Ustadh Tabraze Azam is asked why it is men may wear perfume when women, it seems, may not.
Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.
Why can’t women wear perfume when men can? Back then at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, this was done by men and in those days perfumes were different. Nowadays some perfumes have special substances that the other gender find sexually attractive. By that I would understand why women shouldn’t wear it, but then nor should men certainly? Yet back then it was prohibited for women too ? Why? I don’t understand it.
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.
In principle, both men and women can wear perfume.
Generally, ladies were interdicted from perfuming themselves before leaving the home. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “The perfume of men is a scent without color, and the perfume of women is colored without scent.” (Abu Dawud) Scents of color were perhaps something specific to their time, but the important part is the idea of manifest smell.
Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari, the famed Afgani polymath, writes in explanation of this tradition (hadith) that women aren’t permitted to wear fragrant scents when leaving the home, namely, if doing so will attract the undue attention of the opposite gender. The reason for this is that such unwarranted attention goes against the meaning of concealing one’s beauty or adornment in public settings. Allah Most High says, “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to reveal their adornments except what normally appears.” (Sura al-Nur 24:31)
Similarly, when it comes to personal care products and the like, such as strong smelling detergents, the same ruling would generally apply. But in situations where you won’t be around any unrelated men, such as whilst on a family picnic in a secluded spot, it’s fine to wear such scents even if you’re leaving the home.
As for merely making yourself smell customarily pleasant and normal, in a manner which clearly doesn’t invoke the undue attention of the opposite gender, this is acceptable. But you should err on the side of caution lest you fall into religiously problematic territory, namely, dislikedness (karaha) at the very least.
There is somewhat of a fine line between not smelling unpleasant, by regular personal upkeep and the like, and adorning oneself beyond the need. Accordingly, each person should follow the prophetic advice to honestly “seek a ruling from your heart.” Usually, the scholars were firm on this issue with some even listing it among the enormities, given the emphatic warnings against it, so it’s good to exercise a little restraint.
As for men, the basis is that their perfume is noticeable, as understood from the earlier tradition and many other statements of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace. He once remarked, “Four things are from the way of the prophets: modesty, perfume, the tooth-stick and marriage.” (Tirmidhi) Rulings are based on the normative case and not the exception, and here, it is women who have been called upon to be more reserved in their displays of adornment in public.
There are many rulings which assign a certain duty to men or women for one reason or another, or in a similar fashion, limit something, and what we should strive to realize is our servitude in this temporary life, whilst acknowledging that the Sacred Law is full of wisdom, even if we don’t seem to perceive it.
(Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih Sharh al-Mishkat; Ibn ‘Ashur, al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir)
And Allah Most High knows best.
Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.