Into Their World… Saharawi of Morocco


Originally desert nomads who traveled from place to place because of land and government issues, the Saharawi can now be found in southern Morocco, the western Sahara region, north of Mauritania, Algerian refugee camps and the Canary Islands. Conflict between Arab rulers and Berbers between 1300 AD and 1600 AD led to the beginnings of the Saharawi, who are descendants of these two groups and their slaves. The Saharawi of Morocco speak an Arabic dialect called Hassaniya and are a sub-group of the Moors.

From 1904-1976 Spain controlled many areas of Morocco, leading to a significant change in the nomadic lifestyle of the Saharawi. Some are still herdsmen, traders and warriors; others, however, have gained quite a bit of wealth through various trades. Although there is great variety in the Saharawi society, most families live in small homes and sleep on skins covered with blankets. At meal times, the men eat before the women and children.

Because the Saharawi of Morocco live in an area which receives only two inches of rainfall per year, agriculture is limited and exports are restricted to livestock.

There are four main groups in Saharawi society: warriors; marabouts (holy people); tribute payers who pay taxes to the higher classes; and black slaves. Craftsmen and musicians form separate, low-caste groups. For years many of the social classes were at odds. Different Saharawi tribes would engage in fighting, robbery and revenge in order to survive drought, plagues and robberies. Today, social classes serve as a means of identification rather than as a way of life.

Although the Sarahawi think of themselves as pure Muslims, many also incorporate pagan beliefs into their religious practices. To this day, West African Islam, with its mixture of beliefs, is more tolerant than Islam found in other places.

Most Sarahawi live in areas of war and political turmoil. The desire for political recognition and independence is strong. Few Sarahawi know Christ. Pray that believers both in this region and around the world will share the peace that comes through knowing Christ with the Sararawi of Morocco.

For more information on the Saharawi of Morocco, visit:

(Information compiled from

(Note: The website links above are intended to provide you with more information about this people group. Some of the links are to groups that are not religious in nature but who provide information and background that may be helpful in researching this people group. The content of each of the websites linked to is the sole responsibility of the linked-to organization. Views expressed on these websites do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of the staff or writers of Lausanne World Pulse or those of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Institute of Strategic Evangelism, Evangelism and Missions Information Service or Intercultural Studies Department.)  

Laurie Fortunak Nichols is editorial coordinator of Lausanne World Pulse. She also serves as editorial coordinator for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and managing editor and book review editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ). She has edited a number of books, including the recent Extending God's Kingdom: Church Planting Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, with A. Scott Moreau and Gary R. Corwin.