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Mauritania Table of Contents


Traditional Islamic Education

Mauritania has long had an extensive but scattered education system consisting of the religious and cultural education provided by marabouts. Indeed, it was largely through the efforts of these teachers that Islam was spread throughout West Africa. Although in the past Islamic education was largely limited to fundamental religious teaching, the children of white Maures often studied Arabic and simple arithmetic as well. Both boys and girls received traditional education, at first within the family and later in the local Quranic schools operated by the marabouts. They usually began their education around the age of eight, the boys studying for about seven years, the girls for perhaps only two.

Traditional Islamic schools were found in the nomadic communities and in settled villages. Because particularly renowned marabout teachers would be surrounded by families who wished their children to learn from these masters, several centers of more advanced Islamic learning developed around the camps of these marabouts. In these centers, students learned grammar, logic, and other subjects, as well as traditional religious subjects. Many of the centers developed sizable collections of manuscripts through the efforts of the great marabouts.

The tradition of religious learning centers continued through the late colonial period. The Institute of Islamic Studies, founded in 1955 at Boutilimit, was the only Islamic institution of higher learning in West Africa. It provided instruction in traditional Islamic subjects and teaching methods. After independence, it was moved to Nouakchott, where it continued to draw upon the manuscript collection built by the marabouts of Boutilimit as well as other libraries of traditional Islamic literature in Chinguetti, Kaédi, Mederdra, Oualâta, and Tidjikdja.

Data as of June 1988