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In 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) primarily refers to the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad,[i] and, to a lesser extent (according to Muslims), his ancestor Abraham.[ii] In Shia Islam, the Ahl al-Bayt are central to Islam and interpreters of the Quran. Shiites believe that they consist of Muhammad; 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). Twelvers also emphasize the Twelve Imams as Muhammad's descendants; other Shi'ites sects emphasize other descendants, such as Zayd ibn Ali (in the case of Zaidiyyah) and Isma'il ibn Ja'far (in the case of Isma'ilism).
In Sunni Islam, Muhammad's Ahl al-Bayt refers to Muhammad himself; his wives, 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. In certain traditions, the term may 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, the Banu Hashim.
The term ahl (Arabic: أهل) identifies the members of a man's household, including his fellow tribesmen, relatives and all those who share a family background, religion, housing, city and country with him. Bayt (ٱلْبَيْتِ) is a dwelling, tented or constructed, and may also be roughly translated as "household".
A person's ahl al-bayt refers politely to his family and all those who live in his house. Ahl al-Bayt is primarily used in its Quranic sense, in pre- and post-Islamic Arab society, to denote family and blood relatives and a tribe's noble "house".
According to the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, the Quran uses the phrase ahl al-bayt twice as a term of respect for wives: the first use[iii] refers to Muhammad's wives; the second[iv] refers to Sara, Abraham's wife. According to some interpretations, the Quran also implicitly refers to ahl al-bayt in Quran 42:23,[v] with the term al-qurbā.
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Who constitutes ahl al-bayt has been debated. According to the Islam Question and Answers website, ahl al-bayt means:
According to Al-Aḥzāb, Muhammad's wives are included as family:[iii] "Allah 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".
Consensus exists among Sunni and Shiite Muslims that the Ahl al-Kisa refers to Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn. The ahl al-bayt (Muhammad's household) is mentioned in a verse of the Quran:
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 definition of the phrase in this verse has been subject to a variety of interpretations. According to one tradition (in which Muhammad's companion Salman the Persian is included), it distinguishes muhajirun (emigrants from Mecca) from ansar (residents of Medinan who took them in). According to Sunni doctrine attributed to ibn 'Abbas and Ikrimah ibn Abi-Jahl (companions of Muhammad), the phrase includes his wives and dependents. This is supported by traditions, attributed to Muhammad, where he addresses each of his wives as Ahl al-Bayt.:15 Other members of the household include Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn; some versions of the tradition recognise Umm Salamah, a wife of Muhammad, as a part of the household. 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."
Laura Veccia Vaglieri writes in the Encyclopaedia of Islam:
[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 and other relatives of Muhammad, such as Aqeel, Ja'far, and al-Abbas. The early Islamic jurists Malik ibn Anas and Abū Ḥanīfa included the clan of Banu Hashim, and al-Shafi'i included the Banu Muharib.
According to Shia Islam, the household is limited to Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, Hasan, Husayn and their descendants (the Ahl al-Kisa). Wilferd 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.":14–15 Shiites regard devotion to them as essential to their religion, supporting this with a mentioned in the Sunni Ṣaḥīḥ hadith. According to a number of Sunni scholars, the Verse of Purification was revealed about 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)
The tradition about this hadith derives from several sources to Fatimah. She said that when her father visited her home with a fever, he asked for a Yemeni cloak which she folded around him. Hasan and Husayn joined him under the cloak, followed by Ali. Fatimah asked to join them, and Muhammad spoke the Quranic verse 33:33; they were the chosen ones, and he wanted God to protect them from najis. God sent Gabriel to tell Muhammad that the five under the cloak were the dearest and nearest to him, with no impurities.
The Twelver and Ismaili branches of Shia Islam differ about the imamate. Twelvers believe in the Twelve Imams, and Ismailis believe that the descendants of Isma'il ibn Jafar (rather than his brother, Musa al-Kadhim) inherited the Imamate.
According to Anas ibn Malik, Muhammad passed Fatimah's home for six months when he left for fajr prayers and said: "It is time for salah. Surely Allah desires to remove all imperfection from you and your family".[iii][viii] Most Shiites believe that the imamate are the divinely-chosen leaders of the Muslim community.:13–17 Sunni Muslims believe in the Ahl al-Kisa: Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, Hasan and Husayn; wives were not included, because they could be divorced and were no longer part of the household when their husband died. Muhammad, Fatimah, and the Twelve Imams are known as the Fourteen Infallibles. In the Twelver Kitab al-Kafi, Muhammad al-Baqir wrote that there will be twelve imams from the family of Muhammad and nine from the family of Husayn; the last will be al-Qa'im Al Muhammad.
Muslims venerate Muhammad's household. This is derived from Quranic verses and hadith which stipulate love of Muhammad's relatives: "Say: "No reward do I ask of you for this except the love of those near of kin."[ix] According to al-Tabarani (873–970 CE), the verse probably refers to Muslim believers related by blood. A Shiite interpretation applies the verse to the ahl al-bayt, but another view interprets the verse as commanding love for relatives in general. The latter view is favored by the contemporary scholar Madelung.:13
Sharia (Islamic law) prohibits the imposition of sadaqah (charity) or zakat (tax) on Muhammad's kin (including the Banu Hashim), since Muhammad forbade this income for himself and his family. These alms are considered defilements of the people who offer them to purify themselves of sin, and the kin should not handle (or use) them. Instead, they are given part of the spoils of war.[x]:14 In their daily prayers, Muslims invoke blessings upon them: "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; they are called sayyids or sharifs.
Most Sufi tariqah trace their spiritual chain to Muhammad through Ali. Muhammad's household is central to Shia Islam. In one version of Muhammad's Farewell Sermon, he says that God has given believers two safeguards: the Qur'an and his family. In other versions, the two safeguards are the Quran and Muhammad's sunnah. Shiites ascribe cosmological importance to the family in various texts, where it is said that God would not have created Jannah (heaven) and earth, paradise, Adam and Eve, or anything else if it were not for them. Most Shiites regard the heads of the family as divinely-chosen imams who are infallible and sinless.
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 (Q11:73), 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" (Q33:32-33).