ĀL-E ʿABĀ, “The Family of the Cloak,” i.e., the Prophet Moḥammad, his daughter Fāṭema, his cousin and son-in-law ʿAlī, and his grandsons Ḥasan and Ḥosayn. The designation is generally held to derive from an incident recorded in both Sunni and Shiʿite books of Tradition: Wearing a striped cloak of black camelhair, the Prophet went out one day and encountered first Ḥasan, then Ḥosayn, then Fāṭema, and finally ʿAlī. He took each in turn under his cloak, and when all were gathered beneath it, the Koranic verse 33:33 was revealed to him: “God wishes only to remove taint from you, people of the Household, and to make you utterly pure” (see, for example, ṢaḥīḥMoslem, English tr. by A. H. Siddiqui, Lahore, 1975, IV, pp. 1293-94). The context in which this fragment of revelation was placed relates in general to the wives of the Prophet, but Shiʿite commentators are unanimous in taking the incident of the cloak as proof that the expression, “People of the Household,” includes only ʿAlī, Fāṭema, and their descendants (see S. M. Ḥ. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qorʾān, Beirut, 1393/1973, XVI, p. 311). Sometimes the designation, “the Family of the Cloak,” is also connected with the mobāhala, the occasion on which the Prophet challenged a delegation of Christians from Naǰrān to invoke God’s curses on whichever of the two parties present—Muslim and Christian—erred in its doctrine concerning Jesus (Koran 3:61), for then, too, the Prophet was accompanied by ʿAlī, Fāṭema, Ḥasan and Ḥosayn (see L. Massignon, La Mubahala de Médine et l’hyperdulie de Fatima, Paris, 1935; idem, “Mubāhala,” EI1, supplement, p. 150). The incident of the cloak later came to serve as archetype for initiatic investiture with a cloak in Sufism. According to S. H. Nasr (Sufi Essays, London, 1972, p. 109), it signified “the transmission of universal walāyah [sainthood] of the Prophet in the form of the partial walāyah to Fāṭimah.”

Finally, the following Hadith recorded by Ṭabarānī may be noted: “I, ʿAlī, Fāṭema, Ḥasan, and Ḥosayn will be gathered in a single dome close to the divine throne” (quoted in Moṣṭafā Kamāl-al-dīn Bakrī, al-Ṣalawāt al-hāmeʿa, ed. A. Fikri Yavuz, Istanbul, 1967, p. 290). In the light of this Hadith, the incident of the cloak may be seen as a terrestrial anticipation of the gathering beneath the dome.

Bibliography: Given in the text.

(H. Algar)

Originally Published: December 15, 1984

Last Updated: July 29, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 7, p. 742

Cite this entry:

H. Algar, “ĀL-E ʿABĀ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/7, p. 742; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/al-e-aba-the-family-of-the-cloak-i (accessed on 14 May 2014).