The Sharifate of Mecca (Arabic: شرافة مكة, romanized: Sharāfa Makka) or Emirate of Mecca 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. In Western sources, the prince of Mecca was known as Grand Sherif, but Arabs have always used the appellation “Emir“.
The Sharifate existed from about 967 to 1925. From 1201, the descendants of the Sharifian patriarch Qatada ruled over Mecca, Medina and the Hejaz in unbroken succession until 1925. 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. 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.
Originally, the sharifs of the Hejaz had generally avoided involvement in public life. 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. In 930, Qaramita raiders attacked Mecca, and stole the holy Black Stone from the Kaaba, gravely embarrassing the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad.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.
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. 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. As Sunni power began to revive after 1058, the Meccan emirs maintained an ambiguous position between the Fatimids and the Seljuks of Isfahan. 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.
In 1200 circa, a sharif by the name of Qatadah ibn Idris seized power and was recognised as Emir by the Ayyubid sultan. He became the first of a dynasty, the Banu Qatadah, that held the emirate until it was abolished in 1925. The Mamluks succeeded in taking over the Hejaz, and made it a regular province of their empire after 1350.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.