Henna Cosmetics and Fragrance in Muslim Culture; A Scientific Review

By Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi (Dr. Mohammed Iqtedar Husain Farooqi),

Henna: Botanical Name, Lawsonia inermis L. Family: Lythraceae

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Other Names; Arabic, الْحِنَّاءُ al hina; Persian, Hina; Greek, Kínna: French, Henné ; German, Henna; Spanish, Alheña: Sanskrit, Chandrika: Urdu/Hindi, Mehndi.

The ancient Semites and Hebrews names of Henna were Kuffirs and Kufras. These names occur many times in the Holy Bible. For example, in a verse of the Book of Sulaiman (Ghazal-ul-Ghazalat), it is stated that: “My beloved is to me a bunch of kuffir flowers from the garden of Ain Jadi.”

Earlier the English translators of the Holy Bible translated the word Koffir and Kafir, Kafur and Kofras with Camphor (the present-day camphor.). But now some scholars expressed the view that all these names represent Henna and not Camphor.

Body adornment has always been recognized as an art in civilized nations. This art had reached its peak in ancient times in Egypt, Arabia and India. The use of various types of flowers, leaves, spices and perfumes as ornamentals were very common in these regions. But in all of them Henna (Arabic, al Hina) had a special importance. Its deep green leaves were the perfect source of a lovely red color. This color also bloomed well on the human body and gave beauty to the cotton clothes. In addition, henna flowers and the oil obtained from them used to perfume the body and the air.

In the article under review, a historical, religious and scientific review of henna dye and fragrance is presented.

Henna is a relatively small plant found in India, Iran, Afghanistan, Arabia and most of the warm regions of East Africa. Probably the western part of Iran is its original homeland, from where this plant was taken to Arabia and Egypt on one side and reached India on the other side. However, some botanists are of the opinion that the homeland of henna extends from Africa to India.

Henna leaves provide an important cosmetic dye. In several countries of East, henna is widely used by both men and women for colouring nails, fingers, hands and hair. With henna, the colour of hair becomes orange but on conjunction with indigo, the hairs are coloured black.

Importance of henna in Islamic Traditions was established from numerous Prophetic Traditions. Some such Traditions are as follows:

Prophetic Traditions on Henna:

1. Narrated Abu Dharr: The Prophet (PBUH) said: The best things with which grey hair are changed are henna and Katam. (Meaning mixture: Black) (Abi Dawud, an Nasai)

2. The Prophet (PBUH) loved sweet smelling blossoms of henna (Faghiya) (Al-Bayhaqi).

3. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “The Lord of sweet smelling blossoms in this world is henna blossom (Tradition: Faghiya) (Narrated ‘Abdullah in bin Buryada; Shaab al-Iman) (In some of the books the above Tradition has been wrongly quoted, as “The Lord of plants is Henna.” As a matter of fact Faghiya (   (فاغیہof this Tradition is henna flower and not henna leaves.)

4. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Dye them (legs) with henna.” (To a person who complained of pain in his legs) ( Abi Dawud).

5. Truly the Prophet (PBUH) never suffered from a cut or a thorn in his skin without putting henna on it. (Umm Salma; Bukhari).

6. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “At least you could have dyed your nails with henna.” (While addressing to a lady). (Narrated ‘Ayesha; Abu Dawud, Nasai).

7. Messenger of Allah said, “The best way to hide old age (grey hair) is through Henna and Indigo (Katam), (Abu Dhar Ghaffari; Abi Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nisai, Ibn Maja, Abu Nuaim)

8. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “How good that is (after seeing a man with his hair dyed with henna). That is even better (after seeing a man his hair dyed with henna and indigo).

According to the Hadith of Bukhari and Abu Dawud, the Messenger of Allah, advised applying henna to treat pain of the feet and soles. Similarly, there is a Tradition that Henna is also useful in cases of headache (Tirmidhi, narrated by Abdullah bin Umar). It has been said also that “Someone asked Hazrat Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah used to apply Khizab (Dye)?” He said “yes”.

In another Hadith of Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i and Ibn Majah, Hazrat Abu Dhar Ghafari narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said:”The best recipe to reverse old age is henna and wasma “. This was meant to be the shade of black.

It would be appropriate to clarify here that according to the authentic Traditions, only a few hairs of the Messenger of Allah were white, so the real purpose of the Messenger of God applying henna to his hair was to make the hair clean and healthy. Henna colour and smell (flowers) are nerve stimulators. Due to the importance of henna and the liking of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), many companions used to dye their hair with henna. Henna was sometimes used with Wasma and sometimes with Katam. In both cases the resultant dye becomes black Dye. It is known from a passage recorded in Bukhari and Muslim that Hazrat Abu Bakr used Henna along with Katam and Hazrat Umar dyed his beard only with Henna.

The medicinal properties of henna can also be established from the Hadith of Tirmidhi and Musnad Ahmad, (Narrated by Hazrat Umm Salama) in which it is said that henna was applied to the Prophet (PBUH) whenever he was pricked by a thorn or injured.

In ancient Egypt and Arabia, henna leaves were expertly used to dye cloth, and the fine fabrics of Damascus were especially dyed with henna. The color of henna also goes well on silk. The use of henna to decorate and beautify the hands, feet and face became an art form in Egypt and Arabia. During the Mughal period, this art flourished in India as well and Hennabandi became a common practice among families in most part of India. One of the common social customs was to adorn brides with henna, which is still practiced today. Ibn Sina has recognized the properties of henna leaves as equal to Dum Al-Akhwain (A red resin from Dracaena cinnabari)  and said that the gargle of these leaves is very useful for mouth ulcers. In case of Edema, as well as for burned and cut skin, it is a good treatment. Also for boils and pimples. It is the best remedy for burns of the palms and soles. By applying Henna, cracking of the nails stop. It has been found useful in the treatment of leprosy. Henna also relieves headaches.

Henna flowers provide an irresistible perfume. According to Alpinus, these flowers bring peace to the heart and mind by eliminating the emotional state, thus it can also be called anti- depressant. George Oliver says that henna flower was of great importance in the Arab land during the time of Jesus. These flowers were mixed in the water with which the princes and nobles used to take baths. Applying henna perfume was considered very important in religious ceremonies. Henna flowers were considered to induce sleep. These flowers were found useful in leprosy. The bark of henna was considered a powerful remedy for jaundice. This bark reduced an enlarged spleen. Even in the present day allopathic drugs, the virtues of henna are recognized all over the world. Thousands of tons of henna leaves are sold as cosmetic in Europe, America, Japan etc. Only Egypt, Sudan and India supply henna leaves to the whole world. Large amounts of these leaves are supplied from India every year, of which considerable part goes to France, Kuwait and Singapore. In India, henna tree is found in almost all hot regions but Faridabad, Gurgaon and Surat are famous for producing good quality henna.These three areas meet 90% of the needs of the country and abroad.

It is interesting to note that in Urdu literature, henna is mostly mentioned as the red dye from leaves, while in English literature, henna mostly refers to fragrance of its flowers.

The Hadith that Prophet of Allah said: “The best things to use to change grey hair are henna and katam” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1753; Abu Dawud, 4205; Ibn Maajah, 3622) clearly shows that during the time of Prophet people knew that while Henna Leaves (Lawsonia inermis; Arabic, Hina) produce red Dye but when mixed with leaves of Katam (Indigofera tinctoria: English Indigo; Hindi/Urdu; Neel), black dye is produced or with Wasma leaves (Isatis tinctoria. Annual plant, English, Woad), brownish black Dye was obtained. Since ancient times, indigo (Indigo tinctoria) has been one of the most widely used natural pigments for textile dyeing in South Asia. In Europe, the only source of indigo dye (Brownish) was from Woad (Isatis tinctoria). It is well known that Henna can be mixed with other herbal ingredients to alter the colour: Add saffron (Crocus sativus; Urdu/Arabic, Zafran) to the henna to give blond; walnut powder (Juglans regia, Arabic Jauz; Urdu, Akhrot ) to give brown; woad (Isatis tinctoria; Annual Plant; also known as Indigo Dye- Wasma in Arabic)  to create brownish black and  indigo (Indigofera tinctoria;Annual Plant. Arabic, Alnil; Urdu , Neel) to give black. It is well known that almost all varieties of colour (hues) are found in Plant Kingdom (leaves, fruit. flowers, bark, wood etc) except black. Black colour (Dye) can only be obtained by mixing two plant products like Henna (red Dye) and Katam (Indigo).

Note: In many traditions, particularly from Ibn Maja, word Waras (الْوَرْسَ) is used as a dye. This a golden brown dye obtained from the fruits (as a powder) of perennial shrub like tree Flemingia grahamiana, commonly found in South India. Cultivated for a dye and medicinal plant since ancient times in the Yemen and Ethiopia.

Note: It must be born in mind that applying Henna dye, or for that matter any other dye is not mandatory in Islam. Muslims were encouraged to develop their distinctive appearance. In this context there is a Hadith of Bukhari narrated by Hazrat Abu Huraira that Allah’s Messenger  said, “The Jews and the Christians do not dye (their grey hair), so you shall do the opposite of what they do (i.e. dye your grey hair and beards).

Note: Probably of the reason, as told by several scholars, for dyeing beards black by old Companions, was that it gave the impression that the soldiers of the Muslim army are all in their prime youth thus demoralizing the enemy and causing them fear. In this context there is a Hadith narrated by Hazrat Suhaib Al-Khair  that  “The Messenger of Allah  said: ‘The best thing with which you can dye your hair is this black (dye). It makes your women desire you and creates fear in the hearts of your enemies. (During Jihad). (Ibn Maja).

It was reported that the Jews and Christians refrained from dyeing the hair, regarding such beautification and adornment as contrary to piety and devotion, and not befitting rabbis, priests, and ascetics. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) forbade Muslims from imitating these people or following in their ways, in order that Muslims might develop their own distinctive and independent characteristics in appearance and behavior. The plant has deep growing, sometimes tuberous roots[266, 299].

The fruit of this species is one of the principal sources of a very popular Arab dye called ‘waras’, ‘wars’ or ‘warus’. Waras is a coarse purple or brilliant orange-brown powder. The plant has been. 299

Do not believe it was a known practice in the Levant in biblical times so there are no specific comments. People did adorned themselves with all manner of cloths, jewels, gold, flowers and makeup. The subjects of pride and vanity are of course mentioned.

Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated, ‘The best thing with which to dye gray hair is Henna and Katam.’ (Mentioned in Fath Al-Bari). Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) says, ‘Abu Bakr dyed his hair with Henna and Katm, and `Umar dyed it with Henna only.’”

The Jews and Christians do not dye (their grey hair), so do the opposite of what they do.”  Sahih/Authentic. – [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) told the Companions that the Jews and Christians do not dye their hair or beards; rather, they leave grey hair as it is. So he ordered them to do the opposite of what the Jews and Christians do by dying their hair and beards. 

Volume 4, Book 56, Number 668:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah’s Apostle said, “The Jews and the Christians do not dye (their grey hair), so you shall do the opposite of what they do (i.e. dye your grey hair and beards).”

Allah’s Apostle said, “The Jews and the Christians do not dye (their grey hair), so you shall do the opposite of what they do (i.e. dye your grey hair and …

Isatis tinctoria L. (Brassicaceae), which is commonly known as woad, is a species with an ancient and well-documented history as an indigo dye and medicinal plant.

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