What is Ashura? The Tenth day of Muharram

Posted by Wessam Hashem on Thursday, October 25, 2018


Most countries today use the Gregorian calendar, but Islam follows the lunar calendar as many countries in the east do. The beginning of each year occurs in a month called Muharram and is marked by traditional New Year celebrations. Muharram doesn’t only mark the start of a new year, but also a holy month in Islam due to a holiday called Ashura. Ashura, meaning ‘tenth’, is a sacred holiday observed worldwide in the Islamic religion which begins at sunset on the 10th day of Muharram and ends at sunset the following day.

The History of Ashura

Ashura has two very different meanings to the Shia and Sunni Muslims, although both consider this a sacred and important day.

For Shia Muslims this day commemorates the death and great sacrifice of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, in the Battle of Karbala. On the other hand, Sunni Muslims celebrate this day to remember two occasions; the time that Noah was saved from the great flood and the time that Allah (God) parted the Red Sea for the Prophet Moses and his followers, so they could escape from Egypt.

Ashura Traditions

For Sunni Muslims, Ashura is a day to reflect and give thanks and it is marked by a modest celebration shared with family and friends. People gather together to share food and desserts, and some may exchange gifts, although this is not done by everyone.

Many Muslims also take part in an optional fast during Ashura where they don’t eat during daylight hours and abstain from negative activity such as fighting and gossip. This fast may be done to erase the sins for the entire year and to show respect for God and His Prophets who are believed to have fasted on this day.

Traditional Ashura Foods

As with most Islamic holidays, food and desserts are a very important part of Ashura and there is a variety of delicious traditional dishes to be made at this time of year. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a meal on Ashura, you are in for a treat that will delight your taste buds.

Traditionally Muslims mark the day by making a customary dessert that has the same name as the holiday, Ashura, also known as ‘Noah’s pudding’. It is believed that this is the world’s oldest dessert and the story goes that it was first made by Noah himself when food supplies began running low on the Ark.

He combined many different ingredients that were left in storage such as cereal grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in a pot and the result was a tasty pudding that kept everyone well fed until the ark reached land due to its rich nutritional content.These days different Middle-Eastern countries make Noah’s pudding in different ways but they all typically include a combination of ground wheat, rice, chickpeas, beans, and dried fruit like apricots, dates, plums, figs, raisins, apples and pears that are added to a pot and cooked together.

It is sweetened with sugar and garnished with a mixture of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and cinnamon. Large amounts of Noah’s pudding are made in big pots on Ashura so that the dish can be given to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and people in need as a sign of peace and friendship. It is also common for charities and community centers to make Noah’s pudding and distribute it to people in the community including the less fortunate.

Other traditional Ashura foods include:

Harees (from the Arabic word ‘harasa’ meaning to mash), is a dish that is believed to have been the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite meal and many Muslims make it on Ashura. It is a combination of skinless wheat, white pepper, salt and meat and can be quite a strenuous meal to make due to the amount of stirring by hand involved. The meat (which may be left over from the Eid al-Adha celebrations) is initially cooked on the bone before it is removed to be mashed together with the grains.The resulting dish looks like a smooth porridge with threads of meat running through it. Women would often get together to make Harees in a large pot, and then to distribute the Harees to other family members and friends.

Gueddid, a Moroccan dish made at Ashura using thin strips of dried and cured meat which are added to stews and couscous.

Krichlate, a small shortbread cookie made using flour, sugar, orange blossom water, fennel, sesame seeds, and anise seeds.

Fakia, a traditional food platter made up of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and sweets is delivered to loved ones on Ashura.

Although this day may have different meanings to different people, Muslims across the world can agree that Ashura is a special day to remember and give thanks to the Prophets for all the immense sacrifices that were made for mankind.



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