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Title: Isaaq  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Warsangali Sultanate, Somalis, Darod, Rahanweyn, Dir (clan)
Collection: Somali Clans, Somali Clans in Ethiopia
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Regions with significant populations
Islam (Sunni)
Related ethnic groups
Dir, Darod, Hawiye, Rahanweyn, and other Somali people

The Isaaq (also Isaq, Ishaak) (Somali: Reer Sheik Isaxaaq, Arabic: إسحاق‎) are one of the main clans of the Somali people. Members principally live in the northwestern Somaliland region of Somalia and the Somali Region of Ethiopia.

The populations of five major cities in the Somaliland region – Hargeisa, Burao, Erigavo, Berbera, and Gabiley – are predominantly Isaaq. As of the late 1980s, the Sacad Muuse, Habar Awal and Jibriil Abokor sub-clans of the Isaaq were also the main inhabitants of Gabiley.[1]


  • History 1
  • Clan tree 2
  • Historical publications 3
  • Notable Isaaq people 4
  • References 5


The tomb of Sheikh Isaaq, the founding father of the Isaaq clan, in Maydh.

According to early Islamic books and Somali tradition, the Isaaq clan was founded in the 12th or 13th century with the arrival of Shaykh Ishaq ibn Ahmad al-Hashimi from Arabia, a descendant of one of the Prophet Muhammad's early followers.[2][3] He settled in the coastal town of Maydh in modern-day northernwestern Somalia, where he married into the local Dir clan. According to I.M. Lewis, other Somalis "regard the Isaaq as lineal descendants of Dir," while the Isaaq claim only matrilineal descent from Dir and agnatic descent from Arabia.[4] Lewis further maintains that "strictly speaking, the Isaq [sic] are derived from the Dir, who together with the Hawiye are linked as 'Irir' at a higher level of genealogical grouping."[5]

A similar agnatic tradition exists for the Darod, who are said to have descended from one Sheikh Abdirahman bin Isma'il al-Jabarti, another Banu Hashim who came to Somalia around the same time.[2] As with Sheikh Darod, there are also numerous existing hagiologies in Arabic which describe Sheikh Isaaq's travels, works and overall life in northern Somalia, as well as his movements in Arabia before his arrival.[6] Besides historical sources, one of the more recent printed biographies of Sheikh Isaaq is the Amjaad of Sheikh Husseen bin Ahmed Darwiish al-Isaaqi as-Soomaali, which was printed in Aden in 1955.[7] Lewis, however, suggests that "the traditions surrounding the origin and advent from Arabia of Sheikhs Daarood and Isaaq have the characters of of myth, rather then history, even though there is every reason to believe that one aspect of Somaliland's long contact with Arabia has been the settlement over the centuries of parties of Arab immigrants.… It would appear that the Isaaq have Arabicized their genealogy as a means of acquiring prestige…."[8]

Sheikh Isaaq's tomb is in Maydh, and is the scene of frequent pilgrimages.[6][8] Sheikh Darod is buried nearby in the ancient town of Haylaan, situated in the Hadaaftimo Mountains.[9]

Sheikh Isaaq's mawlid (birthday) is also celebrated every Thursday with a public reading of his manaaqib (a collection of glorious deeds).[7]

Although the Isaaq clan claims paternal descent from Sheikh Isaaq, group members are often recognized as a sub-clan of the Dir.[10]

The three major sub-clans of the Isaaq signed treaties with the British in the 1880s pledging them and their successors not to cede or otherwise alienate any part of their lands except to the British, and allowing the British Government to appoint agents who would reside in the territories of the clans. These groups were the Habr Awal, (dated 14 July 1884), the Habr Toljallo (dated 26 December 1884), and the Habr Garhadjis (13 January 1885).[11]

Clan tree

Partial breakdown of the Isaaq clan structure.

In the Isaaq clan-family, component clans are divided into two uterine divisions, as shown in the genealogy. The first division is between those lineages descended from sons of Sheikh Isaaq by an Ethiopian woman – the Habar Habuusheed – and those descended from sons of Sheikh Isaaq by a woman of the Magaadle clan – the Habar Magaadle. Indeed, most of the largest clans of the clan-family are in fact uterine alliances.[7] This is illustrated in the following structure.

Sheikh Is-haaq Bin Ahmed[7]

1. Habar Habuusheed

  • Ahmed (Tol-Ja’lo)
  • Muuse
  • Ibrahiim (Sanbuur)
  • Mahammad (‘Ibraan)

2. Habar Magaadle

  • Ayub
  • Awal
  • Arab
  • Ismail

There is no clear agreement on the clan and sub-clan structures and many lineages are omitted. The following listing is taken from the World Bank's Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics from 2005 and the United Kingdom's Home Office publication, Somalia Assessment 2001.[12][13]

  • Isaaq
    • Haber Awal
      • Sa'ad Muse
      • Issa Muse
      • Ayub
    • Habr Garhadjis
      • Habr Yunis
      • Aidagalla
      • Arab
    • Habr Jaalo (var. Habr Toljallo; Haber Geelo)
      • Mohamed Abokor
      • Ibrahim
      • Muse Abokor
      • Samane Abokor
      • Ahmad (Toljaalo)

One tradition maintains that Isaaq had twin sons: Ahmed or Arap, and Ismail or Gerhajis.[14]

Historical publications

Historical publications on Sheikh Isaaq include:[15]

  • Al-Dur Al Muntakhab Fi Alaqab Wal-asab - 12th-century manuscript by unknown author
  • Al Casjad Al-Manduum Li-Taariikh Wal-culuum - 12th-century manuscript by Maxamed Hasan Al-Basri (50 pages, Al-Zahiriyah Library, Al-Hamidiyah Souq, Damascus Syria)
  • Al-3asjad Al Manduum - by Sharif Ahmed Muhammad Qaasim Al Gheribaani, a Hashimi historian of Yemen (1910)
  • Thamrat Al-Mushtaaq Fi Manaaqib/Nasab al-Sheekh/Sayid Is'haaq - by Sharif Aydarus Sharif Ali Al-Aydarus 1947 (d 1347 H.A.); also the author of Bughyat Al-Amaal Fi-Taariikh Al Soomaal
  • Adhwaa 3alaa Taariikh Al-Soomaal - by Shariif Maxamed 3aydarus (1932-1999), the ex-mayor of Mogadishu during the 1968 election in Somalia
  • Kitaab Fatx Al-Baab Fi Al-Ansaab Wal-Alaqaab - by 3abdialma3alim Ibn Yuusuf

Notable Isaaq people


  1. ^ Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: Information on the ethnic composition in Gabiley (Gebiley) in 1987–1988, 1 April 1996, SOM23518.E [accessed 6 October 2009]
  2. ^ a b Rima Berns McGown, Muslims in the diaspora, (University of Toronto Press: 1999), pp. 27–28
  3. ^ I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), p. 22
  4. ^ Lewis, I.M. A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. Transaction Publishers. p. 142.  
  5. ^ Lewis, I.M. (2008). Understanding Somali and Somaliland Society : Culture History and Society. Hurst. p. 4.  
  6. ^ a b Roland Anthony Oliver, J. D. Fage, Journal of African history, Volume 3 (Cambridge University Press.: 1962), p.45
  7. ^ a b c d I. M. Lewis, A pastoral democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa, (LIT Verlag Münster: 1999), p.131.
  8. ^ a b Lewis, Ioan. M. (1994). Blood and Bone: The Call of Kinship in Somali Society. Larwenceville, NJ: The Red Sea Press Inc. pp. 104–105.  
  9. ^ I.M. Lewis, Peoples of the Horn of Africa: Somali, Afar, and Saho, Issue 1, (International African Institute: 1955), pp. 18-19
  10. ^ I.M. Lewis, A Modern History of the Somali, fourth edition (Oxford: James Currey, 2002), p. 22
  11. ^ D. J. Latham Brown (1956). "The Ethiopia-Somaliland Frontier Dispute". International and Comparative Law Quarterly 5 (2): 245–264.  
  12. ^ Worldbank, Conflict in Somalia: Drivers and Dynamics, January 2005, Appendix 2, Lineage Charts, p. 55 Figure A-1
  13. ^ Country Information and Policy Unit, Home Office, Great Britain, Somalia Assessment 2001, Annex B: Somali Clan Structure, p. 43
  14. ^  
  15. ^ Islam in Somali History Fact and Fiction revisited , the Arab Factor
  16. ^ Mohamed Yusuf Hassan, Roberto Balducci (ed.) (1993). Somalia: le radici del futuro. Il passaggio. p. 33. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
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