There are many types of knowledge in the Quran. Some types of knowledge are specific to God; however, He wishes and allows some special people like the prophets and the infallible leaders to know some of them. In this article, we will discuss some of the types of knowledge the Quran discusses.
Topics discussed in this article:
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Knowledge of the Unseen
One of the types of knowledge mentioned in the Quran is unseen knowledge. Below we will look into some of the verses that talk about this type of knowledge.
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Knowledge of the Unseen Only for God
قُل لَّا يَعْلَمُ مَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ الْغَيْبَ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۚ وَمَا يَشْعُرُونَ أَيَّانَ يُبْعَثُونَ ﴿65﴾
Say, ‘No one in the heavens or the earth knows the Unseen except Allah, and they are not aware when they will be resurrected.’ 1
Knowledge of the unseen essentially, independently, and in the unlimited form belongs only to Allah and whatever anyone else knows is from Him.
One of the things that only God knows is when the Day of Judgment comes and none except Him knows this. 2
In this verse God is presenting an argument for the falseness of the divinity of the polytheists’ gods. The argument is that their gods do not have knowledge of the unseen or the Day of Judgment and do not know when they will be resurrected. Although none of the creations have this knowledge, it is necessary for the deity and God to manage the affairs of those who worship Him; one of the affairs is the reward and punishment on the Day of Judgment.
As a result, they must know the day and date of that day. However, none of them and neither the jinn nor the angels or the saints among people have knowledge of this day and therefore, they are not gods. 3
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: He Gives This Knowledge to Some
عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ فَلَا يُظْهِرُ عَلَىٰ غَيْبِهِ أَحَدًا ﴿26﴾
إِلَّا مَنِ ارْتَضَىٰ مِن رَّسُولٍ فَإِنَّهُ يَسْلُكُ مِن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ رَصَدًا ﴿27﴾
Knower of the Unseen, He does not disclose His [knowledge of the] Unseen to anyone, except to an apostle He approves of. Then He dispatches a sentinel before and behind him. 4
The first of these two verses states that God does not give the knowledge of the unseen to anyone. Iẓhār (إظهار) or disclosure/exposure, is to help another to arrive at something and for them to encompass it.
Therefore, God is saying that I do not help anyone to gain dominance over or encompass my unseen. God has knowledge over all of the unseen and this knowledge is particular to Him which He does not share with anyone. The content of the verse, as a result, is complete negation.
However, in the next verse, He provides an exception to the ‘anyone’ mentioned in the previous and explains that He gives this knowledge to whichever prophet He wishes and to the extent that He wants.
We can therefore conclude, as mentioned above, that knowledge of the unseen essentially and primarily belongs only to God; however, dependent on God, others can also have this knowledge to the extent that He wishes and teaches it to them. 5
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Attribute of the Believers
الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ ﴿3﴾
Who believe in the Unseen, maintain the prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them. 6
The word ghaib (غیب) or unseen is in contrast to shahāda (شهادة) which refers to that which is perceived. Unseen is something that cannot be sensed or perceived and refers to God and His greatest signs which are all hidden from our senses; one of which is revelation.
However, in this verse, belief in the unseen refers to belief in God as belief in revelation or belief in the Hereafter has been mentioned separately in the next verse.
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Scientific Knowledge
There are many instances where the Quran explains scientific knowledge and that too, centuries before human beings arrived at those scientific findings and conclusions. Let us look at a few instances below.
The Two Seas
وَهُوَ الَّذِي مَرَجَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ هَـٰذَا عَذْبٌ فُرَاتٌ وَهَـٰذَا مِلْحٌ أُجَاجٌ وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَهُمَا بَرْزَخًا وَحِجْرًا مَّحْجُورًا ﴿53﴾
It is He who merged the two seas: this one sweet and agreeable, and that one briny and bitter, and between the two He set a barrier and a forbidding hindrance. 8
This verse is one of the manifestations of God’s amazing power in creation as it explains that there is an invisible barrier between the salty and sweet sea waters and this barrier stops them from mixing.
Today science has shown that the barrier between them is the difference in water density of the two or in other words, it is their specific weight that stops them from mixing with each for a long length of time.
Formation of a Human Being
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِن سُلَالَةٍ مِّن طِينٍ ﴿12﴾
ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَّكِينٍ ﴿13﴾
ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ ۚ فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّـهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ ﴿14﴾
Certainly We created man from an extract of clay. Then We made him a drop of [seminal] fluid [lodged] in a secure abode. Then We created the drop of fluid as a clinging mass. Then We created the clinging mass as a fleshy tissue. Then We created the fleshy tissue as bones. Then We clothed the bones with flesh. Then We produced him as [yet] another creature. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators! 9
The first two of these verses refers to the creation of human beings and seemingly is indicating their two-stage creation, that is, the first human being, Adam, was created from clay and then his offspring continued through his sperm. The second verse indicates the process of conception.
Finally the last of the verses explains the stages of development of the fetus until it reaches the stage where it is blessed with a soul and becomes a new creation. 10
Another verse 11 also talks about the three veils of darkness during the period of pregnancy which according to a narration refers to the darkness of the abdomen, womb and ovaries which veil the fetus during this period. 12
This is something that the Quran had explained more than 1400 years ago; yet it took human beings and scientists centuries after its revelation to discover these realities.
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Certain Knowledge
In the Quran there are three levels of certain knowledge that are spoken of. The word yaqīn (یقین), that is, certainty, is the opposite of doubt just as knowledge is in contrast to ignorance. The three levels of certain knowledge mentioned in the Quran are:
- ʿIlm al- yaqīn (علم الیقین): this is when someone believes in something based on arguments and proof. For example, a person sees smoke and believes that there is, therefore, a fire.
كَلَّا لَوْ تَعْلَمُونَ عِلْمَ الْيَقِينِ ﴿5﴾
Indeed, were you to know with certain knowledge 13
- ʿAyn al-yaqīn (عین الیقین): this is when a person reaches the stage of witnessing something through the eyes of the heart and soul, that is, through insight and intuition.
ثُمَّ لَتَرَوُنَّهَا عَيْنَ الْيَقِينِ ﴿7﴾
Afterward you will surely see it with the eye of certainty 14
- Ḥaqq al- yaqīn (حق الیقین): this is knowledge which is like if someone has entered into a fire and felt it and knows what it is like through that. This is the highest level of certainty. 15
إِنَّ هَـٰذَا لَهُوَ حَقُّ الْيَقِينِ ﴿95﴾
Indeed this is certain truth. 16
This is knowledge which is in consistent and in accordance with external reality and there is no ambiguity and doubt concerning it. 17
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Revelation and Inspiration
Revelation is a type of knowledge that is specific to the prophets; however, the Imams, who are the successors of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, receive Divine inspiration; other pious people can also receive this although of course the Imams receive the highest form of it while non-infallibles would receive it to a lower degree and in varying degrees according to their status. Let us see the verses below.
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Revelation
وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَن يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّـهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِن وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِنَّهُ عَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ ﴿51﴾
It is not [possible] for any human that Allah should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or send a messenger who reveals by His permission whatever He wishes. Indeed He is all-exalted, all-wise. 18
In this verse, the three ways that God speaks to His prophets is explained:
- Direct revelation without any intermediary
- Revelation from behind a veil; for example, when God spoke to Prophet Moses (peace be on him) through the tree or the revelation that takes for the prophet in a dream state.
- Revelation through an angel 19
The whole of the Quran was a revelation to the Prophet and God spoke to the other Prophets through revelation as well. This type of knowledge is one from a Divine source.
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: Inspiration
وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَىٰ أُمِّ مُوسَىٰ أَنْ أَرْضِعِيهِ ۖ فَإِذَا خِفْتِ عَلَيْهِ فَأَلْقِيهِ فِي الْيَمِّ وَلَا تَخَافِي وَلَا تَحْزَنِي ۖ إِنَّا رَادُّوهُ إِلَيْكِ وَجَاعِلُوهُ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ ﴿7﴾
We revealed to Moses’ mother, [saying], ‘Nurse him; then, when you fear for him, cast him into the river, and do not fear or grieve, for We will restore him to you and make him one of the apostles.’ 20
Although the translator has translated the word waḥy (وحی) here as revelation, it does not refer to the terminological meaning as the one that is revealed to prophets but rather is a general meaning and refers to inspiration into the heart.
The difference between revelation and inspiration is that revelation is specific to prophets whereas inspiration is not. Second, revelation is continuous while inspiration is occasional. Third, inspiration can be to inanimate objects like the sky 21 as mentioned in other verses, as well as to insects like the honeybee 22 . In this latter case, it refers to the natural instinct. Inspiration is also not necessarily divine and can be satanic 23 as well. 24
Types of Knowledge in the Quran: ʿIlm-i Ladunnī (علم لدنّی)
فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِّنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا ﴿65﴾
[There] they found one of Our servants whom We had granted a mercy from Ourselves, and taught him a knowledge from Our own. 25
The knowledge being spoken about in this verse is one in which no one else has a hand except God and senses or thoughts are not mediators of this knowledge. It cannot be gained through acquisition or argument, and proof of this is the part of the verse that states: from Our own. This part of the verse explains that this knowledge is ʿilm-i ladunnī which cannot be acquired and particular to the Imams and people of very high status, that is, saints. From the later verses after this, one can surmise that it refers to knowledge of the interpretation of events. 26
There are many types of knowledge in the Quran; acquired knowledge and knowledge by presence, scientific knowledge, knowledge of the unseen, revelation and inspiration, and many other types of knowledge as well. We have not discussed many of them in this article, for example, knowledge of interpreting dreams, intuitive knowledge, and so forth.
- [27: 65]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr Namūna. Vol. 15, p. 526
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 15, p. 552
- [72: 26-27]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 20, p. 82-83
- [2: 3]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 1, p. 73
- [25: 53]. Qarai translation
- [23: 12-14]. Qarai translation
- Qarashi, A. A. Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth, 3rd ed. Beʿthat Publications. Vol. 7, pp. 109 & 110
- [39: 6]
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 17, p. 363
- [102: 5]. Qarai translation
- [102: 7]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr Namūna. Vol. 27, p. 284-285
- [56: 95]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 19, p. 243
- [42: 51]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 18, pp. 108-109
- [28: 7]. Qarai translation
- See: [41: 12]
- See: [16: 68]
- See: [6: 121]
- Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth. Vol. 8, pp. 19-20
- [18: 65]. Qarai translation
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 13, p. 474
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