There are no hadith in any of our canonical collections (kutub-e-araba, wasail-us-shia, bihar-ul-anwar) where the Ahlul bayt (as) have recommended that Shias wear black clothes to mourn Imam Hussain (as). Without hadith any action practiced in the name of religion becomes a bid’ah (innovation). See our article Defintion and Scope of Bid’ah.
Not only is wearing black clothes bid’dah, but it is also opposed to the teachings of Ahlul Bayt (as) who have severely denounced it. 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 Shias unwittingly donning the clothes of our enemies? Or worse, all the people claiming to be Shias today and donning black clothes are knowingly or unknowingly enemies of Ahlul bayt (as) – since the words of masumeen (as) can never be false.
Scope of this article
This article is concerned with the dress of men and not of women, as the hadith on black clothes are addressed to men. In Islam there are different rulings for dress for men and women anyways (for example, silk is allowed for women but not for men). In addition, whenever we mention the word “mourning” we mean the mourning for Ahlul Bayt (s).
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 scholars have declared that wearing black clothes for mourning of Ahlul Bayt (s) is mustahab (recommended) and carries reward. 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). These scholars clearly promote bid’ah and anti-hadith practices.
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) consistently recorded again usually through hadith.
Without hadith (expressly prohibiting it) an action can at the most be declared as permissible. But never mustahab. This is another instance where the religious establishment have mislead the people and involved them in detestable acts.
To explain this point further, let us take the example of Ziyarat of Imam Hussain (as). If someone asked the question: Is it mustahab to perform Ziyarat? All it takes to answer the question is one hadith and the matter is resolved immediately. Not only are there numerous hadith where the Imams (s) who have encouraged and commanded us to go for Ziyarat but they have also mentioned the rewards for this action: For example refer to the following hadith from Kamil uz Ziyarat:
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.).
Where is that single hadith to prove that wearing black is mustahab? Ask your religious scholar for the hadith. When you attend your next muharram majlis, ask your scholar this simple question: “Please narrate to me a hadith from Ahlul bayt (as) where they have asked us to wear black clothes in muharram and have mentioned the thawab (merit/reward) of this action”
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). There is no mention of black clothes. The book is available here for download. One would expect to see at least one hadith to support black clothes.
Association of the color black with mourning
Again this is a man-made association and not Islamic. There are no hadith to support this.
Justification through historical events
The practice of wearing black clothes did not start as a result of hadith or teachings of the Imams (s). But it has become so widespread in the culture so as to become a symbol of Shia religion. It is now considered 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.
Since there are no hadith to justify it, the scholars have scoured the books of history to search for an incident where the Imams (s) were clad in black during Muharram. Unable to find it, they then searched for other occasions where the Imams (as) were seen wearing black. Or perhaps, people wearing black in the presence of the Imam (as). 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 all post-justification reasons. They were not strong enough to become the basis for the practice. They are 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?
It is a futile pursuit to search for justification in the books of history when there are clear hadith in our reliable collections condemning black clothes unconditionally. 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. Again, simply finding an instance of the Imam wearing a particular color does not necessarily make it mustahab – unless the Imam (as) explicitly said so, as in the case of the color white.
It does not take lengthy tortuous 100 page articles to justify black clothes. A single hadith decisively answers the question. Where is that single hadith exhorting the Shias to wear black to mourn Ahlul Bayt (s)? The religious scholars have produced detailed historical analysis when all it takes is a one line hadith. Should we derive our fiqh from books of hadith or from historical books which are mostly written by non-shia historians. Should a Shia base his actions on the unequivocal amr/hukm/qaul (command) of the Imams (s) from our reliable hadith collections or from historical books of dubious scholarship?
Would you be rewarded for wearing black? Not at all – since there is no mention of the rewards in the hadith. Would you be punished for wearing black? Highly likely – due to the presence of the unconditional hadith denouncing black. What should a true Shia of Ahlul Bayt (s) do in this situation? Simple – just avoid wearing black.