Prayer Profile
The Riffian of France

[IMAGE] The Riffian are a North African Berber tribe who belong to a much larger group of Berbers known as the Shilha. The Shilha Berbers are divided into three main groups: the Northern (Rif) Berber, the Southern (Sousi) Berber, and the Central (Beraber) Berber. The Rif Berber are composed of 19 individual tribes.

The Arabic word rif means "the edge of the cultivated area" and aptly describes the Riffian territory. Dwelling on the harsh slopes of the Rif Mountains in Morocco and Algeria, the Riffian inhabit a land of deserts, mountains, and rolling fields. The Africans call this entire region Maghrib. During the third century, the Romans named the people of the Maghrib Berber, which means "barbarian." Between 670 and 700 A.D., Muslims conquered the Maghrib.

In recent years, many North Africans migrated into western Europe. By the early 1980's, over half a million workers, including many Riffian, had moved there. In the later 1980's, however, the European labor market closed to new workers.

What are their lives like?
In North Africa, the Riffian earn their livelihood from the fig and olive trees that cover the mountain slopes. Income is supplemented through job opportunities in major cities of Europe. Such jobs lure up to one-third of the male population for most of the year.

For the unemployed Riffian, immigration to Europe was once an option, but that choice has declined in the late twentieth century due to restrictions on immigration. However, decades of immigration have left a large Riffian community in France. For some, service in the army and in the factories of France during World War I was an avenue of migration. When the war ended, many remained in France. Others arrived after World War II when there was a labor shortage in France. Recently, others went as merchants, since France is one of the most important trading partners with North Africa.

As the number of immigrants in France increased, so did various kinds of racial discrimination, including problems in housing and unemployment. Initially, the immigrants were males who lived in low-standard hostels and worked at low-paying jobs such as construction, street cleaning, mining, or heavy work in steel assembly. With the beginning of economic stress in 1974, many French began to reclaim these jobs; thus, the government began to restrict immigration.

In the Riffian family, as many as three or four generations live together in one small room, sharing everything. The father is the head of the family, and ancestry is traced through the males. The family structure is somewhat of an authoritarian democracy. While the father is responsible for controlling all household matters, he must obtain the agreement of the rest of the family as well. Banishment from the family is considered the ultimate punishment.

What are their beliefs?
The Riffian are almost all Muslims, although their religious practices are based more on traditions and the decisions of the community rather than on the Koran (Islam's holy book). Riffian society is organized around two main systems: Islam and the tribe. However, there are many differences between urban and rural societies. In urban areas, orthodox Islam prevails; whereas, in rural areas, ancient beliefs and customs are still intermingled with the Muslim faith.

What are their needs?
Many Riffian are searching for answers beyond Muslim fundamentalism. Those in Algeria and Morocco do not have the freedom to follow Christianity, but those in France do. In fact, a number of them have responded to recent Christian programs produced in France. However, the majority remain unreached, still needing an opportunity to hear the Gospel.

The number of North African immigrants living in France continues to be a serious social issue. The Riffian, among others, are at the bottom of the economic scale and are subject to racial prejudice. Christian workers are needed to show the love and acceptance of Jesus to the Riffian in France.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to call French Christians to minister the love of Jesus to the Riffian living among them.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to anoint the efforts of the missions agencies that are targeting the Riffian.
  • Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Riffian, resulting in many conversions.
  • Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Riffian towards the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will give the Riffian believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Riffian bound for many generations.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who, through intercession, will begin breaking up the soil in the hearts of the Riffian people to receive the seed of the Gospel.
  • Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Riffian of France by the year 2000.

See also the following Groups:
The Saharan Berbers;
The Riff Berbers of Morocco, and Algeria;
The Central Shilhah of Algeria, Morocco, and the Berbaber of France;
The Southern Shilhah of Algeria and Morocco;
The Kabyle Berbers of Algeria, Belgium, and France;

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Riffian
  • Country: France
  • Their language: Riff (Senhaja)
  • Population: (1990) 113,400
    (1995) 116,000
    (2000) 118,000
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Malikite) 99.9%
  • Christian: <1%
  • Church members: 116
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 36,100 (32%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 5,900 (6%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 30,200 (26%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 79,900 (68%)
  • Country: France
  • Population: (1990) 56,717,800
    (1995) 57,980,900
    (2000) 59,024,000
  • Major peoples in size order: French 45.6%
    North Gallo-Romance 11%
    Provencal 4.6%
    Languedocian 4%
  • Major religions: Christian 69.1%
    Nonreligious 16.8%
    Muslim 8%
  • Number of denominations: 126

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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