Originally a Jewish celebration, the ceremony marks the Jewish tradition of fasting on the 10th day of Muharram to commemorate the rescue of Moses from Pharaoh.
Taroudant – The Muslim world celebrates the day of Ashura Sunday, November 25, the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar.
Originally a Jewish celebration, the ceremony marks the Jewish tradition of fasting on the 10th day of Muharram to commemorate the rescue of Moses from Pharaoh. In Sunni Islam the celebration also is tied to Moses: The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) advised his fellow Muslims to fast the 9th and 10th day or the 10th and 11th day of Muharram also to honor the deliverance of Moses and to be distinguished from the Jews.
For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a day of sorrow and mourning as they remember the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, Hussein Ibn Abi Talib, who was martyred in the Battle of Karbala around 13 centuries ago.
In some Sunni countries like Morocco, Ashura has grown beyond its religious roots into a festive and enjoyable day.
Moroccans prepare delicious meals specifically to celebrate Ashura. In one tradition, Moroccans save the tail of the sheep they slaughtered on Eid al-Adha until Ashura. They then cook it along with sun-dried meat, called “kurdas,” in Morocco’s famous dish of couscous. Kurdas contains liver, fat, and lots of spices that are wrapped around the stomach and tied tightly with the small intestines. Moroccans leave the bundle in an open sunny place to dry.
In the Moroccan city of Goulmima there is a large street festival on Ashura where people celebrate by wearing costumes, sheep and goat skins, and animal masks meant to scare.
In the Amazigh (Berber) tradition, the costumed people are called “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura. With only tambourines and clapping hands, “Udayen n Ashur” create lively music, and dancers perform acrobats. Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs until late into the night.
Another Ashura tradition is throwing water at one another. This is very common in Morocco, especially if Ashura comes at the end of a hot spring or summer day. Moroccans are showered from head to toe whenever they are caught outside.
The Arabic-speaking regions call this tradition “Zamzam.” The Imazighen (Berbers) have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam: The first day is “Bou Isnayen,” the second “Bou Imerwasen,” and the third “Bou Imrazen.” They translate as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fighting.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back.
On Ashura, children move from house to house, singing rhyming songs and collecting money and sweets. The songs are often prayers or praise for kind and generous people. As a child, I always looked forward with overwhelming happiness to Ashura.
The day before, my friends and I would prepare Ashura clothes and long necklaces from snail shells.
When traveling from house to house, one of us used to lie down at a neighbor’s door and pretend to be dead while the rest sang sorrowful mourning songs personalized for each house. For example, we would sing: “Oh! Mr. Lmakki, our friend has tragically passed away; if only you could bring him back to life, we would give you almonds and henna for your kids.” Nearly all the houses would offer us eggs, dates, almonds, and sometimes even money.
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