Aḥkām concerning the ahl al-bayt

In: Islamic Law and Society
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  • 1 University of Miami

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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 Hāshim b. ‘Abd Manāf, the great-grandfather of the Prophet Muḥammad. Drawing on hagiography and ḥadīth, Sunni and Shi‘i authors ascribe special nobility, privileges and customs to members of the clan of Hāshim. Jurists also incorporated their adoration of and respect for the Prophet’s family into their views of Islamic law. In particular, since the Prophet Muḥammad was revered as an individual who was pure (ṭāhir, zakī), some jurists held that Hāshimids possessed the same purity. The Prophet’s identities as an Arab and as a Qurashī 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).