[Q]: What is meant by the term ‘Shaykh al-Islām’? Does this mean that Islām is a student of the Imām of daʿwah [i.e. Shaykh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (رحمه الله)], or that Islām is a student of Ibn Taymīyyah (رحمه الله)?
[A]: This is not what is meant. ‘Shaykh al-Islām’ is a designated title, and it was first utilized in the latter part of the second generation of the Hijrah. It was then applied to anyone who was a role model, had companions and followers, and possessed different branches of knowledge and information. He is called: “Shaykh al-Islām”, which is a rank just below the rank of Imām.
The highest rank is that of Imām followed by the rank of ‘Shaykh al-Islām’. This is a designated sequence [i.e. the rank of Imām’ proceeding that of ‘Shaykh al-Islām’ is merely a sequence the scholars agreed upon to identify and to differentiate the status and the level of knowledge of the scholars], so it is not said about the Companions (رضي الله عنهم) that they are Shuyūkh al-Islām [i.e. Shaykhs of Islām], although Abū Bakr and ʿUmar (رضي الله عنهما) were mentioned with this title in some Aḥādīth.
Source: al-Ajwibah wa-al-Buḥūth wa-al-Mudārasāt, vol. 6, pg. 251
Translated by: Musa Shaleem Mohammed