For centuries clothes have been a very important aspect of man kind’s life, as peoples clothing represents their culture, history, and shows many meanings, one of which is symbolism. There are many types of clothes other than daily and casual wear. For there are special types, say uniforms for work and so, and those formal dresses that are worn for special types of places and/or occasions. Take athletic teams as an example who have their own special uniform. We notice that their fans, who either show up at their matches or even stay at home to watch it on TV, wear the team’s uniform as a form of their support. Another example is whenever a social campaign is being held we usually notice those who run it or support the cause all agree to wear one specific colour. Be it a medical event such as the international diabetes day where people use light blue shirts, or breast cancer awareness campaigns where the logo is pink. These days and probably historical events have witnessed several political and other types of protests and demonstrations. In many of those protests and demonstrations maybe a specific colour / logo is used to show which party one belongs to and supports. All these examples show one great soul of order, co-operation and agreement between individuals of each group, this in fact gives them a form of strength and power. In Islam we have one other greater example of what I mean to explain, and it is the Ihram (the special two piece robe for Haj (pilgrimage) which is of non stitched material) that all those who perform Haj wear regardless of their race and colour. This Ihram worn by the millions of pilgrims shows a great form of equality & asceticism, and is a great symbolic appearance of the glory of Islam and Muslims.
When it comes to consolation and mourning, we see that historically and until this day people wear specific clothes to represent their grief and solace. The matter with these clothes was usually about their colour, which in most cases till this moment is black. Other cultures do have other colours or special uniforms, but regardless of this matter it was and remains a very important social semblance, obligation, and morality to wear those clothes; it even might be shameful and unmoral if one does note abide to this social dress code. We also know that what people wear usually expresses their condition, if one is happy he would wear bright & happy colours and titivate himself. In contrast, if one is sad and in sorrow he would restrain usually from colourful and decorative clothes, which could explain the kind of clothes worn while consolation. We notice this religious law in Islam where the widow whose husband just passed away is to restrain from several acts, one of which is to wearing decorative clothes or jewellery (Decorative clothes are not to be worn, neither yellow nor red or any colours that are socially considered joyful, even black if it contains those kind of features) (1). This law could also be found in other cultures and religions. In any event, black may be the most representative colour of sadness, grief, and mourning.
These days we are in the memory of the most greatest tragedy in history, which recurs year after year, Ashura’; the death of our Holy Imam Al-Hussain in Karbala’. Please observe these narrations carefully: Ibn qoloway narrates in his book Kamel Al-Ziyarat: “ An angel from the uppermost paradise descended to the ocean, spread his wings over it, then shouted a cry: Oh families of the ocean wear the clothes of grief, for the son of the prophet -peace be upon him and his household- is slaughtered.”(2) And what Al-Barqi in his book Al-Mahasen narrated, his script reaches up to Omar son of Ali son of Al-Hussain who said: “ When Al-Hussain son of Ali (peace be upon him) was murdered, the women of Bani Hashem wore black and Al-Massoh (a word probably referring to wool or yarn ), and they had not complained of heat nor cold. And Ali son of Al-Hussain prepared food for them for the Ma’tam (it refers to the place where the mourning ceremony is held for a period of time).” (3)
And so here we are these days of Muharram & Safar wearing black clothes. Along with them representing grief and consolation, they also are a form of call to the school of Ahlulbayt. Scholars answer about this issue that if people all wear black, others would start asking what the issue is all about? and this is a silent invitation to the school. Add aside to these previous points what was mentioned earlier. So this act of wearing black is a source of power of our doctrine, and became a logo and symbol. The reason why the tens of millions who attend Karbala’ for the Ziyarat ul-Arba’een (the visit on the fortieth day after the martyrdom of Al-Imam Al-Hussain) all together wearing black were called by one of the officials of a foreign country: “The Black Snake”. So this is one part of the Hussaini rituals which maintained our doctrine and religion, and preserved the memory of Ashoura’, which our scholars preserved.
I would like to end with this story of Meerza Jawad Al-Tabrizi -a great scholar and marja’ taqleed who passed away couple of years ago- narrated by Sayed Muneer Al-Khabaz: “He -Meerza Jawad- used to wear black throughout the months of Muharram & Safar, and behest to do so. One of my teachers told me once: I had an appointment with his eminence for a specific issue, so I went to his office and he was alone busy with writing. That day was a day questionable to be either the last day of Safar or the first day of Rabee’ ul-Awal, and so I depended on the calendar and didn’t wear black. His eminence was wearing black and when he saw me he said: “go back home and wear your black clothes, I will wait until you return.” He said: “I did what he asked and returned and finished what I went for.” This kind of dealing with one of the many Hussaini rituals -wearing black- shows us the importance of it and that it is in the place of Allah’s satisfaction and his Prophet and Household.”
This story isn’t odd, as our late scholars and current have preserved doing so, it is what they learned from the heritage/legacy of Ahlulbayt and their companions.. to read their biographies, fatwas (advisory/ religious law opinion), and narrations. (4)
Finally, let us all wear black and maintain this act in our consolation, May Allah guide us always to perform the Hussaini rituals, and to respect them and respect these holy and tragic days.
1: Revise the “Resala Al-Amaliya”
2: Al-Mahasen, volume 2, Narration number 195
3: Kamel Al-Zeyarat, chapter 21, Narration number 168
4: For further reading there is a nice incident in Behar Al-Anwar V.44 P.295