Reflection No. 264 on Q 2:3 – Belief in the Unseen

الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ
Alladhīna yu’minūna bilghayb
Those who believe in the unseen
(Sūratul Baqarah, No.2, Ayat 3)

Belief in the unseen is described in this verse as the first essential quality of pious believers (the muttaqīn). It is the foundation of religion and is the basis of all the roots and branches of religion. Although intellect and understanding is important in Islam, without belief in the unseen there can be no faith. To reject all that is unseen is to reject all belief.

According to Shahīd Mutahharī, ‘In this world, there are things which could be understood through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. We call things perceptible if our senses enable us to know them. Animals, too, possess these senses which are sometimes stronger than man’s. . . . Belief in the unseen means admitting that in the world of existence there are certain facts which we cannot distinguish by our senses, even if they are present before us’. (Spiritual Discourses, Discourse No.12)

Belief in the unseen is different from knowledge and other sciences. It is wider and more encompassing, going beyond information and tangible proof. Belief includes an acceptance with the heart, which also has love, adoration, awe, and connection – all qualities that cannot be measured or seen. Life cannot only be based on faith in tangible sciences for these cannot be accepted unconditionally. They cannot provide peace and satisfaction as they are constantly evolving and changing. To put faith in them is to put oneself up for disappointment. What is accepted today could be rejected tomorrow depending on new discoveries being made.

Ghayb is the opposite of shahādah. Ghayb refers to what is beyond the five senses, that which is hidden and unseen. Shahādah is that which can be seen and witnessed. Almighty Allah is the One who knows both the worlds of shahādah and ghayb He is Allah besides Whom there is no god; the Knower of the unseen and the seen; He is the Beneficent, the Merciful (Q 59:22).

Belief in the unseen includes belief in God, in the revelation that came down from God, belief in angels, in the last day, in the Afterlife, etc. According to a Hadith of the Holy Prophet (s), belief in him without seeing him is also part of belief in ghayb. He said: My brothers are those who will come after me, they will believe in me without having seen me. Then he recited the above verse; ‘they believe in the unseen and establish prayer . . .’
Belief in ghayb has also been narrated as belief in Imam al-Mahdi (a) who is hidden from the believers and will reappear by the command of Allah.  Imam al-Sādiq (a) was asked about the first verses of Sūratul Baqarah and he said that the pious ones here refers to the Shī‘ahs of Ali and the belief in the unseen is the belief in the hidden Imam of the time, Imam Sāhibuz Zamān (a). To support that view he then recited verse 20 of Surat Yūnus: And they say: Why is not a sign sent to him from his Lord? Say: The unseen is only for Allah; therefore wait – surely I too, with you am of those who wait. (Bihārul Anwār, v. 51, p. 52)

This verse reminds us that an essential part of faith is to believe in the unseen. It is not foolish and delusionary. It is to accept that human senses are limited and there is much that cannot be experienced with them. Recite this verse to strengthen your belief in the unseen. It is a necessary quality of the pious ones.
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazi (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūne