The meaning of “the knowledge of the unseen” is knowledge about matters that human beings cannot know in a natural way; such as knowing about events in the past that have not been told, events of the present that are hidden from human eyes and ears, and events in future that their causes are currently unknown; not matters such as knowing about the sunrise tomorrow, or the weather in a few days, or the harvest in a season of the year, the causes of which are currently known, and therefore, they are not considered the knowledge of the unseen.
Based on this, it is clear that the knowledge of the unseen belongs to God alone; because He is the Perfect One, and due to His perfection, He knows everything. He is the Uncreated, Eternal One, the Creator of all causes and events, and therefore, He has comprehensive knowledge about His creations in the past, present and future, and nothing happens outside His creations to be hidden from Him, as He has said: ﴿فَقُلْ إِنَّمَا الْغَيْبُ لِلَّهِ﴾; “So say, the unseen belongs to God alone”, and said: ﴿وَعِنْدَهُ مَفَاتِحُ الْغَيْبِ لَا يَعْلَمُهَا إِلَّا هُوَ ۚ وَيَعْلَمُ مَا فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ ۚ وَمَا تَسْقُطُ مِنْ وَرَقَةٍ إِلَّا يَعْلَمُهَا وَلَا حَبَّةٍ فِي ظُلُمَاتِ الْأَرْضِ وَلَا رَطْبٍ وَلَا يَابِسٍ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مُبِينٍ﴾; “And the keys of the unseen are with Him; no one knows them but He, and He knows whatever is on land and sea; not a leaf falls unless He knows about it, and there is not a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything moist or dry unless it is in the Enlightening Book”, and said: ﴿قُلْ لَا يَعْلَمُ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ الْغَيْبَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ﴾; “Say, no one in the skies and on the earth knows the unseen but God”. Therefore, it is natural that the human being does not know the unseen, nor can he know it; because his intellect and senses are incapable of knowing events in the past that that have not been told to him, or events at the present that are hidden from his eyes and ears, or events in future that their causes are currently unknown to him, and this is the requirement of his nature upon which he has been created. This is why God Almighty has said by way of denial and improbability: ﴿أَعِنْدَهُ عِلْمُ الْغَيْبِ فَهُوَ يَرَى﴾; “Does he have the knowledge of the unseen so that he sees?!”, and said: ﴿أَمْ عِنْدَهُمُ الْغَيْبُ فَهُمْ يَكْتُبُونَ﴾; “Or do they possess the unseen so that they write down?!”, and consequently, there is no difference between the Prophets and others in this regard; because not knowing the unseen is what humanity requires, and the Prophets and others have it in common; as God Almighty has said: ﴿قُلْ إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ مِثْلُكُمْ﴾; “Say, I am just a human being like you”, and said: ﴿قُلْ لَا أَقُولُ لَكُمْ عِنْدِي خَزَائِنُ اللَّهِ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ وَلَا أَقُولُ لَكُمْ إِنِّي مَلَكٌ﴾; “Say, I do not tell you that the treasures of God are with me, nor do I know the unseen, nor do I tell you that I am an Angel”, and said: ﴿قُلْ لَا أَمْلِكُ لِنَفْسِي نَفْعًا وَلَا ضَرًّا إِلَّا مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ ۚ وَلَوْ كُنْتُ أَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ لَاسْتَكْثَرْتُ مِنَ الْخَيْرِ وَمَا مَسَّنِيَ السُّوءُ﴾; “Say, I do not own any profit and loss for myself unless what God wills, and if I had known the unseen, I would have increased all good, and no evil would have touched me”. Based on this, a fortiori the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt did not have the knowledge of the unseen either; because they were also human beings like other people, and the human being, due to humanity, does not have the capacity for the knowledge of the unseen.
Yes, it is possible that God informs those who reveals to them about an event in the past that has not been told to him, or an event at the present time that is hidden from his eyes and ears, or an event in future that its causes are currently unknown to him; as He has said: ﴿وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُطْلِعَكُمْ عَلَى الْغَيْبِ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَجْتَبِي مِنْ رُسُلِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ﴾; “God does not inform you about the unseen, but He selects from among His Prophets whomever He wills”, and said: ﴿عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ فَلَا يُظْهِرُ عَلَى غَيْبِهِ أَحَدًا إِلَّا مَنِ ارْتَضَى مِنْ رَسُولٍ فَإِنَّهُ يَسْلُكُ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ رَصَدًا﴾; “He is the Knower of the unseen, so He never discloses His unseen to anyone; except to whomever He selects from among the Prophets, then He dispatches a sentinel before and behind him”; however, on the one hand, God Almighty informing the Prophet about the unseen is not a permanent and expected work, but it is specific to times of necessity or expediency, which God Almighty knows; as there are many examples of the Prophets’ unawareness of the unseen; such as the unawareness of Adam, peace be upon him, of Satan’s intention, when he incited him to eat from the forbidden tree, the unawareness of Nuh, peace be upon him, of the fact that his son would not be saved until he saw him drowned, the unawareness of Ibrahim and Lut, peace be upon them, of the identity of the Angels until they introduced themselves, the unawareness of Ya‘qub, peace be upon him, of the story and whereabouts of Yusuf, peace be upon him, until he introduced himself to his brothers, the unawareness of Musa, peace be upon him, of the fact that the chieftains conspired to kill him until a man came to him from the farthest end of the city, the unawareness of Ayyub, peace be upon him, of the fact that his wife did not commit indecency, to the extent that he swore to whip her a hundred times, and the unawareness of Yunus, peace be upon him, of the fact that his people would soon repent, so he left them in anger; on the other hand, God informing the Prophet about the unseen is not considered the Prophet’s knowledge of the unseen, but in fact it is God Almighty’s knowledge of the unseen; because it is God Almighty who has informed the Prophet about it; as if the Prophet informs others about it, it is considered others’ knowledge of the unseen; because it is the Prophet who has informed them about it, and “the knower of the unseen” does not hold true for someone who has been informed about a hidden event by someone else; as the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet, like some of his companions, were informed about some events in future by him, but they never claimed to know the unseen because of that; rather they denied it frankly; as Sharif al-Radi has narrated in his famous book Nahj al-Balaghah that when Ali ibn Abu Talib, peace be upon him, informed people about some events in future, some of his helpers said to him: «لَقَدْ أُعْطِيتَ يَا أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عِلْمَ الْغَيْبِ؟!»; “O Amir al-Mu’minin, have you been given the knowledge of the unseen?!”, then he laughed and said to the man, who was from Banu Kalb: «يَا أَخَا كَلْبٍ! لَيْسَ هُوَ بِعِلْمِ غَيْبٍ، وَإِنَّمَا هُوَ تَعَلُّمٌ مِنْ ذِي عِلْمٍ»; “O brother of Banu Kalb! This is not the knowledge of the unseen; it is just what has been learned from the one who has knowledge”, meaning the Prophet of God, peace and blessings of God be upon him and his family, and Abu Amr Muhammad ibn Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Kishshi, one of the narrators in the fourth century AH, has narrated in his book Rijal, which has been summarized by Abu Ja‘far al-Tusi (d. 460 AH), with an authentic chain of narrators, from Abdullah ibn al-Mughirah that said: «كُنْتُ عِنْدَ أَبِي الْحَسَنِ -يَعْنِي مُوسَى بْنَ جَعْفَرٍ- عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ أَنَا وَيَحْيَى بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الْحَسَنِ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ، فَقَالَ يَحْيَى: جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ، إِنَّهُمْ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّكَ تَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ؟ فَقَالَ: سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ! سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ! ضَعْ يَدَكَ عَلَى رَأْسِي، فَوَاللَّهِ مَا بَقِيَتْ فِي جَسَدِي شَعْرَةٌ وَلَا فِي رَأْسِي إِلَّا قَامَتْ! ثُمَّ قَالَ: لَا وَاللَّهِ، مَا هِيَ إِلَّا وِرَاثَةٌ عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآلِهِ وَسَلَّمَ»; “Yahya ibn Abdullah ibn Hasan (ibn Ali), peace be upon him, and I were with Abu al-Hasan (Musa ibn Ja‘far), peace be upon him, then Yahya said: may I be sacrificed for you, they think you have the knowledge of the unseen! He said: SubhanAllah! SubhanAllah! Put your hand on my head! I swear to God, I got goose bumps all over my head and body! Then he said: No, I swear to God, it is nothing but an inheritance from the Prophet of God, peace and blessings of God be upon him and his family”; also, it has been narrated from Abu Basir with an authentic chain of narrators that he said: «قُلْتُ لِأَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ -يَعْنِي جَعْفَرَ بْنَ مُحَمَّدٍ الصَّادِقَ- عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ: إِنَّهُمْ يَقُولُونَ! قَالَ: وَمَا يَقُولُونَ؟ قُلْتُ: يَقُولُونَ تَعْلَمُ قَطْرَ الْمَطَرِ وَعَدَدَ النُّجُومِ وَوَرَقَ الشَّجَرِ وَوَزْنَ مَا فِي الْبَحْرِ وَعَدَدَ التُّرَابِ! فَرَفَعَ يَدَهُ إِلَى السَّمَاءِ وَقَالَ: سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ! سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ! لَا وَاللَّهِ، مَا يَعْلَمُ هَذَا إِلَّا اللَّهُ»; “I said to Abu Abdullah (Ja‘far ibn Muhammad), peace be upon him: They say (something)! He said: What do they say? I said: They say you know about raindrops, the number of the stars and the leaves of the trees, the weight of what is in the sea, and the number of brushwood! Then he raised his hand to the sky and said: SubhanAllah! SubhanAllah! No, I swear to God, no one knows about them but God”, and Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Ya‘qub al-Kulayni (d. 328 AH) has narrated in the book al-kafi, which is well-known among the Shias, with his chain of narrators from Sudayr al-Sayrafi that said: «كُنْتُ أَنَا وَأَبُو بَصِيرٍ وَيَحْيَى الْبَزَّازُ وَدَاوُدُ بْنُ كَثِيرٍ فِي مَجْلِسِ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ إِذْ خَرَجَ إِلَيْنَا وَهُوَ مُغْضَبٌ، فَلَمَّا أَخَذَ مَجْلِسَهُ قَالَ: يَا عَجَبًا لِأَقْوَامٍ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّا نَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ، مَا يَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ، لَقَدْ هَمَمْتُ بِضَرْبِ جَارِيَتِي فُلَانَةٍ، فَهَرَبَتْ مِنِّي، فَمَا عَلِمْتُ فِي أَيِّ بُيُوتِ الدَّارِ هِيَ!»; “Abu Basir and Yahya al-Bazzaz and Dawud ibn Kathir and I were in the session of Abu Abdullah (Ja‘far ibn Muhammad), peace be upon him, that he suddenly came toward us while he was angry; then when he sat in his place, he said: How amazing are people who think we know the unseen! Nobody knows the unseen but God the Exalted, the Majestic! Indeed, I wanted to hit my maidservant, but she ran away from me, and I did not know in which room of the house she was hidden”!
These are some examples of Hadiths whose meaning have been narrated in a mutewatir manner from the Ahl al-Bayt, and are in accordance with the Book of God and the sound intellect; for this reason, even the great Shia scholars have acknowledged it and considered the belief that the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt knew the unseen to be an example of exaggeration about them, disbelief and polytheism; as for example, Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Babawayh, known as Shaykh al-Saduq (d. 381 AH), one of the great Shia scholars, has said in the book Kamal al-Din Wa Tamam al-Niʻmah: «مَنْ يَنْحَلُ لِلْأَئِمَّةِ عِلْمَ الْغَيْبِ، فَهَذَا كُفْرٌ بِاللَّهِ وَخُرُوجٌ عَنِ الْإِسْلَامِ عِنْدَنَا»; “Whoever attributes the knowledge of the unseen to the Imams, it is disbelief in God, and in our opinion, it is considered as leaving Islam”, and said in another part of the same book: «وَالْغَيْبُ لَا يَعْلَمُهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَمَا ادَّعَاهُ لِبَشَرٍ إِلَّا مُشْرِكٌ كَافِرٌ»; “And no one knows the unseen but God, and no one claims it for a human being but a polytheist disbeliever”. Also, Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Nu‘man, known as Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 413 AH), one of the great Shia scholars, has said in the book Awa’il al-Maqalat: «فَأَمَّا إِطْلَاقُ الْقَوْلِ عَلَيْهِمْ بِأَنَّهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ الْغَيْبَ فَهُوَ مُنْكَرٌ بَيِّنُ الْفَسَادِ، لِأَنَّ الْوَصْفَ بِذَلِكَ إِنَّمَا يَسْتَحِقُّهُ مَنْ عَلِمَ الْأَشْيَاءَ بِنَفْسِهِ، لَا بِعِلْمٍ مُسْتَفَادٍ وَهَذَا لَا يَكُونُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ، وَعَلَى قَوْلِي هَذَا جَمَاعَةُ أَهْلِ الْإِمَامَةِ إِلَّا مَنْ شَذَّ عَنْهُمْ مِنَ الْمُفَوِّضَةِ وَمَنِ انْتَمَى إِلَيْهِمْ مِنَ الْغُلَاةِ»; “But this saying that the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt know the unseen is incorrect and clearly false; because this description only suits the one who knows things by himself, not by the knowledge that he has used (from another one), and it does not suit anyone but God the Exalted, the Majestic, and all those who believe that (the Ahl al-Bayt) are Imams acknowledge this belief of mine, except for a small number of the Mufawwizah and Ghullat who are related to them”.
It is hereby understood that the knowledge of the unseen belongs to God alone, and it is not permissible to attribute it to anyone else, and this is what Muslims from all Islamic madhhabs unanimously agree upon, except for a group of Shia Ghullat and Sunni Sufis, and the reason for that is the Book of God and the mutawatir Sunnah in the light of the sound intellect, not the illusion that if the Caliph of God on the earth know the unseen, the obligated person will not have free will; because this illusion is baseless; considering that the knowledge of the Caliph of God about the unseen is not greater than the knowledge of God about it, and when the knowledge of God about it does not conflict with the free will of the obligated person, then a fortiori the knowledge of His Caliph about it does not conflict with the free will of the obligated person, and of course, God’s knowledge of the unseen is sufficient for those who want to avoid sins; as He has said: ﴿وَكَفَى بِرَبِّكَ بِذُنُوبِ عِبَادِهِ خَبِيرًا بَصِيرًا﴾; “Your Lord is sufficient as the One who knows and sees the sins of His servants”, and if someone does not fear the knowledge of God Almighty, his fear of the knowledge of others will not benefit him; as God Almighty has said: ﴿يَسْتَخْفُونَ مِنَ النَّاسِ وَلَا يَسْتَخْفُونَ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَهُوَ مَعَهُمْ إِذْ يُبَيِّتُونَ مَا لَا يَرْضَى مِنَ الْقَوْلِ ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ مُحِيطًا﴾; “They hide from people and do not hide from God, while He is with them when they say things at night that He does not approve, and God is fully aware of what they do”.
This is the pure Islam that people have forgotten over the centuries, and Mansoor Hashemi Khorasani reminds them of it, may it be that Muslims remember it, and the good end belongs to the pious.