ASALAA MAALEKUM! Today, we had a field trip to help supplement the content of our Histoire de l’Islam class; Professor Ba from Dakar came up to St. Louis for the day so that he could take us to a mosque in St. Louis and to Louga, Senegal to visit a school. The purpose of this trip was to help us better understand the function of mosques in Senegal (and other Islamic countries), as well as the role of Koranic schools in local communities.
We left FEPRODES at 8h30 for a local mosque in St. Louis; it was about a five-minute walk from the school. The mosque that we visited is considered to me one of the larger mosques in the area, so we were able to see some people reciting the Koran and others praying in this mosque. At the mosque we were shown two burial rooms that previous marabous have been buried and the separate praying areas for men and women (at this mosque, the men pray inside the mosque, while the women pray in a building that is literally just cement blocks with a roof held up by 2-3 inch sticks). It was good to see the inside of a mosque because I now have a better understanding of the structure and purpose of all the spaces; they are no longer just beautifully constructed buildings that I walk by every day. Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures of the inside, but I hope to have some mosque pictures after I visit Touba (google it, if you don’t know what it is).
After we visited the mosque, we left and took a bus to Louga. Louga is a small town in the St. Louis region about 40 minutes northeast of St Louis. In Louga we visited Darhas de MPal (the local Koranic school that teaches the Koran to what appeared to be 250 students, ranging in age from 2-16); the visit lasted about 3-4 hours and has been a highlight of my time in Senegal. The experience was invaluable and extremely informative.
The visit started when we arrived and were seated on mats, under a gorgeous tree and served bisap juice (juice made from hibiscus flowers and mint…definitely will be bringing this back in some form of a concentrate). It was a perfect day for the visit, not too hot or humid…or at least for the guys. All of the females in our groups were asked to wear headscarves, long-sleeves, and long skirts…so they were not as cool as I think the guys were in shorts and t-shirts. Anyways, we were welcomed and then introduced to past students of the Darhas School, most of who are current students at the University of St. Louis or Dakar. It was interesting because for about an hour and a half we were able to ask them any questions about Koranic schools, the teaching methods, Senegal; essentially it was an opportunity for many of us to talk one on one with a previous Talibe about their life from Koranic school to now. I was extremely fortunate and talked with the son of the marabou at Darhas; his name was Assane H’Gom. We talked about the Darhas and the structure of Koranic schools.
Koranic schools start at about 5AM (when the first pray usually begins) and go until about 5PM. At 7AM the talibe go home and have breakfast, at 1PM they go home for lunch, and then the finally end at 5PM. The students learn the Koran little by little; each day the students are given about 15-20 pages of the Koran to memorize. They are suppose to recite what they have learned three times each day, right before they go to bed, and the following morning. When we were seated on the mats there were three talibe they came over and recited their lesson for the day. Basically, the previous students of the Darhas asked each talibe to recite a certain part of the Koran and the student was able to do it verbatim. Students learn the Koran differently depending on their age, the students first start by learning how to recite the Koran (6-10) and then learn how to write the Koran (11-16). It usually takes about 3-4 years to learn how to recite the entire book and 4-5 years to learn how to write the book. They students are tested by lesson, and do not need to be able to recite/write 500-600 pages at once.
The Darhas School had five different “classrooms” (each was dependant on the age of the students). I say “classrooms” because one of them was a piece of metal and one wall, two were huts, and two were actual buildings. The first classroom was for the youngest students (2-4) and was under the piece of metal. During this age students learn the Arabic letters, usually 2-3 letters a day. This helps them for the second level, where they begin to recite small passages of the Koran. It is not until the third level that they actually begin to recite and chant passages. This was very interesting to actually see because when we went into this classroom we were able listen to them chant a passage; they chant a single passage three times in a row then start over. In the fourth and fifth levels, culture is added into the lessons and students (depending on their ages begin to be tested on the Koran).
From my observations, the Koranic school system seems to differ depending on communities and marabous. I think that for my final paper for my Histoire de l’Islam class, I am going to write on these differences and whether or not there is a certain structure that schools should be following. Is this system regulated? To what extent do marabous have the power to physical hit a student if they recite incorrectly? How is this punishment perceived by non-muslims? The paper itself is suppose to focus on an aspect of Islam and its relevance in Senegal…I think that I can make that topic work…my only problem is going to be obtaining resources!
Counting down the days till I receive my absentee ballot and November 4th!