I watch YouTube a lot for talks and sermons by Sheiks (Muslim elders). I am learning that there is a group of scholars who trace their lineage back to the Prophet (swas). It seems to me that the link is the hand shake from sheik to his predecessor in knowledge up to the Prophet (swas). Am I correct that the link is almost an “apostolic succession” and not a blood link?
Be cautious with YouTube. It is free and anybody can put on clergy clothing and express his opinion and make it sound like it is the absolute truth. The merit of any talk is the evidence it cites and the logic it follows, not the man, his appearance, his credentials or his lineage.
I think when they say they trace their lineage back to the Prophet (PBUH), they are talking about being direct descendents of him, through one of his daughters. In Arabic, they are called Al-Ashraaf (the honored ones). In the Indopak I understand they are called Syeds (masters).
Being a descendant from the Prophet (PBUH) is indeed an honor, but it doesn’t make one particularly knowledgeable, pious or credible. Some Ashraaf are sinners or non-practicing and some are saint-like. Those who are saint-like are not that way because of their lineage, but because of their faith, piety, commitment, good deeds and constant learning.
I’m not sure you meant this, but if your observation of a handshake is a secret handshake :-), then they have a secret order not unlike the secret orders that have been created in other religions. Islam does not have a secret order. There are no special people in Islam entrusted with exclusive insights into the religion. There is no pope or guru whose uttering is infallible. There are scholars with various degrees of knowledge and insight. There may be ordinary folks whom you would not pay any attention to, who have more insight and faith than a Mufti, Imam or another dignitary. God grants knowledge and wisdom to people on the basis of their faith and good deeds, not on the basis of their rank in society or their lineage or connections.