Arabic title of respect, restricted, after the advent of Islam, to members of Muhammad's clan of Hashim-in particular, to descendants of his uncles al-'Abbas and Abu Talib and of the latter's son 'Ali by Muhammad's daughter Fatimah. In the Hejaz (western coast of Arabia), the title of sharif is said to have been further restricted to the descendants of Hasan, the elder son of 'Ali and Fatimah. Sharifs originally were heads of prominent families in a town. Later they supplied the local semiautonomous rulers of Mecca and Medina, especially when the cities were under the suzerainty of Baghdad and Cairo, while after the establishment of Ottoman rule, the Ottomans normally recognized the senior representative of the sharifs as prince of Mecca.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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