The claim of God possessing ignorance regarding Islam
Bayaan al-Islam Team
(Original article in Arabic located here)
Gist Translation by:
Abu Nadm al-Zahiri
The Gist of this Doubt:
Some ignoramuses have claimed that God does not have knowledge of the unseen things and attempt to prove their point by appealing to His statement: "And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know." After that, occurred corruption upon the Earth and the spilling of blood, so did Almighty God not know of what was going to happen? And did God not know that Adam had eaten the apple until He had asked? They also attempt to use the verse: "that He might test you as to which of you is best in deed". Their claim is that the test is so that God may know the best of us, and that before the test He did not know.
The Angle from which this Doubt is Refuted:
- The Knowledge of God encompasses all things, and His Knowledge of the unseen is affirmed by His own words and by what His Prophet (peace be upon him) has informed us.
- God’s testing of the believers does not increase Him in knowledge regarding them, as He has knowledge and has always had knowledge of these things.
- The question of God to Adam was not intended for the purpose of seeking information, but rather Adam’s acknowledgment of his mistake.
A Detailed Response:
First: the inclusion of all things in God’s encompassing knowledge.
Not even the knowledge of something as small as the weight of an atom in the heavens or the Earth escapes the knowledge of God; He knows that which has happened and that which will happen: "And your Lord knows what their breasts conceal and what they declare, Whether you show what is within yourselves or conceal it, Allah will bring you to account for it" and: "And there is no creature on earth but that upon Allah is its provision, and He knows its place of dwelling and place of storage."
Thus the Knowledge of God is knowledge without restriction, and how numerous are the Qur’anic verses which were revealed regarding the knowledge of Almighty God regarding all things, such as: "and Allah is Knowing of all things", and that Allah has encompassed all things in knowledge, or with detail such as: "And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth and no moist or dry [thing] but that it is [written] in a clear record", and "Indeed, Allah [alone] has knowledge of the Hour and sends down the rain and knows what is in the wombs. And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul perceives in what land it will die. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted", and "Allah knows what every female carries and what the wombs lose [prematurely] or exceed. And everything with Him is by due measure. [He is] Knower of the unseen and the witnessed, the Grand, the Exalted. It is the same [to Him] concerning you whether one conceals [his] speech or one publicizes it and whether one is hidden by night or conspicuous [among others] by day."
And how plentiful are those beautiful names of God which specifically indicate His knowledge of all things, such as: al-‘Aleem, al-Khabeer, al-Lateef, ash-Shaheed, ar-Raqeeb, al-Muhsi, al-Mubdi`, 'Aalim al-Ghayb wash-Shahadah, ‘Allam al-Ghuyub, etc. Likewise are the attributes of God indicating complete knowledge and comprehension. Thus this faulty understanding about which we are speaking carries no weight compared to these clear scriptural texts indicating His knowledge of everything which has been and will be. Thus, every occurrence in existence does not occur except that God already knew everything about it.
Second: God’s testing of His worshippers does not increase Him in knowledge.
Indeed, God is transcendent beyond the possibility of flaws: "There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the Hearing, the Seeing." He merely intended, by His testing of mankind, to increase them in reward in the afterlife: "give good tidings to the patient."
Almighty God has indeed entered us into an abode of tests – this worldly life – for us to demonstrate who is the best in terms of deeds, until not a soul can claim that God oppressed them, that they were not informed of the obligations placed upon them or that they were merely following the ways of their forefathers.
Thus the test of God upon His worshippers is a placing of the proof upon them. Even people isolated from civilization who didn’t have a chance to hear the message: on Judgment Day will not be an exception, for they will be given their own specific test then and there, such that every one of them will know the full extent of the message, according to whether or not they would have believed had the message reached them in life.
God merely wanted to establish the proof upon the people, as He is already more knowledgeable about all people than each one of them is about their own selves, and He knows what they would have chosen were their life situations to have been different. God said: "And even if they were returned, they would return to that which they were forbidden; and indeed, they are liars."
Thus, the correct understanding of the verse: "that He might test you as to which of you is best in deed" and "And We will surely test you until We make evident those who strive among you [for the cause of Allah ] and the patient, and We will test your affairs." and others like them is to say:
- In general, discussions like this end up nowhere and produce no benefit. It’s similar to telling an idiot that fire burns wood, only for them to reply that wood burns fire, and you then end up bringing a piece of wood and setting it on fire just to prove a minor point.
- The meaning of the phrases “in order to know” as it appeared in the verses means in order for the truth to come out in the open, all according to God’s knowledge.
- The Arabic particle “li” before the verb “to know” as it comes in the original Qur’anic verse indicates the consequence of something. Thus, the benefit drawn from this verse is not taken grammatically from that particle; rather, the structure of the sentence is merely organized around it syntactically. This is similar to what Almighty God said using the same particle when explaining that which the deeds of Pharaoh and his cronies had earned them: "And the family of Pharaoh picked him up [out of the river] so that he would become to them an enemy and a [cause of] grief. Indeed, Pharaoh and Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners." The meaning, then, is that their actions had earned them a consequence, not that the consequence decided the actions they would perform retroactively.
Knowledge of the wisdom behind creation is something which, in and of itself, is beyond the understanding of human beings. It suffices the individual to know that his/her Lord created him/her for the purpose of worship, as He said: "And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me."
Mankind also comes to know that at the moment they worship God, they are the ones who receive benefit and not Him. And if mankind chooses not to worship their Lord, then they are the only ones who are hurt; as God said: "If you disbelieve - indeed, Allah is Free from need of you. And He does not approve for His servants disbelief. And if you are grateful, He approves it for you," and: "What would Allah do with your punishment if you are grateful and believe?"
Third: God’s question to Adam was not intended for seeking information, but merely requesting an acknowledgment.
God’s knowledge is ancient and eternal, as has been previously discussed. From the proofs of God’s knowledge is what the two sheikhs narrated from the second caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab that Allah's Apostle said,
"Adam and Moses argued with each other. Moses said to Adam. 'You are Adam whose mistake expelled you from Paradise.' Adam said to him, 'You are Moses whom Allah selected as His Messenger and as the one to whom He spoke directly; yet you blame me for a thing which had already been written in my fate before my creation?"' Allah's Apostle said twice, "So, Adam overpowered Moses."
Thus, God knew what Adam would do before He even created Adam. So, then, the question of God to Adam was not for the purpose of seeking information because God knew that information from the beginning of time. Rather, God was seeking an honest confession from Adam of his mistake, thus granting Adam the opportunity to repent: "Then his Lord chose him and turned to him in forgiveness and guided [him]."
The Jews of Medina, whose religion describes God with a number of flaws and imperfections, knew that Muhammad was truly the final messenger of the one true God for whom they had been waiting according to their own scriptures. However, when it turned out that this messenger was not from the people of Israel like them, they refused to believe in the message with which he came due to ethnocentric jealousy. They prohibited their community from speaking with the Muslims about these prophecies so it would not end up being a proof upon them on Judgment Day. God said: "And indeed, they do not call you untruthful, but it is the verses of Allah that the wrongdoers reject." God replied back to them: "But do they not know that Allah knows what they conceal and what they declare?"
As for the statement of the angels: "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood,” then it does not contradict God’s knowledge of what would come to be. Rather, this is a proof that even if the angels knew that what God had taught them, they were still in the dark as to what only God knew Himself. They did not know what this steward upon the Earth (mankind) would do in terms of rectification, nation building, ruling by divine law and spreading goodness throughout the world. With that, God responded to the angels saying: "Indeed, I know that which you do not know."
The Bottom Line:
- There is simply no basis at all for doubting God’s knowledge, even if some ignoramuses claim otherwise. God’s knowledge encompasses all things; nothing from all His creation is hidden from Him. He informed some of His worshippers of some aspects of the unseen, and those unseen matters eventually came into being.
- God’s statement in the previously mentioned verse affirms that even if the Angels knew of some things about which God informed them, they still didn’t know a thing about matters which God kept to Himself. They did not know, for example, that God would bring from the violent human race many people who would be kind and just.
- The tests with which God subjects His worshippers is only to put the proof on them, such that no one will even try to claim that God oppressed them when Judgment Day comes. Additionally, these tests come as a means for pious worshippers to be raised in rank when they otherwise would not be; this is a blessing and favor from the Lord.
- As for the claim that God did not know that Adam and Eve ate from the tree until He asked them, then this is demonstrably false as seen from Adam’s statement to Moses.
 Al-Baqarah verse 284.
 Ar-Ra’d verses 8-10.
 Ash-Shoura verse 11.
 Al-Baqarah verse 155.
 Al-Baihaqi, al-Asma` wa as-Sifat, pg. 123. ed. Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari. Beirut: Dar Ihya at-Turath al-Arabi, 1990. 1st ed. Habibullah Hasan Ahmad, al-Mufid fi Ilm at-Tawhid, pgs. 133-134. Azhar University: Series of Lectures for the Faculty of Da’wah.
 Adh-Dhariyat verse 56.
 Muhammad ibn Isma’il al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, the two most preeminent historiographers in Islamic history.
 Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Prophets, Chapter of the death of Moses, no. 3228 as well as other places. Sahih Muslim, Book of Destiny, Chapter of the Pilgrimages of Adam and Moses, no. 6912.
 Al-Baqarah verse 77.
 Al-Baqarah verse 30.