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For other uses, see Sheikh (disambiguation).

Sheikh (pronounced /ˈʃk/ SHAYK or /ˈʃk/ SHEEK; Arabic: شيخšayḫ [ʃæjx], mostly pronounced [ʃeːx], plural شيوخ šuyūḫ [ʃuju:x])—also spelled Sheik, Shaik, Shayk, Shaikh, Cheikh or Shekh, or transliterated as Shaykh— 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. "Sheikh" also often serves as a title for prominent Islamic leaders or clerics.

Etymology and meaning

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 Bedouin tribal 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 Africa and Asia.[citation needed]

While the title can be used religiously by Muslims to designate a learned person, as an Arabic word it is essentially independent of religion. It is notably used by Druze for their religious men, but also by Arab Christians for elder men of stature. Its usage and meaning is similar to the Latin senex meaning "old [man]", from which the Latin (and English) "senator" is derived. Accordingly, the Arabic term for most legislative bodies termed Senate (e.g. the United States Senate) is majlis al-shuyūkh, literally meaning "Council of Senators."[citation needed]

Regional usage

Arabian Peninsula

File:Sheikh Said and Sheikh Juma Al Maktoum.jpg
Sheikh Juma 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, 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.


File:Flickr - europeanpeoplesparty - EPP in Lebanon.jpg
Members of the Lebanese Christian Kataeb party family, Gemayel, Sheikh Nadime Gemayel (left) and Former Lebanese President Sheikh Amine Gemayel (far right).

In Lebanon, the title [1] and its equivalent female form (Shaykha) are commonly used when addressing members of the traditional noble Muslim, Christian and Druze feudal families.


In the Maghreb, during the Almohad dynasty, the Caliph was also counciled by a body of Shaykhs. They represented all the different tribes under their rules, including Berbers, Arabs, Bedouins and Andalusians, and were also responsible for mobilizing their kinsmen in the event of war.[2]

Horn of Africa

Somali Sheikh 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".[3] 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"); and Muhammad Al-Sumaalee, teacher in the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca who influenced many of the prominent Islamic scholars of today.[4]

West Africa

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.

South Asia

Main article: Sheikh (caste)

In Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and other parts of South Asia, the title Sheikh signifies Arab descent. After the advent of Islam in South Asia, some high caste (Brahmins, Rajputs and Khatris) tribes also converted to Islam and adopted the title. The Muslims of the Middle East and Central Asia have historically traveled to South Asia as Sufis during the Islamic Sultanates and Mughal Empire and settled permanently with Sheikh status. In Delhi, it was used by the Persian Magi descendants, who migrated from Persia because of Safavid persecution in the 16th century.[clarification needed] In Punjab, Pakistan the Hindu Brahmins, Kshatriya, Bhanushali Kataria (Also known as Katarmal), Thakur, Rana, Rathores, Bhattis, Chauhans, and other Rajput elite class converted by different Ismaili Pirs to Islam. Ismaili Pirs gave the new converts of Punjab the hereditary title of Shaikh as well as the Muslims who immigrated from Arabia and Persia and settled in Punjab who previously were Sayyid after their conversion to Ismailism had to change their cast due to a belief in Ismailism that Imam is the only Sayyid. So for centuries Shaikhs have enjoyed respect from both Muslims and Hindus. Majority of Ismaili Sheikhs later accepted Sunni Islam. Ismaili Sheikhs of Punjab are the least known of the Ismaili's unlike their counterpart in Sindh and Gujrat, the khoja Ismaili community.

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.

Southeast Asia

File:Makam Syekh Abdul Hamid Abulung (2).jpg
Tomb of Sheikh Abdul Hamid of Abulung in West Martapura, South Kalimantan, Indonesia.

In Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, Sheikhs are respected by local Muslims. Well wishers often pay pilgrimages to their tombs, such as at Sheikh Abdul Hamid's mausoleum in West Martapura, South Kalimantan.

For women

Historically, female scholars in Islam were referred to as shaykhah (Arabic: شيخة‎) (alt. shaykhat). Notable shaykha include the 10th century Shaykhah Fakhr-un-Nisa Shuhdah[5] and 18th century scholar Al-Shaykha Fatima al-Fudayliyya.[6]

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 Gulf Arab countries with the exception of Oman.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Akarlı, Engin Deniz. The Long Peace: Ottoman Lebanon, 1861-1920. Univ of California Press, 1993.
  2. ^ Africa from the twelfth to the sixteenth century by Djibril Tamsir Niane
  3. ^ IFLA Committee on Cataloguing, IFLA International Office for UBC., IFLA International Programme for UBC., IFLA UBCIM Programme (1987). International cataloguing: quarterly bulletin of the IFLA Committee on Cataloguing, Volume 11. The Committee. p. 24. 
  4. ^ "Scholars Biographies - 15th Century - Shaykh Muhammad ibn 'Abdullaah as-Sumaalee". Fatwa-Online. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  5. ^ "Shaykhah Shuhdah, Fakhr-un-Nisa". Haq Islam. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Siddiqi, Muhammad Zubayr (1993). "Hadith Literature Its origin, development and special features: Women Scholars of Hadith". The Islamic Texts Society Cambridge: 117–123. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 

External links