Young men and women in the capital and other big cities have been taking part in a new kind of Muharram ritual. Instead of solemn praying, restraint and contemplation, they have turned the Shia holiday into something quite different: A time for bespoke hairstyles, striking make-up and season-specific fashion — despite union-enforced bans on the practice.

This year, Ashura, the tenth day in the holy month of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar, fell on October 24. For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a day of intense mourning and praying. On this day in 680 A.D., Hossein Ibn Ali, the third Shiite imam and the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, and 72 of his companions were killed and martyred in Karbala in present-day Iraq.

Observant Shias mourn Imam Hossein, refrain from joyous events, and some even engage in self-flagellation. But not everyone. For the past few years, some young people in Iranian cities, at least in Tehran, have created their own tradition. They observe the mourning period, but by completely different means: As the day approaches, young men and women flock to hair salons. The primping and makeovers have become more popular every year, with record numbers of people booking salon appointments during the holy mourning period.

This year Iran's Hairstylists Unions (one for male hairdressers, one for women hairdressers) banned hair salons from offering Muharram makeovers. But women’s hairdressers reported that they had taken on extra shifts to deal with demand; employees of hair salons for men also said that they had received unprecedented requests for hair gels and other hair products.

“It’s nighttime, but the lights from the chandeliers and commemorative lights have made the nights in the capital so bright that you can see the made-up faces and the chignons of young women better than ever,” news website Shaffaf reported. “Rouged lips, dyed blonde hair, short shawls and scarves, plus tights—  some of which have the the words “O, Hossein” printed on them — are the hallmarks of this year’s Muharram nights. Over the the last few days, websites have been full of advertisements for Muharram specialty clothes…In fact, it is fair to say that the days are gone when hair salons for men and women closed their doors to observe Hossein’s martyrdom because they had no customers.”

“We added on a special shift just for Muharram,” Mina, a 30-year-old hairdresser who works for a top women’s hair salon told the Shaffaf website. “We style our clients’ hair and even tie their shawls and their headscarves for them. Facials, professional make-up applications and chignon hairstyles are in high demand these days. Young women want us make them look good. Dyeing hair a light color so it can be seen at night is also fashionable. There is quite a demand for it.”

“I have been working as a hairdresser since I was 20, but in the past five years the hair salon business during Muharram has really been booming,” Mina said. “Of course, even before that, girls and women came to salons so they could look good — their words — while taking part in [mourning] processions. But in recent years, Muharram fashion has become very popular.”

“I haven’t heard anything about it,” Mina said when asked whether hair salons were supposed to be closed during the mourning period. “My mother has also been a hairdresser for years. She says that around 30 years ago, all hair salons for women were closed and women did not even pluck their eyebrows. But times have changed, and we have to make a living. When we have clients, we work.”

Muharram fashion is not limited to hairstyles and make-up. Sima, 40, said clothes with calligraphic prints on them had been doing brisk business. “Starting about two weeks before Muharram, we receive orders to apply prints on black manteaux and shawls. Young women and even men come to me to print religious slogans and laments on their manteaux, T-shirts and shawls.

“Of course, I don’t consider it to be wrong, because in their own way, these people are showing they are mourning — provided they are not extreme or don't show off.”


Hair Styles for Men

For men, it has been a variation on the same theme. “During Muharram, the consumption of hair glue and gel in salons for men reaches a new height,” said Hossein, a 20-year-old hairdresser who works in central Tehran. “Young men want us to style their hair so that it will stay put during the mourning ceremonies. Hair styling is in high demand during these days and we use a clean clay to do it.”

“Recently, there has also been a demand for cutting designs into haircuts, including the word “Hossein.” "We use a stencil for that,” he said. “Styling eyebrows is popular too. We even display various models showing how to tie scarves and other things around the head.”

A number of hair salons have advertised “Soft make-up for Muharram” and “Muharram special hairdos,” leading both hairdressing unions  to ban the practice and declare it to be illegal. Such advertisements were first started by women’s hair salons but soon after, men’s hairdressers followed suit.

The Shaffaf website ended its report by asking why the mourning ceremonies of Muharram have turned into something resembling a series of street parties, at least in Tehran. It stops short, however, of offering an answer. 


Read the original article in Persian


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Mourning Ceremonies in Tehran

Muharram Begins

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