Does the phrase “until We test” mentioned in verse 31 of the chapter of Muhammad mean Allah does not know the future?

The Details of the Question

- Some people -GOD FORBID- put forward a view that “Allah does not know the future” and support their view with the following verse: I quote the verse below; if you wish, examine it in more detail: the chapter of Muhammad, verse 31:
And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience.”
They interpret the phrase “hatta na’lam” in the verse as “until We know” and make the following explanation:  
“By saying until We know, Allah states that He does not know (GOD FORBID) until that time.” Will you refute that claim through evidences based on science and nass (verses of the Quran and hadiths)?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

“And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience.” (Muhammad, 47/31)

The phrase “...until We know (test)...” used in the verse above and similar ones does not mean that Allah does not know beforehand what will happen. In all tafsir resources, such phrases mean “the appearance - of the relevant thing - actually”.

For example, the explanation of the verse in the chapter of Muhammad can be explained as follows:  

“We definitely know very well what you will do and will not do. However, we will take into account your deeds and performance, not our all-encompassing, infinite and pre-eternal knowledge so that justice will become manifest in the test. Therefore, we will continue testing you until we see the results of the efforts of those among you who make jihad and persevere in patience.”

- Some scholars explain the issue with the concepts “knowledge of ghayb (unknown/unseen)” and “visible knowledge”. (see Razi, the interpretation of the verse in question)

The meaning of it is as follows: Allah, first of all, knows everything that took place, is taking place and will take place as “Allamul-ghuyub” (knower of all ghayb). However, in the test of people that will end in Paradise and Hell, Allah makes an evaluation -as a necessity of justice - based on His knowledge that is related to knowing a state that occurred (not that will occur) and that is called “visible knowledge”, and follows an objective line, not based on His knowledge that encompasses everything. It is a manifestation of His infinite justice.

 ”And whether ye hide your word or publish it, He certainly has (full) knowledge, of the secrets of (all) hearts. Should He not know,- He that created?” (al-Mulk, 67/13-14)

It is emphasized in the verses above that Allah knows all words of people, whether they hide or publish them, and that the creator everything knows everything.

- Many statements meaning “Allah has full knowledge of all things” and “all things Allah comprehends in His knowledge” in the Quran show that there is nothing that is outside the knowledge of Allah. When we think that Allah is the creator of this vast, endless universe, we understand that we have to accept the existence of such all-encompassing knowledge.  

In addition, since Allah’s statement that “nobody will be wronged” is expressed many times in the Quran clearly, it does not comply with a sound belief to say that Allah will act based on His knowledge and that He will not take the performance of anybody into account because Allah knows everything beforehand with His pre-eternal knowledge. He evaluates the test of people based on their success. He determines it according to the result of the test. The expressions in the verse in the chapter of Muhammad and similar verses attract attention to that result.   

After that short explanation, we regard it appropriate to quote some verses and attract attention to a few points:

“…That ye may know that Allah hath knowledge of what is in the heavens and on earth and that Allah is well acquainted with all things.” (al-Maida, 5/97)

“Allah doth know what every female (womb) doth bear, by how much the wombs fall short (of their time or number) or do exceed. Every single thing is before His sight, in (due) proportion.” (ar-Rad, 13/8)

“Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: ‘I will create a vicegerent on earth.’ They said: ‘Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?’ He said: ‘I know what ye know not.' (al-Baqara, 2/30)

“…And fear Allah, and know that Allah is well acquainted with all things.” (al-Baqara, 2/231)

“Verily the knowledge of the Hour is with Allah (alone). It is He Who sends down rain, and He Who knows what is in the wombs. Nor does any one know what it is that he will earn on the morrow: Nor does any one know in what land he is to die. Verily with Allah is full knowledge and He is acquainted (with all things).” (Luqman, 31/34)

The verses above and similar ones show that “Allah knows everything.”

Besides, to confine Allah to the dimensions of “creatures/created beings” such as time and space indicates abdication of reason.

The claim that Allah cannot know the future is as wrong as the following statement: “Allah is limited with the boundaries that He created.”

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi expresses that fact as follows:  

“Also, pre-eternity is not the tip of a chain reaching into the past which should be considered the end point in the existence of things and a source of compulsion. Rather, pre-eternity holds the past, the present, and the future all at once, looking at them from above like a mirror. In which case, it is not right to imagine an end to past time which stretches back within the sphere of contingency and call it pre-eternity, and to suppose that things enter that knowledge of pre-eternity in sequence, and that oneself is outside it; to reason thus is not right.” (Sözler, Yirmi Altıncı Söz)

That is, Allah’s pre-eternity is not limited with the boundaries of the past and the future. All verses of the Quran show that Allah knows and informs about the past, the future and the present simultaneously.

In one verse, the most unknown points of the past are mentioned; in another verse, some thoughts and deeds of the people living at the time when the Quran was sent down are described; in yet another verse, the realms of the hereafter, the farthest dimension of the future, are visited. When we reach the doer from the things done, we definitely say that such an Allah observes the past, the present and the future simultaneously.

In fact, we see in the descriptions of the polytheists in the Quran that the polytheists doubt that Allah knows the future and whether what He says about the future is true:

“Still less can their knowledge comprehend the Hereafter: Nay, they are in doubt and uncertainty thereanent; nay, they are blind thereunto.” (an-Naml, 27/66)

In the Quran, Allah reveals many verses about the hereafter, which is going to happen in the future. Furthermore, our Lord shows clearly through His verses that He knows what will happen in the hereafter down to the last detail.

To claim that Allah will not know some actual states, i.e., “things” in the future means to state that all of those descriptions of Allah related to the hereafter, which is the farthest period of the future, are fictional and not real, which is a very dangerous thing meaning to deny hundreds of verses.   

Since Allah knows “everything”, He knows pre-eternally what His slaves will think and do in the future. What makes that slave responsible is not Allah’s knowing the sin he will commit but his preferring to commit that sin with his partial free will and tending toward that sin.

What we need to know in order to understand the issue is only this:

“Knowing that something will happen is not a cause that compels it to happen. Knowledge knows it because it will happen.”

There are so many things that we know or guess that will happen; our knowledge about them is never the cause of those things to happen.

There is no need to risk belief by denying that Allah’s infinite knowledge is all-encompassing. To claim that Allah, who knows the Day of Judgment and the hereafter down to the last detail, will not be able to know some “things” in the world is an indication of weakness of belief regarding Allah’s knowledge.

Lastly, we will summarize some examples expressed in the verses of the Quran:

- According to what we understand from the chapter of Yusuf, though Hz. Yusuf (Joseph) was a human being, he interpreted dreams thanks to the knowledge of “dream interpretation” Allah taught him and gave information about some events to take place in the future. If a human being can give information about the details of the things to take place in the future, it will nonsensical to claim that Allah does not know the details about the future.

- In the chapter of al-Kahf, a human being described as “on whom Allah had bestowed mercy” gives information about the future during the journey he makes with Hz. Musa (Moses) and does things that will change the course of the events in the future. The Quran clearly shows that that slave knew about the future thanks to the knowledge taught to him by Allah. That slave knew that Hz. Musa could not show patience, what would happen to the boat, what the future of the child be like and who would benefit from the treasure under the wall because Allah informed him about them:

- The Quran shows in verse 21 of the chapter of al-Hijr that everything is predestinated and then created:

“And there is not a thing but its (sources and) treasures (inexhaustible) are with Us; but We only send down thereof in due and ascertainable measures.” (al-Hijr, 15/21)

Verse 12 of the chapter of Yasin states clearly that everything to come into being exists in Allah’s knowledge:

“And of all things have We taken account in a clear Book (of evidence).” (Yasin, 36/12)

- Very detailed descriptions of the Day of Judgment, Paradise and Hell in the Quran show clearly that there is no limitation of place for Allah. He knows the past and the future simultaneously as a necessity of His names “Awwal (the First)-Akhir (the Last)”. That is, Allah does not inform us about His guesses or plans about the future; He informs us about the events in the future because he knows what will really happen from thoughts to talks.  Allah, who narrates the things to happen in very distant future in the hereafter, definitely knows what will happen in the future (according to us) in this short worldly life because he is Awwal and Akhir, pre-eternal and post-eternal; that is, he is completely free from the limitations of the past and the future.

- Information about the future is given very clearly in several chapters such as ar-Rum and al-Fath. There is no difference for Allah in terms of knowing a war or conquest in the future and life story of a person. Our Lord states very clearly in many verses that he knows the future.  

To claim that Allah will not be able to know some things that He Himself created can be possible only by denying those verses.

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