The Isaaq (also Isaq, Ishaak, Isaac) (Somali: Reer Sheekh Isaxaaq, Arabic: بني إسحاق, romanized: Banī Isḥāq) is a Somali clan. It is one of the major Somali clans in the Horn of Africa, with a large and densely populated traditional territory.
Isaaq warriors on horseback
According to some genealogical books and Somali tradition, the Isaaq clan was founded in the 13th or 14th century with the arrival of Sheikh Ishaaq Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Hashimi (Sheikh Ishaaq) from Arabia, a descendant of Ali ibn Abi Talib in Maydh. He settled in the coastal town of Maydh in modern-day northeastern Somaliland, where he married into the local Magaadle clan.
There are also numerous existing hagiologies in Arabic which describe Sheikh Ishaaq's travels, works and overall life in modern Somaliland, as well as his movements in Arabia before his arrival. Besides historical sources, one of the more recent printed biographies of Sheikh Ishaaq is the Amjaad of Sheikh Husseen bin Ahmed Darwiish al-Isaaqi as-Soomaali, which was printed in Aden in 1955.
Sheikh Ishaaq's tomb is in Maydh, and is the scene of frequent pilgrimages. Sheikh Ishaaq's mawlid (birthday) is also celebrated every Thursday with a public reading of his manaaqib (a collection of glorious deeds). His Siyaara or pilgrimage is performed annually both within Somaliland and in the diaspora particularly in the Middle East among Isaaq expatriates.
The Isaaq have a very wide and densely populated traditional territory. They live in all 6 regions of Somaliland such as Awdal, Marodi Jeh, Togdheer, Sahil, Sanaag and Sool. They have large settlements in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, mainly on the eastern side of Somali Region also known as the Hawd and formerly Reserve Area which is mainly inhabited by the Isaaq sub-clan members. They also have large settlements in both Kenya and Djibouti, making up a large percentage of the Somali population in these two countries respectively.
The Isaaq clan constitute the largest Somali clan in Somaliland. The populations of five major cities in Somaliland – Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera, Erigavo and Gabiley – are all predominantly Isaaq. They exclusively dominate the Marodi Jeh region, and the Togdheer region, and form a majority of the population inhabiting the western and central areas of Sanaag region, including the regional capital Erigavo. The Isaaq also have a large presence in the western and northern parts of Sool region as well, with Habr Je'lo sub-clan of Isaaq living in the Aynabo district whilst the Habr Yunis subclan of Garhajis lives in the eastern part of Xudun district and the very western part of Las Anod district. They also live in the northeast of the Awdal region, with Saad Muse sub-clan being centered around Lughaya and its environs.
The populations of five major cities in Somaliland – Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera, Erigavo and Gabiley – are predominantly Isaaq.
An illustration depicting a Somali woman of the Isaaq clan published in Bilder-Atlas in 1870
The Isaaq clan played a prominent role in the Ethiopian-Adal War (1529–1543, referred to as the "Conquest of Abyssinia") in the army of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, I. M. Lewis noted that only the Habr Magadle division (Ayoub, Garhajis, Habr Awal and Arap) of the Isaaq were mentioned in chronicles of that war written by Shihab Al-Din Ahmad Al-Gizany known as Futuh Al Habash.
Sultans of the Isaaq clan in Hargeisa
I. M. Lewis states:
The Marrehan and the Habr Magadle [Magādi] also play a very prominent role (...) The text refers to two Ahmads's with the nickname 'Left-handed'. One is regularly presented as 'Ahmad Guray, the Somali' (...) identified as Ahmad Guray Xuseyn, chief of the Habr Magadle. Another reference, however, appears to link the Habr Magadle with the Marrehan. The other Ahmad is simply referred to as 'Imam Ahmad' or simply the 'Imam'.This Ahmad is not qualified by the adjective Somali (...) The two Ahmad's have been conflated into one figure, the heroic Ahmed Guray (...)
The first of the tribes to reach Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi were Habr Magādle of the Isaaq clan with their chieftain Ahmad Gurey Bin Hussain Al-Somali, the Somali commander was noted to be one of Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi's "strongest and most able generals". The Habr Magādle clan were highly appreciated and praised by the leader Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi for their bravery and loyalty.
Dervish Commander Haji Sudi
on the left with his brother-in-law Duale Idris (1892).
Long after the collapse of the Adal Sultanate, the Isaaq established successor states, the Isaaq Sultanate and the Habr Yunis Sultanate. These two Sultanates possessed some of the organs and trappings of a traditional integrated state: a functioning bureaucracy, regular taxation in the form of livestock, as well as an army (chiefly consisting of mounted light cavalry). These sultanates also maintained written records of their activities, which still exist.
The Isaaq clan also played a major role in the Dervish movement, with Sultan Nur Aman of the Habr Yunis being fundamental in the inception of the movement. Sultan Nur was the principle agitator that rallied the dervish behind his anti-French Catholic Mission campaign that would become the cause of the dervish uprise. Haji Sudi of the Habr Je'lo was the highest ranking Dervish after Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, he died valiantly defending the Taleh fort during the RAF bombing campaign. The Isaaq sub-clans that were highly known for joining the Dervish movement were from the eastern Habr Yunis and Habr Je'lo sub-clans. These two sub-clans were able to purchase advanced weapons and successfully resist both British Empire and Ethiopian Empire for many years.
The Isaaq clan along with other northern Somali tribes were under British Somaliland protectorate administration from 1884 to 1960. On gaining independence, the Somaliland protectorate decided to form a union with Italian Somalia. The Isaaq clan spearheaded the greater Somalia quest from 1960 to 1991.
During the Somali Civil War, the Isaaq were subjected to a genocidal campaign by Siad Barre's troops (which also included armed Somali refugees from Ethiopia); the death toll has been estimated to be between 50,000 and 200,000.
After the collapse of the Somali Democratic Republic in 1991 the Isaaq-dominated Somaliland declared independence from Somalia as a separate nation.
The lineage of Sheikh Ishaaq bin Ahmed, and subsequently the Isaaqs, traced from Ali ibn Abu Talib:
Historically (and presently to a degree), the wider Isaaq clan were relatively more disposed to trade than their tribal counterparts due in part to their centuries old trade links with the Arabian Peninsula. In view of this imbalance in mercantile experience, other major Somali clans tended to resort to tribal slang terms such as "iidoor", an enviable pejorative roughly meaning trader/exchanger:
Somalis bandied about numerous stereotypes of clan behavior that mirrored these emerging social inequalities. The pejorative slang terms iidoor or kabadhe iidoora (loosely meaning "exchange") reflect Somali disdain for the go-between, the person who amasses wealth through persistence and mercantile skills without firm commitments to anyone else. As the Isaaq became more international and cosmopolitan, their commercial success and achievement ideology aroused suspicion and jealousy, notably among rural Darod who disliked Isaaq self-confidence and made them the target of stereotypes.
This was not lost on the sole president and dictator of the Somali Democratic Republic (1969–1991), Siad Barre, who disliked the Isaaq clan due to their financial independence, thus making it harder to control them:
Siyaad had a deep and personal dislike for the clan. The real reasons can only be guessed at, but in part it was due to his inability to control them. As accomplished business operatives, they had built a society that was not dependant on government largesse. The Isaaq had traditional trade relationships with the nations of the Arabian Peninsula that continued despite the attempts of the government to center all economic activity in Mogadishu. Siyaad did what he could, however, and Isaaq traders were forced to make the long trip to Mogadishu for permits and licenses.
Nevertheless, in the 1970s and 1980s, nearly all of the livestock exports went out through the port of Berbera via Isaaq livestock traders, with the towns of Burao and Yirowe in the interior being home to the largest livestock markets in the Horn of Africa. The entire livestock exports accounted to upwards of 90% of the Somali Republic's entire export figures in a given year, and Berbera's exports alone provided over 75% of the nation's recorded foreign currency income at the time.
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 Ishaaq by a Harari woman – the Habr Habuusheed – and those descended from sons of Sheikh Ishaaq by a Somali woman of the Magaadle sub-clan of the Dir – the Habr Magaadle. Indeed, most of the largest clans of the clan-family are in fact uterine alliances hence the matronymic "Habr" which in archaic Somali means "mother". This is illustrated in the following clan structure.
Warriors of the Habr Awal clan
A. Habr Magaadle
B. Habr Habuusheed
There is clear agreement on the clan and sub-clan structures that has not changed for a long time. The oldest recorded genealogy of a Somali in Western literature was by Sir Richard Burton in the mid–19th century regarding his Isaaq (Habr Yunis) host and the governor of Zeila, Sharmarke Ali Saleh
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.
One tradition maintains that Isaaq had twin sons: Ahmed or Arap, and Ismail or Gerhajis.
- Sharmarke Ali Saleh, major trader and governor of Berbera, Zeila and Tadjoura
- Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, Imam and General of the Adal Sultanate
- Aden Ahmed Dube "Gabay Xoog" circa 1821 –1916.
- Aden Ahmed Dube of the Isaaq, Habr-Yonis tribe, great poems aroused envy in Raage Ugaz, and infrequently, bloody wars and irreconcilable enmity.
- Mohammed Liban from the Isaaq tribe of Habr Awal, was an eloquent and witty improviser, and even better known under the name of Mohammed Liban Giader.
- Mohamed Dalmar Yusuf Ali, more commonly known as "Mohamed Ali", high-ranking commander of the WSLF and SNM
- Mohamed Kahin Ahmed, high-ranking SNM commander and current Minister of Interior of Somaliland
- Abdirahim Abbey Farah, former United Nations Under-Secretary General
- Abdillahi Diiriye Guled - Literary scholar and discoverer of the Somali prosodic system
- Abdillahi Suldaan Mohammed Timacade, known as 'Timacade', a famous poet during the pre- and post-colonial periods
- Abdirahman Ahmed Ali Tuur, last Somali National Movement chairman and First President of Somaliland
- Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, Speaker of the House of Representatives of Somaliland and the Chairman of Wadani political party
- Abdishakur Iddin, current mayor of Berbera
- Abdirisaq Ibrahim Abdi, current mayor of Burao
- Abdullahi Qarshe, Somali musician, poet and playwright; known as the "Father of Somali music"
- Abdul Majid Hussein, Economist, Former Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations, 2001–2004. Leader of Ethiopian Somali Democratic League (ESDL) party in the Somali Region of Ethiopia from 1995 to 2001.
- Ahmed Hassan Awke, Somali journalist and broadcaster, veteran of the BBC World Service, the Voice of America, Somaliland National TV, Horn Cable Television, Radio Mogadishu and Universal TV, former presidential spokesman of Siad Barre during his military junta.
- Ahmed Guray, commander of the Isaaq Habar Magadle troops during the Abyssinian-Adal war.
- Abdurrahman Mahmoud Aidiid, former mayor of Hargeisa, the capital of the Somaliland
- Abdikarim Ahmed Mooge, current mayor of Hargeisa
- Ahmed Said Ahmed, an international footballer who plays for VJS as a defender.
- Ahmad Girri bin Husain, Right hand partner of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi and a high ranking Adal Sultanate general who led a large army against the Abyssinian empire.
- Ahmed Yusuf Yasin, was the Vice-President of Somaliland from 2002 until 2010. and the second chairman of UDUB party.
- Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, Former President of Somaliland from June 2010 to December 2017, fourth and longest-serving Chairman of the Somali National Movement, and former Chairman of the Kulmiye Party
- Amina Moghe Hersi (b. 1963), Award-winning Somali entrepreneur who has launched several multimillion-dollar projects in Kampala, Uganda
- Ali Abdi Farah, Former Minister of Communication and Culture in Djibouti
- Ali Feiruz, popular musician in Djibouti, Somaliland and Somalia
- Awad Deria – 5th Sultan of the Habr Yunis
- Sheikh Bashir, Somali religious leader who waged the 1945 Sheikh Bashir Rebellion
- Abdallah Shihiri, senior advisor to the Mullah of the Dervish movement
- Deria Arale, senior advisor to the Mullah of the Dervish movement
- Ibrahim Boghol, high ranking commander of the Dervish movement
- Deria Sugulleh Ainashe – 2nd Sultan of the Habr Yunis
- Deria Hassan – 4th Grand Sultan of the Isaaq
- Edna Adan Ismail, first female Foreign Minister of Somaliland, has been called "The Muslim Mother Teresa" for her charity work and activism for women and girls
- Farah Nur a famous warrior and poet of the Arap subclan
- Elmi Boodhari, famous Somali poet and pioneer in the genre of Somali love poems.
- Faysal Ali Warabe, Chairman of the For Justice and Development party of Somaliland (UCID).
- Fowsiyo Yusuf Haji Adan, former Foreign Minister of Somalia and MP in Federal Parliament
- Gaarriye, poet
- Guled Abdi – first Grand Sultan of the Isaaq
- Guled Haji, wise sage and commander of the Habr Yunis
- Hadrawi, poet and philosopher; author of Halkaraan; also known as the "Somali Shakespeare"
- Kite Fiqi – legendary Habr Je'lo warrior and poet
- Hassan Adan Wadadid- One of the original founders of the Somali National Movement and served as the movement's first Vice-Chairman.
- Hassan Farah – 3rd Grand Sultan of Isaaq
- Haji Sudi, One of the founders of the Somali Dervish movement
- Hanan Ibrahim, gender activist and first Somali British to be awarded Member of British Empire (MBE) for community work in UK
- Hussein Arab Isse, the Minister of Defence and the Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia from 20 July 2011 to 4 November 2012
- Hersi Aman – legendary 3rd Sultan of the Habr Yunis
- Hussein Hasan – famous poet and warrior
- Hussain Bisad, is one of the tallest men in the world, at 2.32 m (7 ft 7 1⁄2 in). He has the largest hand span of anyone alive
- Ibrahim Dheere, Considered to be the first Somali billionaire and richest Somali person in the world with an estimated net worth of 1.8 billion US Dollars.
- Sheikh Madar – head of Qadiriyya tariqa and influential figure in the early growth and expansion of Hargeisa
- Salaan Carrabey – legendary poet
- Ismail Mahmud Hurre, foreign minister of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia from mid-2006 to early 2007
- Ismail Ali Abokor, former Vice-President of the Somali Democratic Republic
- Jama Mohamed Ghalib, former Police Commissioner of the Somali Democratic Republic, Secretary of Interior, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Minister of Transportation, and Minister of Interior.
- Jama Musse Jama, prominent Somali ethnomathematician and author.
- Farah Guled – 2nd Grand Sultan of the Isaaq
- Mo Farah, British 4 time Olympic gold medalist and the most decorated athlete in British athletics history.
- Mohammed Abdillahi Kahin 'Ogsadey', A Somali business tycoon based in Ethiopia, where he established MAO Harar Horse, the first African corporation to export coffee and amassed a net worth of approximately $3 Billion Ethiopian Birr.
- Mohamed Hasan Abdullahi, former Chief of Staff of the Somaliland Armed Forces
- Mohamed Omar Arte, former Deputy Prime Minister of Somalia.
- Mohammed Ahmed, Somali-Canadian long-distance runner and Olympian
- Muhammad Haji Ibrahim Egal, former Prime Minister of Somalia July 1960, July 1967– November 1969; former President of Somaliland from May 1993 to May 2002.
- Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar, former Foreign Minister of Somalia
- Mohammed Ahamed, Norwegian-Somalian association footballer currently playing in the Tippeligaen for Tromsø IL. He plays as a Center Forward
- Mohamed Hasan Abdullahi, former Chief of Staff of Somaliland Armed Forces
- Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame 'Hadrawi', poet and philosopher; author of Halkaraan; also known as the "Somali Shakespeare"
- Mohamed Mooge Liibaan, Mooge is regarded by many Somalis to be one of the greatest Somali musicians to have ever lived
- Muhammad Hawadle Madar, former Prime Minister of Somalia from 3 September 1990 to 24 January 1991.
- Muse Bihi Abdi, Current President of Somaliland since December 2017, and a former fighter pilot for the then Somali Air Force who took part in the Ogaden War; providing air support to the then-21st Division of the Somali Army. Later joined the rebel Somali National Movement (SNM)
- Musa Haji Ismail Galal, a Somali writer, scholar, linguist, historian and polymath
- Nuh Ismail Tani, current Chief of Staff of the Somaliland Armed Forces
- Nadifa Mohamed – Somali novelist. Winner of the 2010 Betty Trask Prize.
- Michael Mariano – legendary Somali politician, lawyer and key figure in independence struggle and Somali Youth League
- Rageh Omaar, Somali-British journalist and writer. He used to be a BBC world affairs correspondent, In September 2006, he moved to a new post at Al Jazeera English, and as of 2017 is currently with ITV News
- Sultan Nur, Sultan of the Habr Yunis and one of the founders of the Somali Dervish movement
- Umar Arteh Ghalib, former Prime Minister of Somalia 1991–1993. Brought Somalia into the Arab League in 1974 during his term Foreign Minister of Somalia from 1969 to 1977. Former president of UN Security Council, teacher and poet
- Jamal Ali Hussein, Somali Politician and Economists expert. He was former presidential candidate of Somaliland UCID party
- Sultan Abdulrahman Deria, Sultan of the Habr Awal and prominent figure
- Abdi Haybe Lambad, famous Somali stand-up comedian
- Mahamed Abdiqadir – 8th Grand Sultan of the Isaaq
- Ismail Ali Abokor – Vice President of the Somali Democratic Republic 1971-1982
- Ahmed Gacayte – famous Somali singer, songwriter and composer
- Mohammed Ahmed – Canadian long-distance runner
- Magid Magid – Somali-British activist and politician who served as the Lord Mayor of Sheffield from May 2018 to May 2019
- Bashir Abdi – Somali-Belgian athlete
- Chunkz – English YouTuber, musician, host and entertainer
- Osman Dubbe – Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism of Somalia
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Then Magado, the wife of Ishaak had only two children, baby twin sons, and their names were Ahmed, nick-named Arap, and Ismail, nick-named Garaxijis .
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