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Superiority of the Ahl al-Bayt (a)

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Shi'as believe that Ahl al-Bayt (a) who have superiority regarding perfections and unique qualities such as knowledge, infallibility, etc. over others, deserve to take the position of imamate and leadership of people. It is obvious that with their presence, prioritizing others for imamate is rationally unwise and wrong.[1]

Argument Based on Their Position of Imamate

God has appointed Ahl al-Bayt (a) as the leader (Imam) of other people and has ordered people to obey them. Due to the significance of mission imam has about the guidance and leadership of people in religion and worldly matters, imam should be superior and most competent of all people so that they know him an exemplar in all perfections and follow him. This requires the purity of imam and his possession of most noble of human manners and merits. In this regard everyone of the Twelve Imams (a) of Shi'a have been the most perfect person of their time to extend that the greatness of their character has been acknowledged by anyone and even those who debated or argued with them would express humbleness against their scientific and spiritual grandeur.

In the Hadith al-Thaqalayn

Main article: Hadith al-Thaqalayn

From the hadith al-Thaqalayn, superiority of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) over others can easily be understood, because the Prophet (s) put them beside the Qur'an, called the Qur'an as "al-Thiql al-Akbar" (the greater weight) and Ahl al-Bayt (a) as al-Thiql al-Asghar (the smaller weight) and never put another person beside the Qur'an. Therefore, the Ahl al-Bayt (a) are superior to others the same way as the noble Qur'an is superior over Muslims.

Accordingly, Sa'd al-Din al-Taftazani has said, "the message of the verse al-Tathir and Hadith al-Thaqalayn is the superiority of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) over others and the reason of their superiority is not only because of their relation with the Prophet (s), because according to the Qur'an, tradition and consensus, the criterion of superiority is knowledge and taqwa (godwariness) which Ahl al-Bayt (a) have and this can be understood from their equal position with the Qur'an and the necessity of adhering to them, since adhering to the Qur'an is not possible except through acting upon one's knowledge and the guidance of the Qur'an. The same is true about adhering to the Ahl al-Bayt (a).[2]

In the al-Mubahala Verse

Main article: Verse of Mubahala

The al-Mubahala verse implies the superiority of Ahl al-Bayt over other companions of the Prophet (s); since, according to this verse, God has given the Prophet (s) mission to choose some people from among children, Muslim men and women to accompany him in Mubahala with the Christians of Najran; and the Prophet (s) chose 'Ali (a), Lady Fatima (a) and al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a).

There is no doubt that those are chosen for Mubahala who have great position in faith and closeness to God; and in a Mubahala, one of the participants is the Prophet (s), those need to accompany him who are either similar in position with him or closer to him than others regarding position. On the other hand, if there was some other Muslims who had such a high position in faith, the Prophet (s) would take him with himself as well, because there is not slightest possibility of injustice or unwise action about the actions of the Prophet (s).[3]

Abu Riyah, the servant of Umm Salama narrated from the Prophet (s) that, "if there were other people more honorable than 'Ali (a), Fatima (s), al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a), God would order me to do Mubahala with their help."[4]

In Other Hadiths and Verses

Superiority of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) can also be understood from other hadiths and verses such as the al-Mawadda verse (Qur'an 42:23), hadith al-Safina, hadith Bab Hitta, hadith al-Nujum, etc.

Admittance of Great Sunni Scholars

Sunni scholars and noble ones have also admitted to the superiority of Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). These admittances are two types: some imply the superiority of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s) in general and some express the superiority of each of Imams (a) of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) over others. Here some examples are followed,

About the superiority and position of the Ahl al-Bayt (a), Ibn al-'Arabi says, "no creature in creation is created with the same position of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s). They deserve leadership and masterhood. Having enmity with them is true loss and their love is true worship."[5]

The Sunni scholar 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad al-Shabrawi says that, "Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s) had all the merits together. Anyone who wants to hide their merits, it would be as if he wants to cover the light of the sun! No one asked them question, except he heard a sufficient and rational answer [from them] and no one debated them but he was defeated."[6]

Al-Shafi'i, the leader of Shafiites addressed the Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s) saying, "O the Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s)! God has mentioned your love obligatory in the Qur'an and about your merits, it would be sufficient to say that reciting salawat [praise] on you has been regarded as the condition for accepting the prayer."[7]

Regarding the great personality of Imam 'Ali (a), Muhammad Husayn al-Dhahabi, the lecturer at al-Azhar University and the author of the famous book al-Tafsir wa l-mufassirun says, "'Ali (a) was the endless sea of knowledge. He (a) possessed a great power of reasoning and unparalleled eloquence. He (a) had the perfect intellect and effective insight so that in many issues, the Companions of the Prophet would refer to him for solving problems and understanding scientific and religious issues and asked that refuge and authority for help in solving problems."[8]

In his al-Fusul al-muhimma, Ibn Sabbagh al-Maliki (d. 855/1451) says, "'Ali (a) knew fully about the permissible (halal) and the forbidden (haram) and knew about complex rulings and the truth of matters; he (a) clearly knew every rule in its own place."[9]

Muhammad b. Muslim al-Zuhri (d. 124/742) was a scholar among the followers (Tabi'un) who had the knowledge of the seven Sunni scholars in mind. About the knowledge of Imam al-Sajjad (a) he said, "I never saw anyone more knowledgeable than Zayn al-'Abidin (a)."[10]

'Abd Allah b. 'Ata who was a great scholar contemporary with Imam al-Baqir (a) who describes the knowledge of Imam (a) as, "I have never seen scholars more humble before anyone than before Abu Ja'far (a). I saw a great scholar like al-Hakam b. 'Utayba having all scholarly merits among people before Abu Ja'far (a) like a young leaner who respectfully sat before his teacher."[11]

When Abu Hanifa, one of the imams of the Four Sunni schools, was asked about the most knowledgeable person of the time, he answered, "I have never seen any scholar more knowledgeable than Ja'far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq (a)."[12]

Malik b. Anas (d. 174/790), the leader of Maliki school said, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard and no heart has ever believed that anyone would be more superior than Ja'far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq (a) in knowledge, worshiping and God-wariness."[13] Abu 'Uthman 'Umar b. Bahr (d. 255/869) said, "Ja'far b. Muhammad (a) is the one who filled the world with his knowledge and people like Abu Hanifa and Sufyan al-Thuri and others were honored to have been his students."[14] There are many more acknowledgements made by noble Sunni scholars about dignity and great position of the Imams (a) of Shi'a.


  1. Hilli, Kashf al-murad, p.539
  2. Taftazani, Sharh al-maqasid, vol.5 p.301-303
  3. Hilli, Nahj al-haqq, p.179,215-216; Fadil Miqdad, al-Lawami' al-ilahiyya, p.515; Muzaffar, Dala'il al-sidq, vol.2 p.132-133
  4. Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-mawadda, p.287
  5. Ibn al-'Arabi, Futuhat makkiyya, vol.4 p.139
  6. Shabrawi, al-Ithaf, p.17
  7. Qunduzi, Yanabi' al-mawadda, vol.3 p.103;
  8. Dhahabi, al-Tafsir, vol.1 p.89
  9. Ibn Sabbagh, al-Fusul, p.30-34
  10. Dhahabi, Tadhkirat al-huffaz, vol.1 p.75
  11. Ibn 'Asakir, Tarikh, vol.54 p.278; Shafi'i, Matalib, p.430
  12. Dhahabi, Siyar a'lam, vol.6 p.258; Tarikh al-islam, vol.9 p.89
  13. Qasamat al-tarikh, p.197
  14. Jahiz, Rasa'il, p.106