In the light of Hobsbawm's definition of tradition, since we are in the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, the tradition that first comes to mind is the Day of Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram. We keep this tradition alive in America with different implications and by celebrating it more effusively than in Turkey.
Before moving to the United States, I had frankly never thought about the importance of ashura -- that is, an important day in the Muslim year -- except beyond ashura pudding, or Noah's pudding, that is a Turkish dessert traditionally served by women on that day. What I remember about that day from my childhood is that our neighbors knocked on our door and distributed the Noah's pudding they had just prepared and cooked. What is the meaning of this day, and what makes it significant for us in America?
According to the traditional narrative, Noah's ark landed on Mount Ararat, or the Mountain of Ağrı, in northeastern Turkey. Noah and his companions wanted to celebrate this day, but food supplies were almost exhausted. What were left (especially several types of grains and dried fruits such as apricot, grape and fig) was cooked together to prepare a special dish that is known today as ashura pudding.
Ashura coincides with Yom Kippur, also known as Day of Atonement, that is the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Jews observe this day with a 25 hour period of fasting and intensive prayer to seek forgiveness from God for their sins. While not abolishing this religious tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (a.s.) encouraged Muslims to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. Hence, ashura is the day of fasting and remembering God for Sunni Muslims, while for Shi'a Muslims, it is for commemoration of the day on which Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (a.s.), was martyred in the battle of Karbala by Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph. Alevis in Turkey and Bektashis in the Balkans also celebrate the ashura tradition with special prayers and distributions of ashura pudding.
When considering its meanings, ashura appears to be one of the greatest ways to go about interfaith dialogue, especially if you are living in a country that is completely different from the country in which you grew up. Therefore, based on the story of Noah's ark and his special feast, the ashura tradition is kept alive by Turkish volunteers. This year, ashura pudding will be prepared in homes, mostly by Turkish women, and information its ingredients will be posted in caution on each cup of pudding. Men will accompany women in distributing Noah's pudding in the hopes of establishing a dialogue between American and Turkish cultures, leaving aside all cultural biases and prejudices. We hope that as the ashura tradition leads to the development of a cultural space that is responsive to this shared tradition and its emergent interactions, it will also contribute to the development of positive interactions between the different denominations of Islamic tradition, such as Shi'ism, Alevism and Sunnism.