Photo Source: Link Up Africa
Map Source: Bethany World Prayer Center
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Have you heard of the Ghana Empire? It existed from 750 to 1240 AD in West Africa. The Soninke people were the founders and rulers of the Ghana Empire. When the empire ended, the Soninke were scattered across West Africa including what is now Mauritania. Most live in the extreme south of the country near the borders with Senegal and Mali. Rain is much more abundant in the south. Over 90% of Mauritania is part of the very dry Sahara Desert. Mauritania gained its independence from France in 1960. Unfortunately, the nation has experienced multiple military coups and human rights violations since independence. Slavery is still common in Mauritania even though it was officially outlawed in 2007. Mauritania has large deposits of iron ore.
The main occupations of the Soninke in Mauritania are agriculture, animal husbandry and trade. They are farmers who raise sorghum, rice, peanuts, and their staple crop, millet. They also raise large numbers of goats, sheep, horses, chickens, and cattle. They do very little fishing and hunting, and trade is extremely important. The Soninke trade in the local markets. They also travel to markets in other regions to trade their goods. Most Soninke live in compact villages surrounded by their farm and grazing lands. Houses line both sides of the main street, and a mosque is typically located at the village square. Soninke marriages require the payment of a bride-price. In contrast to most neighboring tribes, the bride-price is given to the bride rather than her parents and becomes part of her dowry. They forbid pre-marital sexual relations but accept polygamy (having more than one wife), with each man being limited to four wives by Islamic law. In the past, inheritances were passed down from fathers to sons. Muslim rules govern the dispersion of property: one-eighth goes to the widow, while equal shares go to each son and half shares go to each daughter. Soninke parents encourage their sons to pursue a secondary and university education while the daughters often receive at best a primary education.
Soninke in Mauritania are Sunni Muslims heavily influenced by folk religion, a belief in natural spirits. The Soninke try to obey the teachings of the Koran and the prophet Mohammad. Sunnis believe that by following the Five Pillars of Islam that they will attain heaven when they die. However, Allah, the supreme God of the universe, determines who enters paradise. Sunnis pray five times a day facing Mecca. They fast the month of Ramadan. They attend mosque services on Friday. If a Muslim has the means, he or she will make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in his or her lifetime. Muslims are also prohibited from drinking alcohol, eating pork, gambling, stealing, using deceit, slandering, and making idols. The two main holidays for Sunni Muslims are Eid al Fitr, the breaking of the monthly fast and Eid al Adha, the celebration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to Allah. Friday is the day of rest with Soninke attending their local mosque.
Among the Soninke in Mauritania, there is only a tiny group of believers. Those Soninke who turn to Christ will suffer persecution. Therefore, evangelizing is extremely difficult and dangerous. Most Soninke have not yet heard a clear presentation of the gospel in their heart language. Radio programs in Soninke could be a valuable source of the gospel.
Pray that Christian radio and television broadcasts will be made available in the Soninke language. Ask the Lord to send forth laborers into Mauritania to share Christ with the Soninke. Ask the Holy Spirit to anoint the Soninke language JESUS Film as it is presented in Soninke areas. Pray that God will give the small number of Soninke believers boldness to share Christ with their own people. Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong and growing Soninke church planting movement for the glory of his name.