Who are the Ahlul Bayt?: Shia Perspective 

3rd October 2015

The Shia consider the Ahlul Bayt as being in exclusive reference to five individuals namely the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter lady Fatima, his son in law Ali ibn Abi Talib, and his two grandchildren Hasan & Hussain. The Centre of Muslim Studies convened to discuss the Shia perspective on who the Ahlul Bayt are presented by Shaykh Abu Jafar.
Shia Presentation
Premising the argument around the Quranic verse 33:33, and drawing from Shia and Sunni narrations, Shaykh Abu Jafar concluded that the Ahlul Bayt as a specific term includes exclusively the five above named individuals who are also to be considered infallible in accordance with the verse.

Quoting the narration of the cloak (Ḥadīth al-Kisāʾ)[1] , the Shaykh elucidated how Fatima, Ali, Hassan, and Hussain gathered under the blanket with the Prophet and how Umm Salama requested to join them, however the Prophet precluded her from doing so but consoled her mentioning that ‘you are on the right’[2]. He then went on to make a prayer for them, resulting in the verse being revealed “Indeed Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household (Ahlul Bayt), and purify you with a thorough purification[3]. This verse in its entirety starts off with talking about the wives of the Prophet and the pronouns are in the feminine plural form, however the pronouns change to masculine plural form when talking about the Ahlul Bayt. According to Shaykh Abu Jafar, this disparity in the pronouns highlights the possibility of the second part of the verse i.e., the part in reference to the Ahlul Bayt, being revealed separately to the first part which would make it consistent with the narration of the cloak for the reason of revelation. Based on the exclusion of Umm Salama in the above narration, and the changing of pronouns in the verse from feminine to masculine, the Shia conclude that the wives of the Prophet are excluded from the Ahlul Bayt and the term is specifically referring to afore mentioned five individuals. (A Sunni argument in response to this is that the changing of pronouns is a common phenomenon in the Quran – a more detailed discussion on the Sunni perspective can be found here). Furthermore, according to the Shaykh, narrations in Sunni books that include the wives of the Prophet as part of the Ahlul Bayt all stem from ‘Ikrimah Abū ‘Abdillāh who is considered a liar by some Sunni scholars[4] and hence cannot be relied on. In addition to who the Ahlul Bayt were, the Shaykh went on to expound on the verse which also details the infallibility of the Ahlul Bayt in the Shia view as “Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household (Ahlul Bayt).”[3]

Discussion

Following the presentation further deliberations were made around the verse 33:33 and the possibility of including the wives of the Prophet. Some of the Shia scholars including the presenter acknowledged that term Ahlul Bayt can have utilisation in a general form which would allow inclusion of the wives of the Prophet and some companions of the Prophet such as Salman who is mentioned to be from the Ahlul Bayt according to some narrations[5]. Following on from this point of discussion was the insulting of the wives of the Prophet by some Shia. Whilst it was acknowledged there may be extremist (ghulāṭ) influences on certain strands of Shi’ism in insulting the wives of the Prophet, the mainstream scholars such as Ayatollah Sistani and Khamenei have called for respecting the wives of the Prophets as mothers of the believers.

Footnotes
[1] Sahih Muslim 2424 (https://sunnah.com/muslim:2424).

[2] See Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Vol. 1, Book 46, Hadith 3871.

[3] Quran 33:33

[4] See Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Ḍuʿafāʾ wa-l-matrūkūn.

[5] Referring to the narrations such as “Salman is from us the Ahlul Bayt” see Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Bihar al-Anwar (22:329) n.d. Dar al-Ihya Turath (Beirut).

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