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Ahl al-Kisā' (Arabic: أهل الكساءPeople of the Cloak) refers to the last prophet, Muhammad, his daughter Fatimah, his cousin and son-in-law Ali, and his two grandsons Hasan and Husayn. They are also referred to as Āl al-‘Abā (Arabic: آل العبا‎) or Panj-tan-e Āl-e Abā (Persian: پنج تن آل عبا) or simply Panj tan (Persian: پنج تن, meaning the five). The origin of this belief is found in the Hadith of the Event of the Cloak and the Hadith of Mubahala, hadithayn that are accepted as authentic by both Sunni and Shi'i Muslims, with differences only in interpretation.

It is one of the foundations of the Shi'i conception of the Imamate, which states that patrilineal descendants of Muhammad have a special spiritual leadership over the Muslim community. The Ahl al-Kisa, along with the their descendants, the Imams, form the Shi'i definition of Ahl al-Bayt "People of the House", a term used to designate the family of Muhammad.

The three branches of Shi'i Islam differ on the nature of the Ahl al-Kisa and the Imams. The two largest branches, the Twelvers and the Ismaili, consider them to be in a state of ismah "infallibility", a belief originating from the verse of purification in the Qur'an.

In contrast, the third branch, the Zaidi, view them only as political figures with the duty to lead revolts against corrupt rulers and governments.

Hadith of The Cloak

The Hadith of The Cloak (Arabic: حديث الكساء Hadith-e-Kisa) refers to the Ahl al-Kisa. The hadith is an account of an incident where the Islamic prophet Muhammad gathered Hassan ibn Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, Ali and Fatimah under his cloak. This is mentioned in several hadiths, including Sahih Muslim, where Muhammad is quoted as saying the phrase Ahl al-Bayt (meaning Muhammad's Household or, literally, people of the house) from the second part of verse 33:33 of the Qur'an, the verse called "Ayat al-Tathir" or "the verse of purification".

This is a central hadith in terms of the differences between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims (along with few more hadiths and Verses in the Qur'an) as it is the foundation for the Shi'i claim that Governorship of Muslims should reside only with the direct line of Muhammad through Fatimah and Ali, as well as being the basis for their further claims that certain of the descendants of Muhammad are infallible: points on which Sunni Muslims strongly disagree. They claim that the term has a broader meaning that does not invest any such authority in Muhammad's family exclusively and that it is possible for any right-living person of faith to attain such spiritual purity or authority.

Sunni view

Regarding the verse, Sunnis dispute that this verse was about the spiritual importance or authority of Muhammad's wives and their children or servants (members of their Household - 'Bayt' means house), for in the verse some un-authentic Sunni hadiths nonetheless relate the legacy of Muhammad to the definition of Ahl al-Bayt. But its not for the physical succession. Sahih Muslim Book 031, Number 5955:

'A'isha reported that Muhammad went out one morning wearing a striped cloak of the black camel's hair that there came Hasan b. 'Ali. He wrapped him under it, then came Husain and he wrapped him under it along with the other one (Hasan). Then came Fatima and he took her under it, then came 'Ali and he also took him under it and then said: Allah only desires to take away any uncleanliness from you, O people of the household, and purify you (thorough purifying)

Shia view

Shi'a writers claim that the narrative shows that Muhammad, Fatima, Ali, Hasan and Husayn are the sole members of "Ahl al-Bayt" (lit. people of the house). Shias view this as an illustration of God's confirmation of the purity and sinlessness of those five, "Ahl al-Bayt". This, and other events, leading to the doctrine of the sinlessness of the Ahl al-Bayt. i.e., that Ahl al-Bayt are given the exclusive guardianship of Islam by Allah, since they alone are sinless.

This is a very important hadith for Shia Muslims, along many more ahadith and verses in the Qur'an, as the foundation for the Shia claim that governorship of the Muslim community should be only in the posterity of Muhammad as the base for claims that some descendants of Muhammad are infallible (ismah).

Summary of the arguments


Sunni Scholars hold that the wives of Muhammad were included in the second part of the verse 33:33, since they are addressed in the beginning of verse 33:33. Sunnis reject the notion that the end of this verse would be a stand-alone blessing, meant exclusively for Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain, as they have in mind the context of the verse as a whole and the one preceding it.

The Shia counter-argument claims that the verse itself says "only", implying that the blessing of this merit is exclusive to a single group and one other than the wives. i.e., Allah desires to keep away the uncleanness from "only" you, "O people of the House", and not from anyone else, and this is why the six stern commandments of the other verses are given to the wives, because they are not protected and must act accordingly; the "people of the house", on the other hand, need no such instructions. The Shi'a also point out that the rhetoric changes to a masculine tone in the final part of the verse whereas is was feminine before that.


Shias also argue that the first part of the verse addresses a person or group in the feminine gender, while the second part addresses in the masculine gender, meaning that at least one person in the group is a male.

Wilfred Madelung makes the following observation on the verse of purification: "Who are the 'people of the house' here? The pronoun referring to them is in the masculine plural, while the preceding part of the verse is in the feminine plural. This change of gender has evidently contributed to the birth of various accounts of a legendary character, attaching the latter part of the verse to the five People of the Mantle (ahl al-kisā'): Muhammad, 'Ali, Fātima, Hasan and Husayn. In spite of the obvious Shí'ite significance, the great majority of the reports quoted by al-Tabari in his commentary on this verse support this interpretation." Madelung, The Succession to Muhammad, p. 14-15.[1]

The Incident of Mubahala

According to the Sunni hadith collections, it is narrated that during the 9th - 10th year after hijra an Arab Christian envoy from Najran (currently in northern Yemen and partly in Saudi Arabia) came to the Muhammad (Sullah ho Alae hey wa Alaehi Wasalam) to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning Jesus (Quran 3:61). Muhammad (Sullah ho Alae hey wa Alaehi Wasalam) offered to do the Arabic tradition known as Mubahala, where each conflicting party should cover themselves, and together all parties ask God sincerely to destroy and inflict with curses on the lying party and their families. Muhammad (Sullah ho Alae hey wa Alaehi Wasalam), to prove to them that he is a prophet, brought his daughter Fatimah (Razi Allah Taellah Anho) and his surviving grandchildren, Hasan and Hussein, and Ali ibn Abi Talib and came back to the Christians and said this is my family (Ahl) and covered himself and his family with a cloak.[1]

The Shia claim that this authentic hadith proves whom the Quran is referring to when it mentions the Ahlul-Bayt (Arabic: أهل البيت or Household), which includes only Ali(Karam Allah Wajaho), Fatimah(Razi Allah Taellah Anho), and their descendants.[2] Sunni dispute that this verse was about Muhammad(Sallallahu Alaihi wa Salaam)'s wives and their children and even their servants.

Shia View

The Shia celebrate this event as Eid-e Mubahala.[3] This hadith provides the background for the "purification verse" or ayah al-tatheer from surah Al-Ahzab in the Quran wherby Allah explicitly identified who are the Ahlul Bayt:

"And abide quietly in your homes, and do not flaunt your charms as they used to flaunt them in the old days of pagan ignorance; and be constant in prayer, and render the purifying dues, and pay heed unto Allah and His Apostle: Allah wishes to remove all filth and impurity from you, O People of the House of the Prophet, and to render you utterly free of all pollution." (33:33)[4]

The tradition about this hadith goes from different sources to Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad. She narrated that once her father visited her home, he had fever and was not feeling well, he asked for a Yemeni cloak which Fatimah brought to him and folded it around him. Later he was joined in that Yemeni cloak by his grandsons Hasan and Hussein, who were followed by their father Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. Finally Fatimah asked the permission to enter that cloak. When all five of them joined together under the cloak, Muhammad narrated the Quranic verse 33:33 to those under the cloak that all five of them are chosen ones, and he further stated that he wants from Allah to keep all impurities out of reach and away from all of us. Muhammad then prayed to Allah to declare all five of them as his Ahlul Bayt and keep away the Najasat (impurities). Allah at that request immediately sent Gabriel to reveal to Muhammad that all the five under the cloak are dearest and closest to Allah and they are Taher (purest of the pure) without any traces of impurities.[5]

Political Application

The hadith of the cloak and the purification verse was utilized at various times by the Ahlul Bayt to assert their claims to political and spiritual leadership of the Muslim community. For example, at the gathering that was convened after the death of Umar in 644 to select a caliph, Ali made the following argument: "Is there any among us apart from myself concerning whom the "purification verse" was revealed?" When they answered "no" he proceeded:"The People of the House are overflowing with abundant virtue, for the Quran says, "Allah wishes to remove all filth and impurity from you O House of the Prophet, and to render you utterly free of pollution." (33:33) Allah has therefore removed from us all evil, outer and inner, and placed us firmly on the path of truth and righteousness.[6]

Sunni View

Many Sunni scholars remark that the "purification verse" was revealed concerning five people: Muhammad, Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn.[7] Others maintain that the "purification verse" cannot refer to the inerrancy of the Imams because the context in which it occurs relates to the wives of Muhammad and necessitates that it, too, should refer to them, or that at the very least they cannot be excluded from the category it addresses. If it were to imply inerrancy, then the wives of Muhammad would also have to be inerrant, a belief that Sunni scholars do not hold. Shia scholars, however, do believe in the infallibility of Prophet Muhammad.

Nevertheless, according to the Sunni historian al-Tabari, the term ahl al-bayt refers to ‘Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn. In reference to verse 33:33, L. Veccia Vaglieri, in her Encyclopedia of Islam article entitled "Fatima", writes:

"[…] the preceding verses contain instructions to the wives of Muhammed, and there the verbs and pronouns are in the feminine plural; but in this verse, addressed to the People of the House, the pronouns are in the masculine plural. Thus, it has been said, it is no longer a question of Muhammed’s wives, or of them alone…. The expression Ahl al-bayt can only mean “Family of the Prophet”."

See also


  1. Sahih Muslim, Chapter of virtues of companions, section of virtues of Ali (Razi Allah Taellah Anho), 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, Arabic version, v4, p1871, the end of tradition #32 and Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p654
  2. S.M.H Tabataba'i, al Mizan fi tafsir al-Quran, p. 311 Beirut 1973
  3. found in the topic: List of Islamic and Muslim related topics
  4. A portion of this Surah sums up the lessons of the Battle of the Trench and must have been revealed some time after that battle (Shauwal, five years after hijrah) The marriage with Zainab is referred to in verse 37 also took place in the same year
  5. Sahih Muslim, Chapter of virtues of companions, section of the virtues of the Ahlul-Bayt of the Prophet, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, Arabic version, v4, p1883, Tradition #61
  6. al-Bahrani, Ghayat al-Marum, p.295
  7. Ibid, p. 126:al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, Vol. V, p.199; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al Musnad, Vol. I, p.331; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir, Vol. I, p.783; Ibn Hajar, al-Sawa'iq p.85

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