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Last Updated: 2007/04/11
Summary of question
Who are the Ahlul-Bayt?
question
Who are the members of the Ahlul-Bayt
Concise answer

The Prophet of Islam’s (s) Ahlul-Bayt are the same as the people of the cloak: Prophet Muhammad (s), ‘Alī, Fātimah, Hassan, and Hussayn (a). The proof for this is numerous traditions narrated by Shia and Sunni scholars. These traditions are found in more than seventy famous Sunni and Shia sources.

Detailed Answer

Ahlul-Bayt is a Quranic, Hadith, and theological term meaning the family of the Noble Prophet of Islam (s). This term with this meaning has been used in the Quran in the verse of purity (33:33):

انما یرید الله لیذهب عنکم الرجس اهل البیت و یطهرکم تطهیرا"

(Verily Allah desires to rid you of impurities, Ahlul-Bayt, and purify you; a through purification)

Theologians, traditionalists, and commentators on the Quran have used the term Ahlul-Bayt which has been used in the Quran in a special way.

There are differences of opinions amongst the commentators of the Quran, the traditionalists, and the theologians regarding who are included in the explanation of this verse:

 

1. Some Sunni commentators of the Quran believe that with taking the verses that come before this and after this verse into account (they are about the wives of the Prophet of Islam) this verse is only includes the wives of the Prophet (s). To support this claim they narrate a tradition by Ibn ‘Abbās regarding ‘Akramah, the murderer of Ibn Jubayr and Ibn Sā’ib, which stated: “‘Akramah was in the marketplace and screamed out that the Ahlul-Bayt of the Prophet (s) are only his wives and that he would perform mubāhilah with anyone who rejected that.”[1]

Some Sunni commentators of the Quran and all Shia commentators criticize this opinion and say that if the wives of the Prophet (s) were meant in this verse it would be suitable, just like the previous and later verses which were feminine, for the two you/s in this verse to be feminine as well. But, this is not the case; this sentence is addressed to the second person in a plural and masculine way which shows that what those commentators said was wrong.

 

Their use of this tradition has also been criticized. Abū Hayyān Ghurnātī, who is Sunni, wrote that the tradition of Ibn ‘Abbās is not authentic. Ibn Kathīr also said that if what is meant by that tradition is that the verse of purity has been revealed about the Prophet’s wives it would be correct, but if what is meant is that the only instances of this verse are the Prophet’s wives and nobody else it would be incorrect because there are many traditions which negate that.[2]

But, as we have alluded to Ibn Kathīr’s statement that the verse is revealed about the Prophet’s wives is also not correct because, first, it is against the content of the verse and second, it is in opposition to traditions that he accepts.

 

2. Another group of Sunni commentators of the Quran believe that Ahlul-Bayt in the verse refers to the Prophet’s wives as well as ‘Alī, Fātimah, Hassan, and Hussayn (a).[3] It should be noted that those who make this claim do not have any tradition to support it.

3. Some commentators of the Quran say that apparently the verse is general and includes all of the Prophet’s (s) family: his wives, children, close family members, and even his servants. Tha‘labī says that it includes all of the Hāshim tribe or at least the believers of the Hāshim tribe.[4] This view does not have any tradition to support it as well.

 

4. Some commentators of the Quran say that it is possible that the people meant by Ahlul-Bayt are those who are forbidden from accepting charity. This opinion is based on a tradition by Zayd bin Arqam who was asked: “Who are the Prophet’s (s) Ahlul-Bayt? Are the wives of the prophet (s) included?” He answered: “The wives are also part of the Ahlul-Bayt, but the Prophet’s (s) Ahlul-Bayt are people who are forbidden from accepting charity: the family of ‘Alī, the family of ‘Aqīl, the family of Ja‘far, and the family of ‘Abbās.”[5] According to Abū al-Fatūh Rāzī, this opinion is rare and does not have a foundation.

 

5. All Shia commentators of the Quran and many Sunni ones – using evidence and many traditions from the Noble Prophet (s), Imām ‘Alī, Imām Hassan, Imām Hussayn, Imām Sajjād, and other Imāms (a) as well as Umm Salmah, ‘Ā’ishah, Abū Sa‘īd Khadrī, Ibn ‘Abbās, and other companions – strongly believe that the verse of purity was revealed about the companions of the kisā’: Prophet Muhammad (s), ‘Alī, Fātimah, Hassan, and Hussayn (a). They also believe that the term Ahlul-Bayt refers to them specifically.

The only question that comes to mind is why was an issue that does not include the Prophet’s (s) wives mentioned in the middle of a discussion regarding the duties of the Prophet’s wives?

 

There are many answers to this question, for example:

1. Tabarasī said: “This is not the only case where verses of the Quran about different matters are connected together. The Quran is full of similar cases. There are also many instances of such a thing in elegant Arabic writings and poetry.”[6]

2. Allamah Tabātabā’ī (r) added another answer to this answer and wrote: “There is no proof that the verse

«انما یرید الله لیذهب عنکم الرجس اهل البیت و یطهرکم تطهیراً»

(Verily Allah desires to rid you of impurities, Ahlul-Bayt, and purify you; a through purification) was revealed along with those verses, on the other hand it is easily understood from traditions that this part was revealed separately and was, at the order of the Prophet (s) or when the verses of the Quran were gathered after his demise, put next to those verses.”[7]

3. The following has been mentioned in Tafsīr Namūnah: “The third answer that can be given for his question is that the Quran wants to tell the Prophet’s (s) wives: ‘You are in a family where some family members are infallible and some are people who have been raised under the shade of infallibility. Therefore it is incumbent for you to protect yourselves more than others and do not forget that being in a family that has five sinless individuals is a grave responsibility as Allah and His creation have high expectations of him.’”[8]

 

There are many traditions regarding the circumstances of the revelation of this verse and the meaning of this verse. These traditions can be divided into the following categories:

1. Traditions that clearly state that the circumstances of the revelation of this verse and the meaning of the verse – the meaning of the Ahlul-Bayt – are the five people of the cloak.[9]

2. Traditions which support the kisā’ tradition: traditions related by Abū Sa‘īd Khadrī, Anas bin Mālik, Ibn ‘Abbās, Abū al-Hamrā’, and Abū Barazah which were related after the event of the kisā’ and after the revelation of this verse. The Prophet of Islam for 1 month, 40 days, six months, or nine months at the time of the morning prayer or at the times of the five daily prayers would go to the door of ‘Alī and Fātimah’s (a) house and say: “Peace be upon you, Ahlul-Bayt, and the mercies and blessings of Allah…” (السلام علیکم اهل البیت و رحمة الله و برکاته، الصلاة یرحمکم الله) He would then recite the verse of purity.[10]

 

In Sharh Ihqāq al-Haqq[11] after collecting 70 famous Sunni sources in this regard it is mentioned that Shia sources are even more than this.[12]

So this matter is for certain from the viewpoint of traditions that the people meant in the verse 33:33 are the Prophet, ‘Alī, Fātimah, Hassan, and Hussayn (a).

This term Ahlul-Bayt in traditions has been used for the rest of the Imāms from Imām ‘Alī bin al-Hussayn (Imām Sajjād) to the Imām of the age (aj).

Abū Sa‘īd Khadrī narrated from the Messenger of Allah (s): “I will leave with you two weighty things: one, the book of Allah which is a rope lowered from the skies to the Earth, and the other is my progeny and Ahlul-Bayt. These two will not be separated from each other until the Day of Resurrection.”[13]

Abū Ghafārī says that the Noble Prophet (s) said: “The likeness of my Ahlul-Bayt is like that of Noah’s ark. Whoever jumps aboard is saved and whoever does not is drowned.”[14]

For more information refer to:

Questions 243 and 160



[1] Tabarī, Jāmi‘ al-Bayān fī Tafsīr al-Quran, v.22, p.7

[2] Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr al-Quran al-‘Azīm, v.5, p.452-453

[3] Fakhr al-Dīn, Tafsīr Kabīr, v.25, p.209; Baydāwī, Anwār al-Tanzīl wa Asrār al-Ta’wīl, v.4, p.163; Abū Hayyān, Al-Bahr al-Muhīt fī Tafsīr, v.7, p.232

[4] Qurtabī, Al-Jāma‘ li-Ahkām al-Quran, v.14, p.183; Alūsī, Rūh al-Ma‘ānī, v.22, p.14

[5] Abū Hayyān, Al-Bahr al-Muhīt fī Tafsīr, v.7, p. 231-232

[6] Tabarasī, Majma‘ al-Bayān, v.7, p. 560

[7] Allamah Tabātabā’ī, al-Mīzān, v.16, p. 312; Fakhr al-Dīn, Tafsīr Kabīr, v.25, p. 209; Baydāwī, Anwār al-Tanzīl wa Asrār al-Ta’wīl, v.4, p. 16; Abū Hayyān, Al-Bahr al-Muhīt fī Tafsīr, v.7, p.232; Qurtabī, Al-Jāma‘ li-Ahkām al-Quran, v.14, p.183; Alūsī, Rūh al-Ma‘ānī, v.22, p.14; Tabarasī, Majma‘ al-Bayān, v.7, p. 560;

[8] Tafsīr Namūnah, v.17, p.295

[9] Tabarī, Jāmi‘ al-Bayān fī Tafsīr al-Quran, v.22, p.6-7; Qurtabī, Al-Jāma‘ li-Ahkām al-Quran, v.14, p.183; Hākim, Al-Mustadrak, v.2, p.416, tradition 3146; Bukhārī, Al-Tārīkh, v.2, p.69-70; Tirmidhī, Sunan, v.5, p.663

[10] Tabarī, Jāmi‘ al-Bayān fī Tafsīr al-Quran, v.22, p.5-6; Bukhārī, Al-Kunya, p.25-26; Ahmad bin Hanbal, Musnad, v.4, p.259; Haskānī, Shawāhid al-Tanzīl, v.2, p.11-15; Sīūtī, Dar al-Manthūr, v.6, p.606-607

[11] Mar‘ashī, Sharh Ihqāq al-Haqq, v.2, p.502-547 and v.9, p.91-92

[12] The book Shinākh Nāmah Ahlul-Bayt by ‘Alī Rafī‘ī ‘Alāmrūdashtī, pages 301-308, was used in this article and for more information one can refer to it.

[13] Sahīh Tirmidhī, v.5, p.663 the chapter on the Prophet’s Ahlul-Bayt, tradition: 3788

[14] Hākim, Al-Mustadrak, v. 4, p.150; Dhahabī, Mīzān al-I‘tidāl, v.1, p.224

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