The Special Night
Bukhâri narrates on the authority of ʿAbdullah ibn ʿUmar
that the Prophet ﷺ was leading ʿAishâ’ in salah [one night] near the end of his life and after he had said ‘salâm’ [in completion of his ṣalâh], he stood up and said: “Do you see this night? Indeed, at the completion of [exactly] one-hundred [lunar] years from this night, none who are alive on this Earth now will be left.”
It was reported by Jâbir that this incident took place one month before the death of the Prophet ﷺ.
The Prophet ﷺ asked the question—“Do you see this night?”—rhetorically. To begin a statement with such a question seizes the attention of those who hear it, and to whom one wishes to speak. It also stimulates a listener’s curiosity, which allows him to better absorb whatever statement shall follow.
Two main lessons are to be taken from this ḥadîth.
First, the Prophet ﷺ is informing his Community in a tangible, striking way that their lifespans shall be shorter than those of previous communities. The lifespan of the Ummah of the Prophet ﷺ is 60 to 70 years on average, and only rarely shall people make it to 100. Thus, the Prophet ﷺ is reminding us not to waste time, to hasten in doing good works, to prepare for the fast-approaching Afterlife, and not to despond in the face of hardship, nor become euphoric when the world presents us it comforts, for life is short.
Second, the era of prophethood would be completely over in a century —including that generation that witnessed its Seal ﷺ, and the generation raised by the last of the prophetic generations. Thus humanity would begin a new era in which no person alive had ever seen a prophet, nor were there any that ever would. Seeing ʿÎsa when he returns is not considered seeing an acting prophet because, although he was a prophet to the Children of Israel, he will not return to the world as a prophet sent to a people, but rather he shall come as a leader of people and a follower of Muhammad ﷺ.
Abu Hurairah’s Two Kinds of Knowledge
Bukhâri narrated that Abû Hurairah said:
I memorized from the Prophet ﷺ two vessels of knowledge. As for one of the two, I broadcasted it to people. As for the other, were I to broadcast it, my throat would be slit.
Abu Hurairah’s phrase—I memorized from the Prophet ﷺ—emphasizes that he took his knowledge directly from the Prophet ﷺ without any intermediary. As such it is impeccably accurate and sound.
It is obvious that the “two vessels” mentioned in this ḥadîth are not physical. Rather, they symbolize two kinds of knowledge that Abû Hurairah received from the Prophet ﷺ. One kind was meant to be taught to people as part of the Sunnah and the other was not for everyone.
It is not meant by the “two vessels” that half of Abû Hurairah’s knowledge was of the first kind and the other half of the second. In fact, the knowledge that Abû Hurairah reported was at least twice as much as what he kept to himself based on the ḥadîth narrated in Al-Musnad, in which Abû Hurairah said that he preserved three vessels of a ḥâdîth from the Prophet ﷺ: One he kept to himself, and two he narrated to people. In another, weak ḥadîth narrated by Al-Ramahurmuzi, Abû Hurairah stated that he learned from the Prophet ﷺ five vessels of knowledge, one of which he kept to himself.
As for what this hidden knowledge was, why he had to keep it secret, and what he meant by the statement “my throat would be slit,” there is no certain answer to these questions.
Some scholars speculate that this secret knowledge was the names of corrupt rulers or corrupt people and that if Abû Hurairah tried to expose them they would have killed him.
Others conjecture that it was the knowledge of calamities to come that he wished not to speak of in detail because speaking of it might bring harm to some.
Still others think that this was knowledge people could not cope with, hence driving some believers to belie the Prophet ﷺ.
This ḥadîth is not to be abused as it was by the heretical Ba ṭiniyya sect, whose name may be translated as the Esoterics. They used this ḥadîth to say that the Sharîʿah has hidden aspects and then invoked the concept of a “hidden Sharîʿah” to justify various theological corruptions and the immoral practices.
Whatever the case may be, Allah, in his wisdom, did not allow for this knowledge to be exposed so there is little benefit to speculating about it. Rather, the important lesson is to have enough humility and trust in Allah to think well of Him during hardship, and to follow the commandments of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ—even when they go against our own opinions—for our knowledge is limited and oftentimes we do not recognize our best interests.