Charles de Foucauld, Silent witness for Jesus, 'in the face of Islam'

After two years in Beni Abbes and a year largely of travelling in the southern Sahara, Charles settled in the central Saharan 'hamlet' of Tamanrasset. He was to remain there, except for three visits to France, for the next, and last, eleven years of his life (1905-1916).

Tamanrasset, now a town of some thirty thousand or more inhabitants, was then a scattered collection of

'twenty hearths, in the heart of the Hoggar mountains',
the centre for the Dag-Rali, the principal Touareg tribe, and of their chief, Moussa agg Amastan. The Touareg,24 who had recently accepted the French presence, were nomadic warriors, with flocks of sheep, goats and camels, the women having a distinctive but equal role. The noble warriors were followed by three 'lesser' classes, and a group of captured Negro slaves. Their faith was Islam, but their language and culture was Berber, anterior to and quite distinct from the Arabic culture of the north. Charles considered that they were 'less Islamic' (the outward expression of their Islam was certainly much different), and might even have derived from the North African Christians of St Augustine's time!

To be with them, Charles no longer built a 'hermitage' as at Beni Abbes, but a simple wattle hut, long and narrow, with just enough room for himself. And, significantly, it was a part of the village: on the edge, but fairly close to the neighbouring dwellings. In fact, in contrast to his previous desire to be 'separate', he now wished to be near, in 'proximity'. Did not Jesus choose to live 'with us', as 'one of us'? That was, as always, his underlying motive.

He was no longer satisfied with being the 'universal brother' (with its rather cover-all approach), wishing rather to become a particular 'friend'. Of course he remained the Christian monk, the Christian 'marabout': he continued to hold to an imaginary '100 metre enclosure'! To quote a 'text' that Charles had written before returning to North Africa;

'Like our Lord Jesus ... we should be universal friends, universal brothers, and as far as possible universal saviours.'25
This highly idealistic programme (designed for Charles' future 'Petits Freres') remained to the end Charles' intention and aim. The considerable evolution was in the day-to-day living which Charles wisely adapted to circumstances, more exactly to concrete people and his relationships with them.

Charles was little given to theoretical analysis. But it is worth noting that, for him, the term 'brother' expressed the intention to be, and to be seen, in a relation of basic equality with the other, whoever that 'other' might be. The term 'friend', while presupposing this recognition of the equal worth of the other in their difference, adds the desire to be, as far as possible, 'one' with that other: to be united with that other in the 'sharing' of common interests and concerns. And, of course, genuine friendship, as he came to understand, is not only lasting, but also reciprocal and gratuitous. It is not 'for' some ulterior purpose.