Using Perfumes & Medicines That Contain Alcohol

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is a summary of various fatawa on using perfumes and medicines that contain alcohol, specifically, ethanol.

There are several categories of fragrances today including perfume, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, and eau de cologne; each containing a lesser degree of aromatic oils, respectively.  The lower the concentration of aromatic compounds, the shorter the scent life.  Perfumes are highly prized precisely because it lasts from morning until night.  Additionally, perfume wears well, meaning the scent stays fresh as the day wears on.  In fact, good perfume is designed to smell nice throughout its various stages of wear.

Aromatic compounds used in perfumes have complex chemical interactions.  In order for a scent to last throughout the day, tens or even hundreds of ingredients are used so that the perfume continues to ‘bloom’.  Essentially, as one group of compounds is spent, another re-enlivens the scent and adds its own tone.  Perfume is said to have three notes that work together to form the lasting fragrance.

According to the Shafi’i madzhab, khamr, alcoholic beverages made of grape juice, and nabiz, alcoholic beverages that are made from other type of juices beside grape, are haram and impure.  Therefore, ethanol derived from alcoholic beverages is also haram and impure.  The synthetic alcohol is produced through the hydration of ethylene or hydroxylation of ethyl sulphate to yield ethanol and regenerate the sulphuric acid.  Here, there is no fermentation process, thus, the synthetic alcohol is pure.  Therefore, synthetic alcohol would be permissible to use and will not cause body or clothing become impure.  However it is not permissible for oral intake.

al-Azhar’s Dar al-Ifta’ states that, “In Islam, it is unanimously held that all things are supposed to be deemed pure, and that it is not necessary that all what is declared forbidden is considered impure.  This is because impurity is a legal ruling that needs evidence.  For example, drugs and fatal poisons are forbidden, yet this by no means qualify them to be impure.  For this reason, some scholars including Rabi’ah, al-Layts ibn Sa’d, al-Muzani and some other scholars hold that wine is pure regardless of its being unlawful, and that only drinking it is forbidden.  However, the majority of jurists are of the view that wine is impure and forbidden.

Thus, we conclude that all that is impure is deemed forbidden, but not vice versa.  This is because regarding something as impure is to forbid any physical contact with it, whereas regarding something as unlawful is not necessarily to forbid any contact with it.  To illustrate, wearing gold and silk is unlawful for men, yet they are considered pure by the consensus of scholars and thus can be touched by men.

As far as perfumes containing alcohol is concerned, they consist of many ingredients like water, perfume, and alcohol that comprises the highest percentage.  It is known that alcohol is produced from sugarcane by way of distillation.  Thus, according to the juristic rule, which states that all things are presumed to be originally pure and that being prohibited does not render something impure, perfumes that contain alcohol are pure, particularly if we bear in mind that they are used for cleaning and perfuming the body.  Thus, it is permissible to use these perfumes and there is nothing wrong in that.”

It is found in, “Leaving aside the very weak argument that alcoholic beverage is pure unless declared otherwise, there is an aspect of cosmetic alcohol which would seem to differentiate it from beverages fundamentally enough to place it in a different class where the rulings of both the impurity and prohibitiveness of beverages do not apply.  That aspect is the fact that cosmetic beverages are not made for intoxication, nor are conducive to it, nor are used towards it, nor are they made for consumption, nor conducive to consumption, nor used for consumption.  In other words: cosmetic alcohol is essentially a different substance than khamr.  That is why the position of permitting it seems strongest, some even permitting the consumption of cough syrup containing alcohol for the same reason.  And Allah knows best.”

Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller stated in his translation of the Maqaswid under things which are considered najasat, impurities include liquid intoxicants, whether liquor, or other products containing ethyl or methyl alcohol, since these two are produced by wine fermentation, as opposed to other, chemically distinct types of alcohol that are not produced by wine fermentation, and hence not filth.

However, he gave a slightly different ruling in his translation and commentary of ‘Umdat as-Salik wa ‘Uddat an-Nasik by Imam Shihab ad-Din al-Miswri (r.a.).  In it, he said najasat means any liquid intoxicant, including, for the Shafi'i madzhab, anything containing alcohol such as cologne and other cosmetics, though some major Hanafi scholars of this century, including Imam Muhammad Bakhit al-Muthi’i of Egypt and Imam Badr ad-Din al-Hasani of Damascus, have given formal legal opinions that they are pure, thahir, because they are not produced or intended as intoxicants.

Topical alcohol includes the alcohol used in sanitizers and other chemical-related topical products, and is not the normal alcohol which is consumed.  Therefore, it is permissible to used such products.

As for the use of alcohol in solid or liquid medicines, there are conditions for its use by muftiyyun.  Firstly, the medicine containing alcohol or other haram ingredients must be absolutely necessary for the life of the person who takes it.  Secondly, a knowledgeable and trustworthy Muslim physician should recommend such a type of medicine containing alcohol.  And finally, the patient is not allowed to take this particular type of medicine while there are other lawful medicines available.


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