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A more modern spelling of sheik. One which accounts for the actual pronunciation in Arabic. A shaykh is one who is learned in Islam. One of the methods by which learning is passed down in Islam is taqlid, learning from a teacher. Knowledge is passed from teacher to student in a chain from the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself down to the present era. This chain is referred to as isnad. The most knowledgeable of shaykhs can detail who is his shaykh, and the shaykh of his shaykh, and the shaykh of his shaykh's shaykh (to bring back images of a childhood tongue twister), and so on, until one goes back to the Prophet (SAW) himself and his companions. It is through this rigorous scientific method (I am not qualified to detail the rigors of isnad, but the documentation involved makes six sigma look sloppy) that knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence is preserved through the ages.

As an addendum, it seems to me that sheik an shaykh really are use in two different ways. shaykh is typically used by Muslims to refer to a learned person (shaykhs can be female, by the way, but the disarray in which the ummah finds itself, little in the way of rigorous, lifelong Islamic education is common among men, and females under the Marxist influenced regimes in much of the Muslim world have it much worse than in the past.), whereas sheik normally refers to a ruler of a country or area.

Arabic for old man. adding an "AH" (shaykhah) at the end of it will make it feminine. A title of respect, can be given to rich business men or relegious men. In Arabia, old men are respected. The common notion is they are wiser about life than young men, hence the respect.

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