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Ahl al-Bayt (Arabic: أهل البيت) is an Arabic phrase literally meaning People of the House, or family of the House. The phrase "ahl al-bayt" (or "ahlul bayt") was used in Arabia before the advent of Islam to refer to one's clan, and would be adopted by the ruling family of a tribe. Within the Islamic tradition, the term refers to the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Ahl al-Bayt are particularly important to Shia Muslims because Shias generally derive their hadiths from the Ahl-al-Bayt and their close associates.
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. 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 and Husayn ibn Ali. Other Sunnis include all Muhammad's descendants and sometimes the descendants of his paternal uncles, Abu Talib and al-‘Abbas. In Sunni and Shia thought, every Muslim has the obligation to love the Ahl al-Bayt.
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.
"Bayt" refers to habitation and dwelling, including tents and buildings both. It can also be roughly translated as a household. The "Ahl-Al-Bayt" of any 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 Verse 33:33 of the Holy Quran, there is a change to masculinity of the Arabic text 'ankom' which symbolises the 'Ahlul Bayt', it is also believed, that as this specific verse came down, it was when the prophet Muhammed had been sitting with the members of Ahlul Bayt ( Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussein). According to some interpretations, the Qur'an also implicitly refers to Ahl al-Bayt in 42:23 using the term al-qurbā.
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There has been much debate concerning who Ahl al- Bayt consists of. 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."
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 The Fourteen Infallibles.
Muhammad's household is venerated by Muslims, who attach to them a special status. 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.
The Ahl al-Kisa together with the Imams make up the Shia definition of Ahl al-Bayt. Ahl al-Bayt are seen as divinely appointed individuals and teachers of the Islamic faith after Muhammad.