Chapter 2: The Ahlul Bayt
The Ahlul Bayt (The Prophet’s Household)
The phrase Ahlul Bayt, or “people of the household”, refers only to certain members of the Prophet’s family. The wives of the Prophet (S) are excluded from the Ahlul Bayt. How do we know this?
It is narrated in Sahih Muslim that Yazid ibn Hayyan reports from Zayd (a companion of the Holy Prophet), who said: “One day Allah’s Messenger (S) stood up to deliver a sermon at a watering place known as Khumm situated between Makkah and Madinah. He praised Allah, extolled Him and delivered the sermon and exhorted (us) and said: “O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger (the angel of death) from my Lord and I, in response to Allah’s call, (I bid farewell to you), but I am leaving amongst you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it… The second are the members of my household and I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family.”
He (Husayn) said to Zayd: Who are the members of his household? Aren’t his wives the members of his family? Thereupon Zayd said: His wives are the members of his family (but here) the members of his family are those for whom acceptance of Zakat (alms and charity) is forbidden.” [Book No.31, Hadith no.5920]
In another version of the same tradition (hadith), narrated by Sahih Bukhari:
Zayd says to the Holy Prophet (S): “Who are amongst the members of the household? Aren’t the wives (of the Holy Prophet) included amongst the members of his household?”
The Prophet (S) replied: No, by Allah, a woman lives with a man (as his wife) for a certain period; if he then divorces her and she goes back to her parents and to her people; the members of his household include his ownself and his kith and kin (who are related to him by blood) and for whom the acceptance of Zakat (charity) is prohibited. [Book No.31, Hadith no.5923]
The mention of divorce here is important – not because divorce is a “good thing” or something to be encouraged but because, the Holy Qur’an, in Surah Al Tahrim,
Allah warns two trouble-making wives of the Prophet with divorce: “If he [Muhammad] divorces you, Allah may give him instead wives better than you…(66:4-5)”
In Volume 6 of the English translation of Sahih Bukhari, Umar ibn Khattab says it was Aisha bint Abu Bakr and Umar’s own daughter Hafsa who were the wives referred to in the the afore-mentioned Qur’anic verses.
The Prophet (S) again and again, in the traditions of the Ahlul Sunnah, identifies the Ahlul Bayt as being five people: himself, his daughter Fatima, her husband, Ali ibn Abu Talib, and Hasan and Husayn, the two grandsons of the Prophet. Not just at Ghadeer Khumm or on the Day of Mubahela, when he takes only those four members of his family with him, but on the day the verse, or ayat, of “tathir” (purification) itself was revealed. [Surah Al Ahzab Ch.33: V 33]
It is important here to note that both Sahih Muslim and Sunan Tirmidhi, as well as many other leading Sunni books, confirm this Shia view.
In Sahih Muslim, there is a chapter named “Chapter of Virtues of the Companions”. This chapter includes, “Section of the Virtues of the Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet”. There exists only one tradition in this section, (hadith number 5955), and this tradition contains no reference to the wives of the Prophet (S).
The tradition is known as “The Tradition of the Cloak” or “Mantle” (Hadith al-Kisa), and is narrated by Aisha bint Abu Bakr, wife of the Prophet, as follows:
One day the Prophet (S) came out in the afternoon wearing a black cloak (upper garment or long coat), then al-Hasan ibn Ali came and the Prophet accommodated him under the cloak, then al-Husayn came and entered the cloak, then Fatima came and the Prophet entered her under the cloak, then Ali came and the Prophet entered him to the cloak as well. Then the Prophet recited: “Verily Allah intends to keep off from you every kind of uncleanness O People of the House (Ahlul Bayt), and purify you with perfect purification” (33: 33) [the last sentence of Verse 33 in Chapter Al-Ahzab].
Note that it is Aisha, the wife of the Prophet (S) (and daughter of the first Sunni caliph Abu Bakr) who is the narrator of the above tradition, and she herself is testifying that the Ahlul Bayt are the above-mentioned individuals, and do not include any wives, even her.
Another version of this famous “Tradition of the Cloak” is contained in Sunan Tirmidhi, which is narrated on the authority of Umar ibn Abu Salama, the son of Umm Salama (another wife of Prophet):
The verse “Verily Allah intends to ...” Ch.33:V33 [Surah Al Ahzab] was revealed to the Prophet (S) in the house of Umm Salama. Upon that, the Prophet gathered Fatima, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn, and covered them with a cloak, and he also covered Ali who was behind him. Then the Prophet said: “O’ Allah! These are the members of my House (Ahlul Bayt). Keep them away from every impurity and purify them with a perfect purification”.
“Umm Salama (the wife of Prophet) asked: “Am I also included among them, O Apostle of Allah?” the Prophet replied: “You remain in your position and you are toward a good ending.”
The above verse in Ch.33:V33 [Sura Al Ahzab] known as Ayat of Tathir is very important. It does not refer to the wives of the Prophet, though it appears in a section of verses in which the wives are being discussed.
Those who understand Arabic know that the Holy Qur’an changes subject all the time from verse to verse; also, the gender changes, from feminine to masculine, which refers to a mixed group. It definitely doesn’t refer to wives only (as even the Sunni commentator on, and translator of, the Holy Qur’an Abdullah Yusuf Ali admits in his footnote on this verse).
It is also worth mentioning that the Prophet (S) did not say: “These are among the members of my House”. He said: “These are the members of my House”. Also note that Umm Salama who is one of the virtuous wives of the Prophet, is the narrator of the tradition to her son and the one who bears witness as to who the Ahlul Bayt are.
The wording of the tradition as narrated by Sunni scholar Imam al-Hakim in volume 2 of his al-Mustadrak makes it quite clear: Umm Salama said: “O Prophet of Allah! Am I not one of the members of your family?” The Holy Prophet replied: “You have a good future but only these are the members of my family. O Lord! The members of my family are more deserving.”
Question 12: The Prophet said “I leave two things - the Holy Qur’an and my Sunnah”. Why not follow them, rather than the Ahlul Bayt?
It is a common misconception amongst the Ahlul Sunnah that the Prophet (S) said we should follow the “Holy Qur’an and Sunnah” – especially in his final sermon.
As mentioned earlier, Sahih Muslim in his narration in Book No.31, Hadith No.5920 is very clear in what the Holy Prophet (S) said: I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it.. . The second are the members of my household I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family.
The hadith about the “Holy Qur’an and Sunnah” appears in other Ahlul Sunnah books, for example al-Mustadrak (on the authority of Abu Hurayrah) but not in the Sihah Sittah, the six authentic books, of which the two most authentic for the Ahlul Sunnah are Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. And yet, in Sahih Muslim, as we have seen, it clearly states that two things, the two weighty matters, are the Holy Qur’an and the Ahlul Bayt, the Prophet’s household.
In Sunan Tirmidhi it says the “two shall not separate from one another until they return to me at the Pool of Paradise”. Even if we accept that the Holy Prophet (S) referred to Holy Qur’an and his Sunnah – who knew the Prophet’s life, his “sunnah”, better than anyone else? His family and his household, of course. Those people, like Ali (as) and Fatima (as) who were with him from the beginning of his mission; from the revelation of the Holy Qur’an to the boycott in the valley of Abu Talib, to the Battles of Badr, Ohud and Khaybar, to the event of Mubahela and the day of Ghadeer Khumm.
Remember: Shias are those Muslims who follow the Holy Qur’an and Ahlul Bayt, as instructed by the Holy Prophet (S) of Islam. Shias do not take one and reject the other; it is a complete package from Allah (SwT) via His Messenger.
Most Sunni Muslims refer to the person who lead the congregational prayers (salah) in the local mosque as the “imam”. But the word Imam is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an in a number of places and it is worth pondering over some of these verses.
The Holy Qur’an states: “Yawma naduu kulla unaasim- bi-Imaamihim.”
“And remember that on the Day of Judgement we will call together all human beings with their respective Imams.” (17:71) [Surah Bani Israel].
“With their respective Imams!” Not with their parents, not with their Prophets, not with their holy books, but with their Imams. That is what the Holy Qur’an says: “with their respective imams”. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, however, translates the above verse, verse 71, as, “… we will call them together with their Holy books”. However, the verse states “be- imaamihim” not “be-kitaabihim”.
The 12th verse of chapter 36 of the Holy Qur’an in Surah Ya Sin, Allah (SwT) says:
“Verily it is We who bring the dead to life and keep record of what they have sent forward and left behind; and everything of importance has been vested in the clarifying Imam, the Imam mun Mubeen.” (36:12)
This verse shows the divinely-mandated importance of the person who is the Imam; it’s about much more than just filling a community role and leading the congregational prayers!
Verse 124 of Surah Baqarah, second chapter (surah) Allah (SwT) says:
“And remember when the Lord tried Ibrahim (Abraham) with certain words and he fulfilled them; the Lord said: “Verily I make you an Imam for mankind”. (2:124)
Imam is a very holy title, a very holy post, or position, explicitly referred to in the Holy Qur’an by Allah (SwT) Himself. Ibrahim (as) in fact, becomes a prophet first and then an imam; and the the title of imam is bestowed upon him by Allah (SW) after he is “tried” and tested.
The reference to the 12 Imams is included in the following books:
Narrated by Jabir ibn Samura: I heard the Prophet (S) saying, “There will be twelve Muslim rulers (who will rule all the Islamic world).” He then said a sentence which I did not hear. My father said, “All of them (those rulers) will be from Quraysh.” [Sahih Bukhari, Book No.89, Hadith No.329]
“It has been reported on the authority of Jabir ibn Samura who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (SwT) say: The affairs of the people will continue to be conducted (well) as long as they are governed by twelve men. Then the Holy Prophet said words which were obscure to me. I asked my father: What did the Messenger of Allah (SwT) say? He said: All of the (twelve men) will be from the Quraysh.”
And also: “It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir ibn Samura who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (SwT) say: Islam will continue to be triumphant until there have been twelve caliphs. Then the Holy Prophet (S) said something which I could not understand. I asked my father: What did he say? He said: He has said that all of them (twelve caliphs) will be from the Quraysh.” Eight different versions of this hadith are narrated in Sahih Muslim: Book 20, hadith numbers 4477 to 4484.
In fact, there are also countless such traditions (ahadith), referring to twelve caliphs or successors, contained in many other Ahlul Sunnah books – Sunan Tirmidhi, Sunan Abu Dawud, Musnad of Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal, and Kanz al-Ummal.
Then there is the Old Testament of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, which refers to God speaking to Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim).
“…as for (your son) Ishmael, I have heard you (your prayers): I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.” [Genesis, 17:17-21]
These twelve rulers are often interpreted as being the twelve sons of Ishmael, but even classical Ahlul Sunnah scholars like Allama ibn Kathir (whose reference books are best sellers in Saudi Arabia) say it relates to the Holy Prophet’s progeny.
Ibn Kathir quotes the Sunni scholar, and forefather of the Wahhabis, Ibn Taymiyah as saying: “And these are the same, regarding whom the Prophet (S) has given the glad tidings in the tradition of Jabir ibn Samura and stated their number; indeed this is with regard to the Imams and the Hour will not come till they last.”
Indeed Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as), the fifth Shia Imam, once said: “We are the remnant of [that] progeny. And that was the prayer of Ibrahim (as) regarding us.”
First of all, these traditions (ahadith) are contained in the leading books of Ahlul Sunnah scholars. Hence, the burden of proof is on Ahlul Sunnah to say who they are, unless Muslims wish to question the prophesy of the Holy Prophet (S)! So, who are they?
There is no definite or conclusive response in any of the Ahlul Sunnah books.
Ibn Arabi, for example, goes through all of the Ummayad and Abbasid caliphs and concludes: “I cannot understand the meaning of this hadith.”
Ibn Hajar Asqalani, a leading Ahlul Sunnah scholar and biographer, says: “No one has much knowledge about this particular hadith of Sahih Bukhari.”
Hafiz Jalaluddin as Suyuti (a famous Egyptian scholar and Sunni commentator on the Holy Qur’an) has explained as follows: “We see that from the twelve, four are the Righteous Caliphs, then Hasan, then Mu’awiyah, then Ibn Zubayr, and finally Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz. They are eight. Four of them remain.”
So where are the 12 names he needs? Suyuti pulls together eight names and then just starts guessing and speculating, in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to get to 12, as per the prophesy of the Prophet (S).
Shias have our 12 Imams and know who the 12 are, by name and lineage.
Some scholars of the Ahlul Sunnah have backed the Shias belief in their 12 Imams.
Shaykh Suleman ibn Ibrahim al-Hanafi al-Qandozi states in his book Yanabi al-Mawaddah:
A Jewish man named Na’thal, went to the Prophet (S) and said: Every Jewish Prophet left a successor, who is your successor? The Prophet said, specifying them, “After me, Ali ibn Abu Talib and then my two sons, Hasan and Husayn and after Husayn, nine Imams will follow from his children.”
“The Jewish man said, ‘Name them.’
“The Prophet said, ‘When Husayn leaves this world, his son, Ali, and after him, his child Muhammad and after Muhammad, his son Ja’far and after Ja’far, his son Musa and after Musa, his son Ali and after Ali, Muhammad. After Muhammad, his child, Ali and after Ali, Hasan and after Hasan, his child Muhammad al-Mahdi. These are the twelve Imams.”
The Shia belief in the Mahdi (as) is not some unorthodox, unconventional, alien or mystical unIslamic belief. Although, many of the Ahlul Sunnah brethren do not know about it or talk about it, all of the three Abrahamic faiths, including Islam (Sunni and Shia), believe in the concept of a messiah, or one who shall return.
In fact, traditions in the Sihah Sittah, the six authentic books of Ahlul Sunnah comfirm this point.
Sunan Tirmidhi narrates that the Prophet said, “The world will not come to pass until a man from among my family, whose name will be my name, rules over the Arabs.”
Sunan Abu Dawood: “Even if only a day remains for the day of Judgement (Qiyamah) to come, yet Allah (SwT) will surely send a man from my family who will fill this world with such justice and fairness, just as it initially was filled with oppression.”
Sunan Ibn Maajah is specific and states: “The promised Mahdi will be among my family.”
Sunan Abu Dawood is even more specific: “The promised Mahdi will be among my progeny, among the descendants of Fatima.”
The only real or substantive difference between the Shia Mahdi and the Sunni Mahdi is that the Shias believe that the Mahdi is already born, already alive but, in occultation (or “ghaybat”), while Sunni Muslims believe the Mahdi is still to be born.
In fact, the Ahlul Sunnah scholars narrate that not only will there be this Mahdi, but he will be different to the Messiah, to Prophet Jesus (Isa), who will also return. It is narrated in Sahih Muslim, the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal and other Sunni books that Prophet Jesus will pray behind the Mahdi. Is it any wonder why the Shias hold their Imams in such high regard?
Shias are often criticised for believing in an Imam or leader who was a young boy – Imam Mahdi (as), after all, was still a small child when his father, the 11th Shia Imam, Hasan al-Askari (as), was martyred and passed away. The critics claim that such a young Imam would not have the mental capacity to lead the Muslims and be an infallible guide for mankind.
Why the objection to a brilliant or genius or special child? In the west, child prodigies are accepted and some common examples (accessible via Wikipedia!) include:
• Blaise Pascal (from France) who had mastered Euclidean maths at age 11.
• Jeremy Bentham was fluent in Latin at age of 3.
• John Stewart Mill had a command of Greek at the age of 3.
• Ruth Lawrence entered Oxford in the 1980s at the age of 11 to study maths.
• Kim Ung-Yong, from South Korea, attended university Physics courses at the age of 4 and had obtained a PhD in Physics by the age of 15.
• Akrit Jaswal from India was reading Shakespeare aged 5 and carried out a medical operation aged 7
• Sayid Mohammed Husayn Tabatabai, the Shia prodigy, could recite 60 verses of chapter 30 of the Holy Qur’an at the age of 2. At the age of 5, he could recite the Qur’an from memory (hafidh); and obtained a PhD from Coventry University at the age of 7.
These are all verifiable facts - so why are Shias questioned on the divinely-appointed child prodigy, Imam Mahdi (as)? No one says that child achievements are impossible or that child prodigies do not exist. Right?
Why not use the Holy Qur’an as evidence? The following verses very clearly confirm a child can be guided by God: Ch.19: V12 [Surah Maryam]: Allah (SwT) says, about Prophet Yahya, (John the Baptist):
“We gave him wisdom and judgment while still a child.”(19:12)
John the Baptist, at least, was a child but what about Prophet Isa (Jesus) who as a baby spoke from the cradle? The Holy Qur’an, describes the birth of Jesus:
“O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!” But she pointed to the baby. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” (19: 28-34) [Surah Maryam].
Jesus said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet. . . .And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again).”
So youth, childhood, even babyhood, is no barrier to receiving revelation or inspiration from Allah (SwT).
In fact, a number of Shia Imams were very young when they became Imams. The 4th and 11th Shia Imams were in their early twenties, and the 9th and 10th were of ages 7 and 8 respectively when they became Imams upon the deaths of their fathers.
Question 18: How can Imam Mahdi (as), the 12th Shia Imam, still be alive today? How can he be more than 1,000 years old?
Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is nothing in science, which precludes or negates the possibility of such a long life. Human beings are getting older and older – according to Britain’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), in 1911: 100 people lived to be over the age of 100 yet in 2007, 9,000 people lived to be over 100!
Dying might be inevitable and unavoidable but ageing isn’t – it is a physical process which can be slowed down. One of the world’s leading experts in gerontology, former Cambridge University academic Aubrey de Grey has said: “I think the 1st person to live to 1,000 might be 60 already.”
Thus, the only difference between the Shias and Aubrey de Grey is that Shias believe that fist person to live to 1,000 is 1,000 already! He is the Imam of our time, the Imam Zamana, Imam Mahdi (as).
Muslims who criticise Shias for believing in an Imam who can live till 1,000 years of age should ponder over the verses of the Holy Qur’an.
The Holy Qur’an, after all, says Noah lived till almost a 1,000 years:
“Indeed, We sent Noah (Prophet Nuh) to his people, and he tarried among them a thousand years, all but fifty; so the Flood seized them, while they were evil doers.”(29:14) [Surah Ankabut].
The Holy Qur’an also states that Prophet Jesus did not die – but was raised to Heaven:
“That they said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ, Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of God’;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.” (4:157–158) [Surah Nisa].
So, Jesus is still alive and yet Sunni Muslims doubt the Shias for believing Imam Mahdi (as) is alive – despite the fact that Jesus would already have been a thousand years old when the occultation (ghaybat) of Imam Mahdi (as) began.
And then, of course, there’s the Devil: Satan or Shaitan, who was born before Prophet Adam and yet is still with us today; he is a Jinn who has not died. So what we are expected to believe is that Allah (SwT) allows Shaitan to live as long as he likes but Allah (SwT) cannot prolong the life of His representative, His caliphate on earth, Imam Mahdi (as)? This is nonsensical.
First, not seeing something does not mean it does not exist. Otherwise, how can we believe in the existence of God?
Then there are the angels and jinns. All Muslims believe in angels that they cannot see, like Gabriel (Jibraeel), the bringer of revelation to Muhammad (S). Or how about the Angel of Death? We believe in his existence but we cannot see him in this world.
Again, there’s Shaitan too. We cannot see the Devil but we not only believe in his existence but also believe that, despite his ‘invisibility’, he has the power to do us harm: to manipulate and trick us, to whisper in our ears, as the Holy Qur’an describes in the 114th and final surah of the Holy Qur’an, an-Nas.
Yet, when Shias say they believe in a positive force, a countervailing force, authorised by Allah (SwT), and that this force, this hidden Imam, is alive and available to Muslims as a spiritual (if not a physical) guide, they are accused of being mad, crazy, irrational, weird. Is this fair? Does this make any sense?
Also, it is worth remembering that the occultation or “ghaybat” does not change the status or importance of the 12th Imam, just as the Prophet (S) did not stop being the Prophet, nor did the Muslims stop believing in his prophethood, during the Prophet’s own enforced disappearance or ghaybat: that is, when the Prophet (S) was trapped in a cave for three days while on the way from Makkah to Madinah from during the Hijrah in 622 ad.
In Surah Najm, Chapter 53 of the Holy Qur’an, the first five verses state:
“By the Star when it sets, Your companion [the Prophet] does not err/wander, nor is he deceived, Nor does he speak out of his desire; It is no less than a revelation that is revealed. The Mighty in Power that has taught him.”(53: 1-5)
The above is very explicit and specific – it is nothing less than a revelation and he doesn’t speak out of his own desire. Allah (SwT) is vouching for Him in the Holy Qur’an, so who are we to say or believe otherwise?
Some Ahlul Sunnah scholars say the Prophet (S) was only infallible on religious issues and that in private he made mistakes. Some Ahlul Sunnah books say he forgot to pray on time, or perform correct wudhu (wash), etc, etc. But use your common sense: how would we know that Prophet (S) was giving us correct religious information if he was an ordinary, fallible man? Today, how can we be sure that, the morning prayer (Fajr) is three and not two units (rakaat)? If the Prophet (S) was fallible, maybe he made a mistake or misremembered when communicating the number of rakaat to his companions. The truth is that infallibility goes hand in hand with prophethood and with all forms of divinely-inspired religious leadership and guidance.
But there are other people, besides the Holy Prophet (S), who are also infallible. After all, what does Iblis or Shaitan say, as quoted in the Holy Qur’an,? In Surah Hijr, Ch.15:V 39-40: He said: “My Lord! Because Thou hast sent me astray, I verily shall adorn the path of error for them in the earth, and shall mislead them every one of them. Save such of them as are Thy perfectly devoted slaves.”
Aha! According to the Holy Qur’an, not only is the Prophet (S) protected from sin and error but there is a group of “perfectly devoted slaves” who even Shaitan admits he cannot mislead or trick. Who are they?
According to Sunni scholars Tirmidhi in his Sunan, ibn Hanbal in his al-Musnad and Hakin in his al-Mustadrak state:
“The Messenger of Allah (S), from the time the revelation of “Verily Allah intends to... (the last part of Ch.33:V33)” and for six months thereafter, stood by the door of the House of Fatima (as) (his daughter) and said: “Time for Prayer Ahlul Bayt; No doubt! Allah wishes to remove all abomination from you and make you pure and spotless.”
According to the companion and cousin of the Prophet, Abdullah ibn Abbas: “The Messenger of Allah recited “Verily Allah intends to keep off from you every kind of uncleanness O’ People of the House (Ahlul Bayt), and purify you a perfect purification”. . . and then the Messenger of Allah (SwT) said: “Thus Me and my Ahlul Bayt are clear from sins.” [al-Durr al-Mansur, by Hafiz Jalaluddin al- Suyuti, vol.5, under the commentary of Verse Ch.33:V33 of Holy Qur’an – Surah Al Ahzab]