The Ranks of Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.)
Allama Husayn Ansariyan
Man has gone through certain stages to reach his material existence and the world; and he has to go through other stages to return to where he used to be with a qualitative difference: As He brought you forth in the beginning, so also shall you all return. (7:29)
Evidently this course of ‘from Allah to Allah’ is not something special for human beings; rather, all creatures have a descending and ascending course making the circle perfect. Nevertheless, this course in human beings who are the superior creatures is perfect.
Man goes through the stage of ‘the best made’ to the material ‘the lowest of the low’. Then in an evolutionary cause, he returns to Allah after his epistemological and existential dimensions undergo change.
There are those distinguished human beings among all men, who have the power of leadership and enjoy amplitude. These go through this stage more perfectly. Among all perfect human beings, the Holy Prophet and his Ahl al-Bayt are the most superior of beings. They go through this stage in the most perfect way.
Stages of Man’s Descent
Every being, including humanity, has a stage where ‘he was a thing not worth mentioning’. Then he becomes ‘a thing worth mentioning’.
The first stage is ‘shadow’ - it is the time when man is hidden or unobservable in the Divine knowledge. This is the stage of ‘a thing not worth mentioning’. Then Allah wills to manifest man and man becomes ‘a thing worth mentioning’. In this stage, man deserves the Divine Decree of ‘Be’: His command, when He intends anything, is only to say to it - Be, so it is. (36:82)
This stage is materialized into an epiphany with an unimaginable speed: And Our Command is but one, as the twinkling of an eye. (54:50)
About ‘a thing not worth mentioning’, the Holy Quran says: Does not man remember that We created him before, when he was nothing? (19:67)
And on his becoming ‘a thing worth mentioning’, the Holy Quran says: There surely came over man a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning. (76:1)
This is the stage of entity when something exists but not worth mentioning. From the above said verse, it is inferred that this stage is when man becomes worth mentioning due to the light of the Holy Prophet.
Evidently everything that is addressed by Allah and receives the decree of ‘Be’ from the Creator of the universe cannot be a pure nothing. This is so because a pure nothing cannot be addressed. Therefore, although we did not exist externally, we were in the knowledge of Allah.
One must say that Divine decree and His creation came together to create man: Surely, His is the creation and the command. (7:54)
Commenting on this wonderful being, the Holy Quran says: …Surely, I am going to create a mortal of the essence of the black mud fashioned in shape. (15:28)
…Surely, I am going to create a mortal from dust. (38:71)
The above two and other verses refer to the material creation ‘in the lowest of the low’ and then Holy Quran says: So I have made him complete and breathed into him of my spirit, fall down making obeisance to him. (15:29)
Based on the aforementioned verses, man is a comprehensive being and is distinct from other creatures.
Ahl al-Bayt’s Distinction
Based on the Quranic verse, the Ahl al-Bayt, whether when they were in Allah’s knowledge or when they were created, were distinct from other human beings, as they are all from the same tree and light while other human beings are from different trees: Ali and I are from the same tree while other people are from a different tree.50
Their capacity and magnitude cannot be compared to other human beings in any position. It is for this reason that it is said, based on authentic narration, that Allah created them from light before the creation of other beings and bestowed knowledge upon them. The Holy Quran says about the importance and dignity of the man who is addressed to by Allah: And it is not for any mortal that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger and revealing by His permission what He pleases; Surly He is High, Wise. (42:51)
Excellent examples of these people are the Holy Prophet and Ahl al-Bayt. They were addressed by Allah due to the Holy Prophet’s mission and the Ahl al-Bayt received what was revealed to Allah’s messenger.
Describing Imam Ali (a.s.) who is one of the Ahl al-Bayt, the Holy Prophet says: Surely, you hear what I hear and see what I see.51
Imam Ali (a.s.) had reached the highest stage of knowledge that a creature could reach, in a way that he would decisively say: I do not serve a Lord whom I have not seen.52
It was also Imam Ali (a.sÒ) who said: If all the veils were removed, a bit would not add to my certainty.53
Since there was no veil between him and Allah and he was a medium between people and Allah due to his knowledge, and so the Holy Prophet had said: Ali and I are from the same light.54
Angels had prostrated themselves before the perfect man due to his knowledge of the Names. This prostration was due to the legal position and not the natural personality of the perfect man. It is for this reason that since then all angels have been under the spiritual power of the perfect man. Presently, all angels and other beings are under the eyes of Imam Mahdi (a.s.) - may Allah expedite his reappearance.
The Capacity of Ahl Al-Bayt(A.S.)
Commenting on the capacity of the angels, Imam Ali (a.s.) says: Among them are those also whose steps are fixed on earth but their necks are projecting into the skies.55
That is to say the angels are abstract truth hence they encompass the cosmos and have the universe under their cover. Based on narrations, the same abstract truth has manifested itself in the heart of the Holy Prophet and his Ahl al-Bayt. Since the Holy Quran dawned upon the heart of the Holy Prophet, nothing that emanates from him and his Ahl al-Bayt is but the truth, for man cannot have two hearts - one containing the truth and the other containing falsehood. Therefore, Ahl al-Bayt are nothing but the truth; they say nothing but the truth and do nothing but the truth. They are mercy for the world nations and all people enjoy their truth whether they want or not.
Since perfect men have reached up to the Umm al-Kitab (Mother of the Book), it has become tangible for them: In a book that is protected; none shall touch it save the purified ones. (56:78-79)
These men are beyond limits of nature and time; they have stepped on the past and future, that is to say, they have the time under their feet. For this reason, they are aware of the past and the future. They see the past as it happened and the future as it will happen. Do we not read in the Holy Quran that Allah showed to His Messenger during the Night Ascension the future of the universe until the Judgment Day and its aftermath: Then he drew near; then he bowed, so he was the measure of two bows or closer still. And He revealed to His servant what He revealed. The heart was not untrue in (making him see) what he saw. What! Do you then dispute with him as to what he saw? And certainly he saw Him in another descent, At the farthest lute-tree: Near which is the garden, the place to be resorted to. (53:8-15)
During the Night Ascension, Allah revealed to the Holy Prophet the essence of the Day of Judgment in the form of heaven and hell. So, the Holy Prophet not only has an understanding of the past and future and he also sees them all. Since Allah’s Messenger with all his spirituality is manifest in the Ahl al-Bayt, they too are aware of the past and the future.
Beyond doubt, the prayer of those who have such capacity and devotion cannot be compared with anyone else in a way that one second of their prayer is better than the prayer of men and jinn together. In this relation, the Holy Prophet says: One blow of Ali’s sword in the Battle of the Ditch is better than the prayer of men and jinn.56
Ahl Al-Bayt(A.S.), The Holy Quran’s Counterpart
A duty undertaken by all human beings especially Muslims is to understand the Holy Quran and to put into practice its teachings, which is the same as shown by lives of Ahl al-Bayt. The Holy Prophet during an illness, which led to his passing away, came out of his house while leaning on Imam Ali and Ibn Abbas. Leaning on one of the pillars of Medina Mosque, which was then the trunk of a palm tree, said to the people who were gathered in the mosque: No prophet has passed away without leaving something behind him. I too leave behind me for you two valuable things, namely the Book of Allah and my Ahl al-Bayt. Be aware, whoever ignores them will be ignored by Allah.57
Imam Ali (a.s.) too has said: Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, has purified us from uncleanness making us infallible. He made us the witness upon people setting us as a proof on the earth. He placed us with the Holy Quran and placed the Holy Quran with us. We will never part company with the Holy Quran nor will the Holy Quran part company with us.58
Ahl al-Bayt (a.s.) are the protected Quran, containing all meanings of the Book of Allah, aware of the manifest and hidden verses and the ones practicing the Quranic teachings. They are the practical examples of the Holy Quran and the full manifestation of the Book of Allah. Therefore, people should be, especially the Muslims, dutybound to the Holy Quran, then they would be dutybound to Ahl al-Bayt as well.
As for how the ummah took heed of the Holy Prophet’s recommendation about the Holy Quran and its counterpart, that is the Ahl al-Bayt, we should be aware of Ibn Dharr’s answer to Imam al-Baqir’s question: One day, Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) asked Ibn Dharr if he had heard some hadiths. Ibn Dharr said, “O Son of Allah’s Messenger, the Holy Prophet said, “I am leaving among you two valuable things; one is greater than the other; the Book of Allah and my Ahl al- Bayt. If you resort to then, you will never go astray.”
Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) said, “O Ibn Dharr, if you ever meet Allah’s Messenger and he asks you what you have done about these two valuable things, what will your answer be?”
Ibn Dharr started weeping bitterly and said, “Alas! We have torn apart the Greater one and killed the smaller one.”59
Ahl al-Bayt are the Holy Quran’s counterpart hence they have all the features of the Book: The Holy Quran is full of knowledge. So are the Ahl al-Bayt.
The Holy Quran is light. So are the Ahl al-Bayt.
The Holy Quran is balance. So are the Ahl al-Bayt.
The Holy Quran is pure. So are the Ahl al-Bayt.
The Holy Quran is guidance. So are the Ahl al-Bayt.
The Holy Quran is an intercessor on the Judgment Day. So are the Ahl al- Bayt.
Ahl al-Bayt(A.S.) And Knowledge
The Holy Quran says that when Prophet Sulayman (Solomon) sent back the emissaries of Queen Sheba, he said to the chiefs of his court: He said: O chiefs! Which of you can bring to me her throne before they come to me in submission? One audacious among the Jinn said: I will bring it to you before you rise up from your place; and most surely I am strong and trustworthy of it. One who had the knowledge of the Book said: I will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye. Then when he saw it settled besides him, he said: This is of the grace of my Lord that He may try me whether I am grateful or ungrateful; and whoever is ungrateful, then surely my Lord is Self sufficient, Honoured, (27:38-40)
In another place of the Holy Quran, we read about one who has the knowledge of the Book: And those who disbelieve say, “You are not a messenger.” Say, “Allah is sufficient as a witness between me and you. So is he who has knowledge of the Book.”13:43)
In the earlier verse, the Arabic preposition min (of) that comes between ilm (knowledge) and kitab (Book) means “part of”, whereas in the latter verse, there is nothing between these two words, meaning one who has the entire knowledge of the Book; one whose witness to Prophethood is the same as the witness of Allah. This one must be the most knowledgeable after the Holy Prophet. This person - as the grand Shiite commentators relying on narrations related to Ahl al-Bayt and great Sunni commentators relying on their own narrations state - is no one but the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (a.s) who was not older than twenty!
Abu-Said Khidri, a reporter of hadith accepted by Sunni scholars, says: I asked Allah’s Messenger, Who is the one intended by Allah’s saying, ‘so is he who the knowledge of the Book’” The Holy Prophet answered, “He is my brother, Ali ibn Abi-Talib.”60
Imam Ali (a.s.), having been asked about the meaning of the same verse, has said: I am the one with whom is the knowledge of the Book.61
When Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) was asked by Abd al-Rahman ibn Kuthayr about the meaning of the following verse, “One who had the knowledge of the Book said: I will bring it to you in twinkling of an eye” -, the Imam, spreading his fingers and putting them on his chest, said: By Allah, the entire knowledge of the Book is with us.62
Referring to Ahl al-Bayt, Allah’s Messenger said: Allah has told me: They are the treasurers of My Knowledge after you.463
Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a.s) has said: We are the gates to Allah; the straight path; the container of His knowledge; the interpreters of His revelation; the pillars of monotheism; and the closet of His secrets.64
Imam Ali Amir al-Muminin (a.s.) has said: Beware! The knowledge brought down by Adam and the excellent deeds of the Prophets, up to the last one of them, is with the Progeny of the seal of the Prophets. So to which deviated way are you pushed and where are you going?65
The Holy Prophet (S) has said: We, the Ahl al-Bayt, are the keys of Mercy, the destination of the Prophetic mission, the haunt of angels, and the source of knowledge.66
Imam Zayn al-Abidin has said: Why do people harbor grudge against us? By Allah, we are the tree of Prophethood, the house of mercy, the source of knowledge and the haunt of angels.67
Ahl al-Bayt know the Chief Name (al-ism al-a’dham) of Allah; they are familiar with all languages; they are aware of the past and the future; they have the knowledge of the Divine Books and they see what has happened and what will happen. Ahl al-Bayt are the House of Allah, Noah’s Ark, the Quran’s counterpart, the excellent people, those who are in authority, people of Reminder, roots of truth, source of Divine mission, pillars of world and the guardians of faith.
50. Al-Iqbal:296, Bihar al-Anwar 106/99
51. Nahjul-Balaghah, Sermon 234
52. Al-Kafi, 98/1, H. 6
53. Ghurar al-Hikam, 119, H. 2086
54. Awali al-La'ali: 124/4, H. 221
55. Nahj al-Balaghah, Sermon: 1
56. Al-Iqbal: 467, Awali al-La’ali: 86/4, H. 102
57. Al-Ihtijaj, 70/1
58. Al-Kafi, 191/1, H. 5
59. Rijal al-Khashshi, 219' Bihar al-Anwar: 159/10, H. 12
60. Shawahid al-Tanzil: 400/1
61. Basa’ir al-Darajat: 216, H.21
62. Al-Kafi, 229/1, H. 5
63. Al-Kafi: 193/1, H. 4
64. Ma’ani al-Akhbar: 35, H. 5
65. Tafsir al-Qummi, 368/1
66. Fara’id al-Simtayn, 44/1
67. Al-Kafi, 222/1, H. 1.