Who are the Ahlul Bayt?

April 18, 2019
The Shia substantiation from Hadith al Thaqalayn
April 18, 2019

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Who are the Ahlul Bayt?


Ibn Manzur writes in Lisan al Arab—which is a recognised reference in language:

The word ahl in relation to a house refers to its occupants, in relation to a man it refers to those close to him. When used in relation to the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam it refers to his wives, daughters, and his son-in-law, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu.[1]


Ibn Qutaybah rahimahu Llah said:


يذهب الناس إلى أنها ذرية الرجل خاصة، وأن من قال:(عترة رسول الله )، فإنما يذهب إلى ولد فاطمة،وعترة الرجل ذريته و عشيرته الأدنون:من مضى منهم و من غبر، ويدلك على ذلك قول أبي بكر: (نحن عترة رسول الله التي خرج منها وبيضته التي تفقأت عنه، وإنما جيبت العرب عنا كما جيبت الرحا عن قطبها) ولم يكن أبو بكر رضوان الله عليه ليدعي بحضرة القوم جميعا ما لا يعرفونه

Some people are of the opinion that the word al Itrah specifically refers to a man’s progeny and that when ‘itrah of the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is said it refers to the children of Fatimah radiya Llahu ‘anha. [In actual fact] The ‘itrah of a man is his progeny and close relatives, those who have passed and preceded him as well. The statement of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu is indicative of this, “We are the ‘itrah of the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam which he hails from and which his origin stems from; and the Arab is cut off from us similarly how the mill is cut off from its axis.” Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu in the presence of all the people would not claim that which they did not know.[2]


This is with regards to its lexical meaning as for its usage within the noble Qur’an; it includes the wives of the Prophet’s as part of the Ahlul Bayt. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:

إِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِأَهْلِهِ إِنِّي أٰنَسْتُ نَارًا سَأٰتِيْكُمْ مِّنْهَا بِخَبَرٍ أَوْ أٰتِيْكُمْ بِشِهَابٍ قَبَسٍ لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَصْطَلُونَ

Mention when Musa said to his family, “Indeed, I have perceived a fire. I will bring you from there information or will bring you a burning torch that you may warn yourselves.”[3]


And only Nabi Musa’s ‘alayh al Salam wife was with him, thus the word Ahl which is mentioned in the verse is intended for her.


Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, the Most High says:


قَالَتْ مَا جَزَاءُ مَنْ أَرَادَ بِأَهْلِكَ سُوءًا إِلَّا أَن يُسْجَنَ أَوْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

She said, “What is the recompense of one who intended evil for your wife but that he be imprisoned or a painful punishment?”[4]


The verse above relates the statement of the ‘Aziz’s wife.


Also Nabi Ibrahim ‘alayh al Salam when he was given glad tidings of a son when his wife was barren, Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:


قَالُوا أَتَعْجَبِينَ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللهِ رَحْمَتُ اللهِ وَبَرَكَاتُهُ عَلَيْكُمْ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ إِنَّهُ حَمِيدٌ مَّجِيدٌ

They said, “Are you amazed at the decree of God? May the mercy of God and His blessings be upon you, people of the house. Indeed, He is Praiseworthy and Honourable.”[5]


The one who looks carefully at this verse will find that the one being addressed here is the wife of Nabi Ibrahim ‘alayh al Salam and she had no children at the time. Due to her husband also being included in the address the word is therefore expressed in plurality (using Kum which means you all) instead of a singular feminine pronoun.


Similarly the discussion pertaining to verse of al Tathir in Surah al Ahzab is the same. The verse reads:


إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا

Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification.[6]


Due to the incapability of the scholars of the Shia to respond to this, they claim that the verse of purification found in Surah al Ahzab has been interpolated and inserted incorrectly into the Surah. They claim this was done intentionally for worldly gain.


Al Majlisi said:

لعل آية التطهير وضعوها في موضع زعموا أنها تناسبه، أو أدخلوها في سياق مخاطبة الزوجات لبعض مصالحهم الدنيوية…

Perhaps they placed the verse of purification in a place that they claim is appropriate for it, or they inserted it within a context where the address is directed to the wives for some of their worldly benefits.[7]


The Shia have explained the word Ahl in the Qur’an to mean wife. In the statement of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala:


فَلَمَّا قَضَىٰ مُوسَى الْأَجَلَ وَسَارَ بِأَهْلِهِ أٰنَسَ مِن جَانِبِ الطُّورِ نَارًا قَالَ لِأَهْلِهِ امْكُثُوا إِنِّي أٰنَسْتُ نَارًا لَّعَلِّي أٰتِيْكُمْ مِّنْهَا بِخَبَرٍ أَوْ جَذْوَةٍ مِّنَ النَّارِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَصْطَلُونَ

And when Moses had completed the term and was travelling with his family, he perceived from the direction of the mount a fire. He said to his family, “Stay here; indeed, I have perceived a fire. Perhaps I will bring you from there (some) information or burning wood from the fire that you may warn yourselves.”[8]


In al Hada’iq al Nadirah it is mentioned:

المراد من لفظ الأهل في الأخبار إنما هو الزوجة

The word Ahl in the narrations refers only to wife…[9]


This meaning is, similarly, found in other narrations. On the authority of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu he said:


من أراد التزويج (إلى أن قال) فإذا زفت زوجته ودخلت عليه، فليصلي ركعتين ثم ليمسح يده على ناصيتها، ثم ليقل: اللهم بارك لي في أهلي وبارك لهم في…

Whoever intended to get married… When his wife arrives and enters into his presence, let him perform two raka’ah of salah, then place his hand over her forelock and say, “O Allah, grant me blessings in my family (wife), and grant them blessings in me…”


Similarly, if we revisit the Hadith al Kisa’, the meaning of the verse of purification will become clear to us, and why the word in the verse is expressed in plurality instead of a singular feminine pronoun. As well as the hadith wherein the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said to one of his wives, “You are upon good.”

The hadith in terms of the wording is narrated in a number of ways; however, even though the wording might differ, the meaning and content is the same.

It is narrated on the authority of ‘Umar ibn Abi Salamah, stepson of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:


لما نزلت هذه الآية على النبي 🙁 إنَّمَا يُرِيْدُ اللهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَ يُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيْرًا) في بيت أم سلمة فدعا فاطمة و حسنا وحسينا، وعلي خلف ظهره، فجللهم بكساء، ثم قال:(اللهم هؤلاء أهل بيتي، فأذهب عنهم الرجس وطهرهم تطهيرا، قالَت أم سلمةَ: و أنا معهم يا نبي الله؟ قال: أنت على مكَانك وأنت على خير)، و في رواية أخرى قال:(إنك إلى خير أنت من أزواج النبي).

When this verse was revealed to the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet’s] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification),” Fatimah, Hassan, and Hussain were in the house and ‘Ali was behind the Prophet. The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam then covered them with a garment.

Then he said, “O Allah! These are my household, Remove the impurity from them and purify them with [extensive] purification.”

Umm Salamah said, “Am I with them, O Prophet of Allah?”

He said, “You have your station and you are upon goodness”[10],and in another narration he said, “You are towards goodness, you are from the wives of the Prophet.”


Reconciling the meaning of Hadith al Kisa’

In order to fulfil the obligation of Hajj there are preparations required, and from these preparations is the vaccination. So when a person prepares for Hajj, he then ensures to take his vaccinations before departing. If a person had taken the vaccination previously then there is no need to take it a second time, the vaccination he took previously will suffice him.

I believe that both the question and answer is clear.

So in a similar manner is the story of the people of the garment. The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam included ‘Ali, Fatimah, Hassan and Hussain under his garment and not his wives. This is due to the fact that the verse of purification had previously been revealed about them. The proof for this is that the Prophet said after the revelation of this verse, “O Allah these are my household, remove the impurity from them and purify them with [extensive] purification.” So the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam sought from Allah to remove the impurity from them and to purify them. If the verse had already informed the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam that Allah has removed the impurity from them and purified them, then there would not be any need to supplicate for it thereafter. Allah would have then said, “Indeed Allah removed from you, the household, the impurity and has purified you with (extensive) purification.”

It deserves to be highlighted at this point that the sources of the Shia indicate that the Ahlul Bayt consists of more than twelve individuals, and it also attests to the fact that there is another understanding with regards to who the Ahlul Bayt actually are.

Amongst these narrations is that Umm Salamah—the narrator of the hadith under discussion—was indeed amongst the five whom the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had covered with the garment. She said to the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:


ألست من أهلك؟ قال:بلى،قالت:فأدخلني في الكساء

“Am I not part of your family?”

He replied, “Yes,

She said, “So then enter me in the garment!”[11]


In another narration the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:


اللهم إليك أنا وأهل بيتي لا إلى النار، فقلت: يا رسول الله، وأنا معكم؟ فقال:وأنت.

“O Allah, may my family and I head towards you and not towards the Fire.”

So I (’Umm Salamah) said, “O Messenger of Allah am I with you?”

Then He said, “And you.”[12]


It is narrated that Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu after gathering his son, brothers, and household looked at them and then cried for a while saying:


اللهم إنا عترة نبيك

O Allah we are the ‘itrah of your Prophet.[13]


So Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu did not restrict the ‘itrah to himself or only to his son, Zayn al ‘Abidin. Rather he applied it in general, incorporating all of his family who were with him.

Zaid ibn ‘Ali ibn al Hussain rahimahu Llah said:

أنا من العترة

I am from the ‘Itrah.[14]


The children of Muslim ibn ‘Aqil rahimahumu Llah made a similar statement.[15]

It comes in the narrations of the Shia that the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam himself said in the very same Hadith al Thaqalayn—after having said, “I leave for you two weighty things…”—that the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was then asked, “Who are your household?” and he replied:

قال: آل علي، آل جعفر، آل عقيل، آل عباس.

The family of ‘Ali, the family of Jafar, the family of ‘Aqil, and the family of ‘Abbas.[16]


Also ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu said regarding Zubair radiya Llahu ‘anhu:


ما زال الزبير رجلا منا أهل البيت

Zubair will always remain a man from amongst us, the Ahlul Bayt.[17]


Similarly, al Sadiq rahimahu Llah said to more than one of his companions:


إنه منا أهل البيت

He is from us the Ahlul Bayt.[18]


Al Baqir also said to Sa’d ibn ‘Abdul Malik, who was from the Banu Umayyah:


أنت أموي منا أهل البيت

You are of the Banu Umayyah and from us the Ahlul Bayt.[19]


The Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:


عليكم باالسمع والطاعة للسابقين من عترتي، فإنهم يصدونكم عن البغي، ويهدونكم إلى الرشد، ويدعونكم إلى الحق، فيحيون كتابي وسنتي ويميـتون البدع.

Hear and obey the forerunners of my ‘Itrah. They shall stop you from rebellion, guide you towards righteousness, and call you towards the truth. They will revive my Book, and my Sunnah, and they will exterminate innovations.[20]


If we were to discuss the understanding of the word ‘itrah our discussion would be prolonged; however, this concise discussion sufficiently clarifies the Ahlul Bayt did not use the term ‘itrah specifically as reference to the Twelve Imams. And as the popular adage goes: The people of the house know best its contents.


NEXT⇒ The Shia substantiation from Hadith al Thaqalayn

[1]Lisan al ‘Arab, the letter lam, pg. 290; al Qamus al Muhit, the letter lam, section on the letter Hamzah, pg. 1245.

[2] Adab al Katib, pg. 280.

[3] Surah al Naml: 7.

[4] Surah Yusuf: 25.

[5] Surah al Hud: 73.

[6] Surah al Ahzab: 33.

[7] Al Majlisi: Bihar al Anwar, 35/234.

[8] Surah al Qasas: 29.

[9] Al Bahrani: Al Hada’iq al Nadirah, 32/155.

[10] Jami’ al Tirmidhi, Kitab al Tafsir al Qur’an, 5/351, Hadith: 3105, also in Kitab al Manaqib, Manaqib of the Ahlul Bayt, 5/663, Hadith: 3787, Beirut, Lebanon.

[11] Al ‘Umdah, pg. 18, Bihar al Anwar; 35/221, 45/198; Tafsir al Burhan, 3/321; Muhammad ibn Sulaiman al Kufi: Manaqib al Imam Amir al Mu’minin, the letter ‘ayn, 2/152.

[12] Bihar al Anwar, 25/240, 37,39/402; Al Tusi: Al Amali: pg. 136.

[13] Bihar al Anwar, 46/198, 201, 202; Ithbat al Hudah, 1/604, 605.

[14] Bihar al Anwar, 45/101,103; Al Saduq: al Amali, pg. 77, 78, 79.

[15] Bihar al Anwar, 44/383.

[16] Bihar al Anwar, 28/347, 32/108, 41/145; al Khisal, pg. 157.

[17] Bihar al Anwar, 47/345, 349, 83/155; al Ikhtisas, pg.68, 195.

[18] Bihar al Anwar, 46/337; al Ikhtisas, pg. 85; al Burhan, 2/319.

[19] Bihar al Anwar, 23/115, 25/237, 35/211,229; Kashf al Ghummah, 1/44.

[20] Bihar al Anwar, 16/375.

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