Beyond Education

  • Ronald Lukens-Bull
Part of the Contemporary Anthropology of Religion book series (CAR)


One of the most lively discussions I remember observing was about toothpaste. Kyai from all over East Java had gathered to debate this and other issues, but this one seemed to take center stage. The toothpaste in question was called Siwak-F that contains both fluoride and powdered siwak wood. The question put forward was whether Siwak-F had the same ritual and legal status as using a stick of siwak; that is, whether or not the modern practice of brushing teeth could purify one’s mouth for prayer and Qur’an recitation the same as the Prophet’s practice of using the wood of a particular tree. It had already been established that brushing one’s teeth is a good substitute when one does not have the special wood; the debate here was whether using the toothpaste with the ground wood in it would have the same ritual/legal status as using the wood itself. All the conference participants had been given a free sample tube. The manufacturer was clearly interested in the outcome of this debate. Several prepared papers were passed around and every kyai who wished to speak on the issue did so. The kyai who had gathered from all over East Java were of many opinions and seemingly no conclusion was met at this particular gathering. However, the case illustrates both the process for debating such issues and the concern for balancing modern needs (i.e., good dental care) and ritual purity.


Middle East Arabic Text Islamic Community National Development Policy Indonesian Society 
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© Ronald Lukens-Bull 2005

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  • Ronald Lukens-Bull

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