Introduction / History
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.
With a total population of several million, the Moors are scattered throughout much of West Africa. Although most live in Morocco, Moors can also be found in Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Niger, and Gambia. They are almost entirely Muslim, as they have been for many centuries. Formerly nomads, large numbers of Moors have settled in urban areas due to recent years of drought. Still, they remain nomadic in spirit.
The Moors have four basic class divisions based on heritage, race, and occupation. The White Moors, making up two-thirds of the group, form the two upper classes; while the Black Moors make up the two lower classes.
What are their lives like?
The White Moors are mostly nomadic or semi-nomadic. Because they have Berber-Arab origins, they are lighter in color than the Black Moors. They are considered nobility, forming the upper elements of Moor society. The Black Moors remain slaves of the White Moors, regardless of the laws abolishing slavery. However, the two groups side with each other when dealing with non-Moor people, and otherwise depend on each other in times of war or disaster.
Although the Moors were largely a nomadic people, today, most are either semi-nomadic cattle or camel herders, or subsistence farmers. The staple crops produced include rice, millet, dates, and maize. Many of those who live in Gambia, Mauritania, and Senegal are also involved in the fishing industry. Fish are canned, frozen, or processed as fish flour, and are exported to other African countries. The Moors occasionally supplement their incomes by selling produce in local markets. Others work for wages in towns or cities, where they have become shopkeepers, tea traders, gold and silversmiths, or Islamic teachers. An increasing number of young people are also migrating towards the cities. This has had a dramatic impact on their traditional family lifestyle, somewhat disrupting the family structure.
In rural areas, the nomadic Moors live in portable tents woven from wool. Those in larger towns and cities live in permanent houses. Their homes are typically small with flat roofs, and are made of mud and brick. The poorest Moors live in shelters built with sticks and cardboard; while the wealthiest Moors live in brick houses.
Many Moors still wear their traditional clothing, although some western styles are becoming more evident. The men typically wear baggy blue trousers, which do not extend lower than the knees; long flowing robes; and sandals. The women wear long dresses, and cover their heads and shoulders with shawls.
Men and women have different roles in Moorish society, still following their traditional pattern. Though the husbands are the heads of their extended families, the wives have a special position in society. The Moorish women are not dominated as strictly as those living in other Muslim countries. Therefore, more of the women are able to find jobs.
The most important celebration for the Moors is the Duan festival, which takes place in September after the crops have been harvested. During this time, they thoroughly clean their houses and carefully wash their kitchen utensils to welcome the spirits of their ancestors. Horse races, special dramas, feasts, and the beating of bronze drums are all part of the celebration.
Music and poetry are also very important to the Moors. Bards (verses celebrating the legendary deeds of tribal chiefs and heroes) are recited while traditional Berber-Arab musical instruments are played. African instruments are used by those Moors living along the Senegal River and farther south. Tea is the customary beverage served at most festivals and ceremonies such as funerals, births, or weddings.
What are their beliefs?
While the majority of Moors are Sunni Muslim, they often mix their Islamic practices with magic, sorcery, and occultism. Many recite scriptures from the Koran without understanding their meaning. Muslim holy men often sell charms and amulets to protect the people from evil spirits. Other religious leaders called zawya, act as intercessors between Allah and man, chase evil spirits away, prevent curses and the evil eye (curse caused by an intense gaze), and settle disputes. The zawya belong to the nobility class of White Moors and must marry within their own class.
What are their needs?
Unfortunately, there has been little response to the Gospel. Further evangelistic work and increased prayer efforts are needed to see the Moors effectively reached.
* 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 the Lord will save key leaders among the Moors who will boldly declare the Gospel to their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Moors.