Defending Hifz al-Iman against the Lies of the Innovators

Translated by Zameelur Rahman


Do you believe that the knowledge of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is equal to the knowledge of Zayd, Bakr and beasts or are you innocent of such [a belief]? Did Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi write such content in his treatise Hifz al-Iman or not? How do you judge one who believes this?


I say: this too is from the inventions and lies of the innovators. They distorted the meaning of the statement and, in their hatred, they produced the opposite of what the shaykh (Allah lengthen his shadow) intended (Allah confound them! How they are perverted!).

Shaykh ‘Allamah al-Thanawi in his treatise called Hifz al-Iman, which is a small treatise in which he answered three questions he was asked: the first is in regards to the prostration of respect (al-sajdat al-ta’zimiyyah) to graves, the second is in regards to circumambulation (tawaf) around graves and the third is in regards to the unqualified usage of the term ‘alim al-ghayb (Knower of the Unseen) for our master, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace); the shaykh said, the upshot of which is:

This usage is not permissible even if it was with a [particular] interpretation, because it conceives of shirk, just as the usage of their statement ra’ina was prohibited in the Qur’an (2:104)[1] and their statement “my male slave” (‘abdi) and “my female slave” (amati) [was prohibited] in the hadith, as transmitted by Muslim in his Sahih (Kitab al-Alfaz min al-Adab wa Ghayriha); since the general [usage of the term] ghayb in the legal usages is that for which no proof was erected and there is no means or path to its perception. [Based] on this, Allah (Exalted is He) said, “Say: None in the heavens or on earth, except Allah, knows the ghayb” (27:65), “Had I knowledge of the ghayb, I should have abundance of wealth” (7:188) and other verses. If this were allowed by interpretation, it would entail that it would be correct to use khaliq (Creator), raziq (Sustainer), malik (Master), ma’bud (Deity) and other attributes of Allah (Exalted is He), exclusive to His (Exalted is He) Essence, for the creation by an interpretation. It would also imply that by another interpretation the use of the term ‘alim al ghayb would be negated from Allah (Exalted is He), since He (Exalted is He) is not the knower of ghayb by means of a medium or by accident, so would any sane religious person allow its negation [from Him]? Far be it, of course not.

Moreover, if this usage were correct for his holy essence (Allah bless him and grant him peace) according to the statement of a questioner, we will ask for clarification from him: what does he mean by this ghayb? Does he mean every particular from the particulars of ghayb or a part of it, whichever part it may be? If he intended a part of the ghayb, there is no speciality in this for the Chief of Messengers (Allah bless him and grant him peace), since the knowledge of some ghayb, even if it is little, is attainable by Zayd and ‘Amr, rather every child and madman, rather all animals and beasts,[2] because every one of them knows something another does not know and [something that is] hidden from him. Hence, if the questioner permits the usage [of the term] ‘alim al ghayb for one because of his knowledge of a part of the ghayb, it would be necessary for him to allow its usage for all those mentioned, and if that was the case, it would not then be from the perfections of prophethood because they all share in it; and if it is not the case, he will be asked for a distinction, and will find no path to it.[3] [Here] ends the statement of Shaykh al-Thanawi.

So look, Allah have mercy on you, at the statement of the shaykh. You will not find even a trace of what the innovators invented. How farfetched for any Muslim to claim that the knowledge of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is equal to the knowledge of Zayd, Bakr and beasts. Rather, the shaykh ruled by way of implication that one who claimed the permissibility of using knowledge of the ghayb for Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) due to his knowledge of part of the ghayb, that it would be necessary for him to allow its usage for all men and beasts. How far this is from the equivalence of knowledge, which they fabricated about him! Allah’s curse be on the liars.

We are convinced that any who believes that the knowledge of the Prophet (upon him be peace) is equal to [the knowledge of] Zayd, Bakr, beasts and madmen, is an absolute disbeliever. Far be it that the shaykh (his glory continue!) say such [a thing], and this would indeed be a strange thing.

Al-Muhannad ‘ala l-Mufannad ya’ni ‘Aqa’id ‘Ulama Ahl al-Sunnah Deoband, pp. 61-64


  1. In its original Arabic usage ra’ina means, “Observe us”, but in the Hebrew language it can be construed as an insult which some of the Jews exploited to outwardly express the commonly understood meaning while intending insult and degradation, and consequently the believers were forbidden to use it []
  2. Unfortunately, this sentence was misrepresented by Ahmad Rida Khan as implying a comparison between the knowledge of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the knowledge of the categories mentioned. In the original Urdu this explanatory translation from Al-Muhannad stating that “the knowledge of some ghayb, even if it is little, is attainable by…” states “such knowledge of the ghayb is attainable by…” (eysa ‘ilm ghayb…hasil hey). The word “such” (eysa) does not refer to the knowledge possessed by the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), as misinterpreted by Ahmad Rida Khan, but to the possession of some knowledge of the ghayb, which is why al-Muhannad translated “such knowledge of the ghayb” as “the knowledge of some ghayb, even if it is little” (‘ilmu ba’di l-ghuyub wa in kana qalilan).

    This was also clarified by the author of Hifz al-Iman in a treatise entitled Bast al-Banan, in which he wrote, “The word eysa does not convey the meaning that the very knowledge possessed by the Master (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is attainable by those mentioned, we seek refuge in Allah from that. Rather the meaning of this word eysa is that which was mentioned above – i.e. mere knowledge of the ghayb (mutlaq ‘ilm ghayb).” (Hifz al-Iman ma’a Bast al-Banan, p. 22) He goes on to mention that this meaning of eysa is obvious from the passage as he wrote immediately after it, “every one of them knows something another does not know…,” which, unfortunately, Ahmad Rida Khan chose not to translate in his Husam al-Haramanyn while including translations of sections before and after this section. []

  3. Since this last paragraph was the point of contention, it should be noted that similar reasoning was used by the classical kalam-scholars in response to the claim of the philosophers that knowledge of the ghayb is one of the special qualities of prophethood. The following is the translation of a section from al-Sharif al-Jurjani’s Sharh al-Mawaqif which bears particular resemblance to the passage of Hifz al-Iman quoted above – see in particular the last paragraph (‘Adud al-Din al-Iji’s text is highlighted in bold):

    As for the philosophers, they say: He i.e. the prophet is the one in whom three special features combine, by which he is distinguished from others. The first of them, i.e. the first of the matters that are specific to him, is that he is cognizant of the ghayb, the present, the past and the future. This cognizance is not farfetched [according to them] because human souls are abstract (mujarrad) in their essence from material substance, without change therein, rather they are non-spatial; and they have a connection in [their] abstractness to the intelligible abstract entities (mujarradat) and heavenly souls that are engraved with the images of what is to occur in this elemental, generating, corrupting world, because they [i.e. the abstract entities] are its foundations. Thus, the rational soul has a connection, an abstract connection, with them, i.e. with those abstract entities, and gravitates to them by means of this generical quality (al-jinsiyyah); and they witness what is therein from the forms of temporal entities (al-hawadith) and imitate them, i.e. those forms are inscribed in them so long as they are prepared for its inscription therein, like a mirror that is made to face another mirror in which are markings, so whatever is facing the first [mirror] from them reflects onto it. This is supported by, i.e. the possibility of what we said of the prophet have a soul constitutive of this faculty is proven by, that which the souls see, i.e. the vision of the human souls, and what [occurs] to them, with respect to perceiving the intelligible qualities, in varying between the two sides of increase and decrease, a variation rising to the [level of] the Holy Souls which perceive many perceptions by intuition (hadas) in the shortest time without error occurring in it; and descending to the [level of] the foolish one who almost cannot comprehend speech. And why would this cognizance [of the ghayb] in respect to the prophet be considered farfetched, when that is found in those you say his preoccupations are exercise with [various] types of [spiritual] struggles, or illness, averting the soul from preoccupation with the body and using sensory organs, or sleep, disconnecting thereby his external senses; since these [individuals] are cognizant of the ghayb and give information about it as attested to by transmission and experience whereby no doubt about it remains for those who are just?

    We say: What you mentioned is rejected for [various] reasons: because cognizance of all ghayb is not necessary for the prophet by agreement between us and you, and for this [reason] the Chief of the Prophets said, “Had I knowledge of the ghayb, I should have abundance of wealth, and adversity would not touch me” (Qur’an 7:188); and a part, i.e. cognizance of part [of the ghayb], is not specific to him, i.e. to the prophet, as you have agreed, since you allowed it for the exercisers, the ill and the sleepers, so the prophet is not distinguished thereby from others.” (Sharh al-Mawaqif, p. 545 – al-Mawqif al-Sadis fi l-Sam’iyyat, al-Marsad al-Awwal fi l-Nubuwwat, al-Maqsad al-Awwal fi Ma’na l-Nubuwwah) []