“Amir” versus “Sheikh”: understanding the Arab titles

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His Majesty Hamad Ibn Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain. The Al Khalifa  family rules Bahrain since 1783 and their royal titles are “sheikh”. They’ve adopted “Amir” in 1971 and “Malik” (or King) in 2002

We could end this article in one sentence by saying that both titles, in essence, mean the same thing.

In the last couple of centuries, it was created a convention that the title “Amir” (or “Emir”) would be the equivalent of the European “Prince”.  According to several encyclopedias, “Amir”, means “lord” or “commander-in-chief”, being derived from the Arabic root ‘a-m-r’ or “command“. Originally, simply meaning “commander-in-chief” or “leader”, usually in reference to a group of people, it came to be used as a title for governors or rulers, usually in smaller states. Therefore, the title had a military – not necessarily royal/noble – connotation.

The title Emir or Amir was equivalent of that of Commander.” The Black Book of the Admiralty, 1873, V.2, p.xiii (Cambridge University Press, 2012 edition, edited by Travers Twiss)

In the past, amir was usually a military title, now used to mean prince or as a title for various rulers or chiefs.” The New Encyclopedia of Islam, By Cyril Glassé, Huston Smith, Rowman Altamira, 2003, p.48

In comparison to the western titles, by its origin and meaning, the title “Amir” would be equivalent to the title “Duke”, not “Prince”, since both “Amir” and “Duke” have a military root and meaning.

About the title “Duke”:

“The title comes from French duc, itself from the Latin dux, ‘leader’, a term used in republican Rome to refer to a military commander without an official rank (particularly one of Germanic or Celtic origin), and later coming to mean the leading military commander of a province.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke

Whereas the title “Sheikh” was used mostly in three different connotations:

  1. Religious – although more recent, doesn’t concern this article,
  2. Royal – “sui iuris” hereditary sovereign or semi-sovereign ruler,
  3. Noble – noble title given by a sovereign or semi-sovereign ruler hereditary (“ad eternum”) or not (“ad personam”)

Sheikh (pronounced /ʃeɪk/ SHAYK or /ʃiːk/ SHEEK; Arabic: شيخ‎ šayḫ [ʃæjx], mostly pronounced [ʃeːx/ʃejx], plural شيوخ šuyūḫ [ʃuju:x])—also transliterated Sheik, Shaik, Shayk, Shaykh, Cheikh, Shekh, and Shaikh—is an honorific title in the Arabic language. It commonly designates the ruler of a tribe, who inherited the title from his father. “Sheikh” is given to a royal male at birth, whereas the related title “Sheikha” is given to a royal female at birth.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheikh

The word ‘sheikh’ can be used as a label for a head of a tribe in the Arab culture; for a member of a ruling family (as in Kuwait and the other Gulf States, for example), or for a religious person who perform religious duties.” Religion and Terrorism: An Interfaith Perspective, by Aref M. Al-Khattar, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, p.15

Important to note that the meaning of the word “tribe” in the Anthropological sense means a group of people, politically organized, that has the same language, beliefs, customs, and interests. However, some historians use the term “tribe” in a pejorative fashion, to mean indigenous, primitive, and insignificant.

“In such contexts, members of a tribe are typically said to share a self-name and a contiguous territory; to work together in such joint endeavours as trade, agriculture, house construction, warfare, and ceremonial activities; and to be composed of a number of smaller local communities such as bands or villages. In addition, they may be aggregated into higher-order clusters, such as nations.

As an anthropological term, the word tribe fell out of favour in the latter part of the 20th century. Some anthropologists rejected the term itself, on the grounds that it could not be precisely defined. Others objected to the negative connotations that the word acquired in the colonial context. Scholars of Africa, in particular, felt that it was pejorative as well as inaccurate.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/tribe-anthropology

Originally, the title “Sheikh” was more related to hereditary royal/noble pedigree than the title “Amir”.

Besides the sovereigns referred to above, there are several oriental potentates who should be mentioned, the rulers of the Sultanates and Sheikdoms of East Africa and the Persian Gulf (…) The style of these Sheikhs is His Highness.” “Titles: How the king became His Majesty”, L.G. Pine, New York, 1992 (Barnes & Noble) p. 137-138

In the modern United Arab Emirates, however, none of the rulers of the constituent states are called emirs (princes); all are Sheikhs.”

https://www.britannica.com/topic/emir

In conclusion, a “sovereign” or “semi-sovereign” Sheikh is a Prince:

The original, but now less common use of the word, originated in the application of the Latin word princeps, from late Romanlaw, and the classical system of government that eventually gave way to the European feudal society. In this sense, a prince is a ruler of a territory which is sovereign, or quasi-sovereign, i.e., exercising substantial (though not all) prerogatives associated with monarchs of independent nations, as was common, for instance, within the historical boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire.”

(…)

As a title, by the end of the medieval era, prince was borne by rulers of territories that were either substantially smaller than or exercised fewer of the rights of sovereignty than did emperors and kings [exactly as the Sheikhdoms]. A lord of even a quite small territory might come to be referred to as a prince before the 13th century, either from translations of a native title into the Latin princeps (as for the hereditary ruler of Wales), or when the lord’s territory was allodial.”

(…)

Lords who exercised lawful authority over territories and people within a feudal hierarchy were also sometimes regarded as princes in the general sense, especially if they held the rank of count or higher. This is attested in some surviving styles for e.g., British earls, marquesses, and dukes are still addressed by the Crown on ceremonial occasions as high and noble princes (cf. Royal and noble styles)

(…)

Generically, prince refers to a member of a family that ruled by hereditary right, the title referring either to sovereigns or to cadets of a sovereign’s family. The term may be broadly used of persons in various cultures, continents or eras. In Europe, it is the title legally borne by dynasticcadets in monarchies, and borne by courtesy by members of formerly reigning dynasties

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince#Prince_as_generic_for_ruler

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Photo: The grave of His Highness Sheikh Selim El Chemor (passed away in 1909 CE, the great grandfather of HRH Prince Sheikh Selim El Chemor, honorary head of the Royal House of Ghassan ), note that the royal title of Sheikh (in Arabic, upper right side) is on his tombstone, a capital proof that the family has been publicly using the ‘sui iuris’ titles for centuries until the present date. (Grave at the cemetery at the Mar Mama Ancient Church in Kferhata, Lebanon)

For a better understanding of the subject we strongly recommend the reading of the following article:

The Sheikhs El Chemor: a legal study of titles

Primogeniture in the Royal Arab Succession

UEA rulers
The seven princes that rule the emirates (or principalities) that form the UAE (United Arab Emirates). Each Royal House is independent and have its own rules of succession. However, all of them disregard the principle of primogeniture as all the middle eastern monarchies, except Bahrain

We’ve already covered here the fact that the Arab Royal laws of succession are different than the European in many ways, specially by a fundamental point: the principle of primogeniture.

Primogeniture (English: /praɪməˈdʒɛnɪtʃər/) is the right, by law or custom, of the paternally acknowledged, firstborn son to inherit his parent’s entire or main estate, in preference to daughters, elder illegitimate sons, younger sons and collateral relatives. The son of a deceased elder brother inherits before a living younger brother by right of substitution for the deceased heir. In the absence of any children, brothers succeed, individually, to the inheritance by seniority of age (subject to substitution). Among siblings, sons inherit before daughters. In the absence of male descendants in the male-line, there are variations of primogeniture which allocate the inheritance to a daughter or a brother or, in the absence of either, to another collateral relative, in a specified order (e.g. male-preference primogeniture, Salic primogeniture, semi-Salic primogeniture).  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primogeniture

That was never accepted in the Arab monarchies until very recently.

Middle Eastern monarchical systems have established various methods of choosing which among the eligible princes will rule.” (Michael Herb, All in the family: absolutism, revolution, and democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies, p. 27)

According to one the foremost scholars in Middle eastern history and Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, USA, Professor Bernard Lewis:

“… the dynastic principle and the practice of hereditary succession remained powerful, deep-rooted, and virtually universal in the Islamic Middle East. Even in the nomadic tribes, the shaikh is normally chosen from among the members of one family, who have a recognized hereditary claim to the headship of the tribe and very often to the custody of some sacred place or object—the palladium or ark of the covenant, so to speak. Similar practices may be observed also among Iranian and Turkic nomads. The principle of primogeniture—of succession from father to eldest son in the direct—is a European idea. It was not accepted among the ancient Arabs, and it never took root in the great Muslim dynastic empires. Descent in the male line from the founding and the ruling families was the sole requirement. The most usual practice was for the ruler to designate his successor, choosing whichever of his uncles, brothers, nephews, or sons might be the most suitable. Sometimes the ruler might designate more than one in line, though this was neither usual nor required.” From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East, By Bernard Lewis, Oxford 2004, p. 96

Since the time of the ancient Arab tribes, we see a system called “rotation”. Usually, the heir to the throne was selected from among the King’s male descendants for his qualities, such as: physical force, nobility (if the prince was descended from another Royal line from his mother, it would make him more fit for the throne: even the King’s direct sons could come from different mothers) and also the most intelligent and popular prince among the people.

In succession based on “rotation”, all (male) members of the dynasty are entitled to the monarchy.

In Europe, where dynasties flourished, succession was once determined by a show of strength among a ruler’s sons. In time, however, it reverted to primogeniture, in which a ruler’s oldest male descendant acceded to the throne. For a variety of reasons, chiefly because of religious and tribal traditions, Primogeniture has not developed among Arabian dynasties in quite the same way, because under Shariah law, all sons of a man are equal and legitimate, even if they were born from illegitimate marriages. Moreover, in pre-Islamic tribal norms, while the throne could have passed from one generation to the next within a particular family, it was not necessarily passed from father to son. Rather the authority also fell to a ruler’s brother, uncle, or cousin, depending on which of these oldest male relatives was seen to possess ‘ the qualities of nobility; skill in arbitration; hazz or ‘good fortune’; and leadership ’ “. (Joseph A. Kechichian, “Succession in Saudi Arabia”, 2001, p.10)

No firm principle specified which member of the ruling family had the right to rule.” (Michael Herb, All in the family: absolutism, revolution, and democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies, p. 22)

The same principle was not only limited to the Arab Dynasties, but also the great majority in the Middle East.

In the Ottoman Empire after 1617 the eldest living male of the dynasty succeeded, though this was not formalized legally.” (Alderson, “The Structure of the Ottoman Dynasty“, 12-13. J.C. Hurewitz reviews succession across the Middle Eastern empires in “Middle East politics: the military dimension”, 18-27)

Again, that’s a common pattern for all the Middle East.

In vain would it be to establish here the succession of the eldest son; the Prince [King] might always choose another as every Prince of the royal family has an equal capacity to be chosen, hence it follows that the Prince who ascends the throne strangles immediately his brothers [once they all compete equally for the succession], as in Turkey; or put out their eyes, as in Persia; or bereaves them of their understanding as in the Mogul’s country,” (Nathan J. Brown, Constitutions in a nonconstitutional world: Arab basic laws, p.12 citing Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1748), The Spirit of Laws, Book V)

In Arabia [Arabic monarchies], all males within the ruling sublineages of the families have a theoretic right to the rulership. In practice, the succession generally goes to those whose fathers ruled (though not necessarily to the sons of the most recent ruler). These general guidelines leave a large number of shayks [Sheikhs] and princes eligible, especially if, as in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait [as in Ghassan], the succession has moved laterally to brothers and cousins instead of directly to the ruler’s sons.” (Michael Herb, All in the family: absolutism, revolution, and democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies, p. 26, 27)

Even today, the only country to adopt legally the principle of primogeniture is the Kingdom o Bahrain.

Alone among the Gulf ruling families, the Al Khalifa pass the succession according to a fixed rule. The constitution specifies that the eldest son of the ruler shall succeed him.” (Michael Herb, All in the family: absolutism, revolution, and democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies, p. 132)

But even in Bahrain, the Constitution says that:

“… the Amir (ruler), during his lifetime, can appoint a different son as Crown Prince [successor]” (Section 1, Article 1).

That’s in perfect harmony with the standards of the Arab monarchies.

For a better understanding, we also recommend the following articles:

 

Ghassanids, the Great Sultans of medieval Yemen

rasulid map

The Rasulid Sultans ruled part of today’s Yemen and Saudi Arabia from 1229 until 1454 CE.  The Rasulids descended from the eponymous Rasul a.k.a. Muhammad ibn Harun Al-Ghassani (“The Ghassanid” in Arabic). As personally claimed by the Sultans themselves and recognized by the great majority of Arab historians (and by the unanimous opinion of the Yemenite historians, he descended from the last Ghassanid king Jabalah VI ibn Al-Aiham.

Rasulid sultans

According to Professor Irfan Shahîd, it would make no sense for the Rasulid Sultans (Muslims) to claim descent from the last Christian Ghassanid ruler since it was known that the King Jabalah VI had refused to convert to Islam in his famous meeting with Caliph Omar?

“… the Rasulids themselves were aware of their Ghassanid descent and were proud of it.” The Islamic World: From Classical to Modern Times (Essays in Honor of Bernard Lewis) pp.332

List of Rasulid Sultans:

al-Mansur Umar I (ar) ruled 1229–1249 CE
al-Muzaffar Yusuf I (ar) ruled 1249–1295 CE
al-Ashraf Umar II (ar) ruled 1295–1296 CE
al-Mu’ayyad Da’ud ruled 1296–1322 CE
al-Mujahid Ali ruled 1322–1363 CE
al-Afdal al-Abbas ruled 1363–1377 CE
al-Ashraf Isma’il I ruled 1377–1400 CE
an-Nasir Ahmad ruled 1400–1424 CE
al-Mansur Abdullah ruled 1424–1427 CE
al-Ashraf Isma’il II ruled 1427–1428 CE
az-Zahir Yahya ruled 1428–1439 CE
al-Ashraf Isma’il III ruled 1439–1441 CE
al-Muzaffar Yusuf II ruled 1441–1454 CE
al-Afdal Muhammad ruled 1442 CE
an-Nasir Ahmad ruled 1442 CE
al-Mu’ayyad Husayn ruled 1451–1454 CE
al-Mas’ud Abu al-Qasim ruled 1443–1454 CE

It’s important to point that although the Rasulid Sultans were direct descendants from the last Ghassanid King Jabalah VI – as the Sheikhs El Chemorthey could never claim the Ghassanid titles due to a law imposed by Ghassanid kings in the 6th century CE of the Royal Family having to be necessarily Christian.

It’s also noteworthy that so many rulers descended from Ghassanid King Jabalah VI like:

Roman (Byzantine) Emperors of the Phocid Dynasty (802-813 CE)
Ceasars and Masters of the Island of Rhodes (1203-1250 CE)
Sultans of Rasul (1229-1454 CE)
Sheikhs of Akoura (1211-1633 CE)
Sheikhs of Zgharta-Zawyie (1641-1747 CE)

More about the Ghassanid Dynasty HERE

 

German documentary about Ottoman Empire mentions strategy to ‘erase’ Christianity in the Middle East

We invite you to watch this documentary from German public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (in English).  It portrays the Ottoman empire’s demise and last actions in the middle east region. It clearly shows how the regime tried to create systematically a Turkish-Muslim identity to the empire which has culminated with the Armenian genocide of over one and a half million people in 1915.

We recommend the whole video but around 7 minutes it’s mentioned the fact that the Jihad or “Holy War” was proclaimed by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V using his prerogative as “Caliph” or leader of all the world’s Sunni Muslims. The narrator says: “…there was no room for Christians anymore…”, corroborating with what was claimed regarding the attempt to ‘erase’ the Christian noble and royal families’ history in places like Lebanon.

The call for Jihad was not obeyed by the Arab Muslims. The program also shows (around 8:38 mins) Arab scholars stating that the Ottoman Navy Minister Jamal Pasha, kept a spy’s network and a propaganda strategy to even discredit Arab intellectuals and historians.  Those facts, allied to constant wars and conflicts in the region, are the fundamental reason why there are very limited historical sources about Christian royal and noble families in the Middle Eastern Levant.

 

 

Prince Gharios & Royal Family received by the Grand Mufti of Albania

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The Grand Mufti of Albania with HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor

Last month, HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor of Ghassan Al-Numan VIII, head of the Royal House of Ghassan and members of the Ghassanid Royal Family were officially received by the Grand Mufti of AlbaniaDr. Skënder Bruçaj, the highest Sunni Muslim authority in the country.

Dr. Bruçaj, born June 22, 1976 in Malësi e Madhe District, is an Albanian Muslim scholar who has been serving as the Grand Mufti (Albanian: Kryemyftiu) of Albania since March 2014. He is also the current head of the Sunni Muslim Community of Albania and had been Director of the Epoka University and Professor at the Bedër University.

HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor discussed with His Excellency his initiative called “Alliance for Peace” regarding dialogue between Islam and the West, fighting the causes of the growing Islamophobia, receiving full support from the Sunni leader. For his work promoting peace between the religions the Royal House of Ghassan has bestowed upon His Excellency the highest rank of the Order of Saint Michael Archangel.

The delegation was composed by the head of the Royal House of Ghassan HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor, the honorary head of the House HIRH Prince Cheikh Selim El Chemor, the International Vice-President of Operations and CEO of the Lebanese Branch of the House Sheikh Dr. Elie Gharios, the President of the Royal Ghassanid Academy of Arts and Sciences and Protestant Grand Chaplain of the Royal House of Ghassan Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, PhD, ThD, Mr. Martin Wernecke, knight of the Order of Saint Michael Archangel and Mr. Erion Prendi, the CEO of the Albanian Branch of the Royal House of Ghassan.

 

Ghassanid Royal Family visits Sufi world leader

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HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor with His Holiness Grandfather Hajji Baba Mondi

Last month, members of the Ghassanid Royal Family  and also board members of the Royal House of Ghassan have visited the world leader of the Bektashi Order of Sufi Islam at their world headquarters in Tirana, Albania.

His Holiness Grandfather Hajji Baba Mondi  (Albanian: Haxhi Baba Edmond Brahimaj) is the world leader of the Bektashi Order or the Bektashi Tariqah (Albanian: Tarikati Bektashi; Turkish: Bektaşi Tarîkatı), a dervish order (tariqat) named after the 13th century Alevi Wali (saint) Haji Bektash Veli from Khorasan, but founded by Balım Sultan. The order is mainly found throughout Anatolia and the Balkans, and was particularly strong in Albania, Bulgaria, and among Ottoman era Greek Muslims from the regions of Epirus, Crete and Macedonia. The order represents the official ideology of Bektashism (Turkish: Bektaşilik).

A large number of academics consider Bektashism to have fused a number of Shia and Sufi concepts, although the order contains rituals and doctrines that are distinct. Throughout its history Bektashis have always had wide appeal and influence among both the Ottoman intellectual elite as well as the peasantry.

The Bektashi have around 150 million followers worldwide and are well-known for promoting inter-religious dialog.

HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor discussed with His Holiness his ideas about dialogue between Islam and the west, receiving full support from the Sufi leader. For his work promoting peace between the religions the Royal House of Ghassan has bestowed upon His Holiness the highest rank of the Order of Saint Michael Archangel.

The delegation was composed by the head of the Royal House of Ghassan HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor, the honorary head of the House HIRH Prince Cheikh Selim El Chemor, the International Vice-President of Operations and CEO of the Lebanese Branch of the House Sheikh Dr. Elie Gharios, the President of the Royal Ghassanid Academy of Arts and Sciences and Protestant Grand Chaplain of the Royal House of Ghassan Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, PhD, ThD, Mr. Martin Wernecke, knight of the Order of Saint Michael Archangel and Mr. Erion Prendi, the CEO of the Albanian Branch of the Royal House of Ghassan.

The Real Majesty part 3 – Words of wisdom from the late Archduke of Austria

 

His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke Otto von Habsburg (20 November 1912 – 4 July 2011), also known by his royal name as Archduke Otto of Austria, was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary. The realm comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. He became the pretender to the former thrones, Head of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1922, upon the death of his father. The current head of the House (since 2007) is his son, His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke Karl Habsburg-Lothringen (born in 1961). HIRH Archduke Otto left us in 2011.

Both videos presented here, show the wisdom of a Catholic prince that sees beyond the labels. And sees the greater good with the eyes of a scholar and a real statesman. May we “drink” from the elixir of his wisdom.

With appreciation and admiration,

HIRH Prince Gharios El Chemor of Ghassan Al-Numan VIII