Intermarriages between Ahl ul-Bayt (a) and Companions & Caliphs

Translated & Edited by:- Sayyid Burair Abbas

Annotated by:- Dr. Muhammad Jaffer

Q: How do the Muslims explain the widespread phenomenon of intermarriages between the Ahlulbayt (a) of the Holy Prophet and the Companions/Caliphs and their children throughout history? Can you present for us the currents of thought in this matter in your usual elegant style of outlining opinions and positions?[1]

A: As for the majority of Ahl al-Sunnah, they see this as normal, as there is no major conflict for them between the two groups that would lead to a lack of intermarriage, and for this reason more than one of them – especially in the late period – has written independent books in which they have collected the forms of intermarriages that took place between the Ahlulbayt (in the general sense) and between Caliphs in different eras, reaching dozens of intermarriages.[2] Some of the books written by Sunni researchers about the relationship between Ahlulbayt and the Companions devote a separate chapter just to this issue (intermarriages). Every researcher into these matters can easily refer to several books in this field, especially in the contemporary period. Furthermore, some Sunni scholars have also subsumed the topic of intermarriages under the discussion about the Ahlulbayt naming their children after the names of the caliphs and people who were known – to the Shi’ah community – to bear hostility to Ahlulbayt (a).[3]

As for the Imamiyyah Shi’ahs, this issue has been introduced in their books since the era of Shaykh Al-Mufīd (413 AH) who dealt with this topic in some of his books,[4] and there are multiple approaches they have in interpreting or understanding this phenomenon. I have summarized for you the most prominent of these while avoiding directly appraising them:

The First Trend: It is the trend that concedes the existence of these intermarriages and their large number, but it justifies most of them or perhaps all of them as having occurred in the state of dissimulation (al-taqiyyah). The proponents of this trend state that Imam ‘Ali (a) and his family had lived in (and after) the era of the first caliphs in taqiyyah and were forced to do such intermarriage: either to ward off difficulties for themselves if they did not yield to the demands of the suitor, or because intermarriage in tribal and Arab custom could mitigate the pressures of others upon Ahlulbayt (a), or with the aim of influencing others to reform them as a result of intermarriage and usher a family relationship with them. Hence, the intermarriage between the Ahlulbayt (a) and the children of their opponents was a step aimed at relieving the tensions against them and preventing their ostracization from the society.

This theory is well-known among many scholars and researchers in interpreting this phenomenon; these relationships of the Ahlulbayt (a) are explained similarly to how the marriages of the Prophet Muḥammad (s) have been interpreted in a political or tribal lens while answering the problems of the Orientalists regarding the personality of the Holy Prophet, his sensual love for women, his affliction with lust, and other such accusations.[5] What is meant here by taqiyyah is not simply the fear that if they do not marry their daughter to an opponent that they will be exposed to problems; rather there is another aspect of taqiyyah as well which sought to relieve pressure on them through these intermarriages. The goal was to fulfill a higher interest for the Islamic community by symbolizing the Ahlulbayt’s relationship was good with these individuals through this diplomacy (al-taqiyyah al-mudaratiyyah).[6]

The impetus behind this interpretation is a wide-ranging attempt to reconcile between the religious texts and the stances of the Ahlulbayt, the caliphs, and their collaborators. These approaches do not allow us to interpret these intermarriages as having occurred naturally, as this is not consistent with the rest of the texts and attitudes that we know from the Ahlulbayt of the Holy Prophet. Therefore, it is necessary to seek another pretext for these relationships, and there is nothing to justify it but Taqiyyah in its broad sense.[7]

The Second Trend: It is a trend that is less prevalent in the Shi’ah community than the first but has started to grow in the recent period among researchers; nonetheless, some of its terminologies are ancient, dating back to the first centuries.[8] This trend advocates that we must reconsider once again the historical plausibility of these intermarriages: are there definitive historical data that substantiate for us the existence of these intermarriages between the Ahlulbayt and the families of the caliphs and their entourage, or not? In this context, scholars and researchers of this position have questioned most of these intermarriages, perhaps all of them, and they have some separate treatises on that such as those by the scholar Sayyid Ja’far Murtada, Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Tabasi, and others.[9] There is therefore a tendency today to revise the historical pieces of evidence that purportedly prove these intermarriages. These researchers say that reconsidering this issue has exposed to us the great potentiality for questioning whether these intermarriages even occurred; it is contended that even if they did occur, they were extremely rare and limited, not in the dozens as contended by polemicists.

One of the cornerstones for questioning these intermarriages is the study of their sources, as it is common their sources are Sunni or non-Shi’ite. Especially when they conflict between each other, this paves the way for asserting that they were falsified and fabricated to claim that the Ahlulbayt were satisfied with the activities of the caliphs, their assistants, and their men. Yes, these researchers acknowledge that some of these narrations are present in Shi’ah sources, including the book “al-Kāfi”  by Shaykh al-Kulayni and al-Irshād by Shaykh al-Mufīd, but they claim that these limited narrations can be discussed in terms of chain of transmission or in terms of conflicting data that exist between historical narrations, etc. Finally, they submit the acknowledgment that some Sunni narrations on this frontier may have crept into the Shi’ite hadith and historical corpus.[10]

One may be able to postulate that the first and second trend together constitutes a major working methodology, which constitutes a historiographical critique of intermarriage and justification of that which is historically substantiated of it.  However, I have separated these two trends above only for further clarification of the nature of work on this topic.

The Third Trend: It is a trend that has fewer supporters but has begun to become active in the recent period, especially in some circles affiliated with the so-called critical or reformist currents in Shi’ah thought. In this case, these individuals raise arguments that have seldom been raised in the Imamite community before. This group still acknowledges that Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib was the most deserving of the caliphate, that what some of the Companions did in the Saqifah of Bani Sa’idah in marginalizing ‘Ali and the Hashimites was not appropriate, that some of the Companions were hasty in this matter, and that they violated the Prophet’s orders in what he had ordained by God in naming the caliph after him. They affirm that the period of the first few months after the Prophet’s demise was dominated by tense relations between the family of ‘Ali and many of the companions, especially Abu Bakr and ‘Umar.

However, they state that when Imam ‘Ali lost hope to ascend to the caliphate, he no longer saw the point of disputing it because the circumstances of reality had been almost decided; therefore, he did not practice taqiyyah nor did he live in fear. Rather, he acceded that this was one of the things that could no longer be achieved and dealt with the political circumstance with fait accompli, assimilating himself into the general Islamic climate. During these twenty-five years, he was in harmony with the first three caliphs, despite his remarks here and there on some policies and judgements. This is why these intermarriages then took place: because Imam ‘Ali no longer believed that the issue of the caliphate was possible to secure and saw no meaning in attempting to revive it again in the Islamic milieu. Instead, he saw that the supreme interests of Muslims should be prioritized over an issue which had already lost its context to dispute. This also explains – from the point of view of this trend – the good relations between him and the rest of the Companions before his ascension to the caliphate: how the first three caliphs used to refer to him to advise them in judicial matters, how they resorted to him for arbitration and were satisfied with his judgment, and other such historical texts related to ‘Ali’s judgements and the caliphs often being satisfied with such decrees. Among the most prominent figures of this trend today is Shaykh Muḥammad Vaiz Zadeh Khurasani, one of the students of Agha Boroujerdi, and the former Secretary-General of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Iran.[11]

Some in this group believe that there are two aspects to the Imamate that was granted to the Ahlulbayt of the Holy Prophet: a political aspect, which is the succession after the Messenger as expressed in the Hadith of al-Ghadīr, and a religious epistemic aspect that is represented in their religious authority to reliably affirm the Sunnah of the Prophet, as expressed in Hadith al-Thaqalāyn. Per the view of this group of scholars, the goal of Shi’ahs today should be to revive Hadith al-Thaqalāyn while the Hadith of al-Ghadir is no longer an important matter because it is a foregone historical event.[12] There is no need for Muslims to quarrel over it since what concerns us today as Muslims is to return to the Ahlulbayt in taking (them) as guides of religion. This is more relevant when we bear in mind that the Sunnis, despite their love for the Ahlulbayt, rarely reference them as authorities in their books of hadith, jurisprudence, etc.

Another group in the critical Shiite milieu believes that the Shiites have exaggerated the idea of the Imamate throughout history, just as the Sunnis have exaggerated the idea of the Companions, and both sides have afforded these respective groups exceptional sanctity. The more we simplify the conceptions of Imamate and Sahabah, the more rational we become in interpreting the events of history, far from being influenced by ideological presuppositions.[13] Thus, when political Imamate is understood with its objective being to assure the best interests of Muslims, but then fails to materialize due to a mistake or disobedience of a Companion, this does not mean Islam must be rendered inoperable to oppose this specific offending party. Rather it is best to strive for cooperation and collaboration: just as we see today with rulers who make mistakes, but it is still possible to cooperate with them when they have meritorious deeds. This was precisely the case when Imam ‘Ali saw that the policy of the early caliphs was not extremely perverse, as it would come to be in the later Umayyad era. What strengthens this matter for this group further is that we rarely find aggressive Alid testaments against the first caliphs, and such aggressive texts only began to appear at the beginning of the second century AH, which is the period that was known for the escalation of sectarian conflict between Muslims and the transformation of political parties into theological sects. Of course, this is if we exclude the book of Sulāym bin Qais al-Ḥilali, whose matter is doubtful for this group: at times they question the validity of attribution of the extant work to him (such as Sayyid al-Khū’i), and other times they question the very historical existence of a personality named Sulāym bin Qais in history (as spearheaded by Dr. Abd al-Mahdi al-Jalali).

This is a summary of the general clime; as for delivering appraisals of these methodologies, we will defer this to another occasion.


[1] For original article to read:-كيف-يفسّر-المسلمون-ظاهرة-المصاهرات-بي/

[2] Multiple examples could be given on this frontier, including purported marriages between Umm Kulthum and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, Imam Ḥasan and Ḥafsah bint ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr, Sukaynah bint al-Ḥusayn and Mus’ab ibn Zubayr,  and Zaynab bint al-Hasan al-Muthanna and al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.

[3] Advanced readers might refer to the following two Arabic books, both written by Sunni scholars: al-Asmaa’ wa al-Musaharat bayn Ahl al-Bayt wa al-Sahabah by Abu Mu’adh al-Sayyid ibn Ahmad ibn Ibrahim and Sidq al-Mahabbah bayn Aal al-Bayt wa al-Sahabah by Dr. ‘Abdul Ahad ibn ‘Abdul Quddus.

[4] For instance, in his al-Masaa’il al-Sarawiyyah, Shaykh al-Mufīd has an extended critique about the narrations that purport a marriage between Umm Kulthum and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. At the end of this discussion, he presents two arguments of the Imamites about intermarriages between the Ahl al-Bayt and the Sahabah: namely that the Ahl al-Bayt married based on apparent Islam due to political expediency and that these marriages occurred due to taqiyyah.

[5] Many Muslim scholars have refuted Orientalist contentions on this frontier, elaborating that the Prophet’s marriages occurred for reasons that were social (such as the marriages to ‘Aishah and Ḥafsah), pedagogical (such as his marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh), and political (such as his marriage with Juwayriyyah bint al-Harith or Safiyyah)  or to ease tension(such as his marriage to Umm al-Ḥabihah after her former husband converted to Christianity in Abyssinia).

[6] Generally, Taqiyyah is divided into four types: al-Taqiyyah al-Khawfiyyah (dissimulation based on fear), al-Taqiyyah al-Ikrahiyyah (dissimulation based on compulsion), al-Taqiyyah al-Kitmaniyyah (dissimulation based on prudence), and al-Taqiyyah al-Mudaratiyyah (dissimulation based on diplomacy). al-Taqiyyah al-Mudaratiyyah is an expression that is used to refer to the exigency of preserving Islamic unity and avoiding sectarian tension in the face of threats from the disbelievers. For more details for advanced readers on these various types of taqiyyah, see the late Ayatullah Sadiq al-Rohani’s Fiqh al-Sadiq volume 11 page 395.

[7] A further elaboration of this methodology in interpreting these intermarriages can be found in al-Ajwibah al-Hadiyah ila Sawaa’ al-Sabeel by ‘Abdullah al-Husayni pages 41-44. This author espouses that it is presumptuous and fallacious to assume that intermarriage equates to a compatible ideology between the spouses.

[8] Consider Shaykh al-Mufīd’s refutation of the marriage between Umm Kulthum and ‘Umar in his al-Masaa’il al-Sarawiyyah.

[9] Sayyid Ja’far Murtadha al-‘Amili and Shaykh Najm al-Din al-Tabasi have penned separate treatises on the marriage of Umm Kulthum and ‘Umar: “Dhalaamat Umm Kulthum” and “Zawaaj Umm Kulthum: Al-Zawaaj al-Laghz.” The Indian scholar al-Sayyid Nasir Husayn al-Hindi also has a book regarding this same marriage entitled, “Ifhaam al-A’daa wa al-Khusoom fi Nafy Tazweej ‘Umar bi Umm Kulthum.” In English, the work of Sayyid Ali al-Milani about this has been translated by Jawid Akbari entitled, “A Critical Assessment of Umm Kulthum’s Marriage to Umar.”

[10] This is the basis by which many such marriages have been refuted; for instance, the marriage of Mus’ab ibn Zubayr to Sukaynah bint al-Ḥusayn is negated by the fact it is narrated by Umayyad sympathizers like Zubayr ibn Bakkar.

[11] In a Persian article about Imam ‘Ali (as) and Islamic unity (Imam Ali ve Vahdat), Shaykh Muhammad Vaiz Zadeh Khurasani writes the following (

روابط‌ و معاشرت‌ ائمه‌ را با فرزندان‌ صحابه‌ و تابعین‌ معروف‌ و هم‌ با پیشوایان‌ مذاهب‌ معاصر خود مانند ابوحنیفه‌ و یا مالک‌بن‌ انس‌ که‌ در منابع‌ معتبر اهل‌ سنت‌ آمده‌ و نیز ازدواج‌های‌ بین‌ خاندان‌های‌ پیغمبر و صحابه‌ را مد نظر قرار دهند. از مجموع‌ اینها خواهیم‌ فهمید که‌ کدورت‌ و دشمنی‌ بین‌ آنان‌ تا آن‌ حد که‌ در سال‌ها و قرون‌ بعد تدریجاً‌ در روایات‌ اوج‌ گرفته‌ و مانند آتشی‌ شعله‌ور می‌گردد، نبوده‌ است.

“The relationship of the Imams and the progeny of the Sahaba and Tabi’een, their relationship with the founders of the Sunni schools of thought like Abu Ḥanifah and Malik ibn Anas attested to in Sunni references, and the marriages between the Prophetic family and the Companions ought to be considered carefully. From all these examples, it is understood that enmity and hatred did not exist between them to the extent it would gradually crystallize and later spread like wildfire in subsequent centuries, as per the narrations.”

[12] One of the prominent reformists who seems to have adopted this view is Shaykh Muhsin Kadivar in his theory of ‘Ulama al-Abrar, where he has divided the authority of Imamate into a political dimension (which he claims is electoral [intikhabi]) and an epistemological one (which he terms by appointment [intisaabi]).

Another pertinent point to mention here is the opinion of Ayatullah Borujerdi on the Hadith al-Thaqalāyn:

Ayatullah Bourujerdi was completely committed to the Hadith of Thaqalayn. The reason for this was that he considered this hadith the basis and groundwork for the Shari’ah. In reality, he had the belief that dispute regarding caliphate would not benefit the Muslims; rather, the discussion should be focused on where the Shari’ah ought to be derived from. Ayatullah Hashemi Rafsanjani stated in his speech at the memorial congress for Bourujerdi, “Ayatullah Bourujerdi stated in his lesson that our differences with Ahl al-Sunnah is on two frontiers: one is on the issue of caliphate and the other is on the epistemic authority of the Imams’ statements. This latter issue is the one that is important to us, while the caliphate is a historical issue that cannot be replicated today. It is this question of the epistemic authority of the Imams’ statements that ought to be investigated with the Ahl al-Sunnah, and that is relevant in our era. [Source]

[13] This is what the likes of Sayyid Ḥusayn al-Modarresi have tried to espouse: that Imamate as a concept radically evolved over the centuries, especially during the minor occultation, and that many of its theological beliefs were not held by the early companions of the Imams (cf. his “Crisis and Consolidation in the Formative Period of Shi’ite Islam”).