By Udayan Namboodiri
February 13, 2013
For some young Muslim women in India, wearing a Bindi – a dot or other forehead accessory -- has become fashionable. When newly married, they also don Chooda (bunches of red bangles) and Mangalsutra (gold necklaces) to show their marital status.
"Nothing wrong about looking attractive," Delhi model Shaheen Alam told Khabar South Asia. "This (idea) that a Muslim woman should go about all covered in black is thankfully being discarded in India."
Not all applaud the mixing of traditions, however. Some within the Muslim community have been sharply critical of the trend, saying it contravenes Islam. In recent weeks, heated debate has taken place on social media and internet forums.
Speaking from Kolkata, Maulana Syed Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati said that devout Muslims should follow the dictates set forth by their own religion.
"Wearing a Bindi or Mangalsutra is a Hindu custom. The Islamic dress code bars believers from adopting these codes," he told Khabar South Asia.
"Hindu women feel their gods protect their husbands if they wear those symbols. In Islam we are not allowed to place faith in any object or person other than Allah. He is the only protector and helper. So placing faith in such things undermines Allah," he added.
Many young women, however, argue that they are not making any sort of religious statement by their choice of accessories. Rather, they say, it is simply about fashion.
"Wearing a Chooda doesn't make me a Hindu or a lesser Muslim," The Times quoted Sumaira, a 21-year-old Muslim, as saying. "I have been fascinated with Choodas ever since I was a kid."
On defence.pk, a popular platform based in Pakistan, the issue has generated strong opinions. "This ridiculous practice by Muslim women must be stopped!" demanded Planet Warrior, a poster from Botswana.
Jaibi, writing from Pakistan, shot back: "Muslims are not aliens, they are people too and Muslims are NOT ONE species! They are a people with a rich cultural diversity. Please, resist the stereotyping."
Few objections in Bangladesh
In neighbouring Bangladesh, such mixing of fashions and traditions has long been widely accepted, sources tell Khabar.
Bangladeshi women have been wearing the Bindi, called tip in Bengali, for at least three generations now, said Paromita Imran, a founding member of Centre for Women Journalists, Bangladesh.
"Our grandmothers who participated in the anti-Urdu imposition movement in the early 1950s asserted their Bengali ethnic identity by wearing the tip," she told Khabar. "My mother, who was a teenager during the 1971 liberation war, had always worn one, and so as a typical member of my generation I saw nothing controversial about wearing a tip."
Among Hindus in Bangladesh, Imran said, the popular symbols for marriage are shakha (single bangle made of shell), which is generally worn on the right hand, and Sindoor (red vermillion powder) on the parting of the hair.
"Quite a few Muslims also wear them, but they are not so popular yet among Muslims," she said.
Respecting Differences, Finding Common Ground
Despite the continuing objections in some quarters, the demand for Hindu-influenced fashions appears to be rising. The Times cited jewellers in Delhi as saying that a growing number of Muslim women have been asking for Mangalsutra.
Newly-married Muslim women often also apply Sindoor, just like their Hindu counterparts, the paper said.
There is one difference, however: Muslim wives prefer orange-tinted Sindoor, as opposed to the traditional red used by Hindus. With this selection of colour, they convey their community identity even as they take part in a tradition, which increasingly crosses the lines of culture and faith.