Shaikh of Bihar
|Regions with significant populations|
|India and Pakistan|
|Urdu, Hindi, and Maithili|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Gwalvanshi, Kulhaiya, Shershahabadia, Shaikh of Uttar Pradesh, Shaikh of Rajasthan, and Shaikh|
The Shaikh is a Muslim community commonly found in the state of Bihar in India.The community are converts from the Ahir caste. They are part of the larger Shaikh community of South Asia. A number of Bihari Shaikh families are also found in the city of Karachi in Pakistan. Common surnames used by the community include Farooqi, Osmani, Siddiqui and Shaikh. Shaikhs in Bihar and Bengal, which were part of the same kingdoms, are mostly laborers and agriculturalists.
History and origin
The word Shaikh in Arabic means a tribal elder or headman.
The Kulhaiya Shaikh are found mainly in Araria District and in Kadwa. They get their name from the custom of not marrying within their clan or kul in Hindi, or within their village. They speak kulhaiya, while many also now have some knowledge of Urdu. The community are converts from the Ahir caste, and said to have converted in the 16th Century.
The term Shaikh now covers a large number of communities of no definite origin, since the name has been used by any individuals of wide background. This is especially the case in Bihar, for example in the Purnea division, where the Shaikh form just under one-third of the population.
Some Shaikhs played a key role in the early Islamic history of Bihar, serving as courtiers and administrators for the Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal rulers. These Shaikhs were local Muslim converts converted by Sufi missionaries from Middle-east although some of them were immigrants from the West of India . The oldest Shaikh families settled in Bihar Sharif, which was the centre of early Muslim rule in the region. Often these early settlers from the Central Asia were granted jagirs (estates), and were the earliest Muslim colonists in the region. These early colonists were often required to make converts, and these converts often adopted the clan name of those at whose hand they accepted Islam. This practice led to a large increase in those who call themselves Shaikhs, and these converts now form by far the largest Bihari Muslim community. The term Shaikh, particularly in Bihar and Bengal refers to any Muslim, and in the Muslim majority Purnia Division, covers four distinct groups. In East India, the term Shaikh is closer to its intended meaning in Arabian language i.e. an elder or old man. In fact, not only in Bihar but also in its parent state Bengal (W.Bengal and Bangladesh); Shaikhs comprise one of the three major social groups the other two being Khans and Kayasthas.
The greatest concentration of the Shaikh are in the Purnia division, especially in Kishanganj district, but they are found throughout Bihar. They also have a presence in Nalanda, Patna, Nawada, Gaya, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi and Saharsa.. The Shaikh speak Urdu, Hindi and various local dialects. They are Sunni, and have customs similar to other Bihari Muslims. In the rural areas, the community are a largely endogamous, marrying close within close kin. They practice both parallel cousin and cross cousin marriages. While in the cities, there is now great deal of intermarriage with other Bihari Muslim communities. The abolishment of the zamindari system at Indian Independence saw the breakup of the larger jagirs. These changes have not affected the Shaikh who were medium and small scale farmers, who have actually benefited from the breakup of the estates.
Shaikh of Purnea Division
The Shaikh form the largest single community in the Purnia division, particularly in the Kishanganj District, where they make just under half the population. These Shaikh are a medium to small scale farmers, and are entirely rural. They are in fact four distinct communities, the Bengali, Kulaiya, Habalyar and Khutta, each of whom are endogamous.
The Bengali Shaikh/Sheikh make nearly half of the population of Kishanganj district, with large communities in Araria District,Purulia,Bankura, Amur Kasba and Kadwa, and are the largest Shaikh sub-group. They speak a mixed dialect of Bengali and Hindi, which gets more progressively closer to standard Bengali as one get towards the West Bengal border. They are a spill over of the largest sub-group of the Bengal Muslims, the Nashya Sekh. In West Bengal, they are found in Malda, Jalpaiguri and Dargeling districts. The community are converts from the Rajbongshi caste, who have said to have converted during the period of Mughal rule. They gave considerably trouble to the British colonial authorities in the 19th Century, and are still known for their independent sprit. The Bengali are a small and medium sized farmers, although many are landless, and there has been a constant stream of emigration to Kolkata from the 19th Century onwards. They are strictly endogamous, marrying among close kin, practicing both parallel cousin and cross cousin marriages. The community uses the surnames Mandal and Shaikh. In addition to the Nashya, there is another group within the Bengali Shaikh, the Shershahabadia community. These two sub-groups are strictly endogamous, and do not intermarry.
The Kulhaiya Shaikh are found mainly in Araria, Purnea and kishanganj District of north eastern bihar.According to their traditions, the word kulhaiya means a "cap wearer" in Persian. As the word kulah means cap in Persian. Basically kulahiyas were soldieors in mughal emperor The faujdar of purnea at the time of mughal nawab saif ali khan on the advice of delhi sultanate appointed kulhaiyas to protect Indian Border on the side of Nepal  Those who started this Muslim community in seemanchal area were basically Arabs and have inhabited India for more than 1000 years. Few members of the community are said to be the descendants of Abu Bakar Siddiq, a companion of Muhammad. They speak Kulhaiya. The community members are converts from the Yadav,kayasth and some lower hindu caste, and said to have converted in the 16th Century. Like other Shaikh groups, they are strictly endogamous, and continue the practice of clan exogamy. They are Sunni Muslims, but their beliefs incorporate many local customs and traditions. The community live in villages which are single caste, and are largely small and medium sized farmers. Despite living near the Bengali, there are no intermarriages between the two groups. They comprises around 35 to 50 lakh population in seemanchal.
- Shaikh of India Ethnic People Profile
- People of India Bihar Volume XVI Part Two edited by S Gopal & Hetukar Jha pages 872 to 875 Seagull Books
- A Gazetteer of Purnea District Bengal District Gazetteers Government of India press
- A Gazetteer of Purnea District Volume XXV Bengal District Gazetteers Government of India press
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