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From wikishia

Sayyid (Arabic: سیّد, feminine: Sayyida(سیّدة), Arabic plural: Sada (سادة); noun: Siyada (سیادة)) is an Arabic honorific title denoting descendants of prophet Muhammad (s). According to fiqh, it is a title given to the descendants of Hashim b. Abd Manaf (the Prophet's great grandfather).

However, publicly this title is mostly linked to the descendant of Lady Fatima (a) and Imam Ali (a) and best-known branches of Sayyids are those whose lineage reaches to one of Imams. There are various branches of Sayyids.

There are special rulings regarding Sayyids in jurisprudence such as impermissibility of taking and consuming zakat form non-Sayyid and allocation of a part of khums to them.

During Umayyad and Abbasid reign to the end of the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil some Sayyids hid their connection to the Prophet (s) or had to immigrate to remote areas as a result of oppression and tyranny. They have been massacred during the rule of Mu'awiya, Yazid b. Mu'awiya, Marwan b. al-Hakam, 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf and Abbasid dynasty. Iran, Asia Minor, Yemen, Syria, and North Africa were the main destinations of immigrants.

Throughout the history, there were signs for identifying a Sayyid or an Alids (descendant of Imam Ali (a)) such as: registration of Sayyid families in a special register and hanging two braids on each side of their face. Nowadays, cleric Sayyids are known by their black turban and non-cleric ones by their green shirt, hat, scarf, or shawl.


Sayyid has different meanings in different contexts such as: leader, senior person in a tribe, commander, knowledgeable, virtuous, and wise. Technically, it is a title for the patrilineal descendants of Hashim b. 'Abd Manaf, the Prophet's great grandfather.[1] According to this, descendants of Abu Talib, Abu Lahab, al-'Abbas and Hamza are Sayyid as well. Although the title is not only for Imam Ali's descendants, currently it is mostly used about them.


The exact time of the first usage of the word sayyid to address the Prophet's (s) descendants is unknown. However, there is evidence that it was very common in the 6th/12th century. During this time, the title was used before the name of scholars who were descendants of the Prophet (s). But al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460/1067) and al-Najashi (d. 450/1058-9) used the title "sharif" instead and in some cases that they used sayyid it is followed by "al-sharif".[2] Sunni in Hijaz used the title sharif (plural: Shurafa') for the Prophet 's descendants.

In the book Tarikh Bayhaq which was written in the 6th/12th century, a chapter is dedicated to Sayyids of Bayhaq and the Prophet's descendants who traveled to that region.[3]

Moreover, in the book Tarikh Qom which was written in the 4th/10th century, the author referred to the Prophet's descendants as "sayyid" and "sadat".[4].[5] Likewise, Ibn Hawqal, who was contemporary with the author of Tarikh Qom, used "Sadat" addressing Al Abi Talib (descendants of Abu Talib).[6]

Based on this evidence the title was used to address the Prophet's descendants in the 4th/10th century.

Nowadays, "sayyid" is used for all of Banu Hashim (descendants of Hashim) in Iran, but in Hijaz "sharif" is used to address the descendants of Imam al-Hasan (a) and "sayyid" is used for descendants of Imam al-Husayn (a).[7]

Main Branches


They are descendants of 'Aqil and Ja'far, the two sons of Abu Talib. Ja'fari and Zaynabi families are from this branch.


They are descent from Muhammad al-Akbar, known as Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya (81/700-1) and a branch of Alawi Sayyids, however, it does not mean that all of al-Muhammadi Sayyids are descendants of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya. The family of 'Aqili Isfahani are from this group.


They are descendants of Imam al-Hasan (a). Families such as Bahr al-'Ulum, Burujirdi, Qadi, Gulistani, and Mudarris are the stems of this branch.


They are descendant of Imam al-Husayn (a). Because they descended only through Imam al-Sajjad (a), they are all his descendants as well.


They are descendants of Imam al-Kazim (a). Scholarly families such as Ayat Allahi Shirazi, Ayat Allahi Yazdi, Isfahani, Bujnurdi, Bihbahani, Jaza'iri, Khomeini, Khwansari, Zanjani, Shahristani, Shirazi, al-Sadr, Kashfi, Gulpaygani, Musha'sha'i and Mir Lawhi are from this branch.


Al-Radawi Sayyids are descendants of Muhammad al-A'raj b. Ahmad b. Musa al-Mubarqa' (218/833-4 d.296/908-9) the son of Imam al-Jawad (a) (195-220/811-835). They mainly live in Mashhad, Qom and Hamadan.

Naming by Last Imam

Genealogically, a Sayyid is called by the nearest Imam in his family tree. For instance, a Sayyid who is a descendant of Imam al-Kazim (a) is called al-Musawi although he is inevitably a descendant of Imam al-Husayn (a) or Imam Ali (a).[8]

In Earlier Centuries

During the reign of Umayyad and Abbasid to the end of the caliphate of al-Mutawakkil some Sayyids hid their lineage to the Prophet (s) or had to immigrate to remote areas as a result of oppression and tyranny.

Immigration of Sayyids

Based on their social status and the period of time that they lived in, Sayyids immigrated to different regions such as Iran, Asia Minor, Yemen, Syria, and North Africa.

After Islam entered Iran in the 1st/6th century, the first group of Banu Hashim moved to Iran. The immigration to Iran increased in the middle of the 2nd/7th century and reached its peak in the late of 2nd/8th to the middle of the 3rd/9th century. They mostly settled in Arjan (Bihbahan), Qom, Shiraz, Isfahan, Jabal (Hamadan and central regions of Iran) and Tabaristan.

Several reasons have been counted for immigration of Sayyids to Iran:

Oppression by Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs

Tyranny and oppression by caliphs, persecution, murder, and plunder in Iraq and Hijaz are some of the reasons for their immigration.

They have been massacred during the reign of Mu'awiya, Yazid b. Mu'awiya, Marwan b. al-Hakam, 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf and Abbasid dynasty.[9]

Humayd b. Ghahtaba al-Ta'i said, "One night, Harun (the Abbasid caliph) summoned me. He ordered me to take my sword and do whatever his servant tells me. The servant took me to a house with three rooms and a well in the middle of its yard. He unlocked the first room. There were 20 people. He said that all of them were descendants of Ali (a) and Fatima (a) and the caliph has ordered you to kill them. So I killed them one after another and he dumped their heads and bodies in the well. Then he opened the door of the next room. There was another 20 descendants of Ali (a) and Fatima (a). We did the same to them. The servant opened the last room and there was another 20 Sayyids. I killed 19 of them. The last one who was an elderly Sayyid faced me and said, "O, wicked! Woe to you! What excuse do you have when you encounter our great grandfather, the Apostle of Allah (s) on the Day of Judgment while you have already killed 60 of his descendants?!" My hand started shivering and also my whole body. The servant looked at me with anger and I feared him, so I killed that elderly Sayyid as well."

Maqatil al-Talibiyyin has narrated from Ibrahim b. Rayyah: "When Harun al-Rashid captured Yahya b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan b. al-Hasan, he built a pillar on him while he was alive. Harun had learned this from his great grandfather, al-Mansur.

Alawis' Uprisings

There were several uprisings led by descendants of the Prophet (s) throughout Islamic history such as:

Appointment of Imam al-Rida (a)

After that al-Ma'mun named Imam al-Rida (a) as his successor, the Imam wrote a letter to Sayyids in Medina and invited them to Iran.[10] As a result the lady Fatima al-Ma'suma (a), her brothers and sisters and other Sayyids moved to Iran.[11]

Shi'a Governments

One of the reasons that attracted Sayyids to the north region of Iran was establishment of Shi'a governments in Tabaristan.[12]

Diwan al-Niqaba

Diwan al-Niqaba (the office of headship) was established and became one of the official institutions of the government during the Caliphate of al-Musta'in, the Abbasid Caliph. The institution was established to register Sayyids' birth, death, and marriage and also to distribute some religious funds such as khums and zakat among them.[13]

The first naqib (head) of Sayyids was al-Sharif Abu 'Abd Allah al-Husayn b. Abi l-Ghana'im Ahmad, known as Nahr Shabusi. He was a descendant of Zayd b. Ali and the nephew of Yahya b. 'Umar who had revolted in 250/864-5. When he saw the weakness of al-Musta'in, the caliph, he went to him and suggested the establishment of Diwan al-Niqaba. He wrote a book titled as al-Ghusun fi shajarat Bani Yasin (the stems in the tree of Yasin's descendants) in genealogy of Sayyids.[14].[15]

Fabricated Sayyids

After the establishment of Diwan al-Niqaba some opportunists claimed lineage to the Prophet (s) to receive the special privilege of Sayyids. Thus, books about the genealogies of Sayyids were written to distinguish Sayyids. Ibn Tabataba 'Alawi al-Isfahani has authored a book titled as Muntaqalat al-Talibiyya for this reason.[16]

Signs of Recognition

Throughout the history, Sayyids and 'Alawis (descendants of Imam Ali (a)) had special signs distinguishing them from other people, such as registration in a special office of al-Niqaba and hanging two braids on both sides of their face.[17]

Nowadays, cleric Sayyids are known by their black turban and non-cleric Sayyids by a green shirt, hat, scarf or shawl.

Although these signs are conventional but there is supporting evidence for each of them in hadiths and history.

Green Clothes

From early times, the green color was associated with Ahl al-Bayt, perhaps because of the hadiths which indicate that they wore green clothes.

  • It is been narrated that Gabriel flied a green flag on the top of the Ka'ba when the Prophet (s) was born.[18]
  • In another report the Prophet (s) was wearing green when he married lady Khadija (a).[19]
  • Also the Prophet (s) was seen wearing green during tawaf (Circumambulation of the Ka'ba).[20]
  • Two garments were sent to the Prophet (s) from the Heaven. He gave the green one to al-Hasan (a) and the red one to al-Husayn (a), then he and Gabriel cried.[21]
  • According to historical reports, after that al-Ma'mun named Imam al-Rida (a) as his successor, al-Ma'mun ordered Abbasid officials and noblemen to wear green, which was the color of 'Alawis,[22] instead of black, which was the color of Abbasid. These reports indicate that green was known as the color of Sayyids even before al-Ma'mun.
  • During Mamluk Sultanate (648-932/1250-1 -1525-6) Malik Ashraf al-Mamluki ordered Sayyids to have a green sign on their head so that they could be easily recognized and respected.[23]

Black Turban

Cleric Sayyids wear black turbans. Some reports about black turban are as follows:

a Family Tree

Special Rulings

There are special rulings in Islamic jurisprudence regarding Sayyids such as impermissibility of taking and consuming zakat from non-Sayyids and allocation a part of khums to them (Sahm al-Sadat).[29] It is been narrated in hadiths that the reason of such injunction is respecting their high status in the society.[30]

However, these rulings are only applied to Sayyids who are connected to Hashim through their fathers and those who are linked through their mothers are not included.

Family Tree

Sayyid families traditionally keep a family tree in which a tree-like drawing shows how they are connected to an Infallible Imam (a).[31]


  1. Ṭabāṭabāʾī Yazdī, al-ʿUrwat al-wuthqā, vol. 2, the book of khums, chapter 2, issue 3.
  2. Rawḍātī, Jāmiʿ al-ansāb, p. 5-34.
  3. Bayhaqī, Tārīkh-i Bayhaq, p. 54.
  4. Qummī, Tārīkh-i Qom, p. 208.
  5. Qummī, Tārīkh-i Qom, p. 209.
  6. Ibn Ḥawqal, Ṣūrat al-arḍ, vol. 1, p. 240.
  7. Rawḍātī, Jāmiʿ al-ansāb, p. 5-34.
  8. Rajāʾī, al-Muʿaqqibūn min Āl Abī Ṭālib, vol. 1, p. 21.
  9. Ibn Khalkān, Wafayāt al-aʿyān, vol. 4, p. 137.
  10. Zahīr al-Dīn Marʿashī, Tārīkh-i Ṭabaristān wa Ruyān wa Māzandarān, p. 198.
  11. Zahīr al-Dīn Marʿashī, Tārīkh-i Ṭabaristān wa Ruyān wa Māzandarān, p. 198.
  12. Zahīr al-Dīn Marʿashī, Tārīkh-i Ṭabaristān wa Ruyān wa Māzandarān, p. 198.
  13. Tihrānī, al-Dharīʿa, vol. 16, p. 58.
  14. ʿAmrī, al-Majdī fī ansāb al-ṭālibīn, p. 171.
  15. al-Fakhrī, p. 41.
  16. Ibn Ṭabāṭabā, Muntaqalāt al-ṭālibīyya, p. 3.
  17. Qazwīnī al-Rāzī, al-Naqd, p. 629.
  18. Dīyārbakrī, Tārīkh al-khamīs, vol. 1, p. 185.
  19. Bakrī Miṣrī, Anwār fī mawlid al-Nabī, p. 341.
  20. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1, p. 350.
  21. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 44, p. 246.
  22. Tarjuma-yi tārīkh-i Ṭabarī, vol. 13, p. 56-60.
  23. Ḥaqqī, Ashrāf Makka, p. 26.
  24. Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, vol. 3, p. 379; hadith 10, chapter 30.
  25. Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, vol. 3, p. 378, hadith 9.
  26. Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-nubalāʾ, vol. 1, p. 379.
  27. Ibn Kathīr, Sira Ibn Kathīr, vol. 4, p. 78.
  28. Faqīhī, Tārīkh-i jāmiʿa-yi Qom, p. 115.
  29. Najafī, Jawāhir al-kalām, p. 406-415; vol. 16, p. 104.
  30. Ṭūsī, Tahdhīb al-aḥkām, vol. 4, p. 57.
  31. Dehkhodā, Lughatnāma, under the word "Shajaranama".


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