Islam and Aromatherapy

A pioneer of aromatherapy was Islam’s own father of medicine, Abu Ali Al-Hussain Ibn Sina aka Avicenna. Samar Khan explains Ibn Sina’s view of the healing powers of oils and scent. 

Ever wonder where Dubai’s chain of Bin Sina pharmacies got its name? Abu Ali Al-Hussain Ibn Sina was the Arabian father of Medicine from Islam’s Golden Era around 1000 AD. In the west he was known as Avicenna.

Considered the inventor of distillation, Persian-born Ibn Sina refined traditional distillation processes and invented a
pipe that used steam to distill plants and produce true essential oils.

In the Middle Ages, the use of plants for medicinal oils and fragrances was commonplace across the world but as the Dark Ages drew a shadow over Europe, their use became controlled by the church. It was thanks to Arabia and Ibn Sina that the herbal traditions of the ancient world were kept alive.

A prolific scholar of international fame, Ibn Sina wrote more than 200 books including the five volume Canon of Medicine, which was studied in Europe from the 12th to the 17th centuries and contained all medical knowledge of the time. Another of his books was on cardiac drugs and he was one of the first people in antiquity to point out the role of emotions in health.


As a science, aromatherapy got its name from French doctor Rene Gattefosse
who, in the early 1900s, studied the specific healing properties of the complex constituents of essential oils, which are
the key to their therapeutic activities. According to Dr Kristie Burns of The Avicenna Institute, an online institute in the United States: “This is one of the main reasons why synthetic compounds do not have the same effect. There are now 30,000 known chemical compounds identified in essential oils such as aldehydes, phenols, ketones, esters and monoterpenes. It is important to make sure one is using the purest form of essential oils in order to receive maximum benefit from them.”

In Islam, the healing power of scents, essential oils and traditional oils as a way to correct imbalances that are the source of disease is widely accepted.

The understanding of these essential oil remedies and the methods of extracting essential oils from plants have been passed down to the present time.


The Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him) said, “There are three things of this world I have been made to prefer – prayer, wives and scents.”

Dr Burns states that: “Many Muslims know this saying yet many fail to realise that scents were used in the time of the Prophet, not just for pleasuring the senses but to achieve, indicate and maintain spiritual states.”

The Prophet’s wife Aisha, who recorded the majority of his sayings and actions, wrote: “Whenever the Prophet took the bath of purification, he asked for the Hilab or some other scent. He used to take it in his hand, rub it first over the right side of his head and then over the left and then rub the middle of his head with both hands.”

Not only was this calming but it would  also put him in a state of cleanliness where all his senses were channeled towards reaching a state of perfect connection with God in his prayers.

Today, Muslims use generous amounts of rosewater to fragrance mosques and other holy places. In emulation of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), many have adopted his daily rituals in order to enhance their physical and spiritual selves. The idea being that if the outward self is pure and clean then the inward reflects the same state. Pure rosewater is used for purification along with juniper, lemon, pine, sage, lavender, cypress and rosemary oils. Most can be found in Dubai in the Deira Spice Souk located between Baniyas Rd, Al- Sabkha Rd and Al-Abra St.


Avicenna used oils for daily healing and preventative care. One such oil is rosewater but make sure you are using pure rose water and not the rose essence. Pure rose water is derived from actual rose petals and but rose essence may just be water scented with rose and may have added chemicals added. Here are some examples of using it in daily life:

Mood: Love is the metaphysical emotion behind rosewater. A spiritually healing plant, it is good for the heart chakra. Put a few drops into the bath, use in a diffuser or burn as incense.

Medicinal: Rosewater oil has anti-septic, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Anti-aging: A good skin toner, rosewater oil prevents wrinkles from forming and is a great fragrance for the body and hair. It hydrates dry skin as a natural moisturiser and Cleopatra is said to have often bathed in it (what isn’t that woman said to have bathed in?!).

Nutritional: The syrup of rosewater can be added to water or milk as it has beneficial nutrients like flavanoids, antioxidants, tannins and essential vitamins like A, C, D, E and B3. It is also a mild sedative and an anti-depressant. It can help enhance moods, relieve nervous tension, improve skin texture and calm the mind.

SAMAR KHAN is a student of The Avicenna Institute and a consultant of Naturopathic Medicine. 


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