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).