Mourning the Ahle Bait (a.s.) in black clothing

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There is debate on the practice of wearing black clothes while mourning the Ahle Bait (a.s.). According to Shiite jurisprudence, wearing black clothes is disapproved (makrooh) while reciting prayers. Hence wearing black clothing for mourning raises questions like:

Is wearing black clothing inherently disapproved?
or is it disapproved for a specific occasion and approved for other occasions?

According to traditions across the board, mourning in black clothing was a practice evident from the time of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and the infallible Imams (a.s.). Some of the reports that underscore this fact are mentioned here:

1. Mourning Jafar al-Tayyar (a.s.)

Asma bint Umays – wife of Jafar al-Tayyar (a.s.) – narrates:

When Jafar was martyred, the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) visited me and said – Mourn for (at least) three days in black clothing, then do as you please (i.e. continue mourning or stop mourning).

  • Musnad Ahmed Ibn Hanbal trad 27,468

2. Mourning Ameerul Momineen (a.s.)

Madaini informed:

When Ali (a.s.) passed away, Abdullah Ibn Abbas came to the people and said: Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) has passed away. He has left behind a successor. If you endorse him, he will come to meet you. If you are displeased with him, you will not be coerced to accept his leadership.

The people broke down crying and said:

Let him come to meet us because we endorse him. Hasan (a.s.) came to meet the people and gave a sermon while wearing black clothes.

  • Sharh Nahjil Balagha v 16 p 22

Imam Hasan Ibn Ali (a.s.) addressed the people after Ameerul Momineen’s (a.s.) martyrdom wearing a black turban and black clothing.

  • Seyar A’laam al-Nobala v 3 p 267

3. Mourning Imam Hasan (a.s.)

Ayesha bint Saad reports:

The women of Bani Hashim mourned Imam Hasan (a.s.) in black clothing for a year.

  • Al-Mustadrak ala al-Sahihain v p
  • Tarikh Medina Dimishq v 13 p 295
  • Usud al-Ghabah v 2 p 22 (with variation)

4. Mourning Imam Husain (a.s.)

Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) informed:

When my forefather Imam Husain (a.s.) was killed, the women of Bani Hashim wore black clothes while mourning him. They did not change this practice in the hot summer or the cold winter.

  • Wasail al-Shia v 2 p 890

On the occasion of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) martyrdom, an angel descended on the sea, spread its wings and announced:

O inhabitants of the sea! Wear mourning (black) clothes as the son of Allah’s Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has been killed (today). Then, the angel took some of the holy soil from Karbala and carried it to the heaven. Every angel who passed by it stopped to smell the holy soil. Spiritual effects and grace derived from the soil stayed with them thereafter.

  • Kamil al-Ziyarat p 67-68

Abu Makhnaf recounts:

When Noman Ibn Bashir communicated the news of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) martyrdom to the people of Medina…all the women of Medina came out of their houses wearing black clothes and began weeping.

  • Al-Maqtal p 222-223

Abu Noaim recounts that when the news of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) martyrdom reached Umm Salma (r.a.), she pitched a black tent in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) mosque and wore black clothes.

  • Uyun al-Akhbar wa Funun al-Athar p 109

5. Mourning the incident of Harrah

The scale of the killings in Medina during the incident of Harrah perpetuated by Yazid’s commander Muslim Ibn Aqabah was so great that from then onwards Muslim was nicknamed

‘Musrif’ Ibn Aqabah meaning ‘the extravagant one’. After this horrendous event, the people of Medina wore black mourning clothes and the sounds of their weeping could be heard from their homes for up to one year.

  • Al-Imamah wa al-Siyasah, v 1 p 220

View of jurists on mourning in black clothing

Mirza Husain Noori – famous as Muhaddith-e-Noori (r.a.) maintains:

The reports of this nature (mourning in black clothing) prove that it is not disapproved to wear black clothing while mourning Imam Husain (a.s.) since there are many incidents of mourning in this manner.

  • Wasail al-Shia v 3 p 328

The great Shiite scholar and jurist – Ayatullah Sayyed Shihab al-Deen Marashi Najafi (r.a.) in his will to his son:

Bury me with my black clothes that I used to wear while mourning the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) progeny in Muharram and Safar.

  • Shihab al-Shariah p 366

The disapproval of black clothing is clearly unrelated to mourning going by the numerous reports on the subject and views of jurists. Mourning in black clothing was a practice right from the time of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and the infallible Imams (a.s.). Muslims regarded black clothing as a default when it came to mourning; even when it did not involve an infallible but a personal calamity like the incident of Harrah.

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