Sayyid (Arabic: سیّد, feminine: Sayyida Arabic: سیّدة, plural: Sada Arabic: سادة, noun: Siyada Arabic: سیادة), according to jurisprudence, 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.
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 (descendent 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. 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. 450/1057) used the title "sharif" instead and in some cases that they used sayyid it is followed by "al-sharif". 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.
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". Likewise, Ibn Hawqal, who was contemporary with the author of Tarikh Qom, used "Sadat" addressing Al Abi Talib (descendants of Abu Talib).
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).
They are descent from Muhammad al-Akbar, known as Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya (15 or 18-84/636 or 639-702) 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.
- Main article: Al-Hasani Sayyids
- Main article: Al-Husayni Sayyids
- Main article: Al-Musawi Sayyids
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.
- Main article: Al-Radawi Sayyids
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).
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
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
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.
There were several uprisings led by descendants of the Prophet (s) throughout Islamic history such as:
- Zayd b. Ali (Imam Sajjad's (a) son) against Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik: the revolt of Zayd and his son Yahya provoked and caused Umayyad hatred, because they were persecuting Banu Hashim as long as they possessed the caliphate position.
- Uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan and his brother Ibrahim b. 'Abd Allah in Hijaz and Iraq against al-Mansur al-Dawaniqi followed by their brother, Yahya, fleeing to Iran and then his uprising in Tabaristan and Daylam against Harun al-Rashid (d. 193/808).
- Uprising of 'Isa b. Zayd b. Ali during Abbasid reign.
- Uprising of Ibn Tabataba in Kufa.
Appointment of Imam al-Rida (a)
- Main article: Imam al-Rida's (a) Succession of al-Ma'mun
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. As a result the lady Fatima al-Ma'suma (a), her brothers and sisters and other Sayyids moved to Iran.
- Main article: 'Alids (Tabaristan)
One of the reasons that attracted Sayyids to the north region of Iran was establishment of Shi'a governments in Tabaristan.
- Main article: 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
- It is been narrated that Gabriel flied a green flag on the top of the Ka'ba when the Prophet (s) was born.
- In another report the Prophet (s) was wearing green when he married lady Khadija (a).
- Also the Prophet (s) was seen wearing green during tawaf (Circumambulation of the Ka'ba).
- 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.
- 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, 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 (648-932/1250-1525) Malik Ashraf al-Mamluki ordered Sayyids to have a green sign on their head so that they could be easily recognized and respected.
Cleric Sayyids wear black turbans. Some reports about black turban are as follows:
- Imam al-Sadiq (a) said, "The day in which the Prophet (s) conquered Mecca and entered Ka'ba, he was wearing a black turban."
- 'Abd Allah b. Sulayman has narrated from his father that Imam al-Sajjad (a) entered the mosque wearing a black turban.
- Some believe that Safavid Shahs made the black turban the sign for cleric Sayyids as an indication of their deep sorrow of martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a).
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). It is been narrated in hadiths that the reason of such injunction is respecting their high status in the society.
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.
Sayyid families traditionally keep a family tree in which a tree-like drawing shows how they are connected to an Infallible Imam (a).
- The material for this article is mainly taken from سادات in Farsi WikiShia.