The Miswaak – Virtues and Importance

Respected Brothers and Sisters, we thank Allah Almighty Who has given us the best  book – the Quraan; and Who has given us the best guidance – the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (SA). Allah orders us in the Quraan: “And whatever the messenger brings to you, then take it and whatever he forbids you, then abstain.” (59:7)

Among the many established practices of our beloved Prophet (SA) is the use of the Miswaak or Siwaak. It is also referred to as the ‘tooth stick’, ‘chewing stick’ or the ‘twig for brushing teeth’. Locally, it is often called the ‘dhatwan’.

The practice of using the Miswaak was established even before the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SA). It was a practice of the Prophets (AS) from before him. In a narration reported by Abu Ayyuub (RA), he said that the Messenger of Allah (SA) said: “Four things are from the Sunnahs (practices) of the Prophets – circumcision, usage of I’tr (perfume), Miswaak and marriage.” (Ahmad and Tirmidhi)

Because of the generality of the Hadith, it can be concluded that it can even be applicable to the first man created by Allah – Hazrat Adam (AS) since he was the first prophet of Allah. Likewise, the other prophets also used the Miswaak. Ibrahim (AS) was tested and tried with several things, among which was the use of the Miswaak.

The Miswaak is also part of the Fitra (natural traits and characteristics) for this Ummah. In a narration from Hazrat Aaisha (RA), she said that the Messenger of Allah (SA) said, “There are ten demands of pure nature (fitra): trimming the moustache, letting the beard grow, using Miswaak (tooth-stick), rinsing the nostrils (in ablution), cutting the nails, washing the bases of the finger joints; plucking the underarm hair, removing of the pubic hair and Istinja (removing impurities with water after a call of nature).” (Muslim)

The use of the Miswaak is part of the teachings of Islam which deals with hygiene and purity. Allah informs us in the Quraan: “Verily, Allah loves those who do tauba – repentance (internal cleanliness) and He loves those who keep themselves pure (external cleanliness of body, clothes and environment).“ (2:222 )

The Prophet (SA) has also emphasized the importance of maintaining hygiene in relation to faith. He said: “Purity is half of faith.” (Mishkaat) Along with the meaning of purity of intention, and being in a state of ritual cleanliness for acts requiring such purity like Salaah, Tawaaf, etc, it also gives the meaning of maintaining oral and physical cleanliness. The use of the Miswaak is indeed a means to achieve this. The Prophet (SA) said: “Be regular in the use of the Miswaak for verily it is a means of purity /hygiene for the mouth and a means of pleasure for one’s Lord –Allah” (Bukhari)

The Hadith therefore teaches that the use of the Miswaak brings benefits to the user in both worlds, the Dunya (worldly life) and the Aakhirah (the Hereafter).

In this world, one benefits from the general purity which is achieved by its usage. He benefits from the social amicability and cordiality through interaction with others, since others abhor the foul scent which emanates from the mouth of one who does not practice oral hygiene. He benefits from the feeling of satisfaction and contentment of using something that the Prophets of Allah would have used throughout their lives.              Beside these, great scholars have mentioned several benefits and advantages of the Miswak. It strengthens the gums and prevents tooth decay; it assists in eliminating toothaches and prevents further increase of decay which has already set in; it creates a fragrance in the mouth; it is a cure for illness; it eliminates bad odors and improves the sense of taste; it sharpens the memory; it is a cure for headaches; it creates luster on the face of the one who continually uses it; it causes the teeth to glow; it strengthens the eyesight; it assists in digestion; it clears the voice.

The benefits of the Miswaak have also been identified by non-Muslims  through scientific research. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the use of the Miswaak in international consensus report on oral hygiene published in 1986 and in 2000, but stated that further research was needed to document the effects of the Miswaak. Other studies have identified a total of 19 natural substances found within the Miswak that benefit dental health.  Because of the many benefits found in the Miswaak, lately, many toothpaste manufacturing companies have started manufacturing Miswak toothpaste under their brand name. One of the more recent company is the reputable Colgate company who have started making the miswak herbal toothpaste. This again shows that in the Sunnah are immense benefits, but many are yet to be discovered by science.

With respect to benefits of the Miswaak in relation to the Hereafter, one would receive the pleasure of Allah as has been mentioned the Hadith, ‘a means of pleasure for one’s Lord –Allah’. This pleasure of Allah is indeed the greatest of all benefits for a believer. Allah declares in the Quraan: “And the pleasure from Allah is indeed the greatest.” (9:72). For a believer, knowing that an action brings about the pleasure of his Lord, is enough to practice it, even if he doesn’t know of the logical or scientific reasons or benefits of that action.

When one uses the Miswaak he would receive thawaab (rewards / blessings) from Allah. The rewards for actions are multiplied because of its usage.

In a narration from Hazrat Aaisha (RA), she said that the Messenger of Allah (SA) said: “Two rakaahs (of Salaah performed) with Miswaak is superior in virtue to seventy Rakaah (of Salaah performed) without Miswaak. (Bazzaar, Majma’ az Zawaaid)

In another narration again from Aaisha (RA) with similar meaning, she related that the Messenger of Allah (SA) said: “The Salaah of which Miswaak is done (prior to its performance) is seventy times superior to the prayer offered without Miswaak.” (Baihaqi)

The author of Ma’aariful Hadith writes after quoting the above Hadith of Hazrat Aaisha (RA): “…The figure of seventy, like some other figures, is used to denote excess or profusion. The above tradition will thus mean that prayer which is offered after cleaning the teeth with Miswaak is of much higher value than the one done without it.” He further writes: “When a bondsman decides to present himself in the audience of the King of Kings and to glorify Him and hold communion with Him through prayer, and imagines (perceives) that His Glory and Magnificence demands that the tongue should be washed with musk and rose water before uttering His name, but out of Mercy, the Lord of Lords has enjoined only the Miswaak. So, when the servant is using it, is it not fitting that Prayer for which Miswaak was used (with those sentiments of reverence and deep tenderness), be seventy times, or even more, superior to the one offered without it?” (Ma’ariful Hadith V2 pg 49)

In another Hadith, Hazrat Ali (RA) narrates that Rasulullah (SA) said: “Verily, when a slave of Allah uses the Miswaak, then stands in Salaah, an angel stands behind him, listening closely to his recitation. He then draws closer and closer to him, until he places his mouth upon the mouth (of the reciter). Whatever he recites from the Quraan, enters inside the angel. So purify your mouths (with Miswak) for (the recitation of) the Quraan. (Bazzar, Majma’ uz Zawaaid)

Another benefit in the Hereafter acquired through the benefits of Ittibaa’ e Rasuul (i.e. following the Messenger (SA) is  the intercession of the Prophet (SA), the drinking from the Kawthar, etc. It is also mentioned in Shami (Hanafi book of fiqh) that the constant usage of Miswaak would benefit its user with the Sahadaah (testimony of the Oneness of Allah) at the time of Death. (Shami V 1 pg 110)

The Prophet (SA) was constant in the use of Miswaak and also emphasised its use for his Ummah (followers). He even feared that the Miswaak may become compulsory upon his Ummah because of the instructions given to him by Allah through Jibraeel upon its usage.

In a narration from Abu Umaamah (RA) he relates that the Messenger of Allah (SA) said: “Use the Miswaak for certainly it purifies the mouth, and it is a pleasure for the Lord – Allah. Jibraeel exhorted me to use the Miswaak to such an extent that I feared that it would become compulsory upon me and my Ummah. If I did not fear imposing difficulty on my Ummah I would have prescribed its usage as compulsory upon my people. Verily, I use the Miswaak so much that I feared that the front part of my mouth would become bruised (by the abundant usage of it). (Ibn Majah)

In another Hadith narrated by Hazrat Abu Hurairah (RA), he mentioned that the Messenger of Allah (SA) said: “Had I not feared imposing a hardship on my nation, I would have ordered that the Miswaak be used for every Salaah.” (Bukhari)

A similar Hadith narrated in the compilation of Ahmad and Tibrani mentions that the Messenger of Allah (SA) said: “I was commanded to use the Miswaak to such an extent that I thought the Miswaak would be made obligatory.” (Ahmad, Tibrani)

From the above Ahaadith, it can clearly be seen that the Prophet (SA) was constant upon the use of the Miswaak and also emphasized upon the Muslims to implement it in their lives. Whilst the use of the Miswaak is not considered as Fard (compulsory) upon this Ummah, the Prophet (SA) regarded it as compulsory upon himself. The Ulama have considered the use of the Miswak an established Sunnah upon this Ummah (male and females) for wuzu and Salaah and otherwise.

Allamah Aini (R) has mentioned in Al Binaaya: “Abu Amr (R) said that upon the significance of the Miswaak consensus of opinion exists. There is no difference of opinion in this matter. According to all learned men of Islam, Salaah performed after using the Miswaak is far nobler than a Salaah without Miswaak. Imaam Auzaai (R) said that Miswaak is half of Wudhu.”

Along with the performance of Wuzu for Salaah, the Prophet (SA) would perform Miswak at different times and occasions. This can be seen from several Ahaadith as follows. Hazrat Aishah (RA) related to us that the usual practice of the Messenger of Allah (SA) was that whenever he slept, during the day or the night, on waking from sleep and before performing Wudu, he used the Miswaak. (Abu Dawuud)

Hazrat Huzaifah (RA) narrated that it was the custom of the Messenger of Allah (SA) to clean his mouth thoroughly with Miswaak when he got up in the night for Tahajjud Salaah.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

It is related by Shuraih bin Hani (RA), “(Once) I enquired from Aishah (RA), what was the first thing the Messenger of Allah (SA) did on returning home from anywhere. She replied: ‘First of all, he used Miswaak.” (Muslim)

Hadhrat Ibn Abbas (RA) states: “The Messenger of Allah (SA) would use the Miswaak at night time (i.e. Tahajjud time) after every two Rakaats Salaat he performed.”  (Ibn Majah)

“Hadhrat Ali (RA) said: ‘Verily, your mouths are the pathways of the Qur’aan (i.e. you recite with your mouth), therefore cleanse your mouth with the Miswaak thoroughly’.”  (Ibn Majah)

In a narration in the compilation of Ahmad, it is related that Abu Hurairah (RA) has said: “I have used the Miswaak before sleeping, after rising, before eating and after eating, ever since I heard the Prophet (SA) exhorting so.” (Ahmad)

Therefore, the above ahaadith  give the benefit that Rasuulullah would use his Miswaak regularly and for his acts of Ibaadah as well as during his daily routine and practices.

The Prophet (SA) even advised us of the type of Miswaak to be used and those which should not be used. He recommended the Miswaak of the Peelu tree, the olive tree, the Bitam tree and the walnut tree. He (SA) considered the Miswaak of the Peelu and the Olive tree to be the best.

If any of the above is not found then the Miswaak of any tree twig which are not harmful and poisonous can be used. The Miswaak of the pomegranate tree, the basil plant and the myrtle tree should not be used. Precaution should be taken in using the twig of an unknown tree, as it may have an adverse effect on a person or may even be fatal.

In the absence of a Miswaak, a person performing Wuzu can even use the fingers or a coarse cloth to rub against the teeth. It is hoped that he would be given the reward of this Sunnah.  It should however, be kept in mind that even though one may use toothbrushes and toothpaste or tooth power, etc., these cannot replace the actual Miswaak. Similarly, if one has the availability of a Miswaak at the time of the performance of Wuzu or upon such time when one intends the use of the Miswaak, then the usage of the finger or otherwise would not fulfill the Sunnah. In such case the Miswaak twig must be used.

A person should adhere to the etiquettes of the usage of the Miswaak for maximum benefits since if it is not used properly it may have adverse results. The books of fiqh are replete with these etiquettes.

The Miswaak should be a straight twig and be firstly cleaned; it should not be too hard/rough nor too soft; it should be about the length of the hand’s span; it should be used with the right hand; it should be about the thickness of the forefinger; it should be washed before and after every use; it should not be sucked; it should be kept in a vertical manner when not in use; it should not be used lying down; if it is dried then it should be moistened with water prior to use; it should not be used at both ends; it should be held in such a manner that the small finger and the thumb are below the Miswaak and the remaining fingers are on the upper side; it is preferable to be used across the teeth –  i.e. in a horizontal manner while vertically on the tongue; (Shami)

Respected Brothers and Sisters, the Miswaak should not be neglected and ostracized as outdated, backward and old fashioned. It is still as pertinent and beneficial as from the beginning of man till this day and would continue in the future.  One should not discard the Miswaak and replace it with the toothbrush as though they are the same thing. Even though the toothbrush may be used to achieve cleanliness, it still cannot be considered as a Miswak. To consider the toothbrush as a Miswaak can be considered a Bid’ah (innovation) in religion – which is rejected. One should not be ashamed of saying and advising that it is the Sunnah of the Prophet (SA). Even the non-Muslims in our times are discovering the medical advantages and merits of the Miswaak.

Respected Brothers and Sisters, a believer, male or female, should be contented that the Miswaak is a Sunnah of the best of men – Muhammad (SA), and that it is an act which brings about great rewards, and above all, the pleasure of the King of Kings – Allah.  Therefore, we should all make an earnest effort to make the Miswaak a part of our lives. May Allah enable us to revive and practice the ways of His noble Messenger (SA). (Ameen)