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Ahl al-Bayt (Arabic: أهل البيت, Persian: اهلِ بیت) is a phrase meaning, literally, "People of the House" or "Family of the House". Within the Islamic tradition, the term refers to the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
In Shia Islam the Ahl al-Bayt are central to Islam and interpreters of the Quran and Sunnah. Shias believe they are successors of Muhammad and consist of Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, Hasan, and Husayn (known collectively as the Ahl al-Kisa, "people of the mantle") and the Imams, the so-called Fourteen Infallibles. There are differing opinions on the scope and importance of Ahl al-Bayt.
In Sunni Islam, Muhammad's household refers to Muhammad himself; his wives and daughters, including Fatimah; his cousin and son-in-law Ali; and their two children, Hasan ibn Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, and all the descendants of Muhammad. Sometimes the descendants of his paternal uncles, Abu Talib and al-‘Abbas are included as well. Some Sunnis consider only the family up until Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali to be members of the Ahl al-Bayt. Bayt. The Ummayad Caliph, Muawiyah I, was the one to oppose Ali, member of the Ahlul Bayt, and cousin and brother in law to Muhammad. Following Muawiyah I's rule, his successor and offspring, Yazid I, would be the one to murder Muhammad's grandson Husayn bin Ali during the Battle of Karbala.
The term Ahl 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. It is derived from the Semitic root A-H-L, and is etymologically related to the Hebrew word "Ohel" (אהל) which literally translates as "tent".
Bayt refers to habitation and dwelling, whether tented or built, from the Semitic root B-Y-T, or "house", and a cognate of Hebrew "Beyth" (בית). It can also be roughly translated as "household". The Ahl-Al-Bayt of a person refers to his family members and all those who live in his house. Ahlul Bayt is the polite form of addressing the members and wife of the family.
In the Qur'an
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There has been much debate concerning which people constitute Ahl al-Bayt. 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:
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.
The precise definition of the term 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 term includes the wives and dependants of Muhammad, as it addresses them in the preceding verse - an interpretation which is attributed to `Abd Allah 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. 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, "[t]he current orthodox view is based on a harmonizing opinion, according to which the term ahl bayt includes the ahl al-ʿabāʾ, i.e. the Prophet, ʿAlī, Fāṭima, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥussain, together with the wives of the Prophet." According to Laura Veccia Vaglieri in Encyclopaedia of Islam "there 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-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 ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib|al-Abbas. 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.
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. Madelung writes that "[t]his 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." Shias view these individuals as infallible and sinless Imams and regard devotion to them as an essential part of the religion.
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.
'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)
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 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 the permission to enter that cloak. When all five of them joined together under the cloak, Muhammad narrated the Qur'anic verse 33:33 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.
The Twelver and Ismaili branches of Shia Islam differ in regards to the line of Imamate. While the Twelver believe 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.'" From surah Al Ahzab 33, verse 33, Sunan al-Tirmidhi- Vol. 2 sahih 902
Most, but not all Shi'a believe that these A'immah to be the divinely chosen leaders of the Muslim community. 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.
Muslims accord Muhammad's household a special status and venerate it. 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". According to classical exegete al-Tabarani (260–360 AH / 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.
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. 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. 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 labelled sayyids or sharifs.
Most Sunni Sufi circles (tariqah) trace their spiritual chain back to Muhammad through Ali. 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 were it not for them. The majority of Shia regard the heads of the family as divinely chosen Imams who are infallible and sinless.
- Family tree of Muhammad
- Family tree of Shaiba ibn Hashim
- Bani Shaiba
- Banu Hashim
- Banu Quraysh
- Banu Kinanah
- Desposyni, a Christian analogue referring to the brothers of Jesus
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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).
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- Quran 33:32–34
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- Madelung (1997) pp. 14-15
- 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 p.85
- Sahih Muslim, 31:5955
- Quran 33:33
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- Quran 42:23
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- A verse in the Qur'an reads: "That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the townships, it is for Allah and His messenger and for 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)
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