What No Human Being May Know
A man asked the Prophet (Pbuh) about knowledge. The Prophet attributes all to God who knows all goodness. He then quotes a verse from the Qur’an that outlines five areas which are known to God alone: “With God alone rests the knowledge of when the Last Hour will come; and He (it is who) sends down rain; and He knows what is in the wombs; whereas no one knows what he will reap tomorrow; and no one knows in what land he will die.” (31: 34).
By Adil Salahi
A Muslim is expected to offer the greeting of peace, i.e. salam, before seeking permission to enter someone else’s home. In this connection, let me quote a hadith. A man from the Amir tribe came to the Prophet (Pbuh) and said: “May I enter.” The Prophet said to a maid: “Go out and say to this man to say: ‘Assalamu alaikum. May I enter.’ He has not sought permission properly.” The man said: “I heard this before the maid could come out to give me this message. So I said: Assalamu alaikum. May I enter.” The Prophet said: “And to you. Yes, come in.” I went in and asked him: “With what message have you come?” He said: “I have come to you with nothing but good. I have come to you so that you worship none other than God who has no partners. You must abandon the worship of idols like Al-Lat and Al-Uzza. You must pray five times each night and day, and fast a month in each year, and offer the pilgrimage to the House (i.e. the Kaaba), and take a portion of the money of the rich among you so as to give it to your poor.” I asked him: “Is there any part of knowledge unknown to you?” He replied: “God certainly knows what is good. Some knowledge is known only to God alone. There are five things that are unknown to anyone other than God: ‘With God alone rests the knowledge of when the Last Hour will come; and He (it is who) sends down rain; and He knows what is in the wombs; whereas no one knows what he will reap tomorrow; and no one knows in what land he will die.’” (31: 34) (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and Abu Dawood)
We do not need to comment on the opening of this Hadith. However, when the man asked the Prophet about his message, the Prophet outlined it for him in clear and concise terms. The first thing the Prophet said was the main essence of faith, which is God’s oneness. We note how the Prophet made his statement so emphatic, asserting the need to worship God alone and to ensure that no partners are associated with Him. But he goes on to add the importance of the practical shape this faith should take. To an Arab at the time, this could not be illustrated in a better form than abandoning the worship of the main idols he had been used to glorify. Thus the Prophet gave his interlocutor both the belief and its practical manifestation in both what needs to be done and what must be abandoned. The Prophet then outlined for his interlocutor the four main acts of Islamic worship, namely prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and zakah.
These cover all areas of life. Prayer is a bond between a human being and his Lord, God Almighty. It is renewed five times every day because a human being needs to be constantly aware of this bond. Such awareness is the best support anyone could have against temptation. During the day, every day, a Muslim is either approaching a prayer coming soon or having finished a prayer a short while ago. In either case, prayer serves as a reminder putting a Muslim on his guard.
Fasting, on the other hand, is a worship that signifies complete and pure devotion, because it involves abstaining from food and drink, the two things closely connected with our survival. When we withstand hunger and thirst for God’s sake, resisting the temptation of food and drink, we are better able to resist all temptation of sin. The pilgrimage is an act of worship that symbolizes the unity of the Muslim community all over the world, not only in the present generation, but also throughout history. Zakah is a financial act of worship that aims at ensuring complete social security for all people. We note here how the Prophet makes it clear that it should work within the community: You “take a portion of the money of the rich among you so as to give it to your poor.” This strengthens bonds within the community, because both giver and taker are fulfilling an act of worship.
The next question the man asks is about knowledge. The Prophet attributes all to God who knows all goodness. He then quotes a verse from the Qur’an that outlines five areas which are known to God alone: “With God alone rests the knowledge of when the Last Hour will come; and He (it is who) sends down rain; and He knows what is in the wombs; whereas no one knows what he will reap tomorrow; and no one knows in what land he will die.” (31: 34)
The first is that of the Last Hour, when all creation will be gathered before God on the Day of Resurrection. No one, not even a Prophet or an angel, is ever given such knowledge. But it is not merely the timing of the Last Hour that is withheld from our knowledge. What comes next is also known to God alone. This applies to both heaven and hell and whatever God has chosen to create for that life which we have no doubt of coming.
Secondly, the verse the Prophet quotes mentions that it is God alone who sends down rain. When we relate this to knowledge, we may think of the quantity of rain that is sent down each time a cloud sheds its contents. This is definitely an area that scientists have not even tried to explore. Even if they do, they can only hazard a guess with regard to the volume of rain, or its duration and the area where it falls. They may develop technology to give them better results. But God knows every drop of rain and where it falls, long before a cloud is formed. Not only so, but He knows the effects of such rain, and whether it will seep through the earth into an underground reservoir or pour into a river. He also knows which of His creation will benefit by each rainfall, and how much it contributes to the life of plants and animals.
Thirdly, God knows “what is in the wombs.” In his translation of the Qur’an, Muhammad Asad adds the following comment: “This relates not merely to the problem of the sex of the as yet unborn embryo, but also to the question of whether it will be born at all, and if so, what its natural endowments and its character will be, as well as what role it will be able to play in life; and life itself is symbolized by the preceding mention of rain, and the end of all life in this world, by the mention of the Last Hour.” We may add that God’s knowledge does not apply to human embryos only, but to the unborn young of all species.
The fourth aspect of knowledge known only to God is that of the future, expressed in the Qur’anic verse in these words: “Whereas no one knows what he will reap tomorrow.” It is indeed knowledge of the next moment that is kept away from us. No one can ever claim to have clear and certain knowledge of what will happen beyond the present moment, or indeed whether he or she will survive to take another breath. But everything that will happen to the end of time is known to God in very minute detail.
The final aspect also relates to the future, but it is more closely related to a person’s life and its end: “No one knows in what land he will die.” It is not merely the place of death that is unknown to us. Also its timing and causes are also withheld. We realize this as we see in life that death cannot be predicted for any person, whether he suffers from ill health or he enjoys robust and good health. It may come through the least expected of causes and in the most unusual of ways. The only thing that is certain about it is that it occurs in every case, at the time God has chosen.