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Raʾīs (Arabic: رئیس‎; also spelled Raees; lit. chief, leader) is a title used by the rulers of Arab states in the Middle East and in South Asia. Swahili speakers on the Swahili Coast may also use it for president. It is translated as "president" in Arabic, and as "boss" in Persian. In Urdu, the word Rais is also used similarly to the English term "old money," as the opposite or antonym of nouveau riche, a person who has accummulated considerable wealth within his or her generation.

From Arabic, via Persian, this word came into Ottoman Turkish as Reis, and into Urdu as raees, which means a person belonging to the aristocracy of noble distinction.[1] When the book "The Pleasure of Philosophy" by Will Durant was translated into Urdu, by Syed Abid Ali Abid, he translated the word aristocracy with the Urdu word raisiyyat (رئیسيت).

The adjective 'Azam' great, is also added to mean 'the great rais'. This term, as well as the term יושב-ראש (Chairman), are used by Israeli media to refer to the President of the Palestinian National Authority, as opposed to נשיא (President).

In a New York Times op-ed, commentator Bret Stephens referred to Palestinian late leader Yasir Arafat as "the rais."[2]

British India[edit]

In British India the landed gentry in Muslim societies often used the word rais to describe their aristocratic position held in society. The term rais was also often used by Muslims when making deed of endowments in their community. Although, the word meant 'chief' or 'leader' legal documents used it in the context of 'landlords' or landowners. Other terms such as malik or Zamindar also appeared as 'landlords' or ‘landowners’, even though these titles implied that the individual who bore them was more ruler than proprietor.[3]

However, when describing any aspect of the management of their holdings 'rais or zamindars' employed regal terminology. The rais sat upon a throne (masand or gaddi). Riayat, whom British preferred to call tenants or cultivators were literally subjects. When a rais met with his riayat he described himself as holding court (darbar). The money which riayat paid his lord was tribute (nazrana) not rent. The place where he paid the tribute was called a kachari, just as government revenue officeTRA, and the clerks who collected, kept accounts and ensured tributes kept coming on time where known by their Mughal courtly styles of (dewans) and (sipahis – a horse trooper).[3]


  1. ^ Hobson-Jobson: The Definitive Glossary of British India, By: Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell - pg 438. Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-19-960113-4
  2. ^ Stephens, Bret (November 18, 2017). "Mugabe and Other Leftist Heroes". New York Times: A19.
  3. ^ a b Muslim Endowments and Society in British India, By: Gregory C. Kozlowski. pp 47-48. Cambridge University Press, 1985. ISBN 0521088674

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