Islamic scholars on reasons for apparent ‘unfulfilled’ prophecies by prophets

Iftekhar Ahmed, Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre (ARC)
old books

Depending on which prophecy one considers in detail, the reason for its non-fulfilment may vary. I will content myself in the following with discussing two possible reasons for such an occurrence.

It should be noted here that the following discussion is of course based on the assumption that someone commissioned by God (ma’mur min Allah) does not base his prophecies on conjectures, rough calculations or estimates, speculations or opinions, but on information obtained from God.

First possibility: Mistake in ijtihad (al-khata’ ‘ala l-ijtihad)

One reason for such a discrepancy is the possible misunderstanding in ijtihad, i.e., in understanding the details of revelations, in this case, revelations related to prophecies.

There is disagreement among the honourable scholars of Islam as to whether it is possible for prophets to perform ijtihad or not, i.e., to make independent judgements or not. Some among them consider this rationally impossible, however, most consider it possible. Those who consider it possible, in turn, have a difference of opinion as to whether it had actually come to pass that prophets practised ijtihad. Those who hold prophets had performed ijtihad – again, which is the majority – have a difference of opinion as to whether it is possible for prophets to commit mistakes in ijtihad or not.

Ibn Amir al-Hajj (d. 879/1474) writes in at-Taqrir wa-t-tahbir, his commentary on at-Tahrir fi usul al-fiqh by al-Kamal ibn al-Humam (d. 861/1457):

 ( وقد ظهر من المختار جوازا لخطأ عليه – عليه السلام)

  أي على اجتهاده (إلا أنه لا يقر عليه) أي على الخطأ (بخلاف غيره) من المجتهدين، وهذا قول أكثر الحنفية

“And from the established precedent (al-mukhtar), the possibility of his [the Messenger’ssa] erring therein is clear – i.e., in ijtihad – however, he does not remain therein – i.e., in erring – unlike others besides him – from those who do ijtihad; and this is the opinion (qawl) of most of the Hanafis.” (Ibn Amir al-Hajj, 1999, at-Taqrir wa-t-tahbir, ed. Abd Allah Mahmud Muhammad ‘Umar, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Vol. 3, pp. 380-381)

The formerly Hanbali, later Shafi‘i jurist and theologian Sayf ad-Din al-Amidi (d. 631/1233) writes in his al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam:

القائلون بجواز الاجتهاد للنبي عليه السلام اختلفوا في جواز الخطإ عليه في اجتهاده، فذهب بعض أصحابنا إلى المنع من ذلك. وذهب أكثر أصحابنا والحنابلة وأصحاب الحديث والجبائي وجماعة من المعتزلة إلى جوازه، لكن بشرط أن لا يقر عليه 

“Those who hold the view that it is possible for the Prophetsa to perform ijtihad have a difference of opinion as to whether it is possible for him to commit mistakes in his ijtihad. Some of our companions [Shafi‘is] hold that it is not possible [for the Prophetsa to commit mistakes in his ijtihad], whereas most of our companions, and the Hanbalis, and the Traditionalists (ashab al-hadith), and al-Jubba’i and a community of the Mu‘tazilis hold that it is possible, but with the condition that he does not remain in it.” (Sayf ad-Din al-Amidi, 1982, al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam, ed. ‘Abd ar-Razzaq ‘Afifi. Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami. Vol. 4., p. 216)

In fact, the jumhur of scholars, i.e., the majority of scholars, are of the opinion that prophets can commit mistakes in their ijtihad.

Thus, the contemporary scholar Wahbah az-Zuhayli (d. 2015) writes in his work at-Tafsir al-munir:

ومن أجاز الاجتهاد للنبي صلي اللّٰه عليه وسلم وهم الجمهور يقول: يجوز عليه الخطأ، لكنه لا يقر على الخطأ

“And those who deem it possible for the Prophetsa to perform ijtihad, and they constitute the majority, say: It is possible for him to commit a mistake in it, but he will not remain in this mistake.” (Wahbah az-Zuhayli, 1998, at-Tafsir al-munir, Damascus: Dar al-Fikr al-Mu’asir, Vol. 5, p. 258)

Yet another contemporary scholar, ‘Abd al-Karim an-Namlah (d. 2014), writes in his work al-Muhadhdhab fi ‘ilm usul al-fiqh al-muqaran:

إنه يجوز الخطأ في اجتهاد النبي – صلي اللّٰه عليه وسلم۔، لكنه لا يقر عليه، وهو مذهب الجمهور

“It is possible for the Prophetsa to make a mistake in his ijtihad, but he does not remain in it, and this is the majority’s view.” (‘Abd al-Karim an-Namlah, 1999, al-Muhadhdhab fi ‘ilm usul al-fiqh al-muqaran, Riyadh: Maktabat ar-Rushd, Vol. 5, p. 2353)

Jasser Auda, a contemporary Islamic jurist and globally active figure of Islam, who is considered an authority in the field of Islamic legal purposes (maqasid ash-shari‘ah), writes: 

“The other basis of disagreement with the principle of the Prophet’s[sa] ijtihad is the scope of wahi (revelation) mentioned in the Quran. Some exegetes interpreted the verses to mean that, ‘whatever speech the Prophet utters is a revelation.’ This interpretation was rejected by the majority of schools, which defined a class of ‘worldly affairs’ and ‘specifities’ in the Prophet’s[sa] hadith, as explained above. There is a related debate among jurists, who agreed with the principle of prophetic ijtihad, on whether or not this ijtihad was subject to error. Although the Quran mentioned that God did correct the Prophet[sa] on a number of occasions, a number of jurists rejected the possibility of erring in the independent prophetic judgements based on the concept of infallibility (‘ismah). Most schools, however, acknowledged the possibility of error in the prophetic deliberation on the condition that, ‘it would be immediately corrected by a revelation’, unless it is concerned with some ‘worldly affair.’” (Jasser Auda, 2007, Maqasid al-Shariʻah as Philosophy of Islamic Law: A Systems Approach, London; Washington: International Institute of Islamic Thought, p. 82)

Here are a few examples to illustrate this phenomenon.


When Prophet Noahas finished building his ark, Allah commanded him to climb it, for He would now cause the flood to come up. The following is what the Holy Quran says:

حَتّٰۤي اِذَا جَآءَ اَمۡرُنَا وَفَارَ التَّنُّوۡرُ ۙ قُلۡنَا احۡمِلۡ فِيۡهَا مِنۡ كُلٍّ زَوۡجَيۡنِ اثۡنَيۡنِ وَاَهۡلَكَ اِلَّا مَنۡ سَبَقَ عَلَيۡهِ الۡقَوۡلُ وَمَنۡ اٰمَنَ ؕ وَمَاۤ اٰمَنَ مَعَهٗۤ اِلَّا قَلِيۡلٌ

“Till—when Our command came and the fountains [of the earth]gushed forth—We said, ‘Embark therein two of every kind, male and female, and your family, except those against whom the word has already gone forth, and those who believe.’ And there had not believed in him except a few.” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.41)

This verse shows Allah promised to save his family, among others. However, as we know from the incident described in the Quran, Noah’sas son was not saved but drowned in the floods. Noahas then turned to Allah about this circumstance:

وَنَادَىٰ‭ ‬نُوحٞ‭ ‬رَّبَّهُۥ‭ ‬فَقَالَ‭ ‬رَبِّ‭ ‬إِنَّ‭ ‬ابۡنِي‭ ‬مِنۡ‭ ‬أَهۡلِي‭ ‬وَإِنَّ‭ ‬وَعۡدَكَ‭ ‬الۡحَقُّ‭ ‬وَأَنتَ‭ ‬أَحۡكَمُ‭  ‬الۡحَٰكِمِينَ

“And Noah cried unto his Lord and said, ‘My Lord, verily, my son is of my family, and surely Your promise is true, and You are the Most Just of judges.’” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.46)

Allah, however, explained to him that his son would not be part of his family and admonished him not to comment on things of which he had no knowledge:

قَالَ يٰنُوۡحُ اِنَّهٗ لَيۡسَ مِنۡ اَهۡلِكَ ۖ اِنَّهٗ عَمَلٌ غَيۡرُ صٰلِحٍ ۖ فَلَا تَسۡـَٔلۡنِ مَا لَيۡسَ لَكَ بِهٖ عِلۡمٌ ۖ اِنِّيۡۤ اَعِظُكَ اَنۡ تَكُوۡنَ مِنَ الۡجٰهِلِيۡنَ

[Allah]said, ‘O Noah, he is surely not of thy family; he is indeed [a man of]unrighteous conduct. So do not ask of Me that, of which you have no knowledge. I admonish you lest you be [one]of the ignorant.’” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.47)

Noahas then became aware of his mistake and regretted it:

قَالَ‭ ‬رَبِّ‭ ‬إِنِّيٓ‭ ‬أَعُوذُ‭ ‬بِكَ‭ ‬أَنۡ‭ ‬أَسۡٔأَلَكَ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬لَيۡسَ‭ ‬لِي‭ ‬بِهِۦ‭ ‬عِلۡم‭ ‬

وَإِلَّا‭ ‬تَغۡفِرۡ‭ ‬لِي‭ ‬وَتَرۡحَمۡنِيٓ‭ ‬أَكُن‭ ‬مِّنَ‭  ‬الۡخَٰسِرِينَ

“[Noah] said, ‘My Lord, I beg You to protect me from asking You that whereof I have no knowledge. And unless You forgive me and have mercy on me, I shall be among the losers.’” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.48)

Many great and relevant exegetes of the Holy Quran have clearly stated this was a mistake in ijtihad by Prophet Noahas and that this is proof prophets can commit mistakes in their ijtihad.

Thus writes the renowned and erudite Quranic commentator Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (d. 606/1210) in his Mafatih al-ghayb, also known as at-Tafsir al-kabir:

وقول نوح: لا عاصم اليوم من أمر اللّٰه إلا من رحم لا يدل إلا على أنه عليه السلام كان يقرر عند ابنه أنه لا ينفعه إلا الإيمان والعمل الصالح، وهذا أيضا لا يدل على أنه علم من ابنه أنه كان كافرا فعند هذه الحالة كان قد بقي في قلبه ظن أن ذلك الابن مؤمن، فطلب من اللّٰه تعالى تخليصه بطريق من الطرق إما بأن يمكنه من الدخول في السفينة، وإما أن يحفظه على قلة جبل، فعند ذلك أخبره الله تعالى بأنه منافق وأنه ليس من أهل دينه، فالزلة الصادرة عن نوح عليه السلام هو أنه لم يستقص في تعريف ما يدل على نفاقه وكفره، بل اجتهد في ذلك وكان يظن أنه مؤمن، مع أنه أخطأ في ذلك الاجتهاد، لأنه كان كافرا فلم يصدر عنه إلا الخطأ في هذا الاجتهاد، كما قررنا ذلك في أن آدم عليه السلام لم تصدر عنه تلك الزلة إلا لأنه أخطأ في هذا الاجتهاد، فثبت بما ذكرنا أن الصادر عن نوح عليه السلام ما كان من باب الكبائر وإنما هو من باب الخطأ في الاجتهاد، واللّٰه أعلم 

“And the statement of Noahas, ‘There is no shelter for anyone this day from the decree of Allah, except for him to whom He shows mercy,’ solely indicates that he made it clear to his son that nothing would benefit him except faith and good deeds, and it also does not indicate that he was aware his son was an unbeliever. In this state, there remained in his heart the belief that his son was a believer, so he sought from Allah, the Exalted, his salvation in one way or another, either by enabling him to enter the ark or by protecting him on a mountain summit. Thereupon, Allah, the Exalted, informed him that he [his son] was a hypocrite and was not a member of His faith. The lapse committed by Noahas then was that he had not thoroughly investigated the data indicative of his [son’s] hypocrisy and disbelief; rather, he engaged in ijtihad and he thought that he was a believer, wherein he erred in this ijtihad. As he [the son] was a disbeliever, he [Noahas] merely committed a mistake in this ijtihad. Just as we have already stated that Adamas did not commit that lapse except as he erred in that ijtihad. Thus, it is proven by what we have mentioned that what Noahas committed was not from the great sins but was merely a mistake in ijtihad. And Allah knows better.” (Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, 1981, Tafsir al-Fakhr ar-Razi: al-mushahhar bi-t-Tafsir al-kabir wa-Mafatih al-ghayb, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr. Vol. 18, p. 6)

In addition, there are many other scholars who state this incident is a mistake in ijtihad, such as Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1328), Nizam ad-Din an-Nisaburi (d. 730/1330), al-Khatib ash-Shirbini (d. 977/1570), Muhammad ibn Bistam al-Wani (d. 1096/1685), etc.


Furthermore, there is the example of the vision of Abrahamas cited in the Quran. It states:

فَلَمَّا بَلَغَ مَعَهُ السَّعۡيَ قَالَ يَٰبُنَيَّ إِنِّيٓ أَرَىٰ فِي الۡمَنَامِ أَنِّيٓ أَذۡبَحُكَ فَانظُرۡ مَاذَا تَرَىٰ ۚ قَالَ يَٰٓأَبَتِ افۡعَلۡ مَا تُؤۡمَرُ ۖ سَتَجِدُنِيٓ إِن شَآءَ اللّٰهُ مِنَ الصَّٰبِرِينَ فَلَمَّآ أَسۡلَمَا وَتَلَّهُۥ لِلۡجَبِينِ وَنَٰدَيۡنَٰهُ أَن يَٰٓإِبۡرَٰهِيمُ قَدۡ صَدَّقۡتَ الرُّءۡيَآ ۚ إِنَّا كَذَٰلِكَ نَجۡزِي الۡمُحۡسِنِينَ

“And when he was old enough to work with him, he said, ‘O my dear son, I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering thee. So consider, what thou thinkest [of it]!’ He replied, ‘O my father, do as thou art commanded; thou wilt find me, if Allah please, of those who are patient.’ And when they both submitted [to the Will of God], and he had thrown him down on his forehead, We called to him: ‘O Abraham, ‘Thou hast indeed fulfilled the dream.’ Thus indeed do We reward those who do good.” (Surah as-Saffat, Ch.37: V.103-106)

So, Prophet Abrahamas saw in the vision how he was offering his son Ishmaelas as a sacrifice. He thought this meant he should indeed literally lead his son to the slaughter, whereas this ijtihad of his was wrong and God did not intend he should slaughter his son.

In this context, for example, the celebrated jurist, expert on legal principles and logician ‘Abd al-‘Ali ibn Nizam ad-Din al-Lakhnawi (d. 1225/1810), better known as Bahr al-‘Ulum, writes in Fawatih ar-rahamut, his commentary on the legal theoretical work Musallam ath-thubut fi usul al-fiqh by Muhibb Allah al-Bihari (d. 1119/1707):

وإذا جاز صدور الخطأ في الاجتهاد من الانبياء والعمل بحكم خطأ من سيدهم الذي كان نبيا وآدم بين الماء والطين صلوات اللّٰه وسلامه عليه وآله الطاهرين وأصحابه المعظمين، فأي استبعاد في وقوع الخطأ لإبراهيم عليه السلام في تعبير رؤياه التي رأى فيها أنه يذبح ابنه بل أمر في المنام بذبح الكبش ورآه مذبوحا لكن في صورة الولد فلم يعبره وزعم أنه مأمور بذبح الولد، والدليل أنه رأى أنه يذبحه، كما قال: إِنِّيٓ أَرَىٰ فِي الۡمَنَامِ أَنِّيٓ أَذۡبَحُكَ، فلو لم تكن الرؤيا معبرا لوقع ذبح ابنه أو تكون كاذبة، وكلاهما باطلان

“And since the committing of mistakes in ijtihad by prophets, as well as acting upon an erroneous commandment by their Mastersa, who was already a prophet when Adamas was still in the intermediate stage between water and clay […], is possible, how then can it be outlandish for Abrahamas to make a mistake in interpreting his vision in which he saw himself slaughtering his son, wherein the vision he was actually commanded to slaughter a ram, and he saw it slaughtered, but in the form of the boy, and he did not interpret it, thinking he had been commanded to slaughter the boy. And the proof is that he saw himself slaughtering him [i.e., the boy], as he said, ‘I have seen in a dream that I offer you in sacrifice.’ And if the vision had not been interpreted, the slaughtering of his son would have occurred, or it [the vision] would have been false, and both are invalid.” (‘Abd al-‘Ali ibn Nizam ad-Din al-Lakhnawi, 2002, Fawatih ar-rahamut, ed. ‘Abd Allah Mahmud Muhammad ‘Umar, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 413)

Now, some examples from the life of the Messengersa of Allah in which he was mistaken in his ijtihad regarding prophecies are given below.

The Messengersa of Allah and the destination of his emigration

It is stated in a hadith:

عَنْ أبِي مُوسى،  عَنِ النَّبِيِّ ﷺ، قالَ: «رَأيْتُ فِي المَنامِ أنِّي أُهاجِرُ مِن مَكَّةَ إلى أرْضٍ بِها نَخْلٌ، فَذَهَبَ وهَلِي إلى أنَّها اليَمامَةُ أوْ هَجَرٌ، فَإذا هِيَ المَدِينَةُ يَثْرِبُ

It is narrated from Abu Musa al-Ash‘arira that the Prophetsa said, “I saw in a vision that I was migrating from Mecca to a land where there were date palms. So, I thought it was al-Yamamah or Hajar, but lo and behold, it turned out to be Yathrib (i.e., Medina).” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

This tradition needs no further explanation. The Prophetsa had interpreted the vision differently than it was divinely intended, which is a mistake of understanding in ijtihad.

The Messengersa of Allah and the ‘umrathat did not happen

Another example is the journey of the Prophetsa and his companions to Mecca to perform the lesser pilgrimage (‘umra), which ended in the agreement of al-Hudaibiyya instead of a pilgrimage. In Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, it is narrated by al-Miswar ibn Makhramahra:

خرج رسول اللّٰه ﷺ عام الحديبية يريد زيارة البيت لا يريد قتالاً، وساق معه الهدي سبعين بدنة، وكان الناس سبعمائة رجل، فكانت كل بدنة عن عشرة

“The Messengersa of Allah went out in the year of al-Hudaibiyya intending to visit the House [of God], not intending to fight, and took seventy camels for sacrifice. There were seven hundred men, so that each camel was for ten men.”

Then he related the incident of al-Hudaibiyyah and the incident of the peace treaty, and that one of the clauses of the treaty was:

وأنك ترجع عنا عامنا هذا فلا تدخل علينا مكة، وأنه إذا كان عام قابل خرجنا عنك فتدخلها بأصحابك، وأقمت فيهم ثلاثًا معك سلاح الراكب

“You must withdraw from us this year and not enter Mecca upon us, and the next year we will leave you be to enter it with your companions and stay there for three nights while you may bear the arms of a horseman.»

وقد كان أصحاب رسول اللّٰه ﷺ خرجوا وهم لا يشكون في الفتح لرؤيا رآها رسول اللّٰه ﷺ فلما رأوا ما رأوا من الصلح والرجوع، وما تحمل رسول اللّٰه ﷺ على نفسه، دخل الناس من ذلك أمر عظيم حتى كادوا أن يهلكوا

“The Companionsra of the Messengersa of Allah had gone out without any doubt of victory [i.e., of performing ‘umra] because of the vision that the Messenger of Allahsa had seen, and when they saw the negotiations for peace and retreat and what the Messengersa had taken upon himself, they felt demoralised, almost to the point of death.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, 1999, Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, ed. Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, et al., Beirut: Mu’assasat ar-Risalah, Vol. 31, pp. 212-219)

The well-known and respected Quranic exegete Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373) writes in his Quranic commentary:

فلما وقع ما وقع وقعت في نفوس بعض الصحابة من ذلك شيء، حتى سأل عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه في ذلك فقال له فيما قال: أفلم تكن تخبرنا أنا سنأتي البيت ونطوف به؟ قال: بلى، أفأخبرتك أنك تأتيه عامك هذا؟ أخبرتكم أني رأيت البيت، ودخلنا وطفنا، قلت لكم: سيقع في هذا العام؟ قال: لا. قال: فإنك آتيه ومطوف به.

“And when what had happened had happened, something occurred in the hearts of some of the Companionsra, so much so that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattabra questioned the Messengersa about it, saying: ‘Did you not inform us that we would go to the House [of God] and circumambulate it?’ He said: ‘Certainly! But did I inform you that you would go there this year? I informed you I saw the House [of God] and we entered it and circumambulated it. Did I tell you it would take place this year?’ He answered: ‘No.’ He said: ‘So, you will surely go there and circumambulate it.’” (Ibn Kathir, 1998, Tafsir al-Quran al-azim, ed. Muhammad Husayn Shams ad-Din, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Vol. 7, p. 331)

It is clear the Messengersa of Allah also interpreted this vision to mean he and his companions would enter Mecca that same year, otherwise it would be strange to go to such great lengths.

The Messengersa of Allah and the succession of the governorship of Mecca

Another example is given by as-Suhayli (d. 581/1185) in ar-Rawd al-unuf, his commentary on as-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah by Ibn Hisham (d. 218/834). He writes:

وقال أهل التعبير: رأى النبي ﷺ في المنام أسيد بن أبي العيص واليا على مكة مسلما، فمات على الكفر، فكانت الرؤيا لولده عتاب حين أسلم، فولاه رسول اللّٰه ﷺ مكة

“The interpreters said the Prophetsa saw in a vision that Usayd ibn Abi al-‘Ays was the Governor of Mecca in the state of being a Muslim. However, he died while still a disbeliever, and the vision was fulfilled through his son ‘Attab when he embraced Islam and the Messengersa of Allah made him the Governor of Mecca.” (as-Suhayli, 2000, ar-Rawd al-unuf, ed. ‘Umar ‘Abd as-Salam as-Salami, Beirut: Dar Ihya’ at-Turath al-‘Arabi. Vol. 7, p. 235)

The dreams and visions of prophets are divine revelations

What must be made clear here is that the visions of prophets are not just ordinary dreams, but revelations.

For example, ‘Aishara reports about the Messengersa:

أَوَّلُ مَا بُدِئَ بِهِ رَسُولُ اللّٰهِ صلى اللّٰه عليه وسلم مِنَ الْوَحْىِ الرُّؤْيَا الصَّادِقَةُ فِي النَّوْمِ، فَكَانَ لاَ يَرَى رُؤْيَا إِلاَّ جَاءَتْ مِثْلَ فَلَقِ الصُّبْحِ

“The commencement of the divine revelation to Allah’s Messengersa was in the form of dreams in his sleep. He never saw a dream except that it came true like bright daylight.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

From Ibn ‘Abbasra (d. 68/687), ‘Ubayd ibn ‘Umayrra (d. c. 68/687), ash-Shafi’i (204/820) and Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855) it is authentically transmitted that they said:

رؤيا‭ ‬الأنبياء‭ ‬وحي

“The dream of prophets is revelation.”

Al-Haythami (d. 974/1566) even said in his Fatawa that there was a consensus (ijma‘) on this fact.

The second possibility of ‘unfulfilled prophecies’: Conditionality of prophecies

The other reason for such a discrepancy is that prophecies can sometimes be conditional.

Scholars of Islamic – in our case specifically Sunni – theology have used various terms for the Islamic concept of divine predetermination, such as ajal (fate), qadar (ordained destiny) or qada’ (decree), which they have in turn divided into various categories, of which the two main categories carry terms such as mubrammutlaq or muthbat on the one hand, and muqayyad or mu‘allaq on the other.

For example, Ibn Battah al-‘Ukbari (d. 387/997), a key author of Hanbali theological doctrine, stated in his work al-Ibanah al-kubra, a large collection of traditions on belief, the Quran, divine predetermination, and other doctrinal matters:

الأجل أجلان: أجل مطلق يعلمه اللّٰه، وأجل مقيد، وبهذا يتبين معنى قوله ﷺ: من سره أن يبسط له في رزقه وينسأ له في أجله فليصل رحمه. فإن الله أمر الملك أن يكتب له أجلا، وقال: إن وصل رحمه زدته كذا وكذا، والملك لا يعلم أيزداد ام لا، لكن الله يعلم ما يستقر عليه الأمر، فإذا جاء ذلك لا يتقدم ولا يتأخر.

“The term (ajal) is of two kinds: An absolute (mutlaq) term that Allah knows, and a restricted (muqayyad) term, and thus the meaning of his [the Messenger’s]sa saying becomes clear: ‘Whoever desires to have his provision expanded for him and have his life extended for him, let him maintain his ties of kinship.’ So, Allah commanded an angel to write a term for him and said: If he maintains his ties of kinship, increase [his life] by so-and-so, and the angel does not know whether it will be increased or not, but God knows what the matter will settle upon, and when that comes, it neither advances nor delays.” (Ibn Battah, 1994, al-Ibanah ‘an shari‘at al-firaq an-najiyah wa-mujanabat al-firaq al-madhmumah, ed. ‘Uthman ‘Abd Allah Adam al-Athyubi, Riyadh: Dar al-Rayah li-n-Nashr wa-t-Tawzi‘, Vol. 3. p. 168)

Furthermore, the Hanafi scholar Muzhir ad-Din az-Zaydani (d. 727/1326) explains in his work al-Mafatih fi sharh al-Masabih, a commentary on the hadith collection Masabih as-sunnah by al-Baghawi (d. 516/1122):

واعلم أن الله تعالى قضى في خلقه قضاءين مبرما ومعلقا، وأما القضاء المعلق فهو عبارة عما قدره في الأزل معلقا بفعل، كما قال: إن فعل الشيء الفلاني فكان كذا أو كذا، وإن لم يفعله فلا يكون كذا وكذا.

وهو من قبيل ما يتطرق إليه المحو والإثبات، كما قال تعالى في محكم كتابه  يَمۡحُواْ ٱللّٰهُ مَا يَشَآءُ وَيُثۡبِتُ .

وأما القضاء المبرم؛ فهو عبارة عما قدره سبحانه في الأزل من غير أن يعلقه بفعل، فهو في الوقوع نافذ غاية النفاذ، بحيث لا يتغير بحال، ولا يتوقف على المقضي عليه ولا المقضي له؛ لأنه من علمه بما يكون وبما كان، وخلاف معلومه مستحيل قطعا، وهذا من قبيل ما لا يتطرق إليه المحو والإثبات، قال اللّٰه  : و﴿لا معقب لحكمه﴾، وقال تعالى: ﴿ما يبدل القول لدي﴾، وقال – ﷺ -: لا مرد لقضائه، ولا مانع لحكمه.

“Know that Allah, the Exalted, has decreed in His creation two decrees, one immutable (mubram) and one conditional (mu‘allaq), and as for the conditional decree, it is an expression of what He has ordained since pre-eternity, conditioning it with an action, as if He said: If he does this, then this or that will happen, and if he does not, then this or that will not happen.

“And it is of the kind to which effacement (mahw) and establishment (ithbat) find access, as He, the Exalted, said in what is decisive of His book: ‘Allah effaces and establishes what He wills’ (13:40).

“And as for the immutable decree, it is an expression of what He has ordained since pre-eternity, not conditioning it with an action, and its coming into being is absolutely definite, such that it does not change under any circumstances, and does not depend on what it is decreed upon or what it is decreed for; for it is of His knowledge of what will be and what was, and going against what is known to Him is absolutely impossible, and it is of the kind to which effacement and establishment find no access. Allah said: ‘there is none to reverse His judgement’ (13:42), and He, the Exalted, said: ‘The sentence [passed]by Me cannot be changed’ (50:30). And he [the Prophetsa] said: ‘No one can revert His decree, and no one can halt what He has destined.’” (Mazhar ad-Din az-Zaydani, 2012, al-Mafatih fi sharh al-Masabih, ed. Nur ad-Din Talib, Beirut: Dar an-Nawadir, Vol. 6, p. 96)

Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449), one of the most renowned and well-known hadith commentators, also commented on this subject. He wrote:

ثانيهما: أن الزيادة على حقيقتها، وذلك بالنسبة إلى علم الملَك الموكل بالعمر، وأما الأول الذي دلت عليه الآية، فبالنسبة إلى علم اللّٰه تعالى، كأن يقال للمَلَك مثلًا: إن عمر فلانٍ مئة مثلًا إن وصل رَجمَه، وستون إن قطعها، وقد سبق في علم اللّٰه أنه يصل أو يقطع، فالذي في علم اللّٰه لا يتقدم ولا يتأخر، والذي في علم الملَك هو الذي يمكن فيه الزيادة والنقص، وإليه الإشارة بقوله تعالى: ﴿يَمۡحُواْ اللّٰهُ مَا يَشَآءُ وَيُثۡبِتُ ۖ وَعِندَهُۥٓ أُمُّ الۡكِتَٰبِ﴾، فالمحو والإثبات بالنسبة لما في علم الملَك، وما في أم الكتاب هو الذي في علم اللّٰه تعالى، فلا مَحْو فيه البَتة، ويقال له: القضاء المبرم، ويقال للأول: القضاء المعلق

“The second of the two [ways of reconciling the hadith under discussion with Surah al-A’raf, Ch.7: V.35] is that the increase [in age] is actual, and that is in relation to the knowledge of the angel responsible for age, and as for the first matter that the verse [7:35] indicates, it is in relation to the knowledge of Allah, the Exalted, as if it had been said to the angel, for example: The age of so-and-so, for example, is a hundred, if he maintains his ties of kinship, and sixty if he severs them, and it has already been in the knowledge of Allah whether he maintains or severs, so that which is in Allah’s knowledge neither progresses nor retards, and that which is in the knowledge of the angel is that in which increase and decrease are possible, and it is to this that His, the Exalted, statement refers: ‘Allah effaces and establishes what He wills, and with Him is the source of all commandments.’ [Surah ar-Ra’d, Ch.13: V.40] So, effacement and establishment refer to that which is in the knowledge of the angel, and that which is in the source of all commandments (umm al-kitab) is that which is in the knowledge of Allah, the Exalted, thus, there is no effacement in it at all. And this is referred to as the immutable decree, while the first matter is referred to as the conditional decree.” (Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, 1959, Fath al-Bari bi-sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, ed. Muhammad Fu’ad ‘Abd al-Baqi; Muhibb ad-Din al-Khatib. Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah. Vol. 10, p. 416)

Thus, one of these two decrees refers to that which is beyond the limits of human will and action and in which there can be no change whatsoever, e.g., gender, place and day of birth, physical condition, etc., while the other of these two decrees refers to that which is within the limits of human will and action. On whatever course man directs his will and his action, while the will of Allah is in correspondence with it, the outcome will turn out accordingly.

The conditional decree applies especially to a certain category of prophecy, namely the so-called wa’id, the threat.

An authentic tradition of the Messengersa of Allah states:

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، أَنّ رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ:  مَنْ وَعَدَهُ اللّٰهُ عَلَى عَمَلٍ ثَوَابًا فَهُوَ مُنْجِزُهُ لَهُ، وَمَنْ أَوْعَدَهُ اللّٰهُ عَلَى عَمَلٍ عِقَابًا ، فَهُوَ بِالْخِيَارِ 

“Whomever Allah promises to reward for an action, He will fulfil it. And whomever He threatens with punishment over an action, He may choose [either punishment or pardon].” (Bahr al-fawa’id al-mashhur bi-Ma‘ani l-akhbar li-l-Kalabadadhi)

Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi writes about this in his commentary on the Quran:

جميع الوعيدات مشروطة بعدم العفو، فلا يلزم من تركه دخول الكذب في كلام اللّٰه تعالى

“All [divine] threats are conditioned with the absence of forgiveness, and the non-occurrence [of a threatened punishment] does not entail the entering of falsehood into the word of Allah, the Exalted.” (Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, 1981, Tafsir al-Fakhr ar-Razi: al-mushahhar bi-t-Tafsir al-kabir wa-Mafatih al-ghayb, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr. Vol. 7, pp. 198-199)

Conditional prophecies: Jonahas

A relevant example of this is found in the Holy Quran, namely in the narrative about Prophet Jonahas. Regarding the people of Jonahas, it says:

فَلَوۡلَا كَانَتۡ قَرۡيَةٌ ءَامَنَتۡ فَنَفَعَهَآ إِيمَٰنُهَآ إِلَّا قَوۡمَ يُونُسَ لَمَّآ ءَامَنُواْ كَشَفۡنَا عَنۡهُمۡ عَذَابَ الۡخِزۡيِ فِي الۡحَيَوٰةِ الدُّنۡيَا وَمَتَّعۡنَٰهُمۡ إِلَىٰ حِينٖ

“Why was there no town, which believed so that their belief should have profited them, save the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in the present life, and We gave them provision for a while.” (Surah Yunus, Ch.10: V.99)

In various Quranic commentaries, it is said Jonahas prophesied to his people that Allah would send down his punishment on them within forty days. This is what Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi says, for example:

روي أن يونس عليه السلام بعث إلى نينوى من أرض الموصل فكذبوه فذهب عنهم مغاضباً، فلما فقدوه خافوا نزول العقاب، فلبسوا المسوح وعجوا أربعين ليلة، وكان يونس قال لهم إن أجلكم أربعون ليلة. فقالوا: إن رأينا أسباب الهلاك آمنا بك، فلما مضت خمس وثلاثون ليلة ظهر في السماء غيم أسود شديد السواد، فظهر منه دخان شديد وهبط ذلك الدخان حتى وقع في المدينة وسود سطوحهم فخرجوا إلى الصحراء، وفرقوا بين النساء والصبيان وبين الدواب وأولادها فحن بعضها إلى بعض فعلت الأصوات، وكثرت التضرعات وأظهروا الإيمان والتوبة وتضرعوا إلى اللّٰه تعالى فرحمهم وكشف عنهم

“It is narrated that Jonahas was sent to Nineveh from the land of Mosul, but they rejected him, whereupon he departed from them in anger. When they found him absent, they feared a punishment befalling them, and thus put on monks’ robes and pleaded for forty nights, and Jonah had said to them, ‘Your term (ajal) is forty nights,’ whereupon they had answered, ‘When we see the coming of destruction, we will believe in you.’ And it came to pass, when thirty-five nights had expired, that there appeared in heaven an exceedingly black cloud, and heavy smoke emanated from it, and that smoke descended until it fell on the city and blackened the roofs thereof. Consequently, they went out into the wilderness. And they separated themselves between women and children and between animals and their offspring, and some of them turned to each other, and the voices became louder, and the supplications increased, and they showed faith and repentance, and they prayed to Allah, the Exalted, so that He had mercy on them and removed it from them.” (Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, 1981, Tafsir al-Fakhr ar-Razi: al-mushahhar bi-t-Tafsir al-kabir wa-Mafatih al-ghayb, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr. Vol. 17, p. 172)

However, the understanding of the types of decrees in the previous elaborations is still not sufficiently complex by one important aspect, which is why I am adding here another elucidation by Ahmad as-Sirhindi (d. 1034/1624), the greatest Naqshbandi saint of Mughal India. In the well-known compilation of his letters, he writes:

قضا بر دو قسم است، قضاء معلق و قضاء مبرم. در قضاء معلق احتمال تغيير وتبديل است، و در قضاء مبرم تغيير و تبديل را مجال نيست، قال اللّٰه سبحانه و تعالي: {مَا يُبَدَّلُ الْقَوْلُ لَدَيَّ} اين در قضاء مبرم است، و در قضاء معلق ميفرمايد: {يَمۡحُواْ اللّٰهُ مَا يَشَآءُ وَيُثۡبِتُ ۖ وَعِندَهُۥٓ أُمُّ الۡكِتَٰبِ} حضرت قبله گاهي ام قدّس سرّه ميفرمودند كه حضرت سيد محي الدين جيلاني قدّس سرّه در بعضي از رسائل خود نوشته اند كه در قضاء ِ مبرَم هيچكس را مجال نيست كه تبديل بدهد مگر مرا كه اگر خواهم انجا همتصرّف بكنم، وازين سخن تعجّب بسيار ميكردند واستبعاد ميفرمودند، واين نقل مدتها در خزينهٔ ذهنِ اين فقير بود تاآنكه حضرتِ حق سبحانه وتعالي باين دولتِ عظمي مشرف ساخت، […] بمحض فضل و كرم ظاهر ساختند كه قضاء معلق بردوگونه است، قضائي است كه تعليق او را در لوح محفوظ ظاهر ساخته اندو ملائكه را بر ان اطلاع داده، وقضائيكه تعليقِ اونزدِ خدا ست جلّ شانُه، وبس ودر لوح محفوظ صورتِ قضاءِ مبرم دار، و اين قسم اخير از قضاء معلّق نيز احتمالِ تبديل دارد، در رنگ قسم اول از انجا معلوم شد كه سخنِ سيد مصروف با ينقسم اخير است كه صورت قضاء مبرم وارد نه بقضاء كه بحقيقت مبرم است

“There are two types of decrees. The conditional decree (qada-i mu‘allaq) and the immutable decree (qada’-i mubram). In the conditional decree, there is the possibility of change and alteration, and in the immutable decree, there is no scope for change and alteration. Allah, the Praised and Exalted, said, ‘The sentence passed by Me cannot be changed’. This is the case with the immutable decree, and about the conditional decree, He said: ‘Allah effaces and establishes what He wills, and with Him is the source of all commandments.’ My Master [Khwajah Baqi bi-llah (d. 1012/1603)], may his secret be sanctified, said that Sayyid Muhyi d-Din [‘Abd al-Qadir] Jilani [d. 561/1166], may his secret be sanctified, had written in one of his epistles, ‘No one else has the ability to change the immutable decree (qada’-i mubram), but I have the ability to change it if I want.’ My Master was quite surprised by this claim and found it hard to resolve. For a long time, this saying was hibernating in my subconscious. Finally, God, the Truth, the Praised, the Exalted, granted me the magnificent felicity of it, and thus honoured me. […] By His sheer grace and mercy, God revealed to me that the conditional decree (qada-i mu‘allaq) is of two types: [1] That whose conditional state (ta‘liq) is recorded in the preserved tablet (lawh mahfuz), and the angels are aware of it being conditional. [2] That whose conditional state is known only to God, and it is recorded in the preserved tablet as an immutable decree (qada’-i mubram). From it, I could understand that what Sayyid Muhyi d-Din said applies to this second type of decree that seems to be an immutable decree (qada’-i mubram), though actually it was a conditional decree (qada’-i mu‘allaq) and does not apply to the true immutable decree.” (Ahmad Sirhindi, 1977, Maktubat-i Imam-i Rabbani, ed. Husayn Hilmi ibn Sa‘id Istanbuli, Istanbul: Işık Kitabevi, Vol. 1, Letter 217, pp. 350-351)

Thus, there are divine decrees that can appear even to recipients of revelation as immutable decrees that would definitely come to pass, whereas, in fact, these decrees are conditional.

At times, there are hidden conditions, when it comes to revelations and prophecies, that are not known to their recipients.

The Battle of Badr and hidden conditions

The following hadith is narrated from the Messenger of Allahsa concerning the day of the battle of Badr, for which the Prophetsa had a divine promise of victory:

عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ ـ رضى اللّٰه عنهما ـ قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى اللّٰه عليه وسلم وَهْوَ فِي قُبَّةٍ  ‏ اللّٰهُمَّ إِنِّي أَنْشُدُكَ عَهْدَكَ وَوَعْدَكَ، اللّٰهُمَّ إِنْ شِئْتَ لَمْ تُعْبَدْ بَعْدَ الْيَوْمِ ‏ ‏‏.‏ فَأَخَذَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ بِيَدِهِ فَقَالَ حَسْبُكَ يَا رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ، فَقَدْ أَلْحَحْتَ عَلَى رَبِّكَ

“It is narrated from Ibn ‘Abbasra that he said that the Prophetsa, while in a tent, said, ‘O Allah! I ask you for the fulfilment of Your covenant and promise. O Allah! If You wish [to destroy the believers], You will never be worshipped after today.’ Abu Bakrra held his hand and said, ‘This is sufficient, o Allah’s Messenger! You have asked your Lord pressingly.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Commenting on this hadith, al-Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari (d. 1014/1606), the renowned Hanafi scholar of hadith, writes in Mirqat al-mafatih, his commentary on Mishkat al-masabih:

وفيه إشعار بأن الله سبحانه لا يجب عليه شيء، مع أنه لا خلف في وعده، بل ولا في وعيده من حيث أنه لا يجوز الخلف في خبره، فالخوف إنما هو لاحتمال استثناء مقدر، أو قيد مقرر، أو وقت محرر ، وهذا مجمل المرام في هذا المقام.

“And therein is an announcement that Allah, Glorified be He, is not obligated to do anything, though He does not break His promise (wa‘d) nor His threat (wa‘id), for it is not possible for there to be an error in His message. Therefore, the fear [of the Prophetsa] was only that there may be an exception which is foreordained, or a condition which is preordained, or a time which is predetermined [that he was unaware of].” (al-Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari. 2002. Mirqat al-mafatih sharh Mishkat al-masabih. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr. Vol. 9. p. 3781.)

Also, the contemporary Deobandi scholar Anwarshah Kashmiri (d. 1933) writes in Fayd al-Bari, his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, about this hadith:

وإنما خشي النبي صلي اللّٰه عليه وسلم مع وعد النصر، لأن المتكلم قد تكون في كلامه شروط وقيود، ولا يدركها المخاطب.

“Rather, despite the promise of victory, the Prophetsa was still concerned, because the Addresser [i.e., God] may have set conditions and limitations in His speech that the addressee [recipient of divine revelation] does not recognise.” (Anwarshah Kashmiri. 2005. Fayd al-Bari ‘ala Sahih al-Bukhari. ed. Muhammad Badr al-Mirtahi. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah. Vol. 5. p. 9.)

In conclusion, the non-fulfilment of certain prophecies may be due to a variety of reasons depending on the prophecy in question, e.g., a misunderstanding in the interpretation or ijtihad of revelations, or the fact that not all prophecies are necessarily unconditional, etc.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here