The Isaaq (also Isaq, Ishaak) (Somali: Reer Sheekh Isaxaaq, Arabic: إسحاق‎) is a noble Somali clan[1] It is one of the major Somali clans, with a large and densely populated traditional territory.[2] Members principally live in Somaliland, the Somali Region of Ethiopia, and Djibouti, as well as Kenya where they are known as the Isahakia community.[3]

The populations of five major cities in SomalilandHargeisa, Burao, (second and third largest Somali cities respectively)[4] Berbera, Erigavo and Gabiley – are predominantly Isaaq.[5][6]


Portrait of Sultan Abdillahi Sultan Deria, the grand Sultan of Isaaq clans.

According to some genealogical books and Somali tradition, the Isaaq clan was founded in the 13th or 14th century with the arrival of Sheikh Isaaq Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Hashimi (Sheikh Isaaq) from Arabia, a descendant of Ali ibn Abi Talib in Maydh.[7][8] He settled in the coastal town of Maydh in modern-day northwestern Somaliland, where he married a local Magaadle clan.[9]

There are also numerous existing hagiologies in Arabic which describe Sheikh Isaaq's travels, works and overall life in modern Somaliland, as well as his movements in Arabia before his arrival.[10] Besides historical sources, one of the more recent printed biographies of Sheikh Isaaq is the Amjaad of Sheikh Husseen bin Ahmed Darwiish al-Isaaqi as-Soomaali, which was printed in Aden in 1955.[11]

Sheikh Isaaq's tomb is in Maydh, and is the scene of frequent pilgrimages.[10] Sheikh Isaaq's mawlid (birthday) is also celebrated every Thursday with a public reading of his manaaqib (a collection of glorious deeds).[9] His Siyaara or pilgrimage is performed annually both within Somaliland and in the diaspora particularly in the Middle East among Isaaq expatriates.


The Isaaq have a very wide and densely populated traditional territory. They live in all 5 regions of north-western Somalia such as Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, Sanaag and Sool. They have large settlements in the Somali region of Ethiopia, mainly on the eastern side of Somali region also known as the Hawd and formerly Reserve Area which is mainly inhabited by the Isaaq sub-clan members. They also have large settlements in both Kenya and Djibouti, making up a large percentage of the Somali population in these 2 countries respectively.[3]

The Isaaq clan constitute the largest Somali clan in Somaliland. The populations of five major cities in Somaliland – Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera, Erigavo and Gabiley – are all predominantly Isaaq.[12] They exclusively dominate the Woqooyi Galbeed region, and the Togdheer region, and form a majority of the population inhabiting the western and central areas of Sanaag region, including the regional capital Erigavo.[13] The Isaaq also have a large presence in the western and northern parts of Sool region as well,[14] with Habar Jeclo sub-clan of Isaaq living in the Aynabo district whilst the Habar Yoonis subclan lives in the eastern part of Xudun district and the very western part of Las Anod district.[15] They also live in the northeast of the Awdal region, with Sa'ad Musse sub-clan of Habar Awal being centred around Lughaya and its environs.


Sheikh Isaaq Bin Ahmed was one of the Arabian Scholars that crossed the sea from Arabia to the Horn of Africa to spread Islam around 12th to 13th century.

Sheikh Isaaq is said to have been descended from Prophet Mohammed's daughter Fatima. Hence the Sheikh belonged to the Ashraf or Sada (titles given to the descendants of the prophet).

Sheikh Isaaq married two local women in Somalia that left him eight sons. The descendants of the those eight sons are the what is known as Isaaq clan today. However, the Shiekh left other descendants in Yemen as well.

DNA analysis of Isaaq clan members inhabiting Djibouti found that all of the individuals belonged to the EV32 subclade of the Y-DNA E1b1b paternal haplogroup.[16]


Sultan Abdurahman Deria (left) of the Habr Awal and Sultan Abdillahi Sultan Deria (right) of the Eidagale sub-clans of the Isaaq.

The Isaaq clan played a prominent role in the Abyssinian-Adal war (1529–1543, referred to as the "Conquest of Abyssinia") in the army of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi,[17] I. M. Lewis noted that only the Habar Magadle division (Ayoub, Garhajis, Habar Awal and Arab) of the Isaaq were mentioned in chronicles of that war written by Shihab Al-Din Ahmad Al-Gizany known as Futuh Al Habash.[18]

I. M. Lewis states:[19]

The Marrehan and the Habar Magadle [Magādi] also play a very prominent role (...) The text refers to two Ahmads's with the nickname 'Left-handed'. One is regularly presented as 'Ahmad Guray, the Somali' (...) identified as Ahmad Guray Xuseyn, chief of the Habar Magadle. Another reference, however, appears to link the Habar Magadle with the Marrehan. The other Ahmad is simply referred to as 'Imam Ahmad' or simply the 'Imam'.This Ahmad is not qualified by the adjective Somali (...) The two Ahmad's have been conflated into one figure, the heroic Ahmed Guray (...)

The first of the tribes to reach Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi were Habar Magādle of the Isaaq clan with their chieftain Ahmad Gurey Bin Hussain Al-Somali,[20] the Somali commander was noted to be one of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi's "strongest and most able generals".[21] The Habar Magādle clan were highly appreciated and praised by the leader Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi for their bravery and loyalty.[22]

Dervish Commander Haji Sudi on the left with his brother in-law Duale Idris (1891).

After the collapse of Adal Sultanate the Isaaq clan established successor states that split into 3 Sultanates known as Garhajis Sultanate, Habar Awal Sultanate and Habar Jeclo Sultanate. These 3 Sultanates exerted a strong centralized authority during its existence, and possessed all of the organs and trappings of an integrated modern state: a functioning bureaucracy, a hereditary nobility, titled aristocrats, a state flag, as well as a professional army.[23][24] These sultanates also maintained written records of their activities, which still exist.[25]

The Isaaq clan played a prominent role in the Dervish movement, with Sultan Nur Aman of the Habar Yoonis being fundamental in the inception of the movement and Haji Sudi who hailed from the Habar Jeclo sub clan being second in command to Mohammed Abdullah Hassan.[26][27] The sub-clans that were highly known for joining the Dervish State were respectively from the Habar Yoonis, Habar Jeclo, Eidagale and Arap clans. The Isaaq clans were able to purchase advanced weapons and successfully resist both British Empire and Ethiopian Empire for many years.[28]

The Isaaq clan along with other northern Somali tribes were under British Somaliland protectorate administration from 1884-1960. On gaining independence the Somaliland protectorate decided to form a union with Italian Somalia. The Isaaq clan spearheaded the greater Somalia quest from 1960-1991. However, after the collapse of the Somali Democratic Republic in 1991 the Isaaq dominated Somaliland declared independence from Somalia as a separate nation.[29]

Clan tree

In the Isaaq clan-family, component clans are divided into two uterine divisions, as shown in the genealogy. The first division is between those lineages descended from sons of Sheikh Isaaq by a Harari woman – the Habar Habuusheed – and those descended from sons of Sheikh Isaaq by a Somali woman of the Magaadle sub-clan of the Dir – the Habar Magaadle. Indeed, most of the largest clans of the clan-family are in fact uterine alliances hence the matronymic "Habar" which in archaic Somali means "mother".[30] This is illustrated in the following clan structure.[31]

A. Habar Magaadle

  • Ismail (Garhajis)
  • Ayub
  • Muhammad (Arap)
  • Abdirahman (Habar Awal)

B. Habar Habuusheed

  • Ahmed (Tol-Ja’lo)
  • Muuse (Habar Jeclo)
  • Ibrahiim (Sanbuur)
  • Muhammad (‘Ibraan)

There is clear agreement on the clan and sub-clan structures that has not changed for centuries the oldest recorded genealogy of a Somali in Western literature was by Sir Richard Burton in 1853 regarding his Isaaq host the Sultan of Zeila Sharmarka Ali Saleh,[32] the most famous nineteenth century Somali.

The following listing is taken from the World Bank's Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics from 2005 and the United Kingdom's Home Office publication, Somalia Assessment 2001.[33][34]

  • Isaaq
    • Habar Awal
      • Sa'ad Muuse
      • Isse Muuse
      • Abdi Muuse
      • Abdalla Muuse
      • Afgab Muuse
      • Egalle Muuse
      • Eli Muuse
      • Omar Muuse
    • Garhajis
      • Habar Yoonis
      • Eidagale
    • Arap
    • Ayub
    • Habar Jeclo
      • Muuse Abokor
      • Mohamed Abokor
      • Samane Abokor
    • Toljecle
    • Sanbuur
    • Imraan

One tradition maintains that Isaaq had twin sons: Ahmed or Arap, and Ismail or Gerhajis.[35]

Nineteenth century Isaaq notables

  • Sultan Abdurahman Deria of the Habr Awal Isaaq receiving honours from Queen Elizabeth II in Aden
    Sharmaarke Ali Saleh 1797-1861, governor of Berbera, Zeila and Tajoura 1833-1861.[36][37][38][39]

Little is known how Sharmaarke took over the administration of Berbera. But by 1843 when Lieutenant. Curttenden visited Somaliland Sharmaarke was the governor of Berbera. A decade earlier when Frederic Forbes visited Berbera in 1833 Sharmaarke was already well established on the Somali coast.

" In 1842 the Sheriff of Mocha subjected himself and his possession including Zeila, to the Porte; he was made Ottoman pasha of western Arabia, and Zeila theoretically returned to Turkey. On the spot however, the situation was more complex for in 1843 Haji Sharmaarke from Berbera sized Zeila, imprisoned the Shariff's garrison and offered to put the port under British protection ; the government of India rejected the offer on the ground that Aden was merely a depot for coals and that any intervention in the affairs of the African coast would be expensive and unprofitable and might excite the jealousy of other European powers. Sharmaarke's object seems to have been to make himself ruler of the Somali coast; finding that the British would not serve his purpose he apparently submitted as a governor of Zeila to the Turks who dismissed Shariff's Hussain and occupied Mocha in 1849. He intrigued with the Turks to get Berbera placed under the Turkish flag, but with no result.".[40]

“The Governor of Zaila, El Hajj Shermarkay bin Ali Salih, is rather a remarkable man. He is sixteenth, according to his own account, in descent from Ishak El Hazrami, the saintly founder of the great Garhajis and Awal tribes. Originally the Nacoda, or Captain of the native craft, he has raised himself, chiefly by British influence, to the chieftainship of his tribe (a clan of the Habr Garhajis). As early as May 1825, he received from Captain Bagnold, then our Resi- dent at Mocha, a testimonial and a reward for a severe sword wound in the left arm, received whilst defending the lives of English seamen. He went afterwards to Bombay, where he was treated with consideration; and about fifteen years ago he succeeded the Sayyid Mohamud El Barr as Governor of Zaila and its dependencies, under the Ottoman Pasha in Western Arabia.“The climate of Zaila is cooler than that of Aden, and the site being open all round, it is not so unhealthy. Mand spare roomand enclosed by the town walls. Zaila commands the adjacent harbour of Tajurrah, and is by position and northern part of Aussa (the ancient capital of Adel)and Harar, and of southern Abyssinia. It sends caravans northwards to the Dankali, and south-westwards throand the Easa and Gadabursi tribes, as far as Efat and Gurague. It is visited by Kafilas from Abyssinia, and the different races of Bedouins extending from the hills to and sea-board. The exports are valuable slaves, ivory, hides, honey, clarified butter and gums: the coast aboundsthe sponge, coral, and small pearls, which Arab divers coabout in the fair season. In the harbour I found about native craft, large and small; of these, ten belonged to the Governor. They trade with Berbera, Arabia, and Western India and are navigated by “Rajpoot” or "Hindoo pilots."[41]

  • Aden Ahmed Dube "Gabay Xoog" circa 1821-1916.

One of the greatest Somali nineteenth century poet. A composer of over 300 poems spanning a period of over 60 years. His poetry can be summarized as a history in verse of all major tribal politics of the 19th century in northern Somali regions , his poetic duel with Somali poets such Hassan Dalab and Raghe Ugaz in addition to numerous Sufi poetry composed at end of his life is among his classics.[42][43]

  • Aden Ahmed Dube of the Isaaq, Habr-Yonis tribe, great poems aroused envy in Raage Ugaz, and infrequently, bloody wars and irreconcilable enmity.
  • Mohammed Liban from the Isaaq tribe of Habr Awal, was an eloquent and witty improviser, and even better known under the name of Mohammed Liban Giader.[44]

Sheikh Isaaq's manuscripts

Manuscripts on Sheikh Isaaq include:[45]

  • Al-Dur Al Muntakhab Fi Alaqab Wal-asab - 12th-century manuscript by unknown author
  • Al Casjad Al-Manduum Li-Taariikh Wal-culuum - 12th-century manuscript by Maxamed Hasan Al-Basri (50 pages, Al-Zahiriyah Library, Al-Hamidiyah Souq, Damascus Syria)
  • Al-3asjad Al Manduum - by Sharif Ahmed Muhammad Qaasim Al Gheribaani, a Hashimi historian of Yemen (1910)
  • Thamrat Al-Mushtaaq Fi Manaaqib/Nasab al-Sheekh/Sayid Is'haaq - by Sharif Aydarus Sharif Ali Al-Aydarus 1947 (d 1347 H.A.); also the author of Bughyat Al-Amaal Fi-Taariikh Al Soomaal
  • Adhwaa 3alaa Taariikh Al-Soomaal - by Shariif Maxamed Aydarus (1932-1999), the ex-mayor of Mogadishu during the 1968 election in Somalia
  • Kitaab Fatx Al-Baab Fi Al-Ansaab Wal-Alaqaab - by Cabdialmacalim Ibn Yuusuf

Notable Isaaq people


  1. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9fAjtruUXjEC&pg=PA102&dq=isaaq+noble&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiy3pWd7arZAhXmLsAKHVPFAu0Q6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=isaaq%20noble&f=false
  2. ^ Ethnic Groups (Map). Somalia Summary Map. Central Intelligence Agency. 2002. Retrieved 2012-07-30.  Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection - N.B. Various authorities indicate that the Isaaq is among the largest Somali clans [1], [2].
  3. ^ a b Gitonga, By Antony. "Community takes over 'ancestral land'". The Standard. Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  4. ^ Tekle, Amare (1994). Eritrea and Ethiopia: From Conflict to Cooperation. The Red Sea Press. ISBN 9780932415974. 
  5. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=M6NI2FejIuwC&pg=PA137&dq=erigavo+isaaq+clan+population&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiY9qDunbXPAhWMDywKHf0CBHwQ6AEIJjAC#v=onepage&q=erigavo%20isaaq%20clan%20population&f=false
  6. ^ Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: Information on the ethnic composition in Gabiley (Gebiley) in 1987–1988, 1 April 1996, SOM23518.E [accessed 6 October 2009]
  7. ^ Rima Berns McGown, Muslims in the diaspora, (University of Toronto Press: 1999), pp. 27–28
  8. ^ I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), p. 22
  9. ^ a b I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), pp. 31 & 42
  10. ^ a b Roland Anthony Oliver, J. D. Fage, Journal of African history, Volume 3 (Cambridge University Press.: 1962), p.45
  11. ^ I. M. Lewis, A pastoral democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa, (LIT Verlag Münster: 1999), p.131.
  12. ^ Somaliland: With Addis Ababa & Eastern Ethiopia By Philip Briggs. Google Books.
  13. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Refworld Report on the Fact-finding Mission to Somalia and Kenya (27 October - 7 November 1997)". Refworld. Retrieved 2017-11-17. 
  14. ^ https://www.york.ac.uk/media/prdu/documents/publications/Beyond%20Fragility-a%20conflict%20and%20education%20analysis%20of%20the%20Somali%20context.pdf
  15. ^ https://www.ecoi.net/file_upload/1226_1457606427_easo-somalia-security-feb-2016.pdf
  16. ^ Iacovacci, Giuseppe; et al. (2017). "Forensic data and microvariant sequence characterization of 27 Y-STR loci analyzed in four Eastern African countries". Forensic Science International: Genetics. 27: 123–131. doi:10.1016/j.fsigen.2016.12.015. Retrieved 18 January 2018. 
  17. ^ Lewis, I. M. (1999). A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. James Currey Publishers. ISBN 9780852552803. 
  18. ^ The Galla in Northern Somaliland, I. M. Lewis, p. //dspace-roma3.caspur.it/bitstream/2307/4913/1/The%20Galla%20in%20northern%20Somaliland.pdf;jsessionid=F28E001218E0DFF229E2CBFF6E361652
  19. ^ Morin, Didier (2004). Dictionnaire historique afar: 1288-1982 (in French). KARTHALA Editions. ISBN 9782845864924. 
  20. ^ a b c "مخطوطات > بهجة الزمان > الصفحة رقم 17". makhtota.ksu.edu.sa. Retrieved 2017-07-26. 
  21. ^ Lewis, I. M. (1999). A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. James Currey Publishers. ISBN 9780852552803. 
  22. ^ "مخطوطات > بهجة الزمان > الصفحة رقم 16". makhtota.ksu.edu.sa. Retrieved 2017-08-24. 
  23. ^ Horn of Africa, Volume 15, Issues 1-4, (Horn of Africa Journal: 1997), p.130.
  24. ^ Michigan State University. African Studies Center, Northeast African studies, Volumes 11-12, (Michigan State University Press: 1989), p.32.
  25. ^ Sub-Saharan Africa Report, Issues 57-67. Foreign Broadcast Information Service. 1986. p. 34. 
  26. ^ Correspondence respecting the Rising of Mullah Muhammed Abdullah in Somaliland, and consequent military operations,1899-1901.pp.4-5.
  27. ^ Official history of the operations in Somaliland, 1901–04 by Great Britain. War Office. General Staff Published 1907.p.56
  28. ^ https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=pybXAAAAMAAJ&q=Isaaq+dervish&dq=Isaaq+dervish&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwicseHo86zZAhVEW8AKHfiqCh0Q6AEIVjAJ
  29. ^ "History". Archived from the original on 2017-08-20. Retrieved 2017-10-26. 
  30. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=yoMBQCr4LysC&redir_esc=y
  31. ^ I. M. Lewis, A pastoral democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa, (LIT Verlag Münster: 1999), p. 157.
  32. ^ "From fine to a failed state". Africa Review. Retrieved 2017-05-26. 
  33. ^ Worldbank, Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics, January 2005, Appendix 2, Lineage Charts, p. 55 Figure A-1
  34. ^ Country Information and Policy Unit, Home Office, Great Britain, Somalia Assessment 2001, Annex B: Somali Clan Structure Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine., p. 43
  35. ^ Laurence, Margaret (1970). A Tree for Poverty: Somali Poetry and Prose. Hamilton: McMaster University. p. 145. ISBN 1-55022-177-9. Then Magado, the wife of Ishaak had only two children, baby twin sons, and their names were Ahmed, nick-named Arap, and Ismail, nick-named Garaxijis . 
  36. ^ The Visit of Frederick Forbes to the Somali Coast in 1833 R Bridges. Int J Afr Hist Stud 19 (4), 679-691. 1986.
  37. ^ Travels In Southern Abyssinia Through The Country Of Adal To The Kingdom Of Shoa. by Charles Johnston, Volume 1. 1844
  38. ^ First footsteps in East Africa : or, An exploration of Harar by Burton, Richard Francis, Sir, 1821-1890; Burton, Isabel, Lady, Published 1894
  39. ^ Marston, Thomas E. Britain's Imperial Role In the Red Sea Area, 1800-1878. Hamden: Conn., Shoe String Press, 1961.
  40. ^ Britain's imperial Role....pp.108-9. Ibid, p .149 ibid, p.161
  41. ^ Britain's imperial Role....pp.108-9. Ibid, p .149 ibid, p.161
  42. ^ Bollettino della Società geografica italiana By Società geografica italiana. 1893.
  43. ^ Somalia e Benadir: viaggio di esplorazione nell'Africa orientale. Prima traversata della Somalia, compiuta per incarico della Societá geografica italiana. Luigi Robecchi Bricchetti. 1899. The Somalis in general have a great inclination to poetry; a particular passion for the stories, the stories and songs of love.
  44. ^ Bollettino della Società geografica italiana. ... 1893 (ser.3, vol. 5). p.372
  45. ^ Islam in Somali History Fact and Fiction revisited , the Arab Factor
  46. ^ http://www.somalilandinformer.com/somaliland/somaliland-prominent-somali-journalist-ahmed-hasan-awke-passes-away-in-jigjiga/
  47. ^ http://www.somalilandinformer.com/somaliland/breaking-ibrahim-dheere-tycoon-passes-away-in-djibouti/
  48. ^ Mohamed Yusuf Hassan, Roberto Balducci (ed.) (1993). Somalia: le radici del futuro. Il passaggio. p. 33. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  49. ^ "Mo Farah's family cheers him on from Somaliland village". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  50. ^ "Somali Entrepreneurs". Salaan Media. 15 June 2017. Retrieved 15 Feb 2018.