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Why Follow the Family of the Prophet (s)?

Who are included in the Ahl al-Bayt ?

It has been shown that the Family of the Prophet (s) – interchangeably referred to as the Ahl al-Bayt, ‘Itrah and Aal - included his daughter Fatima al-Zahra’, her husband Imam ‘Ali, and their children Imams al-Hasan and al-Husayn (‘a).  The members of this Family of five, with the Prophet Muhammad (s) at its head, were the ones alive at the time the Qur’anic verses regarding their virtue were being revealed to the Prophet (s).  However, nine other Imams from the descendants of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) are also in this chosen Family, the final one being Imam al-Mahdi (‘a). The Prophet (s) said:

"I and ‘Ali and al-Hasan and al-Husayn and nine of the descendants of al-Husayn are the purified ones and the inerrant." [al-Juwayni, Fara'id al-Simtayn, (Beirut, 1978), page 160. Note that al-Juwayni’s greatness as a scholar of hadith has been attested by al-Dhahabi in Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, volume 4, page 298, and also by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani in al-Durar al-Kaminah, volume 1, page 67]

"I am the chief of the Prophets and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib is the chief of successors, and after me my successors shall be twelve, the first of them being ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and the last of them being al-Mahdi." [al-Juwayni, Fara'id al-Simtayn, page 160]

"Al-Mahdi is one of us Ahl al-Bayt" and "al-Mahdi will be of my family, of the descendants of Fatima" [Ibn Majah, al-Sunan, volume 2, page 519, numbers 4085-6; Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, volume 2, page 207]

What about the Wives of the Prophet (s) ?
The verse of purification "Verily Allah only desires to ... " was revealed to the Prophet (s) in the house of his wife Umm Salama (may Allah be pleased with her); the Prophet called al-Hasan, al-Husayn, Fatima and ‘Ali, and he gathered them together and covered them with the mantle. Then he said, "O Allah, these are my Ahl al-Bayt, so keep away every impurity from the Ahl al-Bayt, and purify them with a perfect purification." Umm Salama said, "Am I with them, O Apostle of Allah?" The Prophet (s) said, "You stay in your place, and you are virtuous."
al-Tirmidhi, al-Sahih, volume 5, pages 351 and 663
al‌Hakim al‌Naysaburi, al‌Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn, volume 2, page 416. He states that it is sahih in accordance with the criteria of al-Bukhari
al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, volume 5, page 197
The beginning of verse 33:33 and subsequent statements are addressed to the wives of the Prophet (s) as is evident from the feminine pronouns used. However, in the verse of purification, the gender changes to the masculine or mixed gender.  This also shows that it was an independent revelation addressed to different individuals.
Prophet Muhammad’s Legacy
“I am about to answer the call (of death). Verily, I leave behind two precious things (thaqalayn) amongst you: the Book of Allah and my Ahl al‌Bayt. Verily, the two will never separate until they come back to me by the side of the Pond.”
This authentic hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (s) is narrated by over 30 of his Companions and recorded by a large number of Sunni scholars.  Some of the famous sources for this hadith include:
al‌Hakim al‌Naysaburi, al‌Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn (Beirut), volume 3, pages 109-110, 148, and 533). He expressly states that the tradition is sahih in accordance with the criteria of al‌Bukhari and Muslim; al‌Dhahabi has confirmed his judgement
Muslim, al-Sahih, (English translation), book 031, numbers 5920-3
al‌Tirmidhi, al-Sahih, volume 5, pages 621-2, numbers 3786 and 3788; volume 2, page 219
al-Nasa'i, Khasa'is’Ali ibn Abi Talib, hadith number 79
Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, volume 3, pages 14, 17, 26; volume 3, page 26, 59; volume 4, page 371; volume 5, pages 181-2, 189-190
Ibn al‌'Athir, Jami` al‌'usul, volume 1, page 277
Ibn Kathir, al‌Bidayah wa al‌nihayah, volume 5, page 209.  He quotes al-Dhahabi and declares this hadith to be sahih.
Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim , volume 6, page 199
Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahiha (Kuwait: al-Dar al-Salafiyya), volume 4, pages 355-8. He lists many chains of narration that he considers reliable.
There are many more sources for this hadith than it is possible to list here.
Didn't the Prophet (s) say “I leave behind the Book of God and my Sunnah” ?
This is a popular misconception.  The fact is that there is no reliable basis for this statement attributed to the Prophet’s (s) Final Sermon.  It is completely absent from any of the six Sihah books!!  The version in Malik’s Muwatta’, Ibn Hisham’s Sirat Rasul Allah, and from him in al-Tabari’s Ta’rikh, all suffer from incomplete chains of narration with several links in the chain missing!  The other versions that have a full chain of narration (isnad) - of which there are very few - all contain narrators that are unanimously considered to be highly unreliable by leading Sunni scholars of rijal.  These remarkable facts can be confirmed by those interested in research by referring to the relevant books.
Clearly, no one is suggesting that the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) should not be followed.  As stated before, the Prophet (s) wished for the Muslims to refer to his Ahl al-Bayt as a 

source : http://www.al-islam.org
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