Ayat Al-Tathir: Who are included in Ahl al-Bayt? By Mufti Muhammad Shafi

إِنَّمَا يُرِ‌يدُ اللَّـهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّ‌جْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَ‌كُمْ تَطْهِيرً‌ا

(Allah only intends to keep (all sorts of) filth away from you, O members of the family (of the prophet), and to make you pure through a perfect purification. – 33).

In the verses previous to this, the instructions given to the blessed wives by addressing them directly were, though, not special to them in person, rather, the entire Muslim community is obligated with these injunctions, yet the blessed wives were addressed particularly for the reason that they, in consonance with their dignity and the sanctity of the home of the Prophet, would be showing added care and concern for deeds that match their two singularities. Given in this verse is the wisdom of this particular address, that is, by the special instruction of the betterment of deeds, Allah intends to bless the household of the Messenger of Allah with an ideal state of purity by removing everything counter to it.

Meaning of Ar-Rijs

The word: الرِّ‌جْسَ (ar-rijs) has been used in the Qur’an for several meanings. At one place, ar-rijs has appeared in the sense of idols:

 فَاجْتَنِبُوا الرِّ‌جْسَ مِنَ الْأَوْثَانِ

(So refrain from the filth of idols – 22:30)

and on other occasions, it is used in the sense of sin in absolute terms and at times it is employed to carry the meaning of punishment or impurity or filth. The outcome is that everything which is legally or naturally (or rationally) considered detestable is ar-rijs. In the present verse, the word: الرِّ‌جْسَ ar¬rijs) appears in this very general sense. (Al-Bahr ul-Muhit)

What does Ahl al-Bayt (People of the House) signify in this verse?

In verses appearing earlier in the present sequence, the address was to the blessed wives of the Holy Prophet ﷺ therefore, the form used was in the feminine gender. Here, the expression: أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ Ahl al-Bayt) includes, along with the blessed wives, their children and fathers as well, therefore, the form used was in the masculine gender, that is: عَنکُم (from you) and: وَيُطَهِّرَ‌كُمْ (purifies you). And some Tafsir authorities take ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ to mean the blessed wives only. Ikrimah and Muqatil have said exactly this. And Sayyidna Said Ibn Jubayr (R.A) has reported the same narration from Sayyidna Ibn Abbas (R.A) saying that he has declared ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ in this verse to mean the blessed wives and then cited the next verse: وَاذْكُرْ‌نَ مَا يُتْلَىٰ فِي بُيُوتِكُنَّ (and remember what is recited in your homes-34) as proof (because the address here is to the blessed wives only, as is evident from the feminine gender used in the verse and from the ‘ reference to their homes.) [ reported by IbnAbi Hatim and lbn Jarir). And the words of the address: نِسَاءَ النَّبِيِّ. (0 women [wives] of the prophet) in the immediately previous verses are also its contextual evidence. Early commentator Ikrimah … used to go about proclaiming in the bazaars that ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ in the verse means the blessed wives, because this verse has been revealed to highlight their dignified status and he used to say that he was ready to enter into a Mubahalah* (imprecation) on it.

But, several narrations of Hadith reported by Ibn Kathir at this place bear witness that Sayyidah Fatimah, Sayyidna Ali and Sayyidna Hasan and Husain (R.A) are also included in ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ – as in a Hadith of Sahih Muslim where Sayyidah A’ishah (R.A) narrates: Once the Holy Prophet ﷺ went out of the house with a black sheet from Byzantine wrapped around his blessed body. When Hasan Ibn Ali (R.A) came out, he took him inside the sheet. Then Sayyidna Husain (R.A) came. He took him too inside the sheet in the same manner. After that, came Sayyidah Fatimah (R.A) and then Sayyidna Ali al-Murtada (R.A). He also made them come inside the sheet. Thereafter, he recited the verse:

 يُرِ‌يدُ اللَّـهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّ‌جْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَ‌كُمْ تَطْهِيرً‌ا

(Allah only intends to keep (all sorts of) filth away from you, 0 members of the family (of the prophet-33). And it also appears in some narrations that, after having recited the verse, he said: اللَّھُمَّ ھٰٓؤلٓآِء اَھلُ بَیتِی (0 Allah, these are members of my family) (reported by Ibn Jarir)

The blessed wives are included in Ahl al-Bayt

After having reported several reliable ahadith on this subject, Ibn Kathir has said: In reality, there is no contradiction in the two sayings reported from Tafsir authorities. Those who said that this verse was revealed in relation to the high station of the blessed wives and ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ means them does not go contrary to the possible inclusion of other people too under the purview of ‘Ahl al-Bayt.’ Therefore, the sound position is that under the words: ‘Ahl al-Bayt’, the blessed wives are included in any case, because they themselves are the cause of the revelation of this verse. And the inclusion of the direct addressees of the revelation cannot be subjected to any doubt. And Sayyidah Fatimah and Ali and Hasan and Husain (R.A) too – in accordance with the saying of the noble Prophet – are included in ‘Ahl al-Bayt.’ And at both places in this verse, before and after it, the address is to the wives of the prophet using the form of feminine gender. In previous verses, beginning from: فَلَا تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ (So, do not be soft with your address – 32) up to the end all forms employed are feminine. Then, later on in: وَاذْكُرْ‌نَ مَا يُتْلَىٰ (and remember what is recited – 34) the form used in the address is in the feminine gender once again. Now, when the text departs from the context in this verse (33) in between and elects to employ the form of masculine gender as in: عَنکُم (antrum) and: يُطَهِّرَ‌كُمْ (yutahhirakum), it also becomes strong evidence of the fact that included here are not only the wives but some men as well.

Meaning of Purification

As for what has been said in the verse under study: لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّ‌جْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَ‌كُمْ تَطْهِيرً‌ا (Allah only intends to keep (all sorts of) filth away from you, O members of the family (of the prophet-33), it obviously means that, through these instructions, Allah Ta’ala will keep the ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ protected against satanic instigations, sins, and evils and cleanse them pure. In short, what is meant here is legal تَشرِعِی (tashri’i) purification – not the creational تَکوِنِی (takwini) purification which is the hallmark of prophets. It does not become necessary thereby that they all be مَعصُوم ‘ma’sum’ (infallible) and the commission of any sin by them should not be possible as is the case with the noble prophets, may peace be upon them all – which is the distinctive feature of creational purification. The people of Shiite persuasion have, by differing from the majority of the Muslim community, first of all, claimed that the expression: ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ is restricted to the progeny and male relatives of the Messenger and that his blessed wives are excluded from it. Then, they went on to declare the word: تطْهِير (tathir: purification) in the cited-verse (34) as standing for their عِصمَہ (‘ismah: the state of being protected, infallible) and thus made the ‘Ahl al-Bayt’ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ (ma` sum: infallible) like prophets. This humble writer has given an answer to this approach and has taken up the subject in full detail in his Ahkam ul-Qur’an under Surah Al-Ahzab. This work defines عِصمَہ ismah, and proves that it is restricted to prophets and angels and that no one is مَعصُوم (ma’sum) other than them—all this on the basis of Islamic legal arguments and proofs. People of knowledge may see it at their discretion. Others just do not need it.

* A form of resolving religious disputes through bi-partite invocation. For details, please see:


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