Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mimouna: A Tale of Two Neighbors

Emine Meral*

I am not too familiar with other cultures, but in Turkish culture, referring back to the wisdom of our ancestors is quite popular. It’s amazing to see the countless beauty you can find if you do the research and dig a little deep.

I recently was introduced to an ancient cultural/religious celebration while at a family gathering with Jewish friends, in honor of the end of Passover. This tradition was practiced mostly in the Northern African country of Morocco.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Jewish holiday of Passover, Jews are not permitted to eat products from leavened flour, cakes, biscuits, bread and the like. The period of Passover is usually 7 days, 8 for some, and so for a whole week they are required to clean their house of even the smallest trace of flour and wheat products.

If we go way back in time to Morocco during the Passover season, we would see that when the Jews were cleaning out their homes of flour and the like, they couldn’t just throw it out or consume all of it before Passover arrived because they had it in large quantities (as everyone made their own bread at home back then). What they did instead is certainly much more contemplative. They took it over to their Muslim neighbor’s house and put it in their trust for the duration of Passover. The Muslim neighbors held on to the flour, wheat and other products and when the 7 (or 8) days were over they would take what had been entrusted to them back to their rightful owners, their Jewish neighbors. In celebration of their redemption, the Jews would cook fine pastries and breads with the flour their Muslim neighbors had brought back and they would have a feast together rejoicing over the blessing God bestowed upon them. This feast, this celebration came to be called Mimouna.

As we sat together in our friend’s living room and listened to the story behind the tradition we thought about the where the name of this festival might have come from.

Emunah, a word in Hebrew, means to be firm and secure, reminding us of trustworthiness and being secure in one’s word.

Amaana(t), a word in Arabic, has the meaning of leaving a thing/person to another person’s care for safekeeping.

The name Emin(e) is a name in Turkish (also having the Arabic version as Amin(a) ) that comes to the meaning of being trustworthy, being true in one’s word.

Needless to say, it was decided in our pleasant circle of Muslim and Jewish friends that all these words were certainly connected to the concept and spirit of Mimouna.

In one sense, the passing back and forth of provisions can be considered an ordinary display of neighborliness and friendship. When thought about in a deeper sense, it truly is meaningful. Though our living standards have upped considerably since the times we refer back to when speaking of the Mimouna celebrations in Morocco, we must try to consider and relate to the living conditions of those days. Back then, people had to work hard labor, striving under the hot sun, to be able to provide their families with the provisions we today take for granted. And so, being able to trust all that hard-earned food over to someone else and being able to have it returned untouched was quite a big deal.

The Jews and Muslims of Morocco, as they are our ancestors in one sense, convey to us a great wisdom we are so in need of today; the spirit of true neighborliness, the spirit of true friendship and trust. Prophet Muhammad says, “You are not a true believer if you harm your neighbor.”

This tradition needn’t apply to only people of the Islamic faith, or any other major or minor religion you can think of. We are all believers in something, even those who put aside religion altogether believe in humanity, doing good and striving for a better tomorrow. In the globalized village of a world we live in today, it is quite likely that we are living next door to someone as equally human as we are, the only difference being that they may be from a different culture, religion or ethnicity.

I believe that the best way we can honor our ancestors and fulfill our true selves is by taking from their wisdom and being that neighbor, that one person whom you can trust with whatever you need safekeeping, that Emin(e) who is undoubtedly Emunah with their Amaana.

That evening at our Muslim friend’s house we had come together with Jewish and Muslim friends, enjoying the array of dishes that had been prepared with sincerity and love, by both our wonderful hosts and by every guest who had brought in their special dish. We had in our own way and style celebrated Mimouna, thanks to a very special Rabbi, as he was the one who told us of the story and in a sense revived the tradition in this small circle.

I leave you with the prayer of bringing together your own beautiful versions of Mimouna with the neighbors and friends around you…

*Emine Meral is a volunteer freelance writer for Pacifica Institute

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