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Ahl al-Bayt (Arabic أهل البيت) is an Arabic phrase literally meaning People of the House, or family. The phrase "Ahl al-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 Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Muslims venerate Muhammad's household as it is given a special significance in the Qur'an, the Muslim holy scripture, and the Hadith, reports recording the words and actions of Muhammad.

There are differing interpretations over the scope and importance of Ahl al-Bayt. In Sunni Islam, Muhammad's household includes his wives, his daughter (Fatimah), her three children, as well as his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. Other interpretations include Muhammad's blood relatives, such as the Banu Hashim or the Banu Muttalib. In Sunni thought, every Muslim has the obligation to love the Ahl al-Bayt. In Twelver and Ismaili Shi'a Islam, the Ahl al-Bayt are central to Islam and are believed to be the true successors of Muhammad. The Shi'a definition of the phrase includes only Fatimah, Ali, Hasan and Husayn (known collectively as the Ahl al-Kisa, "people of the mantle") and the Imams, descendants of Fatimah who they consider to be divinely chosen leaders of the Muslim community.

Ahl al-Bayt family

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 (cf. Mufradat al-Qur'an by Raghib Isfahani; Qamus by Firoozabadi; Majm'a al-Bahrayn). Ahlul Bayt is the polite form of addressing the members and wife of the family.


Mention of the Ahl al-Bayt, Muhammad's household, is present in a verse of the Qur'an as follows:

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 muhajirin (Muslim emigrants from Mecca) and Ansar (Medinan converts to Islam). According to Sunni opinion, the term includes the wives and dependants of Muhammad, as it addresses them in the preceding verse - an interpretation which is attributed to Ibn Abbas and Ikrimah, both of whom were companions of Muhammad. This is supported 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 Hadith. Some versions of this tradition recognise Umm Salamah, a wife of Muhammad, as a part of the household. Thus, according to the Encyclopedia 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-Ḥusayn, together with the wives of the Prophet." Shias view these individuals as infallible and sinless Imams, and regard devotion to them as an essential part of the religion.

Islam prohibits the administration of sadaqa (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 Sufi circles (tariqas) trace their spiritual chain back to Muhammad through Ali. In Shi'a 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 heaven and earth, paradise, Adam and Eve, or anything else were it not for them. In Shia thought, therefore, the family has the same salvational function as Noah's Ark. The majority of Shia regard the heads of the family as infallible and sinless Imams who are Infallible and sinless.

List of Ahl al-Bayt according to Shia Islam

According to the Twelver and Ismaili Shi'a, the Ahl al-Bayt are in a state of ismah, meaning infallibility, and they have limitless understanding of the Qu'ran and Hadith. The Ahl al-Kisa together with the Imams make up the Shi'a definition of Ahl al-Bayt. Ahl al-Bayt are seen as divinely appointed individuals and teachers of the Islamic faith after Muhammad. The Zaidi Shi'a do not believe in the concept of ismah.

The Twelver and Ismaili branches of Shi'a 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 were the inheritors of the Imamate instead.

See also

External links

Shi'a Links:

Sunni links: