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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The word aswad derived from swd means black, occurring seven times in the Koran (2:187, 3:106, 35:27). In the sense of an original black colour, the word aswad occurs only twice: "When you can tell a white thread from a black on in the light of the approaching dawn" (2:187) and "black mountains" (35:27). The word muswadd (dark-faced) is used in 16:58 and its parallel (43:17) to suggest the darkening of the face in the light of bad news as reflection of grief. Other words generally understood as the colour black or dark hues include ahwa in 87:5. The word hamida in 22:5 means lifeless and is ordinarily taken as black-ended. Another term mudhamm used in 55:64 in the sense of dark green, tending to black.

The word liba's (pl. lubus or al-bisa) means costume or dress. Another words are libas, malbas, melbas, malbus, labus, labusa, etc. Ornaments and colourful clothes in a simple and decent manner are allowed in Islam, but the Prophet had forbidden the clothes dyed with a Syrian bark, known as qatam. It was boiled in water in an iron pot until the water turned dark black, then the clothes were put in the pot to make it black. In pre-Islamic era, the Arabs used to walk behind a bier, casting away their cloaks as a mark of grief, and put on skirts dyed in qatam. They also carried fire and funeral musical instruments behind the bier. According to Ibn Majah, once the Prophet observed the new Muslims to follow the old Arabian custom, he said, "Are you observing a pagan custom?"

The tradition of wearing black costumes by the mourners was prevalent among the ancient Greeks and Italians, who painted their faces with black colour. The orthodox Christians clad in black colour, mourn for the crucifixion of Jesus during Easter. According to Dictionary of the Bible (New York, 1898, 1:457), "In the New Testament, the black is used symbolically for affliction and death." The Hindus mourn their elders in black clothes or paint them black. The idol of Mata Bhawani is always painted black. The Shi'ite Twelvers wear black clothes in the month of Muharram to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Al-Washsha (d. 325/940) writes in Muwashsha (Beirut, 1965, p. 185) that, "In Arab, the widows and scabby women with skin disease (muqarra'at) wore indigo or black costumes." According to Kitab al-Aghani (20:2-9), the Arabic poets wearing black clothes in pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods were called collectively as "the crows of the Arabs" (aghribat al-Arab).

When the Prophet looked the person wearing new clothes, he used to say, "congratulation" (mabarik) or "how nice?" (na'im), but condemned the black dress. Abdullah bin Umru A'as relates that he was wearing once clothes dyed in the qatam bark and went to see the Prophet, who told him to shun such clothes, as that was the colour of the infidels. The Prophet also told him to burn them (Mishkat, no, 4111). Abu Daud quotes Abu Huraira as narrating that once a woman brought her newly born son before the Prophet for giving him a name. The child wore black shirt. The Prophet took the child in his arms when he began to weep, therefore, the Prophet said, "If he will wear such clothes from now, he will continue to weep till grave."

The Koran says, "O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel (zinat) at every time and when attending the mosque" (7:31). Here, God addresses "the children of Adam" i.e. the humankind, which comprises of male and female; that they must dress appropriately in presence of God in the prayer-halls. The most favourite colour of the Prophet was white and said, "It is better to present before God in the mosque in white dress." He also said, "Wear white costume and make shroud of dead body in white cloth. It is most sacred and chosen one" (Tirmizi). Khurshid Ahmad Safdari writes in Taswir-i Karbala (Karachi, 1929, pp. 58-9) that once Imam Jafar Sadik was asked whether the women attired in black clothes could offer prayers. Imam said, "Black clothes are the dress of the hell." The Prophet also is reported to have said, "Do not wear black clothes, since it is the sign of Pharaoh" (Hajr al-Fiqh Bab-i Usuli, p. 58). Imam Jafar Sadik also said, "Wearing dark red and black dress is abominable, especially at the time of offering prayers" (Bihar al-Anwar, 15:56).

Bernard Lewis writes in Race and Color in Islam (London, 1970, p. 101) that, “The idea that black is somehow connected with sin, evil, deviltry and damnation, while white has the opposite associations. Thus in the Quran itself (3:102), we find: “….the day when some faces will become white and some faces will become black. As for those whose faces have become black – will you disbelieve after having believed? Then taste the punishment for the unbelief which you have been showing. But as for those whose faces have become white – in the mercy of Allah will they be, therein to abide.” Qalqashandi also cites the Koranic verse (3:102) in his Subh al-a’Sha (Cairo, 1913, 2:8-9) in the course of a discussion of colours, to prove his point that white is good and black is bad colour.

It is described in Kitab al-Burhan (p. 123) that Mukhtar Thaqafi (d. 67/ 687) rose in Kufa to take revenge of Imam Hussain’s blood. The disloyal Kuffans soon gathered in the house of Abdullah bin Masud, who advised, “Prepare one wooden taboot covered with black cloth and wear black clothes and start mourning, so as to get rid of Mukhtar’s wrath.” Thus, they came out in the street and took a chair of Tufail bin Ziyad, the perfume seller, and covered it with black cloth, and they also put on black shirts, and named the taboot as taboot-i sakina and began to lament and warded off the danger. It then became a tradition among the Shi’ite Twelvers to wear black clothes during the month of Muharram.

The Abbasid caliph Mansur (d. 158/775) adopted black colour for the officials serving the regime. Ibn Khalduna writes in Muqaaddimah (2:50-51) that, “Black was used for the flags of the Abbasids. Their flags were black as a sign of mourning for the martyrs of their family, the Hashimites, and as a sign of reproach directed against the Umayyads, who had killed them. Therefore, the Abbasids were called “the black ones” (al-musawwidah).” The black colour continued in fashion until caliph Mamun (d. 218/833), who ordered in 201/817 that green should become the official colour. This change was short-lived as black became once again the Abbasid colour in 203/819. Persons disliking this usage sometimes left the imperial service and even departed from the capital. Ibn Athir (8:101) tells us that Hamid bin Abbas (d. 311/923), the Abbasid vizir, to avoid the black costume being a sign of bad omen, left Baghdad in disguise. Kindi (d. 350/960) writes in al-Wulat wal-Qudat (London, 1912, p. 469) that a qadi who refused to wear black. He was threatened and warned that his failure to adhere to the custom would be interpreted as a sign of adherence to the Umayyad cause.

Black is the colour of mourning, condolence and sadness. The Sufis abhor black colour because it is the colour of sadness, depression and despondency. Science of colour involves physics, physiology and psychology. Colour has been used for decorative purposes since prehistoric time. The sun’s light contains colours: read, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, but not black because it is opposite the light.

In physics, the colour is a term designating the composition of electromagnetic radiation that is perceivable to human eyes. So far 60 colours have been discovered, each contains light, gases of oxygen, nitrogen or some shades. All colours and their combinations have their individual wavelength in a spectrum of light affecting the eye and eyesight, which, in turn, imprints its effect and causes on the human mind. Therefore, the colours worn by people have subtle effect on their psychology and behaviour. For example, a person who wears mostly clothes of red colour becomes witty, aggressive, easily offended, less tolerant and harsh. It is also symbolically, the colour of sacrifice. White represents light. It is the colour of purity, piety and grace, a symbol of simplicity. Red, orange and yellow colours produce hot and quick temperament. Blue, indigo and violet colours tend to create coolness and diminution of tension. Green is neutral in effect but improves eyesight. Aura, the magnetism or essence, which emanates from all living things, has its colours depicting the condition and characteristic of mind. Muddy or black aura is the sign of weakness or disease or death.

M. Ajmal writes that, “Muslim painters did not paint darkness (black colour). In their painting all is light and colourful. The resplendent sun seems to cover their canvas and paper. There are no dark shades or black shadows haunting the painting like ghosts threatening life with primordial dangers. Their painting is a painting of luminous tints and hues and colours. This again reflects a singularly strange attitude especially to the Western man, for he can wallow in darkness. Darkness and fondness for darkness are typically pagan characteristics. It connotes qualities, which emanate from a state of pre-consciousness. You cannot be conscious and remain in darkness. Darkness is a dragon, which devours distinctions, discriminations and differentiations. Darkness also characterizes a condition of stark individualism, when the individual is sundered from society and finds himself in the grip of absolute helplessness. Modern Western sensibility, which is completely unconnected with Muslim culture cannot appreciate the absence of darkness. It seeks an external representation of the black despair within. But black individualistic despair was no part of Muslim consciousness” (cf. A History of Muslim Philosophy, Germany, 1966, 2:1113-4).

Modern research indicates that the child rapidly perceives the colour. On first year, the child perceives red colour, thus the toys are made mostly in red colour. On second year, he perceives green colour, such as clothes etc. On third year, he perceives yellow colour and on fourth year, the child perceives orange, blue and violate colours. Mrs. Shiun writes that, “Black colour must be kept far since it creates fear in the child.” Edward Kallop writes that, “Black is not a colour. It is the absence of all lights. If you have no light, you have no colour, and when you have no colour, you have black.”

The perfume is sprayed on the face and chest, not on legs, because the upper part of body perceives it quickly. Hence, the shirts of upper part of body affect the body to great extent. Black is the colour of death and mourning. When people attend a funeral they wear black clothes. On a happy occasion, such as a marriage celebration, people do not wear black dress; it is a sign of bad omen and misfortune.

Mrs. Ethey in California gave a birth of a child on June 3, 1981. The newly born child was weak and ugly having some curious marks on the body. The doctors diagnosed that the child’s mother wore black shirt during pregnancy. The census report of August, 1984 reveals the disease of chest-pain among the women, out of which 78% were the nuns of the churches who used black attires.

Thomas Gilovich and Mark Frank analyzed penalty records of 28 National Football League teams over 17 years. Four teams that were black uniforms and one wearing dark blue were among the 12 most penalized teams. Similarly, the three most penalized teams in the National Hokey League in the same 17 years wore black. This prompted the two psychologists of Cornell University to experiment. Groups of football fans and referees were shown either of two videotapes of a staged football play. In one tape the defensive team wore black; in the other tape, defenders wore white. People who saw the black-uniformed defense rated it far more aggressive and dirty than did those watched white-clothed defenders making same moves. Moreover, when student volunteers were asked to pick five games to play against a competing team, those given black jerseys tended to pick aggressive game like dart-gun duels, while those in white jerseys picked less aggressive ones like golf-putting contests (Reader’s Digest, October, 1990, pp. 81-2).

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