Q. A brother asked me about who exactly are the ahl al-bait, because all he knows is that when he hears ahl al-bait, he thinks the 12 imams. Is it just from Fatimah, or more than just from her...like Ibn Abbas?

Note to begin that Ahl and Al are the same in meaning. However, Ibn Manzur said in Lisan al-`arab, Al is nobler in usage. Note that in Arabic a man's "bayt" denotes his wife, and that is also one of the meanings of a man's "ahl." See Lisan al-`arab under both entries, where it is also said that "Al" means "ahl" in all the senses of "family," relatives," and "wives."

The following terms all have the same meaning:

a) Ahl al-Bayt = People of the House
b) Al al-Nabi (s) = Family of the Prophet; the Umma
c) Al Bayt al-Nabi (s) = Family of the House of the Prophet
d) `Itrat al-Nabi = [People of the] Mantle of the Prophet

However, in common usage, (a) and (d) have a more restrictive meaning, coinciding with (I) below, whereas (b) and (c) is more inclusive, usually coincide with (I), (II), and (III). The term "Al" (b) is the most inclusive of all, since Nawawi reports among its meanings: "All of the Community." See his Tahdhib al-asma' wa al-lughat as well as his Tahrir al-tanbih under the entry "Al."

The People of the House of the Prophet are those for whom it is unlawful to receive zakat and whom the Prophet ordered all Muslims to respect, honor, and follow. They are:

I. `Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn (in addition to their descendants: Muhassan, Zaynab, and Umm Kulthum [other children of `Ali and Fatima]; among the children of al-Hasan: Zayd, al-Qasim, Abu Bakr, `Abd Allah, `Umar, al-Hasan, `Abd al-Rahman, al-Husayn, `Amr, Muhammad, Ya`qub, Ja`far, Hamza, and Talha; among the children of al-Husayn: Abu Bakr, `Abd Allah, `Ali al-Kabir, `Ali Zayn al-`Abidin, `Umar, Fatima, Sukayna, Zaynab al-Sughra, and Umm Kulthum al-Sughra).

II. The wives of the Prophet [except that zakat is lawful for them by consensus, as reported by Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari (3:277) from Ibn Battal]:

1. Khadija bint Khuwaylid. She gave birth to: al-Qasim, `Abd Allah, Zaynab, Fatima al-Zahra', Ruqiyya, & Umm Kulthum.

2. Sawda bint Zam`a

3. `A'isha bint al-Siddiq

4. Hafsa bint `Umar

5. Zaynab bint Khuzayma

6. Umm Salama, Hind bint Umayya

7. Zaynab bint Jahsh

8. Juwayriyya bint al-Harith

9. Safiyya bint Huyayy

10. Umm Habiba bint Abi Sufyan

11. Maymuna bint al-Harith

12. Marya al-Qibtiyya, she was a surriyya (concubine). She gave birth to Ibrahim.

III. The Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Muttalib. [Except that zakat may be given to the wives of the Banu Hashim and to the freedmen of Banu al-Muttalib, by consensus as stated by Ibn Battal: related by Shawkani in Nayl al-awtar (4:175) and by Nawawi in Sharh Sahih Muslim (5:36).]

Allah said of the People of the House:

"Allah's wish is but to remove uncleanness far from you, O Folk of the Household, and cleanse you with a thorough cleansing." (33:33)

Umm Salama related that when that verse was revealed, the Prophet surrounded with his garment `Ali, Fatima, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn, and said: "O Allah! These are the People of my House, therefore remove uncleanness far from them and cleanse them with a thorough cleansing." Ahmad narrated it in his Musnad with six chains, also Tirmidhi with several chains and he said: hasan sahih, al-Hakim, and Tabarani.

Muslim, Tirmidhi (hasan sahih gharib), al-Hakim, and others also narrated that when Allah revealed the verse:

"... say (unto him): Come! We will summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves, then we will pray humbly (to our Lord) and (solemnly) invoke the curse of Allah upon those who lie" (3:61)

Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas said: the Prophet summoned `Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn, and said: "O Allah! These are my Family" (allahumma ha'ula'u ahli).

Allah has given the People of the House the right to (fay') and (khumus) when He said:

"That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the townships, it is for Allah and His messenger and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer..." (59:7)

"And know that whatever ye take as spoils of war, lo! a fifth thereof is for Allah, and for the messenger and for the kinsman (who hath need) and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer" (8:41)

The Prophet said: "I am leaving among you the two weighty matters: Allah's Book and the People of my House." Narrated by Muslim, Tirmidhi, and Ahmad through many chains. Some of these narrations state: "I am leaving among you the two weighty matters: Allah's Book and (the People of) my mantle: these two shall never part ways until they come to me at the Pond. Therefore attend to how you act with them after me."

The dictionary Mu`jam maqayis al-lugha (4:217) defines a man's `itra (mantle) as: "His relatives such as his children, grandchildren, and paternal cousins."

From Hasan ibn `Ali, Umm Kulthum daughter of `Ali, and others: "Sadaqa is not lawful for the family of Muhammad." Bukhari in the book of zakat, Ahmad through five chains and al-Darimi in his Sunan, book of Salat.

Ahmad in his Musnad and Muslim in his Sahih narrated from Zayd ibn Arqam, also al-Hakim, Ibn Hibban, al-Darimi, al-Bazzar, and al-Tabarani:

The Messenger of Allah stood to speak to us beside a pond which is known as Khum, located between Mecca and Medina. He praised Allah and admonished us to remember Him, then said: "O people! I am a human being and the time is near when my Lord's Messenger shall come to me (with death) and I shall answer him. Behold! I am leaving among you two weighty matters. The first of them is the Book of Allah, in which is the guidance and the light... And the People of my House. I remind you by Allah of the People of my House! I remind you by Allah of the People of my House! I remind you by Allah of the People of my House!" Huswayn ibn Sabra said to Zayd: "Who are the People of his House, O Zayd? Are not his wives among the People of his House?" Zayd replied: "His wives are the People of his House, however, the People of his House are those for whom sadaqa is unlawful after the Prophet." Huswayn said: "And who are they?" He replied: "The family of `Ali, the family of `Aqil (a son of Abu Talib), the family of Ja`far (another son of Abu Talib), and the family of `Abbas. Sadaqa is unlawful for all of these."

The above hadith is not in Tirmidhi. The version narrated by Tirmidhi (he said: hadith hasan gharib) states that Zayd ibn Arqam said:

The Messenger of Allah said: "I am leaving among you that which, if you hold fast to it, you will never go astray after me. One of them is greater than the other: that is, the Book of Allah, the rope that is extended down from the heaven to the earth; and my mantle -- the People of my House. These two shall never part ways until they both come to me at the Pond. Therefore attend to how you act with them after me."

We are ordered to invoke blessings on the Family of the Prophet including his wives. When the Companions asked the Prophet how they should invoke blessings on him, he said:

Say: "O Allah, bless Muhammad, his wives, and his offspring as you blessed Ibrahim; and further grant blessing on Muhammad, his wives, and his offspring, as you granted blessing on Ibrahim. Verily, Yours is all the Majesty and Glory."

It is narrated by Bukhari with two chains, Nasa'i, Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Ibn Majah, and Malik.

Abu Ya`la narrated from Abu Hurayra that the Prophet said: "The best among you are the best towards my Family after me." al-Haythami cited it in Majma` al-zawa'id (6:40) and said: "Abu Ya`la narrates it and its narrators are all trustworthy."

Ibn 'Abbas said that the Messenger of Allah said, "Allah divided people into two groups, and He put me in the best group. Allah talks of 'The Companions of the Right' and 'the Companions of the Left.' I am among the Companions of the Right and I am the best of the Companions of the Right. Then He divided the two groups into three and put me in the best of the three. He says, 'The Companions of the Right and the Companions of the Left and the Outstrippers, the Outstrippers.' (56:9) I am among the Outstrippers and I am the best of the Outstrippers. Then He divided the three into tribes and He put me in the best tribe. Allah says, 'We have appointed you races and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed the noblest among you is the most god fearing. Allah is Knowing, Aware.' (49:13) I am the most god fearing of the sons of Adam and the noblest in the sight of Allah, and it is no boast. Then He divided the tribes and put me in the best house. He says, 'Allah only desires to remove impurity from you, People of the House, and to purify you. (33:33) (Hadith from at-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi.)

The following is from Ash-Shifa of Qadi 'Iyad in the chapter "Devotion to his family, descendants and wives":

Part of respect for the Prophet and devotion to him is devotion to his family, his descendants and his wives, the Mothers of the believers, as he urged and as the Salaf did.

Allah said, "Allah wants to remove impurity from you, people of the House."(33:33) He said, "His wives are their mothers." (33:6) Zayd ibn Arqam related that the Messenger of Allah said, "I implore you by Allah! The people of my House!" three times . we asked Zayd who constituted the people of his House and he said, "The family of Ali by the People of his House, and he said, "The family of 'Ali, the family of Ja'far.(A son of Abu Talib.) the family of `Aqil, (Another son of Abu Talib.) and the family of al-'Abbas."(Muslim.)

The Prophet said, "I am leaving you something, taking hold of which will prevent you form going astray: the Book of Allah and my family, the People of my House. So take care how you follow me regarding them."(No source given.)

One of the 'ulama' said, "'Recognition' in this case means recognising their place in relation to the Prophet. Recognition of that brings with it recognition of rights and respect that are due to them because of it."

'Umar ibn Abi Salama said that "Allah wants to remove impurity from you, People of the House,"(33:33) was revealed in Umm Salama's house. The Prophet summoned Fatima. Hasan, and Husayn and enfolded them in a garment and 'Ali was behind him. Then he said, " O Allah! These are the People of my House, so remove all impurity from them and purify them completely!"(At-Tirmidhi.)

Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas said that when the ayat of mutual cursing ("And whosoever disputes with you concerning him after the knowledge that has come to you, say, 'Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our wives and your wives, our selves and your selves, then let us humbly pray and so lay the curse of Allah upon the ones who lie.'"(3:61) was revealed, the Prophet called 'Ali, Hasan, Husayn and Fatima, and said, "O Allah! These are my family."(Muslim.)

The Prophet said about 'Ali, "Whoever has me for a master, 'Ali is his master. O Allah, befriend the one who befriend him and oppose the one who opposes him! (Ibn Hanbal.)

He also said to him, "Only a believer will love you and only a hypocrite will hate you."(Muslim.)

He said to al-'Abbas, "By the One who has my soul in His hand, belief will not enter a man's heart until he loves Allah and His Messenger. Whoever harms my uncle has harmed me. A man's uncle is like his father."(At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah.)

He also said al-'Abbas, "Feed 'Ali with your children, my uncle." Then he gathered them and wrapped them with his robe, saying, "This is my uncle any my father's twin and these are the people of my house, so veil them from the Fire as I am veiling them." The lintel of the door and the walls of the house said, "Amen! Amen!"(Al-Bayhaqi.)

He used to take the hand of Usama ibn Zayd and al-Hasan and say' "Love them, O Allah, for I love them."(Al-Bukhari.) Abu Bakr said, "Respect Muhammad by respecting the People of his House." He also said, "By the One who has my soul in His hand, the near kin of the Messenger of Allah are dearer to me than my own kinsfolk." These two reports are narrated by Bukhari in his Sahih.

The Prophet said, "Allah loves those who love Hasan."(At- Tirmidhi.)

He also said, "Whoever loves these two(Al-Hasan and al- Husayn ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib.)

The Prophet said, "Whoever demeans Quraysh, Allah will demean him.(At-Tirmidhi.)

The Prophet said, "Give preference to Quraysh and do not precede them."(Al-Bazzar.)

He said to Umm Salama, "Do not injure me by injuring 'A'isha."(Al-Bukhari.)

'Uqba ibn al-Harith said, "I saw Bakr putting al-Hasan on his shoulders, saying, "By my father, he resembles the Prophet! He does not resemble 'Ali!" 'Ali was laughing.

It is related that 'Abdullah ibn Hasan ibn Husayn sad, "I came to 'Umar ibn 'Abdu'l-'Aziz when I was in need of something and he said, 'If you have need, then send for me or write to me. I am ashamed before 'Allah to see you at my door.'"(Even though he was the Khalif, he was ashamed to have someone form the Prophet's family asking for something in public.)

Ash-Shab'i said. "Zayd ibn Thabit prayed in his mother's funeral prayer and then brought his mule near so he could mount it. Ibn 'Abbas came and took hold of the stirrup. Zayd said, 'Let go, nephew of the Messenger of Allah!' He said, 'This is the way we act with men of knowledge.' Then Zayd kissed the hand of Ibn 'Abbas. He said, 'This is the way I was commanded to act with the people of the House of the Prophet.'"(His mother was al-Nuwwar bint Malik.)

Ibn 'Umar saw Muhammad ibn Usama ibn Zayd and said, :Would that he were my slave!" He was told, "That is Muhammad ibn Usama." Ibn 'Umar bowed his head and struck the earth with his hand and said, "If the Messenger of Allah had seen him he would have loved him."

Al-Awza'i said, "The daughter of Usama ibn Zayd, the Prophet's Companion, went to see 'Umar ibn 'Abdu'l-'Aziz. A mawla of hers was with her holding her hand. 'Umar rose for her and walked to her and put her hand in his and then placed his hand on his garment. Then he walked some way with her, sat her in his own place and then sat down in front of her. He did not leave any request she had ungranted."

When 'Umar ibn al-Khattab allotted his son ;Abdullah three thousand and Usama ibn Zayd three thousand five hundred, 'Abdullah said to his father, "Why did you give him more than me? By Allah, he did not get to the battle ahead of me! He said, Because Zayd was dearer to the Messenger of Allah that your father, and Usama was dearer to him than you, so I preferred the love of the Messenger of Allah to my love." Mu'awiya heard that Kabis ibn Rabi'a resembled the Messenger of Allah. When he came to him, he got up from his seat, met him and kissed him between the eyes and gave him al-Mirghab (A very valuable piece of land.) as a fief because of his resemblance to the Messenger of Allah.

It is related that when Ja'far ibn Sulayman (Abbasid governor of Madina for the Khalif, Ja'far al-Mansur; he was a descendant of al-'Abbas.) flogged Malik ibn Anas and he was carried out unconscious, the people came in to him. He regained consciousness and said, "I testify to you that I have made my flogging a lawful act!" Later he was asked about that and said, "I am afraid of dying and meting the Prophet with the shame that one of his family entered the Fire because of me."

It is said that the Khalif al-Mansur said that he could take retaliation on Ja'far. Malik said to him, "I seek refuge in Allah! every time the whip left my body I made it lawful because of his kinship to the Messenger of Allah."

Abu Bakr ibn 'Ayyash said, "If Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Ali had come to me, I would have begun with what 'Ali needed first. Because of his kinship to the Messenger of Allah I would rather fall from heaven to earth than prefer them to him."

Someone said to Ibn 'Abbas, "So-and-so has died", referring to one of the Prophet's wives. He prostrated and people asked him, "Do you prostrate at this hour?" He replied, What sign could be greater than the departure of one of the wives of the Prophet?" (This is a reference to the prayer that is performed during an eclipse of the sun or moon.)

Abu Bakr and 'Umar used to visit Umm Ayman, the Prophet's mawla, They said: "The Messenger of Allah used to visit her."

When Halima as-Sa'diyya (The Prophet's wet-nurse.) came to the Prophet, he spread out his cloak for her and took care of what she needed. When the Prophet died, she came up to Abu Bakr and 'Umar and they did the same for her.

Blessings and peace upon the Prophet, his Family, Wives, and Children, and his Companions. May Allah grant us to love Him, His Prophet, all His Prophet's Companions, as well as to love the People of the House of the Prophet, and may He raise us under his banner and enter us into Paradise with the Pious: the Prophets, the Truthful, the Martyrs, and the Righteous; what an excellent company! And praise belongs to Allah.