Ahlul Bayt Not A Tribal Concept

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SHAFAQNA-

Adopted from the Book : “Shi’ism; Imamate and Wilayat” by : “Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi”

What I have stated above is not a new interpretation; I have just summarized the arguments of the Shi’a faith supported by reports from the Sunnis that have existed for centuries. And so I was suprised to see what the learned scholar had written about the concept of Ahlul Bayt:
“The shi’a took advantage of the intimate historical relationship of ‘Ali with Muhammad and of the old Arab tribal concept of ah al-bayt (people of the household)—the family from whom chiefs were chosen—-and zealousy supported the candidacy of the ‘Alids …”1

It does not behove a person from Shi’ite background to say that the Shi’a took advantage “of the old Arab tribal concept of ah al-bayt”! So now the concept of Ahlul Bayt becomes a concept of the pre-Islamic /jahiliyya era that was used by the Shi’as to forward their claim about the imamate of ‘Ali and his descendants!

It is indeed sad that a scholar, from a Shi’i background, could not discuss the concept of Ahlul Bayt from the Qur’anic perspective but a non-Muslim scholar, Wilfred Madelung, has been able to discuss at length the importance that was given to the families of prophets before Islam and the deals with the Qur’anic verse specific to the Ahlul Bayt.2 Although we disagree with Madelung’s broad definition of Ahlul Bayt we totally agree with his conclusion to that section in which he says, “The Qur’an advises the faithful to settle some matters by consultation, but not the succession to prophets. That, according to the Qur’an, is settled by divine election, and God usually chooses their successors, whether they become prophets or not, from their own kin.”3

It seems the learned Shi’a scholar is echoing the views of Marshall Hodgson and Fazlur Rahman. Those descending from Fatimah— came to be called Ah al-Bayt, “people of the house’ (an old tribal term referring to the family from whom chiefs were chosen ….”4

While commenting on the claim made by the Shi’as of Kufa that caliphate be restored in the family of “Ali, Fazlur Rahman writes : “The motives that led to this curious legitimist claim on part of the Kufan Arabs are not very clear, except …. the fact that the Prophet had been from the Banu Hashim came to be easily exploited.”5 Fazlur Rahman implies that the concept of Ahlul Bayt (that is, ‘Ali and the Prophet were from the Banu Hashim) was “exploited” by the Kufan Shi’as to promote their claim for the imamate of Ali’s descendants.

Who took advantage of the pre-Islamic traditions in the dispute on caliphate? ‘Ali was denied his rightful caliphate by the Quraysh on pretext of the supposed old Arab tradition that leadership goes to the older people and not those who were relatively young. ‘Ali, in comparison to Abu Bakr, was younger in age and therefore, on the basis of the old Arab tradition, was not suitable for leadership.6 So it was Quraysh who relied on the “old Arab tribal” tradition to usurp the caliphate from ‘Ali bin Abi Talib.

Who “exploited” and “took advantage” of their relationship to the Prophet? It was the Qurayshi group in Saqifa that exploited the fact that the Prophet was from their tribal, and, therefore, they had more right to caliphate than their opponents from the Ansar (the inhabitants of Medina).7

When Imam ‘Ali was informed about the debate between the Quraysh and the Ansar at Saqifa, he asked, “What did the Quraysh plead?”
People said, “They argued that they belong to the lineal tree of the Prophet.”

‘Ali commented by saying, “They agued by the tree but they destroyed its fruits .”8 The tree refers to “the tribal of Quraysh” and the fruits refer to “the family of the Prophet”.

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1. Abdulaziz Sachedina,Islamic Messianism, p.6.

2. See Madelung, The succession to Muhammad, p.6-17.

3. Ibid, p.17.

4. Marshall GS Hodgson, The venture of Islam, vol.1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974) p.260.

5. Fazlur Rahman, Islam, p.171.

6. See for example, Ibn Qutayba ad-Daynwari, al-Imamah wa ‘s-Siyasah, p.18; M. A. Shaban, Islamic History AD 600-750, p.16. Sachedina himself says the following about wilaya: “The new thing about it was this that in the Arab culture, the Arabs were never used to see a young person assuming the leadership.In Arab culture it was impossible for a thirty year old young man to become a leader because the Arabs believed that an older person has to become a leader …” From his 6th speech in Muharram (1419) 1998 in Toronto.

7. There were two contesting groups in Saqifa: the Quraysh who had migrated from Mecca (known as Muhajirin) and the inhabitants of Medina (known as Ansar). For the arguments employed by the Muhajirin in Saqifa see the following English titles : SSA Rizvi,Imamate, pp.113-126; Murtaza al-Askari, Abdullah bin Saba and other myths (Tehran: WOFIS,1984) pp.69-95; Muhammad R. al-Muzaffar, Saqifa (Qum:Ansariyan,1998).

8. Sayyid Razi,Nahju ‘l-Balagha, sermon 67. For Sunni sources, see at-Tabari, Ta’rikh, vol.6, p.263 and Ibn ‘Abdi ‘l-Barr, al-Isti ‘abunder biography of ‘Awf bin Athathah.

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