Rafed English

Ilmu 'l-Ghayb of the Imams

Adopted from the Book : "Shi'ism; Imamate and Wilayat" by : "Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi"

Imam Ali was also blessed with the ilmu 'l-ghayb as attested by verse 13 : 43 discussed in the last chapter on wilayat. It was on the basis of the knowledge of the Book" that Imam Ali has the universal wilayat. Moreover, according to Shi'a ahadith, Allah had instructed the Prophet to convey whatever knowledge was given to him to Ali bin Abi Talib. After all, the Prophet "was not niggardly of the ghayb. The other Imams as successors of Ali, also had access to ilmu 'l-ghayb. 1 Shaykh al-Muzaffar explains the Shi'a position on this issue as follows :

We mainain that the powers of the Imams ot receive inspirations have reached the highest degree of excellence, and we say that it is a Divinely-given power. By this means the Imam is able to understand information about anything, anywhere, and at any time, and he understands by means of this Divinely-given power at once, without recourse to methodological reasoning or guidance from a teacher. When he desires to know about some matter, it is reflected in his pure mind as if in a polished mirror. It is clear from the histories of their lives that, like the Prophet, the Imams were not trained or thought by anyone at all, not even in reading and writing, from their childhoods to the maturing of their minds. No author or teacher was seen to instruct one of them, but they were incomparable masters of knowledge, so that they never asked about any problem without being able to answer it immediately, and they never said that they did not know. They never requieted time to consider a question before replying."2

Soon after the people accepted him as their leader, Imam (as) came to the mosque dressed in the turban and robe of the Prophet, and sat on the pulpit. Then he said: "O People, ask me before you lose me for this is the basket of knowledge, this is the breath of the Messenger of Allah(s. a w.) and this is what the Messenger of Allah fed me. Therefore, ask me for I have the knowledge of the first ones and the last ones.

"By Allah, if a cushion is set up for me so that I may sit on it, I shalla give verdicts to the people of Tawrat according to their Tawrat untill it will say, "Ali is true; he has not lied, He has given you the verdict according to what Allah has revealed in me. And I shall give verdicts to the poeple of the Injil according th their Injil untill it will say, "Ali is true; he has not lied, He has given you verdict according to what Allah has revealed in me.' And shall give a verdicts to the people of the Qur'an according to ther Qur'an untill it wall say, "Ali is true, he has not lied. He has revealed in me.
"You read the Book (i e. the Qur'an) at night as well as day; so is there anyone among you who knows what was revealed in it? If it had not been for a verse in the Book of Allah, I would have informed you of what has happened (in the past), what will happen, and what shall happen untill the Day of Resurrection. And that is the verse: "Allah erases and confirms what He wishes, and with Him is the Mother of the Book, [Ra'd 39] ..."3 This last passage is significant; in it, Imam Ali claims to have the access to ilmu 'l-ghayb but also acknowledges that is is totally dependent upon the will of Almighty Allah.

Here we shall just quote one or two examples from the life of Imam 'Ali (as). Jundab bin Abdullah al-Azdi narrates the follwing: I took part with Ali in the battles of Jamal and Siffin. I never had any doubts about fighting against those who fought him until I took part in the battle of Nahrwan (against the Kharijites). Then doubts came to me about fighting against these people. I said, "It is out reciters of the Qur'an and our choice men whom we are killing. This matter is dreadful.

In the morning I went for a walk (talking) a vessel of water with me until I left the lines (fitted my shield on it and shaded myself from the sun. While I was sitting, Amiru 'l-Mu'minin 'Ali (as) came along. He said to me, "O' Brother from (the tribe of ) al-Azd, do you have water for ritual purification with you?"

"Yes", I answered and I gave him the vassel.

He went aside so that I could not see him. Then he came back after he had purified himself. He sat down in the shade of the spear. Suddenly a horseman appeared asking for him. I said, "O Amiru 'l-Mu'minin, there is a horseman who wants you."

"Make a sign to him (to come here)", he hold me.

I made a sign and he came. He said, "O Amiru 'l-Mu'minin, the people (i e. the Kharijites) have crossed the river."

"No he retorted, they have not crossed."

Yes, by God, they have crossed." the man insisted.

"No', he retorted, "they have not crossed."

Then another man came. He said, "O' Amiru 'l-Mu'minin, the people have crossed."

No, he replied, they have not crossed."

"By God, the man said, "I did not come to you until I saw the standards and the baggage on the side."

By God," he declared, "they have not done so. (What you want) is to kill them and shed their blood."

Then he rose and I rose with him. I said to myself, Praise be to God, who has given me insight into this man and enabled me to recognize his affair. He is one of the two men: he is either a bold liar or he has an evidence (for his country) from his Lord and a covenant from his Prophet. O God, I give you a solemn undertaking which you can ask me about on the Day of Resurrection. If I find that the people have crosed, I will be the first to fight against him, the frist to trust my spear into his eye. If the people have not crossed, then I will go forth with him and fight alongside."
We returned to the lines (of the army and we found that standards and baggages were as they had been (before).

Then Ali took me by the scruff of the neck and pushed me. The he said "O Brother of (the tribe of) al-Azd, has the matter become clear to you?"

"Yes, Amiru 'l-Mu'minin." I replied.

"Your business is with your enemy," he said.

I killed one man from the Kharijites and then I killed another. I and another of them were exchanging blows. I struck him and he struck me. We both fell together. My comrades carried me back. by the time I recovered consciousness, there were none of the Kharijites left.

After qouting this incident, Shaykh al-Mufid makes the following comment: "In it, Ali provides information about the unsee, gives clear evidence of his knowledge of rhe inner conscience (of man) and his knowledge of what is in man's souls. The evidence in it is outstanding which could not be equalled by evidence of a similar nature in terms of the greatness of the miracles and its clear proof."4

Now I would like to quote another example from the forthcoming book of my father where he has also discussed the issue of prophetic foresight. He writes:

"There are numrous, well-documented prophecies of the Prophet and Ali which were fulfilled later ... An important historical event is referred to in Sermon 128 in Nahji l-Balagha. Sayyid Razi gives this sermon the captain 'From the sermon describing the attributes of the Turks.' He quotes pertions describing fierce invaders, their features, their clothes, the invincibility and their killing of multitudes. Now Sayyid Razi died in 406/1016, two hundred and forty-two years brfore the fall of Baghdad in 1258. Ibn Abil Hadid, who wrote the Sharh (commentery of Nahji l-Balagh) died seventeen years before the fall, he identifies the invader with the Mongol hordes who had in his days already conquered Khorasan, Iran and Syria. He describes the havoc they created in the neighbouring countries up to 643/1245. He says:

" And how that this prophecy of the unseen by Ali (as), we have seen ti by our own eyes and it has happened in our time. And the People, since the early days of Islam, were waiting for its fulfillment, until the firm decree (of Allah) made it appear in our day.'

There are no clear details in his version of the sermon of who the conquered were. But this same sermon in its full form was in the hands of the learned Shi'a and had been since Ali's day.

"'Allama al-Hilli was born eight years before the fall of Bagdad to Hulagu Khan. His father, father, Sadidu d-Din Yusuf al-Hilli was the most learned man of his time in fiqh, Principle of jurisprudence and theology.

Referring to the Prophecies of future events by Ali, Allama writes:

And among them is his prophecy of the foundation of Baghdad and the Kingdom of the "Abbasids and their circumstance in which the Mongol shall take away the kingdom from them. My father has narrated it, and the [Prophecy] was the reason for the citizens of Kufa, Hilla and the two sacred cities [Karbala and Najaf) being saved from the massacre.

When Hulagu, reached Baghdad, and before he conquered it, the majority of the people of Hilla fled away to the desert, except a few of them. Among those who remained was my father (may Allah have mercy on him), Sayyid Majdu d-Din bin Tawus, and the faqih, Ibn Abi l-Izz. They decided to write to the sultan (Hulagu ] that they accepted his rule and were under the II Khanid authority. They sent tthe letter with a persian man. Hulagu sent a firman (order) with two person, Nikalah and Ala'uddin, saying, 'If your hearts are as your letter shoes, then come to us. The two officers came [and conveyed Hulagu's message]. However, the others [who had signed the letter] were afraid to go as they did not knwo what the result would be Therefore, my father (may Allah have mercy on him) asked the officers, Would it be enough if I alone came there?. They said, Yes. Therefore, he went with them.

When my father came before the Sultan (and it was before Baghdad wa conquered and the caliph was killed), he asked my father, How is it that you ventured upon writing to me and coming to my court event before you knew how the matter between me and your king would be decided? How can you be sure; perhaps he would make peace with me and I would go away?

My father (may Allah have have mercy on upon him) said, We took that step because we have been told to the prophecy of Amiru l-Mu'minin Ali ibn Abi Talib (as), that he said in his sermon of Zawra:

... And what would make you know what Zawra is? A land of deep-rooted splendour. Strong buildings will be built in it and its inabitants will increase in number, and there shall be therein servants and treasures.

The children of Abbas will make it theri dwelling place and a showplace for their vanities; it shall be their house of amusement and sport; there shall be in it overpowering oppression, frightful fear, debauched leaders, sinful rulers, and embezzling ministers; these shall be served by the natives of Fars and Rum. They shall be not perform any good even after knowing it and shall not leave any evil even after knowing it. Their males shall satisfy their lust with males, and the females with females.

Then there shall be the overwhelming grief, long weeping and destruction, and crying for the inhabitants of Zawra from the assult of the Turks. And they are a people of small eyes, their faces like hammered shields, their clothes are iron, they are hairless, beardless. There will lead them a king who will come from wherence their (the 'Abbasids) kingdom had begun. He will be of a very loud voice, powerful authority and high courage; he will not pass by a town but that he will conquer it, and no standard will be raised against him but that he will put it down. Woe unto him who would become his enemy, he shall remain like it until he is victorious.

After quoting the sermon, ny father said, As these qualities had long been described to us and we found the very qualities in you, we put our hope in you and came towards you.

Thereupon the Sultan was satisfied and he wrote for them (ie. the eitizens of the four towns) a firman, in the name of my father (may Allah have mercy upon him) giving tranquility to the hearts of the People of Hilla and the nearby towns.

"Clearly the leading Shi'a had the Sermon in a form which gave details of who the vanquished were--the 'Abbasids. It sis inconceivable that Ali would give such detail of the victory without any reference to the vanquidhed. They believed so completely in its authenticity that they took such an irreversible step as to correspond with and go in person to the court of Hulagu. As for Sayyid Razi, one can understand his omission of details about the conquered. He did not omit them because of lack of high literary merit but because he lived in Baghdad under the very nose of those who were to be so signally vanquished, the Abbasid Caliphs."5

Jundab's personal example during the lifetime of Imam Ali and al-Hilli's example of the seventh Islamic century, clearly prove that the Imams had access to ilmu l-ghayb by the blessing of Almighty Allah, and that this belief is not "certain extravagant claims made for them by their fanatical associates.6

In the words of Shaykh al-Mufid, "(The evidence for) this kind (of miracle) by Amiru l-Mu'minin [Ali] is such that it can only be denied through stupidity, ignorance, slander and obstinacy.7

____________
1. Al-Majlisi, Biharu 'l-Anwar, vol.26, chapter 1, 3, and 5 as quoted in Rizvi, The Justice of God, p.21-26.

2. Al-Muzaffar, M.R. the faith of Shi'a Islam, p.33-34.

3. Al-Mufid, al-Ikhtisas,p.235; a shorter version of this narration may also be seen in al-Irshad, p.34 (in English, p.21). For other references on this claim of Imam Ali that "Ask me before you lose me," see al-Amini, al-Ghadir, vol.6,p.193-194; vol.7, p.107-108.

4. Al-Mufid, al-Irshad, p.317- 319; in its English translation, see p.239-240. This narration can also be seen in the following Sunnisources: Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanzu l-Ummal, vol.11, p.289 qouted from at-Tabarani's al-Wasil; Ibn Abi l-Hadid, Sharh Nahji l-Balagha vol.2 p.271.

5. The forthcoming book of Allama Sayyid Saeed Akbar Rizivi on Shi'a faith and history. He cities al-Hili's Kashfu 'l-Yaqin, p.28 as the source for the narration.

6. Abdulaziz Sachedina writes about the evolution of Imamate as follows: "The Imams wre now believed to possess divine knowledge which enabled them to predict future events ... The highly speculative aspects of the doctrine of the Imamate should be attributed to the circumstances in which the Imams manifested political quiretism but did not object to certain extravagant claims made for them by their fanatical associates. These claims included the possession of esoteric knowledge inherited through designation by the Imam." (Islamic Messinanism, p.18-19)

7. Al-Mufid, al-Irshad, p.314; in English, see p.236.

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