Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ashura is Coming!

No one in Fez can have failed to notice an increasing number of loud bangs from fireworks. However, it is little cause for alarm, merely a sign that Ashura is coming. Ashura, known also as the day of Zamzam, is celebrated on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar, just a month after Eid Al Adha
The day of Ashura is full of surprises!

The day is a religious celebration for both Shia’ and Sunni Muslims, the way Moroccans celebrate Ashura is unique and very different from the rest of the Arab and Islamic countries.

While Shiites commemorate the death of al-Hussein ibn Ali, son of the Prophet Mohammed's cousin, in Karbala, Sunnis commemorate the day God liberated Moses and his people from Egypt and its menacing Pharaoh.

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 on the tenth day.

Moroccans start celebrating Ashura the night before by setting tree branches on fire and roaming the streets with the torches while repeating chants related to the occasion. Sometimes Moroccans light a fire in the yards of their houses and start jumping over it.

This ritual is called “Sh'ala (Arabic: الشعالة‎‎),” meaning “flames,” and is mainly practiced in working class districts and desert areas.

The following day, Moroccan youths throw water at their friends and neighbours as a gesture of intimacy that is said to have started with women’s bathing in cold water on Ashura morning, a ritual believed to bring prosperity for the coming year.

In the desert areas, residents wake up before sunrise and start sprinkling water on everything they own that is related to the land like the fields, crops, agricultural equipment and cattle.

Due to the strong connection between Ashura and water, said to be related to the parting of the sea by Moses, the day came to be called Zamzam day, in reference to the holy water of Zamzam well in Mecca.

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. Each tribe invites another to join in the customary practice of splashing buckets of water on each other throughout the day.

Nowadays the celebration is different, as it has become risky to splash of water on people with mobile phones as they are normally less than impressed!.

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 neighbourhood get together early in the morning and start playing their taàrijas as they parade around the streets.

In a ritual is called Heq baba Achour 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.

Have fun during Ashura - but watch out for fireworks and buckets of water! 


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