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Who are the Ahl al-Bayt (as)?

When we study scholars’ books of etymology and terminology, we come to know that what is meant by term Ahl al-Bayt of the Holy Prophet (S) are certain special and distinguished people. When we refer to books of tradition [hadith], we understand that the Ahl al-Bayt (as) do not comprise all the genealogical and causal relatives of the Holy Prophet (S). In other words, the term Ahl al-Bayt does not include all the ancestral relatives nor those related to the Prophet through marriage.

a) The term Ahl al-Bayt in etymology and common parlance

In his book entitled, “Lisan al-‘Arab”, Ibn Manzur Ifriqi says, “The Ahl al-Bayt of a person are those people who are nearest to him. The Ahl al-Bayt are people who are gathered together by genealogy and religion.”3

b) The term Ahl al-Bayt in the Qur’an and the Sunnah

Ahl al-Bayt has been employed for certain special people in the Holy Qur’an and the traditions. The term has been used for the Holy Prophet (S), Imam ‘Ali (as), Fatimah al-Zahra (as), al-Hasan (as), al-Husayn (as) and the remaining pure offspring, the nine Infallibles from the progeny of Imam al-Husayn (as). Umm Salamah says, “When the ayah, ‘Allah only intends to keep away the uncleanliness from you, O people of the house, and to purify you a thorough purifying.’ was revealed to the Prophet (S), he summoned ‘Ali, Fatimah, al-Hasan and al-Husayn (as) and said, ‘These are my Ahl al-Bayt’.”4

Imam al-Husayn (as) said,

    «إنّا اَهْلُ بَيْتِ النُّبُوَّةِ.»

“We are the Ahl al-Bayt of the Holy Prophet (S).”5

On his authorized chain of narration, Muslim quotes ‘A’ishah narrating, “One morning the Prophet (S) left my house with a piece of cloth called “Kisa” woven out of black wool hanging on his shoulder.

Al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali joined the Prophet and was permitted to enter the Kisa. Then, al-Husayn joined them and was permitted to enter the Kisa also. After him came Fatimah and the Prophet made her enter the Kisa as well. Lastly, ‘Ali came and he too was permitted to enter the Kisa. Then, the Holy Prophet (S) recited the Qur’anic verse,

    ﴿ اَنَّما يُريدُ اللهُ لِيذْهِبَ عَنْکُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ البَيْتِ وَيطَهِّرَکُمْ تَطْهيراً ﴾

‘Allah only intends to keep away the uncleanliness from you, O people of the house, and to purify you a thorough purifying’.”6

Ahmad ibn Hanbal says, “When the Verse of Mubahalah was revealed to the Holy Prophet (S), he called for ‘Ali, Fatimah, al-Hasan and al-Husayn. Then, he said, ‘O my Lord! These are my Ahl al-Bayt!’”7

Notes:

3. Lisan al-‘Arab, vol. 11, pp. 27-28, Maddah Ahl.

4. Al-Hakim al-Neyshaburi, Al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn, vol. 3, p. 158, hadith 4705; Al-Sunan al-Kubra, vol. 7, p. 63.

5. Khwarazmi, Maqtal al-Imam al-Husayn (as), vol. 1, p. 184.

6. Muslim, Al-Sahih, vol. 4, p. 1883, hadith 2424, Kitab al-Fada’il al-Sahabah.

7. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, vol. 1, p. 185.

Adapted from: "The Uprising of Ashura and Responses to Doubts" by: "‘Ali Asghar Ridwani"