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Dossier thématique : Histoire et anthropologie des odeurs en terre d’Islam à l’époque médiévale
Odeurs et sacré

Olfactory Visuals A Case of Saffron Prohibition in adī Commentary

Atanas Shinikov
p. 277-291


A review of the iḥāḥ corpus of prophetic traditions reveals multiple accounts on the application of perfume. Here the social role perfume and cosmetics could assume in Muslim worldview is examined through a closer look at the specific case of the prophetic saffron prohibition for men, expounded upon in the authoritative Fat al‑Bārī bi‑Šar aḥīḥ al‑Buḫārī commentary of Ibn Ḥaǧar al‑ʿAsqalānī (d. 1449). Prohibition of saffron usage by men is put in the light of a historically established interpretative and linguistic tradition supported by drawing on a solid body of previous sources, mainly within the Šāfiʿīte mahab. In case we need to build a hierarchy of sensory perceptions in order to decode the cultural role of saffron, it is difficult to say whether the olfactory or the visual element prevails. Yet, both saffron smell and colour can be perceived as pointing to a meaning beyond themselves. A saffron ban imposed in such a manner is made reasonable only within the discourses of legally charged adīṯ interpretation; it is here where aspects of smell and sight play a significatory role with regards to cultural practices and occupy a transcendentally substantiated position.

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First lines

“In the world”, goes on the adīṯ of the prophet Muhammad (d. 632), “perfume and women have been made dear to me (ubbiba ilayya)”. Regardless of the scholarly debate on the historicity controversies around the origins and development of the adīṯ compilations, it deserves mentioning that at least since the time of the emblematic “Treatise” (Risāla) of Muḥammad b. Idrīs al‑Šāfiʿī (d. 820), the prophetic traditions have emerged as exerting normative influence on the ethos of Muslim daily life. Illustrative as it may be, the saying above is not alone within the source material to elucidate aspects of perfume application in Muslim perceptions. A review of the textual corpus of the “authentic” prophetic traditions (iḥāḥ) reveals numerous accounts on the application of perfume and perfume related substances. Although one would expect to see the common ʿir term to designate “perfume”, we rather find that the Arabic ṭīb has been favoured over it. References to perfumes are found through ...

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Bibliographical reference

Atanas Shinikov, « Olfactory Visuals A Case of Saffron Prohibition in adī Commentary », Bulletin d’études orientales, LXIV | 2016, 277-291.

Electronic reference

Atanas Shinikov, « Olfactory Visuals A Case of Saffron Prohibition in adī Commentary », Bulletin d’études orientales [Online], LXIV | 2016, Online since 01 April 2018, connection on 20 July 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/beo.4721

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About the author

Atanas Shinikov

PhD Student – Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski

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© Institut français du Proche-Orient

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