In Karbala, Religious Grief Translates to Big Business

He spent around US$4,400 on a variety of black outfits, in different sizes, for both sexes and for children. “But that’s not actually such a lot of money compared to some people in this town,” Shihab says. “Some people are spending double or triple that.”

“I couldn’t buy any more anyway because my shop is too small and I can’t fit anything more in there,” Shihab tells NIQASH. “But other merchants have more space. They’ve bought more and they’re going to make a lot of profit this month.”

And it was no gamble making such a substantial investment in this stock, Shihab says. Ashura will come again. “I may not be able to sell all the goods this month. But I’ll be able to sell it on other religious occasions that are similar or I can sell it next year,” he explains.

A few doors down from Shihab’s store, a group of older women are gathered in front of the window of a store owned by Haj Jalal al-Saffar; they are interested in the rolls of black fabric inside.

Some locals open up their houses so that friends, family and neighbours can gather there and share condolences on the memorial day. There are also special marquees and certain inner city sites used for the same purpose. And the most common décor in all of those open rooms is swathes of black fabric hanging on the walls.

Al-Saffar, who owns two stores in Karbala, one which sells clothes and another that sells fabrics, reckons that as a result of that kind of interior decoration, he’s sold hundreds of meters of black cloth this month: “Ordinary citizens bought it but so did the administrators of the Imam al-Hussein shrine and various other organizations”.

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