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Understanding The Science Behind Scents

We all know about the importance of spiritual cleanliness, but Islam also stresses physical cleanliness.

In fact, the Holy Qur’an and Hadith have put a great emphasis on clean outward appearance; looking clean and nice is Sunnah.

Doing so will make you look good, feel good, and be confident, and people will like your company and will respect you.

Allah said:

“O children of Adam! wear your beautiful apparel at every  place of prayer: eat and drink: but waste not by excess for God loves not the wasters. Say: Who has forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of God, which He hath produced for his servants, and the things clean and pure (which He has provided) for sustenance? Say: They are in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) purely for them on the Day of Judgment. Thus do We explain the signs in detail for those who understand.” (Surat Al-A’raf 7:31-32).

Another Qur’anic verse says:

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“Surely God loves those who are most repenting, and loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.” (Surat Al-Baqarah 2:222).

Yahya related from Malik from Zayd ibn Aslam that Ata ibn Yasar told him that the Messenger of God (PBUH) was in the mosque when a man came in with disarranged hair and beard.

The Messenger of God motioned with his hand that he should be sent out to groom his hair and beard. The man did so and then returned.

The Messenger of God said,

“Isn’t this better than that one of you should come with his head disarranged, as if he were a devil?” (Malik Muwatta, Book 51, Number 51.2.7).

‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “No one who has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart will enter the Garden.” A man said, “And if the man likes his clothes to be good and his sandals to be good?”

He said,

“God is Beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means to renounce the truth and to look down on people.” [Muslim].

Islam also lays an important emphasis on brushing teeth. Abu Hurairah reported: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said,

“Had I not thought it difficult for my nation, I would have commanded them to use the Miswak (tooth-stick) before every Salat.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Hudaifah reported: Whenever the Messenger of Allah (God bless him and grant him peace) got up (from sleep), he would rub his teeth with Miswak (tooth-stick). [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

The prophet even forbade people to come to mosque if a person smelled like garlic or onion until its odor went away. AbuSa’id al-Khudri said: Garlic and onions were mentioned before the Apostle of God (PBUH). He was told: “The most severe of them is garlic. Would you make it unlawful?” The Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Eat it, and he who eats it should not come near this mosque until its odor goes away.” (Abu Dawood, Book 27, Number 3814).

The Biochemistry Behind Smell

Biophysicist Luca Turin studies the science of smell. He’s a leading proponent of the vibrational theory of smell — the idea that when our noses pick up a scent, we’re reacting to the vibrational properties of the molecule we’re smelling. (This is in opposition to the shape theory of smell, which imagines smelly molecules fitting into conveniently shaped receptors in our noses.)

His work on olfactory reception and the prediction of what a particular molecule will smell like has led to an interesting line of work: designing new fragrances and flavor molecules, as part of the firm Flexitral, where he is CTO.

Coming up, he’ll be part of a team in Biomedical Engineering at MIT, headed by Professor Shuguang Zhang, to develop an artificial nose made with natural receptors as part of DARPA‘s just-launched RealNose program.

He’s the author of several books on scent, including Perfumes: The Guide and The Secret of Scent, and is the subject of Chandler Burr’s 2003 book The Emperor of Scent.