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Naqabat Al-Ashraaf from Alexandria -

Pride of Place

At least 70,000 Egyptians are literally

card-carrying descendants of the
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his
family. Senior Writer Manal el-Jesri
goes inside the society that certifies
their belonging to Al-Ashraaf and
wonders: Is this branch of a family that is
as ancient as the Holy Qur’an ready to
deal with a new Saudi society and the
rise of DNA testing?More than social
and religious prestige are at stake: Did
the Prophet himself not say that the
Mahdi who will bring peace to Earth
after much war and destruction would
be “from my family, from the sons of

By Manal el-Jesri in Egypt Today which is the leading current affairs

magazine in Egypt and the Middle East and the oldest English-language publication
of its kind in the nation

June 2007’s Egypt Today "The Magazine Of Egypt" ©2004-2007 IBA-media

Sheikh Mohamed Hammad, the imam of Al-Rifaii Mosque, recently had a ru’ya (a divine dream).
He’s reluctant to talk about it and becomes a little shy when pressed, but it was this ru’ya that
prompted him to start investigating his family’s lineage, setting him off on a journey that has led
him to believe he is a descendant of Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace and prayers be upon him.

“A sheikh once told me that if someone dreams of one of the Prophet’s family, and especially if
the dream is of a female not wearing a veil, it means he is a mahrim [a male relative],” Sheikh
Hammad says. It was the great Sayyeda Zeinab that he dreamt of, that woman so beloved of
Egypt’s poor — the protector of the helpless, the chief of the Diwan, Omm Hashem, the Lady
Zeinab, the granddaughter of Sayyedna Muhammad, who was given her name by God Himself
through His messenger, the angel Gabriel.

Sayyeda Zeinab came to Egypt in the year 61 after Hijra (AH, equivalent to the year 680 on the
Julian calendar) after her brother, Sayyedna Al-Hussein, was murdered in the battle of Karbalaa
by the legions of the new Umayyad Caliph Al-Yazid I. She died and was buried in Cairo, where an
entire district was named in her honor. To this day, the Mosque of Sayyeda Zeinab is a popular
destination for Egyptians, poor and rich, in need of succor.

Sayyeda Zeinab’s journey to Egypt showed the Prophet’s other grandchildren and relatives that
Egypt would be a safe haven for them in times of need. She had brought her nephews and nieces
with her, the sons and daughters of her deceased brothers Al-Hussein and Al-Hassan, and their
descendants are those who live among us today as Al-Ashraaf.

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At turns feared and persecuted by those in power because of the boundless love and respect the
family attracts from the masses, there are now some 70,000 officially recognized families in Egypt
who can trace their lineage back to the Prophet and his descendants. While estimates of the
number of descendants yet to be registered varies widely depending on which authority you ask,
nassaaba (lineage expert, singular and plural) at the nation’s centuries-old Niqabat Al-Ashraaf
(Al-Ashraaf Syndicate) diligently sift through stacks of documents and process paperwork to
verify who will be recognized as a member of Al-Ashraaf and who will not. Canvassing the entire
nation for the family of the Prophet — who died some 1,400 years ago in 632 AH (1234 AD) — is
no easy feat, with today’s nassaaba obliged to depend on documents — not just family histories
passed down in the oral tradition — to verify lineage.

Although the largest concentration of officially recognized Al-Ashraaf can be found in Cairo and
Upper Egypt, disagreements over matrilineal descent and how an application to be recognized as
a Shareef is investigated has led Al-Ashraaf scattered across the Arab world to subtly begin
questioning the Egyptian syndicate’s credibility. In April, a new Al-Ashraaf association launched in
Saudi Arabia, claiming it will certify applicants’ status as Al-Ashraaf using more modern, scientific
methodologies — including, perhaps, DNA testing.

Mohsen Allam
Al-Naqeeb Ahmed
Kamel Yassin claims
there are millions of Al-
Ashraaf in Egypt, a
number many dispute.

For applicants, though, certification as a Shareef is about far more than a piece of paper on the

At the Syndicate

Sheikh Hammad hopes to receive his certificate after the lineage verification committee finishes
its investigations. That committee is at the heart of Niqabat Al-Ashraaf on Salah Salem Road. The
architecture of the syndicate’s opulent headquarters is Islamic-chic. Ornamental marble covers
the outside of the building, the interior of which is furnished in arabesque wood. Carved brass
adorns most walls, and the main hall underneath the dome has a magnificent brass and colored
glass chandelier. Sitting behind his desk is Ahmed Kamel Yassin, a retired general now known as
Al-Naqeeb (the head of the Syndicate, or Niqaba) as was his brother before him. Yassin can
trace his lineage back to both Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein and, more recently, to the Imam Al-
Rifaii, the beloved Sufi pole (see box), a heritage that also makes Yassin the Grand Sheikh of the
Rifaii Sufi method.

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The wall behind Yassin is decorated with a huge replica of the stamp of Prophet Muhammad. He
looks at it lovingly when asked about it. “Al-Ashraaf are the descendants of the Messenger of
God, and people cherish this lineage. They love it and protect it,” Yassin says.

Mohsen Allam
Lineage expert Sobhi Eid
can recite his roots all
the way back to the

In Egypt, which boasts the highest concentration of Al-Ashraaf in the world, the Niqaba — headed
by Yassin, who is aided by both a board and a committee of nassaaba — has existed since the
time of the Fatimid dynasty (910-1171 AD). The first naqeeb was Caliph Al-Muizz Li Din Allah in
968 AD. In his day and for centuries afterward, registering with the Niqaba was pointless, as the
naqeeb personally knew all Al-Ashraaf and the idea that anyone would make a false claim never

One of the most illustrious of Yassin’s predecessors was Al-Sayyed Omar Makram, who was in
charge during the 1798 Bonaparte campaign against Egypt. The leader of the second Cairo
revolution against the French in 1800, his religious role has been cast into the national identity.

For more than a century and a half afterward, the syndicate prospered. Then, in 1953, Al-Naqeeb
Al-Sayyed Mohamed Ali El-Beblawy passed away. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of the
time, conspicuously opted not to appoint a new one. Although the Niqaba was never traditionally
associated with the state, it was President Hosni Mubarak who brought it back to life by
appointing Yassin’s brother Mahmoud Kamel Yassin as Al-Naqeeb in 1991. Ahmed Kamel Yassin
followed in his brother’s footsteps in 1994, also appointed by Mubarak.

(Interestingly, Ahmed Yassin was the first to bring the title of Shareef to Egypt. “It was used in
other countries, but in Egypt we used the title of Al-Sayyed to refer to a descendant of the
Prophet,” he explains.)

“Everything you see around you is paid for by Al-Ashraaf,” says Yassin. “We receive no support
from the Ministry of Awqaf [Religious Endowments]. In the past, Al-Ashraaf themselves had
awqaf, profits coming from agricultural land, for example, that helped support the poorer family
members. The reason for the existence of the awqaf was because a Shareef is not allowed to
accept charity, but can accept help from another Shareef. They are cousins, after all. When I
became naqeeb, a young Shareef had an accident. He became paralyzed, and had no source of
income. I decided to establish a fund for Al-Ashraaf. The rich members of the syndicate pay into
it, and the revenue goes to the poorer members. We also send members to Hajj and celebrate
the major religious events and holidays at our assembly hall here. It is a way for Al-Ashraaf to
socialize and get to know each other.

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Mohsen Allam
A divine dream inspired
Sheikh Mohamed
Hammad to start
investigating his family’s

“We are all members of the same family, you know,” he says.

It is a distinction shared by some 70,000 individually registered families in Egypt. “It will take us
10 to 15 years to register all the members of Al-Ashraaf. We are close to 5 or 6 million in Egypt,”
Yassin says.

Although some members of Al-Ashraaf believe this figure is too high, Yassin insists millions of Al-
Ashraaf are yet to be registered. “When Sayyeda Zeinab first came to Egypt, tens of her relatives
came with her,” he notes. “The tens gave birth to hundreds, who later gave birth to thousands,
and so on. It’s been 1,400 years. The figure of millions is not a strange one.”

To reach all Al-Ashraaf, Yassin adds, “I have set up tertiary syndicates in every governorate, in
some cases even in towns, especially in Upper Egypt. It is where most of Al-Ashraaf are
concentrated.” According to Yassin, the syndicate is certifying up to 1,000 new members every

Despite the staggering number of certificates being doled out, verifying a family’s lineage is no
simple matter, Yassin continues. “Some people hold on to their family trees. These are very long
parchments which they wrap and put in a tin box, kept safely in the hands of the oldest member
of the family. Then there are books about lineage, and next come the keepers, those who
memorize the lineage of a family. We have a register here dating back 150 years ago, with the
names of all Al-Ashraaf whose lineage has been verified,” he says.

Certification from Niqabat

Al-Ashraaf is more than just
a status symbol.
The Keeper

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Elsewhere in the Niqabat Al-Ashraaf building, Hajj Sobhi Eid sits in a room full of researchers. It is
here that certificates of lineage originate: Everyone in this room is an expert on the Hashimi
lineage — the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe — but it is easy to recognize Eid as the
chief expert in the room. With eyes tired from too many hours spent poring over old books and a
look on his face that says, ‘Talk if you must, but I am busy, so make it quick,’ Eid is also a
Shareef, one of a dying breed of keepers who can recite his own lineage back to its origin, the
Prophet Himself.

“My lineage comes from my mother and my father, who are both Al-Ashraaf,” Eid says in a slow
drawl, sounding as if he has not spoken for ages.

Asked about the figure of 5 million Al-Ashraaf in Egypt, the history scholar and top Syndicate
investigator shakes his head in boredom. “This is not exactly accurate. Where does this figure
come from when we have registered 70,000 families and are about to finish registration? We
have covered all of Egypt, although this includes lineage coming from the mother and the father,
which is not exactly accurate. A mother’s lineage is called butoun, that of the father is called
aslaab, which is what a nassaaba should go by,” he says.

Not minding Eid’s questions on the issue, Yassin has a ready answer for the question of whether
the status of Al-Ashraaf can pass through the maternal line, saying, “We are the sons of Al-
Hassan and Al-Hussein, the children of Fatima Al-Zahraa, the daughter of the Prophet
Muhammad, peace be upon Him. She is our source of lineage, so how can we deny lineage to
other mothers? In other countries, they even accept the lineage of Sayyeda Zeinab herself, but
here in Egypt, a Shareef is a descendant of Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein,” Yassin says.

Mohsen Allam
Certification from
Niqabat Al-Ashraaf is
more than just a status

Eid, though, counters that not all mothers are to be compared to Fatima Al-Zahraa, and a hadith
of the Prophet Muhammad appears to give credence to his argument: “All the children of a
mother are attributed to their fatherly relation except the sons of Fatima,” the Prophet said.
Indeed, the Prophet loved his daughter so much that he considered Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein
his own children, he loved them deeply. All three of the Prophet’s own sons died in infancy.

As a youth, Eid was attendant to his grandparents at the time of their ablutions for prayer and was
taught the lineage of his own family and that of his relatives at the tender age of 12. Despite his
rare proficiency in orally tracing back his lineage, Eid hesitates to talk about that approach to
ansaab (lineage), saying he makes decisions on membership in Al-Ashraaf through solid
evidence presented in documents and scholarly tracts.

“At home, I have about 40,000 books on ansaab. It is an exact science, and a very dangerous
thing to deal with lightly,” he says. What makes it so difficult, Eid explains, is that Arabs,
especially Al-Ashraaf, often share origins. “You will find that Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein meet at
Fatima Al-Nabawiyya and Al-Hassan Al-Muthanna, who are cousins. If a Shareef says he is

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Hassani or Husseini, it makes no difference. The Messenger of God told us to recognize and
remember our ansaab in order to be kind to our relatives. That is the main purpose,” he says.

Today, the memorization of lineage is still practiced among Arab tribes, be they in Upper Egypt or
in other parts of the region. Lineage, after all, was the key factor in adjudicating land claims prior
to Islam. With the arrival of Islam, lineage became a source of baraka, or blessing, particularly for

One’s nasab (singular for ansaab) was particularly important in view of the continuous migration
of Al-Ashraaf, who were persecuted by leaders across the region who feared Al-Ashraaf might try
to convert their immense popular support into bids for power.

Sheikh Mohammad ibn

Ali Al-Talha (with his
Moroccan certification of
Al-Ashraaf, at left) hopes
his new association “will
put things to rights
regarding the issue of

After all, Eid notes, “Abdel Rahman El-Dakhel started the Arab dynasty in Andalusia. There was
also Idriss, who migrated to Morocco.” (Idriss is, in fact, one of Eid’s forefathers: the nassaaba’s
name ends in Idrissi.) “Idriss and his brother Suleiman migrated to North Africa. Idriss was the
son of Abdullah Al-Kamel, the son of Al-Hassan Al-Muthanna, the son of Al-Imam Al-Hassan, the
son of Ali ibn Abi Taleb [the cousin of the Prophet and husband of his beloved daughter, Fatima
Al-Zahraa]. He founded the Idrissi dynasty in Morocco. The people of North Africa love Ahlul Bayt
[the family of the Prophet], and the Berber king married off his daughter to Idriss, who bore him
Mohammed and Suleiman. Mohammed later had Idriss [the true founder of the dynasty] who had
12 or 14 or 16 children,” he says.

Most of Al-Ashraaf of Morocco are Idrissis, a handful of whom would later make their way to

Map of Love

More than 14 centuries separate the modern age from the time of the Prophet. As can be
expected, tracking every member of every family that branched off from this illustrious lineage
over the years is a daunting task, making it essential that a nassaaba born into the tradition of
lineage tracing has a passion for his work.

“A nassaaba has to be very careful. The sources are many and varied. It could be a history book,
a book about a history figure, a book about family trees, or a book about lineage. But not any
book is to be trusted,” Eid warns. “You have to study something about the author and whether he
wrote what he wrote for money or to leave behind a true legacy. There are authors to trust and
authors to take lightly.”

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Mohsen Allam
Sheikh Mohammad ibn
Ali Al-Talha (with his
Moroccan certification of
Al-Ashraaf, at left) hopes
his new association “will
put things to rights
regarding the issue of

Eid is currently working on a guidebook for future nassaaba with pointers on the correct methods
of investigating lineage as well as tips on steering clear of common mistakes. A how-to guide for
a nassaaba, if you will.

Take, for example, the common problem of parents naming their child after a revered imam such
as Al-Rifaii. “This constitutes a problem because a family could later claim they are descendants
of Al-Rifaii. But which Rifaii: the original one or his namesake? This is why it is dangerous,
although tempting, to go by the famous names of Al-Ashraaf as the only proof of lineage,” Eid

Even the lineage of some families already declared Al-Ashraaf is open to question, he suggests.
Eid, one of the most meticulous experts on ansaab, recounts how things were done back during
the time of the old Niqaba, before 1953.

“What they gave members was not a certificate, it was a decree of nasab, and some of those are
over 200 years old. Like today, a person had to come forward with their documents and the
Niqaba would send detectives to visit the person’s village or town and ask the old people about
the claims of lineage. Some people were famous Al-Ashraaf, and sometimes the Niqaba
depended solely on this reputation. It was not accurate enough. These days, we depend on
documents and history books only. Everything must be well-documented on paper,” Eid says.

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Today, many applications are turned down. Eid refuses to talk about the percentage of rejected
applications, but says that the status of any nasab falls under four categories: sahih (correct),
maqbul (accepted), da’if (weak) and mardud (rejected). “We never tell anyone that their
documents are forged, although we have seen some forgeries. We just say that the nasab is
mardud,” he says.

Courtesy: Sheikh
Mohamed Ibn Ali Al-

Magdi El-Safty, the former deputy of Naqabat Al-Ashraaf from Alexandria, discovered a number
of forged family trees.

“Some families had posted their family trees on the internet, and it was very obvious that these
trees were forgeries,” claims El-Safty. “I even know of a place here in Alexandria where they
forge family trees. It is obvious when a tree is a forgery: You can see it in the calligraphy, the
style, the ink and many other variants. I have seen so much that I can tell a forgery from an
authentic document right away.”

El-Safty, an accountant by profession, worked as a deputy for the Niqaba for six years, from 1994
to 2000. “At the time I took charge, there were only 50 registered Al-Ashraaf families in
Alexandria. I helped register 1,500 members,” he says. As El-Safty sees it, the Niqaba’s main job
is to protect ansaab so they are not lost. Although no longer associated with the Syndicate, El-
Safty maintains a website — www.alashraf.ws — funded by Kuwaiti Al-Sherif Abdullah Al-
Hussein and visited by Al-Ashraaf from all over the world. El-Safty’s site is not backed by the
Egypt-based Syndicate.

“For Arabs, the nasab was an important element of their identity. They kept it and recorded it. An
old family’s tree would be a six or seven-meter document. When I worked at the Alexandria
branch of the syndicate, I always made sure I saw the original before accepting a copy. Some
families were registered with the old, pre-1953 Niqaba, and these we used to accept right away,
but then some are known to be Al-Ashraaf. In the villages, people know these things. They
memorize the families’ lineages,” he says.

With overpopulation, it became difficult to depend on elders’ memories. That is when forgeries
started springing up, El-Safty alleges.

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Mohsen Allam
Sayyeda Zeinab mosque is
one of many focal points for
Al-Ashraaf. (Inset) A
certificate of nasab from
Niqabat Al-Ashraaf

“In Upper Egypt, where the tribal feelings are very strong, someone would say ‘I am a Shareef,’
so another, in order to raise the status of his family or tribe, would say, ‘Well, so am I.’ Down
there, it makes a huge difference in People’s Assembly elections if you are a Shareef or not.
[Upper Egypt boasts the greatest concentration of Al-Ashraaf in Egypt and probably the world. A
Shareef there is guaranteed success in any election.] In other cases, drug traffickers procure
forged family trees to claim descent to the Prophet. It is their way of diverting attention from their
illegal activities,” he says.

With Shareef such a sought-after title, El-Safty is skeptical of the notion Egypt might be home to
millions of Al-Ashraaf. “This means that one of every 10 Egyptians is a Shareef. How can this be?
Even the figure of 70,000 is too large. The Niqaba accepts the lineage of women, which is not
accurate. I believe the true figure to be one third or a little less [of 70,000].”

Back to the Roots

Monoufiyya-born Sheikh Mohammad ibn Ali Al-Talha is the secretary-general of a new

association of the descendants of the Prophet, the Mecca-based World Scientific Association of
Hashimi Lineage. Al-Shareef Mohammad Al-Husseiny, a Saudi businessman and chief of the
Hashimi descendants in Saudi Arabia, serves as the president of the association, which says it
aims to connect Al-Ashraaf all over the world — and to weed out the false claims to the lineage.

“As you know, there have been a lot of false claims to Hashimi descent by big families. These
claims are hurtful. The association will branch all over the world, with a secretary-general and
deputies in every country. We hope this association will put things to rights regarding the issue of
descent,” Al-Talha explains.

Mohsen Allam
Dr. Saeed Abul-Isaad

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One way the organization plans to “put things to rights” is to base its registration on DNA testing.
“A few years ago, an Egyptian doctor in the US was helping us get tested,” adds El-Safty, who is
one of the three nassaaba serving as consultants to Al-Talha, explains. “The test I took was
designed to prove if a person is of Adnani descent [Adnan is common ancestor of all Arabs]. But I
believe it is possible to reach the DNA of Al-Ashraaf. We can get the defining sample from one of
the oldest families whose descent in indisputable and then compare the tested samples to it. The
Jews did this, to prove if someone is a Semite or not, and it worked for them.”

(El-Safty’s suggestion of tracing lineage through DNA has merit, but is at best a highly simplistic
view of the complex science of population genetics and how it may be used to identify a person’s
membership in a particular family.)

Although Al-Talha is enthusiastic about the new association, he’s not certain that all members
should be subjected to a DNA test. He himself took the ‘Adnani test,’ but believes DNA testing
should be optional. “It will be very awkward if old, established families were to find out that after
hundreds of years of believing they are Al-Ashraaf, they discover they are regular people after
all,” he says.

The new World Scientific Association, Al-Talha believes, will have more credibility than Egypt’s
Niqaba, which he criticizes for having a leader who is not a lineage expert. Traditionally, naqeebs
have all been nassaaba, but that has not been the case recently.

“I believe his job is not to just sign the certificate. He must be an expert, he must have a say.
Some certificates have been issued that were not accurate. Our credibility, as a result, has been
affected. Some people just want the certificate for prestige,” Al-Talha claims.

The association, which says it hopes to collaborate with the Syndicate, will accept members after
a much stricter verification process. “The secretary general, aided by three nassaaba [including
El-Safty, in the case of Egypt], will personally review every application. Our recommendation will
be sent to Mecca, where further verification is to take place. The certificate will be issued in
Mecca,” Al-Talha says.

There’s more at stake here than just social and religious prestige, Al-Talha warns. Exactly who is
and isn’t a Shareef will one day be important in helping people accept the Mahdi, the man whose
advent was promised by the Prophet Muhammad and who will bring peace to Earth after much
war and destruction. The Mahdi, you see, will be a descendant of the house of Muhammad. The
Prophet s “The Mahdi is from my family, from the sons of Fatima.”

Like Eid, Al-Talha believes Fatima was special: she was the Prophet’s favorite daughter, which is
why matrilineal descent is only specific to her. “I believe it is wrong to include the sons and
daughters of a Shareefa in the lineage. If we were to weed out all those, we can safely say there
are only around 5,000 Al-Ashraaf in Egypt,” he says.

Al-Talha, an expert on ansaab, is proud to talk about his own. “Al-Talha are originally Moroccan.
Our ancestor is Sayyedi Sho’eib Abu Madyan, who was a great Sufi pole during his time. He died
in the year 598 AH (1201 AD). Sayyedi Talha and his father Madyan ibn Sho’eib came to Egypt in
the year 603 AH (1206 AD). The governorate of Kafr El-Sheikh used to be called Kafr El-Sheikh
Talha. King Fouad then changed the name to El-Fouadiyya, but after the revolution it was
changed back to Kafr El-Sheikh,” Al-Talha says. “The area of Hayy El-Magharba in Jerusalem is
a waqf that was awarded to our family, in addition to five villages in Palestine. The Wall of El-
Buraq [also known as the Wailing Wall to the Jews, it is a holy place for Muslims because it is
where the Prophet Muhammad tethered his winged steed on his night trip to Jerusalem] is part of
this waqf. Dr. Ahmed Abu Madyan, a Shareef and our relative, has been considering taking the
issue to the International Court of Justice, [Israel claimed the land following the 1967 War].”

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Pride of Place

Al-Talha was recently in Cairo to visit the Grand Mufti of Egypt Aly Gomaa to receive a fatwa
regarding the Hashimi descent, after hearing of a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jibrein,
one of Saudi Arabia’s most famous Wahhabi thinkers.

“Ibn Jibrein had said that there is nothing called Hashimis anymore. He also said that those who
claim to be Hashimis should be able to accept charity, which was prohibited by the Prophet
himself. He based his claims on the fact that the existing Hashimis are too far removed in time
from the Prophet. This is ridiculous. Some people have family trees that go back to the time of
Sayyedna Adam. The Mufti told me the fatwa of Ibn Jibrein is the talk of Wahhabis and he is
going to write a fatwa to disclaim it,” Al-Talha says.

The insistence of Al-Ashraaf, including Al-Talha and El-Safty, on protecting their noble lineage is
a good thing, but does seem rather frantic. Al-Naqeeb Yassin takes a much more relaxed
approach. To him, the heritage is something to be proud of, but is nothing to obsess over.

“Al-Shareef holds no advantage over anyone else. The Prophet said there is no difference
between an Arab and a foreigner except through taqwa [fear of God]. I give every Shareef who
has just registered his family a booklet, in which I write this advice: ‘My brother the Shareef, by
belonging to Ahlul Bayt, you must know that this does not make you any different from the rest of
the people. It is an honor that is only made better through fear of God. You must model yourself
on our master, the Prophet. [] You must obey God and the Prophet, pray a regularly and work,
because Islam is a religion for life and the beyond.’

“It is dangerous to be overly proud of being a Shareef,” Yassin continues. “It was a real problem
in Upper Egypt, because Shareefas refused to marry anyone who was not a Shareef, and as a
result we had a great number of unmarried women. I have fought this habit, and I believe I have
been able to change things.” et

For six years, Sheikh Mohamed Hammad was imam of Sayyeda Zeinab Mosque, witnessing the
daily crowds of visitors seeking her shrine. Today the imam of Al-Rifaii Mosque, Sheikh Hammad
has long pondered why it is that Egyptians, rich and poor alike, seek blessing and succor from the
deceased in times of need, even though the Saudi Arabian, or Wahhabi, interpretation of Islam
frowns upon the practice.

“Why do people who have money troubles go to Sayyeda Nafeesa? Why do people who are in
some kind of crisis visit Sayyedna Al-Hussein? And why do people in trouble go to Sayyeda
Zeinab, why do those who are feeling depressed go to Sayyeda Aisha? I have thought about this
for long, but then at a celebration in the Mosque of Sayyeda Zeinab, I found myself reciting this
verse: ‘They shall have all that they wish for, in the presence of their Lord: such is the reward of
those who do good” (Suret Az-Zumar 39:34).’

“And then I thought, ‘But why do people have to go to their shrine to ask for their assistance, or
rather their intervention, in seeking God’s help?’ The Prophet said a grave is either one of the
gardens of Paradise or one of the pits of Hell. So if you stand in front of the shrine of one of these
descendants, then you are at the gate of Paradise,” Hammad explains. “This is why supplication
is answered by God. People have tried this, it has worked for them, this is why they keep going

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Although the descendants of the Prophet’s uncles are also considered Al-Ashraaf in other parts of
the world, the descendants of Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein are those considered the true Ahlul Bayt
(Family of the Prophet). According to the Qur’an (33:33 — Suret Al-Ahzab): “And Allah only
wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and
spotless.” In Sahih Muslim, one of the most accurate compilations of the Prophet’s sayings, the
Prophet is quoted explaining verse 33: “The verse of purification was revealed concerning five
people: myself, Ali, Hassan, Hussein and Fatima.”

This is why Egyptians are proud to say that their country is the resting place of a great number of
the Prophet’s first descendants. In fact, a whole street is dedicated to the revered family. Cutting
through the district of Khalifa, the street connects the mosque of Al-Sayyeda Nafeesa, the
beloved of Egypt’s women, to the mosque of Sayyeda Zeinab. Dozens of the grandchildren and
children of Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein are buried on both sides of this street, and their
mausoleums and mosques are visited by Muslims from all over the world.

Dr. Saeed Abul-Isaad, the secretary of the general Mashyakah (Sheikhdom) of Sufi Methods, a
semi-independent entity that sees eye-to-eye with both Al Azhar and the Mufti but that has its
own elections and administrations, also believes in the baraka (blessing) of the descendants. His
book Nailo El-Khayrat El-Malmousa, Bizayarati Ahlil Bayti wal Salihina bi Misra El-Mahroussa, is
a guide to the lineage and locations of Egypt’s saints and descendants.

As a Sufi, this baraka is the core of his belief. The four Sufi Aqtab, or poles, are all direct
descendants of the Prophet (PBUH). These are Ahmed Al-Rifaii (buried in Iraq, his grandson is
buried in Al-Rifaii Mosque in Cairo), Ibrahim Al-Dessouki (buried in Dessouq, Egypt’s Delta),
Ahmed Al-Badawi (buried in Tanta, Egypt’s Delta) and Abdel Qader Al-Jilani (buried in Iraq).

“God ordered us to visit and love the relatives of the Prophet,” Abul-Isaad says, quoting Qur’an
42:23, “Say: ‘No reward do I ask of you for this except the love of those near of kin. (Ashshura)’.”

This is why, he points out, Egypt was called Masr El-Mahroussa in the past. “It is because it is
mahroussa [protected] by the Ahlul Bayt who came to it seeking refuge after they were
persecuted everywhere else,” he says. “Although my book cites tens of shrines, these make up
only a fraction of the true number of descendants buried in Egypt. Egypt has always been a
refuge. Before Islam, there was the Prophet Youssef, the Prophet Moussa, and the Prophet Issa,
who were all protected in Egypt. Egypt’s hospitality coincided with the generosity of Ahlul Bayt.”

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