Aromatherapy (the science of using essential oils and fragrances as mood enhancers and to promote physical wellbeing) seems like a western fad but Islamic history is rich with references of musk, frankincense, bukhoor and other beautiful scents.
In a Hadith, the Prophet is reported to have said:
“Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa ‘i).
While researching for this post, I came across an excellent article by Brother Abdur Rahman who explained the hadith in a more allegorical manner. When this hadith is read on a deeper level, the mention of perfume can be read as the Prophet’s love of the perfume of beautiful character. That is quiet profound!
As Islam spread across Arabia and into Persia, Rose water became a favourite in the Muslim world where it was used to perfume mosques, clean clothes and was added to food items. Ibn Sina (Avicenna) the Islamic philosopher, devoted an entire book on the use of roses and recorded over 800 medical plants and essentials oils. He was the first to perfect the distilling of oils from plants and herbs, used today in concentrated forms of aromatherapy oils.
On my trip to Oman some while back, I noticed how widespread the use of bukhoor (fragrance) was. The building where all the Arabic language students were housed, always had bukhoor burning and it created such a beautiful atmosphere. In Salalah, I visited a souq (market) where an entire section was lined with shop after shop selling bukhoor.
Bukhoor Stall in Salalah, Oman
Bukhoor burner painting shop in Salalah, Oman
Today, we wouldn’t dream of setting up our business next to a competitor but Islamic architecture and city planning was based on the deep belief that Allah was the provider and would look after all who sought from Him. Alhamdolillah! In my own life, I have fond memories of coming back home from school on Fridays to a bukhoor-ed up home. So…it was about time I helped the girls to create good memories of learning Arabic.
In keeping with my goal of creating a fun, intellectually stimulating and respectful atmosphere in my classroom, I have used aromatherapy. In my first year at Oxford, we had to learn almost 40 new keywords each week and had a test every Tuesday to review new grammar concepts. I tried to start each class with a ten minute test so that the girls would be forced to review the material I was teaching them each week. What I forgot was that they weren’t doing a degree in Arabic! LOL So I cut down on the tests. Last lesson, I gave them an end of term assessment (only 70 exam sheets to mark!) and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring back the aromatherapy I was using.
Getting started with a calm classroom
There’s a lot of research supporting the use of essentials oils to regulate mood. As the girls entered the class which would begin with the short test, there was always nervous energy in the room. To calm them down, I created a spray mist using lavender essential oil (bought from Boots) about 12 drops and more if needed and I would spray the room before they entered.
When I did it in my last Arabic class, the room smelt so nice and I noticed that the girls were very calm and definitely less rowdy. I’ve made it my habit now to use the lavender spray and to remind them to say “Bismillah” before they begin. I am conscious that some kids can be allergic to essential oils or that they can trigger negative emotions and memories, but so far alhamdolillah nobody has complained!
Here’s a short video explaining how to make the spray and one for making your own reed diffusers.
If you are interested in using aromatherapy to help your Arabic/Islamic Studies/Qur’an studies students, here is some more info:
- Invest in good quality essential oils. Although essential oils are on the pricey side – try not to use commercial room sprays as they can trigger allergic reactions and generally do not promote wellbeing.
- Plan how you will use your essential oils: room spray? Reed diffusers? Commercial diffuser?
- Choose your essential oils based on which mood you’d like to enhance:
Lavender: The most common and easy to find EO. Use to relax and calm the students. Too much will put the student’s to sleep! J
Lemon (and other citrus oils such as grapefruit): Use to create a cheerful, inspiring atmosphere. For whenever you want to energise the students. Especially good for dark and cold winter months.
Peppermint: Use when teaching new concepts and you want students sharp and alert.
Say Bismillah and get started. Remember to adjust to your classroom needs. Some smells can trigger negative emotions in people – so always check in with students about how they’re feeling and if they agree to this practise. Never go over board – especially with Lavender! And most importantly enjoy the experience.
I will continue to use aromatherapy over the next two coming terms and I can’t wait to try the different essential oils available in the market.
Research (pdf file) on Aromatherapy in the classroom: a large scale pilot project
A comprehensive article outlining the History of Aromatherapy
An excellent article on Aromatherapy in the Ancient Azerbaijani Medicine
I hope you enjoyed reading this post!