Islam takes much care of personal cleanliness and hygiene. We are required to perform ablutions before we start our prayers.

It is not enough that one should have such ablution once a day. There are several things or actions that invalidate ablution. Once it is invalidated, we cannot offer our prayers unless we have a fresh ablution. The ritual ablution for prayer consists of an obligatory part and a recommended one. The obligatory is to wash one’s face, hands up to the elbows, wiping one’s head with one’s wet hand and washing one’s feet up to the ankles. It is also obligatory to formulate at the start the intention to perform the ablution for worship. The recommended part includes rinsing one’s mouth, cleaning one’s nose and ears, as well as repeating the wash of every part three times, rather than once only. No prayer is valid unless it is preceded by an ablution that has not been invalidated. It is perfectly appropriate to perform more than one obligatory prayer with one ablution, as long as it has not been invalidated. Since we offer five obligatory prayers every day, and as these are spread throughout the day, everyone needs to perform the ablution at least three times a day.

One of the recommended practices in ablution is to clean one’s mouth. This is performed in two actions:

1 rinsing one’s mouth and
2 brushing one’s teeth.

It is generally the case that people rinse their mouths when they have ablution, but they often omit to brush their teeth, mainly because they forget or may not have a toothbrush handy. Hence, the Prophet (peace be upon him) emphasized this aspect of ablution in various ways. Abu Hurayrah quotes the Prophet as saying: “If it were not for fear that I would place hardship on my community, or on people, I would have ordered them to use the tooth stick at every prayer.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

The tooth stick is taken from a tree called Arak. When the outer layer is removed, it reveals fibers that are very similar to a toothbrush. It can also be taken from the olive tree. There is nothing special about having a tooth stick from such trees. A toothbrush is just as good.

What gives us the proper understanding of this Hadith is its other version, also related by Al-Bukhari on the authority of Abu Hurayrah. It reads: “If it were not for fear that I would place hardship on my community, or on people, I would have ordered them to use the tooth stick every time they perform ablution”.

The Hadith also tells us that the Prophet was always keen to make things easier for us. It was his preference that everyone should clean their teeth before coming to prayer, or when they perform the ablution. Yet he realized that this may be difficult for some. Therefore, he put it in the way that makes it strongly recommended but not obligatory.