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marabout

("one who is garrisoned"), originally, in North Africa, member of a Muslim religious community living in a ribat, a fortified monastery, serving both religious and military functions. Men who possessed certain religious qualifications, such as the reciters of the Qur'an (qurra'), transmitters of Hadith (muhaddithun), jurists of Islamic law (fuqaha'), and ascetics, lived in the ribat and were held in honour by the common people. When Islam spread to western Africa in the 12th century, its propagators became known as al-Murabitun (Almoravids), and every missionary who organized a group of disciples became known as a murabit. In the 14th century, when Sufism (mysticism) pervaded Muslim religious life, the murabit, in the Maghrib, came to be the designation for any preacher calling for the formation of Sufi fraternities according to the "order" (tariqah) of Abu Madyan. Thus, the word lost all trace of its original literal meaning of military defense, and in Algeria murabit came to be used for the tomb, usually domed, in which a pious man is buried

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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