RIYADH: As the holy month of Ramadan begins, Muslims across the world are observing fasts that require abstinence from all food and drink from dawn to dusk.
The blessed month is rooted in faith, history and culture, and few practices emphasize that as much as the use of miswak, a teeth-cleaning twig. Many Muslims use miswak during the day to maintain freshness, oral hygiene and to protect overall dental health. In the Islamic tradition, using miswak is a well-known sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Various ahadith document the elevated status and significance of miswak. Abu Hurairah once narrated that the Prophet said, “Were it not (for the fear) of overburdening my Ummah, I would have ordered them to (brush their teeth with) Siwak at every Salat.” (Sahih Muslim)
Aisha narrated that the Prophet said, “The siwak is a means of purifying the mouth and pleasing the Rabb.” (Nasai)
Abu Hurairah further narrated that the Prophet said once on a Friday, “O Community of Muslims! Allah has made this day an Eid for you, so take a bath and needfully brush your teeth with siwak.” (Tabarani, Majma’uz-Zawaid)
In Saudi Arabia, miswak is typically sourced from the Salvadora persica L. trees, known as arak in Arabic. The variety is also found in Sudan, Egypt and Chad. The bitter-tasting palm or olive trees are also used for miswak. The neem tree is a popular option in South Asia.
• Miswak has even gained recognition beyond the Arab region. The World Health Organization recommended the use of miswak for oral hygiene in 1986 and in 2000.
• There is now increasing scientific evidence that miswak has medicinal properties and helps fight plaque, recession of gums, tooth decay, bleeding gums and deep periodontal pockets.
Miswak can be sourced from various trees except for those known to cause harm, such as pomegranate and myrtle trees.
The arak trees contribute to environmental sustainability and preservation as well. In various parts of the Arab region, the arak trees are indigenous to arid regions and planting them reduces desertification where little else is capable of growing. This also helps local communities across the Middle East to develop a sustainable income while preserving an important part of their cultural and religious heritage.
Miswak has even gained recognition beyond the Arab region. The World Health Organization recommended the use of miswak for oral hygiene in 1986 and in 2000.
There is now increasing scientific evidence that miswak has medicinal properties and helps fight plaque, recession of gums, tooth decay, bleeding gums and deep periodontal pockets.
“The repeated process of chewing sticks releases fresh sap and silica (a hard glossy mineral), which acts as an abrasive material to remove stains,” noted a study conducted by a panel of dentists at King Saud University.
The study identified 19 natural substances found in miswak that benefit dental health. It contains natural antiseptics that kill harmful microorganisms in the mouth, tannic acids that protect gums from disease, and aromatic oils that increase salivation. Researchers also noted that the miswak bristles are parallel to the handle rather than perpendicular, therefore it can reach areas that a conventional toothbrush often fails to.
Mohammed bin Zahid, a dentist, said that miswak is a “natural toothbrush” that, among other benefits, also “creates a fragrance in the mouth and sharpens memory.”
Sales of miswak tend to triple in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan as people opt for the traditional hygiene technique. Ahead of Ramadan, every shop ensures that miswak is available for buyers and it is often placed at the prime location of the check-out counter.
Abdullah Al-Otaibi, a miswak seller in Riyadh, said: “I am expecting sales to rise during Ramadan by almost 300 percent.”
Bilal, a miswak vendor near a mosque in Al-Wazarat district in Riyadh, said that his daily profit during Ramadan tends to be anywhere between SR50-SR200.
To use a miswak, simply chew off about one centimeter of the twig at one end and then continue to chew it until it softens and forms bristles. The softening can be sped up by dipping the end in water to separate the fibers. Once bristles are formed, the miswak can be used like a regular toothbrush, without paste.