The Mahra Arab of Yemen
Most scholars consider Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula to be the original Arabs. The Arabian culture was developed by tribes of nomads and villagers who lived in the Arabian Desert. It was from there that Arab migrations began, leading to the expansion of the Arab world.
Today, there are more than 300,000 Mahra Arab living in Yemen, 99.9% of whom are Sunni Muslim. They are one of the smaller groups of Arabs in the country, composing only 2.1% of the total population. The Mahra live in the far eastern corner of Yemen near the borders of Saudi Arabia and Oman. They speak an Arabic dialect called Mahri, Mehri, or Biljaf.
Yemen's social structure is based on a tribal system of placement. The tribes are classified into levels of nobility based upon genealogy, responsibility, and marital freedom. The Sunni Muslim Mahra are classified as semi-nomadic warriors, which is, by Arab standards, a position of low recognition.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Mahra Arab operate in tribes. Each tribe is ruled by a sheik, who is considered an expert in Islam and in relating to the outside world. His responsibilities include administering justice, protecting the tribe, sustaining tribal status, and providing grazing territory for the herds. Their territory is staunchly defended, partly by controlling all of the goods and persons that pass through it.
The Mahra are divided into two main groups. The first group, the semi-nomads, can be found living in the far northeastern portion of the desert. During the winter grazing months, they stay out with their animals; and in the dry, summer months, they move into the villages. The second group, the settled Mahra, spend the year in small, semi-fortified villages raising camels and goats. Some farming takes place in these villages, and domestic animals are kept to supply milk and eggs.
Social life is extremely important to the Mahra. They share a daily coffee time while sitting on the floor and planning the next day's activities. Because wood is expensive and somewhat scarce, animal dung is used as fuel for cooking. The typical daily diet consists of wheat bread and porridge, with an occasional addition of boiled meat or chicken.
The Mahra are an endogamous tribe, which means that they only marry within a small social circle. They are also generally monogamous (one wife, one husband). In the past, marriages were arranged, but, increasingly, individual choice is becoming acceptable. Children are seen as the family's greatest asset. They receive inheritances patrilineally (inheritances are passed down through the males). In this system, boys inherit more than girls. The value of young girls is seen in their ability to have children and bond families through marriage.
Despite the teachings of Islam, traditions that uphold different social classes still persist. The manner of dress has become one of the distinguishing factors of class. Women wear veils both when they are in town and at home. When boys become men, they change their headgear and begin wearing daggers.
What are their beliefs?
Being Muslims, the Mahra follow the teachings of the prophet Mohammed. They believe that the only way to God is through following the teachings of their holy book, the Koran. Their Muslim religion is a religion of works based on these five "pillars" of faith: (1) A Muslim must affirm that "there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet." (2) Five times a day he must pray while facing Mecca. (3) He must give alms generously. (4) He must fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. (5) He must try to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his life.
What are their needs?
The Mahra in Yemen are virtually all Sunni (orthodox) Muslim. Presently, there are very few known believers within their communities. A profession of faith in Jesus may cost a Mahra his family, his honor, his job, and sometimes his life. Evangelization will be challenging due to the nature of the Arabs' lifestyle and belief system.
- Ask the Lord of the harvest to open the doors of Yemen to the preaching of the Gospel.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to call people who are willing to go and share the love of Christ with the Mahra.
- Pray that Christian radio broadcasts, evangelical literature, and the Jesus film will be made available to the Mahra.
- Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Mahra through dreams and visions.
- Pray that God will give the small number of Mahra believers boldness to share Christ with their families and friends.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Mahra bound for many generations.
- Ask God to raise up an army of intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Mahra of Yemen.
- Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Mahra by the year 2000.
See also the following Groups:
The Mahra of Oman; and
The Mahra of Saudi Arabia.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Mahra
- Country: Yemen
- Their language: Mahra
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 30
- Scriptures in their own language: Portions
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 0
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 21,300 (7%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 283,200 (93%)
- Country: Yemen
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 11
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.