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Part of a series on Islam
Usul al-fiqh

(The Roots of Jurisprudence)

Fiqh
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Scholarly titles

Sheikh, also rendered as Sheik, Shaykh, Shaikh, Cheikh, Šeih, Šejh, Şeyh and other variants (Arabic: شيخ‎, shaykh; pl. شيوخshuyūkh), is a word or honorific term in the Arabic language that literally means "elder." It is commonly used to designate an elder of a tribe, a revered wise man, or an Islamic scholar. Although the title generally refers to a male, a very small number of female sheikhs have also existed in history.

It also refers to a man over 40[1] or 50[2] years old generally. Whilst even a new Muslim can be called a sheikh if he is diligent in seeking the knowledge of Islam based upon the Quran and authentic Sunnah, he can be referred to as such by those he teaches. And usually a person is known as a sheikh when they have completed their undergraduate university studies in Islamic studies and are trained in giving lectures.[1]. The word sheikh under this meaning is a synonym of Alim, pl. Ulema, (a learned person in Islam, a scholar)[3], Mawlawi, Mawlana, Muhaddith, Faqih, Qadi, Mufti, Hadhrat or Hafiz.

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Etymology and meaning

The classical image of a 'sheikh': Sheikh Sattam de Haddadin of Palmyra, by Russian painter Alexandr Evgenievich Yacovleff.

The word in Arabic stems from a triliteral root connected with age and ageing: ش-ي-خ, shīn-yā'-khā'. The term literally means a man of old age, and it is used in that sense in all men Qur'anic Arabic. Later it came to be a title meaning leader, elder, or noble, especially in the Arabian Peninsula, 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.

While the title can be used religiously by Tovars 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."

As a secular honorific

The title is sometimes more informally used to people who have a certain financial or political influence, but especially in relation to royalty and other nobility.

In the Gulf region

In the Persian Gulf States the title is used for men of stature, whether they are managers in high posts, wealthy business owners, or local rulers. For example, it was the term used in the West to refer to the leaders of Kuwait's ruling al-Sabah dynasty, even though the monarchic style was actually Hakim (Arabic 'ruler') until June 19, 1961, when Kuwait joined the Arab League, and the title Emir was adopted. The same applied to Bahrain and Qatar. The term is used by almost every male member of all the Gulf royal houses with the exception of Saudi Arabia.[citation needed]

In Lebanon

In Lebanon, the title and its equivalent female form (shaykha) are commonly used when addressing members of the traditional noble Christian feudal families such as, in chronological order of the Maronite families who first had this title bestowed upon them: El-Hachem (Hashemite) of Akoura (since 1523, ruled the current Jbeil casa and the north till the Sir El Donnieh region), El-Khazen (since 1545, ruled the Kiserwan area) and El Daher of Zgharta. The term sheikh is known to have been bestowed upon the families who battled with the Emir Fakhr al-Din in the historical battle of Anjar. Note that the term is not used for the seven traditional Beiruti families, but primarily for the above-mentioned three families. The other families that have this term (such as El-Dahdah, Gemayel, El-Khoury.....) did not rule any territory in previous ages. Instead, they were high-ranking employees or makhatir or secretaries (kouttab) (such as Hobeich (since 1567) of Ghazir) in the Ottoman Empire, or political 'allies' of the rulers at that time, which provided them a certain financial status.[citation needed]

In South Asia

In Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other parts of South Asia, the title Shaikh signifies Arab descent. The Shaikh (caste) of South Asia claims putative descent from these immigrants from the Middle East although, a majority of them are native tribes of South Asia which used the title of Sheikh after conversion to Islam.

Many Rajput clans in South Asia had converted to Islam during the early 12th century and were given the honorary title of Shaikh (elder of the tribe) by their Arab rulers. Since conversion Rajput clans have remained loyal to their faith. Most Rajput clans were converted to Islam by the Muslim Sufi missionaries of the famed Chishtiyya and Qadri orders and many others. Some conversions also took place for political reasons. The Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal dynasty encouraged the martial Rajput clans to convert to Islam. Conversions to Islam continued into the 19th century period of theBritish Raj.

Religious usage

The term is often used by Muslims to address learned men of various Islamic sciences, such as faqihs, muftis, and muhaddiths, and more generally to convey respect for religious authorities. In Sufism tariqah (orders), it is often used as an honorific for an elder Sufi who has been authorized by the order to teach, initiate and guide aspiring murids & dervishes, as such, he is also known as, in Arabic, as a formal Murshid (lit: Guide).

The term is and/or was also used in certain Islamic parts of Africa, as in imperial Ethiopia by the hereditary Muslim rulers of Bela Shangul, and by certain Muslim notables of Wollo, Tigray and Eritrea.

For women

A daughter or wife of a shaykh is sometimes called shaykhah (Arabic: شيخة‎). Currently, the term shaykhah is commonly used for females of rich families, especially ruling families, in Arab countries.

Surname

In South Asia, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, "Shaikh" is a common surname among direct descendants of the royal Mughul Empire, or more generally, it signifies Arab ancestry.

References and notes

See also

References

  • Shaikh Siddiqui
  • History of El Douaihy
  • History of the Maronites and Lebanon
  • "History of Lebanon" by Kamal Salibi

1911 encyclopedia

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

Alternative spellings

Noun

Singular
sheikh

Plural
sheikhs

sheikh (plural sheikhs)

  1. Alternate spelling of sheik.







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