Sharif (Arabic: شَريف šarīf, also transliterated Shareef, Sherif, Shreef, Shareef, Alsharif, Alshareef, or Chérif) is a traditional Arabic title. The origin of the word is an adjective meaning "noble", "highborn". The feminine singular is sharifa(h) or shareefa(h) (Arabic: شَريفة šarīfah). The masculine plural is Ashraf (Arabic: أَشْرَاف ʾašrāf) or shurafā' (شُرَفاء) or chorfa in the Maghreb.
From 1201 until 1925, when the Hejaz was conquered by Ibn Saud, this family (the descendants of Hasan ibn Ali) held the office of the Sharif of Mecca, often also carrying the title and office of King of Hejaz. Descendants now rule the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the name is taken from the Banu Hashim, the sub-tribe of Quraysh, to which Muhammad belonged.
Sunnis in the Arab world reserve the term sharif/sherif or shareef for descendants of Hasan ibn Ali, while sayyid is used for descendants of Husayn ibn Ali, Hasan's younger brother. Both Hasan and Husayn were grandsons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, through the marriage of his cousin Ali and his daughter Fatima. However, since the post-Hashemite era began in 1925 after the fall of the Sharif of Mecca, the term sayyid has been used to denote descendants from both Hasan and Husayn. Some use the terms sayyid and habib to denote descendants from both Hasan and Husayn. Sayyids having ancestry from both Imams Hasan and Husayn use the terms Shareefayn, Sayyidayn, Sayyid AlShareef, or Assayyid before their names and call themselves Najeeb AlTarfayn. The title Sheikh, Sheek, Hajji or Xaaji does not apply to anyone belonging to Ashraaf clans.
The word has no etymological connection with the English term sheriff, which comes from the Old English word scīrgerefa, meaning "shire-reeve", the local reeve (enforcement agent) of the king in the shire (county).