Would you be surprised if we told you there is a country in Africa where more than half of the population has memorized the Quran? If your answer is yes, get ready to be amazed. In our “Exploring Countries” series, where we cross continents and oceans, our next destination is the land of millions of hafizes (those who have memorized the Quran), Mauritania.
Geographic Location of Mauritania
Mauritania, officially known as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, is located in West Africa, between Senegal, Mali, Algeria, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Capital of Mauritania
The capital of the country, Nouakchott, is also the largest city. With a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean and a climate mixing Mediterranean and desert conditions, the city’s name means “Land of the Winds” in the Berber language.
Language of Mauritania
The country’s sole official language is Arabic. However, due to the influence of colonial periods, French is also used in business, education, and trade. In schools, alongside Arabic, French is accepted as the second language of instruction.
Religious Structure of Mauritania
As the official name suggests, Islam is the dominant religion in the country. The number of people adhering to other religions is negligible.
Brief History of Mauritania
We can say that the first inhabitants of the present-day Mauritanian territory were the Berber tribes that came from the north. It is known that the initial contact of these Berber tribes with Muslims was through trade, and they gradually accepted Islam. By the mid-11th century, they had fully embraced and adopted Islam.
Mauritania was under French colonial rule from 1854 until it declared independence in 1960, previously known as “French West Africa.”
The Land of Millions of Hafizes
Mauritania’s centuries-old tradition, known as “Mahzaras” or desert schools, is a unique educational method that has stood the test of time. These desert schools, dating back to the 1000s, were first established by African scholars providing education in the Sahara. Initially mobile, these schools eventually became permanent but continue to maintain their traditional approach.
As the name suggests, these schools are located far from modern cities, in the desert. Education is imparted here not with pen and paper but with wooden tablets and charcoal. Students from neighboring countries and various parts of the world come to these schools, where they spend 5 years learning to become hafizes. However, the duration can vary from student to student, with some completing their memorization in just one year.
You might also find our article on Hafizes in Mauritania interesting.
Climate of Mauritania
Although most of the country experiences a dry climate, the coastal areas have a milder climate. It’s important to note that water scarcity is a significant issue throughout the country.
Economy of Mauritania
The Mauritanian economy is not particularly robust. The primary source of income is fishing. In addition, the country produces iron and copper. With infertile land, agricultural activities are almost non-existent, but livestock farming is widespread. Unfortunately, like many African nations, the currency used in Mauritania is of very low value. For instance, 1 Mauritanian Ouguiya is equivalent to 0.027 US Dollars.
In the south of the country, fish is the primary source of nutrition, while in the north, red meat is consumed more frequently. Couscous, tieboudien, maffe, and poulet are some of the famous dishes. Moreover, like in many other places, tea is highly cherished in Mauritania. Refusing to drink at least two cups of tea offered to you is considered impolite.
Must-Visit Places in Mauritania
While in the capital Nouakchott, you can visit the Grand Market, where handcrafted products are sold, allowing you to take home items that will remind you of your journey. At the Mauritania National Museum, you can learn a lot about the country’s history and cultural heritage. You can also pray at the impressive Ibn Abbas Mosque, known for its remarkable architecture. Additionally, swimming at Pecheurs Beach, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, will offer you a unique experience of ocean swimming.