Mauritania Table of Contents
The leader of a brotherhood, called shaykh by the Maures, is often referred to as a marabout. This term, however, is a general title that applies to any religious leader or to any person who performs the functions traditionally associated with Islam. In a religion without formal clergy, the marabout represents the human element in the faith, the intermediary between the people and Islamic theology. The marabout exercises a moral and spiritual influence within the culture and propagates the faith by teaching, proselytizing, and--at least in the past--wielding political influence. Marabouts usually are associated with a brotherhood and, like the leaders of the brotherhoods, are believed to possess baraka.
The functions of a marabout include teaching and promoting Islamic culture; leading religious recitations (including chants in some cases) in community prayer; and performing rites connected with curing the ill, preventing misfortune, and soothsaying. Because illness is believed to have spiritual as well as physiological causes, the marabout is called upon to help cure the sick. The marabout also makes, uses, and sells amulets and talismans that are believed to have mystical powers to protect their bearer from sickness, injury, and other misfortune.
Other functions of the marabout include negotiation, mediation, and activities related to peacekeeping; the granting of protection and asylum to individuals; and the acting as advisers and agents of important tribal leaders. Although the role of the marabout as political adviser to warring tribes or groups has diminished, many of these mediation or arbitration tasks have political overtones.
Data as of June 1988