Prophetic Medicine: Siwaak

Botanical name

The siwaak is the Arabic word for the twigs of the Salvadora Persica also known as Arak tree or Peelu tree, and is commonly referred to as miswak in the west.

The siwaak is a natural toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. It comes from the Arak which is a small tree that grows up to 3 meters high. Its leaves are small, thick and oval in shape and its smell resembles that of mustard. It grows in hot climates such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and the other Equatorial countries. Its twigs are usually cut to a hand span in length and of medium thickness. When siwaak twigs are not available, twigs from the olive tree or palm leaf stalks are used.

Evidence from the Sunnah
There are many ahadeeth mentioning the importance and virtues of using the siwaak such as the hadeeth of Ibn Abbass that the Prophet (upon him be salah and salam) said : “I was ordered with the siwaak until I thought that something would be revealed in the Qur’aan in regards to it” [Musnad Ahmad no.2125, Ahmad Shaakir graded the isnaad Saheeh]; however the medical benefits are derived from the hadeeth where Aa’ishah reported that the Prophet (upon him be salah and salam) said “the siwaak is purifying for the mouth and pleasing to the Rabb” [Sunan An-Nasaa’ee no.5, Shaykh Al-Albaani graded it saheeh]

Medical uses

In 1988 a comprehensive survey carried out on several thousand Saudi school children reported that the low incidence of periodontal disease recorded, was linked to the practice of using siwaak for oral hygiene. Among the factors being that Siwaak contains tannin which helps to strengthen the gums.

The Wrigley Company carried out a study which was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In the study mints laced with miswak extract were found to be 20 times more effective in killing bacteria in comparison to ordinary mints. After half an hour the mints laced with miswaak extract killed 60% of the bacteria and the ordinary mints killed only 3.6%. This benefit of the siwaak has been confirmed in the journal Oral medicine and Dentistry where Dr. James Turner, of the Faculty of Medicine in the American University of Tennessee said: “The miswaak of the araak tree contains substances which purify and kill microbes, the most important of which are sulphur and sitosterol B (or β-sitosterol), as well as sodium.”

Many studies have been carried out on the siwaak attesting to the truth that the Messenger of Allah (upon him be salah and salam) spoke when he said that the siwaak is purifying for the mouth. The Mouth disease department of Cairo University, the King Saud University, the US National Library of Medical Service and others have documented their findings.  However for the sake of brevity we will only mention some of the established benefits of the siwaak:
•    Due to its known antibacterial qualities siwaak is very good for killing bacteria build up in the mouth
•    It’s soft fibres are gentle on the teeth and gums unlike the bristles on brushes and yet they remove the food and stains from the teeth very well.
•    The fact that its bristles are parallel to the handle instead of perpendicular, enables better cleaning between the teeth.
•    Stops bleeding and purifies the gums. 
•    Fights gum disease
•    Creates a pleasant smell in the mouth
•    Removes bad breath and odour from the mouth.
•    And fights plaque effectively

The scholars of Islam advise that the siwaak should be used starting from the right side of the mouth in a side to side motion instead of up and down as the latter may harm the gums. It should be used frequently due to the generality of the hadeeth mentioned above.  
Some of the recommended times are as follows;
•    Before every salah - based on the narration of Aa’ishah who reported that the prophet (upon him be salah and salam) said: “Were it not for the fact that I did not want to make things too hard for my ummah, I would have commanded them to use the siwaak at every time of prayer.” [Bukhaari, 2/299 and Muslim, 1/151].
•    When entering the house – as reported from Aa’ishah; “When he (upon him be salah and salam) entered his house, the first thing he would do was to use the siwaak.” [Muslim, 1/220].
•    When getting up from sleep  - as reported by Hudhayfah ibn al-Yamaan that when the Prophet (upon him be salah and salam)  got up during the night, he would clean his mouth thoroughly with the siwaak. [Bukhaari, 1/98 and Muslim, 1/220]
•    When the taste or smell of the mouth changes – since the siwaak is purifying for the mouth then it should be utilised as and when needed.

Siwaak contains many natural chemical compounds considered essential to oral and dental hygiene, including; fluoride, silica, tannic acid, resins, alkaloids (salvadorine), volatile oils (sinigrin), sulfur vitamin C, sodium bicarbonate, chlorides, calcium, benzylisothiocyanate (BIT), and others including salicylic acids, sterols, trimethylamine, saponins and flavenoids.