The school was named Dar al-Salam (literally, the abode of peace) and follows traditional time-tested learning methods of transmitting all branches of Islamic Law using the mahdara (link) curriculum. The name Dar al-Salaam is also one of the names of the city of the Prophet and in the Quran, Allah calls to this name.
The traditional Islamic school in Mauritania is referred to as “Mahdara.” It literally means “a fenced in or protected place.” It has a long tradition going back to the Murabitun who came in and established institutions to train Muslims both spiritually and martially. They also divided the needs of the society among the present tribes. So, for example, certain tribes were appointed the duty of preserving the knowledge, and these tribes are known as the Zawaya. Other tribes were appointed the task of pursuing extensive martial training to protect the other tribes, and these became known as the Bani Hassan tribes. There were also tribes concerned with farming, some with carpentry or blacksmithing, and others with herding. The mahdara was where the Zawaya focused their concern and succeeded in providing a system to disseminate the traditional Islamic sciences among the Ummah.
The method of learning utilizes the Lawh , or wooden tablet, whereby the text is written in charcoal ink on the tablet and then memorized and studied under the watchful guidance of the Shaykh. Everything that is studied is committed to memory, and this is one of the reasons why the scholars of Mauritania (also known as Shinquitt) made a distinguished presence wherever they went. The children first memorize the Qur’an, starting at about seven years of age. After memorizing it, they study the Rasm, which is the science related to writing the Qur’an according to the ‘Uthmani script. Next, they study the Quran a second time, though this time they write it on their tablets from memory. The first time they write it either having the Shaykh write it for them, dictate it to them, or by looking at a Mushaf (copy of the Quran). After that, they learn the dabt which is a science related to the differences between the two narrations of Nafi’ (Warsh and Qalun). They then move on to pursue further studies in Fiqh, grammar, Aqidah and Hadith.
The madhab of Imam Malik is taught using traditional texts. The text of Ibn Ashir, Imam al Akhdari, the Risala of Ibn Abi Zaid, Ashalul Masalik, Nathmu Muqadimaati ibn Rushd, and the Mukhtasar of Sidi Khalil are the main texts studied there for Fiqh. As for grammar, they use the Ajrumiyyah, Mulhat al ‘Iraab, Qatru Nada, and the Alfiyyah of Ibn Malik. In Aqidah, they teach the Ash’ari creed using the texts of Imam Ash Sharnubi, Imam al Bulaym, Jawahar at Tawhid, and Idaah as well as other texts.
The school is very simple in its set up, and there is no registration, semesters, or tuition. Each student enters study at whatever level he is on and may begin at any time of the year. After learning the basic texts of Fard ‘ain (individual obligation), the course of studies is up to the student, although the Shaykh will generally recommend what each particular student should study. Once a subject has been chosen, the student will then write out a small section of the text onto his lawh and then go to the Shaykh. The student will read it to him so that he can correct any mistakes, since the teachers there have memorized the texts. Having corrected the mistakes, if any, the Shaykh will then give an explanation and answer any questions the student may have.
The entire sitting is one-on-one, and the student is given as much time as he needs for the lesson. This is very important because it allows the student to study at his own pace by going as fast or slow as he wants through the texts. Also, because of this independent type schedule, the student can come and go to the school any time of the year. Once the student finishes that particular lesson, it is studied the remainder of the day for the purpose of committing it to memory. By giving the entire day to study that one lesson, with no other subjects interrupting, the student can concentrate deeply and spend many hours reviewing it. This review comes through sitting with the other shuyukh who are at that particular school, getting tutoring from one or more of the advanced students who are there, and then memorizing it. This last point is the reason that a student studies only one subject a day and goes on to another text once that one has been completed.
Part of the village is reserved for the students and part for the shuyukh. The masjid is in the center of the village, and the families are on the other side. The shuyukh and the families usually have adobe houses or the traditional sheep-hair tents. The students build small huts with wood frames and then cover them with cloth or canvas. Some students live together and build larger huts (15′ by 20′). Others prefer to live by themselves and build small huts (8′ by 10′). The students who live together help each other out with daily work such as cooking and fetching water. Other students who prefer not to deal with these chores usually hire some of the laborers to do the work. It is very inexpensive, relatively. Having 20 liters of water brought to you every day costs the equivalent of about $1.50 for one month. The type of food there is very basic and limited.
This piece is taken from the website of Dar al-Salam – Oasis of Sacred Learning.
See on-line at: http://www.mahdara.com/aboutus.php