The Miswak

A bright smile with a smart mouth all in one: How is it possible?

In this article I will talk about oral hygiene, clean white teeth, a smile with a minty breath that projects self-confidence. No I am not marketing Colgate! I am reminding myself about something even more important; a smart mouth. The clean sparkling teeth that house a clean and pure tongue, a repository of wisdom. This is a good example of how the outward is intricately linked with the inner dimension; two are separate yet closely bound. Here I extol the virtues of the Miswak ‘a twig’, nature’s toothbrush and pleasant communication via a smart mouth.

Believers of all faiths accept that without the way of God humanity would be utterly impoverished; for example, Islam forbids lies, deception, conflict, hatred, suspicion, backbiting and xenophobia; since we would no longer be living as brothers and sisters in humanity nor as husbands and wives, nor lovers and beloved, but rather competitive apes in an ever disappearing jungle. The Quran teaches “and always speak politely to people”, and the Messenger (peace be upon him) said “truth leads to goodness and goodness leads to paradise”.

So just like having good oral hygiene is important for physical health, we need to have a smart Mouth too. When the mouth opens it shouldn’t be just a row of white sparkling teeth with a fresh minty smell, nor just a happy smile, but the words it pours out are words of truth, encouragement, uplifting and heart-warming.

A few weeks ago I visited my dentist after a long time and he surprisingly told me “there’s nothing wrong”. I was over the moon since my oral hygiene was good, and I know how important that is for prevention of illnesses, since poor oral hygiene allows all kinds of microbes to thrive in the mouth and infect the ear, the nose and the throat. Shaykh Abu Bakr Shibli (d. 334 AH) a great Saint once needed a Miswak so he gave a gold coin to his student to buy it from the marketplace, someone snapped, “why are you wasting so much money on something as small as a Miswak?” He replied “this world and all that it contains is not worth the wing of a mosquito and when Allah asks me why did you abandoned the Sunnah of Miswak, what would I say? He continued, “my dear brother I think that if someone was to offer it to you for a penny you would not take it. Today how negligent we have become of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), despite all this we continue to make loud claims that ‘we are the Lovers of the prophet’, we claim to be the friends of God. What is your evidence for this?” This emphasises the use of the Miswak is due to the fact that the Prophet (peace be upon him) highly praised this little twig. Abdulla ibn Umar said that the Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “make use of the Miswak, make it compulsory for yourselves since it cleanses your mouth and pleases the Lord” (Bukhari).

Ayesha the ‘mother of the believers’ reported: “whenever the Messenger (peace be upon him) woke up after sleep and before washing himself, he would use the Miswak to clean his mouth” (Abu Dawud).

What is this little twig worth?

The Miswak is a chewing stick obtained from the fibrous roots and the branches of the desert growing tree Salvadora Persica, for Muslims it is a Sunnah, a practice, habit and behaviour of their master Muhammad (peace be upon him). It may seem archaic and old-fashioned to still use a twig to clean one’s mouth and teeth in the 21st century. However, this gingery flavoured twig is very useful as it does not require water or toothpaste, another advantage is that unlike toothpastes it is free of chemicals that may be harmful, we just don’t know yet, there is still ongoing debate about the benefits or otherwise of Fluoride.

Abu Huraira narrated the Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “whoever has a bath on Friday, uses the Miswak, puts on perfume and best clothes, walks to the Masjid early for the Friday prayer, then quietly listens to the Imam’s Sermon, his sins for the week will be forgiven” (Muslim).

Ali (May Allah be pleased with him) said, “the regular use of Miswak removes phlegm from the upper respiratory tract and strengthens the memory”.

Ibn Abbas said, “the Miswak has 10 benefits; Removes the yellowness of the teeth, strengthens the gums, cleanses the mouth, sharpens the vision, pleases the Angel’s, delights the Lord, it shows respect of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), leads to increases in the reward of the prayers and builds a healthy body” (Dar Qutni).

A smart mouth inside a clean gob

A smart mouth speaks of honesty, and words of encouragement that magnifies hopes, promotes reconciliation which brings together broken hearts. Now that is a smart mouth, one which when it opens scatters pearls of wisdom that please the other, a smart mouth is the one which spreads good news, shares compassion and brightens the gloomy world. “And always speak pleasantly with people” advises the Quran. A Christian proverb highlights the enormous power of word; ‘Words kill, words give Life; they’re a poison or fruit, you choose’. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was conscious of the power of the tongue, so he taught the disciples how to use it properly, he believed ‘pleasant speech is like giving charity,’ here are some more gems of the Messenger’s wisdom:

  • Uqba asked him “O Messenger! What leads to salvation?” He (peace be upon him) replied, “stop your tongue from bad mouthing” (Tirmadhi).
  • The Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever can give me a guarantee of guarding his tongue and private parts, I guarantee him paradise” (Tirmadhi).
  • Sufyan ibn Abdulla enquired, “O Messenger! What do you say is the most dangerous thing for me?” He (peace be upon him) pulled out his tongue and held it and said “this” (Tirmadhi).

More benefits of Miswak

In light of these prophetic teachings it is very clear that the Miswak has a very special place in our spiritual rituals, but does it have any credible health benefit?  The latest research shows; when the Miswak twig is used the natural resin forms a layer over the enamel of the teeth and this acts as a shield and protects the teeth from damage. The Miswak contains naturally scented oils that freshen the breath and help stimulate the flow of saliva. Furthermore, Miswak has a natural abrasive; silica and sodium bicarbonate that gently scrub and whiten the teeth thus combining the characteristic of both the toothbrush and toothpaste.

No wonder the Messenger (may peace be upon him) insisted on using this simple natural twig for cleaning his mouth. The Miswak is natural, organic and biodegradable therefore it should be appealing to those who are conscious of the environment. But moreover it constantly reminds us to be smart mouthed, something that can save our world from conflict and war.