The other question concerns the exact meaning of “the household”. According to many traditions, we are told to refer to the household of the Prophet: “Ahlul Bayt” or “‘Itrah”. What do these terms refer to? There is no doubt about the status of the household of the Prophet in Islam, but there may be a need to investigate the referent of the term to see whether it includes anyone who was a relative of the Prophet or not. Of course, there is no doubt among Muslims that certainly Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet, Imam Ali, and their sons Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn are members of his household. The only concern is whether other relatives of the Prophet are included or not, and if so, to what extent.

Sunni Muslims believe that all relatives of the Prophet are included. Of course, they exclude those who did not embrace Islam, such as Abu Lahab, one of the uncles of the Prophet and at the same time one of his most hostile enemies who has been cursed in the Qur’an. Shi‘a Muslims believe that the Ahlul Bayt are those who have appropriate levels of faith and knowledge that make it possible for them to be mentioned along with the Qur’an in the tradition of the Thaqalayn and others. Moreover, they believe that the Prophet himself has clearly defined who the Ahlul Bayt are.

In what follows, I will mention some hadiths narrated in major Sunni sources:

  1. Muslim narrates from ‘Ayishah, Umm al-Mu’minin:

The Prophet went out wearing a black woollen cloak, when Hasan the son of Ali came to him, so the Prophet let Hasan come in with him under the cloak. Then Husayn came and he too entered. Then Fatimah came. She entered as well. Then \ Ali came. He also went under the cloak, such that the cloak covered the Prophet, Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn. Then the Prophet recited: ‘God only desires to keep away impurity from you, O People of the House! And to purify you a (thorough) purification’ (33:33).1

2. Muslim narrates from Sa‘d b. Abi Waqqas that he was asked by Mu‘awiyah why he refused to verbally abuse Ali. Sa‘d replied:

I remember three sayings of the Prophet about Ali which caused me not to say anything bad about him. If I possessed even one of these qualities it would be better for me than red camels.2 The first was that when the Prophet wanted to go to the war of Tabuk, he left Ali in Medina. Ali was very sad at not having the good fortune to join the army and fight for the sake of God. He went to the Prophet, saying: ‘Do you leave me with children and women?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Are you not happy to be to me as Aaron was to Moses, except that there will be no prophet after me?’ Second I heard from the Prophet on the day of conquest of Khaybar: ‘Certainly I will give the flag [of Islam] to a man that loves God and His Messenger and is loved by God and His Messenger’. We hoped to be given the flag, but the Prophet said: ‘Call Ali for me!’ Ali came while suffering from pain in his eyes. The Prophet gave him the flag and at his hands God granted us victory. Third when the verse of Mubahalah was revealed the Prophet called Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn and said: ‘My Lord! These are my household’.3

3. Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal narrates from Anas b. Malik that when the verse of tañhir (33:33) was revealed, for six months the Prophet used to call at the house of Ali and Fatimah every morning on his way to the mosque for the Dawn Prayer and say:

Prayer, O People of the House! ‘God only desires to keep away impurity from you, O People of the House! And to purify you a (thorough) purification’ (33:33).4

There are also traditions about the meaning of Qurbā (near ones) which has been mentioned several times in the Qur’an. For example, according to the Qur’an, the Prophet did not ask any payment in return for his teachings from the people. He only wanted the people to love his Qurbā for their own benefit. So who are the Qurbā? Zamakhshari, a great Sunni scholar and exegete of the Qur’an, says that when this verse was revealed, the Prophet was asked who is meant by this verse, and to whom all have to be respectful. The Prophet replied: “Ali, Fatimah and their two sons”.5


1 Sahih of Muslim, vol. 4, p. 1883, No. 2424. (Kitab Fada’il al-Sahabah,Bab Fada’il Ahlul Bayt, Sakhr serial no. 4450)

2 Red camels were considered very valuable at the time.

3 Sahih of Muslim, vol. 4, p. 1871, no. 2408. (Kitab Fada’il al-Sahabah, Sakhr serial No. 4420).

4 Musnad of Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, Sakhr serial no. 13231. See also Sunan of al-Tirmidhi, Sakhr serial no. 3130.

5 Al-Kashshaf by Zamakhshari, Commentary on the verse 42:23, vol. 4, p.220.

Discovering Shi’i Islam Mohammad Ali Shomali 9th Edition