Majlises: Spiritual Enlightenment or Social Networking?

By, Manal Ali

While the month of Muharram gives us the time to spiritually cleanse our souls – at least to a certain degree – let’s face it, it’s also the biggest social gathering of the year! Being the only time when we see as large a gathering of Shias, making Muharram the ideal annual social event!

The Muharram lectures no doubt provide life lessons to us all, yet many of us are not above using these majalis as means of social networking, so to speak!

Young people often see Muharram as an excellent occasion to scope out members of the opposite gender. Let’s be fair it is like a buffet of eligible Shias in a chaperoned setting. Many young people try to sneak the occasional peek to the other side, or showcase just a hint of their faces to whoever might be out there looking. Volunteering to help serve food or tabarruk becomes an excellent excuse to provide the other side with the required cutlery and a glimpse of your face as a side dish.

This year commemorating Ashoora in Bahrain, gave me a glimpse of a trend amongst some of the younger Arab Shia women. Whilst the men partake in the Juloos, the women all rush to the sidewalks to watch the procession. Some confess to taking extra care with their appearance and are excited at the prospect of seeing plenty of Shia guys, many with their shirts off! And so the hijabs are placed further down the head and fringes placed in perfectly formed puffs just to give the men a little more to look at. So much for lowering the gaze.

The youth are not the only members of the community that benefit socially from Muharram. Many “aunties” find Muharram the perfect chance to scope out the local single ladies. They too are wise to the fact that perhaps Muharram is the only time they will be able to see girls without all the war paint or at all. Many girls now are aware that they will be focused upon as samples in a petri dish and take extra care with their appearances. There remain those who cannot help but use just a dab of concealer, a touch of foundation and a hint of eyeliner. We could not possibly face the sea of aunties with our real faces, now could we?

Of course as with any social event where would we be without the clothes? Each Muharram presents the opportunity to showcase the latest in the mourners’ fashion. The need for the latest fashion is evident in Pakistani/Indian tailors being booked solid three to four weeks ahead of Muharram. Sequins, shimmers, ribbons and intricate threadwork adorn the clothes of the bereaved. Sometimes long, sometimes short, sleeveless or lace, everything is accounted for in terms of the latest fashion but hijab.

This sacred month which places great emphasis on sacrifice reminds us to look at our routine habits and try to curb frivolous activities that are better suited to other times of the year.

Yes, starring at the TV screen in the hopes of seeing a cute guy is a scintillating activity to some but let us focus on the words of the lecture.

I must however acknowledge that the entirety of this article applies to a small percentage of the Shia population and of course many keep the spirit of Karbala alive. This was merely something that caught my attention amongst a growing number of Shias!

We come to majalis to give our condolences to the Prince of Martyrs and learn from him and his family the truth about Islam yet our gatherings have turned into fashion shows and networking events. It is true the essence of azadari is in the heart but the just as Zainab (sa) and her caravan left Yazid’s prison clad in black, upholding their hijab, delivering the message of Kerbala to all they came in contact with, we too should observe our appearances and actions and act in a manner respectable of the Shia of Ali (as).


  1. We definitely should be focussed more on the spiritual aspect and objectives of Muharram, rather than dating, socializing, shopping, etc….may Allah (swt) grant us all the tawfeeq to do so.

  2. Islam is a way of life, it is a socio economic and culture adapting religion. Which means we can utilize times like muharram to find a variety of guys which are not at our disposal during other times. It is simply human nature.

  3. @Niqabi Jaan
    Of course the religion should adapt. I have seen that there are some places in America that promote chaperoned gathering for young men and women of eligibility to mingle. It is this kind of event perhaps that should be used in order to create pairings etc. Muharram and the Zikr of Imam Hussain on the other hand, is a less suitable occasion.

  4. @Manal

    I am not saying we should go around marrying during muharram (even though Hadrat Janaab Qasim was married). But it is a good place to see who is religious. It is a center of Islamic survival. If it wasnt for karbala we would not have Islam right now, it would have probably been something like hindus.

    I think it provides a good outlet to show people how religious you are and to see which guys are religious. The true lovers of Ahlulbait

  5. Salaam.
    Amazing article and soo very true. Muharram is a month of sorrow and mourning and as such should be commemorated accordingly.

    @ Naqabi Jaan: sorry to disagree with you sis, but you really cannot judge someone’s level of faith or taqwaa unless you talk to them and get to know them. Seeing someone in an imam bargha attending majlis does not guarantee that a guy or a girl is religious

  6. Agreed with GaRdEzI, I find it extremely disrespectful that people actually look for a spouse for their children at these gatherings where the sole purpose is supposed to be for the remembrance of the sacrifice for Islam.

  7. @GaRdEzI so you believe it is better to talk and socialize with a non mahram to “find out their taqwa” than to look at their actions? Did you not hear about how “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS”. and besides if you are talking and socializing with non mahram, that is haram

  8. You completely missed the point of my post. You are rite. Actions do speak louder then words, and the article shows this quite clearly. Think about it……what kind of message are YOU sending forth when YOU are coming to a Majlis that constitutes mourning-the loss of our Imam and his family- in order to check out future husbands? Is this the message we want to give the world? that we go to majalisis to look for future spouses?? What will we tell our Bibi, on the day of judgment? will we say…”Oh ya we went to majlis but we were too busy checking out which guy is religous and who is not” ?? You completely missed the point of this article and my comment. THE PURPOSE OF MAJLIS IS MOURNING AND LEARNING AND SPREADING THE MESSAGE OF OUR IMAM AND THEREFORE IT SHOULD BE COMMEMORATED ACCORDINGLY.

    As for your point about socializing with non mehrams. Do you know that it is permissible, in Islam for one to talk to a namehram in a chaperoned setting regarding one’s rishta. It is done all the time. Infact it is even allowed in islam, for a girl to show her hair to a guy, if he requests, provided that their proposal will lead to marriage. As for talking to namehrams in an unchaperoned setting, well protecting your modesty is part of hijab and henceforth, it is one’s own responsibility to do the right thing. However, again i stress on the point that this article is related to Muharram and how it has become a cultural thing. Muharram is not a cultural aspect; it is a part of our religion and should be observed as such.

  9. Niqabi Jaan, i have noticed many older women (who have eligible sons and daughters) seeking proposals for their kids during majalis season simply because of the reasons you gave, they can see who is religious, who attends majalis, how they behave etc etc.. and i tend to agree that it is a good time.. however i am also pessimistic about it.. you see there are many shias that ONLY come out during these times and are very religious and emotional and heartfelt during majalis but not the rest of the year.. i am speaking from experience about the older women i know that they have pure intentions when looking at possible rishtas for their kids in these kinds of settings and i have no problem in that.. some even scout rishtay when they go for ziyarat or hajj, just because it gives them a good idea of what people are like and exposes them to more possibilities as oppose to seeing the same people all the time.. i think the responsibility of finding spouses should be reserved for parents and the decision for the son/daughter

  10. If your mother/father or sibling were killed(god forbid) would you be looking for a guy or girl to marry etc?

    There is a time and place for everything.

  11. @HUMZ
    im pretty sure no one will keep dying for 2 months and 8 days, you are going out of line. on sahadat days you can grieve it makes sense that you are shocked. but there are many other days, gatherings at peoples houses you know like that


    you are right there are probably many that come but arent even religious. but you can tell from the way they do matam, the good ones do very hard and come for matam no matter what

  12. Are you serious? Matam is a cultural form of mourning. it has nothing to do with how religious a person is. You’re saying that all the molanas/sheiks/ayatullahs that dont do matam arent religious? There are people that come at the end of each majlis JUST for matam. they stand outside waiting for the MAJLIS to finish. I didn’t know we had such brainwashed people in our communities still.

    What makes you think that the harder someone does matam, makes them more religious? as i said, matam is not a religious duty. it is 100% cultural. Where in the Quran, or ANY book does it say that doing matam is wajib?

    There’s a quote i read somewhere which goes something like this, “The majority of the muslims near the end of times won’t recognize the islam that will be reintroduced by the prophet when he comes”.

    I thought to myself how on earth that that’s possible. Islam is Islam; but now i understand what that saying means.

  13. Salamun ALeykum WRWB:

    I reverted to Shia a while back, growing up as Sunni, we know Muharram we went to Majilis and all, but my first Muharram as a Shia I was shocked at the Mattam. I was so shocked that I would not go to the Mosque for Muharram or I will leave really quick after the lectures.

    Still to this day, I am not comfortable with ladies beating themselves so very hard. I have seen the fashion shows during Majalis,
    I have also seen the socializing, I was suprise on Ashura Day to see so many strangers in our Mosque as I never knew there were that many Shias in that part of town. But the regular to the Mosque know who you are and your faith and how often you are at the Mosque versus looking for bride and groom during Muharram as it does not depict the truth about the attendees…. may Allah forgive me if I am wrong saying this.

    Now I am in a new Jamaat, the Muharram are fantastics only problem I get is for the Eids, the people “Ladies” get all dressed up come eat and forget that it is not a banquet hall and you miss all the majilis because they are in the socializing mood…….

    These are just two extremes I experienced.

  14. I adore this article! So interesting… As are all the articles on this site.

    And very true what it states about people scoping out possible rishtas! lol

  15. @Troll

    Yes azadari is not wajib but love of the ahlulbayt is. If u have love of the ahlulbayt you will mourn. That doesn’t necessarily mean matam, but obviously you would mourn if a loved one died.

    I dont think it’s cultural… It’s just not wajib.

    And Yes i agree that Majilises are for the purpose of azadari and rememberence marriage is not a cultural thing. It is wajib upon Muslims.

    Also, there is no real time and place to look for possible rishtas, so if someone looks for one in a Majilis, Mosque, or when they go for Hajj, that’s better than looking for Rishtas somewhere else. Atleast this way you know a little bit more about the person, some background info, rather than them being a complete stranger.

    I dont think theres any problem in looking for a rishta (to secure 2 thirds of ur deen– which is wajib) in a Majalis (which is not wajib)

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