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Muharram – Faith or fashion?

November 27, 2012

I watched in awe as a woman walked in wearing a long black kameez, with intricate white floral pattern along the neckline, running all the way down her kameez and finishing off in neat tassels. Then another walked in behind her in a white kurta with self-colored geometric patterns and the prettiest black and white lace I had ever seen, consciously placed along the edge of her long kurta, finely matched with a printed churidaar giving her attire a perfect finish. While trying to digest this, a young girl of about 15 years of age, walked in next wearing a rusty brown kameez with a bold slant cut at the bottom. She had a huge black screen-printed motive in front that was disturbingly screaming for attention and matched perfectly with her black tights.

If you think this is a description of a fashion show, then you won’t be completely wrong. The only difference is all these women dressed in black and white are those coming to a majlis gathering in covered heads – and yes, for anyone who’s observant; this does distract you from listening to the sermon.

I belong to the Shia community myself and have been brought up in a conservative family with strong religious beliefs. My purpose is not to mock Muharram but to bring to your realisation that the fashion around us is changing so drastically that people often forget the purpose and significance of these days in all their wardrobe preparations. A color that was initially worn during the month of Muharram for the purpose of mourning the martyrdom of the Shia Imam, HussainIbn Ali, has now become an element of fashion.

People start ordering black clothes prior to the month in order to keep their wardrobes ready. In fact, in order to keep up with the demand for the colour, many fashion outlets showcase an entire ‘Muharram collection’ of black clothes close to the start of the month. Shops and entire markets are filled with black and white prints with big attractive floral designs and intricate patterns. Fashion designers claim that they sometimes have to stop taking orders because they are overloaded with orders for Muharram clothes.

I may sound a bit chauvinistic but sadly this is real. Most of them may not be turning this into a fashion fiesta on purpose and making clothes particularly for Muharram may even be a necessity for many, as they don’t normally wear black on regular days. However, special preparation of clothes for Muharram, in the same manner you would do for Eid or any other festive occasion, is disconcerting.

The concept of ‘azadari’ in Muharram was started by the family of the Prophet after the death of his grandson HussainIbn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. They did not ‘dress-up’ when they began mourning for the fallen.

Our concept of wearing black is not any different to Christians wearing black on funerals or the Hindus wearing white. Even though they wear plain black and white on funerals of regular people, I think it is the best way to symbolise mourning. Why can’t we keep it as simple as them? Why can’t we respectfully mourn the leaders of our religion in simplicity? Why does it have to become extravagant to the point of becoming fashionable?

I’ve even attended a majlis where dinner is lavishly catered and the menu consists of everything from finger-licking biryani and qorma to the much-loved warm gulab jamuns served with vanilla ice cream.

With all due respect, it felt nothing less than a wedding in black.

Whatever happened to the simple menu of daal chawal that was once a trademark at all majlises and even funerals?

People have every right to serve food and conduct their gatherings at a large scale but turning these gatherings into glamorous feasts defeats the purpose of mourning and the significance of the month. It is disappointing to see how people unintentionally take away the essence of mourning and turn it into a celebration-like event.

I say unintentionally because I am aware that people make a lot of effort to be presentable for such gatherings and also make it comfortable for those they invite over for the sermons they hold in their houses. There is no reason to doubt their faith but the fact that they get carried away in the process is quite evident.

Amongst all this, I remember an old lady who lived in our neighborhood. Being from outside the community, the way she respected Muharram was worthy of praise. Always dressed in crisp plain white shalwar kameez, she came to any neighborhood majlis she was invited to and paid her respects.

There are still many people like her as well. It doesn’t matter what faith you follow, the beauty lies in the simplicity of your personality and how to present yourself. That is what reflects and leaves an impression – not becoming part of the trend.

Meem Fay is a diabolic angel always on an eye-chase for sensitive issues.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.