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).