In Muharram and Safar, we wore simple clothing, usually black in color, and held back on the makeup and jewelry. Why? What does our outward appearance have to do with what we're feeling inside?
Well, first of all, outward appearance does matter, whether we like it or not. It's not just about Hijab, it's also about looking clean, decent, and respectable for the occasion. Look here for more on what Islam says about clothing in general. And see this for specifics about Hijab and Muharram clothing.
These two months were sad times for the family and descendants of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him), and they are sad times for those who are devoted to him. The Imams after him commemorated this time, and they are an example for us as well. Their family members did not adorn themselves until Eid az-Zahra occurred.
Imam Ali al-Ridha (peace be upon him) said, "O' Son of Shabib! If it makes you happy (and you desire) to be with us in the elevated ranks of paradise, then be sad in our grief and happy at our happiness." (Reference)
Dressing for the Occasion is the Way of Ahlul Bayt
There is story about a special Eid day when Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain were young and had a special experience with their grandfather, the Prophet (peace be upon them all).
One Eid day, Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain came to their grandfather Prophet Muhammad's house. They explained how it was the day of Eid, and they did not have any new clothing, so they had come to him.
The Prophet thought over their situation and was sad that he did not have suitable clothing for them. He did not want to send them away disheartened. He prayed, "O Allah! Make amends for their and their mother's heart."
Suddenly, Gabriel descended with two white dresses from heaven. The Prophet happily said, "O Masters of the youth of Paradise! Take these clothes which have been stitched by the Tailor (from Allah) according to your sizes."
The Imams saw the clothes were white, and said, "O Grandfather! These are of white color, how can we wear them when the children of Arabs have worn colorful clothes?"
The Prophet put his head down and became thoughtful when Gabriel said, "O Muhammad! Rejoice and cool your eyes. The powerful Dyer of the divine color will fulfill their desire and make them happy by those colors which they desire. Hence O Prophet, do order that an ewer and vessel be brought."
A vessel was then brought. Gabriel said, "O Prophet of Allah! I shall pour water over these clothes, and you wring them until the desired color appears." Wetting Imam Hassan's clothing, the Prophet asked him, "Which color do you desire?"
Imam Hasan replied that he preferred green. So the Prophet wrung the cloth with his own hands. By Allah's will, the clothing turned into a bright emerald-like green. Imam Hasan wore his new Eid clothing.
Then it was Imam Hussain's turn. Gabriel took his clothing and started pouring water in the vessel. Imam Hussain was five years old at this time. The Prophet said to him, "O light of my eyes! Which color do you desire?"
Imam Hussain replied that he preferred red. Prophet Muhammad rubbed the clothing and it turned a ruby-like red. Imam Hussain put on his new red clothing. The Imams and their grandfather were very pleased!
Gabriel started weeping when he saw the boys returning to their mother. The Prophet said, "O brother Gabriel! This is not the day to mourn, when my sons are rejoicing and are happy. By Allah! Please let me know the reason for your grief."
The angel replied, "I mourn because your sons have selected one color each. As regards your son Hasan, he will be poisoned and because of its effect, his body will turn green. And as regards your other son Hussain, he will be killed by swords and his head severed, while his body will be smeared with red blood." Upon hearing these words, the Prophet also started weeping.
This Eid story (reference) is a unique one, a sad story on a happy day. There are a few different points to take note of from this incident.
The Prophet says to Gabriel, "This is not the day to mourn, when my sons are rejoicing and are happy," which shows that Eid is a time of happiness for the Imams, and we as their followers should also be happy on such days.
Wearing new clothing on Eid is recommended, and wearing colors is fine too.
The Prophet mourned for Imam Hussain even before Karbala took place.
Even on Eid days, which are happy occasions, we do not forget Imam Hussain and we recite the recommended Ziyarat (salutation) to him for that day.
Something to Think About
Devotion to the Ahlul Bayt includes being happy at their happy occasions and sad on their sad occasions. And just like we dress accordingly for different events in our social lives, from birthdays to funerals, we should dress accordingly when commemorating different religious occasions.
Even though Imam Musa al-Kadhim (peace be upon him) was born in Safar, his birthday is not commemorated then, as Muharram and Safar are such serious sacred months.That is something to remember when our own birthdays fall during these months and we want to dress up and celebrate. Just as some groups have set aside another date in the year to remember the seventh Imam (the seventh day of the seventh month), why can we not postpone our own celebrations until after Eid, or time them before Muharram begins?
Celebrations are held off and the peak mourning period of Muharram and Safar is maintained until Eid az-Zahra, which is when the Fourth Imam (peace be upon him) was happy for the first time after Ashura, and when the women of the family of Imam Hussain also rejoiced and applied kohl to their eyes, products to their hair, and wore nice clothing.
It is definitely worth celebrating such a happy day when our Fourth Imam finally smiled. After attending dozens of majalis for Imam Hussain, how can we not be cheerful on the day when his killers were killed? And why shouldn't we be excited about how this was the first day of the leadership of our current Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance)?
The Qur'an says, "Say: I do not ask of you any reward except for devotion to the near ones" (42:23). How can one be devoted to Ahlul Bayt and not dress accordingly on their days of happiness and sadness? Such an idea should be inconceivable, not only for our practicing Shia community, but for anyone who ponders this.
When we dress up for dinner parties and get-togethers, why shy away from wearing one's best for the special days of the most important beings in the universe? At such days, we should endeavor to be joyous in our hearts, minds and yes, on the outside too.
Some people complain about not celebrating birthdays during the annual time of sadness. But as we know, we have Islamic birthdates that can be used too at a different time of the year. A positive approach would be to arrange to celebrate one's birthday before Muharram or even on Eid az-Zahra itself!
Make the Most of Milad an-Nabi!
The birthdays of Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (peace be upon them) are now upon us. Let's celebrate this blessed day with the best of piety, manners, and yes, the best of our clothing! Perform the recommended Ghusl (major ablution), wear fresh clothes, put on your best perfume, give some charity, supplicate to Allah, and enjoy time with friends, family, and community.
Oh Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon you! We are with you in your times of happiness and in your times of sadness.