Saturday, October 24, 2009

The school of Murabit al Hajj

The Mauritanian school system of the mahdhara is a microcosm of the traditional style of learning that was going on throughout the Ummah. Then, within Mauritania, the school of Shaykh Murabit al Hajj is outstanding in that it has preserved the traditional way more so than other areas due to the remoteness of the village, an area where not even the Mauritanians in general frequent. In the early 1970's, Shaykh Murabit al Hajj and his family decided to go down and live in a city that was being established nearby, Guerou, because the drought had made it hard to live in the badia (open land) since their lives depended on their livestock and seasonal farming. It was an easier life, but Shaykh Murabit al Hajj did not feel comfortable living there as he felt that people were drifting away from the Sunnah. So, in accordance with the hadith about the last days, he took his family and livestock and returned to the badiato protect his deen.

The present location of his school has, at times, up to 400 people. About 100 of them are students with the rest being the shuyukh, their families, other families that have come to live with Shaykh Murabit al Hajj, and seasonal workers. There are two other schools in the area which follow the same style of teaching and learning. About 20 km to the northwest is the school of Murabit Ahmad Fal, who is the father of Shaykh Abdullah ould AhmadnaShaykh Ahmad Fal was married to the daughter of Shaykh Murabit al Hajj until she passed away. About 30 km east of Shaykh Murabit al Hajj's school is the school of the noble Shaykh Muhammad Zain (who is descended from the Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him).

The method of learning utilizes the lawh , or wooden tablet, whereby the text is written in charcoal ink on the tablet and then memorized and studied under the watchful guidance of the shuyukh. Everything that is studied is committed to memory, and this is one of the reasons why the scholars of Mauritania (also known as Shinquitt) made a distinguished presence wherever they went. The children first memorize the Quran, starting at about seven years of ageAfter memorizing it, they study the rasm, which is the science related to writing the Quran according to the 'Uthmani script. Next, they study the Quran a second time, though this time they write it on their tablets from memory. The first time they write it either having the shaykh write it for them, dictate it to them, or by looking at a mushaf (copy of the Quran). After that, they learn the dabt which is a science related to the differences between the two narrations of Nafi' (Warsh and Qalun). They then move on to pursue further studies in fiqh, grammar, aqidah and hadith.

The madhab of Imam Malik is taught using traditional texts. The text of Ibn Ashir, Imam al Akhdari, the Risala of Ibn Abi Zaid, Ashalul Masalik, Nathmu Muqadimaati ibn Rushd, and the Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil are the main texts studied there for fiqh. As for grammar, they use the Ajrumiyyah, Mulhat al 'Iraab, Qatru Nada, and the Alfiyyah of Ibn Malik. In aqidah, they teach the Ash'ari creed using the texts of Imam Ash Sharnubi, Imam al Bulaym, Jawahar at Tawhid, and Idaah as well as other texts.

The school is very simple in its set up, and there is no registration, semesters, or tuition. Each student enters study at whatever level he is on and may begin at any time of the year. After learning the basic texts of fard 'ain (individual obligation), the course of studies is up to the student, although the shuyukh will generally recommend what each particular student should study. Once a subject has been chosen, the student will then write out a small section of the text onto his lawh and then go to the shaykh. The student will read it to him so that he can correct any mistakes, since the teachers there have memorized the texts. Having corrected the mistakes, if any, the shaykh will then give an explanation and answer any questions the student may have.

The entire sitting is one-on-one, and the student is given as much time as he needs for the lesson. This is very important because it allows the student to study at his own pace by going as fast or slow as he wants through the texts. Also, because of this independent type schedule, the student can come and go to the school any time of the year. Once the student finishes that particular lesson, it is studied the remainder of the day for the purpose of committing it to memory. By giving the entire day to study that one lesson, with no other subjects interrupting, the student can concentrate deeply and spend many hours reviewing it. This review comes through sitting with the other shuyukh who are at that particular school, getting tutoring from one or more of the advanced students who are there, and then memorizing it. This last point is the reason that a student studies only one subject a day and goes on to another text once that one has been completed.

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