1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marabout

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MARABOUT (the French form of the Arab. murābit, “one who pickets his horse on a hostile frontier”; cf. Portug. marabute; Span. morabito), in Mahommedan religion a hermit or devotee. The word is derived from ribāṭ, a fortified frontier station. To such stations pious men betook them to win religious merit in war against the infidel; their leisure was spent in devotion, and the habits of the convent superseded those of the camp (see M’G. De Slane in Jour. As., 1842, i. 168; Dozy, Suppl. i. 502). Thus ribāṭ came to mean a religious house or hospice (zāwiya). The great sphere of the marabouts is North Africa. There it was that the community formed by Yahya b. Ibrāhīm and the doctor Abdullah developed into the conquering empire of the Murābiṭs, or, as Christian writers call them, the Almoravides (q.v.), and there still, among the Berbers, the marabouts enjoy extraordinary influence, being esteemed as living saints and mediators. They are liberally supported by alms, direct all popular assemblies, and have a decisive voice in intertribal quarrels and all matters of consequence. On their death their sanctity is transferred to their tombs (also called marabouts), where chapels are erected and gifts and prayers offered. The marabouts took a prominent part in the resistance offered to the French by the Algerian Moslems; and they have been similarly active in politico-religious movements in Tunisia and Tripoli.

See L. Rinn, Marabouts et Khouan (Algiers, 1884); and the article Dervish.