Sharifate of Mecca

The Sharifate of Mecca (Arabic: شرافة مكة Sharāfa Makka) or Emirate of Mecca[1] was a state, non-sovereign for much of its existence, ruled by the Sharifs of Mecca. A sharif is a descendant of Hasan ibn Ali, Muhammad's grandson.[2] In Western sources, the prince of Mecca was known as Grand Sherif, but Arabs have always used the appellation "Emir".[3]

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The Sharifate existed from about 968 to 1925.[4] From 1201, the descendants of the Sharifian patriarch Qutada ruled over Mecca, Medina and the Hejaz in unbroken succession until 1925.[5] Originally a Zaydi Shi'ite emirate, the Hasanid Sharifs converted to the Shafi'i rite of Sunni Islam in the late Mamluk or early Ottoman period.[6][7] Their Husaynid kin who traditionally ruled over Medina professed Twelver (Imami) Shi'ism. Both the Hasanid sharifs in Mecca and Husayni emirs in Medina converted to Sunnism in the Mamluk period, however, Mamluk and Ottoman sources hint towards continued Shia sympathy from among the ruling Hasanids and Husaynids after their conversion to Sunnism.[8]

Early history

Originally, the sharifs of the Hejaz had generally avoided involvement in public life.[9] This situation changed in the second half of the 10th century, with the rise of the Qaramita sect. The Qaramita directed tribal raids towards Iraq, Syria and much of Arabia, interrupting the flux of pilgrims to Mecca.[9] In 930, Qaramita raiders attacked Mecca, and stole the holy Black Stone from the Kaaba, gravely embarrassing the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad.[9] Abu al-Misk Kafur, an Abbasid vassal and ruler of Egypt, persuaded the Qaramita to end their raids and return the Black Stone to Mecca in return for an annual tribute. As a measure to enhance the safety of the pilgrims he chose one of the sharifs of Hejaz,and installed him as emir of Mecca in about 964.[9]

In 1012, the Emir of Mecca Abu'l-Futuh al-Hasan declared himself caliph, but he was persuaded to give up his title in the same year.[9] The first Sulayhid ruler conquered the whole of Yemen in 1062, and proceeded northwards to occupy the Hejaz. For a time, they appointed the Emirs of Mecca.[9] As Sunni power began to revive after 1058, the Meccan emirs maintained an ambiguous position between the Fatimids and the Seljuks of Isfahan.[9] After Saladin overthrew the Fatimids in 1171, the Ayyubids aspired to establishing their sovereignty over Mecca. Their constant dynastic disputes, however, led to a period free of external interferences in the Hejaz.[9]

In 1200 circa, a sharif by the name of Qatada ibn Idris seized power and was recognised as Emir by the Ayyubid sultan.[10] He became the first of a dynasty that held the emirate until it was abolished in 1925.[9] The Mamluks succeeded in taking over the Hejaz, and made it a regular province of their empire after 1350.[11] Jeddah became a base of the Mamluks for their operations in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, leading it to replace Yanbu as the main maritime trade centre on the Hejaz coast. By playing off members of the sharifian house against one another, the Mamluks managed to achieve a high degree of control over the Hejaz.[11]

Ottoman era

During the Ottoman period the Emirate was not hereditary, and owed its succession to direct nomination by the Ottoman Porte.[3] A dual system of government existed over the Hejaz for much of this period.[12] Ruling authority was shared between the Emir, a member of the ashraf or descendants of Muhammad, and the Ottoman wāli or governor.[12] This system continued until the Arab Revolt of 1916.[12] Apart from the Emirs of Mecca, Ottoman administration in the Hejaz was first at the hands of the Governor of Egypt and then the Governors of Jeddah. The Eyalet of Jeddah was later transformed into the Hejaz Vilayet, with a governor in Mecca.[13]

For much of the 19th century, the northernmost place of the Emirate was Al-Ula, while the southern limit was usually Al Lith, and sometimes Al Qunfudhah; to the east, it never stretched further than the Khaybar oasis.[14] Mecca, Medina and Jeddah were its largest cities. Most of the population of these cities consisted of non-Arab Muslims, including Bukharis, Javanese, Indians, Afghans, and Central Asians.[14]

Early period

The Hejaz region was formerly under the Mamluk Sultanate until its defeat and take over by the Ottomans in 1517.[15] In the same year, Sharif Barakat of Mecca acknowledged the Ottoman Sultan as Caliph.[1] When the Sharifs accepted Ottoman sovereignty, the Sultan confirmed them in their position as rulers of the Hejaz.[16] Ottoman authority was only indirect, as the arrangement left real power with the Emir.[1] The Sultan assumed the title of "Hâdimü’l-Haremeyni’ş-Şerifeyn", or Custodian of the Two Holy Cities.[17]

In 1630, a flood swept Mecca, almost completely destroying the Kaaba. It had been restored by 1636.[18] In 1680, about 100 people drowned in another flood in Mecca.[18]

Initially, the Ottomans administered the Hejaz under the Eyalet of Egypt.[19] The Emirs were appointed by the Sultan taking into consideration the choice of the sharifs, as well as the opinions of the walis of Egypt, Damascus and Jeddah (after it was established), as well as that of the qadi of Mecca.[19] The emir of Mecca was always from the Hashemite clan of Muhammad.[20] This situation was ended in 1803, when fundamentalist Wahhabis deposed the ruling Emir of Mecca, Sharif Ghalib.[1]

Wahhabi invasion and Egyptian control

The Wahhabis started to be a threat on the Hejaz from the 1750s onwards. They had risen as a religious movement in Dira’iyya in the Nejd in 1744-1745.[21] Their doctrine found few sympathisers in the Hejaz, and the Mufti of Mecca pronounced them heretics.[21] They were able to take the two holy cities in 1801.[21] In 1803 the Wahhabis, led by Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, attacked Mecca.[22] Sharif Ghalib fled to Jeddah, which was besieged shortly thereafter. Sharif Ghalib was sent back to Mecca as a Saudi vassal.[22]

First Tosun Pasha led the army in 1811 and occupied Medina in 1812 and Mecca in 1813. After his death İbrahim Pasha, who had accompanied Mehmed Ali's personal visit to the Hejaz in 1814, took over and chased the Wahhabis into the Nejd.[23] Upon the news of the victory, Mahmud II appointed İbrahim Pasha governor of Jeddah and Habeş. He was the nominal ruler of Hejaz on behalf of the Ottomans from 1811 to 1840.[23] The Wahhabi were ousted from the Hejaz in 1818, when Mehmed Ali Pasha, by then Governor of Egypt, was able to succeed in final victory.[23] The Hejaz then fell under his domination.[24] The 1840 Convention of London forced Mehmed Ali to pull out from the Hejaz.[25]

Vilayet of Hejaz

After the Hejaz was restored to the Ottomans, the provincial administration was restructured, and it was organised as the Vilayet of Hejaz.[24] This led to the creation of two parallel political and administrative bodies: the Emirate and the Vilayet.[24] After the Governor started to reside in Mecca, the Vilayet in a way took the Emirate into its jurisdiction, leading to a situation of dual government.[13]

The reform provided for the loss of the near-autonomy of the Emir, leading to a conflict between Emir and wali that lasted for the rest of the 19th century.[26] Even then, the Emir of Mecca was not relegated to a position where he would be subordinate to the wali.[27] The Emirs of Mecca continued to have a say in the administration of the Hejaz alongside the governors.[26] The two had an uneasy parallel coexistence: while ruling over the same geography, they divided authority in a complex way, leading to a continuous negotiation, conflict or cooperation between them.[27]

As early as the 1880s, there was talk of British occupation of the Hejaz with the support of the şerifs.[28] The British also challenged the Sultan's caliphate by claiming that Britain should appoint the Emir, as it ruled over four times as many Muslims as the Ottomans.[29]

Kingdom of Hejaz

On 23 December 1925 King Ali surrendered to the Saudis, bringing the Kingdom of Hejaz and the Sharifate to an end.[30]

List of Sharifs

Partial list of Sharif of Mecca:[31]

See also


  1. Randall Baker (1979). King Husain and the Kingdom of Hejaz. The Oleander Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-900891-48-9. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  2. Gerhard Böwering; Patricia Crone; Mahan Mirza (2011). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought. Princeton University Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-691-13484-0. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  3. David George Hogarth (1978). Hejaz Before World War I: A Handbook. The Oleander Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN 978-0-902675-74-2. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  4. Joshua Teitelbaum (2001). The Rise and Fall of the Hashimite Kingdom of Arabia. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-85065-460-5. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  5. Jordan: Keys to the Kingdom. Jordan Media Group. 1995. p. xvi.
  6. Politics, Patronage and the Transmission of Knowledge in 13th - 15th Century page 339
  7. Richard T. Mortel "Zaydi Shi'ism and the Hasanid Sharifs of Mecca," International Journal of Middle East Studies 19 (1987): 455-472, at 462-464
  8. "The Zaydi denomination of the (Ḥasanid) Sharifian rulers of Mecca and the Imāmi-Shiʿi leanings of the (Ḥosaynid) emirs of Medina were well known to medieval Sunni and Shiʿi observers. This situation gradually changed under Mamluk rule (for the development over several centuries, up to the end of the Mamluk period, see articles by Mortel mentioned in the bibliography below). A number of Shiʿite and Sunnite sources hint at (alleged or real) sympathy for the Shiʿa among the Hāshemite (officially Sunni) families of the Ḥejāz, or at least some of their members". Encyclopedia Iranica.
  9. Kamal S. Salibi (1998-12-15). The Modern History of Jordan. I.B.Tauris. pp. 53–55. ISBN 978-1-86064-331-6. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  10. Prothero, G.W. (1920). Arabia. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 31.
  11. Kamal S. Salibi (1998-12-15). The Modern History of Jordan. I.B.Tauris. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-86064-331-6. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  12. David E. Long (1979). The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Makkah Pilgrimage. SUNY Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0-87395-382-5. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  13. Numan 2005, p. 61-62.
  14. Numan 2005, p. 15.
  15. Hejaz (region, Saudi Arabia) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  16. Numan 2005, p. 33.
  17. Numan 2005, p. 34.
  18. James Wynbrandt (2010). A Brief History of Saudi Arabia. Infobase Publishing. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-8160-7876-9. Retrieved 2013-06-12.
  19. Numan 2005, p. 35.
  20. Bruce Masters (2013-04-29). The Arabs of the Ottoman Empire, 1516-1918: A Social and Cultural History. Cambridge University Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-107-03363-4. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
  21. Numan 2005, p. 37.
  22. Yasin T. Al-Jibouri (2011-09-01). Kerbala and Beyond: An Epic of Immortal Heroism. AuthorHouse. p. 189. ISBN 978-1-4670-2613-0. Retrieved 2013-06-12.
  23. Numan 2005, p. 39.
  24. Numan 2005, p. 1.
  25. Numan 2005, p. 42.
  26. Numan 2005, p. 73.
  27. Numan 2005, p. 82.
  28. Numan 2005, p. 56.
  29. Numan 2005, p. 58.
  30. Francis E. Peters (1994). Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy Land. Princeton University Press. p. 397. ISBN 978-0-691-03267-2. Retrieved 2013-06-11.
  31. "Sharifs of Mecca". The History Files. Retrieved 2013-06-12.


  • Mortel, Richard T. (1987). "Zaydi Shiism and the Hasanid Sharifs of Mecca". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 19 (4): 455–472. JSTOR 163211.
  • Mortel, Richard T. (1991). "The Origins and Early History of the Husaynid Amirate of Madīna to the End of the Ayyūbid Period". Studia Islamica. 74: 63–78. JSTOR 1595897.
  • Mortel, Richard T. (1994). "The Ḥusaynid Amirate of Madīna during the Mamlūk Period". Studia Islamica. 80: 97–123. JSTOR 1595853.
  • Numan, Nurtaç (November 2005), The Emirs of Mecca and the Ottoman Government of Hijaz, 1840-1908, The Institute for Graduate Studies in Social Sciences

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