Ahl Al-Bayt

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Ahl al-bayt, or “people of the house,” is a phrase used with reference to the family of the prophet Muhammad, particularly by the Shiʻa. In early Arabian tribal society, it was a designation for a noble clan. Thus, the term Ahl al-Bayt in its most generalized understanding refers to the descendants of the Prophet’s forbear Hashem, who had been a Bayt or a family possessing honor among the pre-Islamic Qoraysh; during the Islamic period the term continues to refer to all the descendants of Hashem. However, the vast majority of the traditions quoted by Tabari explain Ahl al-Bayt as referring to the Prophet, ʿAli, Fatima, Hasan, and Hussain; in some of these traditions the Prophet gathers the others under his cloak (Al-e ʿAba).

In the Qur’an[edit | edit source]

Ahl al-bayt occurs only twice in the Qur'an, once in regard to Ibrahim's family (11:73), but more significantly in a verse that states, “God only wishes to keep evil away from you, O people of the house, and to purify you completely" (33:33). The context suggests that this statement pertains to women in Muhammad's household, a view held by Sunni commentators. Some authorities have applied it more widely to descendants of Muhammad's clan (Banu Hashim), the Abbasids, and even the whole community of Muslims. Since the eighth century C.E., however, the Shi’a and many Sunnis have maintained that Qur'an 33:33 refers specifically to five people: Muhammad, Ali b. Abi Talib (Muhammad's cousin), 'Ali's wife Fatima (Muhammad's daughter), and their two children, Hasan and Hussain. Ulema invoke hadiths in support of this view, as seen in Tabari's Jami' al-bayan (c. tenth century C.E.). Thus, in South Asia, they are called "the five pure ones" (panjatan pak). They are also known as “people of the mantle” (kisa') in remembrance of the occasion when the Prophet enveloped them with his mantle and recited this verse.

Implicit Reference to Ahl al-Bayt[edit | edit source]

The Holy Quran has explicitly spoken of Ahl al-Bayt in the Verse of Purification whereas in other verses it has referred to signs that conform to none but them. Abdullah Ibn Jafar says: I was in the presence of Muawiya with Hasan and Hussain when Muawiya asked, “O Abdullah Ibn Jafar! How much do you respect Hasan?” I answered, “O Muawiya! One day, during his rule, Umar ibn Khattab sent me to Ali ibn Abu-Talib saying, ‘I want to compile the Quran in a book. Send me what you have written of it.’ Ali said to me, ‘By Allah, he will kill you if you take to him my version of the Quran where for some of the verses I have written my interpretations.’ I asked, ‘What for?’ The Imam answered, ‘Allah says:

لَا یَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ

None shall touch it save the purified ones. (56:79)

We are the purified ones. We are the paragon of this verse:

ثُمَّ أَوْرَثْنَا الْکِتَابَ الَّذِینَ اصْطَفَیْنَا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا

We gave the Book in inheritance to those whom we chose from among Our servants (35:32).

We are the chosen ones and such parables as ‘good word’ or ‘good tree’ have been revealed about us."[1]

The Holy Quran reads,

مَرَجَ الْبَحْرَیْنِ یَلْتَقِیَانِ، بَیْنَهُمَا بَرْزَخٌ لاَ یَبْغِیَانِ، فَبِأَیِّ آلاَءِ رَبِّکُمَا تُکَذِّبَانِ، یَخْرُجُ مِنْهُمَا اللُّؤْلُؤُ وَ الْمَرْجَانُ

He has made the two seas to flow freely so that they meet together. Between them is a barrier, which they cannot pass. There comes forth from them pearls both large and small.

These holy verses certainly refer to Ahl al-Bayt. Imam al-Sadiq says:

علىّ و فاطمة بحران لؤلؤ و المرجان، الحسن و الحسین

Ali and Fatimah are the two seas; and the pearls are Hasan and Husayn.[2]

In the words of another narration, the word "al-shaf` (the even)" mentioned in Surah al-Fajr (No. 89) refers to Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn; while the word al-witr (the odd)" refers to Imam Ali.

In reliable Shiite books of Hadith, there are over 314 narrations, which confirm that the word ‘near relatives (dhul-qurba)' in the Holy Quran refers to Ahl al-Bayt. Likewise, Sunni scholars have interpreted the ‘near relatives’ into Ahl al-Bayt and the purified Imams.

The Holy Quran reads,

فِی بُیُوتٍ أَذِنَ اللَّهُ أَنْ تُرْفَعَ وَیُذْکَرَ فِیهَا اسْمُهُ یُسَبِّحُ لَهُ فِیهَا بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالْآصَالِ

In houses which Allah has permitted to be exalted and that His name may be remembered in them; there glorify Him therein in the mornings and the evenings. (24:36)

Anas ibn Malik and Buraydah say, “When Allah’s Messenger recited the above mentioned verse, a man rose up asking, "Which houses are they?"

Allah’s Messenger replied, “These are the houses of the Prophets.” Then, Abu-Bakr rose up, pointed to the house of Ali and Fatimah and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Is this house one of them?” The Holy Prophet said,

“Yes, it is one of the best.”[3]

Ahl al-Bayt are the paragons of the spiritual truth as pointed out in the following holy verse:

رِجَالٌ لَا تُلْهِیهِمْ تِجَارَةٌ وَلَا بَیْعٌ عَنْ ذِکْرِ اللَّهِ وَإِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِیتَاءِ الزَّکَاةِ ۙ یَخَافُونَ یَوْمًا تَتَقَلَّبُ فِیهِ الْقُلُوبُ وَالْأَبْصَارُ

Men whom neither merchandise nor selling diverts from the remembrance of Allah and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of poor-rate; they fear a day in which the hearts and the eyes shall turn about. (24:37)

These noble individuals fear the Judgment Day while their faith, deeds, sublime morality and devotion are superior to those of all people of the world.

Significance[edit | edit source]

Belief in the supermundane qualities of the ahl al-bayt and the imams descended from them form the core of Shi'ite devotion. They are the ideal locus of authority and salvation in all things, both worldly and spiritual. As pure, sinless, and embodiments of divine wisdom, they are held to be the perfect leaders for the Muslim community, as well as models for moral action. Many believe that they possess a divine light through which God created the universe, and that it is only through their living presence that the world exists. Twelver Shi'ite doctrine has emphasized that the pain and martyrdom endured by ahl al-bayt, particularly by Hussain, hold redemptive power for those who have faith in them and empathize with their suffering. Moreover, they anticipate the messianic return of the Twelfth Imam at the end of time, and the intercession of the holy family on the day of judgment.

Sunnis also revere the ahl al-bayt, attributing to them many of the sacred qualities that the Shiʻa do. This is especially so in Sufi tariqas (brotherhoods), most of which trace their spiritual lineage to Muhammad through 'Ali. Several tariqas hold special veneration for the holy five and the imams, such as the Khalwatiyya, the Bektashiyya, and the Safawiyya, which established the Safavid dynasty in Iran (1502-1722). In many Muslim communities, high social status is attributed to those claiming to be sayyids and sharifs, blood-descendants of the ahl al-bayt. Indeed, many Muslim scholars and saints are members of these two groups, and their tombs often become pilgrimage centers.

Although the Saudi-Wahhabi conquest of Arabia (nineteenth to early twentieth centuries) led to the destruction of many ahl al-bayt shrines (including Fatima's tomb in Medina), elsewhere their shrines have attracted large numbers of pilgrims in modern times. These include those of Ali (Najaf, Iraq), Hussain (Karbala, Iraq and Cairo, Egypt), Ali al-Riza (the eighth imam; Mashhad, Iran), and also of women saints such as Sayyida Zaynab (Ali's daughter; Cairo) and Fatima al-Ma'suma (daughter of the seventh imam; Qom, Iran).

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Ayoub, Mahmoud. Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of ‘Ashura in Twelver Shi’ism. The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1978. Hoffman- Ladd, Valerie J. “Devotion to the Prophet and His Family in Egyptian Sufism. “International Journal of Middle East Studies 24 (1992): 615- 637. Schubel, Vernon James. Religious Performance in Contemporary Islam: Shi’i Devotional Rituals in South Asia. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Source[edit | edit source]

  • [Juan Eduardo Campo (2004). Encyclopedia of Islam and Muslim World. Macmillan: US (p: 25-26) Encyclopedia of Islam and Muslim World]
  1. Al-Khisal, Tadiths: 48-49
  2. Yanabi al-Mawaddah: 200/1
  3. Shawahid al-Tanzil: 533/1, H. 567