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The Unseen World

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The Unseen World, or Ālam al-Ghayb (Arabic: عالَم الغَیب), is part of the world, which cannot be perceived via the five senses. Some Quranic verses restrict knowledge of the Unseen World to God, but there is a Quranic verse according to which prophets can also have such knowledge. Shiite scholars believe that since the succession of the Prophet (s) requires ultra-human knowledge, Imams (a) of the Shi'a also possess knowledge of the Hidden. This is evidenced by many hadiths. According to Shiite scholars, prophets and Imams can have knowledge of the Unseen World only through God's teaching. Some people maintain that ordinary human beings can also have connections to the Unseen World.

The Unseen World vs. the Witnessed World

The word, "ghayb", literally means something hidden or invisible, which is in contrast to things witnessed or perceived.[1] According to religious doctrines, the world is divided into two major parts: the Witnessed World and the Unseen World. The Witnessed World is the natural world of material beings which are perceivable by the five senses, and the Unseen World is the world of beings that cannot be perceived by the five senses.[2] In his al-Mizan, Allama Tabataba'i takes the revelation and the afterlife to be instances of "ghayb" (the Unseen).[3]

It is maintained by some people that the Unseen World and the Witnessed World do not independently exist, just as the Earth and the sky do. The two worlds have relative existences, that is, some stages of existence might be perceivable for some beings and unseen for others. Thus, those stages count as the Unseen World for the former beings, and the Witnessed World for the latter.[4] The Qur'an partly characterizes believers as having faith in the Unseen World.[5]

God's Knowledge of the Unseen World

There are many Quranic verses concerning the Unseen World, in which knowledge of the world is attributed to God.[6] Some of these verses restrict such knowledge to God. For example, according to the verse sixty five of Qur'an 27,

Prophets' Knowledge of the Unseen World

Given Quranic verses according to which knowledge of the Unseen is exclusively possessed by God, some scholars such as al-Allama al-Tabrisi and al-Shaykh al-Mufid, criticize the attribution of the knowledge of the Unseen to prophets and Imams, claiming that no Shiite scholar attributes knowledge of the Unseen to anyone other than God. They maintain that prophets and Imams can have knowledge of the Unseen only through God's teachings.[7] There are Quranic verses according to which prophets have admitted that they have no knowledge of the Unseen World. for example, according to the verse thirty one of the Qur'an 11,

However, in his exegesis of verses twenty six and twenty seven of the Qur'an 72,

Allama Tabataba'i says that the verse makes exceptions to verses according to which knowledge of the Unseen is restricted to God. The latter verse suggests that prophets have access to knowledge of the Unseen as much as permitted by God.[8]

It is said that some earlier scholars denied knowledge of the Unseen by prophets and Imams, and even Imams themselves denied such knowledge, because knowledge of the Unseen was conceived of as essential or intrinsic knowledge of the Unseen, which amounted to the claim of the divinity. This is evidenced by al-Shaykh al-Mufid's rejection of such knowledge about Imams, because he considered the attribution of such knowledge to be tantamount to its acquisition by one's own abilities, rather than being taught by someone else, and this can only be attributed to God.[9]

Imams' Knowledge of the Unseen

Main article: Ilm al-ghayb

It is widely held by Shiite scholars that, in addition to the Prophet (s), the Twelve Imams (a) have access to the Unseen World, because they believe that the Prophet's (s) successors, need to have ultra-human knowledge.[10] In a hadith from Imam al-Baqir (a) in response to a question about verses twenty six and twent seven of the Qur'an 72 according to which God provides everyone He wishes with knowledge of the Unseen, he said that Imams enjoy knowledge of the Unseen.[11]

There are different hadiths according to which Imams do not have knowledge of the Unseen in ordinary circumstances, although they are informed of the Unseen World by God whenever they wish to.[12]

Extent of Knowledge of the Unseen by Imams

There is a disagreement over the extent to which Imams (a) know the Unseen. Some people believe that their knowledge is restricted to religious teachings such as religious rulings and beliefs. On the other extreme, there are people who maintain that the Imams' (a) knowledge is limitless.[13] Some Shiite scholars, such as al-Shaykh al-Mufid and al-Allama al-Tabrisi, believe that Imams as well as prophets do not obtain knowledge of the Unseen on their own. Instead, they obtain such knowledge through the teachings of the Prophet (s).[14]

The Possibility of the Human Connection to the Unseen World

It is held by some Muslim scholars that ordinary people do not have any similarity to the Unseen World because of their materiality. Thus, they cannot connect to this world. However, others believe that human beings have spiritual features and capacities, by means of which they can connect to the Unseen World.[15] According to Mulla Sadra, the human being enjoys an intellectual faculty, and when he becomes perfect in his intellection, he becomes able to connect to the Unseen World and angels; and can observe non-perceivable things.[16] Proponents of the possibility of the connection of ordinary people to the Unseen World articulate the difference between ordinary people on the one hand, and prophets and Imams on the other hand as follows: the former obtain knowledge of the Unseen through ordinary means, while the latter obtain such knowledge through extraordinary means.[17]

Absolute and Relative Unseen

According to Jawadi Amuli in his Tasnim, there are two kinds of the Unseen: absolute and relative. The absolute Unseen is what is always hidden from everyone, such as the Divine Essence, which cannot be known by anyone except God. The relative Unseen is what is hidden from some people, but can be known by some others, such as the resurrection and angels.[18]

See Also

Notes

  1. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 1, p. 70.
  2. Murtaḍawī & Shukrullahī, "Taḥlīl-i Mullā Ṣadrā az imkān-i irtibāṭ-i insān bā ʿālam-i ghayb", p. 48.
  3. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 1, p. 45-46.
  4. Jawādī Āmulī, "ʿĀlam-i ghayb wa shuhūd", p. 14.
  5. See: Qurʾān, 2:3.
  6. See: Qurʾān, 6:59, 73; 9:94; 13:2; 23:92.
  7. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 5, p. 313-314.
  8. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 20, p. 53.
  9. Shākir & Birinjkār, "Masʾala-yi āgāhī az ghayb", p. 67.
  10. Murtaḍawī & Shukrullahī, "Taḥlīl-i Mullā Ṣadrā az imkān-i irtibāṭ-i insān bā ʿālam-i ghayb", p. 48.
  11. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 256-257.
  12. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 257-258.
  13. Marwī & Muṣṭafawī, "Mabānī ʿaqlī wa naqlī-yi ʿilm-i ghayb", p. 7.
  14. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 5, p. 313-314.
  15. Murtaḍawī & Shukrullahī, "Taḥlīl-i Mullā Ṣadrā az imkān-i irtibāṭ-i insān bā ʿālam-i ghayb", p. 48.
  16. Murtaḍawī & Shukrullahī, "Taḥlīl-i Mullā Ṣadrā az imkān-i irtibāṭ-i insān bā ʿālam-i ghayb", p. 54.
  17. Marwī & Muṣṭafawī, "Mabānī ʿaqlī wa naqlī-yi ʿilm-i ghayb", p. 14.
  18. Jawādī Āmulī, Tasnīm, vol. 2, p. 171.

References

  • Jawādī Āmulī, ʿAbd Allāh. ʿĀlam-i ghayb wa shuhūd. Sixth edition. Qom: Markaz-i Nashr-i Asrāʾ, 1389 Sh.
  • Jawādī Āmulī, ʿAbd Allāh. Tasnīm. Sixth edition. Qom: Markaz-i Nashr Asrāʾ, 1389 Sh.
  • Kulaynī, Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-. Al-Kāfī. Edited by ʿAlī Akbar Ghaffārī & Muḥammad Ākhūndī. Fourth edition. Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmīyya, 1407 AH.
  • Makārim Shīrāzī, Nāṣir. Tafsīr-i nimūna. Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmīyya, 1374 Sh.
  • Marwī, Aḥmad & Muṣṭafawī, Sayyid Ḥasan. 1391 Sh. "Mabānī ʿaqlī wa naqlī-yi ʿilm-i ghayb. " Qabasāt 63.
  • Mufīd, Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-. Awāʾil al-maqālāt. Qom: al-Muʾtamar al-ʿĀlamī li-Alfīyat al-Shaykh al-Mufīd, 1413 AH.
  • Murtaḍawī, Sayyid Muḥammad & Shukrullahī, Ḥasan. 1392 Sh. "Taḥlīl-i Mullā Ṣadrā az imkān-i irtibāṭ-i insān bā ʿālam-i ghayb." Andīsha-yi Nuwīn-i Dīnī 34.
  • Shākir Ishtīja & Birinjkār, Riḍā. "Masʾala-yi āgāhī az ghayb wa imkān-i ān az nigāh-i mufassirān." Muṭāliʿāt-i Tafsīrī 10.
  • Ṭabāṭabāyī, Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-. Al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān. Sixth edition. Qom: Markaz-i Nashr-i Asrāʾ, 1389 Sh.
  • Ṭabrisī, Faḍl b. al-Ḥasan al-. Majmaʿ al-bayān. Tehran: Nāṣir Khusru, 1372 Sh.