Sayyid (سيد) (plural Saadah) is an honorific title that is given to males accepted as descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through his grandsons, Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali, who were the sons of his daughter Fatima Zahra and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib.
This follows Muhammad's saying that Hassan and Husayn are his children, and that he Muhammad is their father.
Daughters of male sayyids are given the titles Sayyida, Alawiyah, Syarifah or Sharifah. Children of a Sayyida mother but a non-Sayyid father cannot be attributed the title of Sayyid, however they may claim maternal descent. Both Shiites and Sunnis that claim descent from Muhammad, do so through at least one of the Shiite Imams.
In Islamic mysticism or Sufism, only a sayyid can initiate a Sufi order or tariqah
The word literally means "master" ; the closest English equivalent would be "sir" or "lord". In the Arab world itself, the word is still used as a substitute for "Mister", as in Sayyid John Smith. The same concept is expressed by the word sidi (from the Arabic word 'sayyidi') in the Moroccan dialect of Arabic.
Some Muslims also use the term sayyid for the descendants of Abu Talib, uncle of Muhammad, by his other sons: Abbas, Jafar, Aqeel and Talib.
Alevis use seyyid (Turkish) as an honorific before the names of their saints.
Dawoodi Bohras use the title syyedina for their Da'i al-Mutlaq (spiritual leader of the Bohra community) although they are not the descendants of Fatima.
El Cid , the name given to a famous Spanish knight of the 11th century C.E., is derived from Al-Sayyid (as-sayyid), meaning lord.
Language Transliteration Areas spoken
Arabic Sayyid, Sayyidi, Sayyed, Sayid, Sidi (Maghrebi) Arab world
Persian Sayyed, Sayed, Seyyed, Syed Iran, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia
Turkish Seyed, Seyit, Seyyid, Seyyed Turkey, Azerbaijan and Central Asia
Pashto Sayed, Syed Afghanistan and Pakistan
Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Bengali, Gujrati Syed, Saiyad, Saiyed, Sayyid South Asia
Malay Syed Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore
Spanish Cid Al-Andalus
People chose different Romanised (Latinized) transliterations based on the language with which they are familiar, not necessarily on the place where they are living. For example there are Muslim immigrants from many different countries living in London, UK. Immigrants of Arab origin may use the transliteration "sayyid" whilst immigrants of South Asian origin may use "Syed", this tendency may be extended to all ethnic communities.
Other Titles for Sayyids
Language Title Areas spoken
Arabic Sharif, Habib Arab world
Persian, Pashto, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Bengali, Malay Agha, Mir, Shah, Sheikh,Chishty South and South East Asia
Gujarati Sayedna, Syedna, Sayednah Northwest India, Sindh
Other Arabic honorific terms include sheikh and sharif. The line of Hassani sayyids who ruled Mecca, Medina, Iraq and now rule in Jordan, the Hashemites, bore the title 'sharif'. 'Sharif' is reserved for descendants of Hassan while 'sayyid' is used for descendants of Husayn. However ever since the post-Hashemite era began, the term 'sayyid' has been used to denote descendants from both Hassan and Husayn. Arab Shiites use the term 'sayyid' and 'habib' to denote descendants from both Hassan and Husayn.
Indication of descent
Sayyids often include the following titles in their names to indicate the figure from whom they trace their descent. If they are descended from more than one notable ancestor or Shi'a imam, they will use the title of the ancestor from whom they are most directly descended.
Ancestor Arabic Title Arabic Last Name Persian Last Name Urdu Last Name
Ali ibn Abu Talib Allawi2 Allawi2 or Alawi3 Alavi2 علوى Alvi2
Hasan ibn Ali al-Hashimi or al-Hassani al-Hashimi or al-Hassani Hashemi, Hassani, or Tabatabai حسنى Hasani or Hashmi
Husayn ibn Ali al-Hussaini al-Hussaini1 Hosseini حسينى Hussaini
Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al Abidin al-Abidi al-Abidi Abedi عابدى Abdi
Zayd ibn Ali ash-Shahid az-Zaidi al-Zaidi Zaidi زيدي Zaidi
Muhammad al-Baqir al-Baqiri al-Baqiri Baqeri باقرى Baqri
Jafar as-Sadiq al-Ja'fari al-Ja'fari Jafari or Jafri جعفرى Jafri
Musa al-Kazim al-Mousawi al-Mousawi Mousavi or Kazemi موسوى / كاظمى Kazmi or Mousavi
Ali ar-Rida ar-Radawi al-Ridawi or al-Radawi Rezavi or Rizvi or Rizavi رضوى Rizvi
Muhammad at-Taqi at-Taqawi al-Taqawi Taqavi تقوى Taqvi or Taqwi
Ali al-Hadi an-Naqawi al-Naqawi Naqavi نقوى Naqvi
Fatima Zahra Ashraf Al-Quraishi Al-Husaini Fatimi Fatmi
NOTE: (For non-Arabic speakers) When transliterating Arabic words into English there are two approaches.
1. The user may transliterate the word letter for letter, e.g. "الزيدي" becomes "a-l-z-ai-d-i".
2. The user transliterate the pronunciation of the word, e.g. "الزيدي" becomes "a-zz-ai-d-i". This is because in Arabic grammar, some consonants (n, r, s, sh, t and z) cancel the l (ل) from the word "the" al (ال) . When the user sees the prefixes an, ar, as, ash, at, az, etc... this means the word is the transliteration of the pronunciation.
An i, wi (Arabic), or vi (Persian) ending could perhaps be translated by the English suffixes ite or ian. The suffix transforms a personal name, or a place name, into the name of a group of people connected by lineage or place of birth. Hence Ahmad al-Hashimi could be translated as Ahmad of the lineage of Hassan and Ahmad al-Harrani as Ahmad from the city of Harran. For further explanation, see Arabic names.
1Also, El-Husseini, Al-Husseini, Husseini, and Hussaini.
2Those who use the term sayyid for all descendants of Ali ibn Abi Talib regard Allawis or Alavis as sayyids. However Allawis are not descendants of Muhammad, as they are descended from the children of Ali and the women he married after the death of Fatima Zahra, such as Umm al Baneen/Fatima bint Hizam. Those who limit the term sayyid to descendants of Muhammad through Fatima Zahra, will not consider Allawis/Alavis to be sayyids.
3This transliteration is usually reserved for Alawi sect.
Ibn Battutah on the usage of 'Sayyid' in India
Ibn Battutah had the following to say on the usage of the Sayyid in India " Then one of the officers said to me in Arabic , What do you say , ya sayyadi ?( the people of that country never address an Arab except by the title of Sayyid , and it is by this title that the Sultan himself addresses , out of respect for the Arabs .)" 
Sayyids in Indian Sub-continent
Some Sayyid families in Indian sub-continent claim direct relationship with the Prophet of Islam through his daughter Fâtimah and son-in-law Ali. Their ancestors migrated from different parts of Iran, during the invasion of Halaku and other periods of turmoil. They migrated through Herat (then part of Iran) in Afghanistan to different parts of India. These migrations occurred during the periods of Mahmud Ghaznavi, Delhi Sultanate and Mughals and continued till late into 19th century. Most sufi saints whose lineage could also be traced to Prophet Muhammad also migrated during the early periods of Delhi Sultanat and Mughals. Some of the early migrant Sayyids moved deep to the peninsular part of India, in the region of Deccan plateau in the reign of Bahmani Sultanate/Bahmani kings and later Qutb Shahi kings of Golconda, Nizam Shahi of Ahmadnagar, and other kingdoms of Bijapur, Bidar and Berar.
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