Ahlul Bait (اهل البيت) is a term that is used in the Quran and hadith to refer to specific family members of the Prophet. The most famous verse of the Quran that is about the Ahlul Bait is the last part of verse 33 of surah Ahzab (سورة الاحزاب) that is known as the verse of purification or ṭaṭhīr (تَطهیر):
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا ﴿33﴾
Indeed Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and purify you with a thorough purification. 1
In this article, we will be discussing the following topics:
What Is the Meaning of Ahlul Bait?
The word ahl (اهل) literally means people and the word bait (بيت) means house. Therefore, Ahlul Bait literally means people of the house with its synonyms being household and progeny. The Ahlul Bait of the Prophet Muhammad (s) are specific family members of the Prophet (s) who are distinguished in terms of their piety and purity.
Therefore, not all members of the family of the Prophet are known as the Ahlul Bait in the specific sense, especially with respect to verse 33 of surah Ahzab of the Noble Quran, where Allah says how He has purified the household of the Prophet from every impurity.
Who are the Ahlul Bait According to the Quran and Narrations?
The Ahlul Bait of the Prophet that have been mentioned in the Quran pertain to five holy personalities. This is something that is agreed upon by all Muslim historians and Quranic exegetes. The last part of verse 33 of surah Ahzab was revealed following the event of Kisā’, meaning cloak. 2
This incident became a hadith that was narrated by Lady Fatimah and later reported through her by one of the Prophet’s prominent companions, Jabir ibn Abdullah Ansari (جابر ابن عبدالله الانصاری). In short, the Prophet, his two grandsons Hassan (حَسَن) and Hussain (حُسَين), his cousin and son-in-law Ali (علی), and his beloved daughter Fatimah (فاطمة) were gathered under the Prophet’s Yemeni cloak. Then the Prophet prayed to God to purify them, and the verse of purification was revealed, thus purifying those five individuals from any sin or impurity.
The Verse of Mubahalah
Another verse in the Quran that shows that the Ahlul Bait of the Prophet were five individuals is the verse of Mubahalah. A group of Christians debated with the Prophet and were not willing to accept the Prophet’s words. God told the Prophet to tell them that the parable of Jesus in the sight of God is like the parable of Adam whom He created without a mother nor father but from dust, and said be, and he was. However, they insisted, therefore, the verse of Mubahalah was revealed to the Prophet:
فَمَنْ حَاجَّكَ فِيهِ مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ فَقُلْ تَعَالَوْا نَدْعُ أَبْنَاءَنَا وَأَبْنَاءَكُمْ وَنِسَاءَنَا وَنِسَاءَكُمْ وَأَنفُسَنَا وَأَنفُسَكُمْ ثُمَّ نَبْتَهِلْ فَنَجْعَل لَّعْنَتَ اللَّـهِ عَلَى الْكَاذِبِينَ ﴿61﴾
Should anyone argue with you concerning him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say, ‘Come! Let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, our souls and your souls, then let us pray earnestly, and call down Allah’s curse upon the liars.’3
Quranic exegetes such as Zamakhshari (زمخشری), 4 Fakhr Razi (فخر الرازی), 5 and Bayḍāwī (بيضاوي) 6 have said that by “our sons” the verse means Hassan and Hussain, by “our women” it means Lady Fatimah, and by “our souls” it means Ali ibn Abi Talib. That is, the five individuals who came to the scene were the five holy infallibles which the verse of purification was revealed in their honor. When those Christians saw those illuminant faces, they yielded and the Prophet and his Ahlul Bait came out victorious. Those group of Christians ultimately agreed to pay the jizyah (جزية), or the special tax of religious minorities living in an Islamic state.
The Ahlul Bait in Narrations
The Ahlul Bait of the Prophet in narrations whom the Quran has said loving them is obligatory for every Muslim, and this love is the reward that the Prophet demands from us for his prophethood, are specific individuals who are infallible. They comprise the five holy infallibles who lived during the same time as the Prophet whom we talked about. Moreover, they comprise the 12 caliphs or Imams that the Prophet predicted would come and succeed him, all of them being from Quraysh (meaning from his own progeny) which we will discuss shortly.
Who Are the 12 Imams?
There is no doubt that the hadith that was mentioned is authentic as it has been narrated by different chains of narrations. The text of the hadith is as follows:
جَابِر بْنَ سَمُرَةَ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِی(ص)، یقُولُ: یکونُ اِثْنی عَشَرَ اَمیراً فَقالَ کلِمَهً لَمْ اَسْمَعْها، فَقالَ اَبی اِنَّهُ قالَ کلُّهُم مِنْ قُرَیشٍ
Jabir ibn Samurah (جابر ابن سَمُرة) narrates from the Noble Prophet as mentioned in Sahih Bukhari that his holiness said: There will be twelve emirs (امیر). Samurah said the Prophet said something that I did not hear. My father said that the Prophet said: All of them will be from Quraysh . 7
However, this hadith has unfortunately been removed from the newer editions of Sahih Bukhari. Nevertheless, the same hadith with a little different wording exists in Sahih Muslim where the word khalīfah (خَلیفَة) meaning caliph is used instead of emir. 8
What Are Their Names?
Another narration known as the hadith of Jabir (جابر) exists narrated from diverse sources. In this hadith, Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari asks the Prophet concerning the verse of Ul al-Amr (verse 59 of surah Nisa’ ). The Noble Prophet said: They are my successors and the Imams of Muslims after me, the first one of them is:
- Ali ibn Abi Talib (علي ابن ابی طالب) and after him:
- Hassan (الحسن)
- Hussain (الحسين)
- Ali ibn Hussain (علي ابن الحسين)
- Muhammad ibn Ali (محمد ابن علي) who is known as Baqir (باقِر) in the Torah and you will see him in your old age. If you see him, send my greetings to him. Then come:
- Ja‘far ibn Muhammad (جعفر ابن محمد)
- Musa ibn Ja‘far (موسی ابن جعفر)
- Ali ibn Musa (علي ابن موسی)
- Muhammad ibn Ali (محمد ابن علي)
- Ali ibn Muhammad (علي ابن محمد)
- Hassan ibn Ali (حسن ابن علي)
- And the last one is Hassan’s son whose name and title is the same as mine. He is the one who will go into occultation and his occultation will take a long time, such that only those with firm belief will still believe in him. 9
Prophet’s Sayings About the Ahlul Bait
The Noble Prophet of Islam had said many things about his household and told the Muslims to love them and not to bother them. For example, concerning his vicegerent and successor Ali ibn Abi Talib whom he had called his own soul, he had said:
أنا مدینة العلم و علی بابها فمن اراد العلم فلیأت الباب
I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate. So whoever seeks knowledge must enter through that gate. 10
The authenticity of this narration is unquestionable as it is mutawātir meaning the chain of narrators of this hadith is successive to such an extent that no one can deny it.
Prophet’s Saying About Fatimah
The Prophet had said many things about his beloved daughter Fatimah. She was the first to earn the Godly title of: Mistress of all the women of the worlds (سيدة نساء العالمين). The Prophet said to her:
أَلا ترضين أن تكوني سيدة نساء العالمين وسيدة نساء المؤمنين وسيدة نساء هذه الْأمة
Fatimah! Does it not make you happy that you are the mistress of all the women in the world and the mistress of the women of this ummah and the mistress of believing women? 11
His holiness had also said the following about Fatimah:
إنما فاطمة بضعة مني يؤذيني ما آذاها
Only Fatimah is a piece of my flesh, it harms me what harms her. 12
A different wording of the same hadith has been mentioned in another book of hadith:
فاطمة بضعة مني وأنا منها، فمن آذاها فقد آذاني، من آذاني فقد آذى الله
Fatimah is a piece of my flesh and I am from her, whoever harms her has harmed me, and whoever harms me has indeed harmed God. 13
All of these narrations show what a high station Lady Fatimah had and just how much the Prophet loved her. Therefore, we must also respect, revere, and honor her as she is the mother of eleven Imams and the wife of the first Imam according to the narration by the Prophet that we mentioned.
Prophet’s Saying About Hassan and Hussain
The Prophet had spoken many words about the five infallibles who were living with him. One of the most famous things he had said about Hassan and Hussain was:
الحسن و الحسين امامان قاما او قعدا
Hassan and Hussain are two Imams whether they stand (rise) or sit. 14
As a matter of fact, the Prophet prophesized and predicted what would happen to these two infallibles. By sitting, the Prophet meant that one of the two would forcibly sign a peace treaty and make a truce with his enemy, and by standing or rising he meant that one of the two would stage an uprising and stand against his enemy.
This is exactly what happened. Imam Hassan was forced to make peace with Mu‘āwiyah (مُعاوية) while Imam Hussain went to war with Mu‘āwiyah’s tyrannical son Yazid (يزيد). Therefore, this is also a sign of the veracity of their Imamate.
Prophet Muhammad had also said:
الحسن و الحسين سيدا شباب اهل الجنة
Hassan and Hussain are the masters of the youth of paradise. 15
This prophetic hadith shows the high status of his two grandsons, whom the Prophet himself had called his own sons as God had commanded him to do so when He revealed the verse of Mubahalah to him (see the heading verse of Mubahalah).
Hussain’s Special Status in the Eyes of the Prophet
The Prophet had said many things to his companions about Hussain; to take care that they do not harm him and love him. He had said:
حسین مني و أنا من حسين، أحبّ الله من أحبّ حسينا
Hussain is from me and I am from Hussain; God loves whoever loves Hussain. 16
Yet we all saw how innocently they martyred the Prophet’s beloved grandson at Karbala. However, Hussain’s station is very near to God as he is the Doyen of martyrs and God placed cure in the dust of Karbala, the place where he was martyred.
Ahlul Bait means the people of the house, specifically, the household of the Prophet. It is consensually popular that the Ahlul Bait refers to the five (5) close family members of the Prophet that were with him during the event of Kisa. Moreover, Ahlul Bait is often referred to the 12 Imams or the Caliphs from the descendants of the Holy Prophet. The Prophet has given a special value to his family on different occasions, specifically to Imam Ali (his cousin and son-in-law), Lady Fatimah (his daughter), Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain (his grandsons). In some cases, he has predicted the destiny of his Ahlul Bait.
- Quran 33:33 (Qara’i).
- Tirmidhi, Sunan Tirmidhi,1405 AH, vol. 5, p. 699.
- Quran 3:61 (Qara’i).
- Tafsīr al-Kashshāf, 1415 AH, under the commentary of verse 61 of surah Al-i ‘Imran.
- Al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr, 1405 AH, under the commentary of verse 61 of surah Al-i ‘Imran.
- Tafsīr Anwār al-Tanzīl wa Asrār al-Ta’wīl, 1429 AH, under the commentary of verse 61 of surah Al-i ‘Imran.
- Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari (صحیح البخاری), 1315 AH, vol. 8, p. 127.
- Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, hadith 1453.
- A‘lām al-Warā, 1417 AH, vol. 2, p. 182; Yanābī‘ al-Mawaddah, 1422 AH, vol. 3, pp. 398-399.
- Ḥākim Nishābūrī (حاکم نیشابوری), al-Mustadrak ‘alā al-Ṣaḥīḥayn (المستدرك علی الصحيحين), 1411 AH, vol. 3, p. 126.
- Al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn, vol. 3, p. 170, hadith 4740; Sahih Muslim, vol. 5, p. 57, hadith 99.
- Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, hadith 1903.
- ‘Ilal al-Sharā’i‘ (علل الشرائع), vol. 1, p. 219.
- Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, hadith 1451; ‘Ilal al-Sharā’i‘, vol. 1, p. 211.
- Ansāb al-Ashrāf, 1417 AH, vol. 3, p. 7; al-Irshād, 1413 AH, vol. 2, p. 27. Sahih Bukhari Kitāb al-Adab, vol. 1, p. 51, hadith 144.
- Sahih Bukhari Kitāb al-Adab, vol. 1, p. 51, hadith 144.