The Status of the Ahlul Bayt according to the Ahlus Sunnah
The Ahlul Bayt enjoy a very intimate bond with Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam due to the relationship they enjoy with him; they are from him and he is from them. Hence they enjoy such rights which no one besides them shares with them; their rights have a direct link with his rights, rather they are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. There are many texts, specific and general, which emphasise this. These texts at times extoll their virtues and praise them, and at times they exhort the Ummah to be cognizant of their rights and see to their well-being.
Zaid ibn Arqam radiya Llahu ‘anhu narrates:
قام رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يوما فينا خطيبا بماء يدعى خما بين مكة والمدينة فحمد الله وأثنى عليه ووعظ وذكر ثم قال أما بعد ألا أيها الناس فإنما أنا بشر يوشك أن يأتي رسول ربي فأجيب وأنا تارك فيكم ثقلين أولهما كتاب الله فيه الهدى والنور فخذوا بكتاب الله واستمسكوا به فحث على كتاب الله ورغب فيه ثم قال وأهل بيتي أذكركم الله في أهل بيتي أذكركم الله في أهل بيتي أذكركم الله في أهل بيتي
Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam stood amongst us at a pond called Khum, between Makkah and Madinah, to deliver a sermon. He praised Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, advised and reminded us and then said, “Behold O people! I am merely a human; very soon the messenger of my lord will to whom I will respond. I am leaving amidst the two weighty things. The first is the Book of Allah, wherein is contained light and guidance. So practice upon the Book of Allah and hold onto it firmly. Hence he exhorted regarding the Book of Allah and encouraged regarding it. Thereafter he said, “And my Ahlul Bayt. I remind you of Allah regarding my Ahlul Bayt, I remind you of Allah regarding my Ahlul Bayt, and I remind you of Allah regarding my Ahlul Bayt.”
It is therefore compulsory upon every Muslim to carefully regard this advice of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam regarding his pure Ahlul Bayt, not only during his salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam lifetime, but after his death as well, as stated by Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu:
ارقبوا محمدا صلى الله عليه وسلم في أهل بيتي
Cautiously consider Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam when dealing with his Ahlul Bayt.
However, it is crucial to remember that this reverence and regard is specific to the believers among his Ahlul Bayt. As for those besides them, even though they share the noble pedigree with Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, like Abu Lahb the uncle of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, they do not deserve any respect or consideration. To establish this it is sufficient to note that Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala revealed verses of the Qurʾan regarding him which will be recited till the Day of Judgment. In fact no one else, besides Abu Lahb and his wife, has been condemned by name in the entire Qurʾan. Consider, why would he deserve inviolable respect and regard which stem from the respect and regard we ought to have for Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam when he himself disbelieved in him and rejected his message.
Nonetheless, in light of this prophetic instruction regarding the Ahlul Bayt, it is the belief of the Ahlus Sunnah that loving the Ahlul Bayt is an obligation. The fulfilment thereof will earn a person reward and the abandoning thereof will engender deficiency in his faith.
When ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the uncle of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam discerned that some people of the Quraysh were being cold toward them, he complained to Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said to him:
والله لا يدخل قلب امرئ إيمان حتى يحبكم لله ولقرابتي
By Allah, iman will not enter the heart of a person till he does not love you for the sake of Allah and due to my relationship with you.
Hence the reasons for loving them are many:
- Owing to their Islam.
- Owing to their relationship with Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
- The exhortation of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam regarding loving them.
It goes without doubt that the prophetic exhortation demands that the Ummah goes out of its way in revering them. Hence they should do so by: giving them preference, respecting them, being good to them, dealing amiably with them, being patient with them, overlooking their shortcomings and praying for them.
The Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum were the first to understand this. They were thus very keen on adhering to this exhortation. Therefore, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma conceded the virtue of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, they would respect him immensely in every way possible and give him preference in rank, reverence, love, association, and praise.
Furthermore, his love and veneration was not exclusively for ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, rather it surpassed him and reached each member of the Ahlul Bayt. Hence Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu would say:
والذي نفسي بيده لقرابة رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أحب إلى من أن أصل قرابتي
By the one in whose hands is my soul, maintaining ties with the family of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is more beloved to me than maintaining ties with my own family.
Likewise ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu would give preference to them over all the people in allowances and would give them more than the rest of the people. He would give Hassan and Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhuma the same share as their father due to their relationship with Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; he would give each one five thousand.
At one occasion he told Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu:
هل أنبت على رؤوسنا الشعر إلا الله ثم أنتم
No one besides Allah and then you has grown hair on our heads (taken us to glory).
However, it is crucial to note that although this merit is true for all of the Ahlul Bayt, it does not imply that they are equal; for surely those who accompanied Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam are the most meritorious among them due to combining two great qualities, viz. the companionship of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and being his relative; each of which has its own virtues. Hence there is no dispute amongst the Ahlus Sunnah regarding the fact that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu is the most virtuous member of the Ahlul Bayt after Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Furthermore, association with the Ahlul Bayt and veneration for them expands and contracts based upon their obedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and His Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Hence the more complete the adherence of any of them will be the more would association with him and veneration for him be complete. Thereafter if he deviates from the path, commits sins or gets involved in innovations they might decrease gradually; because pedigrees in themselves are not worth consideration, and at times the inconsistency of a prominent person is considered to be a greater crime.
This is exactly what al Hassan ibn al Hassan told a person who was exaggerating regarding the Ahlul Bayt:
ويحكم! أحبونا لله، فإن أطعنا الله فأحبونا، وإن عصينا الله فأبغضونا. قال فقال له الرجل: إنكم قرابة رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وأهل بيته. فقال: لو كان الله مانعا بفرابة من رسول الله أحدا بغير طاعة الله لنفع ذلك من هو أقرب إليه منا أبا وأما
“Woe to you! Love us for the sake of Allah; if we obey Allah then love us, and if we disobey Allah then hate us.” The man thus said to him, “You are the relatives of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and his Ahlul Bayt.” To which he replied, “If Allah were to protect anyone merely on the basis of his relationship to Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam without obedience to him it would have benefitted those who were closer to him paternally and maternally.”
The general rule in this regard is that when good and bad, obedience and disobedience, and adherence to Sunnah and involvement in innovations are collectively found in a person he will deserve veneration and association to the extent of his good and disassociation and disregard to the extent of his bad.
In addition, when the noble pedigree does not save against the execution of capital punishments upon those who deserve them according to the unanimity of the Muslims, then it would more so not earn any of them the privileges of association and veneration. For example, why would an ‘Alawi deserve any reverence if all that he does when conquering a city is drink wine openly in the Masjid of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, commit adultery with a songstress concubine who does not belong to him, kill the people of that city with the sword or with starvation, and does not read Salah in congregation or Jumu’ah at all.
A poet has very beautifully said:
فلا تترك التقوى اتكالا على النسب
|لعمرك ما الإنسان إلا ابن دينه|
|وقد هجن الشرك الشريف أبا لهب||
فقد رفغ الإسلام سلمان فارس
By your life a person is not but the son of his creed, so do not discard piety due to reliance upon lineage.
For surely Islam raised Salman of Persia, and surely polytheism degraded the noble man Abu Lahab.
It is important to note that whilst the Ahlus Sunnah concede and establish the virtue of the Ahlul Bayt and their superiority, they do not give them complete preference over the entire Ummah in all conditions. Rather at times others besides them, due to many aspects, will surpass them, as is clear from the verse:
إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ
The most honoured of you by Allah is the most virtuous.
And the hadith of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:
من بطأ به عمله لم يسرع به نسبه
He whose actions keep him behind, his lineage will not take him forward.
Ibn Taymiyah has mentioned:
تفضيل الجملة على الجملة لا يستلزم أن يكون كل فرد أفضل من كل فرد
Giving preference to one whole over another whole does not necessitate giving preference to each individual over each individual.
He has also said the following:
إنما يفضل الإنسان بدينه وتقواه، لا بآبائه ولو كانوا من بني هاشم
A person attains merit by way of his Din and piety, not by way of his fathers, even if they be from the Banu Hashim.
This is because:
القرابة الدينية أعظم من القرابة الطينية
Relationship based on Din is greater than relationship based upon soil.
He has also drawn our attention to the fact that the Ahlus Sunnah respect and associate on the basis of piety and not on the basis of mere pedigree.
In this regard, how profound indeed was the vision of Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ayyash who said:
لو أتاني أبوبكر وعمر وعلي رضي الله عنهم في حاجة لبدأت بحاجة علي قبل حاجة أبي بكر وعمر لقرابته من رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، ولأن أخر من السماء إلى الأرض أحب إلي من أن أقدمه عليهما
If Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhum came to me with a need, I would start with the need of ‘Ali before seeing to the needs of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, due to him being the relative of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. But I would prefer falling from the heavens to the earth than claim that ‘Ali is superior to them.
To sum up the stance of the Ahlus Sunnah, the Ahlus Sunnah associate with all the members of the Ahlul Bayt, the relatives of Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and his wives, without going to extremes in doing so and falling short of fulfilling their rights. In doing so they have treaded the middle path; they do not exaggerate in loving them like the extremists and claim knowledge of the unseen and infallibility for select individuals amongst them, nor do they adopt the view of the detractors who harass the Ahlul Bayt verbally or by action; they are the moderates amongst the extremists on either end.
They also believe that the Ahlul Bayt are not infallible and are thus susceptible to sinning and faltering. Consequently they are not exempted from any punishment in this world or the hereafter. And when it is said that amongst their rights is to overlook the shortfalls of the wrongdoers among them, the shortfalls intended are those which do not compromise any of the injunctions of Shari’ah.
The evidence for this is the following address of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala to the Mothers of the Believers:
مَن يَأْتِ مِنكُنَّ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُّبَيِّنَةٍ يُضَاعَفْ لَهَا الْعَذَابُ ضِعْفَيْنِ
Whoever of you should commit a clear immorality – for her the punishment would be doubled two fold.
And the verse:
وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ
And warn, [O Muhammad], your closest kindred.
The following two hadiths also suggest the same:
يا فاطمة بنت محمد سليني ما شئت من مالي لا أغني عنك من الله شيئا
O Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad! Ask me for anything of my wealth, but I cannot avail you in the least before Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala.
والذي نفس محمد بيده لوأن فاطمة بنت محمد سرقت لقطعت يدها
By the one in whose control is my life, if Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad stole [Allah forbid] I would cut her hand.
Al Shawkani has thus said:
أما القول برفع العقوبات عن عصاتهم وأنهم لا يخاطبون بما اقترفوه من المآثم ولا يطالبون بما جنوه من العظائم فهذه مقالة باطلة ليس عليها أثارة من العلم، ولم يصح في ذلك عن الله ولاعن رسوله حرف واحد
As for the view that the sinful amongst them will not be punished, that they will not be taken to task for the crimes they perpetrate and that they will not be told to pay up for losses they cause, it is completely false and there is not a shred of evidence that supports it. In this regard not even a letter has been authentically proven from Rasul Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
 Sahih al Bukhari: chapter regarding the merits of the Sahabah: sub-chapter regarding the merits of the household of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the merits of Fatimah radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the daughter of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam: hadith no. 3509.
 ‘Abdul ‘Uzza ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib ibn Hashim al Qurashi, Abu ‘Utbah, the uncle of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. His father ‘Abdul Muttalib had given him the title Abu Lahb owing to his handsomeness, for he was the most handsome of people. He opposed Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam in his mission. He would disillusion the people from Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Surah Masad in the Qurʾan was revealed regarding him. He died in Makkah after the battle of Badr after contracting a fatal illness known as measles. See: Tarikh Madinah Dimashq 67/ 161; Tahdhib al Asmaʾ wa al Lughat 2/543; al A’lam 4/12.
 Majmu’ Fatawa Shaikh al Islam 16/602.
 Majmu’ Fatawa Shaikh al Islam 4/487.
 Musnad Ahmed: hadith no. 1777; Musnad al Bazzar: hadith no. 2175. The hadith has been graded as weak by Shu’ayb al Arnaʾut in his Takhrij of the Musnad.
 Al Sa’di: al Latifat al Sa’diyyah p. 94.
 Kitab al Shari’ah p. 832; Majmu’ Fatawa Shaikh al Islam 3/154.
 Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah 6/178.
 Sahih al Bukhari: Fadaʾil al Sahabah: sub-chapter regarding the merits of the relatives of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the merits of Fatimah radiya Llahu ‘anha: hadith no. 3508.
 Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah 6/33.
 Ma’rifah al Thiqat 1/301; Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 3/285. Al Dhahabi has deemed the report to be authentic.
 Umm Kulthum bint ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib ibn ‘Abdul Muttalib al Hashimiyyah. Her mother is Fatimah the daughter of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. She was born around the year 6 A.H. She saw Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam but did not narrate anything from him. ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiya Llahu ‘anhu married her when she was young and she bore his son Zaid for him. She passed away in the beginning of the reign of Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu. See: Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 3/500; Ruwat al Athar p. 211.
 Tafsir al Qurʾan al ‘Adhim 3/257; al Kamil fi Du’afaʾ al Rijal 4/186; Tarikh Madinah Dimashq 8/116; Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 3/501.
 Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah 7/241-242
 Ibn Kathir: Tafsir al Qurʾan al ‘Adhim 4/114.
 Majmu’ Fatawa Shaikh al Islam 16/602.
 Al Hassan ibn al Hassan ibn ‘Ali al Hashimi, Abu Muhammad al ‘Alawi al Fatimi. Ibn Hajar has said regarding him, “a truthful narrator.” I have not come across the date of his demise. See: al Tabaqat al Kubra 5/319; al Tarikh al Kabir 2/289; al Jarh wa al Ta’dil 3/5; al Taqrib wa al Tahdhib p. 159.
 Al Tabaqat al Kubra 5/319.
 Majmu’ Fatawa Shaikh al Islam 28/209.
 Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah 4/586.
 ‘Alawi is a title use for someone who is attributed to a person whose name is ‘Ali. Four people are known for this, amongst them is ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. See: al Ansab 4/229. What is meant here is a person from his lineage.
 Jamharah Ansab al ‘Arab p. 39.
 Tarikh Madinah Dimashq 21/426.
 Surah al Hujurat: 13.
 Sahih Muslim: chapter of Dhikr, Du’aʾ, Tawbah and Istighfar; sub-chapter regarding the virtue of convening for the recitation of the Qurʾan and the remembrance of Allah: hadith no. 2699.
 Majmu’ Fatawa Shaikh al Islam 19/29; Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah 7/240.
 Al Fatawa al Kubra 4/353.
 Minhaj al Sunnah al Nabawiyyah 7/78.
 Ibid. 4/376.
 Shu’bah ibn ‘Ayyash ibn Salim al Asadi (their client, associate), Abu Bakr al Kufi. A teacher of the Qurʾan, a scholar of hadith and a jurist. He was born in 95 A.H. He read the Qurʾan by ‘Asim and mastered it. Ibn al Mubarak said regarding him, “I have not seen anyone hastening more in following the Sunnah than Abu Bakr ibn ‘Ayyash.” Imam Ahmed said, “A reliable narrator who errs at times.” He passed away in 193 A.H. His narrations are cited in Sahih al Bukhari, the introduction to Sahih Muslim and the four Sunan. See: Tarikh Baghdad 14/371; Tahdhib al Tahdhib 12/37; Siyar A’lam al Nubalaʾ 8/495; Tahdhib al Kamal 33/129.
 Surah al Ahzab: 30.
 Surah al Shu’araʾ: 214.
 The narration of Abu Hurairah radiya Llahu ‘anhu which appears in Sahih al Bukhari: chapter of bequests: sub-chapter regarding whether women and children are part of the relatives: hadith no. 2602; Sahih Muslim: chapter of Iman: sub-chapter regarding the verse وَأَنذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الْأَقْرَبِينَ: hadith no. 206. The wording is of Sahih al Bukhari.
 The hadith of ‘Aʾishah radiya Llahu ‘anha which appears in Sahih al Bukhari: chapter of capital punishments: sub-chapter regarding the dislike of interceding in a capital punishment once it is raised to the ruler: hadith no. 2406; Sahih Muslim: chapter of capital punishments: sub-chapter regarding amputating the hand of a notable and those besides him, and the impermissibility of interceding in capital punishments: hadith no. 1688.
 Muhammad ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah al Shawkani. A scholar of the principles of Shari’ah and a jurist. He is considered to be from the prominent scholars and reformers of Yemen. He was born in Shawkan in Yemen in the year 1173, he grew up in Sana, became a judge therein in the year 1229 A.H., and passed away in 1250 A.H. One of his isolated views was the impermissibility of Taqlid (following one school specifically). He has written 114 books, some amongst them are: Nayl al Awtar, Fath al Qadir, al Badr al Tali’. See: al Zarkali: al A’lam 6/298; Mujam al Muʾallifin 11/53.
 Irshad al Saʾil Ila Dalil al Masaʾil p. 80.