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Who are the Ahlul Bayt?
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Muslims unanimously agree that some of the Prophet’s relatives are excluded from the Ahlul Bayt, such as those who were disbelievers. However, current debates concern those who are left under the title. The Shi‘a agree that the Ahlul Bayt, because of their high status of being alongside the Qur’an, must be infallible, and that this group is a select group of the Prophet’s relatives. The Prophet himself clarified who the Ahlul Bayt are in many narrations (hadith). 

The Shi‘a agree that the Ahlul Bayt, because of their high status of being alongside the Qur’an, must be infallible, and that this group is a select group of the Prophet’s relatives. The Prophet himself clarified who the Ahlul Bayt are in many narrations (hadith).

In one narration, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Imam of the Hanbali school of thought, narrates from ‘Umar ibn Maymun:
We were sitting with Ibn Abbas. A group of nine people came.1 These people told Ibn Abbas, “We would like to discuss a confidential matter – either you tell these people to leave so that only you and us remain, or you come with us and we will go somewhere and discuss it.” Ibn Abbas went with them, afterwards returned, angry at those nine people who disparaged Imam Ali.
This narrator says that after his return, Ibn Abbas described the position of Imam Ali according to the Prophet. Ibn Abbas mentioned the conquest of Khaybar by Ali and the announcement of the revelation of the Chapter al-Tawbah (The Repentance) to the polytheists by Imam Ali.
Then he mentioned another event in which the Prophet addressed his cousins and asked, “Who among you is prepared to believe in me and follow me in this world and the hereafter?” All the cousins of the Prophet refused to give a positive response; there was only one positive answer, and that was from Imam Ali. This question was repeated once more in the same session and again no one said “Yes” except Imam Ali. The Prophet asked them one last time, “Who is prepared to follow me and to believe in me?” and again only Imam Ali gave a positive response. Finally, the Prophet said, addressing Imam Ali that, “You are my wali(guardian/successor) in this world and the hereafter.” Then Ibn Abbas said that Imam Ali was the first person to embrace Islam.
He mentioned all these merits of Imam Ali because he was angered with their spitefulness of the Imam. The other event that Ibn Abbas mentions is:
The Prophet once took his cloak and covered Fatimah, Ali, Hasan, and Husayn with it and recited the verse:

“… Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying.” 2

This hadith narrated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal mentions that this verse as well as the title Ahlul Bayt is only relevant to four unique people: Lady Fatimah, Imam Ali, Imam Hasan, and Imam Husayn.

Tirmidhi in his Sunan3 narrates from a person called ‘Umar ibn Abi Salamah4, the stepson of the Prophet, who reports from his mother:
The Prophet asked Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn to go under his cloak. He then said, ‘O God these are my household, remove all uncleanliness from them, and purify them a thorough purification.’ Then God revealed verse 33:335 to the Prophet.
Thus, it seems that the Prophet first prayed and then his request was granted. Umm Salamah said, “I was present and I asked the Prophet, ‘Am I one of your household?’ The Prophet said, ‘You have your own place, but you are not among the Ahlul Bayt.’”
Umm Salamah was a very pious lady and one of the wives of the prophet, but she was not included among the Ahlul Bayt. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal also narrates this in his Musnad.

Umm Salamah said, “I was present and I asked the Prophet, ‘Am I one of your household?’ The Prophet said, ‘You have your own place, but you are not among the Ahlul Bayt.’” Umm Salamah was a very pious lady and one of the wives of the prophet, but she was not included among the Ahlul Bayt.

Umm Salamah said, “I was present and I asked the Prophet, ‘Am I one of your household?’ The Prophet said, ‘You have your own place, but you are not among the Ahlul Bayt.’” Umm Salamah was a very pious lady and one of the wives of the prophet, but she was not included among the Ahlul Bayt.

Thus, it seems very clear who the Ahlul Bayt are. Sometimes instead of the term Ahlul Bayt other terms have been used such as ‘itrah and qurbai which both mean ‘near relatives.’ For example, Zamakhshari a Sunni scholar and author of a well-known commentary of the Qur’an called Al-Kashshaf says:
When the verse 23 of chapter ash-Shura (The Consultations) was revealed6 the Prophet was asked what is meant by qurba (near relatives), and the Prophet replied: “Ali, Fatimah, and their two sons.”
Zamakhshari a Sunni scholar and author of a well-known commentary of the Qur’an called Al-Kashshaf says: When the verse 23 of chapter ash-Shura (The Consultations) was revealed6 the Prophet was asked what is meant by qurba (near relatives), and the Prophet replied: “Ali, Fatimah, and their two sons.”

Zamakhshari a Sunni scholar and author of a well-known commentary of the Qur’an called Al-Kashshaf says: When the verse 23 of chapter ash-Shura (The Consultations) was revealed6 the Prophet was asked what is meant by qurba (near relatives), and the Prophet replied: “Ali, Fatimah, and their two sons.”

The result is that all Muslims must feel compelled to refer to the Ahlul Bayt to be able to understand Islam as it is, as it was revealed to the Prophet, and as was taught by him, and as it was left for them by the Prophet. The Shi‘a felt compelled to do this right from the beginning. As it is believed, Shi‘i Islam began with the Prophet himself, rather than being a belief that was founded after the Prophet. The Prophet himself asked people to believe in and love the Ahlul Bayt as those who will be responsible for presenting Islam after him. There are many hadiths in which the Prophet himself used the term Shi‘a for the followers of Ali, and sometimes instead of saying ‘your Shi‘a’ the Prophet said ‘our Shi‘a,’ because followers of Ali are indeed followers of the Prophet and it is because of his instructions that they follow Ali.

There are many hadiths in which the Prophet himself used the term Shi‘a for the followers of Ali, and sometimes instead of saying ‘your Shi‘a’ the Prophet said ‘our Shi‘a,’ because followers of Ali are indeed followers of the Prophet and it is because of his instructions that they follow Ali.

In addition to the hadith in which the expressions like “Ahlul Bayt” and “qurba” are applied to Imam Ali (as), Lady Fatimah (sa), Imam Hasan (as) and Imam Husayn (as), there are also hadiths that refer to twelve Imams and leaders and prove their authority. This set of hadiths can also shed light on who are meant by the “Ahlul Bayt.”

• 1. Ibn Abbas was the cousin of the Prophet (S) and Imam Ali (as), the son of Abbas the uncle of the Prophet. He was very knowledgeable and was respected by all Muslims. His commentaries on the Qur’an have been recently published in two volumes. When the Prophet (S) passed away he was very young and therefore he received most of his knowledge from Imam Ali.
2. إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
(33:33)
• 3. One of the six Sihah
• 4. Um Salama: One of the wives of the Prophet who bore Umar from her first husband, Abi Salama.
• 5. Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying. (33:33)
إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
• 6. “That is the good news Allah gives to His servants who have faith and do righteous deeds! Say, ‘I do not ask you any reward for it except love of [my] relatives. Whoever performs a good deed, We shall enhance for him its goodness. Indeed Allah is all-forgiving, all-appreciative’.” (42:23)
ذَٰلِكَ الَّذِي يُبَشِّرُ اللَّـهُ عِبَادَهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ  قُل لَّا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا إِلَّا الْمَوَدَّةَ فِي الْقُرْبَىٰ  وَمَن يَقْتَرِفْ حَسَنَةً نَّزِدْ لَهُ فِيهَا حُسْنًا  إِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ شَكُورٌ

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He whose ambition is lofty his value is heightened.