A wedding tradition in many cultures, this form of body decoration has religious roots too, writes Shea Rasol.
Henna has been used in many Muslim and Hindu communities for centuries. It started off as a form of beautification and healing processes, and sometimes regarded as a temporary tattoo in certain cultural practices.
Henna is usually worn on women’s hair and skin, staining them a rich red or dark-brown hue that lasts for a few days. Henna contains tannin dye molecules called hennotannic acids, that are microscopic enough to seep into the surface of the skin, causing the stain of the henna to stay in place according to the desired design. That’s why we don’t see absorbed henna spreading all over the skin once applied. These marks eventually fade with time and the natural exfoliation processes of the skin.
Applying henna is also considered sunnah. Aisha reportedly recounts the following story:
A woman extended her hand from behind a curtain to hand a piece of paper to the Prophet. The Prophet pulled his hand back and said, “I don’t know if it is a man’s or a woman’s hand.” She said that it was a woman’s hand. The Prophet responded, “If you were a woman, you would have coloured your nails with henna.”[i]
But it is best to direct your intentions of putting on henna as sunnah or for medical purposes. Islamic jurisprudence permits the use of henna for a woman on her nails and hair as it does not block water from touching the skin during wudu’. Nevertheless, the idea is to apply it modestly with simple designs and not to go overboard with the designs.
As for the men, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is quoted in hadith as giving the following advice: “The best to dye with your white hair is henna and katm.”[ii]