Senegal: Ashura celebration with hints of paganism

APA - Dakar (Senegal)

The Muslim community in Senegal celebrate Ashura, also known locally as "Tamxarit" a feast which gradually loses its splendor due mostly to the pressure of Muslim clerics who constantly denounce its pagan side.

On second thought, these clerics’ criticism is founded, since Ashura, which is the tenth day of the Muslim year, is the pretext for many fanciful practices drawn from various sources of imagination. Still, people are used to stuffing themselves with meat and couscous at night.

According to the tradition, those who fail to eat much more than they usually do, will be the subject of their ancestors’ wrath, who will drag them from their bed or, even worse, condemn them to survive the whole year with insatiable hunger.

With this in mind, people will pay much attention to the couscous of ‘Tamxarit’, especially on the part of women who will use all types of ingredients likely to enhance its taste and whet the appetite of greedy people.

Talking about the couscous, Marieme Ndiaye, 72, recalls that during her youth, the dish was cooked with seven seeds of groundnuts, cowpeas, tubers and squashes like ‘yomb’ and ‘gang,’ supposed to confer long life. Marieme also mentions the meat that goes with it and that should come from the ‘tong tong’ (sharing) of the beef bought by the leaders of the local mosque, thanks to the contributions of family fathers.

These days, these ingredients used for prepare the couscous are replaced by others, which are more modern and less convivial. For example, beef has been replaced by chicken bought in markets, supermarkets, or from small poultry farmers, whereas old tubers, believed to give long life, are forgotten in favor of butter, sugar, grapes, and more industrial products that are meant to give the couscous a better taste.

Very widespread nowadays, this way of preparing the couscous irks nutritionists who warn against diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) but apparently people couldn’t care less, as the "bomb cere" (couscous assorted with fats) continues unabated in Senegal.

In his sermon last Friday, the Imam of the Mermoz Mosque, a neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Dakar, said he witnessed the death of three people who had eaten couscous prepared the modern way.

Such testimonies should bring to reason the Senegalese who, for the most part, have stopped celebrating Ashura locally called "Tajaboon."

One of the most decried practices of "Tamxarit" consists of disguising oneself as men for women and vice versa, before going for long “trick of treat” processions accompanied with songs, drum-beating, castanets or any other utensil that can make noise.

Stingy people or those who are reluctant to give money of in-kinds take the risk of being robbed, and this, without any remorse, because the tradition says that during this night God forgives all bad acts, whether they are premeditated or not...

Fuming with rage just by hearing the word ‘Tajaboon,’ Mr. Fall, an Arabic School teacher insists that this is “a practice prohibited by Islam.”

Rejecting all these habits and customs associated with Ashura, which he considers as pure paganism, Oustaz Fall recommends that in the aftermath of the 10th day of the year, people “fast, cut their nails, cuddle a child and spend one’s time reading the Koran.

We are really far from "Tajaboon" and this other traditional practice of putting kohl around the eyes to, when you wake up in the morning, to scrutinize the sky hoping, according to tradition, to see Fatimata Bintu, the daughter of Prophet Mohamed (pbuh), quickly unhooking clothes from her annual laundry.


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