Can Muslim women wear perfume?

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Muslim women are permitted to wear any type of fragrance they wish in their home with their family members. However, they should only wear lightly-scented or unscented deodorants when leaving the house as an act of modesty.

It is the prophetic practice (sunnah) for men to wear strongly-scented perfume when leaving the house.

Abu Ayyub reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَرْبَعٌ مِنْ سُنَنِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ الْحَيَاءُ وَالتَّعَطُّرُ وَالسِّوَاكُ وَالنِّكَاحُ

There are four traditions of the Messengers: Modesty, wearing perfume, using the toothstick, and marriage.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1080, Grade: Hasan

For women outside of the home, the prophetic practice is that their perfumes and fragrances should be hidden to the extent that they do not attract the attention of other people from a reasonable distance.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

طِيبُ الرِّجَالِ مَا ظَهَرَ رِيحُهُ وَخَفِيَ لَوْنُهُ وَطِيبُ النِّسَاءِ مَا ظَهَرَ لَوْنُهُ وَخَفِيَ رِيحُهُ

The perfume of men is that which scent is apparent and color is hidden. The perfume of women is that which scent is hidden and color is apparent.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2787, Grade: Sahih

And Sa’eed said:

وَطِيبُ النِّسَاءِ إِذَا أَرَادَاتْ أَنْ تَخْرُجَ فَأَمَّا إِذَا كَانَتْ عِنْدَ زَوْجِهَا فَلْتَطَيَّبْ بِمَا شَاءَتْ

The perfume of women (mentioned here) is when she intends to leave her house. If she is inside with her husband, then she may war whatever fragrance she wishes.

Source: Sharḥ al-Sunnah 12/81

The reason women should not wear strongly-scented fragrances outside of the home is because it attracts unrelated men to look at her, whereas men are required to lower their gaze from unrelated women. The strong scent makes it more difficult for men to avoid looking lustfully at them. Just as man have a duty to lower their gaze, women have a corresponding duty not to attract their gaze.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَيُّمَا امْرَأَةٍ أَصَابَتْ بَخُورًا فَلَا تَشْهَدْ مَعَنَا الْعِشَاءَ الْآخِرَةَ

Any woman who adorns herself with (strong) fragrances should not attend the evening prayer with us.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 444, Grade: Sahih

The woman who deliberately attracts men with her fragrance is called an ‘adulteress,’ meaning the lesser adultery that is committed with the eye.

Abu Musa reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

كُلُّ عَيْنٍ زَانِيَةٌ وَالْمَرْأَةُ إِذَا اسْتَعْطَرَتْ فَمَرَّتْ بِالْمَجْلِسِ فَهِيَ كَذَا وَكَذَا

Every eye can commit adultery. The woman who adorns herself with fragrances and passes by an assembly of men is as such.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2786, Grade: Sahih

Al-Mubarakpuri writes:

يَعْنِي زَانِيَةً لِأَنَّهَا هَيَّجَتْ شَهْوَةَ الرِّجَالِ بِعِطْرِهَا وَحَمَلَتْهُمْ عَلَى النَّظَرِ إِلَيْهَا وَمَنْ نَظَرَ إِلَيْهَا فَقَدْ زَنَى بِعَيْنَيْهِ فَهِيَ سَبَبُ زِنَى الْعَيْنِ فَهِيَ آثِمَةٌ

She is an adulteress, as she provokes the lusts of men with her perfume and compels them and whoever else to look at her. Hence, it is an act of adultery with the eyes and whatever causes adultery with the eyes is itself sinful.

Source: Tuḥfat al-Aḥwadhī 2786

This designation is not for the purpose of shaming her per se, but rather to emphasize the sinfulness of this deed as it is a step away from the greater adultery. If a man happens to detect the scent of an unrelated woman, he should not use this as an excuse to be cruel or harsh with her. If he advises her, he should do so gently and with an intention to soften her heart; otherwise, he should avoid her.

Nonetheless, women are permitted to wear lightly-scented perfumes and fragrances, such as a light musk, provided that they are not done with the intention or result of attracting undue attention.

Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri reported:

أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ذَكَرَ امْرَأَةً مِنْ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ حَشَتْ خَاتَمَهَا مِسْكًا وَالْمِسْكُ أَطْيَبُ الطِّيبِ

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, mentioned a woman from the children of Israel who would wear a ring filled with musk and that musk is the best perfume.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2252, Grade: Sahih

Aisha reported:

كُنَّا نَخْرُجُ مَعَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِلَى مَكَّةَ فَنُضَمِّدُ جِبَاهَنَا بِالسُّكِّ الْمُطَيَّبِ عِنْدَ الْإِحْرَامِ فَإِذَا عَرِقَتْ إِحْدَانَا سَالَ عَلَى وَجْهِهَا فَيَرَاهُ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَلَا يَنْهَاهَا

We would go out with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to Mecca and we would apply perfume made of musk to our foreheads before entering into the state of pilgrimage (ihram). If one of us perspired, the musk would run down her face. The Prophet would see it and he would not prohibit it for her.

Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 1830, Grade: Sahih 

Al-Azimabadi said:

وَسُكُوتُهُ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآلِهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَدُلُّ عَلَى الْجَوَازِ لِأَنَّهُ لَا يَسْكُتُ عَلَى بَاطِلٍ

The silence of the Prophet indicates permission, as he would not be silent over what is invalid.

Source: ‘Awn al-Ma’būd 1830

In sum, Muslim women are prohibited from wearing strong perfumes outside of the home as they attract the attention of unrelated men. Women are permitted to wear lightly-scented or unscented deodorants in order to cover their bodily odor, as long as these fragrances are light enough not to be detected at a reasonable distance.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.