دماء العرب The Blood of the Arabs

Arabian and Islamic Views on Fragrance Part 3
Comparisons to various views from the west

On Perfume

دماء العرب

It is the blood of the Arabs, and certainly not something one indulges in to seduce someone before going to the restaurant.
Its purpose is to elevate the spirit and the individual.
Serge Lutens quoted in Le Guérer, 2002: 300.
Trans: Marcello Aspria

Welcome back to The Scented Salon. I thought it timely to clarify a few points before we continue on our fragrant journey to Palestine and Malaysia.

A special welcome to new readers from Amman, Kuwait, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco (is that you Uncle Serge?), Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Indonesia. Peace to you Sisters and Brothers. Peace to your families too.

Please feel free to comment below in English, Arabic, Jawi, Bahasa Melayu, or any language that suits you.

This series was called Arabic and Islamic Views until it was pointed out to me that the word Arabic refers to the language. The series is now called Arabian and Islamic Views. It was also pointed out to me that not all westerners know the difference and that Arabs are too polite to point it out. Let’s continue our mutual education.

We have been exploring the purpose of perfume using John Oehler’s premise:

Great perfumes have always had one purpose: to seduce.
John Oehler

Jordan: I would like to highlight that the above premise related to a work of fiction. The idea is crucial to the plot of John’s book Aphrodesia rather than his absolute personal view on fragrance. You can read his personal view below along with the views of many other people.

Sorry John, but I’m with Serge on this one. The idea that olfactory sensation is limited to the erotic prevents us from experiencing the magic dormant in our sense of smell.
Thomas Kruger
Ensar Oud

About the purpose of perfume, I was careful to say “great perfumes,” by which I mean the classics (French, American, Japanese). I know very well that many people today scent themselves for their own pleasure. I also know that, in cultures where incense has a long history (like Asia, India, Arabia), fragrance is often used to create a sense of welcome and peace and general pleasantness (versus romantic attraction). In Oman and Dubai, for instance, dinner guests are sometimes sent home with a gift of oud or frankincense. Arab culture in general is characterized by hospitality and grace toward both friends and strangers.

But sensual uses are not unknown in Arab tradition. The 15th-century book whose title is usually translated as The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight is basically an Arab sex manual, equivalent in concept to the Kama Sutra, although less graphic.
John Oehler

ملء خيمة مع مجموعة متنوعة من العطور المختلفة: العنبر، المسك وجميع أنواع الروائح، مثل الورد وزهر برتقال، والياسمين، الصفير، القرنفل وغيرها من النباتات. هذا القيام به، قد وضعت هناك عدة مباخر الذهب مليئة الصبر الخضراء، العنبر، ومثل هذه
الروض العاطر في نزهة الخاطر
The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight
Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi

Fill the tent with a variety of different perfumes: ambergris, musk and all sorts of scents, such as rose, orange flowers, jonquils, jasmine, hyacinth, carnation and other plants. This done, have placed there several gold censers filled with green aloes, ambergris, naddah and such like.
الروض العاطر في نزهة الخاطر
The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight
Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi
Trans: Jim Colville 1999

Serge Lutens, who now lives in Marrakech, is of the opinion that perfumes are not about frivolous seduction. This is not a unique viewpoint in the industry, since many perfumers perceive their work as an art form; but if most reject associations of sensuality and eroticism as a marketing ploy, Lutens’s criticism is more metaphysical. In his view, perfumes are meant to convey a sense of purification and harmony with the world, which is deeply inscribed in Arab culture.
Marcello Aspria
Scented Pages

Lutens hints at an important dimension of perfume that’s completely absent from the mainstream view: purification. There’s a well-known saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: ‘Purification is half of faith’. Muslims have a ritual purification they perform before their prayer, and the seal to the act is perfume. I’ve spent some time in the company of living luminaries of Islam and of the habits I’ve picked up from them is that they perfume themselves before each prayer.

Cleanliness and perfume also go together metaphysically in so far as we’re taught that our companion beings who share an unseen but parallel existence with us are affected by fragrance. What traditional cultures call ‘evil spirits’ are turned away by good smell, which is why incense-burning forms part of religious practice wherever it’s found.

Scent permeates the barriers set by modern mono-culture. In Islam, we move seamlessly from lighting a chip of agarwood which aids spiritual focus to putting on a dab of favourite oud oil which adds romance to a candle lit dinner with your loved one.
Thomas Kruger
Ensar Oud

I never wore perfume to seduce but rather it was the scent of perfume that always seduced me.
New York

I scent for personal pleasure and on some occasions to create atmosphere.
Jordan River
The Fragrant Man

I’ve always thought that the main purpose of any perfumes – great and not so – was to mask unpleasant odors, which couldn’t be dealt with otherwise in older times. In general, I do not believe in seductiveness of perfumes. Some people do react to perfumes. But, in my opinion, people are much less conditioned to react this way to perfumes than they are trained by the “culture” to react to special clothes/lingerie. When people are attracted to each other, the scent that accompanies the seduction or the following stage might be linked to the event and in future be associated with it and trigger similar feelings but the perfume itself is hardly a part in causing those initial emotions.
Undina’s Looking Glass

Perhaps I should have said, to attract. ​Granted, many people today, especially single people, wear fragrances to please themselves and perhaps “elevate the spirit.” Napoleon’s lavender would be an older example. But in most classic perfumes, the base note is distinctly animalic and designed to bloom last in the evaporative sequence, when a romantic evening culminates in sex. I believe this is what the great perfumer Jacques Guerlain meant when he famously said perfumes should smell like the “underside” of his mistress.
John Oehler

Scent is… a disguise.
Woon Tai Ho

As Muslim men, we are taught that to wear perfume is an act of charity towards others around you. Enabling others to smell something pleasant is equal to giving them a gift.
Incense burning for remembrance and invocation as well as personal scenting is woven into Arab and Muslim culture. Again, an innate love of anything that perfumes one is what drives Muslims to bukhoor and Oud wood. Fumigating the house, scenting clothing, and cleansing an area of evil spirits who abhor beautiful fragrance; spreading an unearthly scent to facilitate remembrance in circles of invocation;these are some of the uses of incense in the Middle East.
Ensar Oud

لا تشرب مياه الأمطار مباشرة بعد الجماع، وذلك لأن هذه المشروبات تضعف الكلى.
إذا كنت ترغب في تكرار الجماع والعطور نفسك مع الروائح الحلوة، ثم أغلق مع المرأة، وسوف تصل إلى نتيجة سعيدة.
الروض العاطر في نزهة الخاطر،
The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight
Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi

Do not drink rain-water directly after copulation, because this beverage weakens the kidneys.
If you want to repeat the coition, perfume yourself with sweet scents, then close with the woman, and you will arrive at a happy result.
الروض العاطر في نزهة الخاطر
The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight
Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi
Trans: Jim Colville 1999

C’est le sang des Arabes, surtout pas quelque chose dont on s’arrose pour séduire avant d’aller au restaurant. Il doit élever l’esprit et l’individu.
Serge Lutens quoted in Le Guérer, 2002: 300.

I would retract my statement about seduction if it were not for one thing — it has provoked some fascinating responses to the contrary. I admit to having been “occi-centric,” if that’s a word. I had in mind “western” culture and classic western/French perfumes, as well as stated objectives by some master perfumers. But I’m well aware (and thankful) that there’s a world of rich cultures beyond the West. In fact, I’ve spent many years in Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist societies where what I said would be greeted with “Huh?” by most people.

So Jordan, thank you for using me as a thorn to incite other views and to open some (maybe many) eyes to the wider world of fragrances, how we use the, and why we use them.
John Oehler

Jordan: The Thorn! Thank you John. The idea has certainly become a great talking point with lots of varied and interesting opinions.

Arabic VS Arab
From John
Just so you know, Arabic is the language. Everything else is Arab.
It’s Arab. But don’t fret about it. Few westerners know the difference, and Arabs are too polite to point it out.

From Jordan
Thank you. I have changed the discussion name to Arabian. An embarrassing error which I thank you for pointing out. I used be annoyed at people who used Hindi, Hindu, Hindustani and Hindustan incorrectly!
Google will frown on me if I change the previous post name. Changed the future ones and will have to live with my public ignorance!

Arab VS Arabian
From John
The use of Arab vs Arabian is a little like the use of Greek vs Grecian. The latter is more old-fashioned and sometimes more gracious. However Arabian is universally used for some things like geographic names (Arabian Gulf, Arabian Peninsula) and of course for the world’s most beautiful (in my opinion) breed of horse.

Further Reading
Part 1 Arabian and Islamic Views on Fragrance – Medina
Part 2 Arabian and Islamic Views on Fragrance – The End of Oud
Part 3 – tomorrow we visit a woman in al-Eizariya, a village in Palestine

Coming Up:
– a fragrant journey west of the Jordan River to al-Eizariya, in Palestine

– Texas, to view Paul Barnicki’s Private Collection of Oud Oils

– The Fragrant Man meets rising star and time-traveller Carlos Huber of Arquiste

Woon Tai Ho, a non-fragrance wearer reviews two fragrances

– Keiko Mercheri – The Auckland Launch

– New Zealand women, we ask a room of NZ women what they waft

– An interview with a Malay woman about her fragrant choices and how they compliment her personal beliefs

– Denyse Beaulieu in Montreal launching her book The Perfume Lover.
The New York launch photos are here.

– A chat with Dr O in Vienna and a look at his private collection

– We return to Singapore and investigate Stuart Koe’s Private Collection

– Fragrant molecules explained by Łukasz Szcześniak from The Chemist in the Bottle

– A chat with Dr O in Vienna and a look at his private collection

– Gaharu Hunters – The Search for Oud in 2013

– The Cost of the Oil in the Alabaster Box

– Daniel returns to Malaysia after a cologne shopping spree in Paris and Rome. He really needed to update his wardrobe from designer-label-mainstream-generic to niche. We have a look at his choices before and after his trip

Portia on Perfumery

– The Smell of Space – Part 2

– Fragrance Masterclass – Event reporting

– Travelling with Fragrance, a look inside Clayton Ilolahia’s suitcase

20 responses to “دماء العرب The Blood of the Arabs

  1. But this was just fantastic….a synopsis of so many views from across the world…love it! And I am still intrigued by what Woon said about scent being a “disguise”. I very much look forward to his reviews and am curious as to which fragrances he will be writing about !

    • and you know I never told anyone this before but my husband, who really does not like fragrance due to severe reactions to it during allergy season (migraines and nausea) was wearing Drakkar Noir on the night I met him (it was in a country western club in Manhattan). All I kept thinking as I was dancing with him was “this guy smells divine!!! So perhaps there was a bit of seduction in fragrance going on there! Needless to say once he ensnarled me he stopped wearing fragrance all together!!

  2. This was great to read. 🙂
    I never thought of perfumes being used for seductive purposes as that’s not why I use them – perfume is basically meant for my own enjoyment.
    Something like food – you could use it for seduction but it’s very rarely used for that purpose.

  3. I love the reference to the spiritual dimension of fragrance, of providing “our companion beings who share an unseen but parallel existence with us” with beautiful scents to enjoy and exalt, while repelling evil spirits. 🙂 I enjoy various fragrances for different moods and uses (seduction is pretty low on the list – too corny!). My favorite fragrances, however, definitely evoke an attitude of reverence in me.

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