Introduction / History
The Shawiya are Berber shepherds living mainly on the Aures Plateau of the Atlas Mountains in northern Algeria. The Africans call this entire region of North Africa Maghrib. The Berber refer to themselves as Imazighen, or "free and noble men." This term has become an indicator of Berber identity and nationalism.
The inaccessible peaks of the Atlas Mountains have long served as a refuge for the Berber. These rugged mountains provided a base of resistance against the Romans, Vandals, Byzantine, and Arabs. However, the Muslims conquered the Maghrib between 670 and 700 A.D.
Emigration is becoming more common among the Berber, and it is estimated that several million now live in European cities. A large number of Shawiya Berbers have immigrated to France. In the 1980s, however, the European labor market closed to new workers.
What are their lives like?
The Shawiya are a part of various Berber groups that have risen in Algeria to defend their identity. In general, they are sturdy, thrifty, hospitable, and lovers of the soil. They are also said to be proud, shrewd, persistent, and loyal. In particular, a passion for independence is deeply ingrained in their culture.
In North Africa, the Shawiya are semi-nomadic shepherds who primarily raise sheep and goats. During the winter, they move their herds to the warm plains, then to higher pastures during the spring and summer months.
For unemployed Shawiya, immigration to Europe was once an option, but that is no longer a choice due to restrictions on immigration in the late twentieth century. However, decades of immigration have left a large community of Shawiya in France. For some, service in the army and in the factories of France during World War I were avenues of immigration. When the war ended, many remained in France. Others arrived after World War II when there was a labor shortage in France. Recently, others went as merchants, since France is one of the most important trading partners of North Africa.
As the number of immigrants in France increased, so did various kinds of racial discrimination, including problems in housing and unemployment. Initially, immigrants were males who lived in low-standard hostels and worked at low-paying jobs such as construction workers, street cleaners, miners, or workers in steel assembly. With the beginning of economic stress in 1974, many French began to reclaim these jobs; thus, the government began to restrict immigration.
What are their beliefs?
Although they embraced Islam as a new religion, the Shawiya also kept their pre-Islamic cultural and ritual traditions. The acceptance of Islam and the adoption of Arabic ways never completely erased their Berber culture. Although they are nominally Sunni Muslims, most Shawiya have little knowledge of the practices of the Koran and other dimensions of Middle Eastern Islam.
Shawiya society is organized around both Islam and the tribe. However, there are many differences between urban and rural groups. In urban areas, orthodox Islam prevails; whereas, in rural societies, ancient beliefs and customs are still intermingled with the Muslim faith.
What are their needs?
In the eighth century, invading Arabs forced the Shawiya to accept Islam. Prior to that time, many of them were Christians. Those still living in North Africa do not have the freedom to follow Christianity, but those in France do. Although a number of them have responded and converted to the Christian faith, there are still many who have never heard the Gospel.
The number of North African immigrants living in France continues to be a serious social issue. The Berber, including the Shawiya, are at the bottom of the economic scale and subject to racial prejudice. Christian workers who can minister the love and acceptance of Jesus to the Shawiya are essential to win them to Christ.
* Ask the Lord to burden the hearts of French Christians for the Shawiya who live among them.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to give creative ideas for evangelism to missions agencies focusing on the Shawiya.
* Pray that signs and wonders will follow the Shawiya believers as they share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to call faithful intercessors who will daily stand in the gap for the Shawiya.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Shawiya in France.