Introduction / History
The Saharan Arabs of Mali have their origins in the Bedouin Arab, whose traditional homeland is the Arabian Desert in the Middle East. Some groups of Bedouin migrated into northern Africa. Saharan Arabs are primarily located on the western edge of the Sahara Desert in Mali, near the border of Mauritania. Virtually all of the Saharan Arabs in Mali are Sunni Muslims.
The Bedouin fall into two basic social classes. One class is known as the "true" Bedouin, and they live as nomadic shepherds. The other group has embraced farming and is known as the fellahin. The fellahin lead a more settled life on the edge of the desert. In contrast, the "true" Bedouin are known for raiding any caravans that cross their paths while journeying across barren deserts. They move into the desert during the rainy winter seasons and back to the desert's edge during the hot, dry summers. Most of the Saharan Arab Bedouin live as nomads. They speak Hassani, also referred to as Badawi.
What are their lives like?
Saharan Arab Bedouin have a relatively harsh existence. Those who live as nomads have no permanent homes, but live in portable, black tents made from woven, goat hair. The tents are divided by a decorative partition called a gata. Half of the tent is for the women, children, cooking utensils, and storage. The other half contains a fireplace and is used for entertaining. The women do most of the work, while the men socialize and make plans for the group.
Dairy products are the main food source for the Bedouin. Milk from camels and goats is made into yogurt and a type of butter called ghee. Most of their meals consist of a bowl of milk, yogurt, or rice covered with ghee. Round loaves of unleavened bread are also served when available. Dates, which can be found in desert oases, are eaten for dessert. Meat is only served on special occasions such as marriage feasts, ceremonial events, or when guests are present.
To endure the extreme heat of the desert, the Bedouin wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. It is very loose-fitting, allowing for the circulation of air. It is designed to cover the entire body except the face, hands, and feet.
Although the Bedouin once considered it degrading to have manual labor jobs, this has changed somewhat in recent years. Due to the need for better health conditions, more money, and better living conditions, some have accepted wage-paying jobs. However, most still despise this type of work.
What are their beliefs?
Almost all of the Saharan Arabs in Mali are Sunni Muslims. Islam is based on the teachings of the prophet, Mohammed. The Koran ("holy book" of Islam) was supposedly given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel.
Islam is a religion of works that is centered on five basic teachings or "pillars." (1) A Muslim must affirm that "there is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Five times a day he must pray while facing Mecca. (3) He must give an obligatory percentage (very similar to tithes) on an annual basis. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca in his lifetime.
Islam has greatly influencd the lives of the Bedouin. For example, to preserve their people, the Bedouin are only allowed to marry those inside their own group. Also, the society is patrilineal, which means that inheritances are passed down through the males.
What are their needs?
Evangelization efforts among the Bedouin are challenging due to the harsh and unsettled nature of their lifestyle. There is a great need for a strong Christian witness among Saharan Arabs.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to reach out and share the love of Christ with them.
* Pray that God will raise up faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Bedouin.
* Ask God to send forth laborers to work among the Arab Bedouin of Mali.
* Pray that their traditional Muslim culture will soften, creating open doors for the Gospel to be preached among them.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the Arabs towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among Saharan Arabs.