Ashura is one of several holidays that Moroccans celebrate annually. Known also as the day of Zemzam, Ashura is celebrated on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar, just a month after Eid Al Adha.
Marrakech – While it is a religious celebration for both Shia’ and Sunni Muslims, the way Moroccans celebrate Ashura is unique, and a world apart from the rest of the Arab and Islamic countries.
The day of Ashura is very special to Moroccans of all ages. Adults and kids celebrate it differently, but both take it seriously and enjoy it to the fullest. Adults consider it a religious and cultural occasion, while kids consider it a day of fun.
In the last two or three decades, the celebration of Ashura has been evolving in Morocco. In the past, people in the south east of Morocco celebrated it with great enthusiasm, as every tribe slaughtered a bull or a cow on the eve of the day of Ashura, and people stayed up all night to play a game of Ahwach or Ahidous until the early morning. Each tribe invited another to join in the customary practice of Ashura when people, both adults and children, splash buckets of water on each other throughout the day.
Each person would have his or her own bucket, having gathered water from the river or stream to participate in the revelry. The collective celebration would last until all of the tribes of the village had been invited.
Nowadays the celebration is different. People do not practice the rituals in the same way as in the past. It has become risky to participate in the ritual splashing of water. Some people may be carrying papers or mobile phones which can be damaged, and it is not practical to throw cold water on people when Ashura falls in winter when the weather is cold. More importantly, however, some pranksters have begun to use liquids other than water, sometimes including toxic chemicals.
Some of the traditional Ashura rituals continue nowadays. In urban cities, for example, parents buy Taàrijas (Moroccan drums) for their children. The children of each neighborhood get together early in the morning and start playingtheir Taàrijas as they parade around their neighborhoods.
This ritual is called “Heq baba Achour.” The children knock at every door asking for dry fruit, cakes, or even money. Once they have collected a few pennies, they buy eggs and throw them at their friends. Recently they also have started to throw firecrackers.
Adults invite their relatives and have a meal together featuring, mainly, Fakiah, a plate of dry fruits, dates, and sweets. Some Sunnis also fast for two days on the ninth and tenth days of the month of Muharram. People also give alms and make contributions to charity for orphaned kids and poor people.
The Moroccan custom of celebrating Ashura is believed to originate from the practices adopted by Moroccan Jews before they moved to the Middle East. The ritual of water splashing is said to date back to early rituals of Judaism. Moroccan Jews maintained it for centuries, as they believe that water was a reason for the survival of the prophet Moses in the face of oppression by Pharaoh and his soldiers.
Jews believe that water becomes sacred during the days of Ashura. For them, it is a symbol of life and prosperity. In some historical writings, Jews celebrate water, and their kids splash each other with water during the whole day, while adults sprinkle their property and possessions, in the hope that God will bless them.
Sunna also places importance on the survival of the Prophet Moses by calling upon Muslims to celebrate it by fasting on the ninth day of the month of Muharram in addition to the day of Ashura on the tenth, in contrast to the Jews who fast only the tenth day.
The one thing that Moroccans do agree upon nowadays with respect to Ashura is that the celebration of Ashura is a uniquely Moroccan tradition, in which they enjoy collectively the sense of worshipping, solidarity, humor and joy.
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