Published in  
March 5, 2024

The Siwak and Matters of Personal Hygiene | Book of Purification | Bidayat al-Abid

Bidayat al-Abid wa Kifayat al-Zahid is a concise manual restricted to the acts of worship based on the jurisprudence of the madhab of Imam Abu Abdullah Ahmad ibn Hanbal. This article focuses on the siwak, its usage, and other matters related to personal hygiene.

This article is part of an ongoing series of the explanation of the book, 'Bidayat al-Abid' . Read Part 1 here.

The Siwak and Other Matters of Personal Hygiene 

والسِّوَاكُ مسنونٌ مُطْلَقًا، إِلاَّ لصَائمٍ بعدَ الزوالِ فيُكْرَهُ، ويُباحُ قَبْلَهُ بِعُودٍ رَطْبٍ، ويُستَحَبُّ بيابسٍ، ولم يُصِبِ السُّنةَ مَنْ استاكَ بغيرِ عُودٍ

The siwak is categorically recommended. It is disliked for someone fasting except after the time of zawal. Before the time of zawal, it is permissible to do so with a moist stick, though it is preferred to be done with a dry one. Whoever uses something besides a stick has not conformed to the sunnah.

Siwak is one of the most emphasized sunan of wudhu. Siwak or Miswak refers to the twig used to clean the mouth as well. Siwak can also be used as a verb, which is the action of using the miswak. The term siwak is applied to any instrument that is used to clean the mouth be it wooden or not. Ideally, the siwak should be:

1. A Stick

- Using a finger or some cloth does not fulfill the Sunnah of cleansing the mouth. Imam Ibn Badran رحمه الله in his Hashiyyah of Akhsar al-Mukhtasarat says that using a toothbrush is similar to using the miswak. Combining between the two, many scholars recommend using the toothbrush and then following it with the miswak during the rest of the day. 

- One can use the siwak that comes from the Arak tree, olive tree, or date palm tree. The Hanabilah do not differentiate between the three. It is better to use the siwak which comes from the Arak tree for that was the one mostly used by the companions of the Prophet ﷺ and is said to be the most cleansing. The next in preference is the siwak from the date palm tree and then the olive tree. 

2. Soft: This means that the siwak is fresh or that it was dried but has been moistened to make it soft. The dry stick that has been moistened is preferred over the fresh one as pieces from the fresh siwak usually dissolve in the mouth. It is best to moisten it using water from the flowers.

3. Cleansing: The measure of cleanliness is that it removes the yellowness of the teeth and removes the foul odour from the mouth. 

4. Doesn’t harm.

- The siwak that is dry and not moistened can injure the mouth.
- The siwak from the pomegranate or basil tree is harmful. Why? Trees that usually have a good smell, harm the mouth. In addition, the siwak from the pomegranate tree due to its texture cuts the mouth.

5. Doesn’t break easily.

A stick that does not meet the above conditions, is disliked to be used. It is also disliked to use a stick whose origin is unknown. 

It is Mustahab to use the siwak at all times. The exception for this is for anyone fasting after the sun reaches the zenith; this is the time when Dhuhr enters. This is when the Sun has reached the meridian and moves slightly towards the West till Maghrib. Scholars make a further distinction here. Before the zawal, it is permissible to use a fresh siwak and it is recommended to use a dry moistened siwak. After zawal, it is disliked to use the siwak irrespective of the type of stick or the type of fast. 

One of the reasons given for this is that the smell of the mouth usually changes after zawal and it is considered as a trace of an act of worship. This is keeping in mind the narration where the Prophet ﷺ said,

كُلُّ عَمَلِ ابْنِ آدَمَ لَهُ، إِلاَّ الصَّوْمَ فَإِنَّهُ لِي، وَأَنَا أَجْزِي بِهِ، وَلَخَلُوفُ فَمِ الصَّائِمِ أَطْيَبُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مِنْ رِيحِ الْمِسْكِ

“(Allah said), ‘Every good deed of Adam’s son is for him except fasting; it is for Me. and I shall reward (the fasting person) for it.’ Verily, the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better to Allah than the smell of musk.” [Bukhari]

This period of the use of siwak being disliked extends till the time of sunset. A second opinion in the madhab is mentioned by Imam al-Buhuti رحمه الله in Kashshaf al-Qina’ who states that the use of the siwak is a sunnah irrespective of the time and irrespective of the siwak being fresh or dry. The same opinion was held by Sheikhul Hanabilah Musa al-Hajjawi رحمه الله and Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله.

ويُتَأَكَّدُ عندَ صَلاةٍ وقراءةٍ ووضوء، وانتباهٍ من نوم، وَدخولِ مَسْجدٍ وتغيُّرِ رائحةِ فَمٍ ونحوِهِ. وَسُنَّ بُدَاءَةٌ بالأَيْمنِ في سِوَاكٍ وطَهورٍ وشأنِهِ كُلِّهِ، وادِّهانٌ

It is emphasized before: prayer; recitation; when making wudhu; waking from sleep; entering the masjid; due to a change of breath; etc.

After mentioning the exceptions, the author lists places where it is recommended to use the siwak. The Hanabilah lists 10-11 recommended or emphasized times to do siwak. Some of these are:

  • When one stands for prayer. This is irrespective of the type of prayer including the funeral prayer. The only exception is tawaf or the prostration of recitation or thankfulness. As for prayers that are done in succession like the taraweeh, it is recommended to use the siwak after every 2 rak’at. 
  • Before reciting the Quran.
  • When doing wudhu. The place of siwak is after the rinsing of the mouth. 
  • When doing ghusl. 
  • When one wakes up from sleep. This is irrespective of the type of sleep. 
  • If the smell of the mouth changes. 
  • On entering the masjid. It is not disliked to use the siwak inside the masjid.
  • On entering the home.
  • After being silent for a long period.
  • If the teeth start yellowing. 
  • When the stomach is empty.

Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Had I not feared burdening my Ummah, I would have commanded them to use siwak before every salat.” [Ahmad]

واكتِحَالٌ، ونَظَرٌ في مِرْآة، وَتَطَيُّبٌ، واستحدادٌ، وَحَفَّتُ شَارِبٍ، وتَقْلِيمُ ظُفُرٍ، وَنَتْفُ إِبْطٍ

It is recommended to do the following: begin with the right side for siwāk, purification, and all affairs; use oil and kohl; look in the mirror; apply perfume; shave the pubic area; trim the mustache; cut the nails; and pluck the armpits.

Direction and Usage: The siwak is to be used horizontally for the teeth starting from the right side. It is vertical in terms of the mouth. It is disliked to use the siwak from the root (gums) of the teeth to the end. The siwak is to be used on the teeth, tongue, gums, and roof of the mouth. The siwak is used vertically on the tongue and roof of the mouth.

Hand Used: Using the left hand to do the siwak is recommended since you are removing something bad from the mouth. If you cannot do so due to imbalance or some valid reason then it's fine to use the right hand.

Aishah رضي الله عنها narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) used to like starting from the right in performing ablution, combing his hair, and putting on his shoes. [Bukhari]

It is recommended to apply oil to the hair every other day. This is to be applied to the hair, beard, and body. Likewise, with combing, it can be done every other day. It is disliked to do so every day unless there is a need. 

It is recommended to apply kohl to the eyes. Ithmid (antimony) kohl is preferred that which is mixed with musk. It is to be applied three times in each eye every night before sleep. This is in contrast to people who apply kohl and go outside in public while claiming their act to be from the Sunnah. 

It is recommended to look in the mirror to fix oneself and remove anything undesirable. A Muslim should always look neat, clean, tidy, and presentable. The person can then recite the dua:

اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ حَسَّنْتَ خَلْقِي فَحَسِّنْ خُلُقِي

O Allah, just as You have made my external features beautiful, make my character beautiful as well.

It is recommended to apply perfume and smell good. For a man, it is recommended to perfume himself with a scent where the smell is apparent and the colour is hidden. Ex: Oud or Amber. This is also for the woman if she is inside her house. When the woman is in public, it is recommended to perfume herself with a scent where the smell is hidden and the colour is apparent. By the colour being apparent, we mean the type of perfume being used and not that the woman actually shows the colour on her body. That would be incorrect as the woman has to maintain the proper hijab when outside the house. 

It is recommended to shave the pubic area. This refers to the hair on and around the private organs.  Some scholars include in this definition the hair around the anus. Other than shaving, any other methods like trimming, using a paste or sheet that removes the hair, or similar can also be used. 

Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه narrated that Allah's Messenger ﷺ said, "To shave the pubic hair. to clip the nails and to cut the mustaches short, are characteristics of the Fitrah." [Bukhari]

It is recommended to trim the mustache. This is the hair that grows on the upper lip. Once can trim the excess of the mustache from the edges such that it does not cross over the lips. However, it is recommended to trim it with exaggeration such that the whiteness of the skin under the hair shows. Shaving it completely with a razor is disliked. The edges of the mustache that connect it with the beard are also included in this ruling. One can also remove the hair that grows from the nose, on the ears, and that which is excess from the eyebrows (not shaping). 

On the matter of hair, the Hanabilah also mention that it is disliked to do Qaza’ which is to shave a part of the head and leave a part of it. This would also include a very deep fade such that it gives the impression of Qaza’. 

It is recommended to cut the nails from the hands and the feet. What is being referred to here is to cut the excess of the nail that touches the head of the finger. It is recommended to cut the nails in the opposite direction of the fingers. What does this mean? 

One starts with the pinky finger of the right hand, then moves to the middle finger, and then the thumb. The person then cuts the nails of the ring finger and then the pointer finger. One starts with the thumb of the left hand, then moves to the middle finger, and then the pinky finger. The person then cuts the nails of the pointer finger and then the ring finger.  

Some scholars opined that there was no strong proof for this direction and one can cut the nails as they wished without any restrictions. Trimming the nails takes precedence over cutting with scissors or the like. It is recommended to wash the fingers after cutting the nails. 

It is recommended to pluck the armpits. Plucking refers to pulling the hair out. If it is difficult, then one can use a trimmer, shaver, or paste to remove the hair which is the primary purpose. 

All these aforementioned actions are recommended to be done once a week every Friday before the salah. It is best to do so on a Thursday. It is highly disliked to leave them for more than 40 days but as for the mustache, it should not be left for more than a week.


وَيَجِبُ ختانُ ذَكَرٍ وأنثَى عِنْدَ بُلوغٍ، وزمن صِغَرٍ أفضل

Though early childhood is best, it is obligatory to circumcise both males and females at the age of puberty.

Circumcision is obligatory upon the male, female, and hermaphrodite in the madhab. The time of obligation is on reaching puberty. It is recommended to have it done at a young age till the age of discernment which is 7 years. This is because the pain would be lesser, the recovery time is shorter, and the child will not remember it in comparison to having it done later in life. It is disliked to do it on the seventh day after the person’s birth. Circumcision is obligatory as long as one does not fear for himself.  

The male cuts the foreskin which is the skin above the penis. If he cuts most of it and not all of it, then that also suffices. The female cut the skin that is above the place of intercourse aka from the clitoral hood. The Hanabilah describe the area to be taken from as that which is similar to the rooster head. It is recommended that not all of it be taken as that would be mutilation which is haram. This is important to understand. What is being taken from is a portion of the clitoral hood and not the clitoris itself. In this matter, it is wise to follow the interests of the female: if the clitoris is large, then part of it should be removed, otherwise, it should be left alone. This size of the clitoris will vary from woman to woman, and there may be differences between those from hot climates and those from cold climates.

Sheikhul Hanabilah Ibn Qudamah رحمه الله said, "Circumcision is obligatory for men, and it is an honour for women, but it is not obligatory for them. This is the opinion of many scholars. (Imam) Ahmad said, ‘For men, it is more strictly required, but for women, it is less strictly required.’" [al-Mughni]

Umm ‘Atiyah رضي الله عنها narrated that a woman used to perform circumcisions in Madinah. The Prophet ﷺ told her, "Do not abuse (i.e. do not go to extremes in circumcising); that is better for the woman and more liked by her husband." [Abu Dawud]

Hermaphrodites are of two types: problematic and non-problematic. The non-problematic refers to the one who has one clear functioning genital. The problematic hermaphrodite refers to the one who has both male and female genitals functioning. The problematic hermaphrodite circumcises both the private parts. The non-problematic hermaphrodite circumcises only that organ that is clearly functioning. 

It is disliked to pierce the ears of a baby boy and not disliked for a baby girl.

Continue to Part 3: Wudhu: Pillars, Obligations and Method

No items found.
  • Our Latest
  • Instagram Posts