Islamic Oils & Perfumes

Perfumes and oils have been popular in Islamic culture since early times.
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Since the 7th century, Islamic civilization pioneered the perfume industry, creating and trading a diverse variety of perfumes and incenses using such ingredients as musk, amber, frankincense, roses and other flowers, according to historian Douglas Dunlop. Arab chemists formulated new combinations with ingredients from Arabia and transported from Asia. Today in most Muslim countries and communities, incense and perfumed oils are used to create a pleasing scent in living spaces.

1 The Prophet's Example

Perfumes and oils also have a special religious connection in Islam. Islam's holy texts and records of the Prophet Muhammad further indicate a preference for beauty and perfumes. The Prophet was quoted as saying, "Every Muslim should have a bath on Friday and wear his best clothing, and if he has perfume, he should use it." Muslims follow their Prophet’s example and use both perfumes and oils in ritual cleansing for prayer and in personal hygiene. According to Imam Muslim, a reputable narrator from the Prophet’s time, Muhammad reportedly used perfumed musk in his hair before attending Friday prayers and before going on hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

2 Garden Symbolism

Throughout Islamic texts, literature and arts, flowers and gardens are common images representing Paradise and earth's beauty. Muslims appreciate and use perfumes and scented oils in recognition of Allah's provisions on earth and in Paradise. The Qur'an states, "Those who believe and do good works [will be] in flowering meadows of the Gardens."

3 Use in Marriage

Furthermore, Islam encourages men and women to wear perfumes and be attractive for their spouses. Many traditions of the Prophet state that perfume is permissible and even encouraged for men and women, but that women should not wear much perfume unless they are at home with their husbands. According to Abu Hurairah, a peer of the Prophet, Muhammad stated, "If someone offers perfume, do not reject it, for it is light to carry and has a sweet scent."

4 Use in Holidays

Muslims also treasure perfumes and oils on special holidays. According to Imam Al-Hassan as-Sibt, a peer and narrator of the Prophet, "The Messenger of Allah ordered us to wear the best clothes we could find for the two 'ids [festivals] and to apply the best perfume we could find and to sacrifice the best animal we could find." Centuries later, Muslims worldwide continue the tradition of wearing new clothing and perfume during the two major holidays of the year -- the Eid al-Fitr celebrating the conclusion of Ramadan and during Eid al-Adha, which celebrates the conclusion of the hajj.

Alison Lake has been a journalist and editor since 2001, working with numerous newspapers and magazines. She has served on the world news desk of the "Washington Post" and contributed to The Atlantic, Foreign Policy Online, Al Jazeera English and GlobalPost.