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Sheikh (pronounced // SHAYK or // 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.
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.
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.
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 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 Kisrawan, and 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 of the 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), Andalusians and Berbers and were also responsible for mobilizing their kinsmen in the event of war.
Horn of Africa
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"); and Muhammad Al-Sumaalee, teacher in the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca who influenced many of the prominent Islamic scholars of today.
In South 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 sheikh, Qassab or Qureshi . 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 Punjab, Pakistan the Hindu Brahmins, Kshatriya, 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 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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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 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 Oman.
- Kashmiri Shaikh
- Khawaja Shaikh
- Punjabi Shaikh
- Qanungoh Shaikh
- Shaikhs in South Asia
- Sindhi Shaikh
- Al ash-Sheikh – Saudi Arabia's leading religious family
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- The dictionary definition of sheik at Wiktionary