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The meaning of the word "talib" in Arabic refers to any kind of student, whereas in English it has a greater connotation towards religious students of Islam; the same is true of the word "madrasah" with respect to the English word "school".
In parts of urban West Africa talibs (French: talibes) are religious students or followers of specific religious sect or teacher. In contemporary Senegal, Mali and Guinea, these are often children living with a marabout religious teacher in order to pursue a free religious education. In Senegal, many street children are nominally talibes. In these countries talibes traditionally live with a marabout, helping him with labor in exchange for their education in the Qur'an. Often they belong to sufi Muslim brotherhoods (such as the Mourides) and they retain the title "talib" as a source of pride throughout their lives.
These talibes may come from poor or rich families. The aesthetic nature of the traditional education is itself valued as a rite of passage of boys into adulthood. However, in Senegal some urban teachers have taken advantage of this traditional education to exploit children. Young boys who are seen begging may have been sent from their rural homes by their parents to pursue an Islamic education. Usually their parents are very poor and frequently unable to provide paid education for their children. These talibes are reputed to be kept against their will, unfed, and forced to stay with the marabout until the age of fifteen or more. The total time of education is approximately 11 years, lasting from approximately the age of 6 until 17. However, these official ages frequently vary, and older talibes are less prominent or visible on the streets. These marabouts also often come from rural parts of Senegal. The zakat provision in the Qur'an asks people to help those who do not have the means to help themselves, a help which manifests itself in the provision of food and clothing.