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Jun '23

The Complete Guide to Applying Ithmid Kohl

Applying kohl, and especially ithmid kohl, is a blessed sunnah and beneficial for the health, so many people want to try it. This leads many to ask about how to apply ithmid kohl.

There is some specific guidance from hadith literature on how to apply kohl. We’ll look at it step by step here. 

1. The Kohl stick

The first thing you need is an appropriate kohl applicator stick. This could be anything- you can improvise your own stick, or also buy one of the traditional applicator sticks we offer.

The most important thing when choosing a stick is to use a material which is non-toxic and does not irritate the eyes. If you use a wood stick, be sure to use hard, polished wood to avoid the risk of splinters. Metal is also a good material, and many traditional kohl sticks in the Arabian peninsula are made from brass or silver. 

Avoid using plastic, as it can contain harmful chemicals.

A traditional silver kohl pot with applicator stick.

The practice of using kohl was so common during the time of the Prophet ﷺ that he used inserting the kohl stick into the kohl pot as a metaphor for sexual intercourse when describing the standards for determining the guilt of someone accused of committing adultery (see al-Ikhtiyar li ta’lil al-Mukhtar, 2/312-313). 

2. Wet the stick and insert it into the kohl bottle/pot

Once you have a good kohl stick, it’s time to put it into the kohl. To get the kohl to stick to the stick, wet the stick first. You can dip it in water, or just wet it with your saliva.

Now, insert the wet stick into the kohl. When you pull it out, you should see some kohl sticking the stick. Don’t worry about how much kohl sticks on it – too much might be a bit more uncomfortable at the beginning of application, and too little might be less effective, but any amount will be beneficial, in sha Allah. 

You may want to experiment and try different amounts to find what is most comfortable and what works best for you. 

3. Applying the kohl to the eyes

Next, apply the kohl to the eyes. This step can be scary for beginners, but it’s really not! You may choose to do this in front of a mirror to see more clearly, but with a little experience you can apply it just by feel. 

Start from the right

There is some guidance here from the hadith on the method of application. The Prophet ﷺ used to like to begin all kinds of things starting with the right, from bathing to putting on clothes, so the best is to start with the right eye. 

عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُعْجِبُهُ التَّيَمُّنُ فِي تَنَعُّلِهِ وَتَرَجُّلِهِ وَطُهُورِهِ وَفِي شَأْنِهِ كُلِّهِ

Aisha reported: “The Prophet ﷺ liked to begin on his right side when putting on his shoes, combing his hair, performing his ablution, and in all of his affairs.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 168]

Apply an odd number of times

The Prophet ﷺ also used to like to do things and odd number of times. 

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ إِنَّ اللهَ وِتْرٌ يُحِبُّ الْوِتْرَ

Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet ﷺ said, “Verily, Allah is numerically odd and He loves what is odd in number.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2677]

There are a number of good reports that the Prophet ﷺ would apply kohl an odd number of times. There is a difference of opinion here among the scholars. Some said that the sunnah is to apply it three time to the right eye, and two times to the left eye, making the total number five, which is odd. 

Others favored the view that it should be applied three times to each eye, so that it is applied an odd number of times to each eye. 

Personally, I follow the view expressed by Imam an-Nawawi (I think) in al Majmu’:

“With regard to using kohl an odd number of times, there is a difference of scholarly opinion. It was said that it should be applied an odd number of times to one eye and an even number of times to the other, so that the total number will be odd. The correct view of the scholars who examined this issue is that it should be applied an odd number of times to each eye. Based on this, the Sunnah is to apply it three times to each eye.” (al-Majmu’, 1/334).

Of course, you are free to follow which ever view you believe to be more correct!

Technique for Applying

Starting from the right side, place the kohl-laden stick parallel to your eyelids, and then close your eyelid on top of it. This way, you will kind of wrap the stick with your eyelid. 

Then, remove the stick, and the kohl powder will stay in the eye, and line the eyelid also. 

Remember, there is no need to point the stick toward your eye! The stick will always be pointing toward your nose, flat against the surface of your eye.

Repeat Five (or Four) Times

Starting on the right side of the right eye, repeat the process of dipping the stick into the kohl.

The moisture from your eye may be enough to make the kohl stick the second time, or you may need to wet it again. If so, make sure not to wet it by putting it in your mouth. The kohl is not harmful or toxic, but you should save it as much as possible for applying to the eyes. 

After Applying

After applying, you may feel like blinking a lot. This is normal. Just blink repeatedly, and this will help absorb the kohl into your eyes. 

You may also want to rub your eyes to help the kohl absorb. This is okay too. However, if you are wearing it for cosmetic effect, rubbing it may make it less pronounced. 

If you are going to be around other people, you may want to check your appearance in a mirror to make sure you didn’t spill any kohl on your face!

4. Best time to apply it

The best time to apply kohl is at night, before sleeping. This is the sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ according to a hadith. 

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللهِ بْنُ الصَّبَّاحِ الْهَاشِمِيُّ الْبَصْرِيُّ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا عُبَيْدُ اللهِ بْنُ مُوسَى، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا إِسْرَائِيلُ، عَنْ عَبَّادِ بْنِ مَنْصُورٍ ‏(‏ح‏)‏ وَحَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بْنُ حُجْرٍ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيدُ بْنُ هَارُونَ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا عَبَّادُ بْنُ مَنْصُورٍ، عَنْ عِكْرِمَةَ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ‏:‏ كَانَّ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَكْتَحِلُ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَنَامَ بِالإِثْمِدِ، ثَلاثًا فِي كُلِّ عَيْنٍ، وَقَالَ يَزِيدُ بْنُ هَارُونَ، فِي حَدِيثِهِ‏:‏ إِنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم، كَانَتْ لَهُ مُكْحُلَةٌ يَكْتَحِلُ مِنْهَا عِنْدَ النَّوْمِ، ثَلاثًا فِي كُلِّ عَيْنٍ‏.‏

“Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Prophet ﷺ used to color the edges of his eyelids with antimony before going to sleep, three times in each eye. Yazid ibn Harun also said in his tradition: “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had a kohl jar from which he used to apply kohl to his eyelashes before going to sleep, three times in each eye.” [al Shamail al Muhammadiyya, 50]

At night time the kohl will generally absorb better into the eyes. However, one traditional use of kohl is to place a protective, reflective coating on the eyes which protects from the effects of UV radiation from the sun.

One more important note; some scholars advised against men wearing kohl outside during the day time, because beautification is disliked for men. Likewise, women should not beautify themselves around non-mahram men. This is another benefit of using the kohl during the night rather than during the day. 


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