Belief in the Unseen
Belief in the Unseen is central to the message of the Qur’ân. Allah says: “This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah; who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 2-3]
This verse establishes for us that belief in the Unseen is the basis for certainty of faith. Indeed, all six of the articles of faith are founded upon belief in the Unseen.
This is why Allah mentions belief in the Unseen here as the first characteristic of a believer. We are not supposed to limit our belief to those things that we can apprehend with our senses. We are not supposed to allow our observation of the physical world to blind us to our faith in what is beyond it.
Allah gives us the balance that we are supposed to strike when He tells us: “On the Earth are signs for those of assured Faith, as also in your own selves: Will you not then see? And in heaven is your sustenance, as (also) that which you are promised.” [Sûrah Dhâriyât: 20-22]
In these verses Allah mentions matters of the Unseen with matters that are subject to our empirical scrutiny. The world of the Unseen is the domain of faith. The proof for our faith, however, is in the tangible world, the world wherein we carry out our lives.
A Muslim believes in the existence of that which is beyond human perception. A Muslim believes in Allah and His attributes. A Muslim believes in the angels, the scriptures, and the Prophets. A Muslim believes in the Hereafter and what it entails of the Resurrection, Heaven and Hell, the Balance, and the Bridge and other details mentioned in the Qur’ân and the authentic Sunnah.
This also entails belief in the Jinn, for Allah says: “Say (O Muhammad): It is revealed unto me that a company of the Jinn gave ear, and they said: Lo! we have heard a marvellous Qur`ân, which guides unto righteousness, so we believe in it and we ascribe no partner unto our Lord.” [Sûrah al-Jinn: 1-2]
Allah says: “Behold, We turned towards thee a company of Jinn (quietly) listening to the Qur`ân.When they stood in the presence thereof, they said, ‘Listen in silence!’ When the (reading) was finished, they returned to their people, to warn them. They said: O our people! Lo! we have heard a scripture which hath been revealed after Moses, confirming that which was before it, guiding unto the truth and a straight path.” [Sûrah al-Ahqâf 29-30]
Therefore, it is, in a Muslim’s faith, a matter of certainty that the Jinn exist and that they are accountable to their Lord and Creator, that the message of the Prophets is for them as well, and that among them are believers and unbelievers. Our belief in these matters requires no empirical proof.
We must simply concede that our minds and our faculties are limited, and some things in Allah’s creation have not been subjected to our scrutiny.
Consider the human soul. Though it has a vital connection with the human body, its nature is a complete mystery to us.
Allah says: “They ask you about the soul. Say: the soul is from the affair of my Lord, and of knowledge you have been vouchsafed but little.” [Sûrah al-Isrâ: 85]
Belief in the Unseen gives the mind scope that it otherwise would not have. Without belief in the Unseen, life would become depressing and claustrophobic. This is why, regardless of their religious convictions, people show a general tendency to need their Lord and Creator, especially at times of hardship.
Allah describes this tendency in the Qur’ân: “Now, if they embark on a boat, they call on Allah, making their devotion sincerely (and exclusively) to Him; but when He has delivered them safely to (dry) land, behold, they give a share (of their worship to others)!” [Sûrah al-`Ankabût: 65]
Outside of the limited scope that Islam sets for belief in the Unseen within the framework of our acceptance of the scriptures, Islam gives humanity wide berth for the exercise of reason and the pursuit of empirical knowledge. Islam encourages us to stud the world around us and uncover its secrets.
This is why Islam demands that any claim we make about a matter of the Unseen must be strictly supported by scripture. Otherwise, the Unseen should not be invoked.
Allah instructs us in the Qur’ân, regarding a claim that people made about the Hereafter: “Say: Bring your proof (of what you state) if you are truthful.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 111]
This gives us the criterion between belief in the Unseen and belief in superstition. The Unseen refers to matters of faith that are beyond our rational powers to apprehend. Superstitions, by contrast, are the consequences of our failure to exercise our rational faculties where they should be applied.
The matters of the Unseen that Islam calls upon people of faith to believe – they are all matters which reason cannot ascertain. At the same time, they are not matters that run contrary to the dictates of reason.
Ibn Taymiyah explains this as follows:
Islam asserts matters that transcend the limits of human reason – matters that the human mind is incapable of resolving on its own. Islam does not assert matters that run contrary to the dictates of reason, things that our rational faculties clearly show us to be impossible or wrong.
Reason does not deny the existence of the Unseen. To the contrary, reason acknowledges that necessity of the Unseen for human life in this world and for the concerns of the Hereafter.