There seems to be no hadith in our books recommending or encouraging us to wear black clothes during mourning whether for ahlulbayt (as) or anyone else. Therefore the practice of wearing black clothes is highly questionable. It looks like a later period innovation which has now become an established practice.
On the contrary, and surprisingly, we find many hadith denouncing the practice of wearing black. Black clothing has been associated with the clothes of Pharoah, enemies of Ahlul Bayt, Banu Abbas and the inhabitants of the fire. The hadith are unconditional and make no exception for periods of mourning like Muharram. Neither has Islam ever associated the color black with grief. Are we unwittingly donning the clothes of the very enemies we condemn?
Hadith on Black Clothes
Following are the hadith on black clothes collected by Sheikh Saduq in his book Illal Sharaei (refer to chapter 56). These same hadith are also found in our other reliable collections like Al Kafi (Vol 6 Book of Outfits) and Faqih. (Click here for the Arabic text)
I said to Abu Abdullah (as), “Can I Pray in the black headgear (cap)?” He (as) said: “Do not Pray in it, for it is an apparel of the inhabitants of the Fire”.
Amir Al-Momineen (as) said in what he (as) taught his (as) companions: “Do not wear the black, for it is a clothing of Pharaoh”
Abu Abdullah (as) has said: “Rasool-Allah (s) used to dislike the black (clothes) except in three – the amaamah (turban), the khuff (a type of light footwear or socks), and the kisaa (cloak)”.
I was in the presence of Abu Abdullah (as), when a messenger of the Caliph Abu Al Abbas came over, calling him (as). So he (as) call for a rain coat of his (as). One aspect of it was black, and the other was white. So he (as) wore it. Then Abu Abdullah (as) said: “But, I (as) am (compelled to) wear it, and (although) I (as) know that it is a dress of the inhabitants of the Fire”.
Abu Abdullah (as) has said: “Allah (azwj) Mighty and Majestic Revealed to a Prophet (as) from His (azwj) Prophets (s): Say to the Believers, “Neither wear the clothings of My (azwj) enemies, nor eat the food of My (azwj) enemies, nor travel upon the ways of My (azwj) enemies, for you (also) would end upon being My (azwj) enemies just as they are My (azwj) enemies”.
Jibraeel (as) descended unto Rasool-Allah (s) wearing a black turban and a belt in which was a dagger. So Rasool-Allah (s) said to him: “O Jibraeel! What is this outfit?” He said: “This is an outfit of the sons of your (s) uncle Al-Abbas, O Muhammad (s)! Woe be unto the children of Al-Abbas as they will (kill) your (s) children”. So the Prophet (s) went out to Al-Abbas, so he (s) said: “O uncle! There would be harm to my (s) children from your children”. So he said, “O Rasool- Allah (s)! Shall I destroy myself?” He (s) said: “The Pen has dried up with was regards to it (meaning that the matter is ordained)”.
Ruling of the scholars on black clothes
The religious establishment has ruled that it is mustahab to wear black clothes for mourning of Ahlul Bayt (s). For example, the following question has been posed in Agha Sistani’s Istiftaat (Replies to Inquiries about the Practical Laws of Islam),
Question: What is your opinion about wearing black clothes in mourning for Imam Hussein (AS)?
Answer: Wearing black clothes in mourning for Sayyid alShohada (AS) is a commendable act.
[Source: Istiftaat (jurists’ decrees), alSayyid alSistani, p. 192.]
Other scholars have the same opinion (refer to Wearing Black In Shia Culture).
To declare an act as mustahab requires either one of the following:
- Amr/Hukm (command) or Qawl (saying) of Imams (s). Usually such hadith will also mention the reward/merit of performing that action.
- An action (Fayl) of the Imam (as) (performing the same act) recorded in books of hadith.
Without hadith (expressly prohibiting it) an action can at the most be declared as permissible, but never mustahab. So not sure how the mujtahids have arrived at this conclusion.
To declare an action as mustahab, the presence of one hadith is sufficient. For example we have numerous hadith on the rewards of Ziyarat (visitation of the graves of our Imams).
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: Ziyarat of Imam Husain (a.s.) is equivalent to twenty Hajjs and even more. [Source: Kamil Uz Ziyarat]
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: Allah will record the reward of freeing a thousand slaves for a one who goes to the Ziyarat of Imam Husain (a.s.).
There are no hadith unforunately stating merits or rewards for wearing black.
No mention of black clothes in Kamil uz Ziyarat
The book Kamil uz Ziyarat is one of the oldest, reliable, and most comprehensive collection of hadith on the etiquettes of performing Ziyarat of Ahlul Bayt (as). It is surprising that there is no mention of black clothes. The book is available here for download.
Justification through historical events
It doesn’t look like the practice of wearing black clothes started as a result of hadith or teachings of the Imams (s). But now it has become widespread in the culture to the point where it symbolizes Shia religion. It is an integral part of the mourning (azadari) rituals. We are not sure when this practice first started but through many generations it is now firmly established in the Shia societies. No scholar dare question it without the risk of being defamed and ostracized.
Not finding hadith, some people have searched through the books of history to find justification. For an example, refer to the following lengthy article compiled by a scholar:
Wearing Black In Shia Culture – By Vali-e-asr Institute, Qum, Iran
The justification produced in articles such as the above, are post-justification reasons. They could not have been strong enough to become the basis for the practice. They seem to be attempts to justify an action after the fact. Most of the evidence advanced are historical events which mention black clothes. Unfortunately, the majority of them are about women wearing black. One widely quoted incident for example to justify permissibility is the following:
“When Hussain bin Ali (as) was killed, the women of Bani Hashim wore black and smeared/wiped, and they did not complain from heat nor cold, and Ali bin al-Hussain (as) made for them (women of Bani Hashim) food for mourning”
[Source: al-Barqi, al-Mahaasin, vol. 2, ch. 25, pg. 420, hadeeth # 195]
The above incident raises the following pertinent questions:
- What were the men wearing?
- What was Imam Sajjad (s) himself wearing?
- Were the women wearing black outer covering (hijab) or black inner dress?
- How does this event make wearing black a mustahab (commendable) act for men?
Searching for justification in history seems to be a futile pursuit given that we have numerous hadith against this practice. It is also important to note that the Prophet (s) and Imams (as) never had a particular religious dress. They wore customary dresses of different colors throughout their lives. White was the preferred color but they also wore other colors. Simply finding an instance of the Imam wearing a particular color does not make it mustahab – unless the Imam (as) explicitly said so, as in the case of the color white.
It doesn’t take lengthy tortuous articles to justify black clothes. A one line hadith can decisively answer the question. Fiqh (religious practice) should be based on hadith and not on books of history. Why wear black when there is no reward for an action not mentioned in hadith? Not to mention all the hadith expressly prohibiting it. Therefore, not wearing black seems to be the safest option.