The Shaikh are thought to be the largest grouping of unreached Muslims in the world. Though the majority are Sunni Muslims, there are Shia and Sufi expressions of Islam among them as well.
The term “Shaikh” can refer to those who have Middle Eastern ancestry, or simply those who converted to Islam since Muslims first arrived in the region in the 8th century. The Shaikh are not an ethnic group, and they don’t share a common language, but they do share a common history, caste, and religious tradition.
While millions of Shaikh are spread throughout many countries in South Asia, the majority live in Bangladesh (Bengali-speaking), India (mostly Urdu-speaking), and Pakistan (Punjabi-speaking). They live in rural areas and urban areas and earn a living in a wide variety of ways.
In India, Muslims are found from Himachal Pradesh in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south. They are distinguished from their Hindu neighbors by their religious beliefs and customs, such as eating meat and burying, rather than burning, their dead.
Because of the wide diversity among the Shaikh it is difficult to pinpoint specific struggles for such a large number of people. However, generally, throughout all of South Asia, poverty, urban sprawl, and extreme weather events (cyclones, floods, heatwaves) present significant challenges.
In India, Muslims are a minority and can often be marginalized socially, politically, and economically. Some Shaikh of Pakistan may fare better economically, but issues related to globalization are impacting Pakistanis as much as anyone else in the region, especially as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
One convert to Christ reports that there is a great sense of hopelessness among the Shaikh, and many are turning to alcohol for consolation. There is deep spiritual blindness and social oppression. Throughout South Asia, Muslims go to shrines to seek divine blessing or healing, subscribe to the teachings of different saints, and use objects and potions for cursing or blessing. These activities further usher South Asian Muslims into spiritual oppression and darkness.
Because of the incredibly sensitive nature of the work among the Shaikh throughout the region, it is difficult to share specific details without endangering what is happening on the ground. There are believers among the Shaikh in Bangladesh, but not a known movement. There are no known movements to Christ among the Shaikh in Pakistan. It is reported that there is significant ministry among the Shaikh in India, but details are hard to come by.
There are Christian materials in the various languages spoken by the Shaikh throughout South Asia, some of which are accessible online. The Jesus Film has been a significant factor in many conversions to Christ. Oral storytelling is fruitful, as is a Muslim-friendly Bengali translation of the Bible. Many South Asians have emigrated to Europe and North America, where they have more opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel.
God has moved among other Muslim people groups in South Asia in the last few decades; let’s trust Him to move among the Shaikh today!