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The tomb of Sheikh Isaaq, the founding father of the Isaaq clan, in Maydh, Sanaag.
Regions with significant populations
Islam (Sunni )
Related ethnic groups
Dir, Darod, Hawiye, Rahanweyn, and other Somali people

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

The populations of five major cities in SomalilandHargeisa, Burao, ( second and third largest Somali cities respectively) Berbera, Erigavo and Gabiley – are predominantly Isaaq.[3][4]


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 Ishaaq Bin Ahmed Al Hashimi (Sheikh Ishaaq) from Arabia, a descendant of Ali ibn Abi Talib in Maydh.[5][6] He settled in the coastal town of Maydh in modern-day nnorthwestern Somaliland, where he married into the Magaadle clan..[7]

There are also numerous existing hagiologies in Arabic which describe Sheikh Ishaaq's travels, works and overall life in modern Somaliland , as well as his movements in Arabia before his arrival.[8] Besides historical sources, one of the more recent printed biographies of Sheikh Ishaaq is the Amjaad of Sheikh Husseen bin Ahmed Darwiish al-Isaaqi as-Soomaali, which was printed in Aden in 1955.[9]

Sheikh Isaaq's tomb is in Maydh, and is the scene of frequent pilgrimages.[8] Sheikh Isaaq's mawlid (birthday) is also celebrated every Thursday with a public reading of his manaaqib (a collection of glorious deeds).[7]. 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 & dense 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 inhabited by a large Isaaq clan members. They also have large settlements in both Kenya & Djibouti, making up a large percentage of the Somali population in these 2 countries respectively.

Clan tree[edit]

Partial breakdown of the Isaaq clan structure.

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 an Ethiopian woman – the Habar Habuusheed – and those descended from sons of Sheikh Isaaq by a woman of the Magaadle clan – the Habar Magaadle. Indeed most of the largest clans of the clan-family are in fact uterine alliances hence "habar" which in archaic Somali means " mother".[10] This is illustrated in the following structure.


A. Habar Habuusheed

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

B. Habar Magaadle

  • Abdirahman (Habar Awal)
  • Ayub
  • Ali (Arab)
  • Ismail (Garxajis)

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 governor of Zeila Sharmarka Ali Saleh 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.[12][13]

One tradition maintains that Isaaq had twin sons: Ahmed or Arap, and Ismail or Gerhajis.[14]

Notable Isaaq people[edit]

Nineteenth century Isaaq notables[edit]

“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."

  • 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.[19][20]

Isaaq Dervish leadership[edit]

Haji Sudi 1892 on the left with his brother in-law Duale Liban .
  • Haji Ahmed Warsama/Sudi 1852-1920. one of the founders of the Somali Dervish movement and the movement right hand man till its demise.[21] [22] Haji Sudi was born approximately around 1852 in what's now Somaliland before the British occupation of the Somali coast. Nothing is known about his early life and childhood , but as most of the Somalis of his time his early life and youth was spent in the interior as a nomad.

The earliest record of Haji Sudi's life was his British navy stint as an interpreter in 1884. He accompanied Admiral Hewitt on his mission to Abyssinia according to Sir Cecil Lowther who hired him as a guide and a headman for his 1890s big game hunting expedition in Somaliland.

"Haji Ahmed the interpreter and headman, a tall, slight fellow of thirty-five years of age, with close-shaven head immense mouth disclosing a row of gleaming teeth a great man in the estimation of all( having three times made the journey to Mecca having a fourth trip in prospect). He had been years in the English Navy as interpreter, an accompanied Admiral Hewitt on his mission to Abyssinia" [23]

In 1888-1889 Haji Sudi spent time as a guide/interpreter during the battle of Suakin directly observing the ways of the Sudanes Dervish. “His purely political adherents were almost solely confined to a few degornmes and disgruntled Somalis residing in Aden, who cherished some personal grudge against the British Government. Typical of these was Haji Sudi, an ex-interpreter of the Royal Navy, who had been at Suakin and was conversant with Dervish customs, many of which he imported into Somaliland. For one and twenty years he was the Mullah's trusty lieutenant".[24] " Haji Sudi was an ex-interpreter of the Royal Navy. He had been at Suakin and was conversant with Dervish ways and had imported many of their customs."[25]

In 1892 he accompanied J.W. Gregory John_Walter_Gregory to east Africa , Gregory observing Haji Sudi's habit and manners in 1892 expedition he made the following observation regarding his character and his religious dervish devotions.

"The headman Wasama was also the priest of the Somali. His chant was the music which marked time at the dervish dances, and his the exhortations that roused the dancers to their wildest fury. At sunrise and sunset he stood on his praying-mat in front of the line of Somali, and led their devotions. But Wasama would never have preferred death to defilement ; when I mixed brandy with medicine for the sick men, he would give them the dose and swear that the "dowo" contained nothing unholy. He had been for some years an interpreter on a man-of-war, and there he had learnt not only " fo'castle English," but also the differences between an esoteric and an exoteric faith. He preached the one, but was always ready to practise the other, and his sermons were delivered in language of appalling profanity. I remember once appeahng to him when a Somali tried to shirk some work on the excuse that he was bound to go and pray. Wasama expounded the orthodox Mohammedan rules for prayer in language that would have scandalised Billingsgate. Often, when at his devotions in one corner of the camp, his keen eye would detect a man doing something that he ought not to do; Wasama would at once leap from his mat and hurl at the culprit a volley of blood-curdling oaths, and then drop on to his mat again to conclude the interrupted prayer. But in spite of his language, Wasama was a man who did high credit to the Somali race. He was kind-hearted, devoted, energetic, courageous, intelligent, and skilful.[26]

“In 1895 after which he returned to his tariga , Kob Fardod, in The Dolbahanta. Here he gradually acquired influence by stopping inter-tribal warfare,and eventually started a religious movement in which the Rer Ibrahim (MukabilOgaden) Ba Hawadle (Miyirwalal Ogaden) and the Ali Gheri(Dolbahanta) were the first to join. His emissaries also soon succeeded in winning over the Aden Madoba,notable amongst whom was Haji Sudi, his trusted lientenant, and Ahmed Farih and reer Yuusuf , all Habr Toljaala, and the Musa Ismail of the Eatsern Habr Yunis ,Habr Gerhajis with Sultan Nur.”[27]

"In the unlikely event of the: Mullah offering to surrender, in his case and that of the Following: Ahmed Warsama (known as Haji Sudi), Deria Araale , Deria Gure Only an unconditional surrender should only be accepted no guarantee of any kind to future treatment been given. Sultan Nur the late sultan of the Habr Yunis, may be guaranteed his life." J. Hayes-Sadler, His Britannic Majesty's Consul-General, Somali Coast Protectorate. Aden April 11, 1901."[28]

" A deserter from the enemy stated that the Mullah. accompanied by Haji Sudi and Sultan Nur, with a large forces of horse and footmen, reached Kurmis on 8th June, camped near Lasakante on 9th June , and moved towards Dannot early on 10th June on their way towards the Nogal. On 12th June mounted scout could not get through from Bohotle to Dannot owing to the numbers of the enemy's horsemen watching the road. On 13th June two deserters from the Mullha came into Bohotle and stated that the Mullah with his whole force was on his way to Nogal with a view of establishing his haroun ay Halin. Intelligence Report from 11th July 1903".[29]

  • Sultan Nur Ahmed Ammaan 1841-1907 a founding member of the Dervish movement and sole instigator against The French Catholic Mission at Berbera. The catalyst of the dervish insurrection.
  • Abdullahi Qarshe, Somali musician, poet and playwright; known as the "Father of Somali music"
  • Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, President of Somaliland as of June 2010, fourth and longest-serving Chairman of the Somali National Movement, and former Chairman of the Kulmiye Party
  • Edna Adan Ismail, first female Foreign Minister of Somaliland, has been called “The Muslim Mother Teresa” for her charity work and activism for women and girls
  • Gaarriye (born Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac; 1949 – 30 September 2012), poet, composer and play writer.
  • Hanan Ibrahim, gender activist and first Somali British to be awarded Member of British Empire (MBE) for community work in UK
  • Hussain Bisad, is one of the tallest men in the world, at 2.32 m (7 ft 7 1⁄2 in). He has the largest hand span of anyone alive
  • Hadrawi, poet and philosopher; author of Halkaraan; also known as the "Somali Shakespeare"
  • Jama Musse Jama (b. 1967), prominent Somali ethnomathematician and author.
  • Mo Farah, British 4 time Olympic gold medalist and the most decorated athlete in British athletics history.[30]
  • Mohamed Mooge Liibaan, Mooge is regarded by many Somalis to be one of the greatest Somali musicians to have ever lived
  • Rageh Omaar, Somali-British journalist and writer. He used to be a BBC world affairs correspondent, In September 2006, he moved to a new post at Al Jazeera English, and as of 2017 is currently with ITV News

Sheikh Isxaaq manuscripts[edit]

Manuscripts on Sheikh Isaaq include:[31]

  • 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 3aydarus (1932-1999), the ex-mayor of Mogadishu during the 1968 election in Somalia
  • Kitaab Fatx Al-Baab Fi Al-Ansaab Wal-Alaqaab - by 3abdialma3alim Ibn Yuusuf


  1. ^ 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].
  2. ^ Gitonga, By Antony. "Community takes over 'ancestral land'". The Standard. Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ 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]
  5. ^ Rima Berns McGown, Muslims in the diaspora, (University of Toronto Press: 1999), pp. 27–28
  6. ^ I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), p. 22
  7. ^ a b I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), pp. 31 & 42
  8. ^ a b Roland Anthony Oliver, J. D. Fage, Journal of African history, Volume 3 (Cambridge University Press.: 1962), p.45
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^
  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. 157.
  12. ^ Worldbank, Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics, January 2005, Appendix 2, Lineage Charts, p. 55 Figure A-1
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ 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 . 
  15. ^ The Visit of Frederick Forbes to the Somali Coast in 1833 R Bridges. Int J Afr Hist Stud 19 (4), 679-691. 1986.
  16. ^ Travels In Southern Abyssinia Through The Country Of Adal To The Kingdom Of Shoa. by Charles Johnston, Volume 1. 1844
  17. ^ First footsteps in East Africa : or, An exploration of Harar by Burton, Richard Francis, Sir, 1821-1890; Burton, Isabel, Lady, Published 1894
  18. ^ Marston, Thomas E. Britain's Imperial Role In the Red Sea Area, 1800-1878. Hamden: Conn., Shoe String Press, 1961.
  19. ^ Bollettino della Società geografica italiana By Società geografica italiana. 1893.
  20. ^ Somalia e Benadir: viaggio di esplorazione nell'Africa orientale. Prima traversata della Somalia, compiuta per incarico della Societá geografica italiana. Luigi Robecchi Bricchetti. 1899.
  21. ^ Sun, Sand and somals: leaves from the note-book of a district commissioner by Henry Rayne
  22. ^ Imperialismo e Ressitenza In Corn d'Africa: Mohammed Abdullah Hassan e il derviscismo somalo by Gerarado Nicolos.
  23. ^ From Pillar To Post by Lowther, Cecil, Sir, 1869-1940; Kipling, Rudyard, 1865-1936. p.22.
  24. ^ Mad Mullah Of Somaliland, Douglas Jardin, p. 49-50
  25. ^ Official History of the Operation Volume 1 p.49
  26. ^ p.358, The Great Rift Valley: being the narrative of a journey to Mount Kenya and Lake Baringo : with some account of the geology, natural history, anthropology and future prospects of British East Africa by Gregory, J. W. (John Walter), 1864-1932. Published 1896.
  27. ^ Official History of the Operation Volume 1, p.49
  28. ^ Official history of the operations in Somaliland, 1901-04 by Great Britain. War Office. General Staff Published 1907.p.56
  29. ^ Official history of the operations in Somaliland, 1901-04 by Great Britain. War Office. General Staff Published 1907.
  30. ^ "Mo Farah's family cheers him on from Somaliland village". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2014. 
  31. ^ Islam in Somali History Fact and Fiction revisited , the Arab Factor