Moroccans observe the holiday with several traditions and practices specific to Morocco.
Muslims all across the world celebrate the holiday of Ashura in different ways, and Morocco is no different with its various practices and rituals. In addition to observing the holy day with spiritual practices, such as fasting, giving to charity, and visiting the cemetery to pray for the departed, Moroccans embrace the day with other traditional and cultural rituals that date back centuries.
In Morocco, Ashura is a day when neighbors and families come together to share traditional food, and where children receive toys, money, and indulge in all kinds of cheerful activities. It is also a day of many celebratory carnivals and festivals across the country.
The holy day’s celebrations differ from one region to another. You might find Ashura observances in one city or village contrast with practices in the next city or village. However, some customs are starting to disappear, with only a few regions fully preserving their rituals.
Usually, the preparation for Ashura starts one week in advance. Just like many holidays, Moroccan women get busy cleaning the whole house thoroughly, washing and scrubbing floors and furniture, because they believe the New Year should start with cleanliness and vitality. Cleaning during the holy day is forbidden because it is considered bad luck.
Moroccans buy new clothes for their children to wear on Ashura in the week leading up to the holiday, and have a tailor make traditional clothes such as djellaba, kaftan, or abaya.
During this week, women buy all the necessary ingredients they need to make traditional Ashura delicacies. The preparation also includes buying dried fruits and candy that are standard treats during Ashura, and buying children the toys they want from the souk as gifts for the New Year.
Ashura rituals in Morocco
Ashura rituals and practices differ in Morocco depending on the person’s region and even age. This is because of the country’s diverse historic and cultural background that came from Amazigh (Berbers), Andalusians, Arabs, Jews, and Africans. However, the religious aspect of Ashura is not a strong element in Morocco’s celebration. Hence, many Moroccan practices during this holiday are not necessarily related to Islam and are more associated with Moroccan culture and heritage.
Even though fasting is not an obligation, some Moroccans will fast the ninth and the tenth day to come closer to God and receive blessings. For others, it is a time to feast with families and loved ones on delicious Moroccan delicacies that they spend the morning preparing together. Some women like to gather and celebrate together in one woman’s house while playing the taarija drum and chanting folklore music.
Families also like to visit their deceased relatives in the cemetery and pray over their tombs while reading the Quran and chanting Amdah and prayers. Moroccans like to take the opportunity to give to charity and donate toys and games to orphaned children.
In the province of Errachidia, the city Goulmima holds the Oudayn n Taachourt festival. The event has Jewish origins. Young people dress up in scary costumes and masks and go around the villages while singing in Amazigh, collecting dates, sugar, eggs, meat, or money to prepare Ashura dinner.
Morocco’s Ashura delicacies
Kourdass couscous is a traditional dish that Moroccans serve for lunch in Ashura gatherings with family and friends. Moroccans typically have vegetable couscous every Friday after prayers. On Ashura, however, they add the kourdass to the traditional dish.
Kourdass is a traditional Moroccan combination of dried meat and sheep’s innards that families save from the Eid al Adha sacrifice. The cook spices up the stomach, lungs, liver, and other meat with salt and cumin, and wraps it in the intestines to form a sort of sausage. They then hang the sausages and leave them to dry for 15 to 20 days, to be used in dishes later, such as the Ashura couscous.
Another Moroccan delicacy served on Ashura is Krichlate, also called Fqiqsat. They are little cookies presented with tea and other Moroccan pastries. Krichlat are available in pastry shops throughout the whole year and can also feature on the table during Eids, special celebrations, and weddings. Nonetheless, people in Morocco associate them most with Ashura.
Fakia, a mixture of dried fruits and nuts, is everyone’s favorite appetizer on Ashura. The week before, the souks will set up a market called Ashur, where you will find every type of dried fruit, nut, and candy, as well as other sweets and pastries.
Each family will combine the variety of treats in a huge bowl, and divide the mix into equal portions for each family member. Some families also share their fakia with their neighbors, friends, and extended families.
A joyous occasion for children
Youngsters mostly associate Ashura with toys and Zamzam. Zamzam is a traditional water-throwing game between children and even adults. The children wake up early to fill balloons, bottles, or buckets with water and strategize how they will splash their friends and relatives.
Historians say the ritual has Jewish origins, carried by Moroccan Jews throughout the centuries. They believed that water is sacred on Ashura, symbolizing life and prosperity because it was an important element in the survival of Moses and his followers.
Besides enjoying Zamzam, children also wear new clothes and, along with their friends, play with their new toys. Children may receive dolls, action figures, cars, and masks. These favorite gifts are available in the souk in every size and design, and at different prices so that families can buy their children the toy they want on their budget.
In addition to toys, the souks are filled with taarija drums. Children and adults in Morocco drum while singing on the night of Ashura. Artisans make Taarija from animal hides and the drums can come in all sizes and colors. Moroccans can also find them in big shopping centers that adjust their market for the Ashura celebration. Some families like to collect their taarija over the years to decorate the house or keep as mementos.
Hak Baba Aishur and Sha’ala
Hak Baba Aishur is a traditional Ashura practice for children in Morocco that is similar to the Western “trick or treat” Halloween tradition. Moroccan children go around the neighborhood and knock on doors to ask for “Hak baba Ashur” (the right of father Ashur), to receive sweets, sugar, dried food, and sometimes money.
At night Moroccans traditionally held a bonfire called sha’ala or tachaalt. Children would dance and sing around the fire with the supervision of adults. Girls would sing “Aishuri, Aishuri, delit elik cheouri” (my Ashur, my Ashur, I laid my hair on you). Some girls would even cut one centimeter of their hair and throw it in the fire for good luck, and to be blessed with healthier, longer hair next year.
Children also traditionally celebrated with firecrackers and fireworks, throwing them on the ground to ignite them. However, due to harmful incidents and the absence of supervision for the children, Moroccan authorities have banned the practices of firecrackers as well as the bonfire for the children and others’ safety.
Morocco is home to diverse ethnicities and cultures. This is visible in the origins of practices and rituals during Ashura and many other celebrations, adding to the country’s unique identity.