Wearing Silk for the Treatment of Itch

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

It is narrated in the two books of prophetic traditions (Sahïh Muslim and Sahïh Bukhãri) that Qatãda related a prophetic saying reported by Anas bin Mãlik in which God’s Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم gave permission to ‘Abdu-Rahmãn bin ‘Awf and al-Zubair bin al’Awwãm to wear silken garments because of a severe skin irritation they suffered from body lice, and he granted them permission to wear shirts made of silk.

Wearing silk for men deals with two basic aspects: (1) The first is canonical (fiqh); and (2) the second is medical. As for the canonical aspect, it is clearly understood by all Muslims that wearing silk garments is permissible for women and not for men except for dire need, such as in the case of extreme cold weather and have nothing else to clothe oneself with, or for a medical reason where one may wear a silken garment to control severe skin irritation caused by itch, body lice, mange, or scabies. Such treatment is also recognized both by Imam Ahmad and Imam Shãfi’i, who agree on the lawfulness in treating oneself for medical reasons with what is unlawful, although in this case Imam Mãlik forbade its use, substantiating that not all permissions extend beyond the particular medical cases dealt with by God’s Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم. In that regard, it is also reported in the correct traditions (sahïh) that when someone asked God’s Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم about wine, he replied: “Wine is not medicine.”

As for the medical aspect: silk is a fiber which is produced by silkworms (a caterpillar of the Bombycidae family) to form their cocoons. A silken thread is then extracted from cultivated cocoons to make a fabric which is used for clothing. Silk is a noble fiber and has many medical benefits: (1) it strengthens the heart; (2) it is classified as a stimulant; (3) it is considered a treatment for melancholia; (4) it is considered a treatment for the intemperament of the black bile and their complications; and (5) it strengthen one’s sight when used as kohl for the eyes. Silk is hot and dry in the first degree, although some hakïms classify it as hot and moist. As for its long term harm, it is suggested by researchers that when silk is worn by men for an extended period of time, it produces a chemical reaction or a steric hindrance in males, besides other physiological disorders that affect the changing of spermatid into spermatozoon in males’ semen.

The same prohibition applies to wearing gold or using it for men except for medicinal purposes. God is evenly balanced. It also strengthens the heart; it contains a delicate heat; and is a carminative. Therefore, the prohibition against wearing silk and gold for men has much to do with the negative chemical reaction and steric hindrance they produce in males, and subsequently, their harm is greater than their benefits. Hence, at a time when the prophetic wisdom is misunderstood because of lack of knowledge and familiarity, for one to benefit from its guidance, one must unconditionally subscribe to it and not contest it until such time as human knowledge advances, and God Almighty permits access to His infinite wisdom and reveals some of the countless wonders of His creation.

Classification of Dress Categories

Imam al-Rãzi explains that “silk [Arb. harïr; ibrïsam] is warmer than linen and cooler than cotton.” According to him, “wearing silk promotes a healthy skin, while wearing a coarse garment dries out the skin, causes loss of flesh and weight, and vice-versa.” As for Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, he classifies clothing in three categories: (1) a garment that warms up the body and generates heat; (2) a garment that warms up the body but does not generate heat; and (3) a garment that neither warms up the body nor generates heat. There is no such fabric that produces heat but does not warm up the body. Garments made of wool, hair and fur (Arb. wabar), warm up the body and generate heat, while garments made of linen and cotton warm up the body but do not generate heat, and silk is softer and cooler than cotton. Silk does not generate heat as does cotton; instead, it is a temperature material and is less effective in dissolving matters the body needs to purge under heat. Any garment with smooth, soft, and glossy texture and which provides coolness is more suitable for hot climates. Silk embodies no coarse texture and hence allows for the healing of itch, for such skin irritation is aggravated with heat and dryness. Hence, God’s Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم granted ‘Abdu-Rahman bin ‘Awf and al-Zubair bin al-‘Awwam permission to wear shirts made of silk to allow for such recovery. Furthermore, the material nature of silk creates an environment which is opposite to that of body lice, and therefore can help in their elimination.

On this subject, it is reported in the sahih that Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, God be pleased with him, narrated that God’s Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم said: “Allah forbade the men among my followers to wear silk or gold and permitted that for women.” In another narration reported in sahih Bukhari, God’s Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم forbade wearing silk, brocade or gold or to sit on them, and added: “This is for them in this world, and for you in the next.”

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