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By : Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi (Dr. Mohammed Iqtedar Husain Farooqi)
Scientist (Deputy Director, National Botanical Research Institute Lucknow)
Address : C-3/2, Shahid Apartments, Golaganj, Lucknow-226 018 India,
Mobile : +919839901066; Email :

Quranic Name      :    Kafur

Common Names   :    1. Hinna, Hinnan (Arab.), Egyptian Privet, Henna (Eng.), Hana, Hina (Pers.),  Kopher, Copher (Heb.), Henne (Fr.), Yoranna, Kufros (Gr.), Alhena (Sp.) Raggarbha (Sans.), Mehndi (Hindi, Urdu, Guj., Beng., Mar.), Maanz  (Kash.), Marutunri (Tam., Mal.), Gorant  (Tel.)

                                    2. Camphor (Eng.), Kafoor (Urdu, Hindi),Qafur, Kafur (Arab.) Zhang,(Chinese) Camphre,(Fr.), Kampferbaum (Ger.)., Canfora (It.),  Kusunoki. (Jap),Karpura.(Kan),Camphora (Portg.),Kamfornii lavr, (Russ.) Karpura (Sans.),   Alcanfor, (Sp.) Kafur, (Urdu)

Botanical Name    :    1. Lawsonia inermis Linn. Syn : Lawsonia alba Lam. (Family : Lythraceae)           
2.Dryobalonops aromatica Gaertn. f.            
(Family : Dipterocarpaceae) Cinnamomum camphora (Linn.) Nees & Eberm.Syn. Laurus camphora L (Family : Lauraceae)

Quranic Reference :

1.     SURAH LXXVI (Ad-Dahr - Time). V : 5

As to the Righteous they shall drink of a cup (of Wine) mixed with Kafur-

In the above Verse, a wine with flavour of Kafur is described for the consumption of those living in Jannat (Paradise). Similarly in Verse 17 of the same Surah, a wine with the taste of Zanjbil is mentioned

In almost all the commentaries and translations of the Qur’an, Kafur has been described as the Camphor of plant origin. In Tafseer-e-Majidi (Note 4 of the relevant Surah), characteristics and qualities of Camphor are given, and  stated that the camphor of Heaven would be without the harmful effects, and would be different from the camphor of the Earth. In Tafhim-ul-Qur’an, it has been stated that the wine of Heaven would have the brightness and coolness of the Camphor and this will not actually be its mixture. Similar views have been expressed in Tafseer-e-Haqqani. Tafseer-e-Usmani, Bayan-ul-Qur’an  and Tafseer-e-Mazhari. Some Commentators have also stated that Kafur is the name of a spring full of wine. In the opinion of Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Note No. 5835), Camphor in small amount is agreeable in any drink and, therefore, the Heaven’s wine may be a mixture of Camphor. Pickethall (Meaning of Quran)  has retained the word Kafur in his English translation, but Arther Arberry has translated it as Camphor . These commentaries are generally based on  Commentaries by Tabari , Qartabi  and Asqalani.

In Arabic Dictionaries like Al-Munjid and Lissan al-Arab, several meanings of Kafur have been given. For instance, apart from camphor, it is said to be the covering of the unripe bunches of grape and dates. It is also described as the perfume obtained from certain types of deer.

In many standard translations of the Quran, the word Kafur is retained as such. For instance Pickethall has not translated Kafur to Camphor but preferred to retain it.

Before attempting to identify the actual plant source of  Kafur, of the Quran and of course the Kafur mentioned is several Traditions, it would be worthwhile if the history of the present day Camphor is traced out first.

Since the early times, two types of plants have been the commercial sources of Camphor. One is the Malaysian/Indonesian plant Dryobalanops aromatica and the other is the Chinese/Japanese plant Cinnamomun camphora (syn Camphora officinarum ;syn Laurus camphora).

The camphor from the Malaysian/Indonesian (Java) plant is known in India as Qaisuri Kapur because it was imported from the areas called Qaisur or Funsur.  This Kafur (camphor) was very costly as compared to the Chinese Kapur (Camphor), which was introduced in India much after the Java Camphor. During the thirteenth century A.D., the price of Java Camphor was equal to that of gold. Even during late nineteenth century, the price of Qaisuri Kafur (Bhimsaini Kapur) in India was much higher than  Chinese Camphor. There is every likelihood that the Arabs who had very old trade relations with India, knew about this Java Camphor through their trade. But the main question is the period and the time when Arabs became familiar with it. It is very definite and obvious that there is absolutely no reference to Camphor in the ancient civilization of Egypt or Rome or in the old Greek medicine. None of the famous naturalist of the pre-Christian era, like Aristotle, Plato, Pliny, Dioscorides, Theophrastus etc. have mentioned Camphor in their works. It also does not find a reference in the famous books of medicine by Galen. In short it can be safely stated that during the period before Christ and even thereafter during the next few centuries after  Christ, there is no indication that the old cultures of Southern Europe, Egypt and Arabia knew this important plant product. Hitti has given a very vital proof of the ignorance of Camphor by early Arab Muslims. According to him when Muslim Army headed by Sa’ad bin abi Waqqas defeated the Iraqis and Persians in 637 A.D., the Arab soldiers came across a white substance somewhere in Persia, which they mistook as salt but which was actually the Camphor about which they had no previous knowledge. The same instance has been reported in greater detail by Al-Fakhri and Al-Tabri. It is said that several Arab soldiers during their expedition of Iraq and Iran in 367 A.D. found a leather bag containing a white substance. They mistook it as salt but before they could use it, someone told them that it was a medicinal substance called Kafur in Persian. They purchased this Kafur for two Dirhams and reported this happening to the Caliph Umar at Al-Madina.

Probably the first reference to Camphor is Arabia was by the famous physician Ishaq-bin-Amman during the late ninth century A.D. This is the same period when the well-known Geographer Khardad-Bah also mentioned Camphor (Kafur) of India. Subsequently, there have been detailed descriptions of Kafur by the Arab writers; all of them referring to it as the product of Malaysian / Indonesian plant. It is important to note that by this time the Chinese Camphor was not known. It was only in the thirteenth century A.D. that Marco Polo gave a detailed account of Camphor producing trees of China and this was definitely the first authentic reference of Chinese Camphor, which later on became an important item for the European trade. Thus it can be clearly inferred that the Camphor (Kafur) referred to by the Arab Physicians in the late ninth century A.D. and afterwards was actually the Java / Borneo (Malaysia/Indonesia) Camphor and in all likelihood they procured it through India and Persia. In India it was called Kapur or Karpura and in Persia it was known as Kafur. Thus, Kafur seems to be the Persian derivation of the Indian (Sanskrit) word Kapur or Karpura and not the Arabic derivation. Steingass has also mentioned Kafur as a Persian word.

This history of Camphor clearly demonstrates that the Arabs, in all probability, did not know much about Camphor before Islam, neither through the Indian trade nor through the Greek medicine. In fact, there are no definite proofs of its knowledge and wide use in India during fifth or sixth century A.D. This important product, however, became very familiar to the Arabs after ninth century A.D. Now the question is that if the Arabs were not familiar with the present day Kafur (Camphor) at the time of Quranic revelation, then what was the substance called ‘Kafur’ in the Quran and many Traditions. But before going deep into this question, let us consider the chemical and medicinal properties of both the Malaysian / Indonesian) and Chinese / Japanese) Camphor.

The Camphor is a white solid mass with a pungent smell and taste. The Java Camphor from Dryobalanops aromatica contains d-Borneol as the main constituent and is obtained by scratching the white exudates from the trunk and branches of the tree. However, extracting the wood with boiling water and then purifying the extract through sublimation obtain the Chinese Camphor from Cinnamomum camphora. It consists of 2-camphanone. Both types of Camphor are similar in properties and action. Since the pungency of Camphor is disagreeable, it is not used in food preparations. Moreover, its importance in medicine, whether for internal or external use, is always with a caution. It is advised that Camphor containing medicines should be kept away from children because not only its consumption but also its smell could result in giddiness, vomiting, nausea, and stomachache. Camphor is an important constituent of many ointments for external use as an analgesic and also helps in fibrositis neuralgia. In other words, one can say that Camphor is highly efficacious as medicine, both internally and externally but it is not suitable for any food preparation or as flavour additive in drinks. As a matter of fact one cannot drink water if it contains even traces of camphor. It is quite unlikely that wine or other drinks containing camphor could have been used at any time in Arabia or elsewhere in the world.

Now, in view of the historical and well known and established chemical facts about Camphor, one must seriously consider whether the Kafur of Quran is in reality the present day Camphor or is it something else?  If the word Mizajuha (Surah LXXVI-Verse 5) means the mixture with the taste of Camphor, then the Quranic Kafur may be something different. This problem may be solved if we refer to the Book of Songs of Solomon (Verse 1: 4) of the Bible wherein a word Kopher (Copher) has been mentioned. In the said Verse it is stated:

“My beloved is unto me as a cluster of Copher (Henna) in the Vineyards of Engedi”. Similarly, Verse 4: 3 of the same Book says, “The plants are on orchards of pomegranates with pleasant fruits, Henna (Kopher), with spikenard.”

In the early translations of the Bible, Kopher (Copher) was interpreted as Camphire i.e. Camphor. However, after a great deal of study and research,  it was concluded that Camphor was not known during the period of Moses or Christ and the word Kopher was actually the name of Hinna (Lawsonia inermis) in the Sematic language. This plant (Egyptian Privet) was well known and commonly found in Arabia and Egypt. Thus, in the subsequent versions of Bible, viz., Moffat Version, Godspeeds Version and Jastov  Version we find the mention of Hinna instead of Camphor as the synonym of Kopher. Moreover, in old Greek literature Hinna was called Kufros. Now the next pertinent question is, whether the Quranic word Kafur was actually derived from the Biblical word Kopher and Greek word Kufros or from the Indian word Kapur (or Karpura). In my own humble opinion the origin of Quranic Kafur is Kopher or Kufros signifying Hinna and not Indian Kapur, meaning Camphor.

It may be pointed out that many Quranic names of plants, fruits and seeds have their origin from the Sematic as well as Greek languages and, therefore, there are several Quranic names of plants which are similar to those given in Bible. Some such similarities are cited as below:

1.      For Lentil, the Quranic name is ‘Adas whereas Biblical word (Hebrew) is Adasha.

2.      For Pomegranate, the Quranic name is Rumman and the Biblical (Hebrew) word is Rimmon.

3.      For Olive, the Quranic name is Zaitun whereas the Biblical (Hebrew) word is Zaith.

4.      For Grapes, the Quranic name is ‘Inab’ and the Biblical word is Enave.

5.      For Cucumber, the Quranic name is ‘Kiththa ‘and the Biblical name is Kishium.

6.      For Manna, the Quranic word is ‘Mann’ and Biblical is Man.

7.      For Onion, the Quranic name is Basal whereas Biblical is Belsal.

8.      For Fig, the name given in Quran is Teen and the name in Bible is Teenah.

Now, if all the above words, as also many others, are similar or very near to each other in the Quran and the Bible, there is every likelihood that the Quranic Kafur is similar to Biblical Kopher. It is very likely that during pre-Islamic period Hinna or Itre-e-Hinna (Oil of Hinna) was called Kafur in Arabic but when the present day  Camphor became known and familiar to the Arabs during 7th to 9th century A.D., the Persian derivations was adopted in Arabic for Camphor and only Hinna was retained for Lawsonia inermis. Such influence of Persian language on Arabic or vice versa is logical and understandable,  particularly in view of the fact that Arabs and Persians came into very close contact just after the advent of Islam. During the 8th and 9th century A.D. many useful commentaries on the Quran were written in Persia and all of them referred to Quranic Kafur, probably erroneously, as Persian Kafur. It is very important to note that Dioscorides, a well-known naturalist before Islam has used the word Kufros for Hinna (Lawsonia inermis) in his Treatise on Natural Science. Thus, it is very obvious that like many other words of the Quran, Kafur has its origin either in Sematic or Greek language and not it any Indian language as generally believed.

Hinna (Lawsonia inermis) is a commonly occurring plant of Arabia and since time immemorial, the perfume of Hinna (‘Itre-e-Hinna) obtained from the flower has been used as an important article of cosmetics. The flowers of Henna have a cooling effect and are also a very good stimulant. When someone says that particular wine will have the flavour of Hinna, it is a scientific statement and one can appreciate it. The red colour of Hinna (leaves extract) is also very attractive and can be attributed to any wine. Watt has written that Arabic Poet Imaru-e-al-Qais (sixth century A.D.) was the first person to have referred to the word Kafur in his poetry. But any mention of the word Kafur in the poetry does not necessarily mean that it refers to Camphor. It is just possible that by Kafur, Imru-al-Qais might have meant Hinna and not Camphor. However, the references to Kafur in the poems of Al Hajjaj (762 A.D.) and Al-Rayee (738 A.D.), as mentioned in the Lisan al-Arab, might be to the present day Camphor, because during the period of these two poets, a great revolution in medicine and other branches of Science had already been initiated by the Muslim Arabs and, therefore, there is every likelihood that the Camphor was introduced to the Arab society as a medicine of great value and people became familiar with it. It was after this Science revolution of Islam that commentaries on Quran, mostly by Persians, were written wherein Kafur was translated as Camphor. It is also very significant to note that all the important Dictionaries of English language like the Oxford Dictionary and the Cambridge Dictionary, published during late nineteenth and early twentieth century, have given three meanings of the word Camphor or Camphire. The first is the pungent smelling product of the Malaysian/Indonesian plant, the second is the white medicinal substance extracted from the Chinese plant and the third meaning given is the Henna plant. Apart from these Dictionaries, other  English and French Books on the Bible including the famous Book ‘La Botanique de La Bible’ also describe Hinna (French, Henni) as the Camphor (Copher) of Bible. It seems that scholars and commentators of the Quran have missed this aspect of the history of Camphor.

There are several references to Kafur in many sayings of Prophet Mohammad (Ahadith) but according to an important article on Tibb al- Nabvi (Medicine of Prophet), none of the Hadith gives any medicinal description or use of Kafur. Thus, these Ahadith (plural of Hadith) do not prove the identity of Kafur as Camphor. It may be noted that in many Traditions, Prophet advised to apply Kafur on the dead body after the final bath. It is very obvious that the Camphor was definitely not such a common commodity in Hijaz and Najd so as to be available for this purpose. Hinna  could have been definitely a common perfume of that area and could have been utilized during the last rites. Applying Hinna to the dead body had been customary even in Egypt before Islam. Another fact may be repeated here that upto  thirteenth century the price of Camphor was equal to that Gold and, therefore, Camphor (Kafur) was used only in small amount as a constituent of important ointments. Such a product could not have been used so commonly for the last rites in the sixth or seventh century. It was only during the fifteenth to seventeenth century that Camphor became a comparatively cheap article after the introduction of Chinese Camphor in the world market. It became still cheaper when it was synthesized from turpentine.

To conclude and in my humble opinion, the Quranic Kafur must be taken as Henna (Lawsonia inermis) and not Camphor (Dryobalanops aromatica). Nevertheless, it is for the Arabic scholars and authorities on the Quranic interpretation (Commentaries) to give final verdict on this aspect of the meaning of Quranic Kafur. I appeal to all the scholars of Muslim countries as well as those belonging to the Islamic Centers around the world to give a serious thought to this matter. One must bear in mind that any change in the meaning or a different interpretation of some words, does not affect the message  of the Holy Quran.

Important Tradition (Hadith) on Kafur :

1.      Narrated Um Atiyya One of the daughters of the Prophet died and he came out and said wash her three or five times or more, if you think it necessary, with water and Sidr and last of all sprinkle Kafur - Book of Funeral - Sahih Bukhari

Note - There are four similar traditions on Kafur all narrated by Um Atiyya. 63


(The above Article is one of the Chapters of Plants of the Quran by Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi, 9th edition, 2011, Sidrah Publisher, Lucknow. email :; Mobile: +919839901066 Valued Comments

1.  Muscat Daily (April 19, 2011): Ruler of Oman,  Sultan Qaboos bin Said has honoured Dr. M.I.H.Farooqi (Alig), retired Senior Scientist ( Deputy Director), NBRI, with an Award of 25 Thousand US Dollars (Rs 12 lakhs)  in appreciation of his  work on  PLANTS OF THE QURAN and MEDICINAL PLANTS IN THE TRADITIONS OF PROPHET MOHAMMAD.

2. Mohammed VI, King of Morocco (Letter, 3rd June, 2010)  I want you to know how impressed I am by your work on Plants in the Qur’an and Medicinal Plants in the Traditions of Prophet Mohammad.

3. Dr. Mohammad Abdo Yamani, Chairman, IQRA International Educational Foundation, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

          ‘‘-Most impressive and interesting book. The book has really filled a gap that has been yawning for centuries-and in the most perfect way-useful and comprehensive informations-book shall remain and forever a unique attempt and a useful accomplishment.’’

4. Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, Founder-Member, Rabitah Al-Alami Al-Islami. and  Rector, Darul-Uloom Nadwat-ul-Ulema, Lucknow. ‘‘-observations and identification of certain plants particularly with respect to Sidrah and Kafur unrael severl knots and are of immense help in removing many confusions....this work is not only useful and valuable but also an important addition to Quranic literature.’’


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