Berber in the Sahara and southern Morocco, and several West African languages including Soninké, Mandinka and Songhay, all refer to the five Islamic daily prayers using terms not derived from their usual Arabic names, and showing striking mutual similarities. The motivation behind these names has not hitherto been explained. An examination of Islamic sources reveals that many correspond to terms attested within Arabic from an early period but which have passed out of use elsewhere. Others, with a more limited distribution, reflect transfer from a time-keeping system widely attested among Berber-speaking oases of the northern Sahara. These results demonstrate that the variant prayer terminologies attested in the ḥadith reflect popular usages that were still commonplace at the time when North Africa was conquered, and underscore the conservatism of non-Arabic Islamic religious terminology in and around the Sahara.
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