In the Maghreb, men have to pay 'the right to salt' on Eid day
On Eid, a man should never give back his morning cup of coffee empty. He should put a piece of jewellery for the women of the household, the least he can do to pay back 'the right to salt,' believe communities in the Maghreb region.
'The right to salt' is named as such because during Ramadan, women, who usually are the main cooks, have to taste the salt in the food before serving iftar to the family. Tradition in Islam allows tasting without swallowing during fasting, and accepts women's sacrifices to prepare the best food for the family.
Moroccan sociologist Youssra Tafraouti says the tradition originated in Tunisia, reportedly during the Ottoman era (between the 16th and 18th centuries), before making its way to the other countries of the Maghreb region.
Tradition states that a wealthy merchant was sitting with his family one morning of a holiday distributing what is called 'Eiddiya,' which were dirhams of silver and gold to his children until a piece of it fell into the coffee cup. The wife said, as a joke, "This is my share". Later, the wife found that the coin was very small so she went to her husband and noted this amount is "not even equal to her right of the salt", and so the husband compensated her with a dinar of gold.
While the historical accuracy of this story is up for debate, many families in the Maghreb chose to embrace the tradition as a to show gratitude and love for women in the community.
However, presently, many have critiqued the tradition as the product of a patriarchal system, which reasserts traditional gendered roles, such as women remaining in the kitchen and men being the sole breadwinners of the family.
"Things have changed today, we all work outside and inside the house so I see this tradition as outdated for our society that strives for equality," argues Mehdi, a 25-year-old Moroccan man.
On the other hand, others contend that "the right to salt" at its core a "feminist" concept which compensates for women's unpaid labour in the household and reminds partners and society-at-large to never take women for granted.
"I am a pro-equality person. But reality shows that men do not participate in the house chores as much as women. And as now we multitask working outside and inside the house, the right to salt is rightfully ours," Khadija, a 43-year-old teacher, said to TNA.
As the debate persists, 'the right to salt' is not only controversial but also financially challenging. In this economy, dropping gold jewellery in a cup does not seem like the most realistic and affordable gift for the vast majority.
Nevertheless, many men in the community try their best to preserve the tradition by opting for more affordable gifts that do not take away from their intention to show love to their partners during Eid day.
In a silver store in the old city of Rabat, three men stand at the variegated collection of jewellery displayed at the glass counter, looking puzzled.
Abdelkader, a 56-year-old man, made his choice on a wide bangle engraved with traditional Moroccan marks. He asked everyone in the store about their opinions before receiving an approval voice note from his daughter, saying her mother will absolutely love the gift. Laughter and smiles enlightened the store after Abdelkader made everyone part of his stressful yet wholesome purchase.
"Nothing can pay back my wife’s sacrifices but the right to salt is not about that. It is about showing gratitude. So I do my best to bring her something every year no matter how small it is," Abdelkader, a 56-year-old man, said to TNA, as he waited for the shopkeeper to wrap his gift.
Morocco sociologist Youssra Tafraouti says, unfortunately, that there are indicators that the tradition is going extinct, "as every other tradition in the Moroccan society," she told TNA.
The researcher mainly blames the hyper-individualistic economy and sociable mindset that looks down on most of the traditions of the Maghreb.
"Nowadays we are incapable of living slowly without overanalysing everything in our lives and for that we are loosing many traditions," Tafraouti argued.