The Prophet (peace be upon him) was known to love good smells. He sums up what he loved of material things in this present world, saying: “Of all that is available in this present life, I am made to love perfume and women, but the thing that gives me best gratification is prayer.” (Related by Ahmad and Al-Nassaie.) This does not mean that the Prophet disliked other things that people find pleasant or enjoyable. It simply means that the Prophet did not feel an urge to have luxuries or expensive articles that people are normally keen to have. Whatever was available was sufficient for him. Anything that served the purpose in hand was good enough.
He did not disdain to have the most modest, simple and functional things. However, he was always keen that he always had a good smell. If he went through some place or close to some activity that gave an unpleasant smell, he would immediately try to dispel that smell with some perfume.
The Prophet also loved women. He grew up in a community where women were treated as inferior to men in every respect. The message he was given, i.e. the message of Islam, lays much emphasis on the equality of men and women.
As God’s messenger who delivered His last message to mankind, he demonstrated such equality in the way he treated women and the guidance he provided to both men and women. He always urged his companions to be kind to their women folk and to take good care of them.
He also loved women’s company. Moreover, when it became necessary that he should marry several wives, for social, political and legislative reasons, he did not feel this as a burden.
On the contrary, he was pleased to have them as part of his family. Some may read this Hadith as meaning that the Prophet had an extraordinarily strong sexual desire, but there is no suggestion of that in any Hadith.
However, nothing gave the Prophet greater satisfaction than prayer. Whenever he had a problem or felt stress, he resorted to prayer and it was certain to clear his stress.
Yet a good smell was important to the Prophet. He was keen that whoever was with him should be pleased with his smell. Therefore, the Prophet used to wear perfume when he went out. Lady Ayesha reports: “I used to give the Prophet the best smelling perfume we could have, and I would often see the brightness of perfume in his head and beard.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
The phraseology of this Hadith indicates that perfume was an important article in the Prophet’s home, and that his wives were keen to ensure that he had some perfume to wear when he left home. He wanted to make sure that he had a pleasant smell when he met people.
The Prophet’s practice is a Sunnah, which means that it gives a good example to follow. While this is required or recommended in religious matters, it indicates a good practice in other areas. If the Prophet did something that is unrelated to religion in a particular fashion, without saying anything to suggest that people should follow his example, then his practice is merely a matter of personal choice and is not a Sunnah. However, if a person follows the Prophet’s example in such matters, believing that whatever the Prophet did was best, he is rewarded for his intention. Hence, many of the Prophet’s companions did that.
Nafi’ reports: “Abdullah ibn Umar used to be perfumed with aromatic smoke, using unsplit aloes and he would add camphor to it. He would say: ‘The Prophet used this type of smoke for perfume.” (Related by Muslim and Al-Nassaie.)
This Hadith speaks of a type of good smell that is still used in all parts of Arabia, which is the aromatic smoke. People everywhere use incense to give a good smell, and there are several types of plants that give such smoke. A type of aloe wood that gives perhaps the best smell is known in Arabia as the Oud, and Ayesha reports: “The Oud was the best type of perfume the Prophet loved.” (Related by Abu Al-Shaykh and Ibn Saad.)
People realized that the Prophet loved a good smell. Therefore, they often offered him a touch of perfume, and he would accept it willingly. Anas reports: “The Prophet never declined to have a touch of perfume offered to him.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Bukhari, Al-Nassaie, Abu Dawood and Al-Tirmidhi.)
This Hadith is reported in more than one way. Another version that has a different chain of transmission also quotes Anas as saying: “God’s Messenger was never seen to decline perfume offered to him.” (Related by Al-Nassaie and others.)
The last two Hadiths suggest that accepting any perfume offered was a habit of the Prophet. This is clearly confirmed by a Hadith in which Ayesha reports: “The Prophet disliked to go out to meet his companions without wearing some perfume. He would have a touch of perfume toward the end of the night.” (Related by Abu Al-Shaykh.) Needless to say, Ayesha is referring to the time of dawn when the Prophet went out to the mosque to offer Fajr prayer.
He was keen that he should have a pleasant smell, always wearing perfume. It is a good practice to follow that we should wear some perfume before going out in the morning, whether to prayer or when we go to work.