The miswak is a twig from the salvadora persica tree, and is also known by the words arak, peelu and siwak. It is used to clean the teeth, and holds an important place in Islam. The reason for this is that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), along with all the other prophets, used it regularly, and strongly advised his followers to do the same.
Here we present some of the evidence for this, the benefits of using miswak, and how to do so.
Evidence from Hadith
There are many statements from the Prohpet (pbuh) which make it clear that the miswak is of great benefit; nobody contests them.
He said, “Had I not feared hardship for my Community, I would have ordered them to brush their teeth for every prayer.” [Bukhari and Muslim], and “Brushing one’s teeth cleans the mouth and pleases the Lord.” [Bukhari]. One of the reasons for the miswak’s high status in Islam is the importance given to hygiene generally; according the Prophet (pbuh), “Cleanliness is half of faith.” [Sahih Muslim].
Research shows that the bark of the miswak contains an antibiotic which suppresses the growth of a bacteria and the formation of plaque in the mouth. Regular use also reduces plaque, gingivitis, and the growth of carcinogenic bacteria. Miswak naturally contains fluoride, astringents, resins (which protect enamel) and abrasives.
A 2003 study comparing the use of miswak with ordinary toothbrushes concluded that the results clearly were in favour of the users who had been using the miswak. The World Health Organisation recommends the use of the miswak.
Use of the Miswak
The miswak is a hard twig, and must be prepared before use.
About 2cm of bark at one end should be cut away using a knife, to expose the fibres beneath. This exposed section then needs to be chewed, to soften the fibres enough for brushing. When the fibres become worn and the taste diminishes, they should be cut off and a new ‘head’ cut. Store it upright.
Before using the miswak, make a short du’a (supplication). It is better to learn this in Arabic, but in English it is “O Allah, purify my mouth, enlighten my heart, purify my body, and make my body unlawful to the Fire.” The miswak should be held in such a manner that the small finger and thumb are below the miswak and the remaining fingers are on its upper side. When brushing, brush each area three times, or any odd number of times greater than three. Brush horizontally to avoid damage to the gums.
Using the miswak is beneficial at any time, but there are specific times at which its use has been recommended. Before entering one’s house, before and after going on a journey, on Fridays, before reciting Qur’an, before sleeping and after waking up, when experiencing hunger or thirst and before entering any good gathering. Do not use it in the bathroom, or when lying down.
Hudaifah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: Whenever the Messenger of Allah woke up, he would rub his teeth with miswak. [Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Hadhrat Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported: We used to prepare for the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) a miswak and the water for making wudu. Whenever Allah wished to awaken him from sleep at night, he would brush his teeth with miswak, make wudu, and perform Salat. [Sahih Muslim]
Shuraih bin Hani (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: I asked Aishah: “What was the first thing the Prophet (pbuh) would do when he entered his house?” She replied: “He would use miswak.” [Sahih Muslim]
Islamic scholars suggest that when using miswak, a person should start on the right of the mouth, and use a side-to-side motion rather than up-and-down, as the latter may harm the gums.
It is also said that a person should not use the miswak in front of others or in public, because this is impolite. It should be washed after use, to get rid of any dirt that may be on it. Hadhrat Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “The Prophet (pbuh) used to use miswak, then he would give it to me to wash it. I would use it first, then wash it and give it back to him.” (Reported by Abu Dawood).
The Prophet’s method of holding the miswak, according to what Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Masood has narrated, is as follows: “Place the small finger of the right hand below the miswak. Place the thumb below the head of the miswak. The remaining three fingers will be placed above.”