Should Muslims wear the bindi? The debate continues

The adoption of Hindu fashions – particularly those associated with marriage – has raised eyebrows among some Indian Muslims. But many women say their choice has nothing to do with religion.

By Udayan Namboodiri for Khabar South Asia in New Delhi

February 13, 2013
A larger | smaller | reset <span class="translation_missing">en_GB, articles, print</span> 4 comments

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.

  • An Indian model wears a bindi -- a decorative dot or a piece of jewellery in the middle of the forehead. These days, some young Muslim Indian women are wearing bindi as a fashion statement, but the practice has sparked debate. [Stringer/AFP]

    An Indian model wears a bindi -- a decorative dot or a piece of jewellery in the middle of the forehead. These days, some young Muslim Indian women are wearing bindi as a fashion statement, but the practice has sparked debate. [Stringer/AFP]

"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 PlanetWarrior, 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 vermillon 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.

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Reader Comments
  • ila sahaJune 16, 2013 @ 10:06:43AM

    whatever cultural exchange takes place, hindus and muslims will NEVER be friends! mind that....in facts muslims will be continued to be shunned by other peoples. they are just too zealous. And jealous;p

  • DaiMay 29, 2014 @ 05:05:01AM

    On what evidence do you base your "prophecy" ? or are you just trying to have a laugh

  • ShimulApril 5, 2013 @ 10:04:18PM

    Dress-up is completely a personal choice. All women of our family still use shakha and sindoor. We are Muslims but still our mother, aunties, and grand mothers go to the Kali Temple. We also perform Tulsi Puja in hour home.

  • bJanuary 15, 2014 @ 05:01:48PM

    In modern times, bindi is worn by women of many religious dispositions in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and is not restricted to one religion or region. However, the Islamic Research Foundation, located in India, says "wearing a bindi or mangalsutra is a sign of Hindu women. The Islamic dress code does not permit a Muslim to wear any sign, symbol or mark which is specially significant of a non-Muslim."[4] The traditional bindi still represents and preserves the symbolic significance that is integrated into Indian mythology in many parts of India.

  • Shafaat A KhanFebruary 19, 2013 @ 09:02:59AM

    I am a Bengali from Bangladesh & have just learned that Wearing a "TIP" is Hindu fashion. I my 74 years I have seen Bangali muslim women , specially youner ones always wore a tip if they so desired. It had nothing to do with religion. However they never wore SINDOOR at least in Bangladesh. In Birbhum & Mednapur districts of W.Bengal some muslim women wear Sindoor. Some wear Mangalsutra nowadys apparently due high cost of gold for full necklace. With our SHANATON DHARMA ancestory it is difficult to identify or segregate communities with a dress code. I would like to think that we are a Bengali Nation composed of Muslims, Hindus, Buddists & Christans, where our cultural heritage & convenience would dectate our dess code. code.

  • AnwarFebruary 14, 2013 @ 08:02:13PM

    A green Bindi could be a way to get good of both the worlds. Hindu put red, green and other varied colour flags on their hiuse. Now Muslims also started hoisting flags but they make sure that there flag is green.

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