The following are some reflections on the clothing of Rasulullah ﷺ and Ahlul Bayt. I write this because it is Ashura and Muharram is a good time for (Sunni) Muslims to contemplate their connection and love of Ahlul Bayt with adab and in a way that is fresh, original and within the confines of Qur’an and Sunnah.
Clothing in Islam
In Islam clothing is seen as important to modesty but also has other significance. We wear a ihram to Hajj, and to our grave, we are forbidden from tearing our clothes in times of calamity, the Qur’an tells us our spouses are a clothing for us, if we are lucky we are clothed in libaas at-taqwa or garments of light in Jannah or if we are unlucky, clothed in garments of fire and tar in Jahannam. There are many hadith in which clothing – cloaks, shawls, veils – are mentioned. Allah SWT has veils of light and some say Rasulullah ﷺ did too.
There are instances in hadith where clothing in relation to Rasulullah ﷺ becomes a special means of blessing and honour: the famous hadith of Abu Hurayrah’s memory, Su’wad telling Rasulullah ﷺ to take off his battle armour so he can hug him skin to skin before his final moments in battle, Rasulullah ﷺ giving a cloak that was gifted to him ﷺ to Umm Khalid bin Sa’id bin al-‘As.
Prophetic Clothing of Ahlul Bayt
The desire in the above examples is closeness to Rasulullah ﷺ. Though all these are blessed, if you look closely at them, these are moments not actually conferred by Rasulullah ﷺ’s hand directly. In fact, most ahadith that mention the unique honour of Rasulullah ﷺ actually conferring or clothing someone directly are directed to the Ahlul Bayt. Outside of Ahlul Bayt, their are few exceptions to this unique honour, like Ka’b ibn Zuhayr (who composed the original Burda), and leaders who accepted Islam (like Waail ibn Hujar who left his kingdom for Islam, and Jarir bin Abdullah al-Bajali for whom he ﷺ placed his shawl on the ground to walk on, but Jarir picked up the shawl and placed it on his head).
Raqibu Muhammadan fi aali Baytihi
“Be mindful of Muhammad ﷺ in his Family.”
~Sayyidina Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (via Faraz Rabbani)
The only other major hadith that is similar to Hadith of the Burda is the Hadith of Ahl al-Kisa. But there are more events just like Ahl al-Kisa involving Ahlul Bayt which suggests a deep connection between the blessed garments of Rasulullah ﷺ and Ahlul Bayt : 1) During the Hijra, when Sayyidina Ali hid in Rasulullah’s ﷺ bed, covered by his blessed mantle, 2) when Rasulullah ﷺ left his House behind an invisible hijab, unseen by his would-be assassins, 3) the story where one of Rasulullah’s ﷺ daughter comes to defend Rasulullah ﷺ from the mustahzi’een (arch-enemies of Islam) at the Kaaba and she became uncovered in her haste and Rasulullah ﷺ covered her (note: I am still trying to find the source for this) 4) when Rasulullah ﷺ spread out his shawl for his foster-sister Shayma, the daughter of Halima Sadiya, 5) the story of Sayyidah Khadija “zamilooni zamilooni” and Surah Muzzamil, 6) Rasulullahﷺ dreaming of Jibril carrying Aisha in a shawl telling him she will become his wife, 7) Surah Ahzab and the ayahs of hijab for Ummahat al-Mumineen.
The Blessings of the Prophetic Clothing
Those probably aren’t even all the examples pertaining to this topic, but its quite obvious the emphasis on veils, shawls, mantles, and other Prophetic clothing in relation to Ahlul Bayt, suggests a greater holiness and sanctity for the Family of Rasulullah ﷺ. This is above and beyond what is reserved for the Sahabas, because as it has been made clear, there are many more instances of it occurring. We can’t fully understand it but consider, if the Kaaba is covered by a Kiswa (or Ghilaf), then so are the Family of Rasulullah ﷺ. If the sufi khirqa is such an honor, then how much more of an honor is it to be covered and surrounded by the garments of Rasulullah ﷺ especially when it is done by his very own blessed hand ﷺ ?
Ever since the story of Ka’b bin Zuhayr and Ahl al-Kisa Muslims have held the garments of the Rasulullah ﷺ to be of sacred import. We don’t fully understand it but we can speculate what the reality of these Prophetic garments may be. One hadith mentions when Rasulullah’s ﷺ reality is ‘unveiled’ in Jannah people will go into sajda out of wonder (only to be told not to make sajda because this is not Allah). Uways al-Qarni was given the cloak Rasulullah ﷺ wore on Isra wa’l Miraj by Sayyidina Umar and is reported to have said about Rasulullah ﷺ, “All you have seen of him is his shadow.” Allah veiled Rasulullah’s ﷺreality to us in this world but since the Ahlul Bayt were clothed with Rasulullah’s ﷺ clothing, one possibility may be they are privy to the inner reality of Rasulullah ﷺ – if not in this world, then in the life of barzakh.
As the ayat above suggest, Rasulullah’s ﷺ clothing is pure and the Ahlul Bayt too are purified and this is why they are often called Ahlul Bayt at-Taha. So the Prophetic clothing are a divine sign of spiritual purity and the connection with Ahlul Bayt only strengthens the claim of Ahlul Bayt’s spiritual purity.
The Qur’an tells us that shaytan surrounds us (“I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left”) but a garment comes between a human and shaytan so the clothing of Rasulullah ﷺ may be a shield for these blessed people from shaytan. The clothing of Prophets appears in the Qur’an with the curing powers of the shirt of Yusuf and sakina descending on Bani Israel when they carry the Ark containing the clothing of Musa and Har’un. So it would be safe to say Rasulullah’s ﷺ clothing gives protection from shaytan, sanctity, tranquility and healing – at the very least.
We can maybe try to speculate as to what Ahlul Bayt experienced from these blessed garments. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal wore the qamis of Rasulullah ﷺ. Imam Ahmad is said to have dreamt of Allah SWT more than 100 times. Many find this report strange but it makes sense if we consider the ayah, “It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil” – here the veil from Rasulullah’sﷺ shirt. Imam Ahmad was not from Ahlul Bayt and yet he experienced this from 1 item of Prophetic clothing, so what did the Ahlul Bayt experience with multiple items of clothing?
Just like there is continuum of the Salaf (Sahaba, Tabieen and Taba Tabi’in as most righteous generation) based on who physically saw Rasulullah ﷺ, I propose there is a similar continuum of uns (closeness) to Rasulullah ﷺ that these garments signify – at the centre are the Ahlul Bayt then Sahabas, Tabi’een, etc and at the very far end are the disbelievers – whose hearts Allah Himself has covered with a hijab, (unlike Rasulullah ﷺ himself covering the bodies of the righteous), and disbelief is enough to cut off family relations in the sight of Allah (like the story of Nuh’s son).
These are my reflections on pondering over the special importance of Ahlul Bayt in the Qur’an and Sunnah. I don’t know if what I have written is complete and I don’t imagine everybody will agree with it, but studying the Prophetic Clothing is a starting point to seeing a whole new dimension of Ahlul Bayt’s prominence in Sunni Islam. Because if Rasulullah ﷺ’s Clothing and His Familyﷺ, those things that are the physically closest to Rasulullahﷺ, are not important to us – than what is?
May Allah give us understanding of these ahadith and the rank of Ahlul Bayt and all of those beloved to Rasulullah ﷺ.
تلك امة قد خلت لها ما كسبت ولكم ما كسبتم ولا تسالون عما كانوا يعملون
subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la ilaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.