The Henna plant is an evergreen shrub about 6m (20ft) high by 6m (20ft) wide. It has small cream fragrant flowers and grows in tropical grasslands mainly in Africa and Southern Asia, and originated in Egypt. The Henna leaves have no odour even when crushed between the fingers. The flower is small and delicate with four petals, ranging from red, yellow, white and pink. They are sweet and alluring in smell, a combination of the scent of jasmine, rose and mignonette. The plant itself grows on a shrub [plant that dies back to roots in the autumn, grows new shoots in spring and lives for more than 2 growing seasons) , with several, permanent woody stems (but no trunk). It grows from ground level and is usually smaller than a tree] with small bright green leaves and a thorny bark. When mixed with clay, earth and chalk, powdered Henna releases a powerful smell.
Evidence from the Sunnah
There are many ahadeeth in relation to Henna. Amongst them are:
Umm Salma (May Allah be pleased with her) said: “Allah’s Messenger (Peace and Blessings of Allah Be upon Him), never suffered from a wound or a thorn without applying henna to it.” [Reported by Imam Trimidi (with a hasan isnaad) and Imam al Baihaqi in their sahih]
“Whenever somebody came to Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah Be upon him,) with complaints of headache, he directed him to undergo cupping and whosoever complained of pain in the legs, was advised to apply Henna.” (Narrated in Sunan Abee Dawud)
Narrated AbuDharr: The Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah Be upon him) said: The best things with which grey hair are changed are henna and katam.
There are many medicinal properties of Henna. The following illustrates the benefits of henna:
- Cooling affect – it reduces the body temperature
- Used as a coagulator for open wounds
- A poultice (soft mask used for inflammation of the skin) made with Henna soothes burns and certain eczema
- Relaxing – when applied to the palms which contain numerous nerve endings, henna relaxes the body
- Antiperspirant – when made into a plaster and applied to areas of the body it causes tightening of the pores, this also results in antibacterial characteristics in that it reduces bad odour
- Reduces headaches when applied mixed with vinegar to the head
Henna possesses many special qualities, among them the following:
- Tannic acid
- Decomposing due to its warm watery essence
- Constipating due to the cold earthly essence it contains
- Antiperspirant agents due to the tightening of the pores
- Cooling astringency (coolant) for the body
- Antibacterial in that it prevents bad odour from eminating from the body when applied correctly
According to one study carried out by Kent State University (2004), any child diagnosed with G6PD deficiency (Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, an inherited condition) must not have henna applied. The application of Henna can cause severe anaemia in G6PD deficient infants. This can occur by the Henna penetrating the thin, fragile skin causing oxidative haemolysis of their blood cells. It can cause jaundice within 24 hours, lethargy and vomiting necessitating immediate medical attention. Therefore it is advised that henna should not be applied to individuals who are G6PD deficient especially infants. Please note that G6PD deficient men are twice as likely to have a negative reaction by the application of Henna than women; and this could be one of the wisdoms behind why in Islam Henna is recommended only for women and not for men and Allah knows best.
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