Ahl-i Bayt was the name given to the tribe responsible for taking care of the Kaaba, which was called the bayt al-aliha before Islam, as well as the idols therein. Then the scope of the term was expanded, and it was given a meaning which included the defense and administrative activities of Mecca, in addition to its religious connotations. In Mecca, the term was used for tribes that came from the same lineage and who rendered religious and political services in Mecca in terms of the Kaaba, the Baytullah, or "The House of Allah."
The term Ahl-i Bayt preserved its religious and political content from the Age of Ignorance after the birth of Islam until the conquest of Mecca. When the Muslims conquered Mecca, religious and political authority was given over to them. Since that date, the meaning of the term Ahl-i Bayt also completely changed. When Mecca was conquered and the Kaaba was cleansed from idols, the Quraishis were no longer the Ahl-i Bayt, the Kaaba, "The House of Allah", was no longer a baytu al-aliha, and the Meccans were no longer the ahl al-aliha. As a result, the term Ahl-i Bayt lost all its connotations from the Age of Ignorance and, once again, it began to be used as a term that meant "household", which was its original use in Arabic. In the conveyance process of Islam, the term Ahl-i Bayt, which is referred to in three surahs (chapters) of the Quran, two of which were revealed in Mecca and one of which was revealed in Medina, started to be used to refer to "household", which is the original lexical meaning.
The martyrdom of Uthman and the political events that occurred in relation to his martyrdom caused internal conflicts among Muslims, and these conflicts eventually caused splits in opinions and schism in the religion. These events were political at the beginning, but they gained itiqadi (belief) and ethical dimensions, thus causing the emergence of religious sects. After these events, the term Ahl-i Bayt gained a different meaning that had never been used before, now being based on the Holy Quran and hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) in both Shia and Sunni circles. Since then, whenever the term Ahl-i Bayt is used there is a variety of meanings: some people are referring to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his family, some are referring only to Ali, Fatima, Hasan, Hussein and their descendants, others are referring to the twelve imams, who were descended from Zayna al-Abidin, the Iranian wife of Hussein, and their followers, while others are referring to the titles of sayyid and sharif, that is the descendants of Prophet Muhammad.
The Verses of the Holy Quran in Which the Term Ahl-i Bayt Is Mentioned
The term "Ahl-i Bayt" is only referred to in three verses. In Surah Al-Hud (1) this term refers to the household of Abraham, in Surah Al-Qasas (2) it refers to the household of Moses, in particular his mother, while in Surah Al-Ahzab (3) it refers to the wives of Prophet Muhammad who were alive during the period in which the verse was revealed. In addition to these verses, the 23rd verse of Surah Ash-Shura, and the 33rd verse of Surah Al-Ahzab in particular are believed to have a connection with Ahl-i Bayt.
The 32-33rd verses of the Surah Al-Ahzab:
"O Consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women: if ye do fear (Allah), be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just... And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless!" (4)
The Reason for the Revelation of these Verses:
Regarding the reason for the revelation of verses 28-34 of Surah Al-Ahzab, there are two different views and many accounts that focus on these two views as a main idea.
In the account conveyed by Bukhari from Aisha, she says: "When the Messenger of Allah was ordered to make a choice between his wives, himself and worldly life, the Prophet first came to me and said 'Aisha, I will inform you about an order, but do not hurry when giving an answer; you may as well discuss it with your parents, and then give me your answer.' Then he read me the verses: "O Prophet! Say to your wives: If you desire the world's life and its adornment, come! I will content you and will release you with a fair release; But if you desire..." I asked him ‘Why should I discuss any of this with my parents? I will of course choose Allah and His Prophet. Upon my answer, the Holy Prophet went to his other wives. All of them preferred Allah, His Messenger and the land of the afterlife." (5)
The second view is based on the account known as the Qisa Hadith: The Prophet was in the house of Ummu Salama, who was one of his wives. His daughter Fatima came with a pot and inside it was a meal prepared with meat and flour. The Prophet told Fatima to call in her husband Ali and her sons Hasan and Hussein so that they could eat their meal together. Fatima went and called them. When they came, they all sat down for the meal. During the meal, the following verse was revealed: "O Ahl-i Bayt! Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you and to make you pure and spot." The Prophet gathered Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Hussein under his large cloak, or qisa, and said: "This is my Ahl-i Bayt," and then supplicated to Allah and prayed: "O Allah, this is my Ahl-i Bayt and close relatives. Therefore, remove all abomination from them, and make them pure and spotless!" Then, Ummu Salama revealed her face behind the curtain and said: ‘O Holy Prophet, what about me?' and the Prophet replied "You are where you belong" (6)
What is meant by Ahl-i Bayt?
a) The wives of the Prophet:
This verse refers in totality to the wives of the Prophet. Ibn Abbas (d.68/687), Iqrima (d. 104/722), Ibn Jarir at-Tabari (d.310/922), Imam Maturidi (d.333/944), Qadi Abduljabbar (d.415/1025), Zamahshari (d.534/1143), Qurtubi (d.671/1272), Qadi al-Baydawi (d.685/1286), Nasafi (d.710/1310), Hazin (d.741/1341) and Ibn Qasir (d.774/1372) are all interpreters who have agreed on the view that the Ahl-i Bayt here refers to the wives of the Prophet. (7)
b) The Household of the Prophet (Wives, Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Hussein):
According to some interpreters "the verse covers both the wives of the Prophet and Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Hussein, who were considered to be the household of the Prophet", and thus this verse must cover Uthman and his children also as he married Ummu Qulthum and Ruqayyah, two daughters of the Prophet.
For instance Elmali M. Hamdi says that in addition to the fact that Hasan and Hussein were the grandchildren of Prophet Muhammad, Ali also grew up in the house of the Prophet and lived with Fatima and thus gained a special affinity. Therefore, he is considered to be of the Ahl-i Bayt. However, the fact that these four are of the Ahl-i Bayt does not prevent the other daughters of the Prophet and their children from being a part of the Ahl-i Bayt; on the contrary, they have to be considered Ahl-i Bayt as well. (8)
c) Ali, Fatıma, Hasan and Hussein:
According to some interpreters, most of whom are Shia, the verse does not cover the wives of the Prophet, but only Ali, Fatma, Hasan and Hussein, who continued his lineage and the twelve imams who descended from them.
According to the view attributed to Abu Said al-Hudri from Tabiun (d.103/721) and Qatada (d.117/735), the term Ahl-i Bayt in this verse was used for Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Hussein; the plural pronoun kum, which is used for males and which means "you" are indications of this fact. Had the wives of the Prophet been implied within the verse, the plural pronoun with the meaning "you" indicative of females would have had to be used. (9)
1) Al-Hud, 11/73
2) Al-Qasas, 28/12
3) Al-Ahzab, 33/33
4) Bukhari, Tafsir, 33/4, 5, VI/22, 23.
5) Al-Ahzab, 33/32-34
6) See: Muslim, Talaq, 29/1478; Tabari, Jamiu´l-Bayan, XXI/99 et al.; Vahidi, Esbabu´n-Nuzul, p. 203; Ibn Qasir, Tafsir, VI/401 et al.; Shavkani, Fathu´l-Qadir, IV/279.
7) For the views of the interpreters mentioned, see the entire article.
8) Elmalili, Hak Dini Kur´an Dili, Istanbul, VI/3892.
9) See. Shawqani, Fathu´l-Qadir, IM/279.