Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
A Neglected Sunna: Brushing One’s Teeth and Using the Siwak (Tooth stick)
In the name of Allah, the inspirer of truth.
The sunna of siwak is to brush one’s teeth, as the fuqaha mention. The optimal way for this is to use a tooth stick (siwak), as this was the particular practice of the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
Brushing one’s teeth is a confirmed sunna within ritual ablutions (wudu). As such, it is blameworthy to leave it without excuse. If one does not have anything else, one can fulfill the sunna by using one’s fingers, as has been transmitted.
It is a general recommended sunna of our deen, as Abu Hanifa said. Besides the ritual ablutions, where it is a confirmed sunna, it is particularly recommended before the prayer, before reciting the Qur’an, before dhikr, upon waking, before sleep, before entering the house, when one’s breath changes or teeth yellow, before meeting others, and before studying sacred knowledge, as the fuqaha mention.
Ibn Abidin says in his Radd al-Muhtar, also known as Hashiyat Ibn Abidin:
‘Virtue and time of Siwak:
Siwak (tooth stick) is a confirmed sunna (sunna mu’akkada) during the rinsing of the mouth, as in Jawhara, and some say before rinsing the mouth. It is [a confirmed sunna] is for the ritual ablutions (wudu) in the Hanafi school, as confirmed in the hadith reported by Ahmad [in his Musnad] that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Prayer with brushing (siwak) is seventy times more virtuous than prayer without.” However, if one forgets it (during ablutions) then it is mustahab to use it for salah, as it is mustahab to use it for removing yellow teeth and odour and reciting the Qur’an etc. [f: Ibn Abidin later confirmed that it is generally recommended before prayer, even though the confirmed sunna and promised reward is attained by all prayers performed with ritual ablutions in which one brushed one’s teeth. This is a point most Hanafis are negligent of.]
Amount of Brushing:
The minimum optimal brushing the upper and lower teeth is three times with three handfuls of water, (wetting the tooth stick each time). It is mentioned in Mi`raj that there is no fixed limit to brushing; rather, one should brush until one feels that the odour and yellowness of the teeth have been removed. If it is achieved in less than three time, however, it is recommended to complete three times, like in as when cleaning one’s private parts (istinja’).
Holding the Tooth stick:
It is recommended to hold it in your right hand.
Nature of the Tooth stick:
And (it is recommended that) the tooth stick be soft; straight with few knots; and a hand-span in length [f: about 25 cm].
Method of using the Tooth stick:
It is mentioned in Nahr and Bahr that the sunna method of holding the tooth stick is to put the little finger at the bottom end and the thumb under its head, with the remaining fingers on the top side, as transmitted from by Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him). One should use the siwak sideways and not vertically. It is mentioned in Hilya that one should use the siwak horizontally for the teeth and vertically for the tongue.
Benefits of using the tooth stick:
The benefits of the tooth stick are numerous and many books have been written on its virtues. …. In the absence of a tooth stick or teeth, a coarse cloth or the finger can be sufficed with.
Types of Twigs:
It is mentioned in Nahr that one can use all types of twigs except from the pomegranate and bamboo. The most preferable is the salvadora (arak) and olive. It is mentioned by Tabrani that [the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, ] “How good it is the tooth stick from the blessed olive tree. It is my tooth stick and the tooth stick of the prophets before me.” (Allama Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar, 1: 114-115)
And Allah alone gives success.
Faraz Rabbani & Shaykh Ilyas Patel.