An In-Depth Analysis of the Verse of Tathir: Who are the Ahl al-Bayt? (Part 2)

Part 2: Answering Certain Contentions About the Verse of Purification

Given the theological implications of interpreting the verse as we have sought to do in the previous section, critics often raises several contentions that we believe are appropriate to address here. For this section of the analysis, I am again highly indebted to Sayyid al-‘Āmilī’s excellent work on the topic whereby he examines several prominent counterarguments against the interpretation we have adopted and dismantles them all through insightful critique. We have divided the most common contentions into the categories below, although there are a number of others that he addresses in his book. The advanced reader would benefit from reviewing this material to further enhance the content covered.

Contention #1—The Problem of Context: It Doesn’t Support this View

Some claim that understanding the address as referring to another party that excludes the wives is contrived. They state that the context of the verse before and after the verse of purification is clearly talking about the wives; why put a portion of a verse talking about the Holy Five exclusively suddenly smack in the middle of this context? Furthermore, they claim that this type of speech is reprehensible because it goes against the style and dictates of Qur’ānic eloquence; they argue that suddenly going on tangents in the middle of a passage results in disharmony in the text and necessitates deficiencies in God’s book.


We state in response to this contender first off that the apparent context within the verses of the Qur’ān is by default a strong indicator of unity in meaning and certainly ought to have probative force in understanding the Qur’ān. However, as espoused by the tafsīr methodology of ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī and Āyatullāh Ja’far Subḥānī,[1] when two conditions are met, the apparent context should not play a role in understanding the verse:

  1. When the style of the verse changes suddenly and there is no apparent link between the portion of the verses that come before and come after.[2] This can best be demonstrated by removing the portion of the verse in the middle and seeing if it renders any difference in terms of the meaning. The reader will observe that if the verse of purification is removed from amidst the reproach of the wives between verses 33-34 of Sūrah Aḥzāb, there is absolutely no change in the meaning and the passage remains a complete idea. This is on top of the fact that there are clear contextual indicators within the verse that suggest the address is to a group other than the wives, as we had shown earlier. Yet another example of the phenomenon of a drastic change in verse style can be seen in Sūrah al-Mā’idah verse 3 known as the verse of ikmāl al-dīn, wherein the discussion about the completion of religion comes amidst a discussion about the rules for meat:

حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَا أَكَلَ السَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ وَأَن تَسْتَقْسِمُوا بِالْأَزْلَامِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ ۗ الْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَاخْشَوْنِ ۚ الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا ۚ فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ فِي مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍ لِّإِثْمٍ ۙ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“Forbidden to you is carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked, and the animal that has been strangled, or beaten to death, or killed by a fall, or gored to death, or savaged by a beast of prey, save that which you [yourselves] may have slaughtered while it was still alive; and [forbidden to you is] all that has been slaughtered on idolatrous altars. And [you are forbidden] to seek to learn through divination what the future may hold in store for you: this is sinful conduct. Today, those who are bent on denying the truth have lost all hope of [your ever forsaking] your religion: do not, then, hold them in awe, but stand in awe of Me! Today have I perfected your religious law for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto Me shall be your religion. As for him, however, who is driven [to what is forbidden] by dire necessity and not by an inclination to sinning -behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace” (Sūrah Mā’idah verse 3)

It will be noted by the reader that should the bolded text be removed from within the verse, it would remain a complete idea; therefore, understanding this middle segment within the verse should not be dictated by its context, as there is a clear change in the style and content of the address.

  1. When there are clear riwāyāt from the cause for revelation (sabab al-nuzūl) corpus that reveal the portion of the verse was revealed in isolation and not together with the other portions of the verse. This is because the Qur’ān was revealed to the Prophet in a piecemeal fashion, so it is entirely possible (mumkin) for a specific segment to have been revealed while being disconnected from the context that we now find it in. When there are further riwāyāt that support this contention, one can make a case that this actually happened (wuqū’). Taking this in a practical light, this applies in the case of the verse of taṭhīr, for the riwāyāt indicate that it was specifically revealed for the Holy Five without being linked to the rest of 33:33. In fact there are further riwāyāt that indicate the entire passage of Sūrah al-Aḥzāb  verses 29-33 that is censuring the wives was revealed on a completely separate occasion, as recorded by Tabarī in his tafsīr:

قال ابن زيد، في قول الله: تُرْجِي مَنْ تَشَاءُ مِنْهُنَّ وَتُؤْوِي إِلَيْكَ مَنْ تَشَاءُ الآية، قال: كان أزواجه قد تغايرن على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، فهجرهنّ شهرا، نـزل التخيير من الله له فيهنّ(يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لأزْوَاجِكَ إِنْ كُنْتُنَّ تُرِدْنَ الحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا وَزِينَتَهَا) فقرأ حتى بلغ وَلا تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ الأُولَى فخيرهنّ بين أن يخترن أن يخلي سبيلهن ويسرّحهنّ، وبين أن يقمن إن أردْن الله ورسوله على أنهنّ أمَّهات المؤمنين، لا ينكحن أبدا

“(‘Abd al-Raḥmān) ibn Zayd said in reference to the words of God: “You may defer whomever of them (your wives) that you wish and beckon whomever of the that you wish” (33:51) that the wives of the Prophet had a disagreement with the Prophet (sawa) and thus he alienated himself from them for a month. Then the verse of takhyīr was revealed from God about them, “Oh Prophet say to your wives that if they desire this world and its glitter…” and he read until he reached the point, “and don’t flaunt yourselves like the flaunting of Jāhiliyyah” (verses 29-33). Therefore, he gave them the choice between dispatching them and releasing them from matrimony or remaining with him if they desire God and his Apostle—all the while bearing in mind that they are the Mothers of the Believers and cannot ever get married (again).”[3]

Another excellent example of this is the verse of ikmāl al-dīn that we referenced before, regarding which there are copious narrations from both Sunnī and Shī’ah sources that this portion of the verse was revealed separately and disjointly from the discussion about forbidden meat.[4]

Therefore, the apparent textual context does not always carry probative significance, especially when both internal and external contextual clues (al-qarā’in al-khārijiyyah wa al-dākhiliyyah) refute this.[5] However, this does not imply that the Qur’ān has been arranged disharmoniously or that these portions of the verse have been placed against the dictates of wisdom. Rather, as we discussed previously, the placement of the verse of purification specifically amidst the rebuke of the wives accentuates the degree of purity that the Ahl al-Bayt attained, while also establishing a stark contrast that disqualifies the wives’ inclusion amidst this exclusive group. Secondly, the message of the verse matches entirely with the general theme of Sūrah al-Aḥzāb, which is to protect the Prophet’s dignity and rebuke the hypocrites who seek to malign him.[6]

Another point in the Divine wisdom of why the verse of taṭhīr was placed amidst rebuke of the wives is noted by Āyatullāh Ja’far Subḥānī:

التاريخ يطلعنا بصفحات طويلة على موقف قريش وغيرهم من أهل البيت عليهم السلام، فإن مرجل الحسد ما زال يغلي والاتجاهات السلبية ضدهم كانت كالشمس في رابعة النهار، فاقتضت الحكمة الإلهية أن تجعل الآية في ثنايا الآيات المتعلقة بنساء النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم من أجل تخفيف الحساسية ضد أهل البيت، وإن كانت الحقيقة لا تخفى على من نظر إليها بعين صحيحة، وأن الآية تهدف إلى جماعة أخرى غير نساء النبي صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم كما بيناه قبل قليل

“History tells us across the span of its many pages about the stance of the Quraysh and others in reference to the Ahl al-Bayt (as). Their kettle of jealously did not cease to boil and the negative views the Quraysh had about them are as clear as the Sun on a blazing day. Therefore, the Divine wisdom dictated that this verse should be placed amidst verses talking about the wives of the Holy Prophet (sawa) in order to mitigate the sensitivity that others had about the Ahl al-Bayt. However, the truth remains clear to one who look at it with a discerning eye: that the verse is meant for a different group than the wives of the Prophet (sawa), as we have just elucidated.”[7]

This same argument has been advanced in reference to other verses as well; given that there was a palpable resistance against the Ahl al-Bayt ascending to caliphate after the Prophet (sawa), the placement of these verses in this context accentuated their import while also protecting them from the hands of textual tampering (al-taḥrīf). There are also some Shī’ah scholars who have suggested that the verses of the Qur’ān were arranged at the time of ‘Uthmān and were placed in the locations that they are now due to the ijtihād of the companions.[8] However, this view is quite radical as it completely dismantles the probative force of the Qur’ānic context in totality, which is unanimously accepted by the orthodox of all sects; a more detailed discussion on this point can be found in the work of Sayyid al-‘Āmilī.[9]

Finally, regarding the point of view that understanding the verse in the matter that we have expounded contradicts the dictates of eloquence: in fact, this particular rhetorical style known as digression (al-istiṭrād) is employed amply in the Qur’ān where the pronouns are changed and the addressees change in turn. Consider the following verse which highly resembles the verse of taṭhīr and shows that this type of parenthetical digression is common in Qur’ānic parlance; notice that the first half of the verse is addressed specifically to the Prophet, but then the pronouns and style of address change suddenly to reference the believers:

إِنَّآ أَرْسَلْنَٰكَ شَٰهِداً وَمُبَشِّراً وَنَذِيراً  لِّتُؤْمِنُواْ بِٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتُعَزِّرُوهُ وَتُوَقِّرُوهُ وَتُسَبِّحُوهُ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلاً

“Indeed, we have sent you (Oh Prophet) as a witness, a bringer of good news, and a warner—in order that you (oh believers) believe in God and His Messenger, and support him (the Prophet), and respect him (the Prophet), and glorify Him (God) by morning and by evening.”[10]

It should also be said that this reality of the Qur’ān not necessarily being congruent with its apparent context has been alluded to in many narrations from the Imāms of Ahl al-Bayt (as):

عن جابر قال: قال أبو عبد الله (عليه السلام): يا جابر! إن للقرآن بطنا وللبطن ظهرا، وليس شئ أبعد من عقول الرجال منه، إن الآية لينزل أولها في شئ وأوسطها في شئ، وآخرها في شئ، وهو كلام متصرف على وجوه.

It has been narrated by Jābir (al-Ju’fī) on the authority of Abū ‘Abdillāh Imām al-Ṣādiq (as): “Oh Jābir! The Qur’ān has an inner meaning, while the inner meaning has a superficial (reading). There is nothing further from the intellects of men than it (the Qur’ān). Indeed, the beginning of the verse is regarding one thing, its middle about something (else), and its end about something (else); all the while, it is a (unified) speech amenable to multiple imports.”[11]

Contention #2—The Verse Subsumes all of Banū Hāshim

As we had discussed in the previous sections, the view of Zayd ibn Arqam was that Ahl al-Bayt subsumes all the relatives of the Prophet and not just the Holy Five. This is a contention that has also been raised by some by taking the word “al-bayt” in Ahl al-Bayt to refer to the Ka’bah, referencing how the word “al-bayt” is used in other places in the Qur’ān. Given that the Banū Hāshim were the caretakers of the Ka’bah and the Holy Sanctuary (al-Masjid al-Ḥarām), they posit that the verse subsumes all of Banū Hāshim. Even further, some rely on verse 34 of Sūrah al-Anfāl to suggest that “Ahl al-Bayt” is a general term which subsumes the muttaqūn (i.e., those imbued with God-consciousness).[12]

The view of Zayd ibn Arqam needs to be contextualized properly: firsly, in the narrations from Zayd he is not being asked about the meaning of “Ahl al-Bayt” in the verse of purification but rather about its meaning in Hadīth al-Thaqalayn. Therefore, it does not necessarily follow that his wider definition of the term “Ahl al-Bayt” applies equally to the specific use of the term in āyah al-taṭhīr. As we discussed before, in the verse of purification, the word “al-bayt” implies the house of Prophethood or the house in which the Holy Five had been in when the verse was revealed, and thus is much more specific than the meaning of “the house of kinship.” Secondly, this should be understood as a form of ijtihad from Zayd, as it is not narrated directly from the Holy Prophet; therefore, this portion of his statement does not hold water when compared to the clear textual proofs (nuṣūṣ) from the Holy Prophet that “Ahl al-Bayt” is limited to the Holy Five. If this view on the import of Ahl al-Bayt was correct, the Holy Prophet would certainly have included the family of ‘Abbās, ‘Aqīl, and Ja’far under the cloak with him.

Regarding the interpretation of “al-bayt” here as the Holy Ka’bah, this is a far-fetched interpretation because firstly there are no contextual clues within the verse to suggest this meaning of “al-bayt” and secondly there are no Prophetic narrations that support this interpretation of “ahl al-bayt.” Just because the word “al-bayt” is used in the Qur’ān to refer to the Ka’bah in other verses does not mean that it means the same in other contexts.

Some further general remarks on the implausibility of this interpretation are also warranted:

  1. As we discussed in our analysis of the syntax of the verse, the wording specifically substantiates infallibility; therefore, it follows that its referents cannot be Banū Hāshim as a whole since there were clear disbelievers and sinners among them. Otherwise, the likes of Abū Lahab would also be subsumed in the import of the verse.
  2. It is unclear how a series of specific prescriptions upon the wives has any relevance to the purification of all believers or to all of Banū Hāshim in general. Furthermore, the exclusivization inherent in the syntax of the verse would be rendered futile (laghwī) if “Ahl al-Bayt” in this verse should refer to the muttaqūn in general. More concretely, it would be like God telling the believers, “I am only prescribing these specific commands on the wives to especially remove filth from you and purify you completely, oh people of God-consciousness!” We hope it is clear how nebulous an interpretation this is.

Contention #3—This Verse Does Not Prove Infallibility

Others come forward and state that this verse has nothing to do with infallibility and should not be understood in this way; they advance several counterarguments as below:

  1. They allude to several verses in the Qur’ān that discuss purification in a manner that resembles the verse of taṭhīr, specifically referring to the believers in general or the companions at Badr. The verses they reference are as follows:

مَا يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍۢ وَلَكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُۥ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

“…God does not want to impose any hardship on you, but wants to make you pure, and to bestow upon you the full measure of His blessings, so that you might have cause to be grateful” (Sūrah Mā’idah verse 6)

‏إِذْ يُغَشِّيكُمُ ٱلنُّعَاسَ أَمَنَةًۭ مِّنْهُ وَيُنَزِّلُ عَلَيْكُم مِّنَ ٱلسَّمَآءِ مَآءًۭ لِّيُطَهِّرَكُم بِهِۦ وَيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمْ رِجْزَ ٱلشَّيْطَنِ وَلِيَرْبِطَ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتَ بِهِ ٱلْأَقْدَامَ ‎

“[Remember how it was] when He caused inner calm to enfold you, as an assurance from Him, and sent down upon you water from the skies, so that He might purify you thereby and free you from Satan’s unclean whisperings and strengthen your hearts and thus make firm your steps” (Sūrah al-Anfāl verse 11)

Therefore, they state that since the verses of the Qur’ān that speak about purification in the case of the companions are understood in an ordinary manner, then the purification as expounded in the verse of purification also should be understood in an ordinary way. In short, there is no reason why the verse should be taken to imply infallibility.

  1. They state that the verse uses the muḍāri’ form “yurīdu” which only applies to the present and future; therefore, this means that the Ahl al-Bayt only became protected from sins in a time-limited way when God’s ordinance dictated it.
  2. Some like al-Ālūsī propose that the verse is conditional (fī quwwah al-sharṭiyyah) and means: “Oh wives of the Prophet, God only prescribed these ordinances so that if you follow them, God will remove all filth from you and completely purify you.”
  3. Purification from sins must by necessity imply an exposure to sins first; otherwise, purification becomes meaningless and tautological (taḥṣīl al-ḥāṣil).


We will answer these questions in order respectively as follows:

1. The verses in question (Sūrah 5:6 and Sūrah 8:11) are specifically addressed in reference to the rules of ritual ablution and rain befalling the companions after the battle of Badr to remove their external filth. There is nothing in the context of those passages which suggests purification from moral and spiritual vices; in contrast, the verses surrounding the verse of purification are expounding the ethical obligations that behoove the wives of a Prophet. Furthermore, there is a stark contrast in the categorical phraseology negating uncleanliness and affirming purification seen in Sūrah 33:33 (such as the use of lām al-istighrāq in al-rijs and the use of al-maf’ūl al-muṭlaq), as we have already elucidated in the syntactical discussion.

Even further, the various statements made by the Holy Five and the Imāms of Ahl al-Bayt indicate that this verse was taken as a merit that affirmed their infallibility and candidacy to lead the Muslim ummah. We add here two other riwāyāt narrated from the Holy Prophet (sawa) from Sunnī sources:

عن ابن عباس قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم إن الله قسم الخلق قسمين، فجعلني في خيرهما قسماً. فذلك قوله { وأصحاب اليمين } [الواقعة: 27] و { أصحاب الشمال } [الواقعة: 41] فأنا من أصحاب اليمين، وأنا خير أصحاب اليمين، ثم جعل القسمين أثلاثاً، فجعلني في خيرها ثلثاً، فذلك قوله { وأصحاب الميمنة ما أصحاب الميمنة وأصحاب المشأمة ما أصحاب المشأمة والسابقون } [الواقعة: 8 – 10] فأنا من السابقين، وأنا خير السابقين، ثم جعل الأثلاث قبائل، فجعلني في خيرها قبيلة، وذلك قوله { وجعلناكم شعوباً وقبائل لتعارفوا إن أكرمكم عند الله أتقاكم } [الحجرات: 13] وأنا أتقى ولد آدم، وأكرمهم على الله تعالى ولا فخر. ثم جعل القبائل بيوتاً، فجعلني في خيرها بيتاً، فذلك قوله { إنما يريد الله ليذهب عنكم الرجس أهل البيت ويطهركم تطهيراً } فأنا وأهل بيتي مطهرون من الذنوب

Ibn ‘Abbās narrated from the Holy Prophet (sawa): “Indeed, God divided creation into two groups and made me in the better of the two; these are the words of God “And the companions of the right hand…” (Al-Wāqi’ah: 27) and “The companions of the left hand” (Al-Wāqi’ah: 41). Therefore, I am from the companions of the right hand—rather I am the best of them. Then God divided the two groups into thirds and placed me in the best third; those are the words of God, “And the companions of the right how blessed they are; and the companions of the left how wretched they are; and the foremost…” (Al-Wāqi’ah: 8-10). Therefore I am among the foremost, rather I am the best of the foremost. Then God divided these thirds into tribes and made me in the best tribe; those are the words of God, “…and we made you into tribes and nations that you may recognize one another; the most noble of you with God is the most God-fearing” (Al-Ḥujurāt: 13). I am the best of the sons of Adam and the most noble of them with God, without boast. Then he made these tribes into houses and made me in the best of houses, and those are the words of God, “God only ordains thereby to purge all filth from you, oh Ahl al-Bayt, and completely purify you.” Therefore, I and my Ahl al-Bayt are purified from all sins.”

عن قتادة رضي الله عنه في قوله { إنما يريد الله ليذهب عنكم الرجس أهل البيت ويطهركم تطهيراً } قال: هم أهل بيت طهرهم الله من السوء، واختصهم برحمته قال: وحدث الضحاك بن مزاحم رضي الله عنه، أن نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كان يقول ” نحن أهل بيت طهرهم الله من شجرة النبوة، وموضع الرسالة، ومختلف الملائكة، وبيت الرحمة، ومعدن العلم

On the authority of Qutādah in reference to His (God’s) words: “God only ordains thereby to purge all filth from you, oh Ahl al-Bayt, and completely purify you.” He states: “They are a Prophetic household that God has purified from evil and specified for His mercy.” He (then) said, “Al-Ḍaḥḥāk ibn Muzāḥim narrated that the Prophet (sawa) used to say: “We are a Prophetic Household that God has purified: from the Tree of Prophethood, the Locus of Messengership, the Conflux of the Angels, the House of Mercy, and the Source of Knowledge.[13]

In light of the above, it becomes clear that both ‘aqlī and naqlī sources support the thesis that the verse is specifically referencing the Ahl al-Bayt being categorically protected from all filth and purified from all sins.

2. Arguing that the irādah of God is a time-limited phenomenon given it is in the present tense is clear ignorance in reference to the usage of this word in the Qur’ānic context. Rather, it is often the case that the present-tense is used with a past tense significance to imply permanence and renewed consistency (al-istimrāriyyah).[14] Secondly, if the word irādah here implies purification only for a temporary period of time, the specialization (al-khuṣūṣiyyah) of the entire verse becomes futile (laghwī); for every person is purified from sins for some period of time in their lives. Therefore, what is the distinction of the Ahl al-Bayt in their being purified from filth for a temporary period of time when every other person also shares in this attribute? Furthermore, in the ḥadīth quoted from ibn ‘Abbās on the authority of the Holy Prophet (see point 1), the Prophet (sawa) did not say “I and my Ahl al-Bayt will/shall be purified from sins.” He states this as a binding attribute of the Ahl al-Bayt which refutes the time-dependent nature of the irādah.

3. The conditional nature of this verse is untenable because of the points we have already discussed above. As Tabātabā’ī states in his tafsīr, if the meaning here is simply, “Oh Ahl al-Bayt you will be purified if you follow the commands God has laid out for you,” then the meritorious and exclusive nature of the verse is entirely undermined; for every Muslim, in addition to the Ahl al-Bayt, attains to a degree of relative purity through following God’s commands.

4. The verse of purification, by the admission of nearly all commentators, includes the Holy Prophet (sawa). In this context, stating that the verse implies purity only after being touched by filth first would imply that the Prophet can commit sins and this would negate his infallibility. If someone were to dare to question the Prophet’s infallibility, however, Imāms Ḥasan and Ḥusayn are included in the import of the verse and were children at the time of the Incident of the Cloak; therefore, they were indubitably unsullied by sin by virtue of their not having reached the age of maturity at the time of revelation.

Furthermore, this type of reasoning, although seemingly logical, falls flat on its face when compared to other verses of the Qur’ān; for instance, consider the following verses:

رَسُولٌ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ يَتْلُواْ صُحُفًا مُّطَهَّرَةً

“A messenger from God, reciting purified pages.”[15]

كَذَٰلِكَ لِنَصْرِفَ عَنْهُ ٱلسُّوٓءَ وَٱلْفَحْشَآءَ

“…by that it was that We repelled from him all evil and debauchery…”[16]

وَلَهُمْ فِيهَا أَزْوَاجٌ مُّطَهَّرَةٌ وَهُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ

“…and they will have therein purified wives and will reside therein forever.”[17]

Therefore, if this assumption were true, it would necessitate that the angelic scrolls upon which scripture is written were unclean before becoming purified. It would imply also that Yūsuf, who is clearly identified as preserving himself away from all temptation from Zulaykha, was a filthy individual before God warded off evil and debauchery from him (may God protect us from such abomination)! It would imply that the heavenly maidens of Paradise had been unclean and were then rendered pure afterwards.

Rather, it becomes clear that proposing the necessity of filthiness before purity is only a type of conceptual abstraction, not grounded in reality. Rather, in this context, purging filth (al-rijs) from the Ahl al-Bayt has the following meanings (tawjīhāt), away from any notion that they were contaminated prior with sins:

1. What is being negated by the verse is the very possibility (al-iḥtimāl) or conception (al-wahm) of filth ever sullying the Ahl al-Bayt’s sacred personalities.

2. This refers to them being immune from the whispers of Shayṭān, given that Satan promises to deviate all except God’s chosen servants.[18]

3. Al-rijs has also been defined in some narrations as well in the Qur’ān as doubts about the religion of God; therefore the reference of removing filth and purification could refer to this in particular.

4. Rather than being a reference to impurity itself, this is a reference to the causes/factors that serve as a preamble to impurity and God’s wrath (asbāb al-rijs).[19]

Contention #4—The Verse is Actually about the Wives and Ḥadīth al-Kisā’ Is Just A Miṣdāq

This contention is particularly interesting and clever, having been proposed by several prominent Sunnī commentators including Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Ālūsī, Shāh Waliullāh Dehlavī, and ‘Adnān Ibrāhīm.[20] They state that:

1. If the verse of taṭhīr was clearly revealed about the Holy Five, then there would have been no need for the Prophet (sawa) to put them under the cloak in the first place and then beseech God for their purification. They state that the Prophet refused to let Umm Salamah (and his other wives) enter under the cloak with the Ahl al-Bayt not because they were excluded; rather it was because they were already included by default, so putting them under the cloak would have been like asking God for something that had already been granted (taḥṣīl al-ḥāṣil) which goes against the etiquettes of supplication to God.

2. They also utilize a famous rule in uṣūl al-fiqh known as العبرة بعموم اللفظ لا بخصوص السبب (“the import is based on the generality of the expression and not the specific circumstance of revelation”). In other words, they state that even though the verse of purification was revealed specifically for the Holy Five, this does not mean that it does not also refer to the wives, especially since the word “ahl” may conventionally subsume the wives of a man. They further reference the narrations of ‘Ikrimah and Muqātil bin Sulaymān to suggest that including the wives in the import of the verse has precedent in the early generations of Muslims.


Given that these are in fact two separate contentions, we will address them respectively as follows:

1. The first argument is completely dismantled by bearing in mind the following points:

2. As per many ḥadīth, the verse of taṭhīr was revealed as a response to the Prophet’s supplication for the Holy Five; if there was even a shred of evidence that the cause of revelation for this verse was an event other than the Ḥadīth of the Cloak, this contention may have a leg to stand on. However, the ḥadīth literature is completely clear about this issue.[21] Therefore, there is no evidence that the cause of revelation subsumed the wives.

3. Why would Umm Salamah ask if she was part of the Ahl al-Bayt if this was already a foregone conclusion? In fact, Umm Salamah’s inquiry about her inclusion proves that the term “Ahl al-Bayt” was not already understood to subsume her; otherwise, her even asking this question becomes futile. Furthermore, if the wives were already included in the term “Ahl al-Bayt,” then why didn’t the Prophet say that in the ḥadīth? Instead, the Holy Prophet (sawa) in nearly all the narrations stated that she was righteous without affirming her inclusion.[22]

4. Asking God for something that has already been granted is not vain or futile (taḥṣīl al-ḥāṣil); otherwise, the Prophet’s recitation of Sūrah al-Fātiḥah wherein one beseeches God to “guide us to The Straight Path” should also become meaningless, given he is the foremost on God’s guidance! Therefore, the Holy Prophet’s supplication for the Holy Five is merely to request continued Divine Providence upon them (al-istimrāriyyah) and there is nothing futile about it. As the traditions affirm, there is nothing futile about supplicating to God, even for things which are taken for granted.[23] Therefore, the question of why the Prophet did not allow his wives under the cloak remains a powerful counterargument against this claim.

5. In reference to the second contention that based on the principle العبرة بعموم اللفظ لا بخصوص السبب , the wives ought to be included in the term Ahl al-Bayt while the Holy Five are just a specialized miṣdāq (application of the verse), we call the reader’s attention to the following critical points:

6. The application of this principle as espoused in uṣūl al-fiqh requires that the wording under consideration should be general and not specific. This critical point has been expounded beautifully by the Shāfi’ī jurist Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī as follows:

يجب أن يتنبه للفرق بين دلالة السياق والقرائن على تخصيص العام وعلى مراد المتكلم وبين ورود العام على سبب، ولا تجري مجرى واحد فإن مجرد ورود العام على سبب لا يخصصه، وأما السياق والقرائن [فإنها] الدالة على المراد

“It is necessary to pay attention to the difference between (a) how context and textual indicators specialize a general import, thereby specifying the intention of the speaker, and (b) a general statement narrated for a certain event (sabab). These are not governed by a single rule; for a general statement narrated during a certain event does not necessarily specify it. However, context and textual indicators certainly lead one to the specifically intended import.”[24]

Bearing this in mind, we turn to the verse of purification. As we previously discussed, there are in fact several contextual indications within the verse that the term “Ahl al-Bayt” is specific and reserved for a very meritorious group, not of a general import (please refer the syntactical discussion). Therefore, the application of this generally accepted principle is not appropriate, as it is fallacious to characterize the verse of purification as bearing a general import in the first place.

7. As per the Ḥadīth of the Cloak, the Prophet already issued a glaring disqualification to his wives’ being part of the Ahl al-Bayt. This naqlī evidence does takhṣīṣ (specification) of the term and hence negates the notion that the term “Ahl al-Bayt” refers to the Prophet’s relatives or wives generally.

8. The very akhbār that this group uses to include the wives in the Prophet narrated by ‘Ikrimah and Muqātil ibn Sulaymān invalidate their argument, because these individuals claimed that the verse of purification was specifically revealed for the wives and was not of a general import at all. Furthermore, it is well-established that ‘Ikrimah was a Khārijite and that Muqātil ibn Sulayman was known to be a liar.[25] In fact, the existence of these hateful individuals, who viewed the verse as excluded the Holy Five, implies a recognition that the verse indeed carries dangerous theological implications for them; this is especially considering how ‘Ikrimah would challenge others to a mubāhalah (mutual imprecation), claiming that the verse of purification was specific to the wives of the Prophet exclusively. Why would an individual like ‘Ikrimah issue a challenge of this stature for a verse that carries no theological significance whatsoever?!

Contention #5—The Actions of the Wives Have No Bearing on the Prophetic Household

The next contention attacks at the very premise we set to establish in interpreting the verse. Namely, this camp counterargues that the actions of the wives of the Prophet should not have any bearing on the purification of the Holy Five; they state that every person is responsible for his/her own deeds and quote the verses in the Qur’ān which clearly state that “no person shall bear the sins of another.”[26] Therefore, they state, God rebuking the wives to preserve the integrity of the Ahl al-Bayt is not logical because the Ahl al-Bayt are not affected by sins of the wives. In turn, they posit that this is a very contrived and unsavory way to interpret this verse.


From its very outset, this argument falls on its face since it fails to explain why there is a change in pronoun in the verse of purification which includes the menfolk—simply put, if this argument were correct then the change in pronouns is rendered meaningless because how are menfolk purified by the actions of the Prophet’s wives except in a secondary manner? Even if we were to exclude the Holy Five from the import, it is nearly unanimous among Muslim scholars that the Holy Prophet is included in the address of “Ahl al-Bayt” in the verse of purification. How is the purity of the Holy Prophet (sawa) affected by the compliance of his wives to God’s commands, except in the indirect sense of preserving his reputation?

In fact, the goal is to clear the Ahl al-Bayt (as) from the aspersions of that superficial and hypocritical society that surrounded them, whereby the deeds of the Prophet’s wives would have an impact on how they are socially perceived as their relations by marriage. This was an especially salient reality amidst an environment wherein the enemies were seeking any means possible to cast aspersions upon the Holy Prophet (sawa) and his Purified Family. Therefore, in order to close this door upon them, God rebuked the wives of the Prophet only to elucidate that the possible misdeeds that they commit shall never reflect upon the Ahl al-Bayt; by ordaining these commandments, God thus completely dismantled the means by which diseased hearts could possibly disparage the Prophet’s family.

In fact, this is precisely the reason why the wives are given double the reward for their obedience: once for their own piety and yet again for reflecting a spirit of piety onto the Holy Five; likewise, their punishment is doubled: once for their own transgression and yet again for disparaging the perceived image of the Holy Prophetic household.

Furthermore, in fact, a need to be divorced from corrupt environs and associates is perfectly in line with the Qur’ānic ethos. Therefore, for instance, we find the following verse describing how God desires to purify Prophet ‘Īsā (as):

‏إِذْ قَالَ ٱللَّهُ يَعِيسَىٰٓ إِنِّى مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَىَّ وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟

“Behold when God said: “O Jesus! I will take you and raise you to Myself; and purify you from those who blaspheme…”[27]

Notice here that Prophet ‘Īsā (as) is being purified by God from the entourage of those who surround him—those who disbelieve in his message. This verse establishes that even though a Prophet may not be spiritually corrupted by the disbelief or sins of those who surround him, God still seeks to purify and raise him away from the milieu of vice in which he finds himself. In the same token, we consider the following verse:

الْخَبِيثَاتُ لِلْخَبِيثِينَ وَالْخَبِيثُونَ لِلْخَبِيثَاتِ ۖ وَالطَّيِّبَاتُ لِلطَّيِّبِينَ وَالطَّيِّبُونَ لِلطَّيِّبَاتِ ۚ

“Wicked women are for wicked men and wicked men for wicked women; pure women are for pure men and pure men are for pure women…”[28]

We see this theme repeated in the Qur’ān quite frequently, whereby God seeks to purify the believers from those who surround them among the hypocrites and disbelievers:

مَّا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيَذَرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَىٰ مَا أَنتُمْ عَلَيْهِ حَتَّىٰ يَمِيزَ الْخَبِيثَ مِنَ الطَّيِّبِ

“It does not behoove God that he should leave the believers in the state in which you are in until he differentiates the wicked from the pure…”[29]

Therefore, when God seeks to purify the ordinary believers from the hypocrites among them, does it not follow by the principle of al-awlawiyyah al-qat’iyyah (argumentum a fortiori) that He would seek to purify the Prophetic household even more so? Does it not follow that He would make sure the Ahl al-Bayt (as) are purified from the possible misdeeds of those who have only married into the family? Therefore, it is in this spirit that God instructs the wives of the Prophet with these stringent commandments, whereby they are expected to socially interact with extra decorum due to their relationship with the Prophet (sawa).

Contention #6—What about the Other Uses of Ahl al-Bayt in the Qur’ān?

There are those such as the popular modern Salafī polemicist ‘Uthmān al-Khamīs as well as his predecessor Ibn Taymiyyah who have attacked the notion that the Ahl al-Bayt is a specific term referencing the Holy Five. They reference several verses of the Qur’ān wherein the word “ahl” is used to subsume the wives such as the following:

فَلَمَّا قَضَىٰ مُوسَى ٱلْأَجَلَ وَسَارَ بِأَهْلِهِۦٓ ءَانَسَ مِن جَانِبِ ٱلطُّورِ نَارًا قَالَ لِأَهْلِهِ ٱمْكُثُوٓاْ إِنِّىٓ ءَانَسْتُ نَارًا لَّعَلِّىٓ ءَاتِيكُم مِّنْهَا بِخَبَرٍ أَوْ جَذْوَةٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَصْطَلُونَ

“And when Mūsā had fulfilled his term and was wandering with his family [in the desert], he perceived a fire on the slope of Mount Sinai; [and so] he said to his family: “Wait here. Behold, I perceive a fire [far away]; perhaps I may bring you from there some tiding, or [at least] a burning brand from the fire, so that you might warm yourselves.”[30]

وَاسْتَبَقَا الْبَابَ وَقَدَّتْ قَمِيصَهُ مِن دُبُرٍ وَأَلْفَيَا سَيِّدَهَا لَدَى الْبَابِ ۚ قَالَتْ مَا جَزَاءُ مَنْ أَرَادَ بِأَهْلِكَ سُوءًا إِلَّا أَن يُسْجَنَ أَوْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“And they (Yūsuf and Zulaykha) raced with one another to the door, and she tore his shirt from behind, and they met her lord and master at the door. She said: What shall be the reward of one who wishes evil to your family (ahl), save prison or a painful doom?”[31]

فَأَنجَيْنَاهُ وَأَهْلَهُ إِلَّا امْرَأَتَهُ كَانَتْ مِنَ الْغَابِرِينَ

“Thus we saved him (Lūṭ) and his family (ahl) except his wife, who was among those who stayed behind.”[32]

In all these verses, the Arabic word “ahl” obviously subsumes the wife of the respective Prophets, so the argument is why can’t the word “ahl” in “Ahl al-Bayt” also include them? When the Qur’ān affirms this usage elsewhere what is the barrier to including the wives in the verse of purification?

These individuals also reference two other verses in the Qur’ān where the word Ahl al-Bayt is used, stating that these verses substantiate the inclusion of the wives as well:

‏ وَحَرَّمْنَا عَلَيْهِ ٱلْمَرَاضِعَ مِن قَبْلُ فَقَالَتْ هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَىٰٓ أَهْلِ بَيْتٍۢ يَكْفُلُونَهُۥ لَكُمْ وَهُمْ لَهُۥ نَصِحُونَ

“Now from the very beginning We caused him to refuse the breast of [Egyptian] nurses; and [when his sister came to know this,] she said: “Shall I guide you to a family (ahl bayt) that might rear him for you, and look after him with good will?””[33]

‏قَالُوٓا۟ أَتَعْجَبِينَ مِنْ أَمْرِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ رَحْمَتُ ٱللَّهِ وَبَرَكَتُهُۥ عَلَيْكُمْ أَهْلَ ٱلْبَيْتِ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ حَمِيدٌۭ مَّجِيدٌۭ ‎

“They (the angels) said: Do you (Sārah) wonder at the commandment of Allah? May the mercy of God and His blessings be upon you, O people of the house (ahl al-bayt)! He is Owner of Praise, Owner of Glory”[34]

They state that this proves the word “Ahl al-Bayt” can subsume the wives as the mother of Mūsā and the wife of Ibrāhīm Sārah are obviously included in the address. Therefore, they state, this interpretation of “Ahl al-Bayt” as including the wives is more in line with the spirit of the Qur’ān, and arguments about Ahl al-Bayt being in exclusion to the wives are frankly not Qur’ānically grounded.


In answering this contention, we divide our response into two parts. The first is specifically about the use of “ahl” as referenced by the contender. As we discussed in our word-by-word discussion, the word “ahl” is extremely general and non-specific; therefore, utilizing verses where wives are construed as being part of one’s “ahl” is quite imprecise, especially when the expression being referenced in the verse of taṭhīr is “Ahl al-Bayt” and not “ahl.” This is notwithstanding the fact that there are other verses where the word “ahl” is used and the wife is obviously not included, such as the following:

‏وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَٱبْعَثُوا۟ حَكَمًۭا مِّنْ أَهْلِهِۦ وَحَكَمًۭا مِّنْ أَهْلِهَآ إِن يُرِيدَآ إِصْلَحًۭا يُوَفِّقِ ٱللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَآ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًۭا

“If you anticipate a split between them, appoint a mediator from his family (ahlihī) and another from hers (ahlihā). If they desire reconciliation, Allah will restore harmony between them. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”[35]

In the above verse, the word ahl is used in a manner which excludes one’s wife. Therefore, it becomes clear that the word “ahl” is quite generic and may or may not subsume one’s wives, depending on the context and the qarā’in which surround its usage. Bearing these considerations in mind, the first three verses which the contender uses neither support nor refute the wives’ inclusion in the term “Ahl al-Bayt,” which is a much more specific phrase than the word “ahl.”

The latter two verses where the word “ahl” and “bayt” are used in a genitive construction (iḍāfa) are more relevant to the discussion here and deserve further analysis. The first verse we will analyze is the one that is found in Sūrah al-Qaṣaṣ verse 29:

وَحَرَّمْنَا عَلَيْهِ ٱلْمَرَاضِعَ مِن قَبْلُ فَقَالَتْ هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَىٰٓ أَهْلِ بَيْتٍۢ يَكْفُلُونَهُۥ لَكُمْ وَهُمْ لَهُۥ نَصِحُونَ

“Now from the very beginning We caused him to refuse the breast of [Egyptian] nurses; and [when his sister came to know this,] she said: “Shall I guide you to a family (ahl bayt) that might rear him for you, and look after him with good will?””

Firstly, the keen reader will notice that the phrase in question is indefinite (nakirah) and not definite (ma’rifah), as in “ahl bayt” instead of “Ahl al-Bayt.” Therefore, the word “bayt” is left in an indefinite form meaning “a house.” In other words, the correct translation of the verse would be “the people of a house” rather than “People of The House.” This difference in grammatical construction is important and elucidates that this verse is also not relevant for proof about the import of the phrase “Ahl al-Bayt” in the verse of taṭhīr, as it is extremely general and unspecified in import. Secondly, it is unclear how this verse includes one’s wife; rather, it is the mother of Prophet Mūsā—not his wife—who is included in the address.

The second verse used by the contender is Sūrah Hūd verse 73:

قَالُوٓا۟ أَتَعْجَبِينَ مِنْ أَمْرِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ رَحْمَتُ ٱللَّهِ وَبَرَكَتُهُۥ عَلَيْكُمْ أَهْلَ ٱلْبَيْتِ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ حَمِيدٌۭ مَّجِيدٌۭ ‎

“They (the angels) said: Do you (Sārah) wonder at the commandment of Allah? May the mercy of God and His blessings be upon you, O People of The House (ahl al-bayt)! He is Owner of Praise, Owner of Glory.”

The argument being made is that Sārah, the wife of Ibrāhīm, is obviously included in the import of the term “ahl al-bayt” based on the inherent context of the verse, therefore why is it that in the verse of taṭhīr we are excluding the wives of the Prophet? Furthermore, in this verse there is also a change in the address from the feminine singular pronoun (nūn al-niswah) to the masculine plural pronoun (kum), which means that the change in pronouns is not at all a problem and should not be seen as such in the verse of taṭhīr.

Our response to this claim will be more detailed and exhaustive. Firstly, one should note that just because the phrase “Ahl al-Bayt” is used to include wives in one verse of the Qur’ān does not mean that they are included in every instance where this phrase is used. In fact, this phrase has three imports (iṭlāqāt) in the Arabic language:[36]

1. The general linguistic and commonplace understanding (al-ma’nā al-lughawī al-‘urfī al-‘āmm): this implies anyone at all who resides in a particular dwelling or belongs to a certain family, even if only metaphorically or secondarily. Therefore, we find in the narrations:

عن أبي عبد الله (عليه السلام) قال: قال رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآله): الضيف يلطف ليلتين فإذا كان الليلة الثالثة فهو من أهل البيت يأكل ما أدرك

“On the authority of Abū ‘Abdillāh (as): “The Holy Prophet (sawa) said: The guest is pampered for two nights; when the third night befalls, then he is of the Ahl al-Bayt (the people of the household) and eats whatever he obtains.”[37]

عن أبي عبد الله (عليه السلام) في الهرة أنها من أهل البيت ويتوضأ من سؤرها

“On the authority of Abū ‘Abdillāh (as) regarding the cat, and that it is among the Ahl al-Bayt from whose drinking bowl one can perform ablution.”[38]

It is also on this basis that many of the Shī’ah fuqahā’ have treated the issue of bequeathment in the books of jurisprudence. Based on this understanding (mafhūm) therefore, it may be possible to include the wives of the Prophet given that they resided in the same dwelling as he did.

2. The general commonplace understanding with specification (al-ma’nā al-‘urfī al-‘āmm bi liḥāẓ khāṣṣ): this implies only those who are related to an individual by kinship, and therefore with reference to the Holy Prophet it would subsume all of Banū Hāshim. It is on this basis that we find Imām ‘Alī (as) stating:

وكان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله إذا احمر البأس وأحجم الناس قدم أهل بيته فوقى بهم أصحابه حر السيوف والأسنة. فقتل عبيدة بن الحارث يوم بدروقتل حمزة يوم أحد، وقتل جعفر يوم مؤتة

“And when the massacre of war intensified and people began to retreat, the Holy Prophet (sawa) used to put his Ahl al-Bayt forward and thus defended his companions through them from the swords and arrows. Hence, ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Ḥarith was killed in Badr, Ḥamzah was killed in Uḥud, and Ja’far was killed in Mu’tah.”[39]

Based on this understanding, therefore, the wives would not be subsumed under the heading of Ahl al-Bayt unless they were related to the Holy Prophet (sawa) by kinship. As we discussed previously, this is the meaning that Zayd ibn Arqam adopted as the meaning of Ahl al-Bayt in his narration about the Ḥadīth of Thaqalayn.

3. The specialized understanding (al ma’nā al-khāṣṣ): this implies the immediate relations and closest individuals to a person, and with reference to the Holy Prophet it refers to the Holy Five exclusively as well as the Imāms that come after them. It is this meaning that the Prophet sought to clarify in the various aḥādīth about the Holy Five that we had previously discussed. As a further example, Imām ‘Alī (as) also implies this meaning when he states:

فوالله ما كان يلقى في روعي، ولا يخطر ببالي أن العرب تزعج هذا الامر من بعده صلى الله عليه وآله عن أهل بيته

“By God, it had never crossed my mind and had never occurred to my imagination that the Arabs would seize this affair (the khilāfah) after his (the Holy Prophet’s) demise from his Ahl al-Bayt.”[40]

Bearing in mind these three separate understandings of the phrase “Ahl al-Bayt,” it becomes imperative to resort to the context to clarify the import of this word in the Qur’ānic context. When one examines Sūrah Hūd verse 73, the context is clear that the angels had specifically arrived at the house of Ibrāhīm to give him and his wife the glad tidings of their progeny Isḥāq and Ya’qūb. Therefore, the use of the definite article as in “al-Bayt” is a reference to the dwelling wherein Ibrāhīm and Sārah were residing. Another possibility of course is that “al-Bayt” here refers to Abrahamic relationship (al-nasab), whereby Sārah is included given that she was both the mother of a Prophet, the cousin of Ibrāhīm, and a believer in his message. Therefore, the use of “Ahl al-Bayt” in this verse is as per the first general usage that we had described above.

However, in the verse of purification, the matter is entirely different because there are clear contextual clues to exclude the wives (such as the prior use of “al-buyūt” before and after the mention of “Ahl al-Bayt,” the change in the style of address, the change in pronouns both before and after the address to the wives, the aḥādīth that we previously mentioned, etc.). All of this substantiates that the meaning of “Ahl al-Bayt” in the verse of taṭhīr is referring to an exclusive group different to that of the wives; it becomes clear from the narrations on this topic that the Holy Prophet (sawa) was specifically aiming to establish a new jargon (muṣtalaḥ) in the term “Ahl al-Bayt” to subsume the Holy Five alone—the third meaning that we exposited above.

Contention #7—How does the Verse of Taṭhīr subsume the other Imāms if it is restricted to the Holy Five only?

The final contention we would like to address is what several Sunnīs often attack the Shī’ah for; specifically, they postulate the following: suppose we accept your interpretation that the Verse of Taṭhīr is specific to only the Holy Five. Then how come you Shī’ah will go and include the other 9 Imāms from the lineage of Imām Ḥusayn (as)? What about the progeny of Imām Ḥasan (as) why do you exclude them? What is the criterion you are using to make this determination of who falls under the purview of the verse and what is the process you are using based on legitimate Islāmic reasoning?


By restricting the meaning of Ahl al-Bayt to the Holy Five, the Prophet (sawa) only sought to exclude those who were present at his time among the relatives and wives; however, if any of the other Imāms of his Purified Progeny (as) had been present at that time he would no doubt have included them as well. In fact, the term Ahl al-Bayt subsumes those who shall come from his line just as it subsumes those who were present at his time; just as the word ummah subsumes those who existed at the Prophet’s time and the succeeding generations. However, how do we establish this premise? Below, we will present a proof combining highly reliable Sunnī narrations and the methodology of al-wuthūq al-iṭmi’nānī (establishing intellectual confidence) to establish the identities of the Twelve Imāms (as) and substantiate their inclusion as part of the Ahl al-Bayt.[41]

Firstly, it should be said that the best approach in answering this question should be through Sunnī sources and narrations; this avoids circular reasoning (i.e., using a claim made by the claimant himself, as in a Shī’ah Imām saying he is a Shī’ah Imām). It also makes it clear that our beliefs are strong enough to be derived from the books of other sects.

The first step is substantiating that the Ahl al-Bayt were not limited to only the Holy Five that existed at the time of the Prophet. This is established by the famous Sunnī narration known as Ḥadīth al-Nujūm:

عن علي ، قال : قال رسول الله (ص) : النجوم أمان لأهل السماء ، إذا ذهبت النجوم ذهب أهل السماء ، وأهل بيتي أمان لأهل الأرض ، فإذا ذهب أهل بيتي ذهب أهل الأرض

On the authority of ‘Alī (as) who said: “The Prophet (sawa) said, “The stars are a sanctuary for the people of Heaven; when the stars shall disappear, the people of Heaven shall disappear; and my Ahl al-Bayt are a sanctuary for the people of the Earth, so when my Ahl al-Bayt disappear the people of Earth shall disappear.”[42]

Therefore, per this narration, the Prophetic Ahl al-Bayt shall persist until the Day of Judgement as without them, the people of Earth cannot persist. This is also buttressed even further by the famous mutawātir Ḥadīth al-Thaqalayn, which we discussed earlier in this article. The Prophetic narration clearly states, “they (i.e. the Holy Qur’ān and the Ahl al-Bayt) shall never separate until they return to me at the Pond (of Kawthar).” From these two narrations, it follows that the term Ahl al-Bayt cannot be limited to just the Holy Five because they have since left this world, whereas the Day of Judgement has not yet dawned upon us.

The next step is to establish that the members of the Ahl al-Bayt are specifically the children of Fāṭimah (as) and cannot come from any other relatives of the Prophet. There are many narrations that can be used to prove this from Sunnī sources, however many of them are disputed by the Ahl al-Sunnah.[43] Therefore, we will stick to mutawātir sources and among these are the following two ḥadīth:

عن علي عن النبي (ص) يقول: المَهديُّ منَّا أَهلَ البيتِ، يصلحُهُ اللَّهُ في ليلةٍ

“On the authority of ‘Alī (as) that the Holy Prophet (sawa) said: “The Mahdī is from us the Ahl al-Bayt; God will rectify him (i.e. his affair) in a single night.””[44]

عن ‏ ‏أم سلمة ‏ ‏قالت : ‏سمعت رسول الله ‏ (ص) ‏ ‏يقول ‏: ‏المهدي من ‏عترتي ‏ ‏من ولد ‏ ‏فاطمة

“On the authority of Umm Salamah that she said: “I heard the Messenger of God say: The Mahdī is from my progeny—from the children of Fāṭimah.””[45]

Putting these two ḥadīth together, we can specifically derive by the transitive property that the children of Fāṭimah are the Ahl al-Bayt.  Nonetheless, the question remains regarding how one may exclude the other relatives of the Prophet. To substantiate this portion, we return to the import of the verse of purification, which as we discussed earlier affirms the purity and impeccability of the Holy Five. We can also garner the same conclusion from analyzing the Ḥadīth of Thaqalayn, whereby the Prophet states that we should hold onto his Ahl al-Bayt and that they will never separate from the Qur’ān. Again, if this does not affirm infallibility, it at least affirms that the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet are the highest paragons of piety and practical application of Prophetic guidance. We have the maṣādīq (exemplars) of those who belong to the Ahl al-Bayt embodied in the Holy Five and the Mahdī, as per the ṣaḥīh riwāyāt of Ahl al-Sunnah.

The next point of analysis is to specifically derive that the Ahl al-Bayt are fourteen in number (twelve individuals + the Holy Prophet and Lady Fāṭimah). Thus far, the analysis we have carried out substantiated six of these personalities. The next set of mutawātir riwāyāt in the books of Ahl al-Sunnah that we will analyze are those which affirm the presence of Twelve Khalīfahs after the Holy Prophet (sawa). There are two ḥadīth at this juncture that we will present:

عَنْ جَابِرِ بْنِ سَمُرَةَ قَالَ دَخَلْتُ مَعَ أَبِي عَلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، فَسَمِعْتُهُ يَقُول إِنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ لَا يَنْقَضِي حَتَّى يَمْضِيَ فِيهِمْ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً . قَالَ : ثُمَّ تَكَلَّمَ بِكَلَامٍ خَفِيَ عَلَيَّ . قَالَ : فَقُلْتُ لِأَبِي : مَا قَالَ ؟ قَالَ : كُلُّهُمْ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ 

“Jābir ibn Samrah narrates saying, “I entered with my father upon the Holy Prophet (sawa) and heard him saying, “This affair will not cease until twelve caliphs have passed over you; then he spoke in a suppressed voice that I could not hear. I asked my father what he said and he answered, “All of them are from Quraysh.”””[46]

عن عرباض بن سارية أن النبي قال: فإنَّه مَن يَعِشْ منكم فسيَرَى اختِلافًا كثيرًا، فعليكم بسُنَّتي وسُنَّةِ الخُلَفاءِ الرَّاشِدينَ المَهْدِيِّينَ، عَضُّوا عليها بالنَّواجِذِ، وإيَّاكم ومُحدَثاتِ الأُمورِ؛ فإنَّ كُلَّ بِدعةٍ ضَلالةٌ

“”Irbāḍ (ibn Sāriyah) states that the Holy Prophet had said: “Whoever lives after you all will see a great deal of divergence; therefore, hold onto my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the righteous and guided Khalīfahs and hold onto them by your molars. And beware newly founded (religious) affairs, for every innovation is deviation.”[47]  

Therefore, from the wordings of these two ḥadīth we derive a few key characteristics:

1. There will be Twelve Khalīfahs after the Holy Prophet

2. All of them will come from Quraysh[48]

3. They give Islām honor, are righteous, and are well-guided

4. They have a Sunnah which the Prophet commands us to uphold

5. These Khalīfahs will not cease to hold reign as long as the religion is upright

It is interesting that our brothers from Ahl al-Sunnah have tried very hard to find a proper miṣdāq for this ḥadīth of the Twelve Khalīfahs and have failed to produce it, except for fanciful and ludicrous proposals.[49] The conscientious reader should note at this point that the commandment of the Prophet to adhere to these twelve caliphs sounds very similar to his commandments to adhere to the Ahl al-Bayt in the Ḥadīth of Thaqalayn from several angles. Firstly, both are noted to be the sources of guidance after the demise of the Holy Prophet (sawa) through which one is protected from deviation; they will persist as long as this religion is upright; the Holy Prophet (sawa) has commanded us to hold onto them; both groups are from the tribe of Quraysh. Furthermore, there is yet another version of Ḥadīth al-Thaqalyn whereby the Prophet specifically uses the word khalifatayn instead of thaqalayn:

عن ‏زيد بن ثابت ‏، ‏قال : قال : ‏رسول الله (ص) :‏ إني تارك فيكم خليفتين كتاب الله حبل ممدود ما بين السماء والأرض ‏وعترتي أهل بيتي ، وأنهما لن يتفرقا حتى يردا علي ‏ ‏الحوض

On the authority of Zayd ibn Thābit who said: “The Holy Prophet (sawa) said: I am leaving behind two khalīfahs: the Book of God—an Extended Rope Between the Heavens and the Earth—and my Progeny, my Ahl al-Bayt; and they will not separate until they return to me at the Pond (of Kawthar).”[50]

The other qarīnah in these narrations is the categorical commandment from the Prophet to hold onto the Ahl al-Bayt/the 12 Khalīfahs; this implies that these individuals to whom the Prophet is alluding will never deviate from the truth and will always enjoin the ummah towards guidance consistent with the Prophet’s teachings. This serves as an indication towards their infallibility, as it is inconceivable that the Prophet would command us to observe the Sunnah of a group that goes against the dictates of Islām.

Therefore, through combining these narrations, we can propose that the first three Khalīfahs of the Prophet are Imām ‘Alī, Imām Ḥasan, and Imām Ḥusayn (as). We also receive corroboration from the Sunnī sources that the Mahdī is the last of the Twelve Khalīfahs.[51] At this point, the Sunnī books do not give us any further corroboration; but we now have standard models (al-maṣādīq) of how these khalīfahs are: they are the foremost Muslim paragons in both knowledge and action. Therefore, what can we do to establish the inclusion of the 4th-11th Shī’ah Imāms within this paradigm?

At this point, we now refer to the books of tarājim (history and biography) of the Sunnīs regarding the 4th to 11th Shī’ah Imāms. The reason for why this is a strong qarīnah is because they would have no reason to forge lies about the status of our Imams; in fact, they would likely underestimate who they really were because their allegiances were instead to the Umayyads and Abbāsids and many of these biographers despised the Shī’ah. When we go through the writings of the Sunni biographers al-Dhahabī, Ibn Khallikān, al-Nawawī, al-Safadī, Ibn Ḥajar, and Shihāb al-Dīn al-Ḥanbalī, we garner that each of our Imams were considered by the admissions of these biographers as impeccable paragons of taqwā, knowledge, and leadership. Even further, there are historical proofs narrated in the Sunnī books that our Imāms would win against anyone in debate, were not taught by any other teachers, and were often pursued by the sulṭāns of their time for their knowledge and advice.[52]

Of course, this still does not substantiate that the 4th-11th Shī’ah Imāms are the ones meant by the Prophet; they could just be paragons of righteousness. However at this point, we can present an ‘aqlī dalīl: these Imāms have a set of peculiar characteristics that we have established:

  1. A string of at least 11 personalities in continuous uninterrupted generations.
  2. 10 of them are of the sons of ‘Alī and Fāṭimah and 9 of them are of the sons of Ḥusayn.
  3. They are accepted by both Sunnīs and Shī’ahs as paragons of knowledge, taqwā, and leadership. If you go to Zayd ibn ‘Alī, you stop at 5. If you go to Ismā’īl ibn Ja’far, you stop at 7 because their subsequent generations were not recognized as paragons.
  4. Their reign continued for 250 years in succession, and the Shī’ah belief is that the Twelfth in this chain was born and is currently in occultation.

Now the question that arises here is has such a situation ever existed in Islāmic history, let alone world history? Even among the Prophets, no such thing has ever happened where you have a paragon son of a paragon son of a paragon for uninterrupted successive generations ten times in a row. There are two possibilities here: either this is Divine Providence or just a happenstance. What is the probability of each of these possibilities? That this is just a happenstance is extremely far-fetched and low likelihood, because thousands of coincidences need to occur for 10 successive generations to all achieve such an elevated and pristine status within the Islāmic nation. Therefore, the probability that this occurred through God’s decree is rendered highly likely. There is therefore no better miṣdāq for this mutawātir narration of the Holy Prophet (sawa) than the Twelve Shī’ah Imāms.

From the above analysis, we conclude that the Verse of Taṭhīr was not limited to just the Holy Five, but rather must subsume latter individuals because of the aḥādīth that indicate that the Ahl al-Bayt will persist until the Day of Judgement. We know that this Ahl al-Bayt described by the Holy Prophet (sawa) must be a specialized group and not a general one, because they are specifically identified as a source of guidance in the narrations. Furthermore, their last representative, the Mahdī, is the paragon by whom we ascertain that the Ahl al-Bayt are specifically from the progeny of Lady Fāṭimah.

Separately, we garner from the numerous similarities between the Ḥadīth of Thaqalayn and the Ḥadīth of the Twelve Khalīfahs that the successors after the Prophet are twelve in number. By analyzing the various prerequisites of these individuals and comparing them to the miṣdāq of the Twelve Shī’ah Imāms, we conclude that there is no better a paradigm for the group of individuals described by the Prophet than these Twelve individuals, all of whom are from the progeny of Lady Fāṭimah. As such, we extend the import of the Verse of Taṭḥīr to subsume them as well.


[1] For advanced readers, please see the article Naqsh-e-Siyāq dar Āye-ye-Ikmāl by Abbās Ismā’īlīzādeh for the views of Tabātabā’ī are expounded on this topic. Please also see Subḥānī’s Mafāhīm al-Qur’ān: al-‘Adl wa al-Imāmah, volume 10 pages 168-172

[2] As Subḥānī notes, this should be a change on the level of both the words (al-lafẓ) and the meaning (al-ma’nā), which as we demonstrated for the verse of taṭhīr certainly holds.

[3] Please see Tafsīr al-Tabarī on his commentary of Sūrah 33 verse 29

[4] These narrations can be reviewed here:

[5] When there are only internal contextual clues (i.e., the stylistic change) or only external contextual clues (i.e., the riwāyāt), it is more epistemologically difficult to endorse a view that goes against the apparent context. This is where some difference in the methodology of tafsīr becomes apparent between different scholars; some will adopt a more contextual-based understanding of the verses while others may favor a more narration-heavy approach.

[6] Since we have briefly alluded to the verse of ikmāl al-dīn, it should be said that similar discussions about the unique placement of the verse and why it is found in the context of prohibitions about meat have also been expounded by some authors in a beautiful manner. For advanced readers, two elegant papers (albeit in Persian) that we would recommend which discuss this are “Naqsh-e-Siyāq dar Āye-ye-Ikmāl” by Abbās Ismā’īlīzādeh and “Tabyīn-e-Fahm-e-Āye-ye-Ikmāl-e-Dīn bar Asās-e-Naẓm-e-Farākhatti-ye-Qur’ān” by Aḥmad Sulṭānābādī.

[7] Mafāhīm al-Qur’ān, volume 10 page 171

[8] This theory of verses being misplaced based on the companions’ ijtihād has been mentioned as a possibility by al-Majlisī as well as ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī; however, this view is untenable because the verse of purification is technically not a separate verse, but a part of a verse. Therefore, this notion would be in line with the doctrine of Qur’ānic taḥrīf which is not acceptable among the Shī’ah today. Among the opponents of the Shī’ah, these buried mistaken views within our corpus are deliberately excavated to stereotype the Shī’ah and excommunicate the sect on accusations of heresy. However, it is ironic that there are even some Sunnī scholars have endorsed the view that the Companions manipulated the verse of tathīr, such as the famous Ḥanafī Deobandī mufassir and muḥaddith Waḥīd al-Zamān:

صحیح مرفوع حدیثیں اس کی تائید کرتی ہیں اور جب آنحضرت صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم نےخود بیان کردیا ہے کہ میرے گھر والے یہ لوگ ہیں تو اس کا قبول کرنا واجب ہے اور ایک قرینہ اس کا یہ ہے کہ اس آیت کے اول اور آخر جمع مؤنث حاضر سے خطاب ہےاور اس میں جمع مذکر کی ضمیرسے ایسا معلوم ہوتا ہے کہ یہ آیت ان آیتوں کے بیچ میں رکھ دی گئی ہے جن میں ازواج مطہرات سے خطاب تھا اور صحابہ کرام نے اپنے اجتہاد سے ایسا کی

 “The correct and well-connected (marfū’) Prophetic traditions support the view (that the term Ahl al-Bayt is specific to the Holy Five); for when the Holy Prophet declares that the members of my household are only these (five), accepting and believing this becomes obligatory. Another indicator is the fact that the pronouns which surround this verse are addressed in the feminine plural while this verse uses the masculine plural. Thus, it is realized that this verse was interpolated amidst the verses that were addressing the pristine wives of the Prophet and that the Companions did this out of their own discretion (ijtihād).” (Tafsīr al-Waḥīdī, page 549, footnote 7)

[9] Please see his book Ahl al-Bayt fī Āyah al-Taṭhīr, pages 107-110.

[10] Sūrah al-Fatḥ, verse 8

[11] Wasā’il al-Shī’ah, volume 27 page 204

[12] وَمَا لَهُمْ أَلَّا يُعَذِّبَهُمُ اللَّهُ وَهُمْ يَصُدُّونَ عَنِ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ وَمَا كَانُوا أَوْلِيَاءَهُ ۚ إِنْ أَوْلِيَاؤُهُ إِلَّا الْمُتَّقُونَ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ (“And why shouldn’t God punish them when they block (entry) to the Sacred Sanctuary while they are not its guardians? Its guardians are none but those with God-consciousness; but most of them do not know”)

[13] Both of these narrations can be found in al-Suyūṭī’s Durr al-Manthūr in commentary of Sūrah 33:33

[14] For instance, consider Sūrah al-Qaṣaṣ verse 5: ‏وَنُرِيدُ أَن نَّمُنَّ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ ٱسْتُضْعِفُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَنَجْعَلَهُمْ أَئِمَّةًۭ وَنَجْعَلَهُمُ ٱلْوَرِثِينَ (“But it was Our will to bestow Our favor upon those [very people] who were deemed [so] utterly low in the land, and to make them forerunners in faith. and to make them heirs [to Pharaoh’s glory]”)

[15] Sūrah al-Bayyinah, verse 2

[16] Sūrah Yūsuf, verse 24

[17] Sūrah al-Baqarah, verse 25

[18] As in the verse where Satan tells God in the Qur’ān, “My Lord since you have deviated me I will make evil seem fair to them on Earth and I will deviate them all; excepting your chosen servants (al-mukhlaṣīn)” (Sūrah al-Ḥijr verse 39-40)

[19] As is referenced in the Qur’ān where God states, “…And do not approach the depravities (al-fawāhish): what is apparent of them or what is concealed (of them)…” (Sūrah al-An’ām, verse 151)

[20] For advanced readers, please reference ‘Adnān Ibrāhīm’s Arabic lecture on this topic here:

[21] For a review of these ḥadīth, please see al-Abṭaḥī’s Āyah al-Taṭḥīr Fī Aḥādīth al-Farīqayn, volume 2, pages 151-159

[22] For a review of these ḥadīth, please see Ibid, volume 2, pages 279-298.

[23] As the famous Prophetic ḥadīth affirms: سلوا الله عز وجل ما بدا لكم من حوائجكم، حتى شسع النعل فإنه إن لم ييسره لم يتيسر

“Ask God the Almighty for every one of the needs that you can imagine, even for the strap of your sandal; for if He does not facilitate it, it will not be facilitated.” (Mīzān al-Ḥikmah volume 2, page 782)

[24] Kitāb al-Ashbāh wa al-Naẓā’ir, volume 2, page 135

[25] Please see the detailed discussion about this in al-‘Āmilī’s book Ahl al-Bayt fī Āyah al-Taṭhīr pages 166-170

[26] Please reference Sūrah al-Fāṭir verse 18 and Sūrah al-Najm verse 38

[27] Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān, verse 55

[28] Sūrah Nūr, verse 26

[29] Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān, verse 179

[30] Sūrah al-Qaṣaṣ, verse 29. The argument that is used is that the ḥadīth clearly indicate that Prophet Mūsā’s wife was present with him. It is unclear to me how someone can utilize this argument based on the ḥadīth and then completely discard the Ḥadīth of the Cloak which clearly disqualifies the wives as being part of Ahl al-Bayt.

[31] Sūrah Yūsuf, verse 25

[32] Sūrah al-A’rāf, verse 83

[33] Sūrah al-Qaṣaṣ, verse 12

[34] Sūrah Hūd, verse 73

[35] Sūrah al-Nisā’, verse 35

[36] This is reviewed very beautifully by al-Shaykh Muḥammad ‘Alī al-Anṣārī in his book “Ahl al-Bayt: Imāmatuhum wa Ḥayātuhum,” pages 1-40.

[37] Wasā’il al-Shī’ah volume 24, page 314

[38] Wasā’il al-Shī’ah volume 1, page 227

[39] Nahj al-Balāghah volume 3, page 9

[40] Nahj al-Balāghah volume 1, page 307

[41] This proof is derived from a combination of Sayyid Kamāl al-Ḥaydarī’s series “Man Hum al-Khulafā’ al-Ithnā ‘Ashar? (Who are the Twelve Caliphs?) as well as the work of the Zaydī scholar ‘Abdullah bin al-Ḥasan’s Al-Anmūdhaj al-Khaṭīr (The Paragon of Grave Significance).

[42] Please see Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal’s Faḍā’il al-Ṣaḥābah, volume 2 page 671

[43] Examples of these narrations include the following:

أخرج الحاكم وابن عساكر عن جابر رضي الله عنه، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: إن لكل بني أب عصبة ينتمون إليه إلا ولد فاطمة فأنا وليهم وأنا عصبتهم وهم عترتي خلقوا من طينتي

“Al-Ḥākim and ibn ‘Asākir have narrated on the authority of Jābir from the Holy Prophet (sawa): “For all children of a father there is an ancestry by which they are traced except the sons of Fāṭimah; for I am their guardian and line of ancestry; they are my household (‘itratī) and have been created from my soil.”

[44] Sunan ibn Mājah, Book 36, Ḥadīth 160

[45] Sunan Abī Dāwūd, volume 2, page 310

[46] This ḥadīth has been narrated by Bukhārī as well as Muslim, and is considered a mutawātir ḥadīth narrated by over thirty companions of the Prophet.

[47] This has been narrated by Abū Dāwūd, al-Tirmidhī, and Ibn Mājah and is also considered a mutawātir ḥadīth narrated by nine companions of the Prophet.

[48] There are versions of this riwāyah that state even further that these 12 khalīfas are from Banī Hāshim and even spell out their names as the Twelve Imāms, although these are quoted in sources disputed by the Sunnis such as Yanābī’ al-Mawaddah by al-Qandūzī al-Ḥanafī.

[49] A very good exhaustive analysis and critique of the various attempts of Ahl al-Sunnah to explain this mutawātir narration can be found in the three-part Arabic article entitled “The Aḥādīth of the Twelve: An Exhaustive and Comprehensive Study” (Aḥādīth al-Ithnay ‘Ashar: Dirāsah Taḥlīlīyyah Shāmilah) by Shaykh Ṣafā’ al-Dīn al-Khazrajī. The first part is linked here:

[50] Musnad Aḥmad bin Ḥanbal volume 5 page 182

[51] This can be garnered from the following Prophetic ḥadīth narrated by al-Ḥākim in his al-Mustadrak:

فإذا رأيتموه فبايعوه ولو حبواً على الثلج، فإنه خليفة الله المهدي

“When you see him then give him your allegiance even if you have to crawl on ice; for he is the Khalīfah of God al-Mahdī.”

[52] For those who are learned, you can review the book of Shaykh Ḥikmat al-Raḥmah’s book entitled “A’immah Ahl al-Bayt fī Kutub Ahl al-Sunnah.”