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SHARIF. The meanings of the Arabic word sharif (pl., ashraf, shurafd’) include “noble,” “honorable,” “highborn,” and “highbred” (Lisan al-`Arab, p. 2241). In most contexts the word sharif is associated with honor, high position, nobility, and distinction. A sharif is a man who claims descent from prominent ancestors, usually the prophet Muhammad.

Although the Qur’an and most of the Prophet’s sayings emphasized the equality of all believers and allotted distinction on the basis only of devoutness and adherence to religion, there are instances where the lineage of the Prophet is given preference. The influence of Shi`i views and increased veneration for the Prophet and his family over time made membership in the house of Muhammad a sign of particular eminence; thus tracing one’s ancestry to ahl al-bayt (the house of Muhammad) is a necessary requirement for being a sharif. In other contexts, sharif also means a person of importance and high social status, or a free man as opposed to a slave.

Throughout the Muslim world the sharifs wore turbans, usually green and white, to distinguish them from others. They were also to be revered and respected. They were not subject to the same religious stipulations that apply to other Muslims because their sins will be forgiven by God. In earlier periods a religious official, the nagib al-ashraf, was responsible for legally ascertaining the validity of the sharifs’ lineage, monitoring their conduct, reminding them of their obligations, and keeping them from doing what might injure their prestige. There is an association and similarity between the

sharif and the sayyid, which also denotes a free man, lord, or master. The sayyid is revered as a saint, especially after his death, when his tomb is likely to become a place of pilgrimage. His blessing confers good fortune, and he acts as an intermediary in popular disputes.

Countless families of sharifs and sayyids can be found throughout the Muslim world. Several of these families were major rulers at different periods. The sharifs ruled in Mecca and the Hejaz (Hijaz) from the tenth century until 1924, when al-sharif Husayn, who had proclaimed the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in 1916 and become king of the Hejaz, was defeated by Ibn Sa’ud. The Hashemites, descendants of Meccan sharifs, rule Jordan and ruled Iraq until 1958. King Hasan II comes from a sharifian dynasty that has ruled Morocco since the seventeenth century. This genealogical tradition has also survived strongly in western Arabia and the Hadramawt in Yemen. Other such families exercise local influence throughout the Arab and broader Muslim world, although it is noteworthy that while sharifs usually occupy high social status, they are not necessarily wealthy.


Al-Munjid ft al-lughah wa-al-a’lam. Dar el-Machreq, Beirut, 1992.


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

  • writerPosted On: August 5, 2017
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