Friday, October 31, 2014

The Day of Ashura is Coming - Be Prepared for Surprises!

One of the most unusual celebrations in Morocco is The Day of Ashura. To outside observers it appears as a mixture of of halloween, feasting and a playful water fight but it is an ancient and fascinating tradition.  The View from Fez investigates...

The Muslim world celebrates the Day of Ashura on November 3rd or 4th, depending on which country you are in. It is the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar.

While the Day of Ashura in Sunni Morocco has been traditionally a day of celebration and joy, it is celebrated differently by Shia Muslims, who see it as a day of mourning.

In Morocco the local customs associated with Ashura vary across the country. People exchange pastry and mixes of nut fruits and dried raisins and apricots. Children play with fireworks in the streets and on the eve of Ashura light a fire called the Sh'ala (Arabic: الشعالة‎) and parents and family buy toys for their children.

A Sh'ala  fire on Ashura eve

Some scholars suggest that these customs may be a legacy of the Ummayyad rule who, at the time, sought to create a popular public display of joy on Ashura day in order to humiliate and counter the mourning of their enemies, the supporters of Ali (Shi'a). The Shia regard this day as a great catastrophe since it was the day of the death of Hussein and the slaughtering of his army at the battle of Karbala. However, today in Morocco, the event is not at all associated with the Shia-Sunni conflict and has little religious significance and is seen as merely a folk tradition.

Another odd custom very close to Halloween is called "the Right of Buba (pappa) Ashur" is observed in some regions of Morocco. It is an activity for children during the festival of Ashura, during which children wander from one house to another wearing masks and fancy dress costumes asking for candy and dried fruits or even money and asking the question "the right of Baba Aichor?" of anyone who answers the door.  This tradition has become famous recently when it is has been considered as a substitute for fireworks which usually lead to a range of accidents.

In some Moroccan cities the tenth day of Muharram is called Zamzam day and it is the custom to spray water people. Whoever wakes up first sprays the rest of the family with cold water before taking to the streets where crowds of children spray every passerby with of water.

Over the course of the first hours of the morning there are fierce "water battles," especially among friends and neighbors. Whoever refuses to celebrate with "Zamzam water," by sprinkling a little of it on his clothes, may be exposed to a number of volunteers taking turns dumping all of their water on his clothes.

The day is capped off with a meal of couscous with dried meat saved especially for this day from the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha - in particular the tail of the sheep which is used along with sun dried meat called “kurdas”. Kurdas contains liver, fat and lots of spices, wrapped around the stomach and tied tightly with the small intestines then stored in an open sunny place ready for Zamzam. The name "Zamzam" is a reference to the holy water of the Zamzam well in Mecca.

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.

Some researchers say that the Moroccan Ashura Day can trace its origins back to Jewish and Islamic traditions and commemorates the day God liberated Moses and his people from Egypt and its menacing Pharaoh. The strong connection between Ashura and water is said to be related to the parting of the sea by Moses.

Islamic researcher Idris Hani is convinced of the day's Jewish origins. “It was originally the Jews who started the water ritual in celebration of Moses parting of the sea,” he says. “Since a big Jewish community lived in Morocco, all Moroccans inherited this ritual.”

Hani explains that Ashura rituals are extended to the next day, the 11th of Muharram, as merchants refuse to engage in any transactions on Ashura. “They call it the day of Waste and Usury since they believe that any profit they get on that day will not be blessed by God. This is because they earn so much the day before during the celebrations, especially selling sweets and toys to children.”

Ashura in Goulmima

In the Moroccan city of Goulmima there is a large street festival where people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks. In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura. With only tambourines and handclaps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers. Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.

The 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 is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back.

Fasting during Ashura is recommended but not obligatory. Moroccans also used to distribute alms and Zakat to the poor and those in need.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Free Concert in Fez Friday: Singer Michael Miller

American singer/songwriter Michael Miller will be giving a free concert at the ALIF Riad this Friday night, October 31 at 7.30 PM. His expressive melodies and lyrics are largely inspired by love-gone-wrong.
While unhappy relationships may be hard on the heart, they are good for creativity, says the Los Angeles based Miller. "My songs are good, sad, heartbreak songs. They are actually hopeful songs, but other people interpret them as heartbreaking."

Yet Miller has reason to be happy with his life. While he is playing solo on this trip to Morocco, back home his regular band is formed of a floating group of top drawer musicians, including drummer Butch Norton and bassist David Sutton, who also both play with Lucinda Williams; and guitarist Jason Roberts, who also plays with Norah Jones.

He lives near the beach in Los Angeles, and wakes up to the sound of the ocean. Born in LA, Miller's parents headed for Northern California when he was young, and he made his way back to the big city when he was old enough to have the choice. He grew up in a musical household.

“My mother performed and sang professionally with her sisters and toured state fairs and made regular appearances on television and radio shows," he says. "There was constant singing in the Miller house. I can remember her rocking me to sleep with the Mockingbird lullaby, sweet a cappella hymns each Sunday at church, backseat harmony choruses on our long, summer vacation road trips. It was as natural and normal as exhaling or eating or laughing.”

Having learned guitar as a teenager, Miller began to write songs seriously while in his twenties. Regular travelling has also been a source of inspiration. "I love getting lost, literally, in strange lands, diving in and immersing myself in the local culture...It’s sort of like soul mining. I get to go dig for beauty and truth in other people’s backyards and the discoveries and treasure-finds typically end up in my songs in some way.”

In Fez for a month, hosted by the American Language Center, Miller believes that Moroccan traditional society has much to offer. "In the West, we are spinning; trying to achieve empty pursuits...I come from a traditional family; a slower way of living, so I can understand how things are here. At first, when you come in with a Western way of doing things, you think, "Hurry up. But hurry up for what? Life is one long thing.

"All artists question why they make art, and if it will endure. And then you come here and you see that art is a part of life."

When: Friday October 31 at 7.30 PM
Where: ALIF Riad, 6 Derb Drissi, Fez Medina.
Cost: Free

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Moroccan Public Sector Workers to Strike on October 29th

Demonstrations and disruptions are possible during a nationwide strike by public sector workers on the 29th of October

Morocco's three largest labour unions have called for a 24-hour national strike in the public and private sectors on October 29th to protest against government reforms of pensions, subsidies and other areas.

Morocco is under pressure from international lenders to cut public spending and to reform its subsidy and pension systems in order to mend state finances.

"It is a warning for a 24-hour strike in the public, private and agricultural sectors on Oct. 29," the Moroccan Labour Union (UMT), Democratic Labour Confederation (CDT) and Democratic Federation of Labour (FDT) said in a statement.

They have joined forces this year to protest at government policies.

The planned strike would put pressure on the government's plans to carry out more reforms, such as on its costly pension system, which were expected to be included in the 2015 national budget.

Unions accuse the government of undermining Moroccan living standards by ending some subsidies, and planning a pension system reform that would hit workers' earnings and savings.

Morocco spent heavily in 2011 by increasing salaries and subsidies to calm pro-democracy unrest triggered by the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled autocrats in other countries, including neighbouring Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. But since 2013, the Islamist-led government has been cutting spending mainly by reducing subsidies, public investment and the public sector payroll.

However, the government agreed in April to increase the minimum wage by 10 percent in 2014 and 2015.

Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to reform its subsidy system to make its public finances more sustainable over the long term, it has ended subsidies of gasoline and fuel oil and reduced diesel subsidies in recent months, but has kept more sensitive cooking gas, wheat and sugar subsidies.

Morocco expects its budget deficit to fall to 4.9 pct of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014 after it hit 7.3 percent in 2012, and 5.4 percent in 2013.

The deficit of the Moroccan Pension Fund (CMR) for public sector workers is currently on track to reach 750 million Moroccan dirhams ($85.82 million) in 2014, 2.8 billion dirhams in 2015 and 14.4 billion dirhams in 2017, according to government figures. The accumulated deficit would reach 135 billion dirhams in 2030 if there are no reforms.

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Happy Islamic New Year - 1436

The View from Fez wishes its readers  a very Happy New Year - 1436

Bonne Année à tous les musulmans au Maroc et dans le monde  -  Happy new year 1436

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A Halloween Party in Fez - October 31st

Halloween is coming and it's party time at Mezzanine

(Click image to enlarge)

If you're in the mood for dressing up and having some fun save the date Friday the 31st of October!

MEZZANINE 17 Kasbat Chams - opposite the entrance to the Jnan Sibil Gardens (en face de l'entree Jnan Sibil Jardin) Reservation/Enquiries: 00212 (0) 535638668

Halloween Halloween or Hallowe'en is a contraction of "All Hallows' Evening" also known as All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve. It is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day. It is the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all departed believers. The traditional focus of All Hallows' Eve revolves around the theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death."

According to many scholars, All Hallows' Eve is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Féminin Pluriel ~ Exhibition on Gender Equality

An exciting new exhibition in Marrakech is set to open on October 31st. Féminin Pluriel is an artistic participatory platform working for Social Design and Gender Equality through the work of international artists in residence together with anonymous women of the Marrakech Medina

Nouss nouss
Visual Arts and Sound – Workshops – Residency –
Conferences – Projections – Performances
EXHIBITION from 31 October 2014 until 30 April 2015
VERNISSAGE: 31 October 2014 from 1800 to 2100 hrs

ANIKO: portrait by Rey Gost

This first edition of the Féminin Pluriel collective is the fruit of a particularly effective partnership between the artistic collective Morocco Experience & Projects, the Graphic and Media Design department of ESAV and the Dar Bellarj Foundation – two centres of cultural learning, meetings and sharing of ideas, conceived and created by Susanna Biedermann, represented today by the foundation that bears her name.

The Foundation, which is open to all in the medina, is under the direction of Maha Elmadi,and has already hosted workshops for several years now called “Mamans douées de Dar Bellarj” (Gifted Mums of Dar Bellarj). It is the hub of this first collective; it is here that for more than six months, from April until October 2014, almost all the works commissioned for Féminin Pluriel have been carried out, and it is here also that they will be presented for six months, from October 2014 until April 2015.

Mathka Paris

The purpose of this collective, unique to Marrakech, is to pay tribute to the talent of those women who carry out craft activities at home which go unseen to the public. It is also to explore the links between contemporary art and the centuries-old handicrafts of Marrakech, creating the setting for intelligent dialogue between female visual artists and craftswomen. As a result of this, all commissioned works are elaborated upon on the basis of the experience of shared heritage, life journey, sensitivity and knowledge of the national culture.

A work by Sylvie Franquet

The opening of a new space called ‘Diwan of Dar Bellarj’ plans to host, every Friday from 1900 to 2100 hrs, screenings, conferences and lectures followed by debates led by Abdelghani Fennane, Juan Asís Palao Gómez, Hicham Bouzid, Corinne Cauvin and Aniko Boehler.

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