Q/ What is the ruling on alcohol based perfumes?
A/ Bismillah wa ‘l-hamdu lillah:
The scholars are of two opinions with regards to alcohol based perfumes and the like. Is it permissible to use alcohols for other than getting intoxicated? Are they najis (impure, filthy) or not?
Those scholars who said that all alcohol is impure and that we have to avoid ALL types of alcohol for any type of usage based their opinion on the statement of Allah in surah ma’idah [5:90-1] in which Allah says that khamr [wine], along with other things, are “rijz from the handiwork of shaytan”. Rijz means impure. Furthermore in the same ayahs, Allah carries on to command us to “avoid that in order that you may be successful”. They argue that the word ‘avoid’ infers that we must avoid these things in all situations.
Other scholars said that alcohol, and indeed all intoxicants, are only impermissible if, when consumed in large amounts, they result in being intoxicated. They said that it is only haram to consume the alcohol in the way that results in intoxication. Of course, if something intoxicates in large amounts then it is also haram to consume that in small amounts in the way that results in intoxication. As an example, they would allow one to use alcohol based perfumes on the body because putting them on the body does not result in intoxication (even if one were to use large amounts of perfume). They also said that this perfume would not be najis.
This latter opinion seems to be the strongest view among the scholars and it is the opinion of Shaykh Uthaymin – may Allah have mercy on him. (He still, however, said that one should avoid these perfumes if they contain a large amount of intoxicant in them in order to teach the principle: ‘it is better to keep away from those things that the scholars differ over and stick with those things that they agree over’.)
This opinion is stronger because:
1) Allah gave the ‘illah’ (reason) for the prohibition of intoxicants when He said later on in the verses of ma’idah: “Shaytan only wants to induce enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and from salah. So will you not then abstain?” Applying intoxicants (such as alcohol) to the skin do not cause enmity or lack of remembrance in the salah. Therefore, this implies that the prohibition of alcohol is only when drunk.
2) The prophet sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: “All intoxicants are khamr (wine)”. In the ayah of ma’idah Allah prohibited ‘khamr’ (i.e. all intoxicants) not just ‘alcohol’. Therefore, the hadith (along with the ayah) clearly shows that anything that intoxicates is khamr and therefore prohibited. If we were to apply the reasoning of the first group of scholars (saying that consuming any khamr in any way is haram) then we would HAVE to say that using paints, glue and petrol in any way is haram because they all intoxicate (albeit, by sniffing, etc) and therefore fall under ‘khamr’. No scholar (as far as I know) has said this and this shows the weakness of the view that to use any khamr in any way is haram. Rather, the stronger interpretation is that these items are all haram if used in the way that leads to intoxication.
3) These scholars say that khamr is impure in an abstract way. In other words, if it is used in a way that leads to intoxication, it is haram and najis. A similar example of where the word ‘impure / filthy’ is used in an abstract way is when Allah says that the polytheists are ‘najas’. The majority of scholars held that this ‘impurity’ is an abstract (not physical) impurity and is due to their polytheism (shirk). Based on this, it would be permissible to touch them. How would one marry a Christian woman or Jewess if they were physically impure? We would not be able to touch them! The same applies to polytheist slave girls.
So in conclusion, alcohol based perfumes are allowed, according to the stronger of the two scholarly views, as long as they are not consumed in ways that lead to intoxication. Likewise, they are only impure in an abstract way (not physical) and that is when they lead to intoxication.
Allah knows best.