Ahl al-Bayt

Within the Islamic tradition, Ahl al-Bayt (Arabic: أَهْلُ ٱلْبَيْتِ‎; Persian: اهلِ بیت‎; Urdu: اہلِ بیت‎; lit. 'People of the House, People of the Household' or 'Family of the House') is a phrase that mainly refers to the family of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad,[i][1] and to a lesser extent (according to Muslims), his ancestor Ibrahim.[ii]

In Shia Islam, the Ahl al-Bayt are central to Islam and interpreters of the Quran and Ahl al-Bayt. Shias believe they are successors of Muhammad and consist of Muhammed, his daughter Fatimah, his son-in-law Ali, and their children Hasan and Husayn, known collectively as the Ahl al-Kisa ('People of the Cloak'). Aside from them, Twelvers emphasize others of the Twelve Imams of Muhammad's descendants, with other Shi'ites emphasizing other descendants of his, such as Zayd ibn Ali (in the case of Zaydis) and Isma'il ibn Ja'far (in the case of Isma'ilites).

In Sunni Islam, Muhammad's Ahl al-Bayt also refers to Muhammad himself; his daughters Zainab, Ruqayya, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah; his cousin and son-in-law Ali; and the two sons of Fatimah and Ali, Husayn and Hasan.[1] In the interpretation of certain traditions, the term may also be extended to include the descendants of Muhammad's paternal uncles, Abu Talib and al-'Abbas, or according to Malik ibn Anas and Abu Hanifa, all of the Banu Hashim.[1]


The term ahl (Arabic: أهل‎) signifies the members of a household of a man, including his fellow tribesmen, kin, relatives, wife or wives, children, and all those who share a family background, religion, housing, city and country with him.[2] Bayt (ٱلْبَيْتِ‎) refers to habitation and dwelling, whether tented or built. It can also be roughly translated as 'household'.

As such, the ahl al-bayt of a person refers to his family members and all those who live in his house. Ahl al-Bayt is the polite form of addressing the members and wife of the family.[3]

Ahl al-Bayt is mostly treated based on its Quranic sense,[4] following the usage of the phrase in pre- and post-Islamic Arab society, used to denote family and blood relations as well as a noble and leading 'house' of the tribe.[5]

In the Qur'anEdit

According to the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, the Qur'an uses the phrase ahl al-bayt twice as a term of respect for wives.[6] The first instance[iii] refers to Muhammad's wives, and the second[iv] refers to Abraham's wife Sara.[6] According to some interpretations, the Qur'an also implicitly refers to Ahl al-Bayt in 42:23,[v] using the term al-qurbā.[7][8]

There has been much debate concerning which people constitute ahl al-bayt. According to the site Islam Question and Answers, there are several views among scholars concerning the definition of ahl al-bayt, either saying:[citation needed]

  • The Prophet’s family were his wives, his children, Banu Hashim, Banu al-Muttalib, and their freed slaves;
  • the Prophet's wives were not part of the Ahl al-Bayt; or
  • the Ahl al-Bayt are Quraysh.

Concerning Muhammad's wives, the most correct view is that they are included among the members of the family of the Prophet, because Allah says, after commanding the wives to observe hijab (interpretation of the meaning):[iii]

Allaah wishes only to remove Ar-Rijs (evil deeds and sins) from you, O members of the family (of the Prophet), and to purify you with a thorough purification.

Ahl al-KisaEdit

Although there have been many disagreements, there is a consensus amongst Sunni and Shi'a Muslims that the 'Ahl al-Kisa' hadith refers specifically to Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn. Mention of the ahl al-bayt, Muhammad's household, is present in a verse of the Qur'an as follows:[9]

O wives of the Prophet! you are not like any other of the women; If you will be on your guard, then be not soft in (your) speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn; and speak a good word.
And stay in your houses and do not display your finery like the displaying of the ignorance of yore, and keep up prayer, and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying.
And keep to mind what is recited in your houses of the communications of Allah and the wisdom; surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, Aware.

— Surat al-Ahzab (33:32–34).[vi]

The precise definition of the phrase in this verse has been subject to varying interpretations. In one tradition, according to which Muhammad's companion Salman al-Farsi is included as a member, it is used to distinguish from the muhajirun (Muslim emigrants from Mecca) and ansar (Medinan converts to Islam). According to Sunni doctrine, the phrase includes the wives and dependents of Muhammad, as it addresses them in the preceding verse—an interpretation that is attributed to ibn 'Abbas and Ikrimah ibn Abi-Jahl, both of whom were companions of Muhammad. This is supported[improper synthesis?] by various traditions attributed to Muhammad wherein he addresses each of his wives as Ahl al-Bayt.[1][10]:15 Further members of the household, according to the Sunni perspective, include Ali, Fatimah,Hasan and Husayn, who are mentioned in the tradition of the mantle. Some versions of this tradition recognise Umm Salamah, a wife of Muhammad, as a part of the household. Thus, according to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, "the current orthodox view is based on a harmonizing opinion, according to which the term ahl al-bayt includes the ahl al-ʿabāʾ, i.e. the Prophet, ʿAlī, Fāṭima, al-Ḥasan, and al-Ḥussain, together with the wives of the Prophet."[1]

According to Laura Veccia Vaglieri in Encyclopaedia of Islam:[11]

[T]here is a story narrated in many traditions according to which Muḥammad sheltered under his cloak, in varying circumstances including the Mubahala, his grandchildren Ḥasan and Hussein, his daughter Fatimah and his son/cousin-in-law Ali; and therefore it is these five who are given the title Ahl al-Kisa or 'People of the Mantle. Some have attempted to add Muḥammad's wives to the list; however, the number of the privileged is limited to these five.

Other interpretations include the family of Ali, as well as the families of Muhammad's relatives such as Aqeel, Ja'far, and al-Abbas.[12] Early Islamic jurists Malik ibn Anas and Abū Ḥanīfa included the clan of Banu Hashim within the definition, while al-Shafi'i included the whole of Banu Muttalib.[1]

In Shia thought, the household is limited to Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, Hasan, Husayn, and their descendants (altogether known as the Ahl al-Kisa); as per their deduction from the tradition of the mantle. They interpret the change in pronoun in the Qur'anic verse as showing that only the aforementioned members constitute Ahl al-Bayt.[1] Madelung writes that "this change of gender has inevitably contributed to the birth of various accounts of a legendary character, attaching the latter part of the verse to the five People of the Mantle."[10]:14–15 Shias view these individuals as infallible and sinless Imams and regard devotion to them as an essential part of the religion.[1]

Shia Muslims also support this claim with a hadith mentioned in the Sunni Ṣaḥīḥ collection. Many Sunni scholars remark that the Verse of Purification was revealed concerning five people: Muhammad, Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn.[vii]

'A'isha reported that Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) went out one morning wearing a striped cloak of the black camel's hair that there came Hasan b. 'Ali. He wrapped him under it, then came Husain and he wrapped him under it along with the other one (Hasan). Then came Fatima and he took her under it, then came 'Ali and he also took him under it and then said: Allah only desires to take away any uncleanliness from you, O people of the household, and purify you (thorough purifying)

— Sahih Muslim, Kitab Al-Fada'il Al-Sahabah [The Book Pertaining to the Merits of the Companions of the Holy Prophet], Ch. 9: "The Merits of the Family of the Prophet"[13]

The tradition about this hadith goes from different sources to Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad. She narrated that once her father visited her home, he had a fever and was not feeling well, he asked for a Yemeni cloak which Fatimah brought to him and folded it around him. Later he was joined in that Yemeni cloak by his grandsons Hasan and Hussein, who were followed by their father Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. Finally, Fatimah asked permission to enter that cloak. When all five of them joined together under the cloak, Muhammad narrated the Qur'anic verse 33:33[14] to those under the cloak that all five of them are chosen ones, and he further stated that he wants God to keep all impurities out of reach and away from all of us. Muhammad then prayed to God to declare all five of them as his Ahlul Bayt and keep away the najasat ('impurities'). God, at that request immediately sent Gabriel (Jibral) to reveal to Muhammad that all the five under the cloak are dearest and closest to God and they are Taher ('purest of the pure') without any traces of impurities.[15]

The Twelver and Ismaili branches of Shia Islam differ regarding the line of Imamate. While the Twelver believes in a lineage known as the Twelve Imams, the Ismaili believe that the descendants of Isma'il ibn Jafar, rather than his brother Musa al-Kadhim, were the inheritors of the Imamate instead.

According to Anas ibn Malik, Muhammad, for six months straight used to pass by the door of Fatimah whenever he left for fajr prayers and said, "it is time for salat, of family of the house (Ahel al biat)! 'Surely Allah desires to remove all imperfection from you, of family of the house, and purify you completely.'"[iii][viii][14]

Most, but not all Shi'a believe that these A'immah to be the divinely chosen leaders of the Muslim community.[1][10]:13–17 This is based on the hadith, "People of the Cloak", where the Prophet referred to only Fatimah, Ali, Hasan, Hussain and Himself (stating that wives were not part of the Ahl al Bayt because they could be divorced and were no longer part of the household when their husband died), a hadith which many Sunni Muslims believe in. Collectively Muhammad, Fatimah, and the Twelve Imams are known as The Fourteen Infallibles.[16]

In Kitab al-Kafi, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir has narrated that there will be twelve Imams from the family of Muhammad, nine from the family of Husayn ibn Ali, the last being Al-Qa'im, and they will be spoken to by angels.[17]


Muslims accord Muhammad's household a special status and venerate it.[18] This is derived from verses in the Qur'an and hadith which stipulate love towards Muhammad's relatives – though in some cases interpretations differ, an example being: "Say: "No reward do I ask of you for this except the love of those near of kin."[ix] According to classical exegete al-Tabarani (873–970 CE) the verse most likely refers to Muslim believers related by blood ties. Another interpretation adopted by Shia applies the verse to the ahl al-bayt; while another view interprets the verse as commanding love for relatives in general. The latter view is favored by contemporary academic scholar Madelung.[10]:13

Sharia (Islamic law) prohibits the administration of sadaqah ('charity') or zakat ('tax') to Muhammad's kin (including the Banu Hashim), as Muhammad forbade this income for himself and his family.[19] The explanation given by jurists is that these alms are considered the defilements of the people, who offer them to purify themselves from sin, hence it would be unbecoming of the kin to handle or use them. Instead, they are accorded part of the spoils of war.[x][10]:14 Muslims in their daily prayers invoke blessings upon them by saying: "O God, bless Muhammad and his family." In many Muslim communities, high social status is attributed to people claiming to be blood-descendants of Muhammad's household, and are labeled sayyids or sharifs.[20]

Most Sunni Sufi circles (tariqah) trace their spiritual chain back to Muhammad through Ali.[21] In Shia thought, Muhammad's household is central to the religion. In one version of Muhammad's farewell sermon, he is represented as saying that God has given believers two safeguards: the Qur'an and his family; in other versions, the two safeguards are the Qur'an and his Sunnah (statements and actions of Muhammad). Popular Shia belief ascribes cosmological importance to the family in various texts, wherein it is said that God would not have created Jannah (heaven) and earth, paradise, Adam and Eve, or anything else was it not for them. The majority of Shia regard the heads of the family as divinely chosen Imams who are infallible and sinless.[1]

See alsoEdit


Primary (Quranic) citationsEdit

  1. ^ Quran 33:28–40
  2. ^ Quran 11:69–83
  3. ^ a b c Quran 33:33
  4. ^ Quran 11:73
  5. ^ Quran 42:23
  6. ^ Quran 33:32–34
  7. ^ al-Bahrani, Ghayat al-Marum, p. 126; al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, vol. V, p. 199; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al Musnad, vol. I, p. 331; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir, vol. I, p. 783; Ibn Hajar, Al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, p. 85
  8. ^ Sunan al-Tirmidhi vol. 2, sahih 902
  9. ^ Quran 42:23
  10. ^ "That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the townships, it is for Allah and His messenger and the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, that it become not a commodity between the rich among you." (Quran 59:7)

Secondary citationsEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ahl al-Bayt, Encyclopedia of Islam
  2. ^ Translation and Meaning of أهل almaany.com
  3. ^ Mufradat al-Qur'an by Raghib Isfahani; Qamus by Firoozabadi; Majm'a al-Bahrayn
  4. ^ Hadavi Tehrani, Ayatullah Mahdi (2014). Faith and Reason. ... ISBN 978-1-3126-1635-6.
  5. ^ Mc Aulliffe, Jame Dammen (2004). Encyclopedia of the Qur'an. 4, P-Sh. Brill. p. 48. ISBN 978-9-0041-2355-7.
  6. ^ a b Böwering, Gerhard; Patricia Crone; Wadad Kadi; Mahan Mirza; Muhammad Qasim Zaman; Devin J. Stewart (11 November 2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691134840. The term ahl al-bayt (the people of the house) is used in the Qur'an as a term of respect for wives, referring to Abraham's wife Sarah (Q. 11:73), for example, and to the Prophet Muhammad's wives, who are declared to be purified by divine act: "God's wish is to remove uncleanness from you" (Q. 33:32-33).
  7. ^ "The Ahlul Bayt". Al-Islam.org. Archived from the original on 31 July 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  8. ^ "The Quran Speaks About Ahlul Bayt".
  9. ^ "ĀL-E ʿABĀ". Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d e Madelung, Wilferd (1997). The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-64696-3.
  11. ^ Vaglieri, Laura Veccia. 2014. "Fāṭima." Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.), edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs. Leiden: Brill Online. Accessed 8 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Al-Quran Tafsir – Tafsir Ibn Kathir- Surah33.Al-Ahzab, Ayaat32To34 – Alim". alim.org. Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  13. ^ Sahih Muslim, 31:5955 (The last sentence of verse 33:33)
  14. ^ a b Quran 33:33
  15. ^ Tabari, Muhammad bin Jarir (1991). Jame al-Bayan Fi Tafsir al-Quran. 22. Beyrut: Dar al-Ma'rifah. p. 6.
  16. ^ "Who Are Ahlul-Bayt? Part 1". Al-Islam.org. 12 November 2013. Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  17. ^ Al-Kulayni, Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Ya’qub (2015). Kitab al-Kafi. South Huntington, NY: The Islamic Seminary Inc. ISBN 9780991430864.
  18. ^ al-Munajjid, Shaykh Muhammad. "What is the virtue of Ahl al-Bayt". islamqa.info. Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  19. ^ al-Munajjid, Shaykh Muhammad. "Ruling on giving zakaah to Ahl al-Bayt". islamqa.info. Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  20. ^ Ahl al-Bayt, Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim world.
  21. ^ "History of Khalifa Ali bin Abu Talib – Ali, The Father of Sufism – Section 1 – Islamic History – Alim". alim.org. Archived from the original on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 20 March 2018.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit