The Incense Oud

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Imaam Bukhari reported that the Prophet said: “Treat with Indian incense (‘oud al-Hindi), for it has healing for seven diseases; it is to be sniffed by one having throat problems, and to be put into one side of the mouth by one suffering from pleurisy.” This prescription was given more than fourteen hundred years ago before aromatherapy was even considered an area of alternative medicine.

Most of us are familiar with the perfume `Oud and the wood incense `Oud. However, very few of us actually use these two items for other than basic perfumery. The tree referred to as ‘oud is Aquilaria agallocha and is also known as Aloes wood, Agarwood and Eaglewood. The scent that most are familiar with is obtained only after this tree has been infected with a fungal infection. Non-infected trees do not produce the highly fragrant oil or wood. This tree is found in various southeast Asian forests, Bangladesh, Bengal, Bhutan, Burma, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. The scent is reminiscent of vetiver and sandalwood and is extremely long-lasting.

It is important for us to note that the infected tree must be at least 50 years old to produce the oil. Although India was a major producer of this oil in the early 1900’s, production has been banned because of the destruction of these trees. (It is not known if the tree is infected until after it has been cut down, an ecologically unsound practice.) Vietnam has banned all trade in this oil as well.

While this oil is extremely rare and costly, it can also be extremely beneficial. Traditional medical uses for ‘oud include: asthma, chest congestion, colic, diarrhea, diuretic, kidney problems, nausea, thyroid cancer, lung tumors and as a general tonic in China. In Indian Ayurvedic medicine it has been used as a cardiac tonic and carminative (relieves gas from the intestines). It is felt that because of the difficulty in receiving this oil, alternative medicine practitioners have not investigated it. There is some belief that ‘oud oil may be useful in treating lymph system disorders, high blood pressure and as an anti-malarial treatment due to its chemical composition and components.

Further research is required into the possible healing properties of this unique oil and to determine its uses in the “seven diseases” mentioned by the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam. However, we must also ask ourselves do we wish to participate in the destruction and possible elimination of this species of trees. Due to its widespread use in Arabia, the prices for 1 kg. of ‘oud in the form of oil or wood have risen as high as $10,000.00. As Muslims we have an obligation to follow the teachings of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, and his sunnah.

But that must be in all aspects of his sunnah including the obligation to protect the environment. If we are not using ‘oud as prescribed by Allah’s Messenger, perhaps we should restrain from its use only in perfumery. It is quite possible that this oil may have great medical benefits, but if there are no trees available then we may never know.

Vivian bint Joan Taylor