Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Allah - The Not So Omniscient One

Shabir Ally’s War with Allah and his “messenger”

Sam Shamoun

It is time to take Shabir Ally’s “quick evidence” which allegedly disproves the Deity of Christ and turn it against his own god to see whether Allah passes Ally’s test for being God.

Recall what Ally stated:

“Often Muslims ask me how they may quickly show their Christian friends that Jesus is not God. Show them Mark 13:32 where Jesus is reported to have said about the end times: ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ Christians generally believe that ‘the Son’ in that verse refers to Jesus himself. In that case, it is his confession that there is something that he does not know, and therefore that he is not the all-knowing God.” (Quick evidence that Jesus is not God – by Dr. Shabir Ally, January 13, 2014)

Ally takes it for granted that omniscience is a necessary and essential attribute for God to possess, otherwise he wouldn’t be God.

The True God of the Holy Bible Perfectly Knows All Things

Now as far as the true God revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ is concerned, the Scriptures are quite clear that he is a Being who possesses perfect knowledge, and whose understanding has no limits since it is infinite: 

“I will fetch my knowledge from afar, and will ascribe righteousness to my Maker. For truly my words shall not be false: he that is perfect in knowledge is with thee. Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any: he is mighty in strength and wisdom.” Job 36:3-5

“Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him which is perfect in knowledge?” Job 37:16

“He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.” Psalm 147:4-5

As such, the God of the Holy Bible knows all things and knows everyone:

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” John 2:23-25

“His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?” John 16:29-31

“He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” John 21:17

“For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” 1 John 3:20

And because he knows all things the true God is able to declare the end from the very beginning, i.e., Yahweh is able to announce beforehand what will take place:

“Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” Isaiah 46:8-11 

Yahweh is also knows what a person needs and will ask for even before s/he prays and makes known to him his/her requests and concerns:

“And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Matthew 6:8

Thus, it is quite clear that as far as the Holy Bible is concerned the true God does possess omniscience since he is a Being who perfectly knows all things and whose understanding is infinite.

Allah’s knowledge is imperfect and increases over time

Allah, on the other hand, doesn’t know everything since the Quran testifies that he places people in certain situations in order to discover or learn things he hadn’t previously known. Notice, for instance, what the following passages say:

If a wound has afflicted you (at Ohud), a wound like it has also afflicted the (unbelieving) people; and We bring these days to men by turns, and that Allah MAY KNOW those who believe and take witnesses from among you; and Allah does not love the unjust. And that He may purge those who believe and deprive the unbelievers of blessings. Do you think that you will enter the garden while Allah HAS NOT YET KNOWN those who strive hard from among you, and (He has not) known the patient. S. 3:140-142 Shakir

And what befell you on the day when the two armies met (at Ohud) was with Allah's knowledge, and that He MIGHT KNOW the believers. And that He MIGHT KNOW the hypocrites; and it was said to them: Come, fight in Allah's way, or defend yourselves. They said: If we knew fighting, we would certainly have followed you. They were on that day much nearer to unbelief than to belief. They say with their mouths what is not in their hearts, and Allah best knows what they conceal. S. 3:166-167 Shakir

What! do you think that you will be left alone while Allah HAS NOT YET KNOWN THOSE OF YOU who have struggled hard and have not taken any one as an adherent besides Allah and His Apostle and the believers; and Allah is aware of what you do. S. 9:16 Shakir

In the above passages Allah is depicted as testing certain individuals for the sole purpose of learning something about them, e.g., whether they truly have faith and are willing to kill and be killed in his cause.

In this next example, Allah tells Moses to speak gently to Pharaoh since this may result in Pharaoh repenting:

“Go, both of you, to Fir'aun (Pharaoh), verily, he has transgressed (all bounds in disbelief and disobedience and behaved as an arrogant and as a tyrant). And speak to him mildly, PERHAPS he may accept admonition or fear Allah.” S. 20:43-44 Hilali-Khan

Hence, according to plain and literal reading of all these texts Allah is a deity who doesn’t possess perfect knowledge since he doesn’t know for certain how the future will unfold.

Interestingly, according to Muslim scholar Mahmoud M. Ayoub there were certain individuals who used passages such as Q. 3:143 to prove that Allah doesn’t know what will happen until it actually takes place:

“Razi is interested in the theological problems raised by the phrase ‘in order that God may know.’ He argues that ‘the LITERAL SENSE of God's saying, "in order that God may know" would suggest that God alternated [the days] IN ORDER TO ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE. Obviously, this is impossible of God.’ Razi cites verse 143, and a number of other verses where this phrase, or one like it, occurs. He alleges that Hisham b. al-Hakkam, a well-known disciple of the Sixth Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, used such verses to argue that God does not know incidents until they occur. ‘The answer of the theologians to this argument,’ Razi says, ‘is that rational proofs have conclusively established that no change ever occurs in God's knowledge. The linguistic usage of calling something that is known with the metaphor "knowledge," or something that is subject to power with the metaphor "power" is well known. Thus any Qur'anic verse the literal sense of which indicates acquisition of knowledge [by God] actually means the occurrence of a known.’

“Razi then presents several possible interpretations of this phrase. ‘First that sincerity may be distinguished from hypocrisy and the person of faith from the rejecter of faith. Secondly, that the friends (awliya’) of God may know, though He attributes this knowledge to Himself by way of exalting them. Thirdly, that God may judge in accordance with this distinction, but such judgment cannot happen except with knowledge. Finally, that God may know this [i.e., faith and patience] to have actually occurred from them, although He knew that it would occur. This is because recompense must be accorded for something which actually is, and not for something which is known to occur in the future.’ Razi seems to prefer the first of these interpretations (Razi, IX, pp. 14-18).” (Ayoub, The Qur'an and Its Interpreters, Volume II, The House of Imran [State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992], p. 330; bold, capital, and underline emphasis ours)

Here we have a pupil of the sixth Shiite imam Ja’far al-Sadiq named Hisham b. al-Hakkam who used the very same texts I presented to prove that Allah doesn’t know everything!

There was another Muslim commentator that was troubled by statements such as that of Q. 3:140, namely Tabarsi. Ayoub writes that,

"Tabarsi is specially concerned with the theological implications of the phrase ‘in order that God know’…

“Tabarsi offers a number of explanations of God's knowledge as described in this verse, all aimed at affirming God's absolute and eternal omniscience. ‘In order that God may know those who truly have faith’ means ‘in order that He may know them as being distinguished by their faith from all others.’ Hence, the words ‘in order that He may know’ do not mean being informed, for the meaning is not that He does not know them as objects of knowledge in themselves, but that He may know them as distinguished by faith. They may also mean ‘in order that God may know those who have faith’ by the manifestation of their steadfastness in striving against their enemies. ‘This is to say, God would treat them as one who knows them to be in this condition, even though He knows them before the manifestation of their faith as He does after it. It is that he knows before they had manifested their faith that they will do so. When they had in fact manifested their faith, He knew them as such; hence change occurs, not in the knower, but in the known.’ The words may also mean ‘in order that the friends of God may know,’ though God attributed this knowledge to Himself by way of honoring them. It is also possible that they mean ‘in order that the patience of those who shall be patient, the fright of those who are cowardly, and the faith of the faithful may appear and be known.’ They may also mean ‘in order that sincerity and hypocrisy of the people may be manifested’ (Tabarsi, IV, pp. 208-210)." (Ibid., pp. 331, 332)

The problem with the preceding explanations is that, unlike the Holy Bible, the Quran actually contains clear examples that Allah doesn’t know all things. This implies that these verses are not merely anthropomorphic descriptions of the Muslim deity, but rather clear proofs that the author(s) and/or editor(s) of the Quran actually thought that Allah's knowledge is imperfect.

Moreover, if the Quran did in fact teach that the Muslim deity knows everything then there would be no need for ar-Razi to appeal to rational proofs to establish that no changes ever occur in Allah’s knowledge. He would have simply pointed to specific Quranic texts which affirm that the Islamic god is omniscient. And yet even this wouldn’t solve the problem for Muslims such as Ally since such examples would only prove that the Quran contradicts itself on the issue of Allah’s knowledge and understanding.  

Ally’s problems are far from over, since the Quran makes matters worse by using a specific word which depicts Allah as being uncertain and having doubts concerning how the future will unfold:

And when My servants question thee concerning Me -- I am near to answer the call of the caller, when he calls to Me; so let them respond to Me, and let them believe in Me; perhaps (laallahum) they will go aright. S. 2:186

And warn therewith those who fear they shall be mustered to their Lord; they have, apart from Allah, no protector and no intercessor; perhaps (laallahum) they will fear. S. 6:51

Say, 'He is able to send torment on you from above you and from beneath your feet, and to confuse you in sects, and to make some of you taste the violence of others.' See how we turn about the signs, that perhaps (laallahum) they may understand. S. 6:65

The righteous are not responsible for the utterances of those people, but it may help to remind them; perhaps (laallahum) they may be saved. S. 6:69 Khalifa

And We cut them up into nations in the earth, some of them righteous, and some of them otherwise; and We tried them with good things and evil, that perhaps (laallahum) they should return. S. 7:168

We provided them with the proofs and the scriptures. And we sent down to you this message, to proclaim for the people everything that is sent down to them, perhaps (laallahum) they will reflect. S. 16:44 Khalifa

And now verily We have caused the Word to reach them, that perhaps (laallahum) they may give heed. S. 28:51

Every sign we showed them was bigger than the one before it. We afflicted them with the plagues, perhaps (laallahum) they repent. S. 43:48 Khalifa

And verily We have destroyed townships round about you, and displayed Our revelation, that perhaps (laallahum) they might return. S. 46:27

If We had caused this Qur'an to descend upon a mountain, you verily have seen it humbled, rent asunder by the fear of Allah. Such similitudes do We coin for mankind that perhaps (laallahum) they may reflect. S. 59:21

See also the following examples: 2:187, 221; 6:154; 7:26, 94, 130, 164, 176; 8:57; 9:12, 122; 14:25; 20:113; 21:31, 58; 23:49; 28:43, 46; 30:41; 32:3, 21; 39:27-28; 43:28; 44:58.

Here is how one lexical source defines the word laallahum:

= Lam-Ayn-Lam = Perhaps; may be that; it is hoped; to be happy. It is used to denote either a state of hope or fear, whether that state pertains to the speaker or to the addressee or to someone else, expectation. LL, V8, p: 265 (Project Root List; underline emphasis ours)

This should be quite troubling to both Ally and Muslims in general. The fact that the very scripture, which they believe was dictated word for word by their deity, employs an Arabic term that implies ignorance and uncertainty to describe Allah’s wishes means that the author(s) and/or editor(s) of the Quran thought that their god did not possess perfect knowledge, which is why s/he/they depicted him as being uncertain about how the future would unfold. The transcriber(s) and/or compiler(s) of the Quran seemingly believed that Allah actually grows and changes in his knowledge and understanding over time since the future is basically unknown and open to him. This further implies that s/he/they didn’t think that Allah determines the future, and therefore doesn’t have total control over the affairs of his creatures.

Therefore, since the Quran plainly testifies that Allah’s knowledge is defective and imperfect this means that he cannot be God according to Ally’s own argument.

Now Ally cannot pass off such imperfections to Allah becoming incarnate as a man in order to experience genuine human limitations, such as we find in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ, since he denies that his god has or would ever become flesh. He is therefore stuck with the fact that such defects and imperfections are all part of Allah’s essential nature, and so he has no other choice but to accept that Allah cannot be God. The sooner he does so the better off he will be.

All biblical citations taken from the Authorized King James Version (AV) of the Holy Bible.

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