Mustafa grew up in the deserts surrounding Dakar, Senegal. At six years old, his illiterate father, struggling to survive with his family of six, gave Mustafa to a marabout (pronounced mare-uh-boo). The promise of education and life in the city seemed so much better for Mustafa than eking out a living in the harsh terrain in which they lived.
As Mustafa traveled toward Dakar, he had no idea what awaited him there. The Quranic teachings cost a little less than 50 cents a day, but that was more money than Mustafa had ever held in his hand. He would be responsible to beg for this tuition. Some days this might take ten hours and he was soon schooled on the realities of life on the rough and tumble streets.
On good days he would return to the marabout’s street compound to surrender his money. On the days where he was empty-handed he was rewarded with a severe beating. Dirty, hungry, and constantly in fear of being cast aside, little Mustafa did his best to comply. He, and thousands of other little boys in the marabout system of Western Africa, are modern-day slaves.
Marabouts are Islamic teachers, mostly from the Sufi branch of Islam. To be fair, not all of them enslave boys. They are not considered to be a part of “orthodox Islam,” but inject a greater degree of mysticism into their religious practice. They are the shamans and voodoo doctors of Islam. Nobody knows how many marabouts there are, but in Dakar there are at least 6,000 boys in the the marabout system. When one comes across a boy begging in the streets with a small pendant around his neck, picturing an older man (their marabout leader), one can be sure to have seen a marabout boy.
As the boys grow older the more aggressive among them become the marabouts’ cheif lieutenants. They collect the fees, organize the feeding of the boys, and make sure that nobody steps out of line. Anybody who attempts to escape and flee to home is punished severely. Few marabous provide housing for the boys and most of their time is spent living on the streets. It is a tough existence.
The Kony video and its strange aftermath have been much in the news lately. It’s a tragic story of exploitation. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but remember seeing the marabout boys last year when I was in Senegal. Who is their advovate? To the government’s credit, I am aware of some atttempts to relieve the suffering of these boys. However, I know of no ministires seeking to assist these boys – I am sure somebody is, though, and I invite you to post about it in the comments.
In the meantime, please remember to pray for the marabout boys, that somebody would take up their plight and invest their lives in sharing Christ with them and helping them to escape the terrible system in which they are trapped.