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[mar-uh-boot, -boo]

A marabout (مَربوط [marbūṭ] or مُرابِط [murābiṭ], one who is attached/garrisoned) is an Islamic religious leader and teacher in West Africa, and (historically) in the Maghreb. The marabout is often a scholar of the Qur'an, or religious teacher. Others may be wandering holy men who survive on alms, Sufi Murshids ("Guides"), or leaders of religious communities. Still others keep alive syncretic pre-muslim traditions, making amulets for good luck, presiding at various ceremonies, telling the future, and in some cases actively guiding the lives of followers. However, these traditional practices still engaged in by some marabouts are condemned by more orthodox Muslims.

The Maghreb

The term Marabout appears during the Muslim conquest of North Africa. It is derived from the Arabic word "Mourabit" or "mrabet" (one who is garrisoned): religious students and military volunteers who manned the Ribats at the time of the conquest. Today marabout means "Saint" in the Berber language, and refers to Sufi Muslim teachers who lead lodge or school called a zaouïa, associated with a specific school or tradition, called a Tariqah (طريقه : "way", "path").

The pronunciation of that word may vary according the spoken Berber dialect, for example it is pronounced as "Amrabadh" in the Rif dialect: Tarifit. The "marabout" is known as "Sayyed" (سيد) to the Arabic speaking Maghribians. Many cities in Morocco got their names from local "marabouts", and the name of those cities does usually begin with "Sidi" (سيدي) followed with the name of the local "marabout." The standard Arabic for "saint" would be "Waliy" (ولي).

Sycretic holy sites

A marabout may also refer to a tomb (قُبّة [qubba]) of a venerated saint, and such places have become holy centers and places of pious reflection.

The roots of this tradition can be traced back to ancient times when the Berbers believed in the polytheistic religions. Herodotus mentioned the tradition too, when he has spoke of the Nasamones bringing animal sacrifices to the tombs of holy men.

Some Zawiyas linked with specific marabouts

Note that these are not places of formal pilgrimage (limited in Islam to religious pilgrimages of the Hadj and Jerusalem), but are rather places of reflection and inspiration for the pious.

  • Algeria
    • Sidi Ahmed Tidjani de 'Ainou Mahdi proche de Laguouate fondateur dela Tidjaniya
    • Sidi M'hamed Bou Qobrine Founder of the Rahmaniya (Algiers and Bounouh)
    • Sidi Abderrahmane Thaalibi Founder of the Thaalibiya (Algiers)
    • Sidi M'hend oumalek (Tifrit nait oumalek)
    • Sidi Moh'Ali oulhadj (Tifrit n'Aït el Hadj)
    • Sidi Harrat Benaissa El Idrissi (Zemmora, Relizane)
    • Sidi Abd-Allah ben Mançour
    • Sidi Abid Echerrif (Guentis)
    • Sidi Abou AbdAllah Ech Choudi El Halloui
    • Sidi A'hmed el Mejdoub
    • Sidi Bel Abbes (namesake of Sidi Bel Abbès)
    • Sidi Ben-Ali (Aïn el Hout - Tlemcen)
    • Sidi Ben-Ali (Nédromah)
    • Sidi Ben-Azzouz (Borj Ben Azzouz)
    • Sidi Bicinti el basco
    • Sidi Bou Adjami
    • Sidi Boudarga
    • Sidi Boudjemaa
    • Sidi Brahim
    • Sidi Daoudi
    • Sioud anta' El-Eubbad es-Saffi
    • Sidi En-Naceur
    • Sidi Et Toumi
    • Sidi Hamadouche
    • Sî ibn 'Alî Sharîf (Akbou)
    • Sidi Mohammed Ben Omar El Houari
    • Sidi Mohammed bou Semah'a,
    • Sidi Moh'amed Ou'l Il'afian.
    • Sidi Moulebhar
    • Sidi Qadir
    • Sidi Bel-Ezrag
    • Sidi Serhane
    • Sidi Soumeymane Ben Abdallah
    • Zaouia de Sidi Benamar (Fillaoussenne)
    • Sidi-Wahhab
    • Sidi Yakkout
  • Morocco
    • Zaouïa Naciria
    • Zaouïa Cherqaouia
    • Zaouia Aïssaouia
    • Zaouia Hamdouchia
    • Zaouia Tidjaniya
  • Tunisia
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Ben Azzouz. Nefta
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Bouteffaha. Béja
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Salah Zlaoui. Béja
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Abdelkader. Béja
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Bou Arba. Béja
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Taieb. Béja
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Baba Ali Smadhi. Béja
    • Zaouïa de Sidi Ali El Mekki

West Africa

Muslim religious teachers

Muslim religious brotherhoods (Tariqah in the Sufi tradition) are one of the main organizing forms of West African Islam, and with the spread of Sufi ideas into the area, the marabout's role combined with local practices throughout Senegambia, the Niger river valley, and the Futa Jallon. Here, Sufi believers follow a marabout, elsewhere known as a Murshid ("Guide"). Marabout was also adopted by French colonial officials, and applied to most any imam, Muslim teacher, or secular leader who appealed to Islamic tradition.

Today marabouts can be traveling holy men who survive on alms, religious teachers who take in young talibes at koranic schools, or distinguished religious leaders and scholars, both in and out of the sufi brotherhoods which dominate spirtual life in Senegambia.

In the Muslim brotherhoods of Senegal, marabouts are organized in elaborate hierarchies; the highest marabout of the Mourides, for example, has been elevated to the status of a Caliph or ruler of the faithful (Amir al-Mu'minin). Older, North African based traditions such as the Tijaniyyah and the Qadiriyyah base their structures on respect for teachers and religious leaders who, south of the Sahara, often are called marabouts. Those who devote themselves to prayer or study, either based in communities, religious centers, or wandering in the larger society, are named marabouts. In Senegal and Mali, these Marabouts rely on donations to live. Often there is an traditional bond to support a specific marabout that has accumulated over generations within a family. Marabouts normally dress in traditional West African robes and live a simple, ascetic life.

Child exploitation schemes

Some Senegalese marabouts have been accused of exploiting young students, recruiting young boys from all over Senegal and neighboring countries to enroll in their schools. These children are then forced to beg on the streets for money under threat of physical harm, while their teachers take the profits, leaving the children without proper clothing, food or shelter. This exploitation is in stark contrast to the tradition of Marbout-led koranic schools which have operated across West Africa for centuries.

Syncretic spiritualists

The spread in sub-saharan Africa of the marabout's role from the eighth through 13th centuries CE created in some places a mixture of roles with pre-Islamic priests and devines. Thus many fortune tellers and self styled spiritual guides take the name marabout (something rejected by more othodox Muslims and Sufi brotherhoods alike). The recent diaspora of West Africans (to Paris in particular) has brought this tradition to Europe and North America, where some marabouts advertise their services as fortune tellers.

See also


  • Christian Coulon, Pouvoir maraboutique et pouvoir politique au Sénégal, Paris, Université de Paris, 1976, 2 vol. 594 p. (Thèse d’Etat, remaniée et publiée en 1981 sous le titre Le marabout et le prince. Islam et pouvoir au Sénégal, Paris, Pedone, XII-317 p.)
  • Bassirou Diop, Le rôle joué par les marabouts toucouleurs dans l’islamisation du Sénégal, Dakar, Université de Dakar, 1983 (Mémoire de Maîtrise)
  • Layla Ghovini, Rituels syncrétiques en Algérie, Islam et pré-Islam, d'aprés les études de chercheurs français 1890-1910, École supérieure d'Alger'', E. Doutté: Notes sur l'Islam maghribin: Les Marabouts. Paris 1900. 2006
  • Christopher Harrison. France and Islam in West Africa, 1860-1960 Cambridge University Press (1988) ISBN 0-521-35230-4
  • E. Westermarck: Ritual and Belief in Morocco. London 1926.
  • Leonardo Alfonso Villalón. Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal: Disciples and Citizens in Fatick Cambridge University Press, (1995) ISBN 0-521-46007-7

External links

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