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Brushing Up on the Sunnah of Brushing


By ‘Allamah Imam Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanfuri (Saharanpuri)

Translated by Kamil Uddin

[This piece is a translation of a commentary of Abu Dawud entitled Badhl al-Majhud fi Hall Sunan Abi Dawud. The commentary is that of ‘Allamah Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanfuri with footnotes provided by the translator. It is from the first hadith in the chapter of siwak (use of the tooth stick.)]

The word siwak is defined as that which is used to brush the teeth and is derived from saka yasuku, (which means to brush). The plural of siwak is su’uk just as the plural of kitab is kutub. The word applies to both the action and device (i.e. applies to the act of brushing and the tooth stick). [Fayruzabadi] states in the Qamus, “The tooth stick is referred to as [both] miswak and siwak.”

The scholars differ on the modality of the sunnah of miswak. Some claim that it is a sunnah of ablution while others state that it is sunnah of prayer. Another group of scholars states that it is a [broad] sunnah of the din[1] and this is the strongest opinion as well as the opinion of Abu Hanifah (may Allah have mercy on him). In Hidayah it is stated that the sound opinion (of the Hanafi madhhab) is that it is mustahabb (preferable). It is similarly the opinion of Shafi‘i (may Allah have mercy on him). Ibn Hazm, however, claims that siwak is sunnah [for prayer] and preferable if it is possible for ever prayer. He also states that it is fard (compulsory) on Fridays. Abu Hamid al-Israfa’ini and Mawardi report on behalf of the Literalists (Zahiris) that it is compulsory. Ishaq ibn Rahuya states that it is wajib (compulsory). If it is left out intentionally the prayer is invalid. Nawawi, however, believes that this narration from Ishaq is not soundly reported.

The manner in which the siwak is to be used is horizontally and not vertically[2], and during the rinsing of the mouth stage in wudu’. One should brush their teeth and tongue until they are satisfied with the removal of the breath’s smell. They should hold the siwak with the right hand, and it is mustahabb to brush three times with three gulps of water. It is mustahabb for the miswak to be as thick as the pinky finger and as long as a hand’s length. It is mustahabb to brush with a twig from the ‘arak plant. For women, ‘ilk (mastic[3]) is equal to siwak. If one cannot find a miswak, they can suffice with their fingers.

Qutaybah bin Sa‘id reported to us from Sufyan, from Abu ’l-Zinad, from al-A‘raj, from Abu Hurayrah who raised it to the Prophet that he said, “If not for (the fear that I would) burden the believers, I would order them to delay ‘Isha’ and use siwak for every prayer.”[4]


(Qutaybah bin Sa‘id reported to us from Sufyan, from Abu ’l-Zinad)

‘Abdullah bin Dhakwan al-Qurashi Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Madani. He was famously known as Abu ’l-Zinad. It is said that his father was a brother of Abu Lu’lu’ah, a trustworthy jurist. Bukhari states that the soundest chain of narration [through Abu Hurayrah] is when Abu ’l-Zinad reports from al-A‘raj from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him). Hafiz Dhahabi, states, “Abu ’l-Zinad had been given governance over some matters by the Umayyads due to which some scholars of hadith disapproved of him, but he is a trustworthy reliable person with no dispute against him.”

Abu Yusuf reports from Abu Hanifah who states, “I came to Madinah and the people were surrounding Rabi‘ah even though Abu ’l-Zinad was the more jurisprudentially known of the two.”

Rabi‘ah stated about him, “He is not reliable and he is not approved.” Rabi‘ah’s accusation does not carry any weight due to the obvious animosity that existed between them. Likewise, Malik’s rejection of him is not sound either. Abu ’l-Zinad passed away in the year 130 AH or later. [6]

(from al-A‘raj)

He is ‘Abd al-Rahman bin Hurmuz. It is said that his father’s name is Kisan Abu Dawud al-Madani, the freed slave of Rabi‘ah bin al-Harith bin ‘Abd al-Muttalib[7]. Al-A‘raj was a reliable, well-established scholar who passed away in the year 117 AH.

(from Abu Hurayrah who raised it) meaning Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) raised the narration of this hadith to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and he reported it from him.

(that he said, “If it wasn’t) out of fear (that I would burden) i.e. place hardship and trouble on (the believers) with the compulsoriness of delaying ‘Isha’ and using siwak for every prayer, implying, if not for the fear of hardship befalling them (I would order them) compulsorily (to delay ‘Isha’) meaning I would obligate them to delay ‘Isha’ to one-third or one-half of the night. This delay is mustahabb according to the majority of the scholars. (and to use siwak) compulsorily (with every prayer.)

Understand that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was the purest of the pure. He held private discourses with the angels of Allah. The Prophet was very much distant from even a trace of bad breath creeping up on him because his inner-self was exceptionally chaste and could not bear any blemishes. Discourse with the angels required him to be distant from any foul smell, which is why he disliked food which had bad stench. The Prophet was ordered to perform wudu’ for every prayer, so when that became difficult for him, he was ordered to use siwak for every prayer.

Because of this it is known that using siwak for every prayer was obligatory for the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)[8] but not for his ummah. Later, he became worried about its obligation upon the ummah. He saw the difficulty for them to practice upon it due to their weakness and limitation. That is why he said, “If not for fear of difficulty in practicing, I would obligate them to use siwak.” The word lawla (if not) is used to deny the application of the second due to the existence of the first. When the existence of the first is confirmed and established, and in this hadith it is “fear of difficulty”, the prevention of the second is also established, which is “the obligation of using siwak.” Thus it remains on the level of mustahabb. This is a refutation to the Dhahiri (Literalist) school of thought which claims that it is obligatory.

As for it being mustahabb, there is a difference of opinion on whether it is for salat or wudu’. Most of the scholars in the Hanafi school state it is mustahabb to use siwak for wudu’ due to what Ibn Khuzaymah reported in his Sahih and al-Hakim in his alMustadrak and Bukhari reporting directly from Abu Hurayrah in the Chapter of Fasting that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “If not (for fear) that I would burden my ummah, I would order them to use siwak with every wudu’.” Another hadith narrated by Ahmad and others states, “If not (for fear) that I was burdening my ummah, I would order them to use siwak for every tuhur (purification).

The narrations that mention to use siwak for every prayer are interpreted [by the Hanafi scholars] as using siwak right before wudu’. The scholars of the Shafi‘i school combine these narrations and say siwak is used at the beginning of prayer and wudu’. The only reason the Hanafi scholars don’t consider siwak to be solely for prayer is because siwak is done in the mouth and therefore makes it highly possible for the gums to bleed, and protrusion of blood causes invalidation of wudu’ according to the Hanafi scholars. That is why siwak before prayer can cause difficulty. Also, these scholars state that it is not narrated that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would use siwak when he stood up for prayer. His statement, “I would order them to use siwak for every prayer” carries the possibility that it means “every wudu’”.

Some books of fiqh clarify and elucidate the karahah (dislikedness) [expressed by the Hanafi madhhab] in an excellent manner. They explain that the karahah [expressed by the Hanafis] exists due to the possibility of blood emission that can invalidate wudu’. In truth, however, there are no grounds for this karahah [based on the narrations]. If the texts carry the possibility of being implemented based on their apparent meaning, and it is certainly possible in this narration, then it is not permissible to take the figurative meaning, or the meaning that a mudaf (noun in a constructive phrase) is hidden.[9] How is that possible while the istihbabb (desired recommendation) is mentioned about prayer itself in some noteworthy and preferred Hanafi texts. It states in the Tatarakhaniyyah reporting from the Tatimmah that, “According to us (the Hanafi scholars), siwak is mustahabb for every salat, every wudu’, due to any change in the odor of the mouth, and after awakening from sleep.”

Ibn Humam states in his commentary on the Hidayah, “Siwak is mustahabb (desirable) in five cases: yellowing of the teeth, change in mouth’s smell, waking from sleep, getting up for prayer, and during wudu’.”


al-‘Isabah fi Tamyiz al-Sahabah. Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani. Beirut, Lebanon. Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah. 1995.

al-Mawsu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Muyassirah Volume 2. Muhammad Rawwas Qal‘aji. Beirut, Lebanon. Dar al-Nafa’is. 2005.

Badhl al-Majhud fi Hall Sunan Abi Dawud Volume 1. Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanfuri. Beirut, Lebanon. Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah. 2006.

Fath al-Mulhim bi Sharh Sahih al-Imam Muslim Volume 2. Shabbir Ahmad al-‘Uthmani. Karachi, Pakistan. Maktabah Dar al-‘Ulum Karachi. 1999.

[1] Sunnah of din is also known as sunnah za’idah (additional sunnah). This is a sunnah of ‘adah (habitual practice) not a sunnah of ‘ibadah (worshipping Allah).

[2] The istihbab for horizontal brushing is derived from a hadith in Muslim which states, “When the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would stand for tahajjud (يشوص فاه) he would clean his mouth with a siwak.” One of the meanings of the word (شوص) is to brush horizontally as ’ibn Manzur mentions in his book titled Lisan al-Arab. But the word also means to brush vertically, on this basis, the istihbab would be nullified. Science and dentistry have determined that using horizontal strokes for the front and back of the teeth is a definite no no. Horizontal strokes can be used for the grinding areas of the teeth but vertical strokes should be used for the front and back of the teeth.

[3] Mastic is a gum from the bark of a Mediterranean tree, used in making varnish and chewing gum.

[4] Takhrij: Abu Dawud 46, Bukhari 887, Muslim 252, Bayhaqi 1/35, Ahmad 2/245.

[5] Hadith text is in bold. Interlinear commentary is in between.

[6] The scholars of hadith criticize on the basis of a high criterion. This does not take away from the piety and righteousness of those criticized individuals.

[7] Rabi‘ah bin al-Harith bin ‘Abd al-Muttalib was a companion of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and also a cousin of his. He passed away in the year 23 h.

[8] “The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was ordered to perform wudu’ for every salah, whether he was in the state of purity or not. When performing this action became too burdensome for him he was ordered to use siwak for every salat.” Abu Dawud 48, al-Daramy 658, Ahmad 5/225, Khuzaymah 15, al-Mustadrak 1/155-156, Bayhaqi 1/137.

[9] The contradiction occurs as to which is the specific time the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is referring to when he said, “If not (for fear) that I would burden my ummah…” because he has given emphasis to that specific time. The discussion, then, is in relation to the Arabic words that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) used in this hadith as well as others. In some narrations the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “مع كل وضوء” (with every wudu’). In others he stated, “عند كل صلاة” (for every salat). The sound narrations that specifically state salat appear with the word (عند) like the hadith mentioned in the text above. In the Arabic language, عند is a ‘amm (wide-ranging) word while مع is a khass (specific) word. Through this clarification of the different words, one can conclude that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) meant the time of wudu’ when he explicitly stated it, and he meant the general time of salat (in which wudu’ is performed) when he stated salat. The most clear-cut hadith in this regard is reported in the Sahih of Ibn Hibban who reports on the authority of ‘A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “If not (for fear) that I would burden my ummah, I would order them to use siwak with wudu’ for every salat.” This hadith made use of both words, مع for wudu’, and عند for salat. Naymawi stated the chain of this hadith is sound.

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