeed, He sends before each messenger and behind him observers (72:26-27)

وَمَا كَانَ اللَّـهُ لِيُطْلِعَكُمْ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَجْتَبِي مِن رُّسُلِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ

Nor would Allah reveal to you the unseen. But [instead], Allah chooses of His messengers whom He wills (3:179)

وَمَا هُوَ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ بِضَنِينٍ

And Muhammad is not a withholder of [knowledge of] the unseen. (81:24)

ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهِ إِلَيْكَ ۚ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يُلْقُونَ أَقْلَامَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ يَكْفُلُ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يَخْتَصِمُونَ

That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed. (3:44)

However the Prophet's Ilm-e-Ghaib has these constraints:

  • His knowledge of it is limited. He does not know everything.
  • His knowledge was granted by Allah, it is not from his own inherent ability.

Ilm-e-Ghaib can be divided into three categories:

  • There are things which the Prophet definitely knew of, and there is no debate on these as they are proven from Quran and stories in Hadith. For example he was able to see angels and jinn, and he saw what was happening in distant battles, he was able to know secrets that people tried to keep from him, and he Prophesied about future events.
  • There are things which the Prophet definitely did not know of. There is no debate on these and they are also proven in Quran and Hadith. For example he did not know when Day of Judgement would come.
  • There are things which we do not have evidence on whether the Prophet knew of them or not. The debate exists on what these things are.

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