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Article: Ahkam Concerning the Ahl al-Bayt

In this article Nebil Hussain examines more than a dozen laws that classical Sunni and Twelver Shi‘i jurists characterized as specific to the Prophet’s progeny and Household (ahl al-bayt).

Although Islamic law generally identifies all free Muslim males as equal members of society, irrespective of race or ancestry, a peculiar exception is made for those who claim patrilineal descent from the Arab chieftain Hashim b. ʿAbd Manaf, the great-grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad. Drawing on hagiography and hadith, Sunni and Shi‘i authors ascribe special nobility, privileges and customs to members of the clan of Hashim. Jurists also incorporated their adoration of and respect for the Prophet’s family into their views of Islamic law. In particular, since the Prophet Muhammad was revered as an individual who was pure (tahir, zaki), some jurists held that Hashimids possessed the same purity. The Prophet’s identities as an Arab and as a Qurashi also conferred certain legal privileges on members of these groups. After noting parallels to other high-status groups in early Muslim society, I examine more than a dozen laws that classical Sunni and Twelver Shi‘i jurists characterized as specific to the Prophet’s progeny and Household (ahl al-bayt).

Members of the Prophet Muḥammad’s Household (ahl al-bayt) occupy an honored position in Muslim history and popular piety. In its widest sense, the term ahl al-bayt refers to the clan of Hāshim (or, according to some, that of Muṭṭalib); more narrowly, it refers to Muḥammad’s direct descendants. In either of its usages, one can identify aḥkām (sing. ḥukm), legal rulings and customs, that are specific to the Prophet’s Household and do not apply to the Muslim community at large. A better understanding of these laws and customs may prevent the misinterpretation of texts that deal with such matters. In addition, jurists discuss laws specific to two other entities in the community, Arabs and the person of Muḥammad. Unsurprisingly, the children of Fāṭima, who are Arabs as well as descendants of Muḥammad, are honored with certain privileges in Islamic law. It appears that many laws associated with the House-hold and Fāṭima’s descendants developed from rulings that initially concerned Arabs or the Prophet. If this is true, we must first review laws that pertain exclusively to Arabs and the Prophet Muḥammad before turning to laws regarding the Prophet’s kin. A common thread that emerges from laws pertaining to these hereditary groups is that jurists once regarded specific lineages as noble and conferred certain privileges upon them.

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Bibliographic Information

Title: Ahkam Concerning the Ahl al-Bayt

Author: Nebil Husayn

Published in: Islamic law and society 27 (2020)

 Language: English

Length: 40 pages

Ahkam concerning the ahl al-bayt

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