The term Sayyidi, or its shortened version ‘Sidi’ has now become a standardised term in the vocabulary of the ‘Traditonal Knowledge’ camp. A friend of mine who heard the term for the first time being used left right and centre at an event asked me, “Is Sidi used for those who are half way between being a common person and a scholar?.” I laughed at his analysis and told him it might be similar to the Indo-Pak usage of ‘Sahib’ for respect.
I saw the following when preparing some notes on the Mukhtasar Mawlid al-Barzanji of Shaykh Fatih al-Habrawi. It is from Sayyidi Muhammad bin Alawi al-Maliki’s important but neglected work Manhaj al-Salaf which could be regarded as a follow up and completion of his famous Mafahim work. He said regarding the use of the term Sayyid/Sayyidi (p.101):
Saeed bin Abi Saeed al-Maqbari relates that: “We were with Abu Hurayrah when Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib came, he gaves us the greeting of peace (salam) and we replied back to him with greetings of peace. Abu Hurayrah did not know who he was.
We said to him: O Abu Hurayrah, that was Hasan bin Ali who just greeted us, Abu Hurayrah caught up with him and said, Wa Alaikassalam Ya Sayyidi. He then said, I heard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) say, ‘He is a Sayyid’.”
This was narrated by al-Hakim who said that its chain was Sahih…and by al-Tabarani in al-Kabir and its narrators are trustworthy.