Sheikh (pronounced /ʃeɪk/ SHAYK or /ʃiːk/ SHEEK; Arabic: شيخ
šayḫ [ʃæjx], mostly pronounced [ʃeːx/ʃejx], plural شيوخ
šuyūḫ [ʃuju:x])—also transliterated Sheik, Shykh, Shaik, Shayk,
Shaykh, Cheikh, Shekh, and Shaikh—is an honorific title in the
Arabic language. It commonly designates the ruler of a tribe, who
inherited the title from his father. "Sheikh" is given to a royal male
at birth, whereas the related title "Sheikha" is given to a royal
female at birth.
1 Etymology and meaning
2 Sufi term
3 Regional usage
3.1 Arabian Peninsula
3.4 Horn of Africa
3.5 West Africa
3.6 South Asia
3.7 Southeast Asia
4 For women
5 See also
7 External links
Etymology and meaning
Kurdish sheikhs, 1895
The word in
Arabic stems from a triliteral root connected with age and
aging: ش-ي-خ, shīn-yā'-khā'. The term literally means a man of
vast power, and nobility, and it is used strictly for the royal
families of the Middle East. The title carries the meaning leader,
elder, or noble, especially in the
Arabian Peninsula within the Tribes
of Arabia, where shaikh became a traditional title of a
leader in recent centuries. Due to the cultural impact of Arab
civilization, and especially through the spread of Islam, the word has
gained currency as a religious term or general honorific in many other
parts of the world as well, notably in Muslim cultures in
In Islamic Sufism, the word Shaikh is used to represent a wali who
initiates a particular tariqa which leads to Muhammad, although many
saints have this title added before their names out of respect from
their followers. One prominent example is Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani,
who initiated the
Qadiriyya order which relies strongly upon adherence
to the fundamentals of Islam.
Al Maktoum (left) and
Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum
(right) of the Maktoum family
In the Arabian Peninsula, the title is used for royalty, such as
kings, princes, and princesses. For example, it was the term used in
the West to refer to the leaders of Kuwait's ruling Al-Sabah dynasty,
and in UAE Al-Nahyan dynasty. The same applies to all the Gulf
countries. The term is used by almost every male and female (Sheikha)
member of all the Gulf royal houses.
In Mount Lebanon, the title had the same princely and royal
connotation as in the Arabian peninsula until the Ottoman invasion in
1516 since it represented an indigenous autonomous "sui iuris" ruler
or tribal chief. An example of an ancient families that holds the
title of "sui iuris" sheikh is the
Al-Chemor family ruling since 1211
CE in Koura and
Zgharta until 1747 CE, Abu Harmoush family
which ruled the
Chouf region until the
Battle of Ain Dara
Battle of Ain Dara in 1711 CE
and El-Cheikh Moussa family in Beirut. After the Ottoman rule and the
implementation of the
Iltizam system, the title gained a noble instead
of royal connotation since it was bestowed by a higher authority, in
this case the Ottoman appointed
Emir who was nothing more than a
mültezim or tax collector for the empire. Some very influential
Maronite families -who had the title bestowed upon them in
chronological order- are El Hachem of Akoura (descendants of The
Hashemite Family, since 1523),
El-Khazen (since 1545), Hubaysh of
Douaihy of Zgharta. Other families who are nowadays
addressed or known as "Sheikhs" were not traditionally rulers of
provinces, but instead they were high-ranking officials at the service
Emir at that time.
In the Maghreb, during the
Almohad dynasty, the caliph was also
counseled by a body of shaykhs. They represented all the different
tribes under their rules, including Arabs, (Bedouins),
Berbers and were also responsible for mobilizing their kinsmen in the
event of war.
Horn of Africa
Somali aristocratic and court titles
Somali aristocratic and court titles and Ethiopian
aristocratic and court titles
Muhammad Dahir Roble reading a Muslim sermon.
In the Muslim parts of the Horn of Africa,
Sheikh is often used as a
noble title. In Somali society, it is reserved as an honorific for
senior Muslim leaders and clerics (wadaad), and is often abbreviated
to "Sh". Famous local Sheikhs include Abdirahman bin Isma'il
al-Jabarti, an early Muslim leader in northern Somalia; Abadir Umar
Ar-Rida, the patron saint of Harar; Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, Sheikh
of the riwaq in
Cairo who recorded the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt;
Abd Al-Rahman bin Ahmad al-Zayla'i, scholar who played a crucial role
in the spread of the
Qadiriyyah movement in
Somalia and East Africa;
Shaykh Sufi, 19th century scholar, poet, reformist and astrologist;
Abdallah al-Qutbi, polemicist, theologian and philosopher best known
for his five-part Al-Majmu'at al-mubaraka ("The Blessed Collection");
Muhammad Al-Sumaalee, teacher in the Masjid al-
influenced many of the prominent Islamic scholars of today.
Sheikh Tidiane Gaye giving an Islamic lecture in Louga.
In West Africa, sheikh is a common title for Muslim scholars and
leaders. Among Islamic communities in Senegal,
Niger and Gambia, among
other areas, the title is usually spelled as Cheikh.
Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jilani, a prominent Sunni scholar.
Asia it is used as an ethnic title generally attributed to
Muslim trading families with rarely any Arab lineage.
Quresh tribe who
migrated to South
Asia and later adopted meat business are also called
Qureshi . After the advent of
Islam in South Asia,
some high caste (Brahmins, Rajputs and Khatris) tribes also converted
Islam and adopted the title. The
Muslims of the
Middle East and
Asia have historically traveled to South
Asia as Sufis during
the Islamic Sultanates and Mughal
Empire and settled permanently with
Sheikh status. In
Punjab, Pakistan the
Hindu Brahmins, Kshatriya,
Rathores, Bhattis, Chauhans, and other
Rajput elite class converted by
Ismaili Pirs to Islam.
Ismaili Pirs gave the new converts of
Punjab the hereditary title of Shaikh as well as the
immigrated from Arabia and settled in Punjab adopted this title.
Distinguished Sindhi Shaikhs include Imtiaz Shaikh, MPA Shikarpur and
Special Advisor to PM and Former Provincial Minister and Bureaucrat,
Sindh; Shaikh Ayaz, Sindhi poet of Pakistan; Najmudddin Shaikh, Former
Foreign Secretary, Pakistan; Ghulam Shabir Shaikh, Former IGP Sindh,
Pakistan; Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Federal Finance Minister, Pakistan;
Muhammad Ayub Shaikh, Chairman Employees' Old Age Benefits
Institution], Pakistan; Maqbool Shaikh, Former Provincial Minister for
Food and Health, Sindh; Faraz Shaikh, Chairman Sindh Naujawan Shaikh
Ittehad, Sindh; Faryaz Nisar Shaikh, Vice Chairman Sindh Naujawan
Shaikh Ittehad, Sindh;
Imam Bux Shaikh, Former General Secretary
Peoples Students Federation Karachi, Former General Secretary Peoples
Engineers Forum Sindh, Famous Student Leader of Pakistan.
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Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, Sheikhs are respected
by local Muslims. Higher knowledgeable people in
Indonesia are usually
referred to as "Ustad" or "Kyiayi".
Historically, female scholars in
Islam were referred to as shaykhah
(Arabic: شيخة) (alt. shaykhat). Notable shaykha include the
Fakhr-un-Nisa Shuhdah and 18th-century
scholar Al-Shaykha Fatima al-Fudayliyya.
A daughter or wife or mother of a sheikh is also called a shaykhah.
Currently, the term shaykhah is commonly used for women of ruling
families, in the Arab states of the
Persian Gulf with the exception of
Shaikhs in South Asia
Al ash-Sheikh – Saudi Arabia's leading religious family
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Al-Chemor Al-Hakum Al-Akoura Al-Hakum Al-Zawyia,
Ignatios Tannous Al-Khoury, Beirut, 1948, pg.123
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^ "Scholars Biographies - 15th Century - Shaykh
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^ "Shaykhah Shuhdah, Fakhr-un-Nisa". Haq Islam. Retrieved 9 February
Muhammad Zubayr (1993). "Hadith Literature Its origin,
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The dictionary definition of sheik a