The UNIVERSITty of DeSERT
The Mahdhara or university of the desert is a tradition among the chanaguitt (Mauritanians) that we find almost nowhere among those living in the deserts. It is an educational institution that has allowed the scholars training and the science transmission in a context marked by regular movements in search of pastures
Mahdhara played a key role in spreading Islam and the Arabic language in West Africa and was a center for cultural and scientific outreach in the deserts of Mauritania. The Mahadhir (plural of Mahdhara) played important political and social roles after the fall of the Almoravids (Al-Murābitūn) at the end of the 5th century of Hegira. The masters of these institutions intervened to put an end to the conflicts between the tribes as they contributed to the organization of the resistance against the western military colonization.
Mahdhara has helped preserve the Arab and Muslim identity of Mauritanians at a time of shrinking influence of the Muslim caliph and the beginning of the colonial invasion. It defended, through the sciences it diffuses, the identity of the country and its language and, thus, it protected the bonds and the harmony inside of the society.
Student and training methodology
The teaching method within the Mahdhara gives the student the choice to select the subjects and the support books he wishes to study. However, Master's counsel is seen as a source of blessing and success. The custom is to study grammar and poetry after memorizing the Holy Quran and mastering the obligatory knowledge to any adult Muslim in order to have an enlightened practice of religion. This knowledge covers faith, jurisprudence and others such as conjugation, logic, calculations, etc. These knowledges occupie an important place in the program taught.
The Mahdhara relies on a selection of books considered as references for the sciences taught. The student must study the entire reference book of the science he has chosen to acquire. In the eyes of the masters of Mahdhara , it is advisable to devote oneself to the study of one science before moving on to another. The student must transcribe the text of the book page to study on his wooden tablet and check by the master what he wrote before starting to memorize it. The teacher explains the text and the pupil, by a regular repetition, memorizes it. This methodology is considered the most appropriate for acquiring science.
Students are sometimes divided into free groups. Each group, called "The State", studies a reference book and a member of the group reads the text while the teacher gives explanations with the usual language. If an explanatory support proves necessary for the understanding, the teacher can draw on the sand or look for a book to deepen the explanations and answer the pupils' questions.
The students of Mahdhara are known for their great ability to memorize and remember texts given the learning methodology based on repetition of texts to achieve excellent memorization. The pupil obtains AL IJAZA (Master's degree) only if the books of reference of the culture and the Arabic language are well memorized.
The Mahdhara has been able to adapt to the social and climatic conditions of life in the desert. This allowed him to resist and exist for centuries. The resources of Mahdhara are essentially donations and Zakat. Most of Zakat is paid to Mahadhir which welcome a large number of teachers and students.