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Islam / Popular religion /
Arabic: murābit


Zawiyya over the grave of marabout Sidi Abderrahman, Casablanca, Morocco
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Zawiyya over the grave of marabout Sidi Abderrahman, Casablanca, Morocco.

Holy man usually attributed to Islam. The actual meaning of the word has changed through the centuries, and today it refers either to a living person with special powers or qualities, or his tomb.
Originally, a marabout was member of a religious community, belonging to a ribat, a religious garrison. Marabout is derived from the same root as ribat, r-b-t; "m" is added in front according to Arabic rules, making the new word meaning "One who lives in a garrison."
The Almoravids, ruling large parts of North Africa and Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries, had their name from marabout in plural: al-murabitun. By this it is indicated what force the religious communities could represent.
From the 14th century and onwards, marabouts came to be associated with Sufism, being the leader of the order (tariqa).
A third and last stage of meaning to the word came later on, and means a man of qualities considered to be holy and after his death it designates his tomb. The marabout tomb is similar to the zawiyya further east in the Muslim world.
Marabouts were men of special qualities, either in their high knowledge, their ascetic lifestyles or alleged magic qualities.
Marabouts make, or they bless, amulets used for many purposes, they participate at important ceremonies and festivals, they talk and give advice. In return, the marabouts receive gifts.
There are examples of marabouts in other religions in the same region, as is the case with Judaism. A marabout here is called tsadik.

By Tore Kjeilen