Perfumery, or the art of making perfumes, began in a crude form in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Centuries ago, it was Muslim Arab perfumers who developed the techniques and traditions which laid down the cornerstones of today’s multimillion-dollar perfume industry.
The Arabian chemist Al-Kindi wrote in the 9th century a book called Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations. It contained 100 recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters and substitutes of costly drugs. It also described 107 methods for perfume-making, and today’s perfume-making equipment, like the alembic, still bear their Arabic names. In ancient times people used herbs and spices but not flowers for perfumes. It was the Muslim doctor and chemist Ibn Sina who introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose and rose water immediately became popular. Flowers are the largest source of aromatics. Both the raw ingredients and distillation technology of Muslims influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry. Knowledge of perfumery came to Europe in the 14th century due to the spread of Islam. Perfumery prospered in areas previously under Muslim rule like Italy and southern France. Muslim Arabs first made the mass production of perfume possible.
The fragrance used in Islam’s holiest places, Makkah and Madinah, is oud (agarwood), the fragrant heartwood of the Asian Aquilaria tree infected by a fungus. Oud develops over several hundred years, making it is so precious that it is the most sacred oil on the planet.