- Sayyids and Sharifs in Muslim Societies: The living links to the Prophet ed. Morimoto Kazuo
When examining Islamic societies, diversity and pluralism characterizes any analysis. In fact, due to the historical spread of Islam as a living tradition, a scholar is hard pressed to see a common thread that links these societies, beyond the strictly religious practices and common beliefs in Islam (and even this is debatable when one takes into consideration the differences between Sunni and Shiʿi beliefs and practices). There is, however, one common denominator that has been understudied and yet permeates the lived reality of Muslim communities the world over – the putative descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad referred to alternatively as sayyids and sharīfs.
For now more than a decade, Morimoto Kazuo has been sounding the clarion call for the wider and deeper development of what he terms ‘sayyido-sharifology’, that is, the academic mapping of the breadth and depth of what it means to be a ‘sayyid’ or ‘sharīf ’ in an Islamic community. In this edited volume, the culmination of an academic conference held in 2009 at the University of Tokyo, Morimoto moves academia a step further towards a comprehensive understanding of sayyids and sharīfs in their wider contexts, although he admits ‘many things remain unclear in studies on sayyids and sharīfs, and our way to coherent knowledge consistently connecting the cases in different times and places remains a very long one. This volume, therefore, poses just as many questions as it provides answers for’ (9). In the brief review that follows, some of these questions will be probed as a starting point for future research progress in sayyido-sharifology.
The volume is divided into three clear sections, the first dealing with historical discourses about sayyids and sharīfs in three different periods from Islamic history. The second section comprises several historical analyses of different groups of sayyids and sharīfs from the pre-Ottoman [End Page 237] and Ottoman periods in the Middle East. The third section highlights disparate groups of sayyids and sharīfs outside of the Middle East, spanning a time period of five centuries and geographically distributed from the Iberian Peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago. One of these discrete studies by Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti, attempts to trace out historical emigration patterns of ʿAlids across the Middle East region using tenth and eleventh century Islamic genealogical and historical works to create a historical atlas of ʿAlid emigration. This field of inquiry is promising, since it could lead to a deeper understanding of the ways in which ʿAlid families spread throughout the Islamic world. Nevertheless, as Amoretti acknowledges, the ‘rudimentary maps’ cannot suggest anything conclusively (111). Perhaps the lack of conclusive results derives from the limitations of using early sources without problematizing the veracity of the narratives within them. Not only in Amoretti’s chapter, but throughout the volume, when a closer look is taken at the individual scholarly contributions within it, much rich historical material has been presented and described. Nevertheless, the reader struggles to see how these historical vignettes can elucidate a broader understanding of the social dynamics involved in the creation of what are indisputably ʿAlid social movements.
Several other contributors allude to the necessity of understanding ‘why’ the sayyids and sharīfs deserve particular accommodations or respect within the broader Islamic community, such as Roy Mottahedeh’s careful study of the Qurʾanic commentaries on the portion of khums that should be accorded to the kinsmen of the Prophet. Mottahedeh shows the early Islamic textual justifications for accordance of respect and financial support to the family of the Prophet and Yamaguchi Motoki’s following chapter highlights the challenges to sayyid/sharīf social class status by early twentieth century Islamic reformists, but does the Qur’anic commentaries lead directly to the formation of social classes or social movements? Despite these very interesting studies...