Shaikhs in South Asia

Shaikh, also rendered as Sheikh, Sheik, Shaik, Shaykh, Shaikh, Shekh, Cheikh, Šeih, Šejh, Şeyh and other variants (Arabic: شيخ, shaykh; pl. شيوخ shuyūkh), is a title given to many South Asian Muslim castes. It originally was a word or honorific term in the Arabic language that commonly designated a chief of a tribe, royal family member, Muslim religious scholar, or "Elder". However in South Asia it was used as a title by castes that rarely had any Arab descent.

A Shaikh man from Aligarh, c. 1858-1868


In South Asia it is not an ethnic title but an occupational title generally attributed to Muslim trading families. The Shaikhs claimed to be descendants of Arabs, however almost all Shaikhs did not actually descend from Arabs. Hindus who converted to Islam and took the title shaikh tended to be of the Kshatriya varna, although use of the title was flexible. In the former Frontier Regions and Punjab of Pakistan, the title shaikh was given to recent converts and not those of Arab descent.[1] The Julaha weaver caste became Ansaris, who claimed to descend from Abu Ayub Al-Ansari. The butcher castes claimed to descend from the Quraysh tribe. The Kayastha record keeper caste became Siddiques, who claimed to descend from Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq.[2][3][4]

A famous saying which attests to the flexibility of the title of shaikh stated: "Last year I was a Julaha (weaver); this year I am a sheikh; next year, if the crops are good, I shall be a Syed."[1][4]


The subdivisions of the Shaikh include:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Nyrop, Richard F. (1983). Pakistan a country study (4 ed.). U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 149.
  2. ^ a b Robinson, Rowena (2004). Sociology of religion. SAGE Publications. p. 90.
  3. ^ a b Khanam, Azra (2013). Muslim backward classes: a sociological perspective. SAGE Publications. p. 22. ISBN 9788132118077.
  4. ^ a b Delage, Rémy (29 September 2014). Muslim Castes in India. ISSN 2105-3030.