Hearing is not the same as seeing
Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "Hearing is not the same as seeing. Allah told Moses about what his people did with the calf but he did not throw the tablets. However, when he saw what they did, he throw the tablets and they were broken." (1)
Explanation of vocabularies (2)
(what his people did with the calf) they worshipped it.
Explanation of the Hadith:
The Hadith shows that seeing the action is not the same as hearing about it. Ibn Al Qayyim (may Allah bestow mercy on his soul) said: When Moses (peace be upon him) came and saw what his people were doing, he became angry and throw the tablets in which there were the words of Allah, which He wrote for him, off his head. Then he pulled the head and the beard of his brother, but Allah did not rebuke him for that because he was angry for the sake of Allah. Allah (may He be Glorified and Exalted) had told him about the trial of his people but when he saw the condition of his people with his own eyes, he got angry for the second time because hearing is not the same as seeing. (3)
Al Kalabadhy said: The piece of news is either one hundred percent true and cannot be false that is the news which Allah and His Messenger narrate, and the news that may be true or false which are the rest. So, if the piece of news is of the first type, it means that hearing is not the same as seeing in power because hearing is more powerful and confirmed because the teller is Allah and the Messenger but seeing may be false as when a person sees something different from the truth as in the story of Moses and the sorcerers. However, if the piece of news is of the second type, hearing is not powerful as seeing because in this case a person has to be sure of the news himself because the teller may make a mistake. (4)
Lessons gained from the Hadith:
1- Allah made listening ears and sharp sights for His Servants and did not make hearing in the same power of seeing, but seeing is definite in gaining precise knowledge. Abraham asked his Lord to see the process of reviving the dead with his own eyes after Allah had shown him the ability of the Lord so that he would be more sure and the unseen becomes reality.
2- Explaining things by actions is more confirming because sometimes actions are faster than words in delivering the information, therefore the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to explain some acts of worship to his Companions by actions such as Salah, ablution, and others.
3- Some atheists have doubted the authenticity of the Hadith of Moses (peace be upon him). They said: He did not believe the news which His Lord had told him. This can be refuted by: The narration does not indicate that he did not believe his lord in what He has told, but seeing an action with one's own eyes confirms the piece of news in the heart. When Moses (peace be upon him) returned to his people and saw their condition, he did not believe that, so he throw the tablets and pulled the head of his brother. And Allah knows the best!
(1) Reported by Ahmad (1/271, No. 2447) and Al Hakim (2/351, No. 3250) who said: It is an authentic Hadith according to the conditions of Al Bukhari and Muslim, and Al Albany graded it as authentic. See Hadith No.: 5374 in Sahih Al Jami`.
(2) The commentary of An-Nawawy on Muslim [Part 7 - page 142].
(3) Ighathat Al Lahfan [part 2 page 305].
(4) Faydul-Qadir [part 5 - page 357].