Today, 15 November 2013, is the Islamic festival of Achoura, from ‘ashara’, the Arabic for ten. It is the tenth day of the month of Muharram, the first month in the Muslim calendar (this year is 1435). The significance of the figure ten is also reflected in the practice of ‘zakat’ – one of the five pillars of Islam – when people offer a tenth of their income to the poor.
Devout Muslims may also fast during the days around Achoura. The act of fasting at this time is said to date back to when Moses fasted to show his gratitude to God for freeing the Israelites from Egypt. After the Prophet Mohammed observed Jews fasting on this day in Medina, Muslims also adopted this practice.
In Morocco, a majority Sunni Muslim country, Achoura is a day of festivities and celebrations. Coming from a Scottish cultural background, the Festival and the days leading up to it, seem to me like a combination of Hogmanay (new year), Guy Fawkes (fireworks) and Hallowe’en (guising) festivals.
Essentially, this is a festival for children. The shops are filled with toys (Chinese manufactured plastic items abound) and sweets. Traditional ‘taarija’ drums – handheld ceramic drums stretched with a goat skin – are sold (and played) on every street corner. As the run-up to the festival coincided with the autumn half-term school holidays, groups of children and teenagers gathered outside until well into the night, playing their drums, singing and lighting bonfires. Older children dare each other to commit increasingly risky acts and occasionally games with fireworks and bonfires end in injury.
The festivities culminate today, which happens to be the weekend ahead of the Independence Day holiday on Monday. All the more reason for celebration!