Shaykh al-Islām

Shaykh al-Islām (Arabic: شيخ الإسلام, Šayḫ al-Islām; Ottoman Turkish: Şeyḫülislām) was used in the classifical era as an honorific title for outstanding scholars of the Islamic sciences[1]:399[2] It first emerged in Khurasan towards the end of the 4th Islamic century.[1]:399 In the central and western lands of Islam, it was an informal title given to jurists whose fatwas were particularly influential, while in the east it came to be conferred by rulers to ulama who played various official roles but were not generally muftis. Sometimes, as in the case of Ibn Taymiyya, the use of the title was subject of controversy. Later it became a prestigious position in the Ottoman Empire which governed religious affairs of Muslims.[1]:400 Modern times have seen this function carried out by Grand Muftis appointed or elected in a variety of ways.[2]

Classical usage

Like other honorific titles starting with the word shaykh, the term shaykh al-islam was reserved in the classifical era for ulama and mystics. It first appeared in Khurasan in the 4th/10th century.[1]:399 In major cities of Khurasan it seems to have had more specific connotations, since only one person held the title at a given time and place. Holders of the title in Khurasan were among the most influential ulama, but there is no evidence that they delivered fatwas. Under the Ilkhans, the Delhi Sultanate and the Timurids the title was conferred, often by the ruler, to high-ranking ulama who performed various functions but were not generally muftis.[1]:400

In Syria and Egypt the title was given to influential jurists and had an honorific rather than official role. By 700/1300 in central and western lands of Islam the term became associated with giving of fatwas. Ibn Taymiyya was given the title by his supporters but his adversaries contested this use.[1]:400 For example, the Hanafi scholar 'Ala' al-Din al-Bukhari issued a fatwa stating that anyone who called Ibn Taymiyya "Shaykh al-Islam" had committed disbelief (kufr).[3][4] There is disagreement on whether the title was honorific or designated a local mufti in Seljuq and early Ottoman Anatolia.[1]:400

The following Islamic scholars were given the title "Shaykh al-Islam":

In the Ottoman Empire

Shaykh ul-Islam Mehmet Cemaleddin Efendi during the reign of Ottoman Sultan and Caliph Abdul Hamid II

In the Ottoman empire, which controlled much of the Sunni Islamic world from the 14th to the 20th centuries, the Grand Mufti was given the title Shaykh al-Islam (Ottoman Turkish: Şeyḫülislām). The Ottomans had a strict hierarchy of ulama, with the Sheikh ul-Islam holding the highest rank. A Sheikh ul-Islam was chosen by a royal warrant amongst the qadis of important cities. The Sheikh ul-Islam had the power to confirm new sultans, but once the sultan was affirmed, it was the sultan who retained a higher authority than the Sheik ul-Islam. The Sheikh ul-Islam issued fatwas, which were written interpretations of the Quran that had authority over the community. The Sheikh ul-Islam represented the law of shariah and in the 16th century its importance rose which led to increased power. Sultan Murad appointed a Sufi, Yayha, as his Sheikh ul-Islam during this time which led to violent disapproval. The objection to this appointment made obvious the amount of power the Sheikh ul-Islam had, since people were afraid he would alter the traditions and norms they were living under by issuing new fatwas.

The office of Shaykh al-Islam was abolished in 1924, at the same time as the Ottoman Caliphate. After the National Assembly of Turkey was established in 1920, this office was in the Shar’iyya wa Awqaf Ministry until 1924, when the Ministry was abolished due to separation of religion from state, the office was replaced by the Presidency of Religious Affairs. As the successor entity to the office of the Sheikh al-Islam, the Presidency of Religious Affairs is the most authoritative entity in Turkey in relation to Sunni Islam.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 J.H. Kramers-[R.W. Bulliet]; R.C. Repp (1997). "Skaykh al-Islam". In C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs; G. Lecomte. Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition). Volume IX (San-Sze). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. ISBN 9004104224.
  2. 1 2 Gerhard Böwering, Patricia Crone, Mahan Mirza, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought, p 509-510. ISBN 0691134847
  3. Correct Islamic Doctrine/Islamic Doctrine by Ibn Khafif
  4. The Biographies Of The Elite Lives Of The Scholars, Imams & Hadith Masters by Gibril Fouad Haddad
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Al-Dhahabi, Siyar a'lam al-nubala' ('Biographies of Noble Personalities').
  6. Constructive Critics, Hadith Literature, and the Articulation of Sunni Islam by Scott C. Lucas - Page 87.
  7. Yazaki, Saeko (2012). Islamic Mysticism and Abu Talib Al-Makki: The Role of the Heart. Routledge. p. 122. ISBN 0415671108.
  8. M. M. Sharif, A History of Muslim Philosophy, 1.242. ISBN 9694073405
  9. Islam and Other Religions: Pathways to Dialogue by Irfan Omar
  10. Jackson, Sherman (1996). Islamic Law and the State: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Shihab Al-Din Al-Qarafi (Studies in Islamic Law & Society). Brill. p. 10. ISBN 9004104585.
  11. Allah's Names and Attributes (Islamic Doctrines & Beliefs) by Imam Al-Bayhaqi (Author), Gibril Fouad Haddad (Translator)
  12. Islamic Culture - Volume 45 - Page 195
  13. Correct Islamic Doctrine/Islamic Doctrine - Page 11.
  14. Abu Zayd Bakr bin Abdullah, Madkhal al-mufassal ila fiqh al-Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal wa-takhrijat al-ashab. Riyadh: Dar al 'Aminah, 2007
  15. Mohammad Hassan Khalil, Islam and the Fate of Others: The Salvation Question, Oxford University Press, 3 May 2012, p 89. ISBN 0199796661
  16. Tasawwuf al-Subki
  17. Gibb, H.A.R.; Kramers, J.H.; Levi-Provencal, E.; Schacht, J. (1986) [1st. pub. 1960]. Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition). Volume I (A-B). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. p. 791. ISBN 9004081143.
  18. Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P.; Bearman, P.J.; Bianquis, Th. (2002). Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition). Volume XI (W-Z). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. p. 406. ISBN 9004127569.
  19. Safinah Safinat al-Naja' - The Ship of Salvation
  20. Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire by John O. Hunwick
  21. The Archetypal Sunni Scholar: Law, Theology, and Mysticism in the Synthesis of Al-Bajuri by Aaron Spevack
  22. The Prophets in Barzakh/The Hadith of Isra' and Mi'raj/The Immense Merrits of Al-Sham/The Vision of Allah by Al-Sayyid Muhammad Ibn 'Alawi
  23. [Mamluk Studies Review - Volume 6 - Page 118.]
  24. The Biographies Of The Elite Lives Of The Scholars, Imams & Hadith Masters by Gibril Fouad Haddad.

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