The Unseen (ghaib) is defined as everything that cannot be perceived by man’s senses, including those things that remain secret from man and are only known by Allah the All-Aware, as well as those things that man has knowledge of due to his being informed of them by Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him). There are a few matters related to the Unseen that man can uncover through scientific analysis and investigation, but only by using instruments such as telescopes and microscopes that expand the capabilities of man’s senses. In actuality, these matters can only be defined as part of the Unseen if taken relative to man’s circumstances at a given time or place.
The Importance of Belief in the Unseen
Belief in the Unseen is one of the special qualities of man. Animals share with man the ability to perceive with their senses, but man alone is capable of believing in the Unseen. For this reason, belief in the Unseen has been an integral part of faith in all of the revealed religions. The Qur’an and Sunnah have come with many matters that man has no way of knowing except through revelation. Among these matters are those related to Allah, His attributes, and His actions, as well as those related to the existence of certain things, like the seven heavens and what they contain, the angels, the prophets, Paradise, Hell, the jinn, and other matters of faith that can only be ascertained by information provided by Allah and His Messenger.
Classification of the Unseen
Some matters of the Unseen are absolute in that they can never be perceived by the human senses, while others are relative: They can be perceived after the passage of time or can be unseen with respect to certain people but not so with respect to others. The matters of the Unseen fall into three categories:
1. There are matters that are absolutely and categorically Unseen. These are matters that man has no way of perceiving with his intellect or his senses. These matters are further broken down into two categories:
a. The first category comprises those matters that Allah has informed man about through His Messengers. An example of this is what we know about the jinn.
[Say (O Muhammad): It has been revealed to me that a group of jinn listened (to the Qur’an) and said: “Verily we have heard a marvelous Qur’an. It guides to the right path. We believe in it, and we shall never worship anything besides our Lord.”] (Al-Jinn 72:1–2)
b. The second category comprises those matters that Allah has not informed any of His creation about, not even His prophets and angels. This is what is meant by the following verse:
[He possesses the keys to the Unseen. None has knowledge of them except for Him.] (Al-An`am 6: 59)
This last category includes the knowledge of the Hour when the world will come to an end; the knowledge of when, where, and how a person is to die; and some of the names that Allah has given to Himself. Allah says
[Verily Allah has knowledge of the Hour. He sends down the rains. He knows what is in the wombs, and no soul knows what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knows in which land it will die.] (Luqman 31:34)
Part of a supplication taught by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) reads
“Oh Allah, I beseech You with every name that You have; those that You have given Yourself, those that You have taught to some of Your creation, and those that You have kept to Yourself the knowledge thereof.” (Ahmad; authenticated by Al-Albani)
2. There are also matters that are Unseen with respect to some of creation, such as historical events. These events form part of the Unseen with respect to those who have no knowledge of them. For example, after relating to him the story of the family of `Imran, Allah said to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)
[This is from the news of the Unseen that We reveal to you. You were not with them when they cast lots as to which of them will be the guardian of Mary, nor were you with them when they disputed.] (Aal `Imran 3:44)
3. There are matters that are undetectable by the senses because the matters are physically distant or because they occur in the future or because of some other obstruction. Such a matter remains unseen until the obstruction is removed. We see an example of this in the story of the death of Prophet Solomon: The jinn used to claim that they know the Unseen, but when the Prophet Solomon died, they did not know of his death and continued working in his service until he fell down because his stick had been undermined by an earthworm. So the death of Solomon was a matter of the Unseen in relation to the Jinn.
[When we decreed death for him, nothing informed them (the jinn) of his death except an earthworm that was gnawing at his stick. So when he fell down, the jinn saw clearly that if they had known the Unseen, they would not have remained in their humiliating torment.] (Saba’ 34:14)
Examples of Unseen Matters
1. The soul. Allah says
(They ask you (O Muhammad) about the soul. Say: The soul is from the affairs of my Lord, and you have not been given except a little knowledge.) (Al-Israa’ 17:85)
2. The signs of the Hour, both major and minor. These are the events that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told will occur as signs that the end of the world is close at hand. For example, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said in one hadith that that time will come when the barefoot, destitute herdsmen compete in erecting lofty buildings. This is among the signs that have already occurred.
Among the major signs of the Hour are what is related in various hadiths about the antichrist and the coming of Jesus near the end of time.