The term Shaikh is used here for a sociocultural group that originated with Arab settlers in South Asia which now includes many subgroups, some of which intermarry in Bangladesh with non-Shaikh Bengali Muslims and some of which don't.
Islam arrived in the area now known as Pakistan in 711 AD when a Muslim Arab army conquered the northwestern part of the Indus Valley from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea. Technocrats, bureaucrats, soldiers, traders, scientists, architects, teachers, theologians and sufis flocked from the rest of the Arab and Muslim world to the Islamic Sultanate in South Asia, and settled permanently.
The descendants of these Arabs usually go by the title of Shaikh and are also known in Pakistan as Muslim Khatri. The Shaikhs of Pakistan, however, claim pre-islamic ancestry. They are a sub-group of the Zamindar group or qoum, traditionally associated with farming, which is one of the two groups making up the Pakistani Punjabis (the other group is the Moeens group or quom, who are traditionally artisans). Shaikh is also a term that is usually attributed to the leaders or elders of Arabian social groups. Other variants of this term are Sheik, Shaykh, Shaikh, Cheikh, Šeih, Šejh, Seyh.
After the advent of Islam in South Asia, some high caste (Brahmins, Muslim Rajputs and Khatris) converted to Islam in the Punjab region and adopted this title. They are known as Punjabi Shaikh (Punjabi). The majority of the Punjabi Shaikhs are urbanized and detached from their traditional agricultural ancestry. However, a few families also cultivate their own land in the western districts of Punjab. The main professions of the urban Punjabi Shaikhs are business and public service, and are stereotyped for their reputation for business acumen. The Khawaja Shaikh, with their sub-division the Chiniotis and the Qanungoh Shaikh are two such communities.
The Sikh Shaikhs living in villages at the Indian border adjoining Pakistan were remnants of the Shaihks who chose to stay after the independence of of Pakistan in 1947, embracing Sikhism as their religion. They are famous for their lori and dhool, a traditional Indian drum.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Shaikhs are not bound by one particular profession. The Shaikh can be broadly grouped into five communities. Three of these communities are the Siddiks, Farukis and Abbasi who are often descendents of Arab immigrants. The other two are the Chistis and Kuraishis communities who tend to be mainly from converts to Islam. Consequently, the Shaikhs profess Islam and have both Sunni and Shia traditions among them. In Nepal they speak Nepali and either Urdu, Bhojpuri or Maithili in their communities. They are not vegetarian and their common food is rice, mutton and vegetables. Common surnames are Mondal, Siddiqui, Usmani, Faroqui and Sheikh.
What Are Their Needs?
There has been much ministry activity among the Shaikh in India but few works in Nepal. Pray that this largest group of Nepali Muslims will find the truth of the Prophet Isa! There is a lot of potential for gospel growth within the Shaikh community because of relatively few social divisions.
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