The Sources of the Imam's Knowledge
The exceedingly precise and profound knowledge possessed by the Imams is derived from their communication with the world of the unseen and from inspiration (ilham).
The Noble Qur'an was also a rich source on which the Immaculate Imams drew for their knowledge. Given the breadth of their religious vision and perception, they were able to derive various ordinances from revelation and to extract all manner of truths from its innermost layers of meaning.
The third source on which they drew consisted of the books and pages which they inherited from the Most Noble Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, these permitted them to advance still further their level of knowledge and to broaden its scope.
There are numerous traditions relating to these three sources, some of which we will now cite.
Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, said:
The Prophet Dawud inherited the knowledge of the preceding prophets, and he then bequeathed it to Sulayman. From Sulayman it was transmitted to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, and we in turn have inherited it from him."
Abu Basir who was present then saw fit to remark: "There are all kinds of knowledge!" The Imam responded! "The knowledge you have in mind is not particularly valuable. The knowledge of which I speak is truly precious; it is inspired in us night and day, from one hour to the next." 
Imam Ali b. Musa al-Rida, peace be upon him, said:
"When someone is chosen by God to administer the affairs of men, God expands his breast for him, places the well springs of wisdom in his heart, and inspires him with knowledge, so that he will be able to solve any problem that arises. He with know well the straight path of the truth. Such a one is none other than the Inerrant Imam, who enjoys the aid and support of his Lord and who lies beyond the reach of all error and sin." 
Hasan b. Abbas once asked Imam al-Rida, peace be upon him, in a letter. "What is the difference between a messenger, a prophet, and an Imam?" The Imam answered as follows:
"The messenger (rasul) is a person to whom Jibril descends and who both sees him and hears the words that he speaks. He is thus in communication with divine revelation (wahy), which he sometimes receives in the form of a dream, as was the case with Ibrahim, peace be upon him. The prophet (nabiyy) sometimes hears the words spoken by Jibril and at other times sees him without hearing anything from him. The Imam hears the words that Jibril utters without seeing him."
The seventh Imam, Musa b. Ja'far, peace be upon him, said:
"Our knowledge is of three kinds: relating to the past; relating to the future; and relating to newly emergent situations. Knowledge relating to the past is interpreted for us;
knowledge relating to the future is written down for us; and knowledge relating to newly emergent situations is infused in our hearts and our ears. This last category is the most noble part of our knowledge. However, no prophet will come after the Most Noble Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family "
God's effusions of grace thus continue throughout time
by means of the Inerrant Imam, in such a way that the link between man and the Creator is not severed with the passing of the Prophet.
As for the inexhaustible source that the Qur'an represented for the Immaculate Imams, let us hear what they themselves have to say on the subject:
Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, says:
"One of the forms of knowledge we possess pertains to the interpretation of the Qur'an and its ordinances, while another form relates to the developments and occurrences that take place in time. Whenever God desires a certain group of men to attain virtue and purity, He bestows on them the capacity to hear. However, one whose ear is incapable of hearing will encounter God's word in a way that suggests he has no awareness of it."
He then fell silent for a moment before continuing: "If we were to find anyone with the requisite spiritual capacity, we would transmit our knowledge to him. God is our protector and refuge." 
Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, says:
"The Noble Qur'an contains knowledge of the past and the future, as well as the precepts for judging; we have all of that knowledge." 
The Commander of the Faithful, Ali, peace be upon him, says:
"Try to make the Qur'an speak; it will not speak to you. I declare to you that the Qur'an contains knowledge of the past and the future, as well as all the ordinances of which you stand in need and the interpretation of matters concerning which you disagree among yourselves. If you but ask me, I will instruct you in all of this.'" 
One of the companions of Imam Musa b. Ja'far, peace be upon him, asked him:
"Is all that you say to be found in the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, or do you also speak on your own authority?"
He replied: "It is impossible that we should say anything on our authority. Whatever we say is to be found in the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet." 
The interpretation of the inner meaning of the Qur'an is a science that derives from the world of the unseen; in other words, it is not a science that can be acquired by conventional means. Such interpretation, which is the uncovering of the true nature of things, words, and needs, can be attained only through bestowal by God.
The Qur'an says: "He it is who brought the Book down to you. Part of it consists of verses firm and categorical in meaning, these being the foundation of the Book, and part of others allegorical in meaning. Those in whose hearts is perversion and deviance follow only the metaphorical verses in order to create confusion and disorder while claiming to be interpreting those verses. Their interpretation is known, however, only to God and those firmly rooted in knowledge." (3:7)
"Those firmly rooted in knowledge" (al-rasikhuna fi 'l-'ilm) are then those who like God know the interpretation of the metaphorical verses, and there are numerous traditions testifying to the Imams' command of Qur'anic interpretation.
One of the companions of Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, asked him to explain the tradition that, "There is no part of the Qur'an that does not have an outer and an inner aspect, and there is no letter contained in it that does not have a defining limit, and that limit is knowable."
He replied: "The outer aspect of the Qur'an is the totality of that which has been revealed. Its inner aspect is the interpretation thereof. Part of this has already been accomplished, and part remains to be accomplished in the future. For the interpretation of the Qur'an traverses its course, like the sun and the moon, and whenever the time is apposite, a further portion of it is accomplished. God said: 'Its interpretation is known only to God and those firmly routed in knowledge.' We it is who are throughly acquainted with the interpretation of the Qur'an." 
Imam al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, is reported to have said: "The most exalted of those firmly rooted in knowledge was the Messenger of God. Whatever God Almighty Sent to him, He taught him also its interpretation. Indeed God has revealed nothing in the interpretation of which He has not instructed the Prophet and his successors, When one of those who has no share in the science of interpretation expresses an opinion on the subject, God responds to him, All they can say is, "We believe it all to be from God."' The Qur'an contains verses that are specific in their application and others that are general; verses that are categorical and others that are metaphorical; and verses that are abrogating and others that are abrogated. It is those firmly rooted in knowledge who have the knowledge of all this." 
Another source on which the Imams, the successors to the Prophet, drew, consists of the books and scrolls that they inherited from him.
Imam al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, said:
"We have at our disposal a book which frees us of the need to rely on anyone else; it is, on the contrary, others that need us. This book was dictated by the Prophet to Ali and it deals with everything relating to the forbidden and the permitted. Whenever you ask us concerning a given course of action, we know what consequences will result if you follow it, and what will happen if you do not," 
One of the close companions of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, says:
"I asked the Imam whether the legacy of knowledge he had at his disposal related simply to the general principles of knowledge or contained detailed instructions on matters such as divorce and bequests."
"Ali, peace be upon him, wrote down all of the sciences of judgeship and bequests. Were our cause to triumph, no problem would arise that we could not solve by means of the knowledge we have." 
The Commander of the Faithful, Ali, peace be upon him, relates: "The Most Noble Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, told me to write down and record what he was about to tell me. I replied that I was afraid of forgetting it. He then told me: 'This will not happen, for I have beseeched God to make you a memorizer of the Qur'an. However, you should record what I am about to tell you for the sake of your partners, that is the Imams from your progeny. It is because of those blessed beings that the rain falls on my ummah, that their prayers are answered, that divine punishment is withheld, and God's mercy descends.' Then he pointed to Imam Hasan and said, 'This is the first of them,' and to Imam Husayn said, 'This is the second of them, and all the other Imams will be from among his descendants!'" 
Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, said:
"The books were kept by Ali. When he decided to make a journey to Iraq, he entrusted them to Umm Salamah. When he died, they were passed on to Imam Hasan, and from him to Imam Husayn. When he was martyred, they came into the possession of Ali b. Husayn, after which they were passed on to my father." 
Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, told Jabir:
"If we were to narrate traditions based on our own views, we would surely perish. Know that we narrate only traditions that we have stored up from the Messenger of God just as people store up silver and gold." 
The Commander of the Faithful, Ali, peace be Upon him, said:
"There is not a single verse in the Qur'an the time and place of the revelation of which are unknown to me. Abundant knowledge is stored in my breast, so ask me whatever you will before you lose me. Whenever a verse was revealed to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, and I happened not to be in his presence, he would wait until I arrived and then tell me,' Ali, some verses were revealed while you were gone,' and explain their interpretation to me." 
He also said:
"There are numerous sciences hidden in my breast, taught to me by the Messenger of God. If people were to be found with the capacity to learn and retain them, to transmit them accurately and faithfully, I would entrust some of those sciences to them, and open for them a door leading to one thousand other doors." 
Malik b. Anas says: "The Messenger of God told Ali, After I am gone, clarify whatever causes disagreement among people!'" 
There can be no doubt that this process of instruction did not take place by conventional or usual means, through the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, opening up myriad gates of knowledge before Ali on the limited occasions that were available to him, thus making the treasury of his heart overflow with knowledge. The instruction was accomplished in a special way deriving from the power of prophethood and inner guidance inherent in prophethood; it was in this way that the heart of Ali, peace be upon him, became replete with the profound truths that his deep faith, wide-ranging intellect, and exalted vision fitted him to receive.
Salim b. Qays reports the Commander of the Faithful, Ali, peace be upon him, to have said:
"Not all the Companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, had the intellectual capacity to ask him concerning certain things, or to understand the answer he might give. Those who found it difficult to put their questions before the Prophet often preferred that someone else should do it on their behalf and obtain the necessary answers.
"I, however, was constantly in the company of the Prophet, day and night, and often I was alone with him. Whenever he went, I would accompany him. The Companions knew that no one had this relation with him except me. Sometimes he would come to our house, and sometimes I would meet him in one of his residences. Whenever I entered his presence, he would dismiss everyone else, even ordering his wives to leave the room. But when he came to our house, Fatimah, peace be upon her, and our children would remain in the room. I would pose my questions to him, and he would answer, and sometimes when I was silent, he would begin speaking. He recited for me all the verses of the Qur'an that were revealed to him, and I would write them down and record them in my own hand.
He expounded for me the interpretation of the Qur'an, its abrogating and abrogated verses, its categorical and metaphorical verses, its specific and general verses. He would beseech God to grant me the power to retain and understand whatever he told me, and indeed I have not forgotten any part of the knowledge he conveyed to me. He instructed me in the permitted and the forbidden, God's commands and prohibitions, and the scriptures that had been revealed to preceding prophets, and I committed all of it to memory, not forgetting so much as a letter. Then he placed his blessed hand on my breast and besought God to fill my heart with knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and light.
"I then said to him, 'O Messenger of God, ever since you prayed for me, nothing has been effaced from my memory; do you fear that forgetfulness might overtake me?' He answered, 'I have no fear of ignorance or forgetfulness on your part, and my confidence in you is complete.'" 
It was the presence of such qualities in Ali, who attained the same loftiness of thought as the Prophet, that caused the Prophet to declare of him: "I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gate; whoever is desirous of knowledge must enter by that gate." 
In this utterance the Prophet is informing the ummah that whoever wishes to attain any part of his knowledge must seek the aid of Ali.
The Prophet also said in this connection: "O Ali, I am the city of knowledge, and you are the gate to that city. Anyone who imagines he can enter by other than that gate is in error." 
And again: "I am the house of wisdom and Ali is its door." 
Insofar as correct action depends on knowledge, it is incumbent on all Muslims to seek the knowledge and guidance of Ali in order for their deeds to be in conformity with the teachings of the Prophet.
The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, being fully aware of the future needs of the Muslims, decided to entrust his knowledge to one who would be able to satisfy the religious needs of society after his death, and present God's commands and ordinances in uncorrupted form to all those who had recently become Muslim. He was therefore commanded by God to exert himself in the training and education of Ali, that enlightened one whose being concealed precious treasure of learning, who had the necessary qualities for guarding and preserving God's laws, and who had all the attributes requisite in a leader.
Ibn Abbas reports: "The Messenger of God used to say, 'When I readied myself to engage in intimate discourse with God, He would speak to me in turn. Whatever I learned from God Almighty, I taught to Ali, so Ali is the gate to my learning and knowledge.'" 
Imam Husayn b. Ali, peace be upon him, said: "When the verse, 'And We have everything plain for you in a clear book (imam)' (10:12) was revealed, the Companions asked the Prophet whether the book in question was the Torah or the Gospels. He answered, 'Neither.' And then, looking in the direction of my father he declared, 'This is an Imam the treasury of whose being God has caused to overflow with knowledge and learning.'" 
The Commander of the Faithful, Ali, peace be upon him, said:
"The Most Noble Messenger used to spend part of his time every year in the cave on Mount al-Hira', and no one would see him go there except me. At that time the only household that had accepted Islam was that of the Prophet himself, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, and Khadijah, with myself counting as the third member of their family. I could see in him the light of revelation and messengerhood and smell the scent of prophethood. When revelation came to the Prophet, I would hear the sound of Satan in my ear, and I would ask him, 'O Messenger of God, what is this sound?' He said, 'It is Satan, despairing of ever being worshipped. Ali, whatever I hear, you hear, and whatever I witness, you witness, the difference between us being that you are not a prophet but my support and a virtuous man.'" 
al-Tirmidhi reports the Messenger of God to have said regarding Ali.
"My God extend His favor to Ali and make him the pivot around which truth turns."
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.225.
 Ibid., p.202.
 Ibid., p. 176.
 Ibid., p. 264.
 Ibid., p. 229.
 Ibid.., p. 61.
 Ibid., p. 61.
 Ibid., p. 63.
 al-Tabataba'i, al-Mizan, Vol. III, p.74.
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, p. 213.
 Ibid., p.241.
 al-Burujardi, Jami' ahadith al-Shi'ah, Vol. I, p. 138.
 al-Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-Mawaddah, p.22.
 al-Burujardi, Jami' ahadith al-Shi'ah, Vol. I, p. 141.
 Ibid., p. 130.
 al-Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-Mawaddah, p.83.
 al-Bahrani, Ghayat al-Maram, p.518.
 al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-'Ummal, Vol. VI, p. 516; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. III, p. 122.
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi , Vol. I, p.64.
 al-Khwarazmi, al-Manaqib, p. 40; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. III, p. 126; al-Khat.ib al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, Vol. IV, p.348; Ibn Hajar, al-Sawa'iq, p. 73; Ibn al-Athir, Usud al-Ghabah, Vol. IV, p.22.
 al-Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-Mawaddah" p. 74.
 al-Tirmidhi, Jami' al-Sahih, Vol. XIII, p. 171; al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-'Ummal, Vol. VI, p. 156; al-Isbahani, Hilyat al-Awliya', Vol. I, p.64.
 al-Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-Mawaddah, p.69.
 Ibid., p.77.
 al-Radi, Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 187.
 al-Tirmidhi, Jami' al-Sahih, Vol. V, p.297.
A Word Concerning the Unseen and the Manifest
The world of the unseen is the counterpart of the manifest realm, consisting of whatever lies beyond the scope of the senses and cannot be externally perceived. We have, for example, no direct knowledge of the circumstances of resurrection or the nature of reward and punishment, nor do we know anything of the composition of the angels or the attributes and essence of God, not because all of these are minute or subtle entities, but because they transcend our limited horizons of thought and lie outside time and space.
The unseen may be divided into two parts, absolute and relative. There are certain entities that are unseen in an absolute sense, for they will always be unseen by everyone and at all times, being intrinsically beyond the external senses of man, God's essence being an example of this. As for the relative unseen, this comprises entities that are manifest to some but unseen by others.
Everything that can be perceived by one of the five senses and thereby falls within the scope of man's sense perception counts as part of the manifest realm. This applies to matter and all of its effects, even if it be a question of items such as atoms, microbes and viruses which are invisible to the naked eye because of their minuteness. Our senses cannot perceive them unassisted, but once they are magnified several million times by means of special instruments they come within range of our perception.
Similarly, scientific discoveries of certain facts relating to this world full of secrets and mysteries, such as laser beams, x-rays' and gravity, do not relate to the world of the unseen, even though they appear to be imperceptible, for they are attained through the observation of natural causes.
This serves to demonstrate the limitations of our senses; even within the natural world they do not suffice for the perception of everything.
It sometimes happens that the sensory power of certain animals is much greater than our own. They can see things that are hidden from us or perceive them by non-visual means, whereas we can infer their existence only from the effects they produce.
As for the world of the unseen and what it contains, it stands in contrast to all the phenomena that are perceptible to our senses in one way or other and to some degree or other. Unable to perceive it with our senses, we can conceive of it only by means of rational proofs or the reports of those persons who do have awareness of it and the hidden matters it contains. Such persons guide us with their pronouncements to truths of which we would otherwise be unaware. This is a part of our creed and our faith.
Our deficient and limited beings are, then, imprisoned within the four walls of matter and we are deprived of perceiving many mysteries. In fact even our ability to perceive the phenomena of the sensory world is limited and conditional. Thus it is that for us being is divided into the two categories of the manifest and the unseen.
However, the hidden, non-sensory phenomena that are concealed from our perception are utterly clear and manifest to the Lord of the Worlds, the Creator Whose dominion and power embrace every atom in the universe and Who comprehends the totality of time and space. No obstacle hinders His infinite knowledge and unbounded power.
Past events that have been effaced from our memories and not even recorded in history, are present to God's view and observable by Him.
Paradise, hellfire, and resurrection, all of which are, from our vantage point, due to occur at some distant and unknown point in the future and the nature of which is utterly inconceivable, are present realities for God, the Creator Whose essence escapes all limitation and Whose sacred presence informs every part of the universe; He is aware of everything with out exception.
Phenomena that occurred billions of years ago or will occur billions of years from now are fully known to God. For us, however, the ability to conceive of past and future events is strictly limited by the fact that we exist within the confines of time and space, for we are material beings, and according to the law of relativity matter needs time and space for the process of constant change in which it is engaged.
God's knowledge is unmediated, immediate in the fullest sense of the word, although somewhat comparable to our own awareness of our selves. While His essence is utterly other than the phenomena He creates, neither is it separate from them; all things, past and present, are immediately present before Him.
Thus the Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali, peace be upon him, said: "Every mystery is manifest to You and every hidden thing present before You." 
He is aware of the totality of the atoms that make up the earth and the oceans, of the movements of all creatures, great and small, throughout the universe, and of the manifest and hidden aspects of all things. His knowledge is not restricted to that which has already occurred nor to creatures and phenomena presently existing; it also embraces the future.
If we were present everywhere instead of occupying a particular point in time and space, we too would be aware of all the truths and details of existence; nothing, great or small, would escape our expansive vision.
God's knowledge bears no similarity to human knowledge and is utterly incomparable with it; we cannot understand His knowledge by drawing all analogy with our own. Man's knowledge is dependent on the thing known having an external existence; the thing known must first exist, appear in the manifest realm, for man's knowledge to attach itself to it. Such is not the case with God's knowledge; there is nothing that is unseen for Him, and everything is manifest for Him.
Whenever we attain knowledge of something by means of our outer senses, it does not count as knowledge of the unseen. Conversely, knowledge the attainment of which does not depend on the five senses is the knowledge of the unseen.
All the phenomena of the material world can be said to have descended from a more perfect, non-sensory world, where they exist in a more elevated form. Now if we perceive the external aspects of things by means of our senses, thereby obtaining some portion of the truth, such perceptions do not count as knowledge of the unseen. If, on the other hand, we observe the hidden essences of things by means of our inner eye, discern their existential evolution, and thereby find the inner aspects of things divulged to us, without any involvement by our senses, the resulting knowledge with count as knowledge of the unseen.
The Qur'an says the following concerning God's knowledge:
"He knows the hidden and the manifest, and He is the Compassionate and Merciful." (59:22)
"He it is Who knows the unseen and the manifest, the Great, the Sublime." (13:9)
"O Knower of the manifest and the hidden, judge among Your servants in that concerning which they dispute." (39:46) "I know the hidden aspects of the heavens and the earth and that which you make manifest and that which you conceal." (2:33)
"Return, then to God, Who knows the manifest and the hidden; He shall make apparent to you all you have done." (62:8)
"He it is that knows the hidden and manifest dimensions of His creation; He is wise and well acquainted with all things." (6:73)
The Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali, peace be upon him, says: "He knows all things, but not by means of instruments and faculties the absence of which would negate His knowledge. His knowledge is not something superadded to His existence, interposed between Him and the objects of His knowledge; it is identical with His essence." 
A crucial issue arises at this point: is knowledge of the unseen exclusively God's and confined to His essence? Is it only for the Creator, Whose absolute being embraces the whole of the universe, that the unseen and the manifest are as one? Or can a human being also possess the ability to communicate with the world of the unseen?
Certain thinkers insist that knowledge of the unseen and awareness of hidden truths is restricted to God's essence. They maintain that even the prophets had no access to these matters, and they cite in support of their view a number of verses in which God, the principle of absolute perfection, mentions knowledge of the unseen as one of His distinguishing attributes, or the prophets reject categorically the possession of such knowledge.
"God holds the keys to the treasuries of the unseen; none is aware of the unseen except Him." (6:59)
"Say: 'I have no control over that which benefits me and that which harms me; it all results from God's will. Were I to be aware of the unseen, I would constantly augment that which benefits me and I would never suffer pain or loss. I am naught but a bearer of warnings and glad tidings to a people that believe.'" (7:188)
"I do not say that I have the treasuries of God, nor do I lay claim to His knowledge of the unseen, or that I am an angel." (11:31)
"Say: 'There is none in the heavens and earth but God Who knows the unseen, and they know not when they shall be brought back to life. '" (27:9)
"Say: 'I am a prophet, newly appeared, not different from the prophets who preceded me; I do not know what will befall me and you. '" (46:9)
"Among the people of Madinah are those who make a habit of hypocrisy, and you do not know who they are." (9:101)
From these verses it is concluded, then, that not even the prophets had access to knowledge of the unseen.
It is of course true that no one has absolute and complete knowledge of the unseen apart from God, Whose infinite existence embraces the whole scheme of creation; such knowledge is indeed confined to Him. Even though the prophets are in other respects superior to the rest of mankind, they too are limited in their beings and are inherently unable to have comprehensive knowledge of the world of the unseen. However, this limitation does not mean that the gates of the unseen are always closed to them and that God through the exercise of His will may not make it accessible to them, for He is, after all, the Owner of both the unseen and the manifest. Access to that realm is a gift that God may bestow on whomsoever He wills from among His messengers and other appropriate individuals. The knowledge that then results is a ray of God's own knowledge, pertaining to His essence; it is not autonomously acquired knowledge, distinct from His.
The verses cited above show that the people of the Jahiliyyah used to imagine that a prophet must have total control over the world and all it contains, and have the power of attracting to himself whatever is beneficial and repelling whatever is harmful.
God therefore instructs the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, to refute these notions by categorically proclaiming that he had no such powers; that whatever powers he did have came from God; that whatever knowledge he had was derived from revelation and divine instruction; and that were it to be otherwise he would be able to uncover vast subterranean wealth for himself and, equipped with suitable foreknowledge, to ward off any evil.
Quite apart from these instructions, we find the Prophet himself denying the possession of such far reaching knowledge and power and attempting to convince men of the fact. However, at the very same time, we also find the Prophet being made aware by revelation of the evil plans of those conspiring against him and saved thereby from certain danger. The verses in question cannot therefore be taken to exclude totally the possession of any form of knowledge of the unseen on the part of other than God, nor can one overlook the existence of other verses which deal explicitly with the conveyance of knowledge of the unseen to the prophets.
The verse, "Say: 'I am not a newly appeared (prophet) among the prophets (who preceded me)'" (46:9), is intended to establish the principle that knowledge in all of its various forms does not spring up automatically from the Prophet, without his being dependent on the infinite source that is God's knowledge, any more than the knowledge of the preceding prophets was intrinsic to their own persons; for they, too, denied knowing what the future might hold in store for them without divine instruction and revelation.
As for the verse concerning the Hypocrites, it is obvious that their habitual practise of hypocrisy could bar the way to their identification by conventional means, but it does not exclude the possibility of being uncovered by other means; what the verse negates is the possibility of gaining knowledge of the unseen by the normal channels of cognition.
History in fact teaches us that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, not only knew who the Hypocrites were, but revealed their identity at the appropriate times to his confidants among the Companions.
Thus it is written that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, identified the Hypocrites to Hudhayfah, one of his close Companions and confidants. One day, the second caliph asked him: "Is there any Hypocrite among those I have appointed to various offices?"' He answered that there was, but refused to name the person in question until the caliph insisted that he did, with the result that the Hypocrite was dismissed.
It was also the habit of 'Umar never to participate in the funeral prayers for anyone unless Hudhayfah was present. 
Apart from this, it is obvious that no duty can be imposed on anyone unless he has the knowledge requisite for performing that duty, and we know that God entrusted the Prophet with the duty of doing battle with the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites and shunning their views, in the verse: "O Messenger, do battle with the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and he harsh with them" (9:73) Or again: "Do not obey the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites; assign their punishment to Us and place your trust in God." (33:48)
Is it possible that God should order the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, to fight the Hypocrites and be harsh with them, and not to obey their wishes, while making it impossible for him to recognize them throughout the entirety of his life? Clearly we must conclude that the verse concerning their unknowability must have been temporary in its force, not permanent. 
In the following verses, the Qur'an establishes the principle that by God's command the prophets may gain access to the knowledge of the unseen:
"God does not make you aware of the mysteries of the Unseen, but selects for this station whomsoever He wills from among His prophets; believe, then, in God and His prophets." (3:179)
"This is knowledge of the unseen which We reveal to you." (3:44)
"He knows the unseen dimensions of the world and informs none thereof unless it be one with whom He is well pleased, such as one of the prophets, whom He sends angels to protect from in front and behind." (72:26)
This verse stresses that God alone is in His essence the true possessor of all knowledge concerning the unseen, and He will impart this knowledge only to those with whom He is pleased. To this category belongs the prophets for whom He appoints angelic guardians.
Elsewhere in the Qur'an God says:
"This Qur'an is the word of God conveyed by His (angelic) messenger (Jibril), an angel most powerful who enjoys high rank in the sight of the Lord of the Throne. He is the commander of the angels and the trustee of revelation. The messenger sent unto you (Muhammad) whom you call possessed is not possessed, for he did indeed witness Jibril, the trustee of revelation, at the highest point on the eastern horizon, and he does not begrudge you that which he has learned of the unseen (and if he were to judge fit, he would convey to you what he has learned of the unseen)" (81:19-23)
Here the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, is declared innocent of begrudging others his knowledge of the unseen, and he is therefore implicity declared to possess such knowledge.
"God does not inform you of the unseen, but He chooses whomsoever He wills from among His messengers." (3:179)
What is at issue in this verse is God's choosing certain of His messengers for the bestowal upon them of knowledge of the unseen.
When we correlate and compare the two groups of verses, the indications contained in the verses themselves show that there is no contradiction. The first group of verses declare the impossibility of independent knowledge of the unseen on the part of any but God, while the second group points to God's conveyance of such knowledge to certain select and qualified people.
Revelation is in itself an unknowable mode of communication between God's messengers and the world of the unseen; it may be described as a ray of divine knowledge that He causes to shine on the hearts of His chosen servants.
It should also be pointed out that the prophets' knowledge of the unseen is limited and proportional to their capacity and degree of spiritual growth. Those who assert that the prophets, not to mention the Imams, have knowledge of the unseen do not claim that their knowledge is intrinsic to them or autonomous.
The sense of the two groups of verses is thus entirely clear: the first group negates the possibility of any but God having independent and total knowledge of the unseen, and the second group establishes that God may by an exercise of His will bestow a portion of that knowledge on some of His servants.
Apart from all this, any claim to messengerhood and prophethood is necessarily accompanied by a claim to communication with the world of the unseen by way of revelation. It would be utterly meaningless for someone to claim prophethood for himself but to renounce all claim to knowledge of the unseen. If the Qur'an stresses that the prophets have no independent access to that knowledge, it is in order to refute erroneous notions held in the Jahiliyyah concerning the extraordinary powers and attributes of prophets; it was thought that they utterly transcended all the characteristics of ordinary men and had superhuman knowledge of the whole of creation, enabling them to do whatever they wanted.
There can be no doubt that this Jahili view of the prophets would have prepared the way for them to be worshipped as superhuman beings. In order to prepare those infected by this mentality to accept the truth, the Qur'an therefore declares that like other men, the prophets engage in such activities as eating, walking and resting, and that their most important distinguishing feature is their receipt of revelation for conveying it to others.
The aim of the Qur'an is, on the one hand, to vindicate to men the truth of the messengerhood of the prophets in the communities from which they have arisen and, on the other hand, to refute erroneous notions concerning them and prevent them becoming the objects of idolatrous worship. Thus the Qur'an says:
"They say: 'We will never believe in you unless you cause a spring of water to gush forth, or produce a garden full of dates and grapes, with streams flowing through it; or cause the heavens to fall on our heads; or present us with God and His angels in visible form; or have a house built of gold; or ascend to the heavens. Nor will we believe that you went up to the heavens unless you bring back a book for us to read.' Say: 'God is exalted beyond my being able to bring Him or His angels before you in visible form; I am but a man whom God has appointed as a messenger."' (17:90-94)
"Again they said: 'Why does this messenger eat food and walk in the markets ? Why does no angel come to him in visible and sensory form, as witness to his veracity? Why does no treasure descend upon him, and why does he have no garden to eat of its fruits?'" (25:7-8)
This was the mentality of the Jahiliyyah the Qur'an had to combat.
 al-Radi, Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon 105.
 al-Saduq, Kitab al-Tawhid, p. 73.
 Ibn al-Athir, Usud al-Ghabah, Vol. I, p.391.
 Ja'far Subhani, Agahi-yi Sevvom, p. 184.