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SAYYID. An honorific title popularly used for the descendants of the prophet Muhammad, especially those who descend from his second grandson, Husayn ibn `Al’i, the son of Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah, sayyid literally means lord, master, prince, or one who possesses glory, honor, dignity, eminence, or exalted position among his people. It was commonly used by the Arabs before Islam for those who possessed these qualities either by birth or by acquiring them through noble deeds and magnanimous acts. In pre-Islamic literature such expressions as “he was or became chief, lord, or master [sayyid] of his people” can be found. Sayyid was even used to refer to animals, for example, “my shecamel left behind all other camels or beasts [sayyids].” Sayyid was also typically the name for the head of a tribe or clan, as in the Qur’an (33.67), “And they (the unbelievers) would say: `Our Lord: we obeyed our chiefs [sayyids] and our great ones, and they misled us.’ ” The Qur’an also uses sayyid in praise of the prophet Yahya: “God gives you glad tidings of Yahya, verifying the truth of a word from God, and be besides noble [sayyid] chaste and a Prophet of a goodly company of the righteous” (surah 3.39).
In Mecca the ancestors of Muhammad-Qusayy, `Abd Manaf, Hashim, and `Abd al-Muttalib-being the custodians of the Ka’bah, the most venerated sanctuary of the Arabian Peninsula, were called “sayyids of their times.” The Prophet’s grandfather `Abd al-Muttalib has been particularly described by the sources as “the leader [sayyid] of the Quraysh until his death.” The Prophet, being fully conscious of his lineal distinctions, is reported to have said: “Allah chose IsmAT from the sons of Ibrahim and from the sons of Isma’il the Banu Kinanah, and from Banu Kinanah the Quraysh and from the Quraysh the Band Hashim; consequently, I am the best of you as regards family and the best of you as regards geneology.” In him, therefore, lineal dignity and personal qualities as the recipient of divine revelation and Apostle of God found their highest manifestation. This was duly recognized by the ummah (community), and he was called, in his own lifetime, the sayyid par excellence. Among the most popular epithets with which the Prophet is addressed by the ummah are sayyid al-nas, sayyid al-bashar, sayyid al-‘Arab, sayyid al-mursalin, sayyid al-anbiyd’, that is, lord of mankind, humanity, the apostles, the prophets.
It was, therefore, natural that the Prophet’s lineal distinctions and his own exalted position as the sayyid should be extended to his family members and descendarts. Numerous traditions are recorded by both the Sunnis and Shi is in which the Prophet reportedly bestowed great distinctions and honors on his daughter Fatimah, his son-in-law `All ibn Abi Talib (d. 661), and his two grandsons Hasan (d. 671) and Husayn (d. 68o). For example, he declared `All “sayyid in this world and a sayyid in the next”. He also called `All “Sayyid alMuslimin,” lord of the Muslims. He exalted the status of his daughter, saying: “Fatimah is the sayyidah [mistress] of the women of the World [`alamin]”; “sayyidah of the women of my community”; and “sayyidah of the women of the dwellers in Paradise.” Similarly, for his grandsons he emphatically declared: “al-Hasan and alHusayn are the sayyids [lords] of young men among the inhabitants of Paradise,” and “the two lords of the young men of my community.”
Since the Prophet had no offspring from his son, who died in infancy, his grandsons from his daughter were given the unique privilege of being called Ibn Rasul Allah, sons of the Prophet of God. In justification of this, Muhammad said: “All the sons of one mother trace themselves back to an agnate, except the sons of Fatimah, for I am their nearest relative and their agnate.” In another tradition, the Prophet says: “every bond of relationship and consanguinity [thabat wanasab] will be severed on the day of resurrection except mine.”
It is against this background that the title sayyid became an exclusive distinction of the descendants of the Prophet in the male lines of Hasan and Husayn. In the early period, however, the title sharif was also used for both grandsons, but gradually sharif came to be more commonly used for the descendants of Hasan, while sayyid became the title of the descendants of Husayn. [See Sharlf.] After `All and Hasan, the first two imams respectively, there were nine imams and their brothers in the male line of Husayn (the twelfth imam went into occultation while still a child). The sayyids are thus mainly those who are in the line of descent from the nine imams and their brothers from Husayn to Hasan al-`Askari, the eleventh imam (d. 873).
With the expansion of the Islamic empire and changing sociopolitical conditions from the seven century onward, the descendants of the Prophet moved to various parts of the Islamic world. It was especially during the Umayyad (661-75o) and ‘Abbasid (749-1258) periods that the descendants of the Prophet, considered by the caliphs as a threat to their authority, had to take refuge in far-flung areas. A great number of sayyids migratedinitially to Yemen and Iran, where they found conditions more congenial. Later migrations took place mainly from these two countries to other parts of the world. Sindh, in the Indian subcontinent, was another place where the sayyids migrated very early on. In course of time, however, their number multiplied, and in every Muslim country today numerous sayyid families are well established. Wherever they settled, they were treated with extraordinary respect and veneration because of their direct relation to the Prophet. The Muslims of newly conquered areas, being converts from different faiths, thought it their religious duty to pay utmost regard to the progeny of the Prophet. Sentimentally and psychologically, the Muslims’ love and respect for the descendants of the Prophet has been, in fact, a natural result of love and respect for the Prophet himself. Socially, the status of the sayyids is so elevated that a non-sayyid would not dare marry a sayyidah, daughter of a sayyid, whereas it would be an honor for a nonsayyid to give his daughter in marriage to a sayyid. Also, one may not sit if a sayyid is standing. In rural Punjab, Sindh, and other parts of the Indian subcontinent, people will not sit beside sayyids but prefer to sit on the floor. Sayyids are also the first to be greeted, even by those in authority. In royal courts and ceremonies sayyids are exempted from paying the usual signs of respect, such as touching the ground or prostrating themselves, or continuing to stand before a king.
Sayyids are also distinguished in a number of other ways, for example, zakat (alms) or other sadagdt (charities) cannot be given to them. This is because of the fact that the Prophet is reported to have frequently said of sadagdt: “it is the filth of men [also see Quran 9.103] and permitted neither to Muhammad nor the family of Muhammad.” To save them from financial hardship and to maintain their dignity, a special form of tax, called khums, is paid to the sayyids, a tax which was originally meant for the Prophet himself. During Muslim rule in India, as in other Muslim countries, distinguished and learned sayyid families were granted gifts of landed properties and rich stipends. [See Zakat; Khums.]
The sayyids, especially in medieval times, as persons who distinguished themselves by religious learning and pious life, were acknowledged as saints. In fact, most of the Sufi masters or founders of various Sufi orders were the descendants of the Prophet, and it was through their efforts that a majority of non-Muslims converted to Islam. That is particularly the case of the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. There are a number of tombs in Sindh, Punjab, Delhi, and Rajasthan which are centers of pilgrimage and veneration for the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Similarly, in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and other Muslim countries, tombs of sayyids and sayyidas are frequently visited by the people to invoke their blessings. These saints-sayyids are considered intermediaries between God and the devotees.
To acknowledge their spiritual as well as social supremacy, the sayyids are also called shah (king) in most parts of Pakistan. In Iran and Turkey the title sayyid is sometimes interchangeable with mir, and perhaps it is because of Iranian influence that in Sindh mir is also used for sayyids, especially for those who command political authority as well.
In modern times, with changing sociocultural conditions and with rather uncertain pedigrees, the traditional reverance has weakened. Still, the sayyids today constitute a respectable class in Muslim societies.
For pre-Islamic etymological and semantic usages of the title Sayyid, see Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-`Arab, vol. 4, pp. 215ff (Cairo, 1882), and Edward W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, vol. 4, pp. 146o-1462 (Beirut, 1982). Both works cite references from pre-Islamic literature and the term’s subsequent usages in the Islamic period, including references from the Qur’an and hadith literature. Cornelis van Arendonk, “Sharif,” in E.f. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 7, pp. 324329 (Leiden, 1987), gives a comprehensive bibliography of sharif and sayyid and their use in different regions. Ignacz Goldziher, Muslim Studies, vol. I, pp. 45-98, translated by C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern (London, 1967), is an in-depth study of original sources for the Arab concept of family honor and dignity. Ibn Hisham, Sirat Rasul Allah, vol. 1, pp. 131-145 (Cairo, 1936), is the oldest and best original source for the study of the exalted position of the Prophet’s ancestry. Standard Sunni and Shi’i collections of Prophetic traditions provide examples of assigning the title Sayyid to `All, Fatimah, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn. For use of the title sayyid for the twelve imams from the House of the Prophet and their descendants in different periods and regions, see the following:
Ibn `Inabah, Jamal al-Din Ahmad ibn ‘Ali. `Umdat al-Talib ft Ansab Al Abi Talib. Bombay, igoo.
Lane, Edward W. An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. London, 1842.
Niebuhr, Carsten. Beschreibung von Arabien aus eigenen beobachtungen and in lande selbst gesammleten nachrichten abgeffasset von Carsten Niebuhr. Copenhagen, 1772.
Shablanji, Mu’min ibn Hasan Mu’min. Nur al-Absar ft manaqib AN Bayt al-Nabi al-Mukhtar. Bombay, 1983.
Zabidi, Ahmad ibn Ahmad. Tabaqdt al-khawass ahl al-sidq wa-alikhlas. San`a, 1986.

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/sayyid/

  • writerPosted On: July 23, 2017
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