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ISLAM: Identity through inheritance
Male descendents of Mohammed have a special status, often designated by a black turban. Do female descendents of Muhammad have any special status? In Judaism inheritance passes through the female. Is that true of Islam?" Ed Jajko replies: "It is Jewish identity that passes through the female line; i.e., a child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew. To the best of my knowledge, Muslim identity comes from the father, since a Muslim woman can marry only a Muslim man, while a Muslim man may marry a Muslim, Christian, or Jew. This is predicated on the relative inferiority of Christianity and Judaism to Islam. The Muslim identity overrides any other. As for special status of a sharifah, yes, a sharifah -- female descendant of the Prophet -- has a special status, but it is much less public than that of a sharif, a male descendant. A sharifah might have influence, but it would be behind the scenes. Inheritance or continuity through the female line is known in the Middle East from ancient times. In Egypt, despite the divine status and absolute rule of the pharaoh, his legitimacy came from his descent from his mother. Hence, to ensure that the royal line was kept intact, it was common for royal brothers and sisters to marry and have children".
Ronald Hilton - 4/22/03