The term “Moor” is generally applied to any person, regardless of skin color, who speaks one of the Hassaniya dialects. Therefore, there are both black and white Moors who speak the same language. This language, in its purest form, draws heavily from the original Yemeni Arabic spoken by the Bani Hassan tribe, which invaded northwest Africa during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Moorish society is primarily nomadic and is organized into successive ranks of tribes, clans, sub-clans, and tent units. Several tribes form a tribal alliance. Their social structure resembles that of other Saharan and Arab tribal societies, with variations due to the West African environment and history. Over the years many wars, bandit raids, and organized attacks took place in this region, causing the nomads to live in a constant state of insecurity. As a result, a complex social structure emerged. Today, the Moors have four basic class divisions based on heritage, race, and occupation. The White Moors form the two upper classes, while the Black Moors make up the two lower classes.
What are their lives like?
The Moors who live in various parts of Africa are primarily farmers. However, the Black and White Moors of Senegal are relatively urbanized and work in various trades. This has caused the traditional structures of Moorish society to change considerably.
A White Moor is ethnologically defined as “a nomad of Berber-Arab origin.” They represent the two upper classes of Moorish society: the ‘adma (nobility) and the lahma (commoners). The ‘adma is further sub-divided into two groups: the hassan and the zawya (warriors and religious leaders). The responsibility of the warriors is to protect the religious leaders. In turn, the religious leaders provide moral, spiritual, legal, and political services for their protectors; instruct their children; minister to their sick and wounded; act as intercessors between God and man; chase away evil spirits; prevent curses; and settle disputes. In this way, the hassan and the zawya benefit each other.
The lahma (commoners) are also grouped into classes, which act as servants to either the warriors or the religious leaders. The lahma are only allowed to marry within their own social class. Some of the lahma may be warriors or religious leaders; however, modern governmental orders to disarm have led most of them to become monks or nuns.
The Black Moors make up the lower classes of Moorish society. They live in a world of their own-usually one of slavery. There are two types of Black Moors: the ‘abd-le-tilad (those slaves who belong to the tents and are part of the family), and the ‘abd-le-tarbiya (acquired slaves). Even though slavery is now against the law, it continues to be a fundamental part of the social and economical structure of the Moors.
The Moors are very proud people, conveying a sense of superiority to others in the area. Within their society, the Koran is faithfully followed. Marriages are pre-arranged by the parents, with the groom’s father requesting the hand of the bride. A Moorish woman does not marry against her family’s wishes. She is given a dowry (money or property) upon marriage.
When Moors from different nomadic tribes meet, there are rigid customs that are followed. These customs, which are a consequence of the long history of raids in the desert, are used by the groups to regulate the meeting. For example, when conversing, several mannerisms are used to indicate their involvement in the conversation. If a Moor blows on his hand during a conversation, it means he does not believe anything that is being said, or if he puts his finger in his ear, it means that he is not interested in what is being said.
Each tribe believes that they are the descendants of a common male ancestor. At times this has lead to open hostility between tribes. However, tribes often have peaceful competitions as a means of securing their ancestral, tribal positions. The traditional ranking order of the tribes greatly affects the personal relationships Moors have with one another, whether in the desert, in town, or in the city.
What are their beliefs?
The Moors of Senegal are virtually all Sunni (orthodox) Muslims who follow the Malikite tradition. Islam is based on the teachings of Mohammed. Their holy book, the Koran, was said to have been given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel.
There are five essential duties in Islam: to affirm that there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet; to pray five times a day while facing Mecca; to give alms generously; to observe prescribed fasts; and to try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Moors acknowledge two main Islamic brotherhoods: the Qadiri and the Tajani. The Qadiri is the most widespread group and is characterized by many secret societies that are saturated with mysticism.
What are their needs?
Unfortunately, there has been little response to the Gospel. Today, there are no known Black or White Moor believers in Senegal. Prayer is the key to seeing them reached with the Gospel.
* Pray that God will grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Moors.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Moors towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of Senegal’s governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that God will begin revealing Himself to these Muslim tribes through dreams and visions.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Moors.
* Pray for translation of the Bible to begin in this people group’s primary language.
Text source: Bethany World Prayer Center © 1999.